Chapter 37: Chapter 37
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.
Tony wakes up inside a ship whose interior he recognizes to belong to the Milano, the ship of the Guardians of the Galaxy. He feels foggy and exhausted and his side hurts like hell and his forearms ache, but he had the distinct notion the worst of his worries shouldn’t have been the blistering headache he was currently suffering from. He tries getting up but surprisingly gentle hands push him back down.
~You’re not an ordinary human.~ The voice makes its way into his head, at once familiar and not familiar enough. He sends a curious ping at the source, figuring that if JARVIS and FRIDAY weren’t pushing the voice away, whoever the owner was couldn’t be all that bad. The hands on his shoulder flinch away but the voice is back a second later, hesitant. ~Can you hear me, Terran?~
‘Of course. You’re talking, aren’t you?’
“I’m talking now, Terran. I wasn’t a moment ago. I was thinking. How did you get into my head?” That had Stark looking up at the owner of the hands and, apparently, the voice, eyes falling onto a blue woman with many, many robotic parts, many of them in her head. Her name was ... Nebula, if he remembers correctly. Gamora’s sister. Taking in those strange robotic parts has Tony opening up the link to all things mechanic through the Extremis, also opening a connection to JARVIS and FRIDAY, which allowed him to get a brief scan of the cyborg. Nebula jerked away from him for some reason and Tony arched an eyebrow at that.
“I’m technically what some would call a technopath. I can communicate and control all things mechanical and technological and the scans my two- three,” Tony corrects himself when he hears KAREN’s timid and sad greeting, the Iron Spider’s spider-spy crawling into view, looking dejected and ashamed like only a creation of Tony’s can be. Tony let it crawl onto his finger as comfort, sending reassurance to his youngest present AI that she wasn’t at fault for what had happened to Peter (He tried not to panic or hyperventilate. He couldn’t. He didn’t have the time to do that. He had to think of a way to fix things. He was a mechanic. Mechanics fix things. There had to be a way to fix this. There had to) even as he spoke to Nebula. “AIs gave me suggests that you have quite a bit of mechanical in your body and in your brain. I guess I instinctively reached for it by accident. Sorry. I won’t do it again.”
“See that you do,” Nebula huffed but Tony could see the curious way she was studying him. He guessed he made quite a sight. The great Tony Stark, unable to sit up, beaten, bloody and bruised, far from home and alone with a half robot. “You are Stark.”
“I am,” he replied tiredly, not bothering to stand up. “Did you fix my wounds somehow? Because I know I didn’t sleep that long and there’s no way my medical nanites could fix this much damage.” In fact, Tony had slept only ten hours. Even with Extremis and JARVIS and FRIDAY hard at work, his wounds should not feel as healed as they were. In fact, J and FRI were sending him scans that his wounds were actually healed completely. But they were hesitating to tell him something. Tony could force them, either through Extremis or by ordering them to tell him, but he would never be like that with his own kids. Which is why he was being a decent human being and asking.
“I guess you don’t remember then.” Nebula said in a very vague manner and Tony frowned, about to make a remark that might get him killed since he was pretty sure Nebula was like Gamora, an alien version of Romanoff, and it was never a good idea to piss off a woman like that. But the blue cyborg explained without prompting. “I had to knock you out because you were doing something strange-” He cringed at that word, heart clenching when he remembered the last time he had seen the man most associated with it. Nebula, bless her half robotic soul, didn’t comment on it. “With all the electronics in a good twenty mile radius. Titan has been dead for many decades, maybe even a couple of centuries, but you made it come to life.”
“What?” The confused genius asked and Nebula just pointed out of a window right behind her. Tony leaned up a little to see and was shocked to see all those ruined buildings having at least some lights on as opposed to the deserted way they had been quiet and dark for who knows how long.
-You lost control, Sir. And in your grief, you lashed out.- JARVIS explained in his head, his voice gentle and comforting.
-You range had expanded to an impossible radius and you were unresponsive. Had it not been for Nebula boss lady, you would have fried everything. Including yourself.- Nebula boss lady, huh? He guessed that if he and her were the only ones on this planet, she might come to that status easily enough, especially if she had cared for him when he was unconscious.
-You’re skin was burning, Mr Stark.- Came the worried voice of KAREN, still hesitant and grieving the loss of Peter. JARVIS and FRIDAY were also both very fond of the boy, but their priority will always be their creator. And while even KAREN’s primary protocol was the protection of Tony Stark, she was his AI and she had feelings. She had grown close to Peter and now she was grieving his loss. FRIDAY and JARVIS, while also grieving, were just glad their creator had survived.
-We were losing you.- Tony wanted to wince at the hidden terror he detected in his oldest friend’s voice. -Extremis was taking over. The only reason you haven’t become unstable like all those who had received the first version of the virus was because of the protection spell Doctor Strange put on you. It subdued most of the negative energy, which is why you lashed out.-
But in lashing out, Tony almost did something that he could never forgive himself for. “I almost hurt you. I did hurt you.” And Nebula, too. He’ll have to check her over, offer to repair anything he or the battle had damaged. It was the least he could do.
-We’re fine, Boss. You could never hurt us.-
-She is correct, Sir. None of that energy even reached us. We are so integrated in you with Extremis that it recognizes us as an extension of you. We were safe.-
-And they kept me safe, too, Mr Stark. Don’t blame yourself. Please.-
“It was nothing, I reacted before you could do me any damage.” Nebula waved him off, even as that eye piece slid out of place and she had to rearrange it back into its proper position. “I had this before I came. Work of Thanos. Don’t bother blaming yourself, Stark.”
“Did you know of me like Gamora did? Because Thanos knew of me?” Tony couldn’t help but ask. “I could fix that for you, you know. I could probably even make it better.”
“Terran technology is light years behind in the evolutionary process than the technology that is inserted in me.”
“And yet it is an Earthling who is first to be a self-made technopath.” Tony decides to screw his injuries, they were healed and he only had residue pain to deal with from the remembered sensation of what an injury like this should feel like, and he sat up carefully. Nebula surprises him by helping him but he figures she’d rather not be stuck on this godforsaken planet all by herself, either. “And believe me, that’s no easy feat. The human body is not good with electronics and electricity. We’re like a big conduit for all that electricity, being made over 80% out of water with salt and other such matters that allows electricity to run its course wily nilly around our bodies. Not fun. Anyway, as a technopath, I can best asses whatever needs to be done to take care of your injures. And since you watched over me, I guess we should make it quid pro quo and make us equal.”
“Maybe after you rest a bit more. And eat something.” As if to reinforce her point, she hands over something that looks like a pack of astronaut food, but only, like, ten times more alien, starting with its strange purple color. “It’s Quill’s food, so I know a human should be able to digest it without experiencing any sort of poisoning and your ... Artificial Intelligence children have informed me that the nutritions in it are not harmful to your body.”
Tony went to accept it with his left hand gratefully, only for the pack to slip through numb fingers - probably from sleeping on his arm, damn it - but he was surprised when something red caught it for him and held it out to his other hand. Which was the first time Tony noticed that the Cloak of Levitation had been covering his body, keeping him warm and as comfortable as he can be while on the metal floor of a spaceship. It was like seeing it was suddenly to much and a dam broke.
He gathered the Cloak into a bunched up mess of red cloth and hugged the fabric to his chest, breathing shuddering but eyes dry. He didn’t know how this hadn’t hit him before. Probably because he had two worried and one guilty AI - his mechanical children - to worry about before it all crashed down on him. They were gone. Half of the universe was gone. And it was all his fault, he hadn’t prepared better, he hadn’t done more. He had failed them. They were dead. He was alone. In space. Well, technically, he was neither alone nor in space; he was with JARVIS, FRIDAY, KAREN, the Cloak and Nebula and they were on an alien planet called Titan. But it’s not like his panicking brain could focus on that when it was being assaulted by loss and grief and questions, so many questions. Who was left? How many of his friends were gone? Does it affect AIs? He can’t lose his bots too. Was Vision okay? God, what if Pepper or Happy or Rhodey were gone, too? What of Harley or Shuri or Kamala or Dante? Cassie, Cooper, Lila and little Nathaniel? Laura and Logan? The other mutants and Inhumans? Are any of the Defenders gone? The Fantastic Four? How was Thor taking the loss of the last part of his family? Was he even alive? Wong and the sorcerers of Earth? Was Earth even safe? Was there anyone left to defend it? He could have done so much more! Why hadn’t he done more!? This was all his fault, his fault his fault-
A crack resonated through the metal inside of the ship as his head snapped to the side, his cheek stinging. The instruments calmed down and shut off, electricity dying from his fingertips. Noise registered in his head, beeping of machinery, groaning of metal and other materials moving to comply, his AIs voices in his head. He raised a hand to his stinging cheek and looked back to Nebula to see a worried frown on her face. “Thanks,” he ground out, voice hoarse as though he had not spoken or drank any water in a very long time. In response, Nebula grabbed some bottle-looking container and shoved it into the Cloak’s hold and just when had the sentient piece of outerwear wrap around him like a security blanket? It brought the container to his lips and pressed, all but shoving water down his throat and he moaned at the cool liquid sliding down his perched throat. He had to eventually make it stop before he choked when he had his fill, which brought to his attention the glowing bracelet around his wrist. The protection charm Strange had made for him ... It was glowing. It was working.
“Fourteen million six hundred and five.”
“We’re in the endgame now.”
“Tony, there was no other way.”
“Fuck, I’m an idiot!” Tony cursed and lunged to his feet before anyone could stop him. He stumbled out of the ship - how had he not noticed that a bolder had cut the thing in half? How had Nebula even dragged him in here? She must be stronger than he had given her credit for or J and FRI had helped her. Doesn’t matter, not what’s important now - coming out into the strange light of Titan, Nebula scrambling after him. He looked around, considering the readings he asked his AIs to draw up again, studying them. Titan was a hell of a lot different from Earth, but the energy flow still had a pattern. He just needs to figure it out. “JARVIS, FRIDAY, you two get on that immediately. KAREN, take the spider-spy out to search for any additional material that we can use for repairs or upgrades.” He looked down at the Cloak, which was insistently pushing the strange food into his hands. He took it and patted it in thanks.
“You need to rest. Enhanced or not, you are still Terran and very fragile. Thanos has done a great number on you. I don’t need you collapsing.” Nebula said as she came to stand by his side, looking for whatever it was he was seeing. Tony wondered if he should oblige her and send her the data stream, but for all that her brain was part processor, she didn’t have what was needed to process all that information in so short a window of time.
“First of all, I am a human, or an Earthling if you must. I’d prefer you call me by name, but I won’t force you. Second of all, I am fine. Extremis took care of all of my wounds, even the internal ones.” Tony replied, looking over at her from the corner of his eye. She was still intrigued by the glowing blue of his irises when she saw them but no longer alarmed. “I won’t be collapsing any time soon. Or at least not from my injuries.”
“Then what do you plan to collapse of?” She snapped at him but he ignored her as JARVIS noticed a pattern. He and FRIDAY were already processing it so they could give Tony as accurate information as they can while KAREN, already having found materials for repairs, pinged him with a message.
“Let’s get your injuries and damage looked over,” he said instead of answering her question, urging her to come over to where KAREN had located sufficient amounts of supplies for parts for Nebula. Tony immediately put FRIDAY to work on scanning Nebula and 3D printing all the parts that Nebula needed fixed, replaced or could do with an upgrade.
“I’m not letting a delirious human mess with my parts.”
Tony leveled her with a look that was so deadpan, Stephen would be proud, if the idiot hadn’t decided to turn to dust along with the rest of the half of the universe. Tony will be having words with the man when Tony gets him and the others back. That’s right, when, not if. Because Stephen’s spell was still working as strongly as it had always. Tony knew enough about magic to know that there were spells that far outlasted their casters but the spells were always stronger while the caster was alive, drawing on his energy and the natural energy of the universe rather than just seeping enough energy out of the universe to work as it should. Tony had looked into the charm Stephen had placed on him and he knew the thing was made to protect Tony, body, mind and spirit, no matter what happened to Stephen, a ploy to protect Tony’s genetic material, brain and the Arc Reactor even in death so no one could get to his most dangerous secrets. Tony had never been so grateful when he found that out, as he actively feared all of his hard work since Afghanistan going down the drain because someone eventually finds a way to extract the schematics for the many weapons besides Iron Man that still crowd Tony’s mind - it’s in his blood, too create, improve on sight. The Jericho he presented in Afghanistan was only the first of many already planned and modified in his mind. Tony may see the future better than Strange, even if not in the same way. He doesn’t need magic. He mentally lives in the future while forcing himself to stay in the present physically - so Stephen’s spell is a blessing and the greatest gift Tony could never (because he doesn’t deserve it) ask for.
“I have only ever once been truly delirious, and back then I was dying of heavy metal poisoning, deadly for a human. I still managed to make a whole new element that generates more power than what that big flying donut could ever hope to generate. Don’t patronize me just because I come from a technologically less advanced planet because I am the future of that planet where science and technology is concerned. I am already more than equipped to do the repairs and even give you a few updates, if you so wish. However, I am not allowing you to go back into the fight with the damage you’re sporting now.”
“Back?” The blue woman looked interested now and Tony let himself hope. Hope was all he had left. He had to fight. He couldn’t give up. Strange hadn’t been trying to prevent this from happening. He had been leading them down the one path that ended in victory. Tony Stark was not big on belief and blind trust, but Strange had seen the future and Tony was somehow essential in bringing about that one victory in fourteen million six hundred and five possibilities. He had trusted Stephen Strange since the day they had met.
He trusted him now. He believed him.
There was still a fight to be fought.
“We’ve lost the battle, but the war is far from over, Nebula, my dear.” Tony told her with absolute certainty. There were so many things to do, so little time. Tony wanted them back now, Peter and Stephen and Quill and Mantis and Drax and Gamora and Loki and whoever else suffered from the Snap. He knew if he slowed down that he will probably have another breakdown, freak out again, maybe fry some more circuitry that might be essential in them getting out of here. Nebula’s ship was scrapped. The Milano was halved. The flying donut was out of commission but sure to have something useful in it if Tony’s other plan doesn’t work. Nebula’s ship can be fixed. He was sure he could fix it. If not, he’ll build another one, He’s an engineer, a mechanic. He builds things. That’s what he’s best at. So he’ll build.
“How can you be so sure?” Nebula asks even as she cautiously extends an arm to him, letting him start small and if he doesn’t know what he’s doing, she’ll stop him. Tony’s not even offended. He’s worked with far lest trust. So he starts working immediately, directing his nanites until they’re the proper tools that FRIDAY controls, JARVIS altering between scanning their surroundings and Nebula. KAREN was using the nanites he had given her to make more nanobots. There was some rich material for him to use here which will only make his suit stronger. It was also great material for Nebula’s parts, almost identical alloy.
Without looking up from his work, Tony replied.
“Because we’re in the endgame now. And that’s when the real game really starts.”