Chapter 25: Chapter 25


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 first threat that required the New Avengers and the rouge Avengers to team up to fight happened a month later in the form of a small group of alien criminals that had managed to escape from some space prison. They were humanoid in shape with black skin like exoskeleton that was actually as tough as diamonds, so Wakanda’s Vibranium and young Laura’s and Wolverine’s Adamantium claws were invaluable in the fight. However, the things didn’t go down easy, even when you chopped their heads off. They just got right back up again, their severed limbs growing back no matter how they were severed. What was worse, they seemed to breathe laser beams - yes, breathe - and were immune to magnetic or electric attacks due to their similarity with diamonds. Heat wasn’t the solution, either, and there was only so many times that Captain America, the Black Panther, Logan and his daughter could cut off their limbs before tiring out.

Oh, and their lasers? They made a scratch on Steve’s new Vibranium shield, which had Logan pulling Laura off of the field in seconds, not that anyone blamed him. Vibranium was supposed to absorb the impact of anything and yet these being had made a chipping of sorts. Adamantium may be the strongest metal but Logan wasn’t taking any chances. Laura wouldn’t have even been out on the field had it not been proven that only Adamantium and Vibranium can make a dent.

On the bright side, magic seemed to be doing wonders out in the field. Wong and Stephen had a shield out that was actually capable of taking the brunt of the lasers without much effort on their part. Tony had offered to help but neither sorcerer had allowed it, saying that his new skills should be kept secret as they were there in the first place to surprise Mordo if he dared come after him again. Stark had conceded but hadn’t been happy with it, which was fair enough. His shields had come along nicely and he would have been of great help, but priorities. And the whips and binds and weapons conjured by magic seemed to slow them down enough for one of the sorcerers to actually bind them, which was good news. Only the things still managed to escape and come back for more.

It was a good thing Thor and Loki arrived in time with the Hulk and their friend Valkyrie, Brunhilda. Blunt force didn’t do anything and lightning was useless but Loki’s abilities as a Frost Giant and as another sorcerer helped a great deal. For one, three sorcerers can easily bind them. For another, while heat may not have any effect, ice did wonders. The being did not break, but they did freeze under the intensive cold of Jotenheim that Loki dished out. Stephen and Wong saw this and quickly changed tactics. Stephen, being the stronger one, joined Loki in the ice assault and the freezing powers of the two sorcerers quickly slowed down, immobilized and soon put on ice the creatures, whom Loki and Thor referred to by a name almost unpronounceable by a human language. The strange chemical structure and components of their bodies was intriguing enough that Tony had scanned through every reaction they had to every attack and he had the temperature at which they freeze but stay alive. With his nanotech, he easily replicated an ice cannon and set the temperature, joining Loki and Stephen until every single last one of them was a frozen popsicle of incredible material.

Stephen and Loki then did their thing and created a magical containing unit that would leave them frozen and inaccessible by anyone else, ending the fight. Tony had then watched as Loki glared at Strange but it didn’t appear as hostile as the god probably wanted. They shook hands and that should have been that, but not a second later, JOCASTA flared an incoming to JARVIS right before another ship landed in Earth’s atmosphere. The difference? These guys at least tried contacting someone and JOCASTA, bless her, had sent them right to the battle ready Avengers. The group that came out of the ship - which didn’t look stolen or banged up - was the weirdest group of people Tony had ever met and that was saying something, since he knew all sorts of people by this point.

There was a girl with antlers, a big green guy with red markings all over his body and questionable intelligence, a green young woman with reddish purple hair and two wicked sharp blades, a human-looking guy - although scans indicated he was only 50% human, thank you FRIDAY - with a freaky mask and a talking raccoon and a tree. Honestly, the most normal of the bunch was the green woman, Tony swore to whatever would listen. And he prayed for patience, since they were the ones who accidentally chased these things onto Earth. They called themselves the Guardians of the Galaxy, a little flashy, even for Tony’s and Johnny’s tastes combined, but Thor could vouch for them since even on Asgard they heard of them before ... Yeah. They went by Mantis, Drax, Gamora, Peter Quill, Rocket and Groot and they were here to take the things back to whatever intergalactic prison kept such beings imprisoned.

They had Carol’s and Thor’s green light, which led Tony to giving them one, too, and even their resident Sorcerer Supreme wanted the things off of Earth as fast as they can leave, but that’s where New SHIELD and Captain America had to stick their noses in where it’s none of their business. The Accords Council had nothing against returning those guys to their rightful prisons and booting them off of the planet, but Fury must have noticed the same potential in their body structure that Tony had and wanted a closer look. Tony himself was more than satisfied with the slightly baffling scans he got but Fury wanted to prob further, since weapons - Oh, sorry, do you want me to call them something they’re not, Nicky? - made of such a material would definitely come in handy, his words, not Tony’s. Tony was already planning on how to synthesize the material for body suits, because protection was their obvious function, but he won’t do any intrusive research because he recognized that that is their organic matter, like skin and flesh was for humans.

Which is exactly why neither the Asgardians or the Guardians of the Galaxy were allowing said research. Standing with gods and aliens and sorcerers as he told Fury and Rodgers - who wanted to hold them accosted for their crimes, what a hypocrite - no.

Which is how he ended up sitting between Carol and Stephen at a long conference table in the Avengers Compound with Everett Ross and Nick Fury on either head of the table, stubbornly glaring at each other while the rest of the Avengers, both old and New, were seated around it, also on opposite sides. It was amazing how, once upon a time, there had been more people sitting opposite him than beside him. Now he had the upper hand, between the New Avengers, the Defenders, the Fantastic Four, the two mutants who had helped them today and as such had to be at the debriefing and the two Asgardians. The Guardians of the Galaxy stood with Ross, arguing with Fury how it was violating galactic law to experiment on living beings and Laura was cursing Fury in Spanish like a champ from where she stood with her father. Wolverine himself looked ready to chop Rodgers to pieces and Thor seemed greatly disappointed in how his shield brothers were acting now.

It was a mad house and it wasn’t helping that T’Challa wanted tests on the creatures’ bodies, too, since their lasers were the first thing ever to cause any form of damage in Vibranium. Tony longed to tell him that his precious metal that his country so selfishly kept for themselves - there were millions of uses for Vibranium that could save lives each day, starting with better earthquake resistant architecture - wasn’t nearly as indestructible as he liked to think. Tony knew how to destroy Vibranium, it was just a costly process. And a total waste of perfectly usable Starkenium. Anyway, SHIELD was up to their old tricks of using alien (tech) to make weapons of mass destruction, the New Avengers tried to step up for the trapped aliens, Loki looked tempted to stab someone and so did Gamora, Rocket was a sarcastic little dick that Tony was totally going to give one of his old guns after he saw him eying Bucky’s, Bruce actually looked like losing control for the first time since coming back and Stephen’s eyebrow was starting to twitch.

Tony sighed and, as expected, the arguing stopped and they all turned their attention to him. It’s how he always got attention from his old team, when he was actively looking to annoy them. They then called him an arrogant attention seeker and he let them because at least he got to point out something useful and they actually discussed what needed to be discussed. Seeing how Thor had started shouting and dealing out the word ‘moron’ and, like, a dozen other insults no one but Loki - and maybe Bruce and their new alien visitors - understood and how Quill was throwing out curses and Deadpool - when had he gotten here?! - was cussing because Logan got to cuss, too, it was obviously needed lest they want Strange to actually open a gateway to this Dark Dimension and release Dormammu on them. It would not be worth it, no matter how much his raging headache argued.

“Got somethin’ ta say?” Rocket beat everyone to it and asked with a challenging glare, petting his gun. Tony just shrugged. He’d faced far worse than a trigger happy raccoon, although that was a new one.

“Not really. It’s not up to me. As far as I’m concerned, as the face of the Accords and the leader of the Avengers, our job was done the second a way to securely get those guys off our planet has occurred, which would have been achieved either by using the Bifrost to cart them off back to their prison unit or, now that you guys are here, by handing them over to you so you can cart them off back to their cells. We don’t have any authority to hold them, even though Earth could probably sue that prison since threw was quite a bit of collateral damage from their rampage, thankfully no casualties, though, so we’ll skip that, too. My company can more than afford it.” He shrugged at the shocked looks the six - well, five. Groot wasn’t paying attention to anything but his video game. Tony will have to get him something better than the crap he was currently rotting his brain (does he even have a brain?) with - gave him at that. “It would be best that we don’t draw attention to Earth more than necessary.”

Because, after all, drawing attention to Earth would reveal that three Infinity Stones were casually carried around by three not so common beings. Vision and Loki weren’t even human and Strange’s magic constantly flew through him since he had to keep an eye on the entire multiverse and feel for any disturbances. It was subtle but if Tony’s scanners can pick it up, so can others. Not to mention that the Time Stone also gave off its own energy signature. The less intergalactic beings looked at Earth, the less they will find or be prepared for and Earth will be all the better for it. Safer. More surprising should some unplanned for attack occur before Thanos comes knocking.

“And why would that be?” Fury asked, sending a meaningful look his way. “Wouldn’t some finances and allies from outer space be much appreciated?”

“The Kree have agreed to help should Captain Marvel call and Thor has a few allies on other planets. The sorcerers of Kamar-Taj also have interdimensional allies whom they can call upon in their time of need.” Stark replied with another casual shrug of his shoulders. “We have an Infinity Stone, Fury. The more we draw attention to ourselves, the more likely is the situation that someone will come and try to yank it out of Vision. It will happen either way, sooner or later, but I’d rather it be later than sooner, if you don’t mind.”

“Wait, hold up.” Peter, the older one, not Spider-man, said incredulously, staring in renewed shock at Tony. “You have an Infinity Stone? In a person?”

“Yes, that would be me.” Vision even waved to get his attention, casual as an android in the center of attention can be. The Mind Stone glinted in his red forehead.

“You need to get out of here, man. Off of this planet. Hide somewhere. Because Thanos recently got the Reality Stone and he already had the Power Stone, so he’s, like, definitely going to come after you, soon.” Quill explained in an authoritative voice and everyone in the room tensed, some more notably than the others. Tony exchanged looks with a rigid Loki and a rock still Strange and Wong and they all nodded, knowing the time was coming and that they needed to prepare. Or rather, to speed up the preparations already put into motion and better the defenses put into place.

“You don’t seem surprised.” Damn. Gamora was looking right at him and the three sorcerers. Tony knew this was not going to come out ideally as he would have liked. In all honesty, he only wanted his team and the teams that have signed the Accords to participate in this, to know about it, before the Mad Titan comes. Because Rodgers and his lot? They’ll question every decision made until it was according to their sensibilities. Please do note the sarcasm on the last word because Tony couldn’t load into it any more. He was already fearing he had used up his sarcasm for the next twenty years, if he even lives that long.

“I met him once. You might remember me, daughter of Thanos.” Loki Silvertongue expertly deflected, drawing all the attention to the green woman, who looked grieved and disgusted at the title.

“He killed half of my people, including my mother, and took me from my home planet when I was just a child, twenty years ago. There is not a person in this room that hates him more than I do.” Gamora hissed in a dangerous tone of voice and Tony recognized her for what she was. A killer. An assassin. Trained to take life but choosing to take another path. Or something like that. He thinks he might come to like her. She definitely didn’t suffer anyone’s bullshit.

“He killed my family, too, and did the same on my planet.” Drax growled before going into some sort of revenge rant.

“Thanos is a menace, a plague on the universe.” Thor agrees, clenching his fists. “If he is coming, I may need to go to Nidavellir. Half of Asgard’s people is already gone and it is my sworn duty as their king to protect the remaining half. And Earth, who has offered us a home so selflessly, must not suffer such a fate.”

“No world should,” Carol agrees, her own fists clenched. “If the Kree and the Skrulls can stop fighting so they can focus on Thanos, then you can understand just how big of a threat he is.”

“He needs to be stopped.” Tony says and they all nod in agreement. The first thing the agreed on in years. And it’s the end of the world. Tony can already feel the headache that will come from the meetings that will no doubt come after this. This was a prelude of a nightmare.

“But how did you know about Thanos before we told you?” Rocket asks again and Stephen and Tony exchange a look before the good doctor faces the room at large. Ross looks pale but determined to be of some help. Tony could respect that. Ross was a civilian through and through but he was a tough one. Perfect for the tough job he’d been given.

“I am Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme and I protect our planet from inter- and extradimensional threats, mostly mystical in nature. Protecting reality and the multiverse is my duty and, in return, the multiverse occasionally makes my job easier. Upon researching a local matter, we at Kamar-Taj have come across the information that Thanos was coming for the Infinity Stones on Earth. We’ve enlisted Tony Stark’s help to better prepare for-”

“Hold on a minute. Stones?!” A wide eyed, disbelieving Wilson interrupted. “As in, more than one? Multiple?!”

“Damn it, Strange,” both Tony and Loki hissed under their breath and all eyes turned to the Master of the Mystic Arts, who looked as impassive as ever. Wong, though, had his bitch face on over his shoulder and the Cloak of Levitation had ruffled in what Tony now recognized as a protective gesture.

“Forget about that. Did you just say Stark!?” Gamora pushed Ross and Quill out of the way, slamming her hands on the table and looking at Stephen with a wild look in her eyes. Something between desperation and hope and wonder and curiosity and skepticism. All wrapped up in a nice little whirlwind of a package. “Where is he? Take me to him!”

“Wow. What did you fuck up now, Stark?” Wanda dared sound impressed even as the attention of the room now turned to him. For some reason, Stephen was more tense now that Tony had been brought into discussion than the Infinity Stones.

“Friend Stark, how do the Guardians of the Galaxy know of you?” Thor asked with a scrutinizing look at the billionaire.

“We don’t!” Quill insisted at the same time Tony said “Hell if I know!” That had Gamora’s eyes locking on him before she stormed her way around the table until she stood in front of him. Tony uneasily stood up, not wanting to be in such a vulnerable position. Strange’s hands already glowed with a spell and Loki had phased a dagger into his hand should the alien woman try something.

“I do.” Gamora says as she comes to stand in front of him. She locks onto his Arc Reactor before something a lot like relief floods through her and Tony swears she looks ready to hug him. “And so does Thanos.”

“What?” The genius feels like the air is knocked out of his already abused lungs, not believing his ears. Because she couldn’t have just said that, right?

“How does an intergalactic warlord know the name of a single, simple human? No offense.” Carol asks the question that is on everyone’s mind as they stare at the pair. Tony, however, turns to look at Strange and sees no surprise. He sees resignation and acceptance. Tony feels cold. Strange had known? How-? The Time Stone. That’s gotta be how. If it has power over time, maybe he went into the future somehow? Or just saw it. And of course he couldn’t tell Tony. It could change the future or create a loop or a paradox or any of that shit. Strange probably had a plan on how to go about this and anyone else knowing about it might try to change something, interfere with something they don’t agree - and god, does Tony know he’d probably do something like that - and bring in a new variable that might mess up the outcome. But it still hurts to know the one person he had so easily learned to trust, despite everything, had in the end betrayed him, in a way.

“Stark destroyed half of the biggest intergalactic army with a single strike. Thanos was ... impressed. He has some twisted sort of respect for you.” Gamora told him, searching for words and effectively drawing his attention away from Strange. “And he fears you.”

“What?” Tony barely breathed out that question, because, seriously, what? The respect part he can even understand. The nuke thrown at Manhattan had been his father’s design that Tony had improved several times but never gave authorization to be used, that much he had known the second he had seen it flying towards them. The World Security Council must have managed to get SHIELD one from Stane under the table. There was no other explanation. So yes, respect and impressed he can understand. He had been ready to die for his planet and he had apparently managed to take out quite a bite out of Thanos’ army. But fear? What is there to fear about him?

“He fears you. He does not say as much, but I have - however unfortunately - been around him long enough to see it. I at first didn’t understand it, as I have never seen him fear anything. But he fears you. If he comes and you fight him, he will aim to kill you.” Gamora told him with absolute certainty in her tone. “You will not be left for his ‘merciful’ random selection should he get all six Infinity Stones. He will kill you himself.”

There was a long stretch of silence before Rodgers cleared his throat. “As ... interesting as this topic of conversation is,” he got several sever glares from the Accords approved heroes for that. Tony was touched by their reactions. “Shouldn’t we be discussing the fact that there are multipleInfinity Stones on Earth as opposed to the one we know about? Or how about the location of the fifth and sixth stone? Shouldn’t we try to get them first so we can protect them?”

“The Tesseract was lost when Asgard fell. The only one remaining to find is the Soul Stone, but I was under the impression that no one knew where it was, not that it was on Earth.” Tony couldn’t help it. He turned to look at Thor incredulously, because seriously!?

“I’ve known your brother for less than twenty four hours and only had one real conversation with him and even back then, I could have told you what he would have done! I knew when he came back to Earth with you four months ago!”

"Stark!” Loki barked at him but it was too late. At the look he was getting from his brother, Loki sighed and muttered curses under his breathe as he held up his hand and the Tesseract, shinning an intact, appeared in his hand. He ignored how the rouges looked horrified to see it and instead not-pouted at the blond Asgardian.

“You’re the worst, brother.” It said a lot about their relationship how Thor actually wasn’t surprised. Fury, though, turned furious eyes at Tony.

“You knew about this and you never said anything?!” The director demanded but Tony could only shrug. It was out of his hands, now, while somehow all the cards still being in his hands. Isn’t that a paradox.

“Oh, I said something. I have several witnesses and confidants I’ve said something to. Partners who knew how to help out. You just weren’t them.”

“Well, this just got even more batshit crazy. Should have turned this job down. It was easy, they said. Just bring back the escaped prisoners, they said. Nothing about crazy Earthlings having multiple Infinity Stones on their planet!” Quill grumbled under his breath before facing the room at large. “Okay, since we are sure that it’s not the Soul Stone that is here and no one knows where it is-” Was it just him or did Gamora twitch at that? JARVIS informed him that, no, it wasn’t just him. She had.

’Does she know where it is?′

-Possible, Boss.-

“Are there no more surprises on Earth? Because two Infinity Stones is already tempting fate enough.” And Tony had to agree with that. But the Time Stone was actually pretty well cloaked from detection. Tony can’t track it but his scanners can pick it up if it’s in close proximity. No need to tell-

“Strange,” Loki pointedly says and Tony turns to look at the god of mischief with an incredulous expression, because SERIOUSLY?! No one knew about the Time Stone ever being on Earth except the Masters of the Mystic Arts! Why would he do this?! But it was too late. The damage was done. Everyone was eying Stephen expectantly, with scrutinizing gazes. The New Avengers, the Defenders, the Fantastic Four and the three mutants (yes, even Deadpool) present already knew about this, even if Stephen had never confirmed or denied it that he carried the thing around each and every day so he can better keep an eye on it. Wong, too, but that was a given. The rouges, New SHIELD, the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ross didn’t so they were eying him suspiciously.

And Stephen?

He just opened the eye and let the green light illuminate the room.

“Since the first Sorcerer Supreme, the Order of Mystic Arts has been guarding the Time Stone ... ”

And so it began.

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