Chapter 38: Chapter 38
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.
“Are you sure you can do this?”
“Don’t worry, I’ve had the training for it.”
“But will you be able to make it? It’s quite a feat. The distance is perhaps to much. The strain on your body could kill you, if what you’ve told me about how this works is true.”
“I’ve dealt with impossible odds before. I’ve overworked myself more often than I’d like to count. And these things were meant for traveling through dimensions. I’ll be fine. Probably tired as fuck, but fine. Just be ready, okay?”
“I’ve got your back.”
A deep sigh.
Sparks started flying.
Two figures were lit up in the beautiful color.
It had worked.
Steve didn’t know what to focus on first, which feeling should take residence over which. To be fair, the world had practically ended just a couple of days ago and half of his friends had disappeared with it. Bucky had disappeared with it. And with him went Steve’s desire to fight, his will to defend. He just felt so old. So cold. Like he was on the ice again. Perhaps he will never feel the warmth of sun again, despite being in a fairly warm part of the world. He figured he deserved the frigid coldness that had taken over him.
After all that he had done ...
What had he done?! Had he really thought it through before he had acted? He had been an idiot. He had allowed his own pride to get in the way of thinking straight. He had refused to listen, once again believing that he was right and everyone else was wrong. He had not even consulted with any of his friends and teammates about it before he had done it. And now, in the aftermath, when the world had suffered the consequences, Steve had never before missed Tony as much as he missed the eccentric genius right now.
Tony had been right. Wasn’t he always, a part of Steve asked and he fought the instinctive urge to shove that part down and shut it up. It was right. Tony was right. Tony was always right. The man wasn’t a certified genius for nothing. The inventor had been preparing for this for years, despite so many people brushing him off, telling him he was manic, crazy, obsessed. He had not listened in the usual Tony fashion and had in the same fashion taken the world by a storm when it was needed because he had been ready.
Because that’s what Tony does.
He’s always been the one to prepare the Avengers for what they were facing, from day one, from their very firs fight as a team. He had gone ahead, scoped out the situation, even confronted Loki and started the fight long before Steve and the others came in the Quinjet. He had given them all the facts and prepared them for the fight. Prepared them for the Hulk. He had simply prepared them for it. He had then later prepared them for the media storm that would follow, taking the lead like he was a born leader, easily stepping in whenever one of them was floundering on how to express themselves or how to respond.
Tony prepared all of their other missions, too. He prepared for a day when SHIELD will no longer be able to keep them safe and had renamed the Stark Tower into Avengers Tower, prepared to house them and had done so with glee. He prepared their attack on the base in which they first encountered Pietro and Wanda. He prepared the evacuation of civilians, each and every time. He had been prepared for the Accords.
He had tried to prepare them, too, but they had refused.
He had been prepared for this, that much had been obvious from the first meeting they had after Doctor Strange took him from that first meeting. He had been more and more prepared with each next meeting, extending the team, the influence of th Avengers Initiative, getting information from so many places that there was no way it could be inaccurate. He had been ready, had continued being ready and then Steve had messed it up.
Tony had been ready to trust him, had trusted him with something so precious. And Steven had fucked up.
Now half of the world was gone. Half of the universe was gone, just like that, with a simple snap of the fingers. Now Thor was mourning half of his people, who have already lost so many in numbers due to Hela. He was mourning his oldest friend. He was grieving after the brother he had finally managed to keep at his side and a warrior that had helped him at the toughest of times. Vision was offline. Shuri said there was a definite way to wake him up, that Tony had done a good job and that he was indeed separate from the Mind Stone, that it had just been his primary power source and that there was a new one waiting to be activated but she refused to wake him up until he was properly repaired.
Jane Foster had called screaming, demanding that Tony Stark be put on the phone because Darcy Lewis and Erik Selvig had turned to dust. A hysteric Betty Ross had also called for the genius because Doctors Cho and Wu had disappeared with the Snap. A haunted Susan Storm had asked for Tony, she alone in the Baxter Building, looking ready to reach through the screen to kill him when she laid eyes on Steve. A broken Maggie had contacted them to tell them Scott can’t come because Cassie was gone. Laura Barton had also disappeared with the snap. Clint refused to leave his children. May Parker asked after Tony, Peter and Strange.
A red eyed Harley, left alone without a mother or sister, asked for Tony, the only father figure he ever had.
Erik Lehnsherr called, asking for Stark because Charles Xavier was gone and he feared he was losing control and he needed to be put away before he hurts the remaining X-Men and children. A pinkish red-haired woman calling herself Medusa asked for Stark as well because the king of Inhumans was also gone. Logan and his daughter made no contact and everyone knew what that meant and dreaded confirming it. Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones were also lost, leaving Iron Fist alone.
T’Challa was gone. Okoye saw him go with her own eyes and mourned him with Shuri, Ramonda and their people. They can’t find Sam. Wanda disintegrated where she had been trying to destroy the Mind Stone. That talking tree, Groot, had disappeared in front of Rocket the Raccoon’s eyes. And Bucky had been dusted before Steve’s eyes, when he had been looking for Vision. The world was mourning the half they had lost.
The world was mourning the loss of their greatest defender. The not knowing was killing them all. The Sorcerers of Kamar-Taj or whatever were silent. Bruce and Carol and Rhodes had tried getting in contact with that Wong man but he wasn’t answering. They didn’t know what to think. JARVIS, FRIDAY and some other AI of Tony’s were all missing and those were the only AIs that Wong ever got in contact with. JOCASTA or whatever her name was had tried reaching out to the sorcerer, but he hadn’t answered. They didn’t know what to think. It was all beyond their power now. They didn’t know what had happened to Tony and the world was demanding answers. Natasha was keeping on top of the information and the people were already blaming the rouges for letting Iron Man be taken. As if it was their fault Tony was a brave, self-sacrificing hero who had been ready to die for them all. People were calling for their blood and their heads.
And Steve was too tired to fight them anymore. Was this how Tony felt? Always this tired? How had they not noticed it before? How did Tony bear it all this time? How did he not collapse under this weight? It felt like the world was pushing down on his shoulders. Steve was a supersoldier and it was too much. Tony was a baseline human and yet he seemed to bear the weight with no problem.
“Rogers,” the blond’s head snapped up, looking up at a grim looking Rhodey. “Shuri says the satellites picked up a portal being trying to breach Earth’s atmosphere. It’s aiming for Wakanda. Everyone’s gathering to see what it is. She says it matches the energy signature the sorcerer’s use. We want to go check it out just in case it ain’t Strange.”
“Right,” Steve said and stood up, taking his shield that T’Challa had had made for him. “It’s probably for the best that we make sure.” The two men walked out of the palace, where indeed everyone who had survived the snap was waiting to see what will happen. Sparks were appearing in thin air, sometimes managing to form a flickering circle, other times just a spot in the air. It definitely resembled the portals Steve had seen Strange and Wong use so far. The remaining Dora Milaje and the Avengers were all pointing weapons at it while Rhodes and Carol seemed to be frowning at it. Why, though, Steve could only guess. It could be the color. Weren’t all things magic related that orange color? Unless you’re Wanda, of course. Wanda’s magic had always been red.
“Okay, here it goes.” Rhodey said as the sparks suddenly started spinning in a sure, ‘solid’ circle, starting out small until it was just big enough to fit a person through. To the surprise of everyone, the sparks were not the usual orange color. If anything, they were an achingly familiar blue that no pallet in the world could copy. Pictures didn’t do it justice. Steve would know, he has an artist’s eye and view of the world and the electric blue color of the Arc Reactor was not one people have been able to reconstruct with the known pallet they had at hand. And even more surprising than the color of the portal was the landscape seen through the window in space. It was definitely not anything Steve had seen on Earth. If anything, it looked like a alien city on an alien planet, but it was beyond abandoned and destroyed. Like no one had been there for decades, if not longer.
But perhaps what was the most shocking was who was standing on the other side of the portal. There were two people there. One was a bald, blue woman no one recognized, looking like half of her body was covered in machines. Steve was no expert, but her parts looked quite a bit more advanced than Bucky’s metal arm, even the Vibranium one. But some of the work also looked familiar, in the way it was lit up like Rhodes’ prosthetics. The woman was obviously alien and openly showed that she was armed, scanning them all with distrust, appraising them. She was hostile but wasn’t attacking. She was just ready to, at any point in time.
But she wasn’t who had all of their attention, Steve knew. It was the man she was with, a few steps in front of her, who had so effortlessly caught all of their interest. ‘As always,’ Steve thought fondly as relief flooded through him like a tidal wave. He was battered, whatever form of under-suit he wore was almost ruined with blood and an alarmingly big hole in his left side and he had enormous black bruises under his eyes from the lack of sleep - he probably couldn’t sleep ever since the Snap, five days ago - but Tony Stark was still a sight for sore eyes in all of his strength and the glowing Arc Reactor in his chest. For reasons Steve could never explain, the world suddenly seemed brighter, less bleak, as Tony looked through the blue glowing portal back to Earth. Hope suddenly didn’t seem like an empty, four letter word and, judging from the faces of everyone who was standing with him, Steve would wager that they agreed whole heartedly. They all watched with bathed breath as Tony and his companion walked through the portal, the blue woman keeping extremely close to the one and only indestructible Iron Man, who was welcomed back to Earth with a cheer from some of the Wakandans and the New Avengers currently present. Shuri even let out a relieved sob somewhere behind him. Steve couldn’t drag his eyes away from Tony, though, which is why he saw the moment when his eyes turned the same electric blue as the portal and the Arc Reactor. Which was why he was the second to react to Tony crumbling to the ground like a puppet whose strings had been cut off, not hitting the ground only because the alien woman caught him.
The blue alien growled at him when Steve collapsed in front of Tony, reaching out with his hands, as if to steady him. Right now, he wanted nothing more than to touch Tony, to confirm that the genius was really there, but he was afraid of disappointment so he kept his hands to himself, hovering just inches from Tony’s skin as the shorter man leaned heavily against the other person who had come with him while the portal collapsed behind them with a crack not unlike the sound of clashing thunder. Tony was breathing hard, struggling to get in enough air with his diminished lung capacity - another wave of guilt crashed through Steve but he ignored it to the best of his ability because Tony needed him now and he can’t disappoint him right now - his eyes clenched almost painfully tightly shut, but that strange blue glow still peaked out, mesmerizing Steve with how it was playing with Tony’s long eyelashes. He was so completely enraptured by them - he didn’t notice when the blue woman hissed at him to back off or how she was glaring with enough murderous intent at the others behind him that not even Okoye or Natasha dared take a step closer. He didn’t even notice that even Rhodey was staying back - that he didn’t react when they suddenly snapped open.
It happened so fast that not even Steve’s enhanced eye sight was helping him understand how the Iron Man armor enveloped Tony in the blink of an eye before he was lunging at Steve with a strength that Steve had never known Tony or his suits to ever possess. He found himself on his back in seconds, Tony’s foot fluidly transforming from the ordinary foot gear to clamps that wrapped around Steve’s throat, shoulders and upper chest and pinned him down like he was a measly bug, the other foot bracing itself over Steve’s right arm, his left arm being held down by what looked like a magnetic shackle kind of thing, only it was stronger than any magnetic imprisonment device Steve had ever faced and it didn’t need metal to keep him pinned down. He tried struggling but stopped when a giant cannon like thing was shoved into his face, Tony leaning over him like an avenging angel, his left hand shaking with rage as he stared him down the shark-shaped weapon that was charged so strongly that the grass around the blond’s head was fraying and dying at a rapid pace. And if anyone had even entertained the thought of helping him get free of Tony, there were four strange things hovering around Iron Man, as charged as a repulsor. And if that wasn’t enough to dissuade anyone from trying anything, besides the rockets and missals and lasers Tony had aimed at the people behind where Steve had stood, the blue alien was watching his back.
"You,” Tony spat out with such seething rage that Steve shivered as though he had crashed into the ice all over again. Those unnaturally glowing blue eyes - how was Tony even doing that!? - glared down at him with such hate and anguish and betrayal and killing intent that Steve for the first time saw the truth of Siberia: Tony had held back; he had not had any intent on killing either him or Bucky. Something that could not be said for the burning rage that he saw in the billionaire’s eyes right now. ”You did this!”
“Tony, you gotta relax, man-”
“VERONICA,” Tony cut off whatever Rhodey was about to say and the suit opened around Bruce, ejecting him gently before coming to stand behind its creator, additional parts flying in from the Earth’s orbit to replace the arm that had been destroyed during the fight with the Outriders. All weaponry of the Hulkbuster armor joined in pointing weapons on the Avengers. War Machine went into sentry mode even with Rhodey still in it when Tony called for SARAH, probably the suit’s AI, deactivating all weapons and defenses that might have been useful in putting Tony down if it came to that.
“Tony, you’re obviously being controlled by the Mind Stone, just like Clint was-”
But Tony only barked a humorless laugh at Natasha’s assessment, chilling Steve to his very soul. Forget the ice. This felt so much colder. “Seriously? How ever did you get to evaluate people? SHIELD must have been desperate.” Tony looked up at the now blond haired spy, giving her a sharp smile. “I’m not controlled by anything.” His eyes flared brighter and all weaponry that had been pointed at Tony deactivated, no matter if they were Wakandan or anything else. “This is Extremis. I now control things. Mechanical and electrical things, to be precise. Technology. No matter its form. The color of my eyes doesn’t even begin to resemble the blue of someone controlled by the Mind Stone. But that’s not why we’re here.” Steve started struggling anew when Stark looked down at him again, all that rage returning to his eyes in a second. ”This is all yourfault!”
“You can’t blame Steve for Thanos getting the other two Stones, Tony. We couldn’t manage to extract the Mind Stone from Vision in time before Thanos came to get it. Wanda managed to destroy it but Thanos somehow used the Time Stone - which you and Strange were supposed to protect, might I add - to reverse the process and he almost killed Vision when he ripped the Stone out of his forehead. We were simply not ready, Tony. It was no one’s fault.” Natasha tried to placate and explain but Tony didn’t budge. If anything, the cannon thing only buzzed stronger. Steve swore he will have burns on his face, if he even survives this encounter.
“He was just a kid.” Tony said in a dangerous hiss. “Did you even realize how many lives were at stake!? Do you honestly think that you know what’s best for everyone!? How could you!? How dare you do this!? I lost a boy I considered my child because of your damned pride, Rogers!” The cannon whined now, prepared for use. The blue alien woman looked approving, if confused by the source of Tony’s rage. “Half of the universe is gone because you couldn’t let someone else hold all the cards!” Now everyone was stunned by the things that were falling off of Tony’s tongue but Steve could only look at his eyes, at the anguish and sadness and loss there and think that, like so many times before, Tony somehow understood exactly what he was feeling. “Do you even realize what you have done!?”
“Tony, there was no other way.” The blond insisted, trying not to choke when Tony jerked at his words, the clamp thing pushing him harder against the earth. “Don’t you see? They would have used those satellites to control us! To spy on us! There were weapons on those things, Tony! They could have killed us from space and we wouldn’t even know it!”
“Rogers, what the hell are you talking about?” Captain Marvel asked in a horrified voice and Steve knew he should panic, but he couldn’t. He was too busy trying to get Tony to see things from his perspective.
“Don’t you see? It was too dangerous! It was for the best!”
“Oh my god,” someone uttered behind them. Tony’s eyes flashed brighter and Steve started choking for breath when the engineer pressed into him with even more force.
“Those satellites were our only chance at keeping the Infinity Stones safe!” Stark thundered like a raging god and no one made a move to stop him or get him off of Steve now. “They were made to withstand the Infinity Stones, magic and the fucking Bifrost and even travel at the fucking speed of light! There was nothing, absolutely nothing that could have broken into Earth’s atmosphere should the shields have been standing! This is your doing!” He leaned in closer, until their faces were mere inches apart. “I gave you one of the keys because I believed the fate of the universe was stacked above your obsession with Barnes and your pettiness against the modern day society, our politics and our politicians. I obviously made a mistake. I should have known I can’t trust you.” He leaned back again, opening his left hand so a repulsor was also glaring down at Rogers. The combination of the repulsor and the cannon was a definite death sentence. “I should have killed you in that bunker. No, I should have killed you in the Helicarrier. I would have saved the world a whole lot of grief.”
“Friend Stark,” Thor called out before Tony could continue in that tone of voice that had been chilling Steve like the vastness of space and vacuum. The blond Asgardian rushed forward, warily eying the alien protecting Tony’s back and the Hulkbuster armor, terrifying in its ability to take down even the Hulk in full rage mode. But Thor ignored all of that - maybe because of his elevated powers, maybe because of his new axe, Steve didn’t know why but the Asgardian didn’t seem afraid - and approached slowly the - in some ways - first Avenger holding down the oldest Avenger - not counting Thor’s being an Asgardian and all that; he didn’t count since he came to Earth only a couple of years before New York. “Do not let your grief get the best of you. You will surely regret it. I did. I had a chance to cut off Thanos’ head but instead I went for the heart so I can boast that I’ve taken vengeance for Loki, Heimdall, Brunhilda and the dwarfs of Nivadellir. Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgment.”
“My judgment is fine.” Stark grit out through his teeth but the cannon things hovering around him didn’t zero in on Thor, either. “My judgment must be fine. Because if it isn’t, then this thing is permanent. And I’m not about to allow that.”
“So you’ve spoken with Strange?” Steve was lost now. Then again, he was pretty sure everyone else was, too, but he at least had the excuse of being held at repulsor and cannon point.
“We’re in the endgame now. There was no other way.” Tony says as though he was repeating another person’s words.
Thor nods, coming to stand before the two men on the ground. He stopped when Strange’s flying cape thing surged up from ... somewhere - Steve really hadn’t been paying attention to the details once his eyes landed on Tony. Perhaps the thing had flown in after him and the alien woman? Or had it been around Tony’s shoulders? Or in the blue one’s grasp? He should have paid more attention - hovering threateningly and challengingly in front of the thunder god. Almost daring him to take a step closer. Thor didn’t. “The sorcerer seems to have foreseen some of these events. We must trust his judgment, my friend. We cannot afford to lose this battle.”
“Right you are, Point Break. But would there have even been a battle had this idiot not taken down the shields?”
“I do not know. But what I do know is that the good Infinite Beer Wizard would not want you to sully your hands needlessly with the Captain’s blood.” Steve kind of doubted that. Strange hated his guts. Tony seemed to think so, too, judging by his snort.
“He was just waiting for an excuse to throw him into the Dark Dimension. I rather doubt he will miss him.”
“He won’t,” the blond Asgardian agreed. “But he will regret that it was you who took his life. He is your friend and a doctor. Doctors save lives, not take them.” Something that Thor said seemed to resonate with Tony - on several levels - because he powered down his weapons almost immediately. He didn’t get up. He didn’t let Steve go. The clamp thing was still pretty much choking him. “He wouldn’t want you to do this. This is not a battle, friend Stark.” It’s murder, rang without it being said.
Tony didn’t move.
“He gave us one chance to fix this.” Thor continued talking, taking the risk of a miniature step forward. The red cape bristled. “Are you going to waste it?”
Tony suddenly let go and lurched off of Steve, right into the waiting folds of the flying cape. The blond supersoldier was so stupefied that it took him several minutes to figure out that he was free and that Tony had let him go before passing out. The blue woman was standing over his curled up body like a protective lioness, her weapons on display like bared fangs, the looming form of the Hulkbuster armor echoing her threat.
Shuri rushed in, calling for a doctor even as three accented voices coming from only Tony knows where - literally - rattled off blood pressure, heart rate and other medical nonsense at her. Bruce also rushed over to Tony, feeling his pulse and doing a general check up that apparently insulted all four present AIs. Steve kind of expected someone to come help him to his feet, maybe Natasha or even Rhodes (he was mostly neutral in these things) and instead found himself surrounded by the remaining Dora Milaje.
Judging by the look in Okoye’s eyes as she held the spear in his face, he was in for a painful ride.