You Need Better Costumes
Warnings: crack, ridiculousness, inexplicable Doombots, also the gen comes with Strong Implications of Arthur/Merlin but I do not think that shocks most of you
Summary: When a mission takes the Avengers to England, they run across another crime-fighting team. Steve is not sure when this became his life.
A/N: For flammablehat, who provides Tennyson when I am half expecting Lisa Frank. For the record, this is all her fault.
It takes about five minutes of the battle to figure out exactly who is on whose side (once Steve figures out that the unexpected element on the field isn’t a group of unfortunate civilians inside their perimeter but a fighting force in their own right), but once the strangers figure out that the Avengers are trying to keep Doom and his Doombots away from the stone ruins giving off interesting gamma radiation as well, they join forces and it doesn’t take long to win, with little more than scratches and bruises for any of them.
For a second after the last Doombot goes down, there’s silence while they all eye each other up, and then the Hulk, not yet calm enough to return to being Bruce, goes for the strangers. Steve and Tony start forward, but before they can get there, the skinny dark-haired man Steve would have picked out as their scientist steps forward and does something out of their line of sight that leads to the Hulk staggering, falling to the ground, and becoming Bruce again.
There’s a brief silence. “What,” says Clint, “was that.” It’s definitely not a question.
“I would ask who the hell all of you are,” says the blond one in front, the one with the sword, in the kind of accent Steve remembers from the few British officers he met during the War, “but I have in fact not been living under a rock. Might I ask what the Avengers are doing on British soil?”
Steve sees Tony opening his mouth and steps forward before he can say anything (the last time this happened there was an international diplomatic incident and Fury still hasn’t forgiven them for it). “We had intelligence that Doctor Doom had found an artifact almost as powerful as the Tesseract and traced him here. Who are you?”
The skinny one is crouched down beside Bruce, muttering and shaking him gently until he stirs, but he looks up to answer. “We own the artifact you’re talking about. Well, Arthur does.” The blond one brandishes the sword he’s still holding. “Yep, that’s the one.”
“Wow, a sword,” says Clint. “Seriously, a sword?”
“Pot, meet kettle,” Tony says with a grin and a pointed look at Clint’s quiver.
Steve clears his throat, not quite ready to let them degenerate into squabbling quite yet, especially not given that the non-SHIELD personnel look antsy. “Are you … representatives of the British government?”
“Technically I am,” says the woman standing on Doctor Doom’s chest with a sharp smile, “but that’s more of a day job, really. Gwen, how are you doing?”
“All disabled,” the other woman in their party chirps, looking up from her phone, where Steve had half-assumed she was texting like Darcy did the one time she accidentally got stuck at the edge of one of their missions. Tony makes an interested noise and she turns to him. “Honored to meet you, Mr. Stark. I’m Gwen, and I’m the only one of this lot who seems to care to make friends with 21st-century technology beyond the television and the phone.” One of the men makes an offended noise. “Elyan, I’m pretty sure your experiments don’t count.”
Natasha breaks in when she steps forward in time to help Bruce to his feet, getting between him and the skinny kid without making it obvious. “That doesn’t tell us who any of you are. I don’t recognize you.”
“You wouldn’t. We aren’t flashy like some people,” says another one of the men, this one with shaggy hair that he flips over his shoulder as he grins at Natasha, who doesn’t pay attention.
“Shut up, Gwaine,” says the skinny one. “We’re not on the government payroll, and we’d like to remain that way. I’m Merlin, Arthur’s the one with the sword, and there’s Gwen, Morgana, Gwaine, Lancelot, Leon, Elyan, and Percival.”
Steve blinks, because those are names he recognizes from books when he was a kid, long before the War. Most everyone else seems to be familiar with at least a few, but it’s Tony who rolls his eyes. “Cute. What, you call yourselves the Round Table? You need better costumes if you’re going to be an Arthurian superhero team.”
“We don’t need costumes, and yes, we used to call ourselves the round table.” The one who calls himself Merlin winces. “Well, most of us. We’ve worked out a couple kinks, this lifetime.”
“Lifetime?” Tony snorts. “Look, kid, you may have some tech or an X-gene that makes it look like you can do magic, but Arthurian legend, reincarnation, all that? Sorry to break it to you, but it’s a myth. And I’m friends with the god of thunder, your de-Hulking act there is a cute party trick but it’s not—”
Thor, who has been blessedly and unusually silent, chooses this moment to interrupt. “Anthony, I would not be so certain. I have seen much magic done by my brother, and this one seems his equal in power, if not in subtlety.” The one they call Arthur snorts in an uncanny mirror of Tony, but Thor just turns to the rest of them with the earnest expression Steve recognizes with a sinking heart. “I have seen such things, in my travels between worlds, and from Heimdall. I believe they are truly as they say, and I have heard these Midgardian legends, of formidable warriors. Welcome, friends!”
Steve manages not to sigh noticeably, but it’s a close thing.
They all go out for dinner, because of course they do. At first, it’s hard to tell which group is more star-struck with the other, and Steve smiles but doesn’t have much patience for it—a trait he discovers he has in common with Gwen, who isn’t a thing like the Queen Guinevere he remembers from the stories. Soon enough, though, it stops being about admiration and starts being about respect, and that, Steve’s more comfortable with. The Avengers talk about their non-classified missions—not that many of them are classified, with them all so visible (not to mention the damage they regularly inflict)—and the members of the round table talk about adventures that sound unbelievable to Steve, magic that should only be possible on Asgard the way Thor talk about it, not to mention the references they make to a past life that Steve still isn’t sure he believes in. His own second chance at life is one thing, but to be completely reborn is another.
After a while, the conversations break off into smaller groups. Each of the knights, as Steve can’t help thinking of them now, shows at least an initial interest in Natasha (aside from Lancelot, that is, who seems to be with Gwen), but she doesn’t even bother rejecting them, and it ends up being Clint that they collect into their group, talking about archery and swordplay (which Clint frowns upon but which they all think is a much more worthy weapon). Instead, Natasha bestows her company on Arthur, who doesn’t even bat an eye at her and seems content to discuss battle styles. Morgana leans over to whisper in Steve’s ear, cool and amused, when she notices him looking on with trepidation. “He grew up with me both times, you know. He knows better than to even think about it. Not that Merlin would stand for that.”
“Of course, ma’am,” he manages, because that demands some response but he’s damned if he knows what kind. He thinks he remembers Morgan or Morgana being a villain in the stories, but then again, it’s not like all the stories about Captain America were true when Steve woke up and they were all gone much longer.
“I suppose that’s a warning for us not to do it to you,” says Tony with a grin, breaking out of a technical conversation with Gwen, and distracts Morgana, much to Steve’s relief. There’s something unnerving about her, even more than there is about Natasha, and he’s struck with the sudden curiosity about what would happen if she met Fury. Gwen moves her technical talk to Bruce with a shrug and a grin, and manages to draw him into conversation without having to tiptoe or provoke him into it, which impresses Steve more than almost anything else she could have done.
Thor and Merlin, much to Steve’s alarm, get along like a house on fire after about five minutes of staring at each other mistrustfully. Aside from a jeer from Gwaine about Merlin having a taste for blonds, it goes without comment from nearly everyone. Merlin manages to get Mjolnir a hairsbreadth off the floor, which Thor seems to think merits buying his “newest brother-at-arms” half the bar.
Natasha motions for Steve’s attention and he tunes into her conversation with Arthur long enough to catch him talking about how for all the differences in technology the world hasn’t changed so much since his first time around, especially where discrimination is concerned. He grimaces a smile at her and she tilts her head, the closest she’ll allow herself to a shrug, or maybe an apology. “How many of the legends are true?” Tony interrupts when Morgana goes to the bar for another round. Steve tamps down the urge to thank him for turning the conversation away from something he thinks about too much himself. “I mean, I think I remember Merlin being an old man … or is he just younger?”
“Terrible lies,” Merlin calls from the middle of the bar, where Thor appears to be hanging him upside down. If Gwen hadn’t assured them all that the proprietor of the bar was from “the first time ‘round” as well, Steve would be worried about all of them appearing in the papers again. “All of it.”
“Most of it,” says Gwen with a frown, breaking away from Bruce for a second to glance at Morgana. “A bit was true. But that’s the kind of story that takes all night, really.”
“That means none of our damn business,” Clint contributes from where he’s got his head together with Elyan and Gwaine.
That breaks up the tension before it can rise, and Steve lets the night go on even though he knows SHIELD probably wants them home to debrief on the mission ASAP. They all float between conversations—Steve ends up having a half-hour conversation with the one called Leon about nothing significant at all, Tony needles everyone (managing to call Merlin “Harry Potter” in the process, Steve’s proud he knows that one now) before settling on Morgana as the most interesting conversationalist, Clint beats all the knights but Percival at arm wrestling, Bruce and Gwen spend most of the evening talking about the relationship between magic and gamma radiation, Natasha talks battle tactics with Arthur in an intense way that makes Steve wonder if she think she’s ever going to end up heading a battalion with spears and swords instead of guns, and Merlin ends up drunk enough that Thor carries him around until Arthur appropriates him for his lap (which makes Natasha’s eyebrows go up but gets no other visual reaction).
It gets late eventually, and Steve is the one who finally puts his foot down and reminds them that they’ve got an ocean to cross to get back to Avengers Tower and they have debriefing to go. Most of them part with handshakes and promises to keep in touch if there are any more incidents on British soil. Morgana says something alarming to Tony about future discussions about “that armor,” which Steve decides is not his problem. Thor and Merlin part with semi-tearful hugs, which Steve decides is definitely not his problem. He shakes everyone’s hand and gets on the plane back to New York—not the new jet that Tony swears he’s building for them yet, but something fast, anyway—and wonders if this was all real or if Doctor Doom has gained the ability to cause hallucinations.
“Captain Rogers,” says Fury the next morning, back at SHIELD, “do you care to explain to me why you didn’t leave England for almost six hours after you finished neutralizing Doom, and where the artifact I sent you to protect is? Not to mention, of course, the reason why Stark is walking around muttering about something he’s calling the Iron Sorceress and Thor is talking about taking Dr. Foster to England.”
Steve thinks of knights and reincarnation and the stories he read as a kid and the fact that King Arthur seemed more interested in his not-actually-grey-bearded sorcerer than Queen Guinevere, and then he shakes his head before he can open his mouth. “Sir, I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you.”