Chapter 4: Chapter 4
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.
Thor and Bruce arrived the next day as planned, a well as Loki and what was left of Asgard’s people, on a space ship that had seen better days from the looks of it but was perfectly space worthy. It was shocking and worrying to hear that Asgard might as well be gone, Ragnarök having come to pass not long after Odin’s death, when Hela, Thor’s older sister, was released and the only way to defeat her was by releasing some horrible fire demon on the golden city and her, thus destroying the most powerful of the nine realms and leaving Earth practically unprotected.
Tony could already feel the nightmares coming, his stress reaching an all new time high that would probably leave any doctor catatonic witch shock if they learned he wasn’t going to take any medication to deal with it. It would dull his mind and his senses and, right now, he could not afford to let that happen. He was surrounded mostly by people whom he could not trust and the meeting room was not by any means large enough to make him feel comfortable. They were practically within arm’s reach of each other and it wasn’t doing any favors to his stress levels. Two super spies, three super soldiers (if you count T’Challa), a witch and two men that have no love lost for him were within reaching distance of him, along with a god who had once tried to strangle him. Most of them were supposed to be his friends, his teammates, but all they were were hypocrites, killers and liars.
Who would have thought Loki had nailed such a bullseye that day at SHIELD. It was scary that a villain knee them better than they knew themselves.
The presence of Fury, Hill and the not-so-dead Agent Coulson were not helping his stress levels. FRIDAY had already pinged him a warning that his heart rate was too fast and he was sure Vision had sent him a few concerned glances. Peter stood as close to him as was humanly possible, fidgeting and unsure but unwilling to leave his side. He could probably hear his blood rushing with his enhanced hearing and was worried. Rhodey was a bit busy glaring at the rouges at the moment but he had been fussing over Tony since he got back from being portaled away by a strange wizard dude.
Usually, once upon a time, Bruce at least would have been a source of comfort. But Bruce, for all that he was the only one of the original Avengers that Tony still considered a somewhat friend, had lost the ability to affect Tony in a calming way after he had been as ready as everyone else to blame Ultron’s awakening on Tony. As if Tony had created him. Ultron had woken up on his own during a simple diagnostics test, no one pocking the bear, and he had killed JARVIS, one of Tony’s children before going on to try and kill the Avengers. The blame had fallen to Tony and he had accepted it, guilt at all the lost lives eating away at him. Even though he knew he hadn’t actually created the murder bot, he felt guilty whenever he saw someone grieving a lost loved one that had been a result of Ultron’s rampage. Which is why he had agreed to the Accords, with the intention of polishing the final product to his liking and so that everyone was happy, the heroes responsible and held accountable for their actions should they misuse their powers and yet protected by the Accords.
He never got the chance to do it. And when he had most needed his science bro? Bruce hadn’t been there. Tony figured it was for the best to just keep a distance from Bruce. Even if Bruce hadn’t been there to answer the call should Tony have thought to make it during the so called Civil War because he had accidentally ended up on some strange planet where the Hulk fought in a gladiator’s arena, which Tony can’t blame him for, he had blamed Tony as much as the others for creating Ultron, even though he had had a hand in it as well. And then he went and got angry that Tony had a Hulk-buster armor. Was he really surprised? The Hulk needed someone to subdue him if Natasha’s lullaby ever failed and they were in the middle of a populated area. Not to mention that having more heavy hitters could only be a bonus.
But at least that part was behind them.
The Ultron part wasn’t.
So you can just imagine the stress levels Tony was feeling right now. Especially after what happened between the two wizards just after Tony had dropped the bomb on them that he eon’t be their sugar daddy anymore. He wanted desperately to be anywhere but here. Hell, he’ll take that damned cave in Afghanistan over being here. He had at least had Yinsen back then, a man he knew for all of three months and who had become an impossibly dear friend to Tony. At least he had known where he stood with Raza and the Ten Rings from the start. SHIELD, the Avengers, even the UN Council? They all tried to manipulate him while pretending to be his friends or allies. He’d rather not have them as friends when his enemies treated him with more respect.
“Stark,” Fury said with a heavy sigh. “You can’t go and start doing stupid-ass shit like this. The Avengers need to stand together. You need to be the united front you were in New York. If you could fly a nuke through a wormhole into outer space for them, surely this can’t be too much to ask.”
“Nick,” Tony drawled in return. He was keeping up his facade as best as he can, hands just itching to tap his Arc Reactor or his wrist watch to activate the suit so he can feel better protected in front of these people that were greater vultures than the paparazzi. “I’m afraid you don’t get it. That rocket has left a long time ago. I just haven’t realized it until I had a Captain America shield shaped scar on my chest. So sorry. You’ll have to ask the UN for funds. The days of SI and Tony Stark keeping you lot afloat while I drown beneath you are done. Get over it and move on. I’m sure someone else will be happy to support a superhero group of terrorists.” He says it with a smile he knows perfectly well that will piss off more than a few of the members of the rouges group.
“This isn’t about you, Stark.” Barton snapped, as temperamental as ever, especially since Laura wasn’t answering the phone now that he could call without fear of endangering her and their kids. He suspected Stark had something to do with it, which only made his temper that much worse.
“Really? I must not have noticed, as usually everything is about me, or so you believe. How strange that you’re changing your mind now.” He shook his head, as if mystified, knowing it will only piss Barton off more. “Is there anything else you’d like to discuss other than the fact that you won’t be feeding and living off of my account anymore? And don’t even try to give me that ‘togetherness’ crap because I’m not changing my mind about staying at Stark Tower. And don’t even think of suggesting you guys move right back in.” He said with a glare at Cap, who had opened his mouth to no doubt suggest just that. “Or coming for a visit or whatever shit was about to come out of your mouth. You have more than you need or deserve at the Compound. Every other Stark property is off limits. Try and break in? Pepper will be on you like a mother bear on a threat to her cub. Believe me, I would know. She threatened me to not even contemplate a situation like that long ago. Not that I would. Those bridges have been burned down even beyond my ability to fix.”
“Think about how this is going to affect the team, Tony,” Natasha implores, doing that whole intro into a monologue about his ego or trying to play on his guilt, like she’d been doing for years. How had he not noticed the emotional manipulation before? He knew the answer. He was just so desperate to pull ahead of his demons, to do something good that he had ended up making these monsters that didn’t care about who got hurt as long as they were fine. “I know you’re better than this. This is not Iron Man that I know.”
“Really? Iron Man?” He asks with a scuff. “Iron Man and I are one. It’s me who’s in the armor that I made. And what do you even know about me? The little profile you made during the whole Vanko thing? Let’s talk about that, shall we?” He leaned his elbows on the table and offered her a big, fake, picture perfect smile. “I was dying. I was suffering from palladium poisoning. I was under duress. I am not saying some of the things I did can be given excuses but even when I was dying, less people died from my ‘antics’ than they did during your efforts to save them. And if you’re going to start bringing up files, don’t forget who here has access to whose file, Miss Romanoff. SHIELD’s little data leak did you no favors.” He enjoyed how she had gone as stiff as stone with an angry glint in her eyes. And for the first time, Tony felt no fear for her skills and all the countless ways she could kill him.
“How has this happened to us, my shield brothers?” Thor asked tiredly, looking a lot more world weary than the last time they had seen him. Perhaps even a little wiser. It was hard to tell, at the moment. “If even I and Loki have managed to settle our differences and return to how we were before, then surely the same could happen for our team.”
“Not so fast, Point Break.” Tony cut in before Thor could say anything else. As was usual, Thor looked at Tony with confusion. It was interesting to see how Asgardians didn’t seem to understand him at all, for all that they were an ancient people that had seen it all. “The reason you and Reindeer Games made up is because there was some actual love, trust and respect between you, none of which has ever been shared equally in this team. Therefore, this was never a true team. Ergo, there’s not much to fix, if anything. How are we to fought together if we can’t trust each other. They,” he pointed at the rouges. “Might trust each other and we,” he pointed between himself, Peter, Rhody and Vision. “Might trust each other. But do we trust them and do they trust us?”
“Why would we trust you, Stark?” Wanda snapped. “You only care about yourself and no one else. You threw us in the RAFT and you created Ultron-”
“And you, of your own free will, were first an eager HYDRA agent and then a gleeful helper of Ultron. I’m sorry, but I don’t tend to negotiate with terrorists. Ask the Ten Rings for references.” He retorts with a snort before shaking his head and looking Thor in the ... eye. Wasn’t one pirate enough? And Thor looked so ... strange without his long hair. Not that this didn’t suit him, too, it was just weird. “See what I mean? You can’t expect us to work together, which is why I asked the UN to allow us to have two teams. They can go knock themselves out, literally for all I care, and do whatever they want to do. We are going to do things legitimately. The people are concerned about the lack of responsibility and consequences among the superpowered ‘community’, so to say, and an unhappy crowd is a mob that will come after us with pitchforks and fire. I’d rather not drag down the entire superpowered, mutant, enhanced or inhuman population because of these idiots. And you yourself should be careful, Thor.” At the blond’s confused and wary look, Tony elaborated. “Even a handful of people like you is bound to cause a riot, especially if you’re seen in the presence of international terrorists. T’Challa only manages to get away with what he does because he can throw his wealth and Vibranium around, otherwise Wakanda would have long since fallen. I’m afraid you don’t have that luxury, Thor. You’ll need to thread on eggshells for a while, especially since Loki is with you. People still haven’t forgotten New York. Just keep that in mind, okay?”
“Seriously, Tony?” Steve asks, as though disappointed in him. As if Tony was some unreasonable child that was maliciously putting salt on a poor snail just to watch it writ in agony. “You’re so petty about this that you’re trying to turn Thor against his own team, his friends?”
“I’m just giving him sound advice. Better amputate a useless, diseased limb than let it infect the rest if the body and kill it slowly.”
“You’re just acting like a spoiled child.” Maximoff hissed, red dripping from her fingers dangerously.
“You would know.”
“Unfortunately,” Bruce cut in before the repeat of Germany could happen within the not nearly big enough meeting room. “Tony is right.” He turns to Thor with an apologetic smile. “You’ll probably going to need to be very careful about what you say and do for quite a while. People may know you, but they also know Loki and this will not be an easy transaction for you and your people. It’s a miracle they allowed you asylum in Norway at all.” Tony looks away, hoping they don’t realize why. Thor and Loki both once nearly strangling him doesn’t mean he won’t help what’s left of a practically dying people. They didn’t deserve to be judged by their princes’ actions.
“I shall do my best to respect all the political customs of Midgard.” Thor said with a determined nod, some of his gained wisdom showing. He was dead set on doing anything to protect his people.
“Earth,” Tony corrects, looking back over to him. “You need to start calling it Earth. I advise you get a consultant or a lawyer - I can recommend a few and you decide - and to let your brother do more of the negotiations. Loki Silvertongue is a nickname he got for a reason, I believe. Just ... tell him to tone down the ‘I am a god’, ‘mortals’ and all that superiority and sheep bullshit. Otherwise, I think you’ll find he fits right in.” Politician were, after all, far worse snakes than Loki.
“Yes, you are probably right.” The blond Asgardian nodded again. “Thank you, friend Stark, for your wise advice. I shall take it to heart. Where may I get these ... consultants?”
“I’m gonna take it you still don’t have a phone or a computer?”
“Why would I need that? The infinite beer wizard asked me the same thing when I asked him why he hadn’t informed me about my father’s whereabouts on Earth. I have an ‘electronic mail’. Darcy made it for me.”
Tony went to facepalm but a single word in Thor’s response resonated in his rather tired mind. He hadn’t slept since the night before he was supposed to ‘welcome’ the rouges back, and even before then it had been restless, nightmares plaguing his nights, all sorts of mixed events that would not leave his mind. The word wizard was glaring at him and he could tell that the others had honed in on it, too. Fury was pretending to look confused but Tony knew better. He knew something, which meant Coulson and Hill knew something about a certain wizard Stephen that Tony had briefly met. At least he thinks it might be him. Something in him was certain it was him.
But he couldn’t focus on that now. Right. Asgardians in Norway. Consultants. Fun. “I will get you one and prepare a file about the consultants and lawyers I’d recommend. You can take any of them or take someone else on. Just tell them to put the bill on Stark International’s account and Pepper will deal with everything else. They’ll act as your PR team for now. I would also suggest you read the Accords and see whether you want to sign it or not. Now, if none of you mind, if that’s all, I’ll be taking my leave.”
“We have not finished our discussion yet, Stark.” Fury called after him as Tony stood up and stretched, moving towards the door. “You are a SHIELD and Avengers consultant, under contract to-”
“Consult, repair, rebuild, fix and advise.” Tony cut him off once again. “Not house, babysit and feed and I did all that additionally, as well as shield them from the public eye and protect their families. And that’s not a valid argument, Fury. SHIELD doesn’t exist anymore, if it ever really had. And as the other half of the founding force behind the Avengers Initiative,” he arched a challenging eyebrow at the director. “I can do the hell as I please. Which is why you can discuss the two teams issue with the UN, only don’t hold your breath. They’re all for it. Something about there being one team to corral the other? I’d thread cautiously, if I were you. One false move could easily put you back in the RAFT and nothing will get you out of it again.”
“Is that a threat?” Clint asked in a dangerous sort of voice, hand wrapping around a hidden knife he was under the impression FRIDAY hadn’t detected. In between Rogers and Wilson, Barns twitched. Peter suddenly went as stiff as was humanly possible, his spider senses tingling while Rhodey and Vision tensed for action. Tony itched so bad to just activate his suit and show them all who and what they were going up against. He had always held back, even in Siberia, when it came to them. Well, they’re about to learn that that had changed.
“It’s a fact.”
“You’re in no position to threaten anyone, Stark.” Wanda sneered, red energy now engulfing her entire fists as she just itched to attack him. “You don’t have the biggest stick in the room.” The reference to his father had Tony grinding his teeth but he wouldn’t give her the satisfaction. She’s not the only one whose parents were killed, only his were specifically murdered while he had indirectly fallen prey to Stane’s under the table deals.
He ignored her and just continued on walking but his heart stopped when, with a snarl, he suddenly felt something tugging at him, that god awful red magic holding him, about to throw him against the furthest wall with all the strength the Scarlet Witch can no doubt muster, possibly breaking his spine in the process. He had no time to yelp, no time to react, not even to activate his new suit. He wasn’t sure if FRIDAY will be able to catch him with it in time or if he was going to die or join Rhodey-
When suddenly a hand wrapped around his wrist and a golden energy engulfed him whole, the red bursting like a soap bubble and falling away from him in much the same manner. He felt himself being pulled in the opposite direction and he braced himself for impact, wither with the wall or with the floor, but instead all he hit against was a strong, blue-robed chest and a steadying hand on his left hip while something slithered around the small of his back to further steady him. When he looked, he found it was a very familiar red article of clothing before he was distracted by yelps and enraged yells behind him by most of the rest of the room’s occupants and he turned his head around to look.
At the end of a long, blue clad arm was a scarred hand which had some strange glowing mandalas around and in front of it, from which a multitude of gold energy chains had appeared and wrapped around the rouges, Fury, Coulson, Hill and two were threatening Thor and Bruce. Tony desperately wanted to laugh at the sight of Wanda hanging upside down with chains covering her mouth and restraining her hands in such a way that she can’t conjure magic between them. Rhodey, Peter and Vision seemed to be fine, though, which Tony was thankful for.
Speaking of being thankful, Stark back and up at his rescuer, wondering how he had known Tony was in trouble and where the hell he had come from. Judging by the spinning, sparkling portal behind him, the second question had an obvious answer. The first, as well as who the hell this guy was and why he was doing this, are yet to be answered.
Once the stranger had assured himself that the situation was under control, blue-green eyes looked down and locked with golden brown ones, the light of the portal making them resemble whiskey. Tony was surprised by the sharpness of the other’s gaze, although that might have something to do with their proximity. This was probably the closest Tony’s ever stood to someone that he didn’t have to. In a very long while.
“Tony Stark,” the familiar stranger he knew only as Stephen said in a deep voice that vibrated through his chest into Tony’s, that’s how close they were. “My name is Doctor Stephen Strange. I need you to come with me.”