Chapter 43: Chapter 43
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 awoke in the real world, surrounded by his dumbfounded fellow Avengers and a glowing Soul Stone on his left hand. They were all staring at him in disbelief, as though this was the weirdest thing that had happened to them all so far, when it was,in fact, not. It barely made it into the top ten, which was really saying something since they still hadn’t seen Stephen doing his magic or how a movie reference saved a life. Or Tony making a new element in his lab for shits and giggles. No, seriously, they’ve seen so much shit over the years that this really shouldn’t even be all that surprising. Weird, maybe, but not such a big surprise.
“Oh my god, Tony! Are you okay?!” Pepper all but lunged at him, stopping her just seconds away from colliding with him, where Thor and Vision were propping him up. Her eyes were worried as hell and now Tony was feeling guilty as hell for causing her to worry about him again. It was one of the reasons they decided not to get back together in the end, staying just friends. He always only worried her and caused her undue stress, as though being CEO of his company wasn’t enough, or his friend. Pepper was one of the strongest people that he knew but even she had a breaking point. Tony hadn’t wanted them to reach it for fear of losing her form his life for good, which was why they had simply stayed friends. No, not just friends. Family. She was a sister he never had, just like Rhodey and Happy were his brothers. She still worried, but she didn’t nearly have a heart attack every time he put on the suit.
“Yeah, peachy.” Which was true but probably didn’t look it, since Tony could feel Extremis burning in his eyes, always a sign of distress or healing if he wasn’t using it consciously. Or lack of control, as it had been the case the first few hours until JARVIS and FRIDAY helped him to learn to control it well enough for his eyes to at least stop glowing. “But there’s been a change in plans. KAREN will help you pilot Rescue. I need FRIDAY and JARVIS backing me up. We’re on the clock here, people, get ready. We have ten minutes at most.”
“Wait, what do you mean, ten minutes? What was that?” Scott asked, gesturing at Tony as he arched his neck to see him. He only now realized that Nebula was acting like a bodyguard and that the Cloak had spread out so it was shielding him from sight of the rest of the room. The only part of Tony still in view was the hand Thor still held, now adorned not only with the golden new Infinity Gauntlet but with the contently glowing orange Soul Stone, too.
“What did you do? How’d you get that Stone?” Rogers, who really has no right to talk right now - or ever again, really - all but demands, making as if to come closer but Nebula glares death at him - or Tony is under that impression, at least - and he stops in his tracks. His eyes, however, stayed glued to the glowing Stone, a look in them that had the Soul Stone itself giving off repulsed vibes to Tony through some apparent connection he now had with the thing, sending him Rogers’ desires of how to use the Stone. Or maybe even all of the Stones. Tony gets it. He, too, would like to rewrite his mistakes but that would not be beneficial in the long run, or for everyone involved.
“Well, when Point Break here decided to just slap this thing on me,” he rightened himself so he could stand on his own feet, moving away from his two supports to give the blond one a look. Thor didn’t look the least bit ashamed. “The Soul Stone reacted for some reason and it reached out to me. I met two people in the Soul Dimension and I was gifted the Soul Stone from the first. The second one was Stephen and he told me we now have ten minutes tops to prepare before Thanos arrives to get the Stone back, so this is what we’re gonna do.”
“Who said you’re calling the shots?”
Tony just arched an eyebrow at Romanoff. “As the current, if temporary, Sorcerer Supreme and co-leader of the Avengers, Iron Man and friend and ally of the Asgardians, mutants and Inhumans, I can assure you that I have the biggest support group to be declared leader of this little expedition waiting to happen. And that’s not even mentioning the doors of being Tony Stark that open for me.”
“Stark is the only one who can fight Thanos and win.” Wong declared, crossing his arms and arching an eyebrow at him. “He was the only one to do any damage.”
“He made him bleed,” Nebula agreed, having been there first hand to see Thanos, for the first part, exit a fight with an injury. An injury done upon him by a mere human. Gods, rage monsters and supersoldiers had failed where a basically baseline human succeeded. “He was the only one Thanos aimed to kill.”
“Thor buried his ax in the guy’s chest.” Shuri pointed out but the blue alien woman cyborg only snorted.
“He got a drop on him. It happens every now and then. Try fighting Thanos with four Infinity Stones head on in only a suit of - rather impressive, I will admit, but still insufficient - armor. The sorcerer couldn’t win and he had some impressive tricks up his sleeve.”
“That doesn’t even matter right now,” Tony interrupted, feeling the time ticking. “We need to get into battle positions. Thanos is going to arrive in six minutes, thanks to your need to babble.” That shut them up. Only Rhodey dared speak up.
“You got a plan?”
“Of course,” Tony promptly replied even as he reached for the box from Eitri. Clever of Stephen, to get him this material. He didn’t want to think about where the dwarfs got the body of one of those escaped alien prisoners that the Avengers had been fighting when they met the Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time and how they molded and forged it. This box had at one point in time been a living being but was now just scrap material. Very unique and precious scrap material that Vibranium couldn’t do anything against but scrap material all the same. He put a hand on the box and let swarms of nanites cover the box, swiftly taking it apart. He’ll still need more time than he currently has before the nanites are done.
“Care to share?” And there goes Rogers again, challenging him when he had no right. Most of the room shoots him dirty looks while the remaining chose just ignore him.
“As I said, I’ll need FRIDAY with me, so KAREN’s going with Pepper in the Rescue armor. VERONICA has the defensive satellites as well as the Hulkbuster armor - we could really do with the Big Guy himself, Brucie-bear, if you’re up to it. Please try to be - and JOCASTA gets the Iron Legion. SARAH and SHERLY just need to focus on War Machine and Iron Lad-”
“That’s now what I’m gonna be called,” Harley protests but Tony steamrolls him because there was little time for snark right now.
“I want the sorcerers and Asgardians hidden in the mirror dimension until I am ready to enter the fight, which means the lot of you have to distract him. We have no idea if he’ll be bringing an army or if he’ll come by himself. We need to surprise him. He may be coming to us at his own terms but that does not mean that he will set the pace of this battle. Remember, this is our last chance. I suggest you all stick close enough to the nearest sorcerer because I may need to call for the Mirror Dimension if things go bad. That’s only if I approve of the Last Dying Breath protocol. If that ever happens, you scram. Got it? Believe me,” he looks up, trying to impress on them the graveness of the situation. “You do not want to get in the way of a Jericho missal. No, don’t ask any stupid questions, just get into position. Buy me some time.”
“That’s it? That’s your plan?”
“The only way we can reverse this, Rogers, is if we can get all of the Infinity Stones in this,” he puts up his free, left hand, adorned by the Gauntlet. “To do that, I need to be able to get close to him, which means I’ll need plenty of distractions as well as a stronger material for my armor, which is why I am letting my nanobots have a bit out of the box. That’s going to need some time and as such I need you guys to distract him. He’ll come straight for me.”
“And how are we supposed to hold him off, Tony?” Clint asked, already preparing his arrows and picking out a spot for him and Cooper so they can be their snipers. “He’s still got five Infinity Stones too many. He’ll wipe us out in seconds!”
“Just keep him from closing his fist. As long as he can’t clench, he can’t activate the Gauntlet’s control over the Stones.” Tony advised, wincing as he realized they were on their last free two minutes. “Get in position, guys, ’cause it will start soon enough.” Nebula stayed with him while the others rushed out, listening occasionally to his orders but mostly scrambling to get into position. Rogers had tried staying, too, but Thor actually pushed him out as he was yelling for his people to group around the sorcerers. In a matter of thirty seconds, the people in the Gobi desert were halved, half of them staying in the mirror dimension while the other half was left waiting for Thanos. Tony turned back most of his attention to what his nanobots were doing. ‘How are we going, guys?’
-23.6% done, Boss. The material is surprisingly amendable considering how difficult it was to damage or alter during the battle. It is highly compatible with our systems. The integrity of the Bleeding Edge armor will increase by an astounding 70%. Not even Vibranium will be able to make a scratch. Possibility of Adamantium caused damage has decreased by 12%.-
-It’s presence in our systems has also increased the environmental data processing speed by 0.54%, Sir. It has also, however, proven to be a problem in regards to the repulsors and stabilizers, so we are distributing those nanites separately from the rest of the nanites of the armor. The specialization of those components can be adjusted but we will need more time and processing power.-
‘Then use it. Dump on me everything you don’t need to do but I could handle doing on my own and process those things immediately.’ This material may come in handy but he couldn’t afford his weapons and propulsion systems having glitches. ’Don’t even try arguing. Make it right so you can take back your duties. Be as swift about it as you can be. The others won’t be able to keep Thanos away all that long.′
-On it Boss.-
-Consider it done.-
Thanos arrived through a wormhole exactly thirteen seconds before the tenth minute was up, barely reacting in time to partially protect himself when the Avengers, Inhumans, mutants, SHIELD and SI agents and Wakandans all attacked together, surprising him only enough for the wormhole to close behind him and for Shuri to launch a device similar to the one Tony used on Titan to stop Thanos from closing his fist. But, ready or not, surprised or expectant of the attack, Thanos managed to keep his composure enough to reveal the machinery to the incoming attacks so that it took enough punishment for him to rip it off, made of Vibranium nanobots as it might have been.
Before he could try to use the Gauntlet, though, Magneto used his magnetizing powers to create a magnetic field between the fingertips of the glove and the palm, so that they were repelling each other. The field was so strong that Erik had no choice but to sit out the fight itself lest he loose control. It gave the others a chance to be his backup, firing at Thanos with all that they had, getting in close, raining hit after hit on the Mad Titan. Not that they could do much against him even with him unable to use the Gauntlet. Thanos had come fully armored, probably expecting a battle of epic proportions, so he was a lot better equipped and protected than they could have hoped for.
Steve and Vision were the first to reach him, the supersoldier raining punch after punch after shield-reinforced punch to Thanos’ middle and upper chest and torso, before he was punched away by a powerful hit. Vision, who had tried to get to the Gauntlet, though, was grabbed by his cape a flung around, turning invincible just when Thanos’ fist would have connected with his head. Tony had had the foresight to build in some weapons into his now defenseless child and he had solved it by installing a laser in Vision’s forehead in place of the Mind Stone, one powered by the Arc Reactor that was quite literally Vision’s beating heart now. Vision used said laser now to blast Thanos directly in the face. The Titan let out an enraged, pained yell but let go of the red android, who flew away from the purple giant just in time for Rhodey, Pepper and Harley to rain down hell on him, using the suits Tony had made for them.
Thanos was obviously bewildered by the three iron suits so similar to Stark’s flying around when the Mind Stone and Power Stone told him this was not Stark in any of the suits. He didn’t get much chance to ponder on that as Dante flew in and spewed fire all over him before flying off, making space for another volley of attacks from the long range fighters.
They must have given it away somehow as to who exactly it was that was stopping him from closing his fist because Thanos suddenly lunged into an attack directly towards Magneto. Carol managed to blast him back several times before he knocked her out of the sky, reaching Erik and knocking him out cold with a single punch. Combined with the strain of keeping the Gauntlet forced open and his age, the hit was maybe even too forceful. As soon as Erik went down, Thanos didn’t waste a second to clench his fist, using the Power Stone to knock back every SHIELD and SI agent that was not behind swiftly called upon Vibranium energy shields. He then used the Reality Stone to turn the ground beneath their feet into quick sand, but soon enough found an invisible force prying his hand open again.
Susan Storm was not a woman to be messed with and Thanos idiotic plan had cost her her whole family. She was more than pissed off and had no intentions of letting Thanos come for what little of her new extended body he was after. Tony was the only chance any of them had of ever seeing their loved ones ever again and if he said he needed time, Susan was going to buy it for him. She’ll start by not letting Thanos fight back. He seemed even partially impressed with her will to keep him from closing his fist, but he recovered fast enough and made to lunge for her, but then a flash of red and gold caught his attention before it barreled into him. Bruce gave a crow inside of the Hulkbuster armor as VERONICA helped him properly pilot the terrifying suit of armor. Thanos tried fighting back but VERONICA knew how to fight, unlike Bruce or even the Hulk. She had access to every fighting style and strategy known to man and was not a mind the likes of which the Mind Stone could manipulate or read. Then, to Thanos further surprise, the big armor flew back suddenly, only for Bruce to be ejected, skin and eyes blessedly turning green when the Hulk finally realized that everyone but him was in on the fun.
The green rage monster was joined in its rampage against Thanos by a big metal X-Man guy that often accompanied Deadpool, while said anti-hero made a grab for Thanos’ Gauntlet, only for the man to crush his skull in his bare hand before flinging him at Susan, who managed to catch the already amazingly recovering man, only to have the metal man flung at them both next, making her hold on the Gauntlet slip. Thanos shattered it and used the Mind Stone to force Hulk to stop in his tracks and turning slowly to face his own allies, only to have an arrow shock him right out of it, courtesy of Clint. That was when father and son Barton duo started shooting as many arrows as they could at the evil giant purple grape, distracting him long enough for Medusa and Ms Marvel to wrap their hair and hands respectively around his wrist and pull his fingers apart to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, they weren’t strong enough to hold him properly and soon lost their grip.
Thanos, though, seemed to have had it with their attacks and playing around with them, because he used the Time Stone to slow them down, before using the Power Stone to send a deadly wave of energy at them, only for the Iron Legion and all of the Iron Man armors to swoop in, including War Machine, Rescue and Harley’s armor, every single weapon trained on the Mad Titan, immune to the effects of the Time Stone only because of the Starkenium core of the Arc Reactors they all had inside the suits. Vision even managed to phase through the ground right under the man and punch him hard enough in the face for his hand to fall open, releasing their friends from the Time Stone’s power. The wave of energy from the Power Stone was luckily enough blocked by the Wakandans and Susan, shielding everyone from the deadly attack. Thanos was left with fighting the Stark-created army as they attacked from all sides, even more confused than when it had been only Pepper, Rhodey and Harley. Stark was quite honestly the only thing Thanos had to worry about. That he couldn’t find him was more than unsettling. He could feel he was here somewhere, but he wasn’t on the field and the people he was fighting now were a distraction he couldn’t afford. He had to get the Soul Stone back. He wasn’t even sure how the Stone ended up on Earth in the first place! One minute it was with all the other Stones and the next, Thanos had found himself knocked out cold, waking up minutes later with a raging headache and an Infinity Stone missing. It took him a moment to get his bearings back together enough to use the Power Stone to search for the missing Soul Stone. He had been astonished to find it on Earth, almost shielded by another energy signature that he had recognized as Stark’s.
He had set off immediately, opening a wormhole with the Space Stone, only to step into a desert ambush while Stark was nowhere in sight. There was a lot more people fighting him despite half of all life in the universe, Earth included, having been wiped out when he had snapped his fingers. They were coordinated far better than when Thanos had fought them in that jungle, better united and more determined. The Mind Stone whispered to him that it was both desperation and hope, that they had faith. They had something, someone to believe in and Thanos knew that it was Stark. Stark had returned and had gathered all to hold battle here and yet he was absent. Had Thanos truly injured him enough to leave him bedridden? That would have been optimal. Stark had been the only one to make him bleed and he was a mere human in a suit and a few impressive tricks. That blond Asgardian had needed a specially Nivadellir forged weapon just to touch Thanos - the only reason he had been injured by that axe was because he hadn’t seen it coming and was taken by surprise, not through any skill or strategy on the blond’s part - while Stark had come at him by himself.
But now there was no Stark, no sorcerer and no blond axe wielding Asgardian in sight and that set alarm bells in the purple giant’s head even as he was tackled by the Hulk and that big metal guy with a thick accent. It took him the use of the Power Stone to throw them and Captain America off of him, only to find himself confronted with Kreean proton blasts from Captain Marvel, as well as streams of fire from Inferno and several other mutants and Inhumans. Magneto even went as far as to drag out every piece of metal from the ground, including the silicon of the sand and every rock in the desert, and hurled it at the big alien. Rocket hitched a ride on one of the rocks and got as close as he could to Thanos while firing at him, throwing explosives and knock out gases but Thanos used the Stones to counter them all before they could affect him or cause too much damage. He even used the Reality Stone to turn all of Magneto’s metal into plastic and then, similarly to how Ebony Maw made spikes out of concrete, turned the projectiles back at them. Some of them, he transformed into bugs and some into explosives. He doused Dante in water just to stop him from using his powers, even if for a little while.
The fight went on for a total of twenty minutes before Thanos finally managed to get the upper hand by using the Reality and Power Stones to catch everyone in various traps, manipulating the world around them in a way inconceivable beyond the Mirror Dimension. The heroes all struggled but not even the Hulk could break free as Thanos stepped around them until he was smack in the middle, able to see each and every one of them as they squirmed and trashed. Some were ripped to ribbons, others were stuck knees deep in the ground. A few were boxed in by boulders and some were turned intangible. Vision in particular was made denser and heavier than Earth’s gravity field and was struggling to get off of his knees. Dante was even turned to ice in order to stop him from using his fire powers and Medusa was wrapped up in her own hair. Kamala was no longer able to control her stretching ability and her limbs were all over the place, limp and too heavy to move, while Scott and Hope, who had snook up to Thanos and nearly taken off the Gauntlet more than a few times, were being punished by being held down by insects that Thanos had summoned from the stones, the ants not strong, big or numbered enough to help them.
“Enough games,” Thanos said as he watched the humans struggle. The Wakandans were trying to activate their Vibranium weaponry, but the Power Stone had all but fried everything. “You lot have been nothing but a thorn in my side. But because I lack one Stone, I can’t simply mercifully snap my fingers and erase you from existence. And I don’t want to simply kill you.” He raised his hand and made a fist, the green light of the Time Stone resting on the knuckle to his thumb illuminating his eyes ominously. “You can thank Stark for what I am about to do. Don’t worry, you won’t feel a thing. You will just ... die of old age.” He had the gall to smile at them. “But every life must end. Today is just your day to die.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.” A distorted voice said beneath Thanos as a blue sparking portal opened just inches away from Thanos’ feet and out shot Iron Man, grabbing onto the Gauntlet with his right hand and prying upon the Mad Titan’s fist while he was still off guard from the unexpected appearance of his enemy. The glow from all the Stones faded and the Avengers found themselves free. The Stones started pulsing with power at the proximity of their preferred contender, especially when Stark turned the back of his left hand towards Thanos’ Gauntlet. But the purple alien got his bearings back together and flung the red and gold armored hero away with all of his strength. Not wasting a second, he clenched his fist again and hurtled a wave of immense power from all the Stones he had, intent on finally killing Stark and finding the Soul Stone that had t be with him. The watching giant group of people yelled and shouted and screamed in alarm at the approaching ball of power that was headed straight for Iron Man, all of them thinking that this was it, the moment Tony Stark faced something and didn’t come back.
Only for there to be a brief flash of green and the attack to sail right through him and then disappear as though it had never been there to begin with. Shocked, they all stared at Tony, including Thanos, standing in the new version of the Bleeding Edge armor, in the middle of the path of destruction, untouched even as the ground around him was still sizzling and smoking from where the energy of the Infinity Stones had evaporated a roughly twenty feet wide path around Stark. There was not even a scratch on him. He was standing tall and proud, as confident as he ever could be, his left hand raised to be level with his chest, with his Arc Reactor.
The Time Stone shone happily on his Infinity Gauntlet beside the smugly glinting Soul Stone, both of the Stones mocking Thanos from their new, preferred perch.
The Iron Man faceplate had never been more intimidating as it was now in the light of two Infinity Stones.