Chapter 45: Chapter 45


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.

The destruction that the Jericho missals left in their wake reduced the boulders back into sand, black tinged from the fire damage and some even melted enough to form glass. There was a new crater in the middle of the Gobi Desert, mostly covered in glass or ash but no debris from the twenty Jericho missals that had exploded here. That was only level 3, moderate threat. Tony was still ready to release ‘hell on earth’ level 7, consisting of eighty missals and if the Avengers were to fail here, JARVIS and FRIDAY had the clearance to activate ‘the dragon’ level 10. Tony didn’t want to think about that level of destruction ever being needed but Thanos had to be stopped. Someone else could pick up the Gauntlet and bring back the balance to the universe and the Infinity Stones can’t be destroyed. The sorcerers would have found a way, he believed in them that much.

Thanos was sprawled out in the middle of the crater, only the Power Stone left in his Gauntlet as it glowed, having absorbed most of the attack, but a single Jericho missal was capable of leveling a mountain. Tony had made sure they came in succession, one after the other so that the Power Stone was too busy with absorbing the first two’s power when the third came, then the fourth and so on. Enough of the destructive power had affected the landscape and Thanos that the man was covered in scratches and burns and his focus had been only on maintaining the Power Stone’s energy absorbing feature for him to notice Tony opening a portal right next to him and stealing the Reality Stone from right under his nose.

The red stone glinted contently from beside it’s other ‘siblings’, so to say, forming a flower around the triangle core that was the Starkenium from Tony’s earlier Arc Reactor models. That core and the one in the suit were perfectly synchronized and were distributing the power of the five Infinity Stones as if they were made for that very purpose. Tony felt next to no strain when he called on the Reality Stone’s power to check whether it was integrated properly. All the Stones always answered happily and caressed themselves in his mind and buried themselves in his own energy, purring like content cats, whispering things Tony mostly still couldn’t make out. They reminded him of Dum-E, U and Butterfingers in how they seemed to act like cats that only wanted attention and petting but were content to sleep the day away.

Was it weird that he thought that way about the most powerful artifacts in the universe? It’s not like he was going to share his opinion with the world or anything.

That wasn’t the point or the situation to be considering, especially not as Thanos was rising, having recovered enough to apparently continue the fight. He either didn’t know or didn’t care that he can’t take back the Infinity Stone from the Gauntlet Eitri had made for Stephen - or rather, for Tony. The new Gauntlet was meant to hold the Infinity Stones together until the end of this cycle is to come, something Stark learned only about an hour ago from a dusted Sorcerer Supreme. This Gauntlet was practically for forever and the Stones won’t be leaving it any more than it will be leaving Tony’s hand. But that apparently wasn’t enough to stop Thanos, as he looked ready to continue their battle.

Although it was obvious that the giant purple wrinkly grape wasn’t used to being hurt. If that cut Tony had given him had shaken him up enough for him to go in for the kill against Tony back on Titan, his state now had him nearly shaking where he stood. Because this was the most he had been hurt at one point in time since he had witnessed the destruction of his own planet, decades and decades ago. The Mind Stone whispered to Tony how afraid the big alien was although it warned him that Thanos was far from done. The Stones, had they had bodies, would have been shaking their heads at his pointless stubbornness. They were far from impressed. They were more than content where they were and didn’t need Thanos or his genocidal ideas.

Now if only they would leave their chosen contender to do his job and collect their last ‘sibling’ ...

But Thanos had no such thoughts even close to entering his head, instead taking the advantage of Tony never using the Infinity Stones unless it is absolutely necessary by gathering as much energy into the Power Stone as he could and firing a purple ray of power at the genius. Tony cursed and focused on the Reality and Space Stones so that he could prevent any of the others from going back from the Mirror Dimension in a misguided attempt to help. He activated his shield and hid behind it, much like the exchange of this sort had happened on Titan while forming shields around himself with magic. When he was sure both the suit and the shields would hold, he gave that one spell one last short.

Three runed circles appeared in front of him, one inside the other before they separated and formed a row, like in a telescope. It had unfortunately never worked to its fullest capacity so far but Tony was nothing if not stubborn. Stephen and Wong had taught him this spell precisely to stand up to the strength of the Power Stone since nothing else in the universe can match its power while having a similar enough energy signature to neutralize it. Tony had not wanted to think that he would ever need to face Thanos because of the defensive satellite network they had set up, but both men had been burned too many times not to consider all possibilities. Realistically, they had known that they would need a way to strengthen the power of the Arc Reactor based attacks - repulsor and the unibeam - since the Arc Reactor is the only thing that can stand up to the Infinity Stones as it has am almost identical energy signature as them and has a lot of power, is self-sustaining and magic-resistant.

He powered up his repulsors, the unibeam and had JARVIS and FRIDAY deploy every other proton cannon and Arc Reactor energy powered weapon they had in their arsenal, including lasers. The energy readings were off the charts, helped by the new material added to his nanites and the power of the five Infinity Stones in his Gauntlet. In order to fire all of these weapons, though, Tony had stolen a trick or two from Stephen and formed two more pairs of arms,only it was purely armor, controlled by his AIs. He wasn’t anywhere near Stephen’s level of mastery over magic but he had his own tricks. Thanos stopped his current assault to gather even more power - and catch his breath; his Gauntlet was a misshaped thing that looked more like a failed forging project than an almighty Infinity Gauntlet meant to control the power of all six Stones and the Power Stone was now leeching energy from him directly in order to be used - and upon seeing Stark ready to go to war all by himself, he clenched his jaw. ”Come on!” He called, taunted, challenged, just like back on Titan when Tony returned from having a moon thrown at him at challenged him one on one. That had been their first real fight and Thanos had won, leaving the deserted planet with five Infinity Stones, heading for Earth to take the Mind Stone from Vision. Tony had a lot to pay him back: the Snap, Vision’s temporary offlining and, of course, throwing another moon at him.

He didn’t hesitate for a second to fire.

Thanos didn’t, either.

The Arc Reactor blue and Power Stone purple energy attacks met somewhere in the middle of the battlefield, clashing against each other with such force that Tony swore all of Asia shook from the impact. The shock wave of two so similar powers was felt throughout the multiverse, no matter which dimension or galaxy you were in. The two powers pushed against each other and the first ring of the amplifying spell activated. Thanos put more force behind his attack but it was becoming clear that, infused by Tony’s own magical energy, the Arc Reactor based attack was taking head. The second circle lit up when Thanos tried moving forwards, concentrating all of his power of will on taking down Iron Man, the increase in power stopping him. Tony thought it was so good so far, considering that the third degree had never activated so far. But the spell felt steadier than ever before and Tony wondered if Stephen’s brief mental lesson in the Soul Dimension had anything to do with that. The power flow from him into the spell was as constant and steady as the Arc Reactor ever was and it was, apparently, all that was needed for the third hollow mandala to light up, creating an energy blast unlike any seen before. Thanos actually staggered back from the shock of such a power blast, momentarily almost losing his grip on the Power Stone’s power and loosening his fist before he pushed back twice as hard.

But it was too late. Tony was a strategist and an opportunist. Had always been and will always be, especially now, when so much depended on him. ‘Crank it up to 100%, kids. We’re bringing this motherfucker down.’ Not a second later, the repulsors and unibeam were, for the very first time since Tony had created the Iron Man suit, firing at full power. That alone would have disintegrated a great many things - even Adamantium and Vibranium. Tony knew, he had tested it - but when it was amplified by the spell,Tony’s own energy and even the Infinity Stones, it was enough to break through the sheer brute force of the Power Stone, obliterating Thanos’ already beat up Infinity Gauntlet and freeing the Power Stone from his grasp. Tony shut down the beam as soon as Thanos fell down, gasping from the effort and the after effects. His grip on the Space and Reality Stones slipped and dozens of sparkling orange portals opened around him even as the Power Stone sailed towards the doubled over genius. His friends were crying out his name even as the purple Stone joined its siblings and completed the flower shape that the other Stones had already started.

The Gauntlet lit up, shinning gold and all the colors of the rainbow even as the Cloak of Levitation wrapped around his shoulders and Nebula grasped his face - when had his helmet retreated? Probably JARVIS’ or FRIDAY’s doing since he was disoriented as fuck. He had never done anything on this scale before, magic- or Extremis-wise - nearly blinding them all until Tony put in the effort to rein the Infinity Stones in. He swore that the feeling they sent back was something akin to pouting hut they stopped trying to blind them and settled back into their barely dormant state. Stark swore they were still pulsing with the need to be used, to connect, but with what and how and for what purpose remains yet to be seen.

“Stark, are you alright?” Nebula’s voice finally broke through the fog that that little stunt had created and blazing blue eyes met her calm - if worried - completely black ones. Vision stood on his other side, Susan and Danny just a few steps back, watching as Wong held back Thor from killing Thanos, who was being tied up and restrained by the other sorcerers. Rhodey, Pepper and Harley were keeping watch over everything even as Banner fought back the Hulk so that he could check on Tony himself. Not that he needed it. He was simply drained, he hadn’t been all that injured, as JARVIS’ and FRIDAY’s frantic scans of his body indicated. Extremis was a godsend. He wouldn’t have survived either that attack or the drain it caused had he not been injected with the serum.

‘I’ll be fine, Neb. I just need a nap.’ He sent over through Extremis because thinking had always been easier than talking for him. Especially now. He needed a breather because he still had things he needed to do. ‘Could you please tell them to shut the fuck up?’ He was referring to the other Avengers yelling his name and whether he was okay. It was getting annoying, thank you very much.

~Your AIs can do that.~ Nebula shot back and Tony mustered a grin for her.

‘But you do it so much better!’ He teased,although it also could be quite true. Nebula was intimidating as hell and if she tells you to shut the fuck up, you do it or you get a sword in the chest - or a swat on the back of your head, if you were her new BFF Tony Stark. The blue cyborg woman just rolled her eyes and did as asked and Tony enjoyed the results. Besides, J and FRI were busy with other things.

-All seems to be functioning well, Boss. The Jericho missals remain perfectly hidden and New Shield has failed in tracking their origins. The military have been appeased by SARAH,- the only of his AIs that they were comfortable with since she was considered Rhodey’s ‘assistant’, even though she was definitely loyal to Tony first. No matter how much he tries to get his AIs to consider their charges their priority, KAREN, SARAH, JOCASTA and now SHERLY still seek his approval first. In the case of KAREN and SHERLY, it’s probably for the best, considering how Peter and Harley could be, but Happy and Rhodey were grown adults. It was funny how ironic it can be, since they consider Tony needs babysitting. -And aren’t asking any additional questions or demanding you create more.-

-The circuitry in the armor has cooled off almost instantly and the plating is returning to normal temperatures as we speak. All of the armor’s functioning parameters and protocols remain untouched. The addition of the Power Stone has not overwhelmed either Starkenium core,- Not that they had ever thought it might happen. That thing could absorb almost anything and the Gauntlet was made to handle that amount of power already. -It appears to have integrated, Sir, as have all the other Stones. Further use of the Gauntlet appears to be relatively safe with only 0.4% chance of failure, 0.0035% of which could have a fatal outcome.-

‘Awesome,’ Tony thought as he got up, standing straighter with the steadying presence of the Cloak. That was the best news he heard all week. Maybe even all year. Maybe since New York! Because now Thanos will be defeated and Tony can finally rest, knowing his friends and planet - and plane of existence - are safe. He focused back on Nebula in the middle of a hissing competition - or was it a threat-throwing one? - with Natasha while Deadpool seemed to be annoying the god out of Rogers. Rocket was being held back from shooting Thanos by Susan, who looked like she would want nothing more than to join him. The sorcerers were guarding the defeated Mad Titan with a handful of Asgardians while Magneto was entertaining himself by crushing the Gauntlet the alien had used out of existence with his power. The others were all relatively calm and mellow although Tony could see - and sense and wow, that was new, sensing each mind and soul and he was going to be driven mad if he doesn’t figure out how to shut that off - them glancing over to him with varying emotions. He understood, of course. Some were as impatient as him to get everyone back and others - mostly his old, toxic team - were weary of that much power being put in the hands of one man. Or, more specifically, his hands. He guessed they will never trust him again.

He huffed. As if they ever had in the first place.

“Are you okay, Tony?” Pepper finally asked from where she had been watching him, hesitant to approach him. He couldn’t really blame her. They had all seen just what these Stones can do and no one knew for sure whether he can control them or not. He wished he could reassure her but the fact was he himself didn’t quite know how well he will handle all six Infinity Stones. He was a damaged human being that had been put through too much.

The Stones pulsed in protest and reproach and Tony could just imagine the frown on Strange’s face. He pushed it aside to smile at Pepper, leaning on Nebula a little as he surveyed the damage done to the Gobi Desert. Thank god he had insisted they bring the fight here. Anywhere else and it would have ended in endless casualties and unimaginable property damage. “Yeah, I’m fine. Or I will be as soon as I reverse the Snap.”

“I was wrong about you, Stark,” Thanos interrupted before Pepper could protest that he needed to rest first, drawing everyone’s attention to the now awake and aware Titan. “You are nothing like me. You don’t understand. You don’t understand what needs to be done in order to save the universe. It is a pity.”

“Oh, but I do. And I am most definitely not.” Tony replied, stepping away from the now seething and growling Nebula, eyes trained on his only curse. “The universe doesn’t need destruction to survive, Thanos. It needs a future.”

“It won’t have a future. The population is so high that the universe will collapse in on itself.”

“Destroying half of all living things isn’t the answer.” The genius insisted, coming a few steps closer and stopping there. He was far enough away from everyone so that no one will be able to interrupt him. “It never was.” He takes a deep breath, still not used to his lungs being like they once were - Extremis had healed all of the damage after Afghanistan and Siberia and everything in between and the only constriction to them now was the almost imperceptible presence of the Arc Reactor embedded in his fake, Vibranium sternum, but it was 90% less intrusive than the Arc Reactor used to be - before focusing back on his enemy. “You speak of balance but you know nothing about it. If you did, you’d know that your actions have threatened it more than anything anyone else had ever done. Well, probably not more than that Kaecillius fellow, but, then again, he wanted to release an ancient demonic being that would have devoured the multiverse just so it can hang planets as Christmas decorations in the Dark Dimension, but you’re still a close second-”

“Is that what they told you to vilify me?” Thanos chuckled bitterly but Tony only arched an eyebrow at him. “My methods are not gentle, Stark, but they are necessary. Are you seriously going to listen to these charlatans,” he indicated to the sorcerers, who arched an eyebrow or glared at him, some tightening their hold on him to remind him just how real their magic was. “That have never seen beyond the skies of their own planet, about the state of the universe as opposed to someone who has traveled the stars and seen worlds you cannot imagine? Who knows better?”

“I’m gonna say the guys who’ve been trained and taught to protect everything that we are.” Tony replied without hesitation, bringing his left hand up, presenting his ready to snap fingers to Thanos and everyone else present. “And I’m gonna say the Infinity Stones themselves. And I’m going to say the multiverse, too, because, unlike you, I know how to feel it. And, you know what?” He activated Extremis and called upon the magical energy he was born with to prepared himself for any form of a backlash that he knows will come, even with the Gauntlet’s Starkenium core meant to absorb most of it. This was not going to be painless and he winced at the thought of what his left arm will feel like after this is done. “I think you’re full of shit. Sayonara, asshat.”

And with that, Tony focused on the power of the six Infinity Stones, reaching out to them with his own power and snapping his fingers, ignoring the yells and shouts around him, letting the power flow through his being and the Stones come into his mind. ‘Bring them back,’ was all he said, ordering, begging, asking, all at once desperate and determined. This had to work. He couldn’t live with it if he failed now. So much depended on him. He can’t fail now. He can’t. ’Bring them back. Bring them all back. Please!′

The rush of power cut him off from the rest of the world, as though it had never existed in the first place and Tony found himself lost, floating in nothingness.


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