Chapter 11: Chapter 11
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.
The twenty four hours seem to both fly by and to drag themselves on for eternity as Tony anxiously waits for the spell to be over, leaving his workshop only to go to the bathroom and to get something to eat or drink upon the annoying nagging of a certain astral projecting Doctor Wizard that spent most of the first fifteen hours sleeping on his couch. At least physically. Like he said, the astral projection of the man was bothering him with basic human necessities for the first fifteen hours before the man woke up and started bothering him like a normal person would, in his own body. Tony could pout and whine and grumble all he wants but he was only greeted with a deadpan expression and an impassive voice that brooked no argument about him eating or drinking something. Something other than coffee, the heathen had insisted.
By that time, Peter had decided to swing by, apologizing about some glitch occurring in his web shooters long before he walked into the room, only to freak out with excitement upon seeing Strange levitating in the air while reading a floating book and sipping tea casually as though he did it every day. Maybe he did. What did Tony know. The man did look up from his book when he heard KAREN and FRIDAY start exchanging data readings on the Spider-man suit and the glitched web shooter, arching an eyebrow at Tony. He had obviously not expected so many AIs around. Tony didn’t point out he had especially made JOCASTA for Happy after the Mandarin incident that landed him in the hospital and SARAH for Rhodey after the Civil War. He was wondering whether to let FRIDAY go with Pepper and help her run SI and keep her safe or to just give her ANA, who has a badass business mode and a no bullshit disposition since he had kind of grown attached to his baby girl. He loved all of them, of course, but FRIDAY was with him every day. It would be impossible not to get attached.
He wondered how JARVIS will handle being surrounded by all these lovely ladies when they get him back.
Should he get an AI for Harley, though? It would probably be for the best. Someone needs to keep an eye out for that kid.
Peter’s energy was all over the place, just like him, asking both Tony and Strange all sorts of questions, raging from science to magic, from mechanics to biology, from artificial intelligence to the nerve system. That, unfortunately, soon led to Stark vs Strange snark contest as well as a genius vs genius conversation as they defended their own arguments and burned the other’s into the ground. It was quite possible Peter had learned more about the very fabric of existence in that one two hour long conversation than he could have in years of schooling lessons, but the two geniuses didn’t even notice until FRIDAY announced that the modified web shooters were repaired and ready to go. Parker had seemed to deflate when the adults suddenly blinked out of their haze and put several feet of distance between them from where they had come into each other’s space during their debate. And after he learned what they were doing, he was even more reluctant to leave, begging to be let to stay for Vision’s and JARVIS’ return. So they ordered pizza and Tony actually decided to pick Strange’s brain about paralysis and spine trauma and braces so he can update Rhodey’s braces to be even better and Stephen happily obliged.
By the time said man walked into the room to see why the Tower was so quiet, Peter was watching in amazement as Tony and Stephen made several technological and medical revolutionary jumps, playing with holographic designs and calculations that seemed far more complicated than rocket science and that he couldn’t follow for hours now, KAREN and FRIDAY giving their own hypothesis and calculations and simulations and charts every now and then. Rhodey took one look at the tired but glowing Tony and the three robots playing with a flying cape and just sat down in front of the two geniuses and asked questions that, somehow, spiraled into new designs and medical questions the two geniuses refused not to answer. Peter and Rhodey were left dumbfounded in the face of the information both men were spouting off of the top of their heads, never pausing, never hesitating, always cross-referencing and calling up various research papers they’ve read over the years with the ease of a computer. KAREN and FRIDAY and the newly joined in SARAH, the brilliant Stark AIs that they are, kept pace.
Rhodey had never met a human who could keep up pace with Tony as well as this wizard dude could. Might be a bit different if Tony was well rested but this was, unfortunately, Tony’s default mode in the past several years and Pepper, Rhodey and Happy hate it. Maybe being friends with an actual doctor will help? Especially since this doctor didn’t seem so keen on running away like Banner had. Rhodey doesn’t blame the guy - the fear of what the Hulk can do and all is a pretty big and rational fear, after all - but yeah, he kind of blames the guy. For leaving Tony. For leaving the blame to all fall on Tony’s shoulders. Strange, at least, seems to be trying to steer Tony away from thinking such stupid things, like blame. At least when it was all directed at himself.
Rhodey could have kissed the man when he actually managed to persuade Tony not to blame himself - at least for a few minutes - as to what happened to Rhodey during the airport fight.
The hours ticked by and they all somehow got roped into the prosthetic business, adding ideas to both the commercial designs and the designs that were meant for Rhodey only. Peter had suggested that they make the things in several colors, Rhodey had suggested making ones maneuverable, light and fast enough to let injured soldiers wear them so they don’t have to retire before they want to. Tony and Strange were talking about permanent braces and temporary ones that can be taken off and have somehow ventured into talks of implanting the braces into limbs that are supposedly going to stay immobile forever otherwise, which brought Barnes’ metallic arm to the table. Quite literally. Which brought more neurosurgery discussions and actually took them from the realm of possibility into the realm of probability which, knowing Tony Stark, will be entering the realm of reality within a couple of months. It was definitely awesome.
They called Doctor Cho to ask her about synthetic skin. They consulted with an imprisoned Maya vie video chat about Extremis, which Rhodey had protested but knew had to be done or else the implant surgery for the forever crippled might just kill them. Strange even called up his sorcerer buddy Wong and asked whether magic could help in the healing process since he wasn’t exactly keen on training more casual sorcerers until some Mordo-business, whatever that was, was taken care of. Tony soon went into the materials, which is when FRIDAY alerted them to a change in Vision’s systems. There was still half an hour to go until the spell will be finally over but Tony exchanged a glance with Stephen and the Sorcerer Supreme smiled.
“Don’t worry. Everything is going exactly as planned. They’re just slowly waking up and finally separating themselves.”
“And the Stone won’t act up?” The engineer asked worriedly, well aware of both Peter and Rhodey watching the exchange with interested and wary expressions (in Rhodey’s case) on both their faces. “We kind of don’t need a second Ultron outbreak.”
“Tones,” Rhodey called, apprehensive. But Tony couldn’t pay much mind to his best friend at the moment. He was still waiting for an answer.
“Even if it did start acting up, I’ve placed enough protective wards against it to ensure it can’t cause any sort of damage. They’ll both be safe and there won’t be a second Ultron.”
“Tony.” This time, said man looked over to the Colonel, since his name was said in a much sterner voice. “What are you two talking about? What’s this about Vision? What stone? Why are you talking about Ultron? What were you two even doing in the first place?!”
“Honey-bear, relax, please.” Tony says while raising his hands in a placating manner. “It’s not as bad as you think. We just put Vision through a time spell that will let his processors develop enough that removing two of his founding layers won’t kill him.”
“And why would you need to remove his ... What do you even mean by founding layers? What is that? Is that a thing?” The dark skinned man looks to Peter, who shrugs helplessly, then to Strange, who only arches an unimpressed eyebrow at him. “Someone better explain what’s going on right now!”
“That’s what he was doing before you started freaking out.”
“Wizard, I have dealt with enough sass from Tony a better part of my life. I don’t need you contributing to it as well.”
“I haven’t even began with the sass.”
“Do you want that explanation or not?” Tony cut in when he saw War Machine’s pilot about open his mouth and argue back. Thankfully, they both fell silent and Rhodes sent an expectant look his way. Tony hesitated for a moment when he saw Peter looking at him curiously, expectantly and trustingly before deciding the kid may as well be an official Avenger, Homecoming fiasco or not. “Right. Truth and explanation time. Fun.”
He raised a finger to stop whatever Rhodey or Stephen were about to say, rubbing at his eyes while the two looked at each other in surprise at having spoken at the exact same time. The bots and the Cloak had stop playing by now, Dum-E, U and Butterfingers zeroing in on their creator and beeping confusedly. The three AIs were silent.
“I guess it’s only fair that you know, as we are all undoubtedly going to be dragged into this shit eventually. So, summarized version?” He gets two nods from the still not-in-the-know part of the room and a shrug from Stephen, the sorcerer leaving it to him to deal with this how he saw fit. Which he was definitely grateful for because there was a great big chance Rhodey might freak out and Tony knows how to deal with the freak outs he causes for his best friend. Freak outs caused by others? Not so much. “Right. You all remember New York? Me flying a nuke into space through a fucking portal?” His audience nods. “Remember the Tesseract?” Rhodey nods while Peter frowns in confusion. “Yeah, that thing’s powered by the same source as Loki’s scepter was. You know, the Mind Stone in Vision’s forehead? Yep. An Infinity Stone, the Space Stone to be precise. Well, there are six of those bad boys and a mad man called Thanos is looking to collect them all and use their infinite power to wipe out half of life in the entire fucking universe. And there’s two on Earth.”
“What the hell, man?”
“Yeah, I know, sugarplum. It sounds ridiculous but it’s true. I’ve been telling you about this for five years. I just didn’t know his endgame or his name. But the Chitauri that we’ve faced, in New York? That’s just a part of his army, Rhodey.” Stark says seriously, looking his best friend in the eye. “It’s one of the reasons I always stuck out my neck for the Avengers. Earth can’t afford to lose them. The Accords were a way to protect us if Ross and Rodgers didn’t fuck it all up so spectacularly. So here we are now, the rouges on house arrest and us ... Well, Doctor Strange and I figured separating Viz’s main processor from the Mind Stone might save him if Thanos comes for the Stone. It would also ... allow for Viz to shed some ... layers.”
“Tony.” The way Rhodey says it hurts because there was understanding in his voice that actually shouldn’t be there. Sure, Rhodey knew about Edwin Jarvis and where JARVIS actually comes from, but he didn’t fully understand just how much of a kid JARVIS was to Tony. It’s easy to visualize with Dum-E, U and Butterfingers, since they act like children, but JARVIS had always appeared mature and in control since Rhodey met him. The British sounding AI had only ever showed weakness in front of Tony and the bots and no one else. At least he was a quick study and soon became as all knowing as he had seemed from the beginning. Rhodey met JARVIS when JARVIS was already a week old. Painfully young yet painfully intelligent and advanced well beyond anything of this time, let alone well over twenty years ago. Rhodey understood some just what Tony had went through when JARVIS uploaded himself into the Cradle and out came Vision, but he didn’t understand all. Not enough.
“Vision is fine with it. He felt it was unfair J had to sacrifice himself for Vision to live and he said he wanted his own memories.”
"Tony,” Rhodey repeated, sounding almost as pitying as he had when he had first met JARVIS and heard him speak. He hadn’t heard an autonomous, sentient if artificial person. He had heard the voice of a dead man and had thought Tony had gone off the deep end. He sounded just like that.
Strange seemed to pick up on the tension and the tone and frowned, stepping in. “It is actually for the best. One more ally, physical or digital, can only help our fight. And if what I’ve been hearing about JARVIS is true, then we will be regaining a right worthy, helpful ally. He’ll come in handy, at the very least.”
“It is. He’s the coolest. No offense, FRIDAY, KAREN, SARAH.”
“None taken, Colonel.” The three female AIs said casually, probably aware that JARVIS was a world above them, in experience if nothing else.
“And it will leave Vision independent of the Stone.”
“And immune to hacking. Vision and I did some simulations with FRIDAY. The coding he inherited from JARVIS and Ultron, as advanced as it is, can still be hacked. Taking out JARVIS will force the rest of his processor to become a ... a brain, or at least a lot like it.” Tony tagged on to Stephen’s explanation, both geniuses looking at Rhodey but the man only had his eyes for his friend. “As long as he depends on JARVIS and the Mind Stone as his beginning and his end, he can’t be himself fully. He’s supposed to learn from them, not them be a part of him. He’s more than JARVIS and he’s more than the Mind Stone. He’s me and he’s Bruce and he’s just a little bit of Ultron. But he’s us by learning from us. He’s not us. That had to happen for his ‘foundations’, too, Rhodey. Otherwise ... ”
“He’s vulnerable.” Rhodey finished. “Not adaptable enough.”
“He’s afraid of hurting people like Ultron did.” Tony tells them all for the first time. It was something Vision had sought him out especially to speak to him about. Tony had nearly had a heart attack when Vision had phased through the wall of his lab, a week after the Sokovia mess. “That’s why he doesn’t fight back until he really has to. He understands that the Mind Stone is powerful and he’s afraid to hurt people with it.”
The good Colonel winced at this. “And then Germany happened and proved him right. Shit.”
Tony just nodded, looking away from his friend and to where he knew Vision to be in a dimension beyond this one. “He thinks a little separation from it will help him control it better.”
“But you don’t know?”
Stark shrugged, running a hand through his hair tiredly. “Maybe? I can’t tell. We’re not going to remove it, we’re just ... making sure it can be removed without tearing him apart, okay? I lost one child to that thing. I won’t let anything happen to Vision because of it.”
“Can we destroy that thing?” Peter pipes in, looking between the three adults. “I mean, won’t that solve this whole thing once and for all? Destroying just one if all six are needed to wipe out half of the universe?”
“Not as long as the other Infinity Stones exist.” Strange repeated the same response he had given Tony before. “And you can’t destroy them all. In order to destroy an Infinity Stone, you would have to expose it to a power of a similar signature with a similar effect and identical power. That method might work on several of the Stones - mostly through the various use of the Mystic Arts - but there’s two Stones I’m pretty damned sure we can’t replicate the powers of.”
“I’m gonna guess the Time Stone and the Soul Stone. From what I understand so far, magic can easily replicate the effects of the Power, Reality, Space and Mind Stones.” Tony shrugged at the stares he got. “What? It’s only logic. How do you hit the Time Stone with the power of time? Or how do you utilize the power of a soul?” He paused, thinking. “Actually, aren’t astral projections a spiritual phenomenon? Obviously you can do things that are soul related with your hocus pocus magic tricks. At least there’s one more Stone that we can destroy.”
“How did you even figure that out, man? Why is my life so weird?” Rhodey whines, running both hands over his face, a little bit agitated.
“You researched on astral projecting?” Their resident sorcerer asks curiously at the same time, eying Tony in a way he couldn’t quite discern.
“I usually research anything that somehow becomes a part of my life.” He replied in a casual tone. Rhodey shook his head while Stephen tilted his to the side in thought and confusion.
“I didn’t see you doing it, though.” And that would be weird to him, since they have practically spent the last day in each other’s presence.
Tony gestured at his tinted glasses on the work table. “The wonders of Tony Stark science. I made them months ago.” He watched as Strange put them on and blinked when FRIDAY showed him whatever it is that she chose to show him. “Those and I have an implant in my ear so I can never lose contact with my AIs ever again.” He tried not to think about being alone in Tennessee, all those years ago when the whole Mandarin shtick happened. Those were not happy days. “FRIDAY just told me about everything she found.”
“Well, you’re not wrong.” The sorcerer said as he took off the glasses and handed them over to the excited and curious Peter without comment. The teen was immediately “Awesome!“-ing them, leaving the adults to talk business while he played with the highly advanced tech. “I’ll have to look into it, though, whether we have any strong enough spells that in any way affect the soul.” He shook his head. “It might not work, even if we find something in the library. Infinity Stones don’t exactly work within the ‘normal parameters’ of either science or magic. We could do all we can and it could still do no good in the long run.”
“It’s still worth a shot.”
"If we ever get our hands on another Infinity Stone.” Tony and Rhodey agree with each other, nodding to indicate they understood. “How many of those did you say were on Earth again?”
“Two, as far as we actually officially know, but the sorcerers of Kamar-Taj are detecting energy readings very similar to the Time Stone somewhere in Norway.” The Sorcerer Supreme answered with a frown and Tony snorted, plopping down on the couch Strange’s body had slept on throughout the night.
“I’m ready to bet half of my fortune that Reindeer Games has it.”
“Only half?” The other genius arched an eyebrow, at some point have started to levitate and ignoring Peter’s gushing and the way FRIDAY seemed to be attempting to explain it in some scientific way to the other two AIs who had not seen him doing it so far.
“I’m not an idiot to wager all of it. Pepper would kill me!” That startled a laugh out of the small group, which eased some tension out of the room after their serious conversation but was cut short when FRIDAY pipped in.
“Boss, my scanners are indicating that Vision is stirring. He’s ready to wake up. The program is ready to start working.”
A worried Tony turns to Stephen. “This spell ... It won’t change his mental state or anything, right? His personality?”
“No. It only affects the processor, or brain as there aren’t exactly spells that specialize on technology.” The ex neurosurgeon reassures. “It’s actually why we could attempt this in the first place, the way Vision’s ‘thinking unit’, let’s call it, was constructed. If it had just been an ordinary processor, things might have been altered and the Vision that came out of it would have been a completely different Vision. But because it was constructed so similarly to a human brain, the spell could be applied to him.”
“What kind of spell are we talkin’ about?” The curious Colonel asked finally, studying intensely the interaction between his best friend and their new ally. He obviously saw that Strange was ... more familiar with Tony than Rhodey had expected. Tony was as oblivious as ever to it but Rhodey had taken up to seriously studying the people around his friend after Stane and then Natasha’s infiltration of SI. He didn’t want a repeat. Next time, it might not be a ‘friendly’ spy that tries to get access to his friend’s life and vulnerabilities. Strange didn’t seem like that type. Quite the opposite. He dealt with Tony with the same finess he, Pepper or Happy did. Maybe even better, as he always knew what to say to calm the genius’ ever racing mind. He’ll have to keep an eye on him. There was something Strange was still hiding and Rhodey didn’t want another Steve running around, only with a different way to spell his name. Tony wouldn’t survive another one.
“There are several, actually, but the one I am talking about is a sort of isolation spell. The Ancient One, the previous Sorcerer Supreme of Earth, used it when she had to use the Eye of Agamotto,” he pointed to the necklace laying against his chest innocently but actually contained one of the six most powerful objects in the multiverse. “On someone who was gravely injured or on a small scale on something else but didn’t want to affect the rest of the world. It’s a strong spell that prevents the affects of the Time Stone to spread beyond the restraining runes and wards that are put in place. As it is, I both isolated Vision from the world and every aspect of him individually from the effects that the Time Stone will have on his processor. It’s a bit more complicated than the way I am explaining it, since part of the spell specifically isolates the brain and its various functionalities, including a person’s character, temperament, mental health and maturity, knowledge, memories and so on and so forth. In short, the spell prevents from changing Vision from who he is to something that he might be.”
“I didn’t follow much of that but I guess we have to trust you on this.” Rhodey grumbled. He had finished MIT and was an actual rocket scientist, but he had managed with a lot of studying and sleepless nights. He wasn’t like Tony - not that anyone really was - whose brain did cartwheels and who knows what other sort of gymnastics when he understood things like that so easily. He had obviously followed, since he had exhaled a relieved breath.
“I will do my best not to betray such trust.” Stephen replied just before FRIDAY pipped up again.
“Vision is ready, Boss. Time is up.”
Stark looked towards Strange with a nervous glint in his eyes before he gave the sorcerer room and took a fee steps back. Rhodey and Peter did the same, confused and curious, giving the magic man some room. Strange slid on a strange ring (pun not intended) on two of his fingers and stood in the middle of the room. He started waving hands in the air and sparks ignited like a fiery wheel, spinning in circles and opening an entrance into a dimension identical to their own. Cracked glass appeared around the portal and through it, they could see Vision, just waking up as what looked like residue magic faded away, gold and green leaving like smoke trails until they disappeared completely. The android shook his head and blinked a few times before smiling at the good doctor and Tony who was peeking from behind him, wobbling slightly on his first few steps as he exited the rune circle and then the Mirror Dimension, entering their own. Strange let the portal collapse in on itself and watched as Tony fretted silently and from a distance over Vision.
“Doctor.” The red man replied, voice the same, intonation the same, the look on his face the same as always. Stephen relaxed slightly. It seems to have worked, at least the isolation spells did.
“How are you feeling?”
“Lighter ... ” Vision answered after a pause. “Like ... Like a great burden has been lifted off of me. I can’t quite explain it right. But I feel free. From this.” He taps the yellow stone embedded in his forehead. “I feel only me.”
Stephen smiled fully at the android, happy that at least the man seemed content with the change. “That’s good-” He cut himself off, however, when Vision suddenly floated over to the main processing matrix in the lab and plugged his finger into an in-port socket. A frazzle of electricity shook his frame and Stephen had to catch Tony when the smaller man lunged to save his creation, catching him barely in time to prevent the man from getting electrocuted. Thankfully, Vision seemed just fine and the current of electricity faded back into the machine in front of him in seconds.
“Download complete.” He told the room at large after a few seconds and pulled his finger free. He waits in silence and the holograms around the room flicker for the briefest of seconds. A screen pops up on the main work bench, showing a swiftly filling bat - as to be expected of Stark tech. Only the best. The bar disappears as soon as it is full and there is a crackle in the speakers. Silence. And then-
“Sir? Why is there an Arc Reactor in your chest again?” A familiar voice asks over the speakers, one that hasn’t been heard, not like this, in far too long.
And Tony Stark breaks down in relieved laughter and tears of both joy and sorrow.