Chapter 48: Chapter 48
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 Sorcerer Supreme all but crumbled with relief when he saw those eyes - colored an Arc Reactor blue by Extremis - lock on his own, momentarily confused before they, too, filled with relief. Tony didn’t even wait to fully ground himself in this reality before he lurched up into a sitting position and threw his arms around Stephen’s neck, burying his face in the ex neurosurgeon’s neck, breathing him in, dust, sweat, blood, grime and all.
“You’re here,” the shorter man breathed in relief and disbelief, clinging to the sorcerer. “You’re really here! I ... ”
“I am.” And Stephen was clutching at Iron Man with just as much strength, needing to reassure himself that Tony was indeed alive, that he was really breathing. That this wasn’t a dream world conjured up by the Soul Stone to keep him in its dimension, happy and unaware. It had been a battle of wills ever since he woke up in the Soul Dimension, his own magic and status as the Time Stone’s Keeper the only thing keeping him from succumbing to the seductive images of the Soul Stone. It had given him such sweet promises, whispered possibilities that would have made him crumble and accept had he not met Tony prior to this whole mess.
He had been offered a life in which his little sister, Donna, never died and his family remained a tight knit group. He was presented with the possibility of regaining his hands, his accident never happening. A world where the Ancient One hadn’t died. A reality in which Mordo never left. A time where stopping Dormammu had not required him needing to let the demon kill him over and over and over again. A life in which he and Christine got married and had kids, with his eyes and Christine’s kindness. They were all selfish desires and Stephen had not been even moved by them, resisting them all with equal intensity. Not even the one where he could have all of the above tempted him.
So the Soul Stone tried less selfish means to persuade him. It showed him a life where Tony Stark never got the Arc Reactor, a reality where Iron Man didn’t exist. The Avengers were never formed and the attack on New York never happened. Ultron never scarred Tony’s mind and he was never forced to fight against his friends because they didn’t exist in his life. It showed him how Tony would have been had the Civil War never happened and destroyed what was left of his willingness to trust in others. The Stone created a world in which Tony and Pepper never broke up and instead got married, having a kid they named Morgan, enjoying their fame and money and charity galas. He was presented with a happy Tony Stark who hadn’t been haunted by Thanos for six years and who hadn’t fought for his legacy to be more than destruction as fiercely as the one Stephen knew.
It showed him a man that Stephen refused to call Tony Stark.
Even when it tried to combine Stephen’s own ‘dream life’ with his unconditional love for Tony, replacing him in Pepper’s place, Stephen would not accept what he was shown.
Because the Soul Stone was mistaken. He was a very selfish man. He loved the Tony Stark he had come to know and he wouldn’t change him for the universe, scars and flaws and all. The worlds the Soul Stone offered for his compliance paled when compared to the brilliance that was the real Tony Stark. Strange wanted nothing more than to bask in that brilliance and so he rejected everything the Soul Stone tried to show him. He broke free of its hold and created a pocket dimension of his own, isolating himself from its influences. He waited there, waited until Tony was ready to come and ask for his help. He had studied some aspects of this one future where they won very carefully. The how was what he had paid the most attention to. Which was why he had transfered some of his knowledge to Tony, teaching him how to control the Time Stone to ease his way in battle so he can get the others. Fighting Thanos hadn’t been easy the first time around but he knew Stark would study that battle to familiarize himself with Thanos’ style so he can take down the Mad Titan. He had placed all of his bets on Tony and he was now collecting his prize.
Being able to touch another human being had never felt this amazing before.
“You did it, Tony. You won.” He whispered in the engineer’s ear, delighting in being able to do so in the real world, holding the smaller man tighter. “You brought us all back. We’re safe and Thanos is defeated. You did it, Tony! You.” The former doctor smiled as the Cloak of Levitation shuffled around to wrap around the both of their bodies, like a nice big burrito. “I never doubted you.” And that was the honest, naked truth. And it was enough to make Tony’s breathing hitch.
“Mr Stark!” But that was what was needed for the floodgate. Peter was there before Tony could disengage their hug, crushing both adults in an even bigger embrace with his enhanced strength. The kid was shaking as he clung to his mentor on the other side of Stephen and buried his nose in Tony’s neck. Tony twisted around enough to draw the kid closer as tears started trailing down his cheeks. And then Vision and Nebula were there, drawn to Tony like moths to a flame, only to be seconds later shuffled into the hug by an eager Rhodey and Pepper and Harley. Kamala and Dante, both of whom also had found themselves a father figure and mentor in Iron Man, soon joined in on the crying laughter as they all held each other tight.
That was when the celebrations could finally start. Thor released a booming laugh as he grabbed Loki and hugged him tight, tears streaming from his good eye as he spun his revived brother in excited circles, Stormbreaker lying forgotten on the desert floor by their feet. Bruce was greeted in a tight hug by Brunhilda even as he and Betty clung to each other, temporarily preventing the scientist from greeting Tony with his own hug, too. Heimdall was soon drawn into the Revengers’ circle as Thor gathered his friends close and clung to them like a terrified child, refusing to let them go lest they disappear again. Romanoff could only watch as Bruce forgot all about her and focused on his new life, away from lies and SHIELD agents. The Red Room graduate could only stand by Wanda as they both watched the love of their life choose their family over them. Neither Bruce nor Vision had even looked in their direction.
Stephen was too busy being relieved to have Tony there and well to feel sympathetic towards them.
Rogers, though he obviously wanted to worm his way into the hug surrounding Tony, was blindsided by Barns’ and Wilson’s reappearances and turned to where he was currently welcome, probably thinking that he and Tony could talk later. As if anyone from the TSPS would ever let him come within hearing distance of the genius. The Bartons were all together, hugging it out and crying their relief while Shuri, her mother and Okoye cried all over T’Challa, all the while cursing and threatening him to never do this to them again. Lang was with his family and friends and the mutants and Inhumans were all greeting those whom they’ve had temporarily lost. It was a relief to see both Logan and Laura reappear. Out of all of the mutants, Stephen knew them the best and had been distressed to see them wandering the Soul Dimension along with everyone else. The sorcerers greeted their returned comrades with grace and dignity while the Asgardians roaringly laughed together and celebrated.
The Guardians of the Galaxy all hugged each other before Quill drew Gamora into a deep, long kiss that ended up making Nebula lunge from the ‘Stark family’ hug where even the AIs had gotten into it, wrenching her sister out of Peter’s hands and hugging her herself. Rocket was just glad to get his oldest friend back. Jane greeted Selvig and Darcy with enthusiasm that rivaled Thor’s and May Parker managed to draw even Wong into the ‘family hug’, she and Happy Hogan keeping a sharp eye on Tony and Peter. The kid eventually greeted his driver and his aunt while Rhodey went over to greet Sam back. Betty was just glad to have Cho and Wu back. KAREN was most excited and relieved to have her charge back and was playing all of his favorite songs on the Iron Spider suit’s speakers. Harley at one point went over to his own family. Danny was just relieved to have the Defenders back and the Fantastic Four were all being almost strangled by Susan’s hug.
Eventually, one by one, all the people present would turn towards the two men still clinging to each other even as everyone greeted everyone else. Stephen never let go of Tony and the shorter man seemed to be much of the same disposition as him, the most content to be holding onto the other as if afraid that letting go would wrench the other away from this glorious moment of victory. The people around them would walk up to them, grateful to the core, completely sincere in their gratitude as they thanked the pair. Stephen corrected every single one of them that it was all Tony, who, in turn, actually did the same. They would shoot each other incredulous and exasperated looks and bicker about how it was Stephen who set them on the path of victory and Tony only followed his instructions verses how it would always have been Tony who brought them this victory, whether Stephen had interfered or not. It brought their companions great amusement and lifted everyone’s spirit even more. The relaxed air around them was baffling after such a strenuous battle and the week all of them have had and everyone was more than eager to enjoy this peace while it still lasted.
Which was why both genius men were blindsided when Rogers appeared in front of them, fell to his knees and reached for Tony like a blind man finally seeing for the first time. The engineer recoiled back into the sorcerer’s chest, panicked at the supersoldier’s sudden appearance and Stephen narrowed his eyes when the armor started reacting. The Cloak of Levitation, always having been fond of both men from the very start, yanked them out of reach, ignoring their indignant yelps or the kicked puppy look Rogers was portraying. Stephen had always known the blond was an idiot but he had never expected the man to be that much of an idiot as to frown in determination and reach for the genius again. He could see the Infinity Stones slowly powering up, glowing brighter threateningly, not that Steve seemed to get the message, and Tony’s own magic was rising to his unconscious call while JARVIS and FRIDAY didn’t bother stopping Extremis from forming Tony’s armor around him. The Cloak was already preparing itself for battle but Stephen decided to intervene.
He threw up a shield around them, having only so much strength left that he made it only strong enough to get his message across, preventing Rogers from reaching Tony but not strong enough for any form of attack. It did its intended job, though, making the blond supersoldier recoil back when it appeared and his hand accidentally touched it. He looked up and stared at Strange with uncomprehending eyes before his brow set in a frown that he directed at the Sorcerer Supreme. Said Sorcerer Supreme introduced Rogers to his death glare, tempted to just throw him into the Dark Dimension and be done with it. He didn’t need Captain Righteous triggering Tony’s PTSD after the day he had had. Extremis can deal with only so much and BARF can help only to a certain extent. That and he really just disliked Rogers.
“We’d appreciate it if you would step back and leave, Mr Rogers.” He informed the soldier out of time in a freezing voice that broke no argument and would have sent any sorcerer, doctor, intern or apprentice running the other way. Rogers obviously didn’t have two brain cells to rub together in order to recognize how smart it would be to back off. Because he didn’t. He clenched his fists and his jaw worked in frustration, like every other time he had had to deal with Stephen.
“I was under the impression that Tony could speak for himself.”
“And I was under the impression that I have been perfectly clear when I heavily implied for you to get lost,” Stephen immediately fired back, tightening his hold on the above mentioned savior of the universe. “You’re not wanted here. Not after what you’ve done.”
Steve just ground his jaw harder. “I thought I was doing the right thing. Those satellites are dangerous! They could have been used against us as easily as they could have been used against our enemies. Even though they might have been useful a week ago, they’re still too dangerous now and we’d all be better off if they were taken down.”
Strange frowned in confusion, having absolutely no idea what the man was talking about, but he felt Tony stiffen against him and he flinched when Stark’s aura suddenly lashed out in uncontrollable rage. He frowned even deeper as he felt Tony wrangle the beast that was his anger back under control, but it wasn’t fast enough to stop the Infinity Stones from flaring in response to his emotions. The force of the flareup pushed Rogers back by a few feet before it was leashed by the genius, frowning at his own lack of control over such immense power when emotionally compromised, as though it was his fault. But before he could try to reassure Tony, it suddenly dawned on him just what Rogers had said and what it actually meant and his blood boiled.
“It was you!?” He hissed out in a dangerous whisper, his magic coming to his call before he even consciously registered that he was drawing upon dimensional energy. The whips of golden magic swirling around him sent Rogers scrambling to get even further away from them but Tony didn’t so much as flinch. It said a lot about how close they had gotten that magic was a part of Tony’s every day life now and he accepted everything that came with it with such ease and elegance. He would have had a panic attack had Stephen lashed out with his magic just a couple of months ago. It spoke of the trust he had in Stephen and that only made the sorcerer more protective of him. Evidenced by the way his hold tightened on the shorter man.
“Do you have any idea as to what you could have caused!?” The doctor thundered, leaving all who knew him flabbergasted. They had never seen him this angry before. They had never heard him yell like this. “You could have destroyed this entire timeline! There was only one way for us to win and reverse the snap and when I viewed the future, I never saw a betrayal! You could have doomed us all!”
“Yeah, well,” Rogers floundered, glaring back at the doctor and adjusting his hold on the Vibranium triangle shield that T’Challa had provided him with during his stay in Wakanda. “You actually gave up the Time Stone to Thanos! While the rest of us were risking our lives to protect the Mind Stone here on Earth! Had it not been for you, the Mind Stone would have remained broken and all of us would have been spared a lot of grief!”
“You broke the Mind Stone!?” Every single person who had been turned to dust on Titan roared, along with Loki and Gamora, staring at Steve incredulously and with disgust. “Are you insane!?”
“You were far from risking your lives.” Nebula flatly replied to what Steve had said earlier. “Thanos didn’t want to kill anyone besides Stark. Or have none of you noticed how he was the only one Thanos fought seriously?”
“I would have to agree to that.” Gamora nodded from where she stood amongst her friends, fingering her sword, ready to jump in and help should Tony require it. Seeing as Nebula was all but ready to jump into action at any second now, to come to her friend’s aid, it was no surprise whatsoever that her sister was ready to be there as her backup.
“So, wait.” Johnny interrupted from where the Fantastic Four was standing and watching it all unfold. “Are you telling me Steve Rogers, Captain America, had turned off the shielding you guys have been working on for months, dooming us all to a fight we had no hopes of winning, especially once Thanos had two and then three Infinity Stones?”
“Not cool, man.” The younger Storm glared at the supposed legendary hero of WWII. Steve just ground his jaw harder.
“It had to be done. It was the only way to make sure the government and the World War Council can’t spy on us or always keep us on target. HYDRA had infiltrated them once. What’s stopping them from doing it again?”
Stephen had some choice words for the blond and a Dark Dimension he wanted to introduce him to, but a familiar voice beat him to it. “You dumbass motherfucking piece of shit!” All heads swiveled to the side, staring with slack-jawed shock at the approaching, furious Nick Fury and a very much pissed off Maria Hill, walking towards them at a brisk pace with a very disappointed and very sad Phil Coulsion. Behind them, the New SHIELD and SI secret agents were marching as if on a warpath, finally having had enough of Rogers’ shit and finally ready to give him a piece of their minds. If he survives Fury chewing him up first, that is. “What the fucking hell were you thinking!? No, you weren’t fucking thinking at all! You just decided to screw us over because Captain fucking America is always right and knows what’s best for everyone! Never mind that you only recently even learned about the threat that others have been preparing for just fine without your dumb ass to fuck it up! Never mind that you’re from the fucking 1940′s, where you could get away with this shit just because there was no one but Shmit to stand up to you in a fight so you were always ‘right’! Never mind that it was a fucking team of fucking geniuses, the most intelligent people on our planet, that you were deciding to say you knew better than! Never mind that this was a world wide approved project! You just had to fucking get involved and now look at what you did!” The eye-patch wearing man gestured at the frankly destroyed Gobi Desert. All those who had once followed Rogers had the decency to be ashamed to have done so in the first place.
Rogers, though, didn’t seem to be feeling any of it, to Stephen’s immense shock. Did this man have no shame? He nearly doomed the universe as they know it!
“In all due respect, sir,” Rogers started saying in his defense. “I’m not the one who gave up an Infinity Stone to our enemy. Strange just proved that the safest hands are our own.”
Okay, that’s it. Stephen was going to kill him. The Dark Dimension was too good for him. He’d not want to inflict this man on even Dormammu. Not even he deserved to suffer from Rogers’ presence. Not even Kaecillius and he’s probably the only person Stephen hates since he had killed the Ancient One.
Once again, though, Fury beat him to the punch. Not literally, they’d both break a hand before doing Rogers any damage. “What Strange does and doesn’t do with the Time Stone, which he is in charge of protecting, ain’t none of my business! And it’s not tge topic of conversation, you retarded idiot! As far as I am briefed, and I’m briefed very damned well-” Was it just him or had Fury just nodded at Tony? Well, he guessed that made sense. It would explain why New SHIELD never stuck their noses into their business over the last almost half a year. “Strange can use that thing to look into the future, so I’m willing to bet my remaining eye, both my arms and my position as director of New SHIELD that giving up the Stone was necessary for victory. Seeing as I’m standing here right now when I had been dust a few minutes ago, I’d say it worked out pretty damned well. You, on the other hand, did something fucking stupid and it allowed an alien invasion to take place. This ain’t on Loki or Thanos or even Strange - it had never been on ’im. This is about you and how you endangered not only a planet full of people, but the entire goddamned universe, too, for your fucking pride and paranoia. The loss of lives was on a a scale hitherto undreamt of-” Fury glared at Stark and Strange when the two snorted and Banner and Wong had to bite back smirks. Fury made sure they would remain quiet, though, before turning back to the supersoldier he was chewing out. “And had it not been for those two jackasses and Thor, it would have been permanent.”
Rogers at least had the decency to flinch at that one, although now that he was intimately aware of just why the Civil War had happened and he had a closer study of Rogers’ character, Stephen was sure it actually had very little to do with all the innocent people who had been dusted in the Snap and more to do with the fact that he had caused the - temporary, thanks to Tony - death of the very best friend for whom he’d burn the world down to the ground. It made the doctor sick. Although he had to wonder, was he really any different? He had traded an Infinity Stone and trillions upon trillions of lives on the chance that Tony would follow the road he had put him on and manage to save them all if he survived the initial confrontation against Thanos. Only difference was Stephen had done what he had done in hopes of saving the world in the long run.
Rogers had simply forgotten the world even exists when Barnes was in danger.
Fury drawing in a tired sigh but his body language screaming confidence and determination snapped Stephen out of his musings. Everyone was focused on them, allowing Tony a moment of peace even though he, too, was staring intently on this moment that has been long overdue for the past two years.
“Steven Grant Rogers, Captain America, you are hereby under arrest of the Accords division of New SHIELD.” He ignored Barnes’ and Wilson’s protests - it has yet to fully register in their minds just what Rogers had done. They’d be horrified otherwise. Wands was protesting, too, but she was still on thin ice from her last outburst with Tony and Christine - and soldiered on even as agents rushed forward to carry out the arrest. “You will be held in custody at our HQ until your trial date is set. You will be accompanied by ten agents and at least two enhanced individuals at all times. You have no right to a phone call but you are allowed to find yourself a lawyer. If you don’t have one, or can’t afford one, you will be provided one by the state. It’s time for you to make amends, Captain. Wakanda can’t save you now.” When Rogers went to protest, Nick just shook his head. “You have the right to remain silent - and I am begging you to do so - as anything you say can and will be used against you in court. Please don’t resist arrest. As this is an Accords sanctioned arrest, the Avengers are obliged to assist us if we need it and I happen to know at least two people here who can bench-press you in two seconds flat. Just let it go, Cap. It’s over. Your story is done and you have no one but yourself to blame. Do the right thing and accept the consequences of your actions. Take for once the responsibility that we all always assumed you have and make yourself accountable for all that you’ve done. Your future is bleak as it is. At least make things easier on us all, including yourself, by cooperating. It will do you a world of good in court.”
Rogers turned helpless eyes on the only person who could save him now and Stephen swore he growled like a caged animal, bringing Tony even closer to himself, if that was even possible at this point. The Avengers, old and New and all their allies, tensed, waiting a confrontation, ready to help their own if it comes to that. The blond supersoldier out of time begged silently with his baby blues but Tony didn’t even bat an eyelash at him as he curtly said: “See you in court.” That was all the agents needed, the old SHIELD ex-agents taking great delight in roughening up the supersoldier, even if it won’t last as they dragged him off.
As soon as he was gone, Tony took in the first gulp of fresh, freeing air since Ultron and didn’t wince. He just breathed it in and let it all out, all tension draining from his frame.
And just like that, the clouds cleared and sunlight shone through on Earth’s mightiest heroes once again.