Chapter 40: Chapter 40
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.
It was a gauntlet.
A gold gleaming, inercrate, human sized, fingerless gauntlet.
Not at all glove-like, like Thanos’ was.
No, this gauntlet reminded him of something he would see on a medieval knight, over a leather glove. No palm plating, no finger plating, just a sheet of metal covering the back of the hand with three straps to secure the plating in place: one around the wrist, one around the part of the palm just after the thumb and one just before the fingers began. It covered the back of the hand up to the knuckles and looked snug and tight, but not uncomfortably so. In fact, if Tony didn’t know better, he’d say the metal was amendable. As though it will mold to the hand of the wearer. And the thing gave off rather interesting vibes, some of the most unique energy readings Tony has ever scanned and that included Strange’s magic and the Infinity Stones.
But what interested him the most was the clue Strange had left for him as to what it was that he expected Tony to do. To most, the triangle in the center of the plating on the back of the hand, in the middle of six slots obviously meant for the six Infinity Stones, might look like nothing more than decoration to anyone else in the world, in the entire fucking universe, but it spoke volumes to Tony. Because only he knew what would fit into that spot.
And only he could provide it.
Which is how he found himself back in his lab at the Stark Tower in New York, dismantling one of his old suits’ Arc Reactors, millions of miles away from Wakanda and the other Avengers, save the remaining New and Young Avengers still in New York. Susan was with him in the Tower, no longer able to take it being alone in an empty home. Clint and Scott were still with Hope and the others at the Compound. Tony refused to let any of them know he was here - they’d swarm the place and he needed them safe in that damned bunker, no matter what - but he couldn’t turn Susan away. He was the only one left of her old life, having attended MIT together, once upon a time. She was the one who had relentlessly searched for whose beacon had deactivated the shielding and she was barely functioning when she collapsed into Tony’s arms yesterday, crying her heart out. She was catching up on her sleep under the watchful eyes of Nebula while Tony worked on the task Stephen had set for him.
Vision was resting on the couch behind him, acting as human as he had ever had before. When he had woken up and everyone had eventually piled into his room in Wakanda, Tony remembered snapping a demand to know just whose bright idea it was to try and destroy an Infinity Stone. He was not at all surprised to hear it was Rogers but he was half surprised that they had let him make such a stupid decision in the first place. Then he remembered that, until Susan and Tony revealed what Rogers had done, the others had trusted him inexplicably. They hadn’t seen a deeply flawed man willing to burn the world to the ground to protect one single man, damn the consequences. A man who would endanger half of the universe because he wanted to prove he was right.
Vision had been against it. SARAH and JOCASTA protested the course of action but Happy was too far away to support his partner AI and Rhodey’s protests were ignored as soon as they were on Wakandan soil. Rhodey couldn’t know whether Maximoff had really been near Vision just as protection, since she had proven capable to fight the Black Order before, or if Rogers had organized it so she could be close by to try and destroy the Mind Stone. Shuri didn’t know and Vision was too busy being subjected to the removal of the Mind Stone to notice. Still, Vision was greatly relieved to see Tony again. The android had refused to let the genius out of his sight since, leaving Wakanda with Tony, Nebula and Wong. He had nearly collapsed with relief when they found themselves in the familiar comfort of Tony’s workshop, the chirping beeps of happy robots lulling him to sleep.
Wong had returned to the Sanctum with a promise to return shortly, as soon as he informs the sorcerers of Kamar-Taj that Earth indeed did have a temporary Sorcerer Supreme. Tony told him to take his time. The Arc Reactor he was dismantling will take some time before it was ready to give up its precious Starkenium core for it to be added to the new Infinity Gauntlet. The real gauntlet, not the glove Thanos wore. They’ll have to have a discussion on distinguishing those two. Tony has a fairly good idea of as to just why the Starkenium was needed. Thor had said that Thanos’ Gauntlet/Glove had been fried after such an intense use of the Infinity Stones so Tony figured embedding Starkenium into their Gauntlet will prevent the Stones from frying whoever’s hand off when they use the Stones to reverse the Snap. The energy that Starkenium emitted easily resisted the influence of whatever Infinity Stone tried to interact with it. Embedding it into the Gauntlet itself will make the Gauntlet resistant to the backlash of such a power surge. And if the Gauntlet is resistant, than the wearer will be safe, too. Whether Strange thought up all of this by himself or saw it in some alternate future, Tony didn’t know but the plan was sound enough.
He looked up from where he was freeing the Starkenium core of the last of the clasps that kept it in place when JARVIS informed him he had an incoming call. From Harley of all people. Not at all surprising, but Tony was tempted to not reply. He desperately wanted to check up on everyone in the bunker beneath the Compound, to get in touch with all the people who had been asking for him - for him, because they trusted him to fix this - and to reassure himself that not all of his friends were gone. But he knew time was of the essence - he could feel the disbalance in the universe. The longer this went on, the harder it will be to fix things. Worlds were seeping into each other, Wong had told him. If he doesn’t reverse this within the next forty eight hours, he’ll have to concentrate solely on his new and numerous responsibilities as the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth. After a month, Stephen will be declared forever lost and Tony will have to take on all of his responsibilities and the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme forever. He’ll be the new Sorcerer Supreme in a world that is falling apart no matter what they do.
The only way to save them all was for Tony to figure out how to fix this, how to bring back the balance to the multiverse in general by returning the half that Thanos had stolen. And he still didn’t have the slightest clue as to how to go about that, since Stephen had never told Tony anything about his plan beyond the fact that Tony was essential to it. Seeing as how Starkenium was needed to make the new Gauntlet fully functional, Tony could see where he was coming from. But the question of how they were going to find Thanos - getting to him was easy with Thor’s new axe, Stormbreaker, that possessed the power to call upon the Bifrost - was still up in the air, let alone how they were going to get the Infinity Stones from his Glove - because it was a damned Glove compared to what Tony was currently working with - to the new Gauntlet. Tony had to focus on that, no matter how much he wanted to answer the call and speak with Harley, Tony knew he couldn’t afford to dilly dally.
So he denied the call, telling JARVIS to reassure Harley Tony was fine but busy preparing for a battle and couldn’t talk right now. Expecting his AI to do just that, Tony nearly jumped out of his skin when JARVIS instead connected the kid through. He glared up at JARVIS’ main camera in the lab, but his co-pilot was not at all apologetic for what he had done.
“I greatly disagree with your assessment that you should postpone your talk, Sir. Young Mr Keener deserves to know that he has not lost you, too.”
“Tony!” Said kid exclaimed with relief, eyes shinning with unshed tears, red tear tracks betraying that he had, in fact, cried at some point and quite a lot, by the looks of it. Harley looked ten years older than the last time Ton had seen him and it made the engineer’s heart clench because he couldn’t have prevented this. He couldn’t have stopped Peter from turning to dust and he couldn’t have stopped Harley’s grief. It made him sick in the stomach but he refrained from hurling up what little food he had managed to eat and keep down once he had seen just how many people they had lost. Though some miracle, Pepper and Happy were still here, but that didn’t mean they hadn’t lost far too many people. Seeing Harley, red eyed, teary, grieving for his mother and sister just drove home the fact that Tony had failed and that he had to fix it somehow. But JARVIS was right. He can’t ignore the kid. He’d already lost his mother and sister and what was essentially his brother. He didn’t deserve to lose his father figure, too.
“Hey, Harl. I won’t ask the stupid question of how you’re doing.” The Mechanic said by greeting, managing the smallest of smiles for the first kid he had ever unofficially adopted. “How are you holding up?”
“I’m fine, Tony,” the boy replied, worry seeping into his words. “I’m not the one who just came back from the other side of the universe.” He hesitated, bitting his lip as he looked at Stark through his eyelashes. “Are you okay?”
Tony sighed, paused in his work long enough to run a hand through his hair before replying tiredly. “I wish I could say yeah, but I’d be lying through my teeth and I just ... I don’t have the energy for that big of a lie right now. Too much has happened for me to deal you any more bullshit. Besides, you’re a smart kid. You can tell I am obviously not okay.” He locked eyes with Harley on the holomonitor, trying to imprint his next words into Harley’s brain with certainty that they will become true. “But I will be, I think, soon enough. Strange had a contingency for this and I am currently working on it.”
Harley nodded, looking insure what to say to that before asking something else, something that no one had bothered to ask so far and Tony had been quite content to let that conversation slide. “What happened out there, Tony?”
Stark sighed and sagged into his chair, suddenly feeling ages older and no Extremis in his body to give him the strength to sit up. “We lost the battle out there, kid. We lost. That’s what happened. But that was just a battle. There’s a war still going on. Which is why I need you lot to stay there where it’s safe-”
“No way, Tony.” Clint Barton interrupted, appearing behind Harley on the monitoring hologram. “This isn’t just your and Cap’s fight, you know. We’re Avengers, too, and this requires a lot more hands on deck than you currently have. Isn’t that why you revised the Accords to accommodate so many different people?” The archer, grieving his own loss, still managed to look on with confidence and determination through the holoprojector. “You’re not alone, Tin Head. You still have a team.”
“This is too dangerous a fight for the kids and you and Scott are needed elsewhere.” Tony insisted, frowning at the ex agent of SHIELD. Now that he thinks about it, he should probably check in with Coulson. After all, Fury and Hill had both disappeared in the Snap.
“Like hell are you keeping us away!” Kamala and Dante yelled together, appearing on the screen with what remained of the mutant kids Tony had been housing for the last couple of months. They were all rightfully grief stricken but every single one of them had a stubborn glint in their eyes that Tony recognized all too well. “We lost people, too! We can fight, too! You need us!”
“If you want to fix this, however it is you’re gonna do it, you’re going to need backup, Stark,” Scott said, him and a determined Hope appearing on the screen, too. Hank had also been dusted, so to say, when Thanos snapped his fingers. He and many other great minds.
“We all want to help, however we can, Tony.” The Wasp said with determination and steel in her voice.
“Give me and Harley a suit, Tony.” Said man wasn’t even surprised anymore to see Pepper and Happy there, as well as all the other kids and adults that had survived the Snap. Pepper’s request, though, took him aback a little. He wanted to deny it but he knew he couldn’t. “I know you have some custom made for us ready. Let us fight by your side for once, instead of mostly watching from the sidelines. You don’t have to protect the world all alone.”
“Call the mutants and the Inhumans.” Dante insisted. “They’ll fight. Magneto has been itching for it and the royal family is desperate to get King Black Bolt back.”
“The Asgardians, too.” Jane Foster said with a thick voice. “They’re a warrior’s people and their contribution to whatever fight is going to eventually happen will be indispensable.”
“And we want to help however we can.” Betty and May insisted together, nodding their heads as if to confirm it already.
“Please let us help, Tony.” Tony was well aware Susan and Nebula had walked down into the lab and that Vision was now awake when Harley all but begged. He did beg. Tony clenched his fists and felt the Cloak, still around his shoulders, give him a comforting squeeze.
He knew their help will be invaluable. He knew they all knew how to take care of themselves. But he was still scared of losing any more people than they had already lost. Could he send them out to almost certain death? Especially when they all seemed to trust in him so much?
“Fourteen million six hundred and five.”
“We’re in the endgame now.”
“Tony, there was no other way.”
Three hands landed on his shoulders and Susan, Nebula and Vision gave them a squeeze as Tony took a deep breath. “JARVIS, wake up SHERLY and tell FRIDAY she is to stay with Pepper in the Rescue suit. Prepare the Mark XIII version 2 for Harley. Have that new updated bow and arrows delivered to Clint, as well as that new body armor I’ve been working on. Contact Shuri and the others. Tell them we need to meet up and discuss battle plans. Patch me through to the X-Men, the Brotherhood, the Inhumans and the Asgardain palace. Call New SHIELD and inform them a storm is coming.” He looked at the elated faces on the other side of the conversation. “It’s time to end this.”
He looked down at the Arc Reactor and the new Gauntlet and quickly pulled out the Starkenium. Without further ado, he placed the core into its designated place and set things into motion, once and for all.
‘I hope you know what you’re doing, Doc.’ He thought to himself as he saw the entire Gauntlet light up at first contact with the Starkenium. The hidden mechanism or whatever was in the Gauntlet accepted it immediately and closed around it, holding it tightly in place. The triangle glowed up at the four gathered in the lab and their companions over the feed. ‘Because the fate of the universe depends on this and I have no clue what I am.’
The message reached everyone and they soon all found themselves in the Gobi Desert, despite some protests. Tony had refused to let the fight happen in Wakanda, despite Shuri’s protests that Wakanda could take it, so they had set up camp in the Gobi Desert, intent on somehow catching Thanos’ attention and making him come to them. But even as battle plans were being made, the now finished Gauntlet sitting in front of Tony in the same box Eitri had sent it in held all of the attention.
“What are we supposed to do with it?” Scott finally asked the question that was on - almost - everyone’s mind since Tony had stepped through his blue sparking portal with it under hand. Nebula, naturally, turned to look at said genius immediately, expecting an answer from him. To be expected, he supposed, since she not only didn’t know or really trust any of the others and she had been there when Stephen had surrendered the Time Stone in exchange for Tony’s life. A crazy move, when all things are considered since Tony was a simple human, no matter how well he had held up against Thanos.
“As far as I understand, this thing works a lot like the one Thanos has, only the pull and hold of this,” Tony gestured towards the open box in front of himself. “To the Infinity Stones is theoretically at least ten times stronger, which is saying something since the original one was meant to hold those things for, like, the most taxing deed in the multiverse. We just need to get this thing close to the Infinity Stones and this thing will pull them in. Only problem?” He frowned, looking down at the gleaming Gauntlet. “We have to have one first. Fully attached, fully integrated, fully under control. But after that, it’s mostly easy sailing. We just need to get whoever wears this close to Thanos.”
“How close?” Susan asked, frowning at the one thing that can save them all.
"Extremely close,” Wong replied, the sorcerers they could spare for the fight nodding their assent.
“A few centimeters at the very least.” Tony specified, crossing his arms as he regarded them all. “Thanos’ Gauntlet still has a strong pull but this one has an even stronger one. Doesn’t mean the proximity can be changed. The closer the two Gauntlets are, the transaction will be that much easier.”
“You said we’d need one Stone first, for it to even work.” Rocket pointed out, standing on the table itself in order to see everyone and everything. He was eying the box and Tony felt the sudden need to take both box and its contents far away from the klepto-raccoon. “How are we supposed to even do that to begin with? If it won’t work with at least one Stone in it, it’s a waste of time trying to get the others.”
“I don’t know yet.” Stark admitted with a shrug, standing between Vision and Nebula. There was no longer a New, Young or Rouge Avengers side. Everyone who was here was an Avenger. New SHIELD, Wakanada’s warriors and the Dora Milaje, Susan, the mutants, the Asgardians, the sorcerers and the Inhumans, Danny, the secret spy society within SI and even Deadpool. They were all Avengers now.
‘If we can’t save the Earth, you can be damn sure we’ll avenge it.’ Those had been his exact words to Loki when Thanos’ army first came to Earth. Now it was coming to fruition. Hopefully, they can do it.
“Well, whose gonna wear the shiny glove?” Deadpool, in true Deadpool fashion, asked, breaking the tense moment when he made grabby hands at the box and Tony had to pull it out of the way. Nebula had her sword out and ready to cut the man in half - not that it would do anything to him, the guy was practically immortal - but Magneto pulled him away with a snarl by the scuff of his neck.
“He does have a point,” the entire room groaned when Rogers spoke up. Tony swears the guy was still alive only because Tony himself had insisted that they could just throw him at Thanos when the fight comes. “Someone will have to wear it.”
“It has to be someone who’s really strong because that those things make people go boom when they’re touched.” Rocket deduced with a nod and crossed arms across his chest.
“An Asgardian, then. Or the Hulk.” Romanoff mirrored the animal’s stance but Bruce shook his head.
“I don’t think Hulk has the strength to stand up to that sort of power. I mean,sure, he’s physically strong, but he’d probably be driven mad from that kind of power.”
“And destroy the rest of the universe.” One of the sorcerers said with a grim look on her face. The other sorcerers nodded in agreement.
“How about Vision, then? He could handle the Mind Stone pretty well.” Clint suggested, nodding to the red andriod, who only shook his head.
“I would be far from a good choice. I could only barely handle the Mind Stone. It kept acting up whenever the other Stones were in relatively close proximity. I wouldn’t be ale to handle all of them.”
“Stephen probably could. He’s got great core control,” Tony mused to himself, missing the look Wong sent his way. “Anyway, whoever gets the Gauntlet, gets it for good. It has a mechanism to close around someone’s hand forever and there are enough protective wards put into it to prevent a supernova from harming the wearer. Not even the Stones themselves could harm whoever wears it.”
“Yes, Eitri said something about that. Apparently, the universe has made two contenders for the Infinity Stones. Thanos is one. Strange said he knew who the other one was but that he can’t say.” Thor revealed, fidgeting between Bruce and Jane Foster. The two exes were having trouble looking each other in the eye at the moment, but Tony has no doubt, if they succeed and survive in this, that they might get back together.
“He made it pretty obvious who it was intended for.” Wong stated, eyes never leaving Tony. Thor was the only one who saw it, though, and realization seemed to dawn on the Asgardian king, as he swiftly left his place between the two scientists and made his way around the table.
“It’s obviously Thor.” Someone said but Tony wasn’t paying attention anymore, eyes locked on the new Gauntlet itself and the glowing triangle in it. Something about it called to him. He was tempted to touch it again. While he had been working on it, he had been touching it and he had sworn the thing was tingling underneath his fingers. He had brushed it off as a consequence of the magic he felt within it, but he wondered if there had been something else.
“Thor it is,” he heard someone say decisively and looked up only when he felt said blond stand behind him, reaching forward for the Gauntlet. Tony made to move away but Thor grabbed his wrist and held him in place. Brown eyes met blue, their owner shocked at the sudden tight grip, but the King of Asgard ignored that and simply picked up the Gauntlet.
“The doctor is a strange man,” a few present snorted at the pun, unintended or not, but Thor didn’t crack into a smile. “With many secrets. I often could not understand him, when he deigned to speak with me.” Tony was aware that Nebula was watching with interest. The only witness to what had happened on Titan and she was watching with a knowing glint in her eyes. Understanding. Tony wished he knew what it is that she understood because he was, quite frankly, lost right now. “But he has never made it a secret that one person was the key to our salvation. That one person, above all others, was necessary and must survive.” Thor brought up Tony’s hand to eye-level, looking over the left hand, the hand and the arm that had went through so much abuse since Tony became Iron Man. The hand that the Gauntlet was meant to rest on. “I think Strange knew from day one whom it must be to face Thanos and he has obviously been preparing this person.”
“What are you talking about, Thor?” Steve asked, making to move closer to the two but Nebula drew her weapons again and intercepted him while Harley, Pepper and Rhodey activated their weapons systems to keep Rogers locked.
Thor didn’t break eye contact as he brought up his other hand, holding the gleaming and glowing new Gauntlet up for everyone to see. “This.” And before anyone could react or stop him - not that they could, with how the sorcerers of Kamar-Taj were ready to prevent that, mandalas glowing in spells around their wrists and hands - the Thunder God slapped the Gauntlet on Tony’s wrist and it closed securely around the genius’ hand.
And the world was washed away by a blinding light.