Chapter 47: Chapter 47
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 first thing Stephen was aware of when he returned to the real world from the Soul Dimension was that he was not on Titan but on Earth, the familiar energy and gravity pull settling something in him he hadn’t even realized was disgruntled. He breathed in a deep breath of fresh air and enjoyed it as it filled his starved lungs.
The second thing he registered, though, was something red and gold pitching sideways not ten meters away from him and the world from under him when he realized it was Tony. Before he even fully regained the sensation in his legs, he was running forwards, rushing, doing everything in his power to reach Tony before the genius hit the ground and split his skull on one of the stones lying around in the desert. Still, a familiar red cloth reached Stark long before Stephen could, stopping the shorter man’s fall just before his head got too close to the ground. The Cloak of Levitation carefully shuffled Iron Man until the man was ready to be handed off to its master and Stephen had never been so grateful for his constant companion.
Those and several other similar cries echoed around him as he cradled his friend close to his chest, Peter Parker all but teleporting himself to the two men. Stephen wasn’t really paying attention to any of them as he frantically checked the genius engineer over, both as a doctor and as a sorcerer. The man had minor injuries that were already healing due to Extremis, Stark’s own energies and the six Infinity Stones still glowing merrily on Tony’s left hand. But the man was bordering on exhausted. If he were a car, he’d be running on fumes and it was a miracle he had managed to put up that good of a fight without coming out lacking some limbs or an eye.
“Tony? Can you hear me?” He whispered in the man’s ear as he felt around for his pule so his wrist. For a while, he actually thought that he can’t find it due to his damaged hands but then panic set it when he realized it was because it was absent. “Tony?!” He called again, already lowering the genius to the ground, searching for anything resembling a release latch. “JARVIS, FRIDAY, let me in!”
Thankfully, the AIs listened to the doctor and the armor retreated back into the casing that was the Arc Reactor glowing in Tony’s chest. Stephen wasted no time in preforming a heart massage, infusing his hands with magic both to steady and strengthen them and to send healing energy into Tony’s system. He had to be careful around the reactor implanted in Tony’s chest regardless how skin deep its presence was. He was only half aware of everyone gathering around them or cries of joy and relief when others started reappearing from the Soul World. He was almost completely sure only Banner, Pepper, Rhodey, Happy, Wong, Peter, Harley, Kamala and Dante were paying any attention right now to the very scary possibility that they might lose their savior right here and now.
“Come on, Tony. You can’t give up now, you douchebag.” He talked through his own huffs of air from the strain of the medical procedure. “The world still needs you. You can’t leave me to deal with your mess. Don’t be a dick, Stark. You’ve got work to do. No time to play the sleeping beauty. Come on come on come on come on!” He yelled before taking a breath and leaning over his patient’s face, connecting his and Tony’s lips together and blowing air into the smaller man’s lungs. He had to be careful with that, too, since he knew Tony’s lung capacity wasn’t just smaller than his own. It was smaller than most people’s, reduced by the first Arc Reactor and all the damage his chest took over the years. Siberia had not been kind and not even Extremis could heal all of it. “We need you back, Stark!” He yelled as soon as he pulled apart and took a long breath in. He pressed his ear to Tony’s mouth and nose and checked his pulse and gave a frustrated scream as he went right back to the heart massage.
“Tony?” He heard Captain America’s worried, panicked voice ask from somewhere behind him but he didn’t care. He didn’t pause in his actions, counting the pumps he gave his friend’s fragile heart, cursing Tony’s Vibranium chest as it put up more resistance than a normal chest would. His hands were going to hurt like hell and Tony will have some serious bruising but his ribs at least won’t be broken after, unlike most cases when a heart massage has been preformed. “What’s going on?! Tony!”
“You need to step back, Rogers,” came Carol’s deadly calm voice as she no doubt took a defensive stance between the doctor at work and the approaching supersoldier. Stephen barely registered all of the Iron Man suits, the Iron Legion, Rescue, War Machine, Iron Lad and the Iron Spider activating weapons to support the claim and he didn’t even glance up when several nearby sorcerers called upon their magic in defense as well.
“Uncle Tony?” Cooper asked in a tearful, terrified voice as he and Barton got down to the once battlefield and Stephen was suddenly all too aware of just how many people were crowded around him. His hands started to shake and he has to repress the urge to clench his fists needlessly when a pair of red, synthetic hands came into his field of vision. He looked up only long enough to acknowledge Vision’s presence before he returned to trying to restart Tony’s heart.
“What do you need, doctor?” Apparently, the android didn’t need the Mind Stone to read minds, something Stephen was immensely grateful for.
“Some room. I need some room. Get rid of the peanut gallery, will you?”
It was FRIDAY who obliged his request, her Irish lilting tones coming from the armors and drones as she directed everyone to take several steps back. Stephen dove for Tony’s mouth again, breathing two breaths into the genius’ lungs before listening to hear if he was successful. He cursed when Tony stubbornly remained still and got back to work just as someone dared break the parameter.
“Hey!” It was none other than Peter Quill, shoving the other Peter out of the way to get a closer look. It appears as though everyone who had turned to dust on Titan had appeared on Earth with the reversal of the snap. “Wizard cape guy! The hell were you thinking, giving up the Time Stone! We could have reversed Gamora’s death, you asshole! Hey, are you even listening to me! I’m talking to you-argh!”
“And now you’re shutting up and letting Strange work.” That would be Nebula, if Stephen remembered right - he did. In many of the futures he’d seen where Tony survived the battle on Titan, Nebula became his confidant and one of those people Tony Stark ‘adopted’ into his strange family. There was no more loyal person to Tony Stark than Nebula that was not his creation. Or Stephen, but with his love for the man, it didn’t count to compare them.
“What? No! Nebula, Gamora is dead and that guy could have reversed it!” Stephen guessed he was being pointed at but he had focused on something else. Someone else. A familiar presence that was almost as chilling as the cold of Everest, wrapped up in magic almost as thick and as a heavy fog.
“Shut up, Quill! I’m fine!”
“Earth sorcerer,” the familiar slick, smooth voice of Loki greeted his ears as he was escorted by Thor to the kneeling doctor and downed Iron Man. He didn’t even bother to remind Loki of his proper title that the other knew very well or even look up. Yes, Loki was dangerous but Stephen was slowly reaching the dangerous four minute deadline. If he didn’t get Tony breathing by then, permanent brain trauma might cause the genius even more trouble. If he lived at all.
‘No, no. You can’t think like that, Strange. Focus. You’re a doctor. You have a patient. Calm. I need to stay calm. This id just like surgery. Just like every other patient I ever had.’ Except that it wasn’t. This was Tony and a doctor’s worst nightmare was always to have to treat their loved ones. Knowing intimately all fourteen million six hundred and four futures - if not even more. Gods, how many more he had seen before even stepping on Titan - without Tony Stark in them wasn’t helping the matter. Stephen had already mourned countless times and he should be used to it but he wasn’t and he never will be. Tony was the most important person to him and Strange was ready to burn the universe down to its foundations for the man should the genius ever ask it of him.
“I am offering Asgard’s healing magic, Strange.” Loki said, calling for his attention again. “I am rather good at it. This idiot always gets hurt and I used to have to heal him all the time. Earth medicine doesn’t seem to be enough.”
Stephen’s head snapped up and he glared at Loki for a moment, only very brief and long enough to get the message across that Stephen was still watching him, before nodding and shuffling Vision and Nebula a little to the side to make room for the Frost Giant. Loki gracefully knelt by Tony’s side, potent healing magic clouding his hands already as he reached towards where Stephen had been holding his hands just a little to the left from the Arc Reactor.
“You better get up, Stark.” Nebula threatened from where she was watching, holding onto the sleeve of Tony’s undersuit like a little child clinging to their parent. Her words sounded sure but there was an almost undetectable waver in her voice as she spoke. Stephen only heard it because he already knew what it sounded like. It spoke volumes to anyone who knew anything about Nebula that she was here and not with her just revived sister. Gamora may be important to her but Tony had a way of worming his way into a person’s heart by accepting them into his, faults and flaws and all, and Nebula had desperately needed someone to accept her for who she was. “You hear me? If you don’t, I’ll beat you up. That’s not an idle threat.”
Vision, who was holding onto his creator’s Gauntlet-free hand, gave her an understanding look. The cyborg and android had much in common, in many ways, but their greatest point of contact was Tony and neither was ready to lose him.
“Friend Stark is a strong warrior.” Thor reassured her in booming tones that drowned out, even if for a moment, Pepper’s and Susan’s sobs, the curses flying from the mouths of all of the Accords approved heroes and many of the Wakandans. This should have been a joyful, tearful moment of immense relief and a feeling of victory should be prominent in the air. They had won a great battle and the world was set to right. Except it wasn’t because they were now faced with the possibility that Tony won’t be in it. Not even the rowdy Asgardians were celebrating such a hard won battle and none of the sorcerers present dared open a portal to leave, regret on their faces as they watched their Sorcerer Supreme being inches away from having a breakdown over the too still form of their temporary Sorcerer Supreme, Earth’s best defender. “He will get through this. He survived a city falling on him! And my brother is an excellent magic user. He has healed some of my most difficult wounds and I have no doubt he can do it for friend Stark, too.”
“I can’t do it.” Many heads snapped over to Loki when he said those words, their hearts in their throats when he let go of Tony’s chest, sweat dribbling down his forehead and breathing like he had just ran a marathon. “He’s not injured. His heart had stopped but there is no reason or cause that magic could heal. I don’t ... I don’t know how to help him. It’s beyond my hands and the device in his chest isn’t really helping it, either.”
“FUCK!” Stephen cursed and several people jumped in fright. They had never heard him curse before. They had never heard him raise his voice, let alone yell like this. But he didn’t have the time to ponder any of that. “Thor, I need a charge.” The blond Asgardian frowned but immediately did as he was told, gathering a relatively small charge in his hand, his eyes glowing as he called upon his power. Stephen grabbed his hand and motioned for him to do the same in his free hand, too, before taking both and placing them in the correct position. “When I say clear, let the charge loose into his chest, but only for a second and then let up. We may need to repeat this a few times so be ready. Are you ready?”
“Whenever you are, sorcerer.” Stephen tried not to think just how serious the situation was that Thor wasn’t using any of his silly nicknames he had come up with for Stephen. He can panic later.
“Clear.” Tony’s body jolted when Stephen put Thor’s hands on either side of the Arc Reactor but the man still remained not breathing. The ex neurosurgeon grit his teeth and pushed Thor’s hands back down again. “Clear.” Again, nothing. Stephen cursed like a sailor and touched the Arc Reactor with his shaking hand, motioning for Thor to stay in place. “JARVIS, please tell me you can do something!”
The most advanced AI in the world sounded as defeated as Stephen felt. “I am sorry, doctor, but I have tried. Extremis is responding but Sir’s condition is not changing. I a, lost as to what I should do. The injections had as little result as any of your attempts.”
Stephen ran a shaking hand through his hair, only now noticing how much they were shivering. He wouldn’t be able to hold anything in them right now.
“What about the magic Tony has in him?” Vision suggested, sounding so hopeful, so desperate that Stephen felt his heart break in two. He had been trying to draw the power to the surface but it wasn’t dimensional energy. The power responded only to Stark. It was entirely his own so no one could use it but him. Vision seemed to understand that won’t work by the way his shoulders slumped.
“Clear.” Thor did as he was supposed to and Tony’s body jerked up again. Still no positive response. They were running out of time. Time ... His head snapped up, looking from Tony’s chest down to his Gauntlet-covered left hand. There was no damage to the appendage as opposed to their fears so the design of the Gauntlet, from Eitri’s forging to the Starkenium core, had been successful. Stephen was relieved about that, at least, since the design had worked in only one timeline he had seen and he had seen several where the design was ineffective to the point of Tony exploding.
The Starkenium core was shinning as brightly as the Arc Reactor and around it, the Infinity Stones shone brightly, all six of them and Stephen felt the Time Stone calling to him. Time ...
“Could we use the glowing thing to jump-start the Gauntlet and somehow heal friend Stark?” Thor asked, breaking him out of his small distracted trance of an idea forming just in time for JARVIS to respond.
“Using the Arc Reactor to create an EMP would very likely kill several people, disable all electronic devices in a fifteen mile radius and permanently damage several devices. Especially with the Starkenium core.”
“I don’t think we need to use the Arc Reactor or the core in the Gauntlet.” Stephen spoke up, bringing the attention back to him. “Several people here have once been in contact with at least one Infinity Stone. I think if we combine our power, we can get the Gauntlet to do our work for us. We just need to work together.”
Loki was the only one who immediately got what he wanted to say, nodding. “It could work. We’d distribute the power charge between us and will the Stones into compliance. We just need a second.”
“It’s impossible.” Nebula protested, having seen what the Power Stone alone could do to anyone who tried to hold it for longer than a couple of seconds. “Even if several people were to try and use only one Stone, we’d not mange to control their powers. All of us together wouldn’t manage it.” She gestured to the army gathered around them, even those who had returned after being turned to dust. “We’ll just get killed.”
“Tony has done so much for us already. He would do even much more. Without hesitation.” Vision spoke up, tightening his hold on his creator. “Don’t we owe it to him to at least try?”
On the Infinity Gauntlet, unnoticed by anyone but Stephen who actually felt it, the Mind Stone stirred, glowing brighter.
“Friend Tony is a man of great honor and valor. The universe would be at a great loss should we let him slip away.” As Thor spoke, the red gleam of the Reality Stone also strengthened, joining the Mind Stone.
Nebula just looked at them all before turning to Strange. She was waiting for his own two cents. He gave a dollar. “We have two uniting factors working for us. We all both want to save Tony, desperately, and we all have stood up to and defied Thanos where anyone else would have run the other way. The six of us can save him, Nebula. If we were not meant to be the ones to help him, the Stones would have sent us away.” The Time Stone merrily winked at him from bellow, acknowledging him as its Keeper once more.
“Six?” Thor, Loki and Nebula asked, confused, but Vision was the one who nodded towards the Arc Reactor in Iron Man’s chest.
“I am always here for Sir. Always.” JARVIS voice, doused in determination and stubbornness that could match his creator’s, greeted their ears and the Soul Stone shone brighter in acknowledgement of him taking his place as its Ambassador. Four Stones were now shinning brightly, welcoming their four Ambassadors. Stephen was glad to have researched many things in this one future where they won because he knew what the Stones wanted. He was a little bit embarrassed that it had taken him this long to remember this little detail. But he guessed even he was allowed to occasionally make a mistake or two or forget something, even with his edict memory.
“I owe the Man of Iron many things. I will not fail him when he finally needs me.” A blue glow added to the collection, the Space Stone lighting up with the other Infinity Stones at Loki’s words.
“Then I guess it’s settled.” Nebula stated, rolling her shoulders and joints, eyes determined. “What do we need to do?” The Power Stone finally shone brighter, accepting Nebula as its Ambassador and joining its fellows in their illumination of Stark and the people immediately around him.
“We just need to be in contact with him and focus on a Stone.” Stephen explained, demonstrating by taking hold of Tony’s left wrist. He would have interlocked their fingers but he didn’t want to touch the Infinity Stones when they were shinning so brightly. “We just need to give them a little of our power, accept them and they will do the rest.”
“Sounds easy enough.” The blond Asgardian commented, already putting a large hand over Tony’s knee while Loki placed his hand on Tony’s shoulder. After some shuffling, Vision remained holding Tony’s free hand while Nebula also had his other shoulder.
“Just don’t get distracted. And don’t pull away.” Loki warned, locking eyes with Strange. As the two magic users and two Stonekeepers who have actually used an Infinity Stone to its full capacity, they will have to guide the others through this. Thor and Nebula had never really used an Infinity Stone and Vision had known how to do only so much. “Follow my and Strange’s lead.”
The others nodded, not exactly eager to try anything on their own when they knew what the Stones could do if handled poorly.
“Is everyone ready?” Stephen asked and the others all replied, JARVIS’voice the last one, coming from some sort of speakers in the nanobot housing unit on Tony’s chest that he had never thought to ask him about beforehand. Later. Stephen took a large, long breath before speaking again. “Then let’s begin.”
As soon as they sent their energy into the Stones, they responded, their light becoming blinding once more, unbearable to look at, making everyone close their eyes. The Ambassadors of the Stones, though, squinted through the painfully bright light as they concentrated on their task while the Stones put the universe on the axis they wanted. Each of the Stones allowed a strip of power to wrap around their chosen Ambassador, lighting the person up in their color, claiming them before existence itself as theirs. Strange tried not to think about what this meant for them individually and what it meant for the universe, focusing on bringing Tony back. He could feel the other’s aura now, so close and yet still so far out of reach so he pushed. Pushed harder, reached further, determined to get to his friend and stubborn enough to not back down when the pain hit. He was used to pain. It was an old friend. He can deal with pain.
What he refused to deal with was burying another important person in his life.
As if answering his thoughts, the Stones pulsed with a new wave of power before their light receded and faded, the Stones falling dormant in the Gauntlet, not even twinkling anymore. The other Ambassadors almost doubled over at the unexpected release of power, trying to catch their breath again but Stephen was too busy brushing off his own pain to pay attention to them.
And then brown eyes snapped open, turning electric blue as a gasp rang out in the desert, louder than thunder.
Tony Stark was awake and alive.