Chapter 49: Chapter 49
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 couldn’t believe he was standing here, in front of all of these people, dressed to the nines in his nicest suit, for the first time revealing to the world just what had happened in that Siberian bunker. The room’s attention was solely on him as he spoke, words clear, voice strong and, for the first time since that god forsaken day, no memories rushing to the surface to torture him with anxiety or a panic attack. It was as though time had reversed itself and he was standing in front of a different crowd, all eyes and cameras still trained on him but the words on his lips were quite a bit different. I am Iron Man was what had begun his journey and it will go down into history as the most memorable and important moment for Earth’s survival, for her greatest defender and protector was born on that day, promising to her people that he will do all in his power and beyond to protect them.
Today, ironically enough, exactly ten years since that day, he was fulfilling one last step to fulfill that promise. Ten years after he had sworn himself to accountability, he will ensure that the one person who deserved to feel it the most after the past two years will finally be faced with the consequences of his own actions. After years of being hated or barely tolerated, Tony Stark was the hero in this story. People were finally going to listen to him and they were going to listen good. After all, it wasn’t every day that one saved the whole universe. And now that they were listening, Tony used this special opportunity to tell it all.
A month ago, Thanos was defeated and the Snap reversed. Tony had made sure that he demanded from the Stones to reverse everything Thanos had done in the previous month, thus reviving not only Gamora, Loki, Heimdall and Brunhilda along with returning all those that had turned to dust, but it had also revived a whole planet of people. Xandar now celebrated Iron Man as a planetary hero and their savior. The decimation still had to be fixed but all of the people that had been killed were brought back. It was more than anyone from Xandar could have hoped for. Tony had a standing invitation to come by whenever he felt like it, although he wasn’t allowed to bring Carol along, ever. Xandar had quite some problems with the Kree Empire and, hero or not, Carol wasn’t welcome. That was their only condition. And they did want Tony to come around at some point because the children were all now going through their Iron Man phase, much like the kids of Earth had when Tony had first flown the suit.
The Guardians of the Galaxy had ventured out back into space to check on both Xandar and Knowhere to see whether their friends and the Collector were okay. They even went to Sakaar to check on them, too, so they had been away for a while. They had returned only two days ago with great stories and news from all around the universe. Everyone everywhere was brought back after Tony reversed the Snap and they all, somehow, some way, knew who it was that had saved them. The universe was celebrating Tony Stark, was all but worshiping Iron Man and they were all marveling at the suit he had created. They called him a savior, the chosen, the contender. The universe celebrated his name and Earth’s politicians didn’t know what to make of him anymore.
Everyone knew he had the Infinity Stones and a functioning Gauntlet. They had broadcasted it to the entire universe that the Gauntlet can’t be separated from his body and that it will protect him even if he were to somehow die. He was the Stones’ chosen contender and the power he now possessed was rightfully his. He had the protection of entire planets, like Xandar and Sakaar and Knowhere. Eitri, the dwarf king himself, insisted that Stark had to come to the now revived Nivadellir. Asgard’s people swore a warrior’s oath to him as soon as they all gathered in a single place.
He was the Vice Sorcerer Supreme of Earth, as far as the Sorcerers of Kamar-Taj were concerned.
They made sure to tell everyone how well protected he was and just how futile it would be to try and somehow take the gauntlet from him or to use him for their own agendas. The better informed everyone was of it, the less likely it was that every tyrant or conquerer in the universe will descend on Earth in an attempt to achieve their goals by using Tony. With the protection of the Sorcerer Supreme, the King of Asgard and several planets, Tony was very unlikely to be kidnapped/killed/attacked in a mad bid to get the Infinity Stones. They spread his story across the Galaxy and let the rumor mill run its course. They let everyone learn just what he had been through, whom he had faced, what he had survived and how he had been victorious at the end of it all. No one bothered to hide the fact that Tony Stark knew magic anymore. His control over machines was legendary by now. His intelligence and drive caused both fear and awe, respect and amazement. Many desired the power he now wielded. None dared try come and take it.
But while things were rather mild on a galactic and cosmic level this past month, Earth was in turmoil. First Carol brought news that the Kree wish to come to Earth to meet the savior of half of their people - and the rest of the universe, too, but who’s counting, right? - and show their respect. Through some miracle not even the Infinity Stones understood, let alone their all too mortal selves, the ceasefire in the Kree-Scrull war was still standing, neither side eager to go back into battle and lose some of the lives they had just regained. Naturally, if the Kree wished to meet Stark, the Skrulls also wanted to have a meeting with him, too. Tony had had to take two days out of his very busy schedule - there were quite a few court dates he had to attend, as the face of the Accords, leader of the Avengers and Iron Man and as Tony Stark, too and let’s not even get into the logistics of creating a whole new role and position in the closed off society of Kamar-Taj such as the Vice Sorcerer Supreme since his oath still held, even with Strange’s return to his rightful place - for them each in order to meet them somewhere halfway there. Heaven forbid them deciding that the ceasefire should stop while they were in Earth’s orbit. Earth was still recovering from having one intergalactic war take place on its surface. They didn’t need another so close to the first - second, if you count the failed invasion back in New York - one ending. So, after that was settled, Tony had several War Council meetings regarding his decisions and actions during the Gobi Brawl, as someone had decided to call it and the name stuck.
Apparently, Earth politicians had a serious problem with the way he had handled the situation. Never mind that had had been running on twelve hours of sleep in the previous week altogether and that he had consumed somewhere between 12,090 and 13,000 calories in that amount of time - which was actually sort of dangerously low with the Extremis burning through his body, since it burned a lot more energy out of him, especially with how extensively he had been using it since Ebony Maw kidnapped Strange - and that the Titan had barged in on them with only ten minutes to prepare. Never mind that the casualty counter was fucking zero and that they had captured Thanos alive so he can pay for his crimes. No, they had wanted more and better without contributing as to how that could be achieved. They just wanted to control him in the same way they had wanted to control Iron Man when the world first became acquainted with the suit. He flipped them off then and he had no problem doing it now. Within the Accords lawful parameters, of course, which just so happened to have a very extensive segment about human rights, privacy, moral and freedom of choice. Tony had made sure of it. The mutants and Inhumans had always wanted to stay as hidden from public eye as can be managed and when the Sorcerers of Kamar-Taj came in, Tony knew he had to make that segment even more detailed and powerful. Their societies survived on their secretiveness, the sorcerers thriving on it as they protected the Earth.
More than anything else in the Accords, Tony had made sure no one could ever be turned into an ‘attack dog’, as Rogers would put it, or a weapon. And half of the world was bound by it as much as all the heroes who signed the Accords were bound by the document regarding accountability.
The other thing the politicians, military secretaries and heads of secret agencies were mighty pissed about, even Everett Ross and Fury, was that Tony was now considered the prime example of Earth and its intergalactic representative regarding Earth’s policies and politics. The dignitaries that had arrived to present the Mechanic with gifts for saving their people absolutely refused to speak with anyone else and sneered whenever an Earth politician or some other representative extended a hand to shake. It didn’t help that half of them practically worshiped the ground Tony walked on upon meeting him. Loki found it highly amusing and didn’t bother to hide this fact while Nebula did her best to remain impassive about it, no matter how funny some of Tony’s reactions were to aliens twice his hight kneeling or bowing to him.
And on that note, what the politicians actually hated the most were the six Ambassadors of Infinity, as the universe has taken to calling them. Two alien demi-gods, one of whom had tried to enslave them, an android, an alien cyborg, a disgraced former neurosurgeon turned the strongest sorcerer on Earth and the most advanced Artificial Intelligence they will ever meet were apparently not good enough for their positions, never mind how crucial they had all been to the fight at one point or the other. Had it not been for Loki destroying the beacon which would have opened Earth’s defensive shields and his advice on the Tesseract or the magical shields - Tony ignored all pointed remarks that the shielding had been useless either way, as that would leave to a shouting match that he was pretty sure Thor could win in his stead - had it not been for Vision insisting on them going to Wakanda, where he knew there would be a lot less casualties, had it not been for Thor distracting and fighting Thanos and bringing back the new Gauntlet to Tony, had it not been for Nebula caring for him back on Titan, had it not been for Stephen arranging them all on this lone path that led to victory and had it not been for JARVIS to keep him sane and relatively healthy all these years (with help from FRIDAY, as of late), half of those pain in the ass politicians wouldn’t be here right now to bitch at Tony about them not being suitable. Tony found it the most hilarious thing in the world that they didn’t even have candidates to suggest to take their place, never mind that the Stones have purposefully chosen people Tony was close to and could live for extended amounts of time and won’t be changing their chosen Ambassadors any sooner than the would their preferred contender.
No wonder no one in the universe took humans seriously. Well, at least they didn’t until Tony came along, blew up half of the universe’s largest army with a single bomb and then practically singlehandedly tore Thanos down. As for the multiverse, it knew about not messing with humanity lightly ever since Strange became the Sorcerer Supreme after his spectacular defeat of Dormammu. You don’t mess with the species that produced the guy who made that demon submit and freak out.
And speaking of the Sorcerer Supreme ... Tony snuck a glance at Stephen, who was sitting in the crowded court room, listening as intently as every other person in the room as Tony revealed every last detail about what had happened in that Siberian bunker.
He and Strange hadn’t really had much time to interact ever since Thanos became the very first prisoner in the quantum-shrunk, Mirror-Dimension-cloaked and sorcerer-protected jailing complex after the battle, awaiting his own trial. The Galactic Council, whatever that was (he ignored the whispers of the Stones as they explained, telling him in great detail millions of years worth of history regarding their activities, decisions, meetings and the like), needed some time to convene and they refused to let Thanos be tried on any single planet. So because Earth could defeat the Mad Titan, they got to imprison him, too, until he is judged and punished. Joy. But as soon as he and Stephen finished overseeing the imprisonment, they were swept off to a long meeting of all the Masters regarding there now, by way of oath, being two Sorcerers Supreme, a thing that will just not do. Tony tried to explain that he will gladly give Stephen the position - he had too much to do outside of Kamar-Taj to be tied down by the post - but once the oath is taken, the Sorcerer Supreme, temporary or not, can’t take it back. After hours of arguing, debating and discussing their situation, Tony suggested that, like there was a vice president, there should also be a vice Sorcerer Supreme so that the situation where Earth is defenseless would never occur. They all flinched at the reminder of all those who had been taken by the Snap and Tony wasn’t ashamed to admit he spent the rest of the meeting holding Stephen’s hand like a kid.
And speaking of kids, he finally got both the Keeners and the Parkers to move in permanently into the Tower with him. The Tower will probably soon need some extending or something, the way he keeps dragging more and more people to live there, but it was extremely helpful at the moment. Both May and Peter had some serious PTSD after the Snap, as did most of the Avengers and their allies that had lived through it, and you couldn’t tell who had it worse. The ones that were dusted or the ones who had to live in the aftermath. Fighting Thanos in and of itself will be enough to amp the stress levels of all involved. But those who were dusted had these ... dream sensations of being in a ‘perfect’ world that left them hollow and that was almost as disturbing. Some people even remembered the sensation of turning to dust. Strange and Peter were both part of those unfortunate ones and Peter, whose spider senses had warned him about what was to happen seconds before it had happened, had horrendous nightmares in the wake of his return. Often times, May was enough to calm him when he bolted awake, screaming. But the kid could only go back to sleep if he snuck into Tony’s lab or bed and snuggled against him. More often than not, Peter would lean against Tony’s legs as he worked, falling asleep on the floor and not even stirring until he either got enough sleep or someone woke him up. Schools were still out, so he didn’t have to send the teen away when he obviously needed the comfort.
Harley wasn’t much different. The kid had seen some of the closest people to him in the world either fight Thanos or leave on a spaceship into space or he had seen them turn into dust in the aftermath of the Snap. And when Tony returned, he was halfway across the world and out of reach. By the time he was in reach, it was time for battle. Harley had then had to watch as Loki, Thor and Stephen fought to restart Tony’s heart after he had used the Gauntlet. If all that wasn’t traumatic enough, he had been part of the fight. Tony hated himself for bringing Harley into this world when he was still so young. The bright boy suffered from PTSD now, too, but he was at least a bit ready for it after having talked Tony down from a panic attack one too many times. It didn’t change the reality of it that he had seen his family turn into dust while his pseudo father and brother disappeared into the unknown and only one of them came back. Fighting Thanos had only ensured that he will suffer from PTSD. The boy at least didn’t have any triggers and just had nightmares.
As for Tony ... Well, he had already had a boatful of PTSD before, but he had a few new nightmares to add into the mix. Mainly watching Stephen and Peter get beamed up, watching Stephen get tortured, watching Stephen and Peter both nearly be lost to the vastness of space, watching Peter and Stephen fight Thanos, watching Peter and Stephen turn into dust, but there were still plenty other problems that came along with these main ones. For one, he hated flying insects right now. He had had to apologize for snapping at Scott and his flying ants - he still couldn’t believe there was an ant named Anthony that actually liked him better than it did Ant Man himself and that followed him around like an overexcited lost puppy; why couldn’t they have a normal pet for once? - and even Hope a few times after he almost freaked out. At times, he swore he felt the crushing sensation of a moon slamming into him and there were still phantom pains in his left side where Thanos had ran that piece of metal through him. That, combined with nightmares of what if he had failed or the Gauntlet rejecting him easily kept him up most nights. Strangely enough, Afghanistan didn’t haunt him as much, which was rather refreshing after ten years of it constantly being the center piece of his nightmares, and New York didn’t have as much impact anymore, either. Having talked to Yinsen and the Space Stone, along with the others, constantly ‘chatting’ in his head had dissolved some of the guilt and terror they used to produce in him. Which was awesome, even if it left more room for new nightmares.
What he hated the most was that Strange had withdrawn from him. As had been stated earlier, sure, the man was busy as hell - Tony had kind of dumped Wanda into his lap and he had to decide what to do with the Scarlet Witch after her trial had found her guilty and stripped her of all Avengers privileges; she hadn’t helped her case by lashing out with her magic at the judge - but he used to be busy before, too, and he had still managed to visit Tony three times a week at the very least. Hell, Tony saw more of Wong now than he did of Stephen. And he did not like that at all. It was unsettling. It threw Stark off and the genius was getting sick of it. Had he done something to offend Strange? Had he really only been around to ensure that Tony brought about that one outcome where they won and now he was burning the bridges down because he realized he wouldn’t need them anymore?
Well, good luck with that. Tony wasn’t going to let him. Stephen had become as essential in his life as JARVIS and FRIDAY - the latter was only slightly jealous of just how much closer JARVIS being the Ambassador of Soul made them, but she said she had honestly expected nothing less, as there was no one who had been there for Tony like JARVIS had and she was just glad she could still connect with them through Extremis - are and if he thought he could just walk away, Tony was going to show him he had another thing coming. If Loki and Thor can come around once a week and if Nebula had declined her beloved sister’s offer to join the Guardians of the Galaxy in their space adventures, then Stephen could make the time to at least pop in and say hi. Not that Tony was going to let him reduce their relationship to just that. No, Stephen had worked for getting Tony’s trust, earning it. He had worked for the long haul. He was going to go through with it now that he got what he wanted.
Just as soon as Tony finishes up things here. “And as soon as the fighting was over and Thanos was secured by the Sorcerers of Kamar-Taj, Director Fury of New SHIELD ensured Mr Rogers was secured and brought in. Mr Rogers didn’t put up any resistance in the arrest and he respected all the conditions of his holding period. As I know, he has been waiting for his court date patiently, looking over the Accords agreement and speaking with his lawyers. That is all.” He finished his statement and waited for the predictable questions.
He didn’t have to wait for long. “And why have you waited this long to make this statement about Siberia? It has been quite some time since the so called ‘Civil War’.” The lawyer asked and Tony didn’t even hesitate to formulate an answer and deliver it.
“I have been aware of a bigger threat since the dubbed Battle of New York, even if I didn’t know exactly what it was. I knew Earth needed its best defenders, its greatest heroes, so I did my best to fight for the Avengers, as many may know. I looked for an alternative but I always wanted to have a backup plan should the new one fail. I didn’t know if I had a time frame to prepare, so I didn’t pursue justice against Mr Rogers. What happened in Siberia was a series of mistakes and personal problems as well as inner Avengers problems finally culminating in a big bang of negativity. That fight was bound to happen sooner or later. It is a miracle, plain and simple, that it had waited for so long. Ever since we all met for the first time under the supervision of SHIELD, the Avengers have always been, in the words of my close friend and college Dr Banner, a ticking time bomb. Always. And we always will be, that original team. I fought for that team, I tried my best to make it work, just because I knew we would need them. The Avengers.” He paused, letting this sink in before he sighed. “I guess I didn’t do good enough. The threat came and we still weren’t ready.”
“I was under the impression that you were.”
Tony sighed again. “Yes, we had greater numbers and yes, we had the shielding up, but we obviously hadn’t done a good enough job where security was concerned or we haven’t been convincing enough to ensure ... ‘one of our own’ would support us. Which is what led us to this situation here.” He looked at the silent Rogers, who had walked in with a somewhat confident stride, thinking someone would support or defend him, but, to be honest, even his lawyer looked ready to declare him guilty and he had been a Captain America fanatic. Rogers had started looking smaller and smaller with each statement made and now he was almost as small as he used to be before Project Rebirth. Tony will later blame it on the Soul Stone, or a moment of insanity, but ... “Look, I know he messed up. Big time. Probably more than anyone ever had before him.” And he wasn’t going to mention Quill punching Thanos right out of his trance back on Titan. “But please take into account that he is a man well out of his time, who doesn’t understand our time and is too used to being right all the time. That’s our fault, you know. We let Propaganda get away with us and we let him get away with a lot of things that we really shouldn’t have. We should have made sure he understood the changes the world went through and we shouldn’t have put him into active duty. Supersoldier or not, even he has his limits. We pushed those limits and this was the result. Now, I know, perhaps better than anyone, just how much he had done wrong in the recent past and I know what good he had done before that. I’m not saying that you should let him go unpunished - god, no! I’m just saying that you take into consideration that this man still fought for our planet. His bill is due. Make sure it is fair.”
“Is that the end of your statement, Dr Stark?” The judge asked and the genius nodded. “Any more questions for the witness?”
“That’s it, your honor.” Both lawyers replied and the judge nodded.
“Well, then. Let’s continue on to ... ” The session droned on and on until it finally ended with a simple: “Steven Grant Rogers, this court finds you guilty of all accusations and you are sentenced to ten years of prison. For good behavior, you may be transferred to house arrest. But never again will you be allowed to enter the Avengers and you will be under constant surveillance. Court dismissed.” And after everyone walked out of the room - or portaled out, in Wong’s and Stephen’s case - Rogers actually had the balls to approach Tony as the guards led him out, making Nebula become tense as all hell, ready to leap at him should he prove to be dangerous. Tony just arched an eyebrow at the should be older man.
“Thank you, Tony, for speaking up for me. I know I didn’t deserve it-” Stark cut him off before he could get too ahead of himself.
“You don’t. And I didn’t do it for you. I did it for Barnes. The way things were going, you would have been put into Alcatraz or something. Maybe they’d remake the RAFT just for you. And Barnes can’t get the BARF treatment if he goes there with you.”
Steve looked ready to cry but Tony just shook his head when the blond tried to speak. He just turned around and walked away, Nebula and Vision falling into step on either side of him, Thor and Loki waiting for them outside the Courthouse. He ignored Steve’s calls from behind and his apologies, because this was the first day of the rest of his life. No more baggage. Tony Stark has once again risen from the ashes of his own demise and is soaring, bright and burning, higher than anyone else, like a true phoenix. The ice was far behind him and not even the sky was the limit anymore.
But first, he had a certain Doctor Wizard to pay a visit to.