Chapter 10: Chapter 10
Summary: The rouge Avengers are pardoned under the influence of King T’Challa and it is up to Tony to ‘welcome’ them back. But as he and his new team are at the private airport, an unexpected fight breaks loose and the fate of the whole universe is changed when a wizard places himself as Tony Stark’s protector.
“Stark.” His visitor greeted as soon as the doors of the lift opened to show him, standing in front of the big windows that showcased the entirety of New York in all of its nightlife glory, the city lights like little stars on all buildings, tall and small. With his dark skin and all black clothes, had there not been lights around him that his form was blocking, he would have blended in to the night. That, and FRIDAY was keeping the man in a spotlight so as to make sure he doesn’t try anything out of her sight. Smart girl.
“Nick.” Tony greeted back, wary and very grateful to be having the Cloak with him now. Fury was not a man he’d want to face alone. Even though his armor was literally a second away from him, he’d rather not test Fury’s old spy skills if he could avoid it. Also, he’d rather not kill what was essentially one of the last links to his family. Sharon Carter, his Aunt Peggy’s daughter, didn’t count. They’d never been close, especially after Peggy came down with Alzheimer and Tony started visiting less because she only saw Howard and Tony couldn’t take it. Sharon even grew to resent him a little. That was probably why she helped Rodgers. That or some misguided thought that Aunt Peggy would do the same. Maybe she would. Tony didn’t know anymore. He didn’t know if he should trust anyone anymore, at least not those of the higher ups in SHIELDRA, as people now called it.
Because it had been Peggy who had identified his parents. Whether it was an attempt to spare Tony the pain of knowing his parents were brutally murdered, or she was trying to keep Howard’s involvement in SHIELD a secret or if she was covering HYDRA, Tony didn’t know and didn’t care. He had let SHIELD run and ruin his life enough. Fury wasn’t very welcome here anymore, either, since he must have known about it, about his parents, about Peggy’s lies. And Tony was done marching to Fury’s pipe.
“You have some explaining to do, Stark.” Fury said as though he were talking to a misbehaving boy, expecting him to fess up whatever information Fury wanted to hear. Obviously, he had forgotten who he was dealing with. Obviously, Tony had allowed him to forget for far too long now. Allowed all of them to think that they can walk all over him. Siberia was a wake up call. The possibility of JARVIS coming back was a wake up call. Thanos was one hell of a wake up call. He didn’t have time for Fury’s bullshit. He had an alien invasion to prepare for.
“So do you, Popeye. So why don’t you start and maybe I’ll indulge you later.” Tony shot back, finally walking into the room, on high alert. The Cloak around his shoulders billowed behind him in nonexistent wind, mocking Fury in its own way and taking on a more threatening ‘stance’ when one dark eye fell on it immediately. Judging by the incredulous look that stole over his face for a few seconds, he had recognized the red cloth for what it was, Strange’s Cloak, and was having a mini mental breakdown at the thought of Tony Stark welcoming anything magic related. Tony ignored him and took a deliberately well poised, elegant and entirely purposeful seat that made him look like he was lounging in a throne rather than a comfy armchair. The cloak positioned itself so he wasn’t sitting on it, giving it place to maneuver should there come a need.
Fury snapped out of his shock impressively quickly. Damn spy training. At least FRIDAY definitely had a picture of his face, of that Tony was sure. “Throwing your lot in with random wizards now, Stark?”
“Throwing yours in with wanted criminals and fugitives, Nicky?”
The one eyed man scowled at him darkly, moving closer so he was standing ten feet away from Tony. He glared in annoyance as the spotlight followed him. This was turning our funnier than Tony thought it would be. Then again, annoying Fury had always been his favorite pastime in Avengers meetings and debriefs. “They were wanted criminals and fugitives only because of your Accords, Stark. And they’ve been pardoned. They’re not criminals or fugitives anymore.”
“Not on this side of the Pacific, no. But Russia, Germany, Sokovia, Romania and Niger all want their heads on a plater. Particularly Rogers’ and Maximoff’s.” The businessman in Tony took over, which was probably for the best in this unexpected meeting. Storm or bullshit, businessman Stark can take it all in stride, whether he’d slept in the past five days or not. “Except Russia. It wants Barns and Romanoff dead. Or behind bars for the rest of their lives. The mood changes depending on how much the US or Wakanda piss them off. And the Accords weren’t mine. Not until relatively recently, anyway, when I rewrote some of the unfair clauses and made them more superhero acceptable. They were a draft for a set of laws to ensure accountability upon the people who have the power to both save and destroy the world. Had Ross not stepped in, we could have negotiated far better terms but the President allowed him to play his own game so we were screwed. And had Rogers not said ‘fuck you’ to 117 countries, they wouldn’t have been fugitives/criminals. They’re only back because Rogers is America’s golden boy and T’Challa pulled some bullshit I’m almost sorry I missed. The President thinks giving pardons will ensure him another mandate. I’m rather skeptical but I won’t get into that. I’d rather just wash my hands of you lot altogether, but I fear for the world too much to let that happen.”
“You think you were in the right?” Fury asked incredulously. “Not even Banner would support you. Not with Ross involved.”
“Ross is gone now, isn’t he?” Tony arched a judgmental eyebrow. “Had been for a while now. Because I made sure of it. Like every other time, too. I just had to put up with him for a while before I got rid of him. He has quite a bit of red in his ledger. And various other colors, too, but let’s not go there now.” He smirked at the silent spy. “What? Did you seriously think I was fighting for a better future of the Avengers just to make them attack dogs for Ross and his ilk? Far from it. The Accords were meant to ensure no government could ever use the Avengers for their own agenda. The Avengers were to be called out onto the field only if a greater threat than the military could deal with surfaced, like Loki, Ultron or the weird things that have been happening around the globe as of the last few years. AIM, HYDRA, the Mandarin and the Ten Rings, those were the things meant for us to face. The Avengers were not going to be used for anything else. I just needed a bit more time to gather the last bit of damning evidence to jail Ross for life, no matter his connections. But Rogers and his consorts,” both he and Fury snorted at that. “Decided that 117 nations were wrong and they were right and they didn’t even read the damn thing! What was worse and still is, Rogers didn’t think about anything or anyone else because he heard accountability and understood it as Barns being sentenced for being HYDRA’s little assassin.”
“You seem to be taking that rather well, all things considered.”
“I’ve dealt with greater bullshit than Rogers can dish out but he’s starting to climb the ladder of bullshitiness each day he breathes.” Tony waved off the hidden inquiry about his emotional and mental state of wellbeing regarding the death of his parents. It wouldn’t be a good idea to leave them alone in a room together, because the urge to punch Barns in the face with the Hulk-buster armor was still very strong, but Tony didn’t hold it against Bucky, what he had done as the Winter Soldier. Unlike some people *cough* Wanda *cough* he wasn’t a willing HYDRA ginny pig and agent. “If I had a problem with Barns, he’d have been a smear on that bunker wall long before Rogers could throw the first punch. I don’t want Barns dead. I just don’t want to spend much time with him until I bury that memory away sufficiently enough not to follow the instinct of punching him in the face.” And he says ‘sufficiently enough’ because he will never be able to completely erase the image of his parents’ death from his mind. Curse of his edict memory. “I don’t know if any of you follow the news these days, but I have been fighting for Barns not to be killed by the Soviets. And he’ll go to court for the things he did in Bucharest, Germany and Siberia and nothing else. In those times, we know for sure that he was acting of his own accord, not as the Winter Soldier. Maybe they’ll be lenient enough to lessen his sentence if he gives up Rogers, since it was Rogers who dragged him into that mess, but don’t expect less than ten years. Germany refused, gleefully, to let SI pay for the damage done by Rogers and Barns. And Romanoff. I’d expect a hefty bill in your mail if you decide to take them in. They’re not welcome back in the Avengers Initiative.”
“Ah. I was waiting for you to pull that card.” Was it just him or did Fury sound ... pleased? “I’m glad I made the right choice. I knew you’d do good for the Initiative. You might need more members, though. You, Colonel Rhodes, Vision and that spider kid are just not going to cut it, Stark.”
Tony stared at him, flabbergasted. “Wait, are you telling me you are not here to try and shove some crap about togetherness down my throat and get me to take the rouges back?”
“Should I be?” Fury fired back, arching the eyebrow of his good eye at him. “Because I am well aware of what you’ve been doing, Tony, and I couldn’t have handled that shitshow better myself.” At his still shocked expression, Fury actually chuckled and sat down across from him, no longer going for imposing instead of settling for tired but casual. “If I hadn’t of thought that you’d be good for the Initiative, I would have scrapped you in the start, not left you as a consultant. But I didn’t make you a member, either, because I didn’t want to ‘shove some crap about togetherness down your throat’ because that would blind you to the world outside. It blinded Barton. It blinded Romanoff. And they’re highly trained spies meant to keep tabs of lots of things and make decisions based on that. But all they heard and all they saw was the Avengers ‘doing the right thing’ and being ‘prevented from doing the right thing by the Accords’ and they forgot that there was a world out there. A world they were supposed to protect. I’m rather disappointed in them.”
He sighed, shaking his head and then rubbing his forehead as he sprawled back into the comfy couch. Tony only now noticed - possibly because of the lack of hair to indicate otherwise - that Fury looked like he had aged more than the three years they’ve not seen each other. He wasn’t sure if it was the stress or something else but a pang of pity, sympathy and worry hit him all at once. Fury, for all his secret keeping, quite possibly didn’t deserve to deal with the mess that were the rouges.
“You, on the other hand,” Tony snapped back to attention when his companion continued. “You saw the world and the turning tides and you tried to address the needs of the people. Had you had the support you needed, Ross probably wouldn’t even have happened. The world sees Iron Man and they know that they will be safe. People don’t run away from where you are. The Avengers ... Well, not so much. I think people trust the Hulk more than they do Rogers and his lot. You did what you could and needed to do and those morons just did what they want. In the end, it showed. You’re loved all over the world while more than 117 countries hate their guts. And you’re absolutely right about the President and T’Challa. The King won’t be earning himself and Wakanda any favors, Vibranium or not. Not when they saw him standing up for the people youstood against. The world fears you and respects you far more than they do some isolated little country from the jungle. They might have some mean tech but I don’t think they can stand up to Stark missals and there are still countries that have some of your weapons.”
“Yeah, they had a contract that I can’t go against.” Tony says, wincing. He had tried so hard to get all his weapons back and melt them into something good but even he can’t get them all.
“My point is, the world doesn’t want you as an enemy. As far as they are concerned, Wakanda can go fuck itself.” They both snorted again at that. “You did good, Stark. Better than I could have hoped. Thank you for keeping the original ideal of the Avengers Initiative alive.”
Tony looked away, feeling some of the tension leave his frame. Not all. There were still things he wanted to discuss with Fury - his parents, Peggy and Sharon Carter, the New SHIELD - but that can all wait. “Thank you for trusting me with it. I wouldn’t.”
“Because your one stupid genius, you know that?” Fury chuckled, somewhere between fond, exasperated and sad. “You don’t mess up things that are important, Stark. You just think that you do. You throw yourself into it completely and forget to take care of yourself, which is what worries me at the moment.” Fury looked him over from head to toe and Tony felt the Cloak bristle, wrapping more tightly around him. Drawing Fury’s eye to it, too. “That and whatever you’re planning with your magical new friend.”
“You’ll be informed in due time, Nicky. Just not right away. You have your plate full as it is.” Tony crossed his arms over his chest, face going blank.
“You might need help.”
“I have it.”
Fury frowned. “You don’t know anything about this man, Stark.”
“I know that he understands the threat I’ve been warning everyone about and I know he is taking me seriously.” He glared at Fury and the Cloak suddenly flared itself up to look larger and more intimidating. “I know that he will help. I know he won’t just brush me off and I know he believes me when I tell him how serious it is, which means more to me than you can possibly guess. And I know he won’t hurt or try to control or use me in any way, unlike my last team who welcomed a willing HYDRA agent mind rapist into our midst with open arms. So, yeah. I know enough about him to not need any help from you, Nick, other than keeping those idiots out of my way.”
“So that is all it takes to have your trust? To say you were right?” Tony wants to snort at how disappointed Fury sounds. Now this was an act. Whatever genuine interaction they had been having not five minutes ago was over. Probably dried up Fury’s yearly truth supply. He says what he says but Tony can practically hear Romanoff’s lessons about ‘people not catering to his fragile overinflated ego’. How she was allowed to do psychological evaluations and character profiling, he doesn’t know and he no longer cares. He’ll be keeping a sharp eye on New SHIELD soon enough. FRIDAY will have a lot to learn from her big brother. JARVIS can tear SHIELD apart in a couple of clicks. God, he hopes his and Strange’s weird plan works. He missed his co-pilot so much. FRIDAY is his baby girl but JARVIS ... He can’t even begin explaining.
“I don’t need someone to say I am right. I need someone who will see that I am right and who will react accordingly. I, unfortunately, so far have two people who believe me but don’t know what to do about it and one person who always believes me and was trying to help me. Now I have one more plus Vision to add to the list. My life is about to become a hell of a lot easier since I will have the support that I always needed from the team I always deserved. And I don’t trust him.”
“You don’t?” Fury asked him skeptically, studying him with his one eye.
“Not yet.” Tony confirms. “Ask me again two days from now. The answer might change.”
“This isn’t a joking matter, Stark.” The director says in a stern tone of voice which only makes Tony snort. “You really know nothing about this guy. The only thing you know is that he can use magic and I thought, with your experience, that you’d know better than stick around someone who might try to brainwash you.”
“Oh, so I should go back to my old team - who insisted I step back, by the way, because I didn’t agree with their new recruit - where they stand by as gods choke me, witches mind-rape me and my own supposed teammates and friends stab me in the back or attack me with Vibranium shields to the chest?” Tony challenges, standing to his feet, the Cloak of Levitation adding to the flare and dramatics all on its own. Fury was up on his feet instantly as well, eying the magical artifact, the minute twitch of his hand displaying a desire to reach for his gun.
“I wasn’t there before. I’ll keep them in line, now.”
Stark sneers with a glare on his face, startling Fury with the rage and hatred he sees flashing there like a blazing fire, right there in his eyes. Tony is pleased with the reaction. Good. Let him remember who he was dealing with. The moniker ‘Merchant of Death’ was not exactly a recent name he had been called. There’s a reason Russians didn’t dare try another pissing contest with the US while he still made weapons.
“Yes, because that makes me feel so much better, Fury.” The near growl that leaves his mouth surprises them both. “Did you know? Of course you knew. Why would I even ask? Which brings one question to light.”
“And what would that be?” God, he hates how Fury’s trying to play innocent or ignorant or stupid or whatever this is. It almost makes him want to just boot the bastard out of the Tower’s windows on a rocket and let him hope he doesn’t die.
“Were you and Director Carter in on it? The hit? HYDRA? The falsification of my parents’ death certificates? If you want in on this, you have to give me something, Fury, because I don’t trust you as far as FRIDAY can throw you.” He glares at the fidgeting man, now his hand twitching to be in a repulsor gauntlet. The rage and disgust that he felt upon seeing what his weapons were doing in Gulmira was back. Only it wasn’t directed at himself anymore. It was directed at another part of his so called extended family. God, how can two of his three honorary uncles/godfathers be such dicks?! Only Jarvis was cool but Jarvis was always cool and he was the only one who had ever showed he cared for Tony. Maria tried and Howard didn’t know how. Tony recognized some of himself in his father’s actions - pushing those dear to him away, never opening up, keeping secrets, snapping every now and then, but somehow always making sure Tony was taken care of in this way or that. When he has JARVIS back, Tony plans on doing a throughout investigation of all of his father’s SHIELD related work. It was possible he had been suspecting something will happen and he hadn’t wanted Tony involved. Obadiah, on the other hand, had always been more concerned about profit and Tony’s designs instead of Tony himself. And Fury had made himself perfectly clear that he only saw Tony - and everyone else - as assets. Sharon had never cared and now Tony was doubting Peggy had, either. He’d seen how good a liar a spy can be. “And don’t think I might need you. I can gather terabytes of information in half the time you could get one byte.”
“That’s classified information-”
“That’s been on the Internet, dipshit.” The genius interrupts, having enough. “The likeliness of you having sealed it away completely is, like, 1.3% on a good day. And something tells me it hadn’t been a good day when the race for all your classified information started. By the way, you can thank Rogers and Romanoff for a thousand twenty seven dead agents and fifty dead families and over hundred dead civilian friends of your agents. We couldn’t extract them all.” It still haunts his sleep. Not nearly as persistent as Afghanistan and not nearly as chilly as the wormhole. Definitely not as fucked up as Siberia. But it’s there and it’s making his life hell every other day when he thinks about all those people he hadn’t managed to save. He thinks to the blank and the angry and the anguished faces of the agents as they follow the proceedings through various private sources or the media and he hates how he had to tell them who they lost. Stark Industries at least had a place for them. If SI suddenly happens to have its own secret - like an actual fucking secret - spy network that no one other than those most loyal to SI know about, it’s for the best. Tony hadn’t asked for it - he had given them jobs they would best be suited for and new identities, trying to keep them bellow the radar - but they had formed it for him anyway. He had somehow earned their loyalty. It had become so much easier to keep out other corporate spies when you have, like, a hundred spies at every branch.
“That wasn’t SHIELD’s best moment, but we needed HYDRA flushed out. I only expected Romanoff and Rodgers to understand that only the brass was HYDRA with maybe fifty active agents worldwide, but they ... ” And the man looked almost as haunted as Tony felt for a second. The way he faltered said it all. Fury doesn’t stutter or hesitate or falter. “I guess I expected too much from them. Romanoff had obviously gone back to the Red Room setting and listened to whatever Rodgers said and we both know now that we can’t trust him to be rational where HYDRA or Barns are concerned.”
“Zemo played him well.”
“Zemo played us all, all too well.”
Tony shook his head. “Zemo only cared to fuck up Rogers. Taking down the Avengers was a bonus. But, you know? He was right about one thing. An empire that is destroyed from the outside can rebuild itself again and can rise to new hights.” He crossed his arms and shifted his weight to one leg. “But an empire toppled from within? That’s good and dead. Like the Roman Empire kind of dead. West died long before East. And it’s just like that within the Avengers.”
“I won’t cover for them anymore, Fury. They’re on their own. T’Challa wants them back, SHIELD and the President want ’em back? Then that’s their deal. Your deal. The Accords don’t, the Avengers don’t. Let West take care of itself, they do have their shield to stand behind and they can leave it or be blindsided just as easily. But that’s their problem. East has an armor and we will stand united while not actually sharing a single brain cell between us. You want a team of people who always agree with their leader? HYDRA had more influence on you than I originally thought.” He turns around to leave, not even looking over his shoulder when the Cloak prevents Fury’s hand from landing on his shoulder in an attempt to stop him leaving. “You have two days to give me an answer, Nicky. Before I find out on my own. And if you knew and if you tempered with it, I will shut you down and burn you to the ground like I did the Ten Rings and my weapons factories. This is the only warning you will get.” The elevator opens for him and he sends a silent thanks to his ever loyal FRIDAY. He should probably spend tonight and tomorrow on updating his servers so it can contain the awesomeness of both JARVIS and FRIDAY. JARVIS takes up a lot of space. “Get out, Fury. You’ve overstayed your welcome.”
It feels good to watch the elevator door close on Fury’s face. It feels like closure. It feels like freedom.
It was time to get to work.