By the time we landed back on Stark Tower, the celebration in the street below was going strong with agents and heroes all talking and enjoying themselves. Food and drinks had been delivered and set up on several tables, probably by SHIELD, and I thanked Libula for her help.
“I will be staying here to bring Princess Shuri back home.” Libula said.
“Then put the ship into standby mode and you can join us.” I offered.
Libula didn't hesitate as she quickly did the proper procedure to put the ship into standby. I gave her a hand and a few minutes later, we walked down the small boarding ramp of the sting ship and entered Tony's penthouse. When we reached the elevator, I pushed the button and then let my armored suit fold away and it became a backpack once more.
We rode the elevator down to the ground floor and met Jubadi and Val in the lobby. They held their spears with authority and were surrounded by a lot of dead and dismembered Chitauri bodies.
“I see you had some fun doing your duty to protect me.” I said and Jubadi nodded as Val looked inordinately pleased. “You didn't have to wait for me to join the party.”
“Yes, we did.” Val said and Jubadi nodded in agreement.
I smiled and motioned for them to follow. “Then let's not keep everyone waiting.”
We all left the building and I waved at the clean-up crew that were still gathering alien materials, body parts, weapons, and technology.
“There's a pile of things in the lobby waiting for you guys.” I said and the one in charge waved back.
With that arranged, we walked down the street to the main gathering that was being held in an intersection.
“BEN!” Shuri yelled and nearly everyone paused in their conversations as the armored Cheetah darted across the open space and leapt into the air.
As she arced through the air, her armored suit folded away and fell off of her. Both she and it dropped down and I caught Shuri in my arms as the automaton cheetah landed beside us. We shared a fairly indecent kiss before Shuri let me go and stood in front of me.
“You're getting really good at that move.” I commented as the others at the party went back to their conversations.
“It's getting easier every time I do it.” Shuri said and took my hand. “Libula?”
“The Royal Consort invited me to join you.” Libula said and looked happy.
“Excellent!” Shuri said and looked at Val. “You are coming along well in your training, Valerie.”
“Thank you, Princess Shuri.” Val responded.
“She has earned a battlefield promotion this day, Princess Shuri.” Jubadi said, proudly.
“She has?” Shuri asked, surprised. “I am very pleased to hear that, Valerie. Well done.”
Val blushed and stood ramrod straight. “Thank you, your highness. It is a great honor.”
“It truly is.” Shuri agreed and looked at me. “Will you tell me about where you went?”
“Like I told you, I just had a few errands to take care of while I had the chance.”
Shuri smiled knowingly. “You mean while everyone was distracted.”
“Yes, that's exactly what I meant.” I said and gave her a kiss. “By the way, I have a contractual agreement with the current Sorcerer Supreme.”
Shuri's eyes almost lit up at that. “My prayers to thank Bast will be enthusiastic tonight, Ben! That's wonderful news!”
I nodded and we all walked over to the closest group of people that just happened to include Clint, Natasha, and Phil Coulson. The others were two senior agents of SHIELD, Agent Melinda May, and Jennifer Walters.
Before anyone could say anything in greeting, I stepped forward and took Natasha's hand. “I'm sorry I was such an ass after we broke up. You hurt my feelings by not trusting me like I trusted you and then you tried to kill me. The only way I knew to handle that without killing you was by pushing you away and punishing you. That was unfair to you and I apologize.”
Natasha looked shocked, as did the others around me. She still shook my hand and nodded.
I let her hand go and turned to Clint as I held my hand out for him to shake. “You supported your friend under every circumstance and that needs to be commended. I'm sorry I held you to the same unreasonable standards that I had set for Black Widow. It wasn't your fault how our relationship turned out and you were caught up in the aftermath anyway. That was unfair to you and I apologize.”
Clint still looked shocked as he shook my hand.
I let his hand go and turned to Phil Coulson. “It's nice to finally meet you in person, Agent Coulson.”
Phil took my hand and shook it. He gave me a particular searching look before he let it go. “That statement implies you've met me before, only not in person.”
I chuckled. “Your name was written in permanent ten foot tall letters on the side of Stark Tower. I don't think there's a person in New York that doesn't know your name.” I said and took out my cell phone to check if I missed any messages. “I also looked you up as soon as I was hired by SHIELD.”
I didn't have any messages from anyone on my real phone, so I checked my untraceable phones. Everyone watched as I checked them, only to see they didn't have any messages on them, either. I put them away and turned to Melinda.
“I'm sorry we've both been too busy to have dinner more than once since last month.” I said and nodded at Jennifer Walters. “You did a great job with bringing her up to a reasonable level.”
“Hey!” Jennifer said and smacked my arm.
“Sorry!” I said with a laugh. “I meant to say a respectable level.”
“That's not much better, you ass.” Jennifer said with a smile.
One of the two high level agents cleared his throat to gain my attention. “I would like to personally thank you for the technology that you have provided SHIELD with.”
I nodded acceptance. “I like helping as much as possible... and within reason.”
The man smiled because he understood. “You wouldn't cut off a foot to give someone a spare boot?”
I laughed at the analogy. “Only if I knew I could grow the foot back.”
“Good point.” He said and then stiffened slightly. “Directory Fury is coming this way.”
“Wonderful.” I said sarcastically and rolled my eyes.
“Ben.” Shuri admonished me.
“You know he's going to haul me away to debrief him, even though I just arrived at the party.” I said sadly. “Is Deputy Director Hill with him?”
“Yes.” The man in front of me said.
“At least I can apologize to her.” I said and stepped back out of the group. “Go ahead and introduce yourselves around and enjoy yourselves. I'm going to be a while.”
Shuri and the others nodded.
I turned around to face Nick Fury and Maria Hill as they came to a stop. “Your transport or mine?”
Fury pointed a thumb over his shoulder at the closest container that was about to be hooked up to a Quinjet, because it was full of alien artifacts.
“Are we riding in the container or the Quinjet?” I asked, curious.
“Just walk.” Fury said and the three of us went over towards it.
I made sure to wave and greet everyone that I passed and promised that I would come back as soon as I could to drink them all under the table. Out of all of them that laughed, only Thor looked genuinely excited at the challenge.
Fury commandeered the Quinjet and it flew us to Central Park where the helicarrier kept watch over the alien mothership and all of the gathered alien technology. We landed on the upper flight deck and the pilot let us out. He took off as soon as we were down the boarding ramp and returned to his previous task.
Neither Fury nor Maria spoke as we entered the command tower and went up the stairs to the main gathering area. We didn't stop there and went down a back hallway to one of the smaller rooms. Maria hit several buttons beside the door after it closed and a barely audible hum could be heard. Or felt. It was difficult to tell. She locked the door and waved for me to sit down across the small table.
I stayed where I was and gave her a sad look. “Maria, I want to apologize for how I treated you. I know we were starting to have something between us after we completed our mutual defense agreement. I didn't realize how restrictive having a personal guard was and how that might interfere in any work related relationship I could have, especially when I deal with sensitive information all the time.”
Maria looked surprised at my admission. “Ben, I...”
“I'm sorry that I've been completely ignoring you since the server room incident and I hope that you can forgive me for not having the courage to confront you about it until now.” I said and she looked sad.
“Ben, I... it was me that was wrong to do that. I shouldn't have tried to ambush you and...”
“No, I was the one that took advantage of you.” I interrupted her. “Having a surprise like that should have been the highlight of my life; and yet, I treated it like it was an every day occurrence and didn't really mean anything. You went through all that trouble to arrange it and I'm sorry that I couldn't appreciate it, or you, for doing it. I hope you can eventually forgive me for that.”
Maria just stood there and looked at a loss for words. I let out a little sigh before I walked around the small table and sat in the uncomfortable chair.
“Are you done?” Fury asked me as he sat across from me. A slightly pensive Maria sat beside him.
“No, sir.” I said and gave him a salute. “I apologize for bringing more heavy hitters to the invasion of New York without informing you first or asking for permission, even though I technically didn't need to do either.”
“Excuse me?” Fury asked, a bit angrily.
“You activated the Avengers Initiative.” I said and he nodded. “If you read the specific bylines, anyone with proven abilities that has been recruited by a SHIELD agent, qualifies for the program.”
“I know. I wrote that.” Fury said.
“Then why would you specifically leave anyone out of it?” I asked and his face went blank. “Yes, I mean Captain Marvel. She's one of the most powerful people that exists and you weren't going to contact her to help stop an invasion of her home planet.”
Fury let out a sigh and sat back in his chair. “I honestly forgot about her. I had so many other things to arrange and handle that a twenty year old pager slipped my mind.”
“How did you get it?” Maria asked me. “We checked the safe and it's still there.”
“That's a fake that only contacts me. If you had tried to activate it, all it would do is let me know you were going to be too late calling her.” I said. “It took her eleven days to cross interstellar space without a ship to get here.”
“That's what that fire trail was a couple of days ago.” Fury said and I nodded.
“As you saw, she was instrumental in defeating the Chitauri leviathans and disabling the mothership. That she had fun doing it is beside the point.” I said and then let out another sigh. “Unfortunately, she has taken it upon herself to protect the innocent from the injustices that the universe seems to pile onto all of the various populated planets in existence.”
“Why do you say that's unfortunate?” Maria asked.
“Because it's just her and she's trying to do it all herself. She also believes that because she had been granted such overwhelming power, she absolutely needs to do everything she can to help those that need it.”
“And that's bad?” Fury asked with a squinted eye and leaned forward.
“Yes!” I almost spat at him and he moved back. “When that's all you do for over two decades! When you never once stop to have a rest, or try to enjoy your life, or even try to make actual friends and not just grateful acquaintances that are only that because you saved them!”
Fury and Maria looked surprised at my outburst.
I sighed and rubbed my face with my hands. “I'm actually tempted to go with her when she goes back out into space in a few days.”
“No!” Maria said before she could stop herself. “What about school? Your friends? Aunt May?”
“All valid reasons to not go.” I said and dropped my hands to the table. “I'm going to try and convince her to convert an actual communicator so that we can actually talk, instead of her waiting for a pager to beep at her and for her to drop everything to return to Earth, just to see what's going on.”
Maria nodded. “That would be more efficient, assuming it would work.”
“I'll make it work, no matter how far away she is.” I promised and her eyes widened. “Even if I have to split a single molecule and make a device to agitate one half with Morse Code and the quantum entanglement would agitate the other half inside another device to decode it and show the message to her.”
Both Maria and Fury stiffened at my idea.
“The bandwidth would suck and the power requirements are ridiculous... but... I'm sure I can work it out somehow.”
“Ben, you... that idea...” Maria whispered.
“World shattering, isn't it?” I asked and she nodded. “Maybe I won't have to figure it out if the Kree or some other race has an intergalactic telephone system that I can tap into.”
“I highly doubt that's possible.” Fury said.
I didn't inform him that Vers had used something similar back in the 80s to call the Kree. It had used some Kree tech to piggyback on the payphone's telecommunications network for a power boost, though.
“We brought you here to find out what it is you actually know.” Maria said.
I gave her a happy smile. “I know a lot of things now.”
Fury made a huff sound. “Look, Agent Parker. We know it was you giving us the hints and countdowns.”
I chuckled. “Actually, that was Jarvis.”
“Who's that?” Maria asked.
“The Vision.” I corrected. “He's the android wearing the spiffy costume back at the block party.”
“The cape was a nice touch.” Fury said.
“It's cool, right? It has prehensile tension wires inside and a control mechanism that simulates airflow, even if there isn't any.” I said with a grin. “It billows wonderfully, even when he's standing still.”
“How did you know when the events were going to happen?” Maria asked to get us back on track.
“Several ways, including precognition, a type of scrying or remote viewing, and even mathematical equations to determine the probabilities.” I said.
“So, you're admitting that you have special powers?” Fury asked, pointedly.
“What? Hell, no.” I said with a laugh. “I can honestly say that I have only used technology in different forms to acquire the knowledge that I have.”
“Why don't you share it with us?” Maria asked.
I opened my mouth to say that I couldn't, then realized I probably shouldn't blatantly lie. “You've thoroughly researched my emergence, haven't you?” I asked her instead of responding.
Maria nodded. “We've traced your supposedly odd behavior, namely your amnesia, to just before your hospital visit last November.”
“I really rang my own bell back then.” I said and tapped the overgrown spot where the scar used to be. “A fairly hard skull makes quite the sound when impacting a thick metal hand railing.”
“You had a severe concussion and you were home from school for a week.” Maria said.
I nodded. “That's when it happened.”
“When what happened?” Fury asked.
“I... I saw it all.” I whispered. “Everything.”
“What do you mean?” Maria asked and leaned forwards slightly.
“This. All this.” I said and waved my hand around. “I wasn't Peter anymore because I couldn't remember anything about Peter's life at all. I became Ben and realized that I had extreme knowledge of nearly epic proportions about everything that has potentially happened, would happen soon, and was going to happen later.”
“You're joking.” Fury asked, surprised.
“Not even a little bit.” I said. “You'll never know what it's like to be stuck in a 14 year old body and feel completely powerless to defend yourself against an entire universe of dangers that will royally fuck you up if anyone knew about you.” I looked at Fury's face and then at Maria's. “Especially super spy agencies that thrive on secret knowledge.”
Maria's face paled a little and Fury looked slightly embarrassed.
“Yeah, I think you get it.” I said and ducked my head a little. “I tried to stay under the radar. I tried to keep to myself. I tried to not be noticed by anyone important... and literally walked right into Black Widow and Hawkeye. Then my life started spiralling around and things changed. I was noticed. So, I figured that some of my knowledge could be useful, if used judiciously and secretly.”
“You didn't.” Maria whispered.
I had to smile at her. “I didn't at first. I knew if I showed off too much, I would give myself away. I pretended to not know anyone and my actual amnesia about Peter's life was the perfect cover. Everyone of importance that I've met so far, I've known about, even if I had never met them before.”
“You lied about finding the old files on the mainframe.” Fury said.
“Nope!” I said with a smile. “Project Pegasus, Arnim Zola, The Red Skull, Hydra, the old maps of enemy bases, the Hulk's creation and General Ross's campaign of terrorism to capture an innocent victim, Captain America's ridiculous USO world tour and becoming an actual hero that saved the world, it was all there. I just copied and compressed it all before I renamed it, so that my excuse about deleting the original files was actually true.”
“I didn't know any of that was on there.” Fury said.
“Well, you didn't become Director until the 2000s, so there's no fault on your part that the previous director, who was a Hydra agent by the way, kept a lot of hidden backdoors and files on the main servers and in most of the safe houses and satellite bases around the world.”
“Good god.” Maria said.
“Hey, it's okay. I had them all removed.” I said, magnanimously.
“The computer hacks?” Maria asked.
“Those, too.” I said with a grin.
“It was you.” Fury said with finality. “You seeded those attack and kill orders.”
“Both times.” I said and Maria caught her breath. “I couldn't let Hydra get the chance to find out about me. If they had even a fraction of the knowledge I have, they could have ended the world.”
Fury squinted his eye at me. “You're exaggerating.”
“Maybe.” I said and crossed my arms. “Imagine if Loki's portal machine was actually an atomic infusion device, identical to the Manhattan Project's first experiment, only instead of nuclear fissionable material at the core, it used iridium to stabilize it and was powered by the tesseract.”
The rest of the color drained from Maria's face and she looked faint.
“Well, fuck.” Fury whispered. “You're not exaggerating.”
“I wish I was.” I said and sighed. “I really wish I was.”