Chapter 1: Clashing Shields and the Aftermath
Steve looked at the mad man who wore his face defiantly, as he crouched over a disabled and wounded Stark, protecting the other man with the very shield that had struck him down. Or at least a version of it anyways, seeing as there was a man wearing his face who had one of his own that he had been using to pummel Stark to death while he was flat on his back standing in front of him. He hadn’t seen what started the fight, but he had arrived and saw enough to know that Stark wouldn’t survive too many more hits like the ones he already taken. And damn it, Tony hadn’t tried defending himself from what he could see- the other men involved in this fight were barely injured beyond a missing metal arm and cuts from flying debris. It was clear that the suites repulsors had been fired during the altercation, but they hadn’t been used in a way that would harm the attackers in a serious way. One well placed shot from Tony’s gauntlet would have ended the attack when it had began after all. It was obvious that while Tony had been fighting back, he hadn’t wanted to truly hurt them. That made Steve wonder what the hell had instigated the fight- and curse the fact that Tony’s attacker’s hadn’t had the same intentions of not killing the other man during the assault. They had to have done some major damage if they had gotten Tony prone on the ground and the other man wasn’t making a move to get up now while he was providing some sort of distraction.
The crazed version of himself dropped his shield in shock as metal finished hitting metal- the loud noise echoing in the empty bunker in an accusing manner. Steve snorted at the abrupt stop, and took the chance to re-position himself so he could protect the fallen man better if he needed to. He didn’t know what the hell was happening here, but he wouldn’t let any version of his team mate be murdered by himself. This was a special kind of hell that he had found himself in considering how much he had mourned the loss of his Tony and he cursed Reed mentally, wondering just what kind of experiment the other man had been running. He found himself wishing he had listened to the other man a bit more before charging in blindly to stop the overloading experiment. The reality displaced man stiffened as Bucky shifted from his slumped spot, but instead of going to Rogers’ side he joined Steve in front of Tony without a word- glaring at the other man is disapproval even. Rogers flinched at the sight of his friend defending the man from him.
“Fuck. That shield must have done some major damage. I’m seeing a Rogers’ double and his bestie protecting me from himself. Gotta get my head fucking straight, considering he’s trying to kill me. Wishful concussion hallucinations are all this is. Rogers’ hasn’t felt the fucking need to defend me in years, if ever. Can’t think this is real, it'll only hurt me more when the truth of the hallucination comes out.” Steve heard Tony mutter, his voice hoarse and broken sounding as he scolded himself for seeing someone protect him. He gripped his shield tighter, even as he watched a pained look pass over his now not so insane looking double’s face. The man actually looked hurt by what he had heard, but Steve didn’t believe it for a second, if the other man cared for Tony in any way, they would have never been in this position.
“Tony, I can tell your suits disabled, and heard possible head trauma mentioned in your muttering. What are the seriousness of your injuries, and can you call for a medical evacuation?” He asked the fallen man, deciding to ignore his double because he doubted anything sensible would come out of him after what he had stopped, and he hoped that Bucky would have his back if his double decided to attack again. There was worry clear in his voice, and he hoped that Tony could understand that it was real, not something his concussion was cooking up. Tony snorted, then groaned in pain. Steve heard the armor shift slightly as the other man tried curling in on himself.
“Definitely a hallucination, but my skull hasn’t been crushed, so I’ll take it. Okay, Steve the delusion, even though you should probably already know this since you’re in my head. I’m pretty sure I’m concussed, as proven by your presence, suit is buckled in from direct blows to the chest area- it’s disabled from the external arc reactor being crushed. I’ve got a couple broken ribs in the least from the blows to my chest, but since a lot of the force went to where my internal arc reactor used to be. I don’t have high hopes for the false sternum that replaced it, if it’s shattered then I’ll need another reactor implanted again in the very least.” Tony replied, his voice noticeable weaker, and there was a wheezing quality to it that spoke of lung damage. Steve couldn’t help it, he looked back at the prone man with wide eyes. That kind of damage meant that he needed to get Tony to medical help as soon as he could, so wasting time with the double that had done his best to kill the broken man couldn’t happen. His attention centered on Tony, dismissing his double completely- if he attacked he would put the other man down without any hesitation. And a small but vicious part of him hoped that happened, and that he’d be fighting with Bucky by his side because taking on both of them was a bad idea- as seen by Tony’s state.
“Tony, babe. Your Emergency transponder has it’s own power source right? And it’s located in your upper right arm plating?” He asked, since the suit was disabled, so were communications, and that was the only alternate source of help the other man had. Not that he could reach it on his own with the suit locked up and without power. He was trying to keep his voice, and himself calm, but it wasn’t working well. His Tony was gone, he hadn’t been able to save him from what he had done to bring back half the universe. Steve couldn’t watch another die, it would be enough to break the fragile will he had to keep fighting. Not when there was a chance of saving him.
“Another point to this being a figment of my blow addled brain, because there is no way Rogers knows that. You’re correct Steve the delusion.” Tony coughed, sounding resigned at the confirmation. Steve reached down as he finished speaking, and his fingers searched until he found the hidden switch. Once he felt it, he flipped it without hesitating, praying to god that someone who could help was nearby so they could get Tony someplace safe to start working on him. He didn’t even care how he’d explain the fact that there were two of him right now. His head turned quickly as he heard movement. His other self had shifted, and was looking at Tony helplessly, like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing or hearing. That was another point towards him being addled if there was need for it. The man couldn’t expect everything to be fine with his victim after that attack.
“He attacked Bucky… I didn’t mean…” His double muttered “We need to get Stark help as soon as we can.” He spoke softly, sounding as broken as the man laying on the ground. Steve’s eyes narrowed at the tone. There was no way in hell that this man was a victim, not after what he had done to his team mate. Whatever he tried to say, Steve knew even brainwashed Bucky could and would defend himself, so Rogers beating Tony to death because of an attack held no water. And if Tony had wanted to kill Bucky, then Bucky would have been dead plain and simple
“Help is on it’s way Tones, you just hold on okay? God Rogers what the hell happened here? Tony is your damn team mate if things are like where I came from. Teammates don’t kill each other. Period.” Steve snarled in return to the weak defense after trying to reassure the fallen man that this wouldn’t be his end. Tony groaned when Steve’s double just looked at him in stunned silence.
“The accords… Roger’s broke off from the Avenger’s with the majority because of them, and that's not been well received. I came here to try and help and let him know what I was doing to fix the damn things, but he didn’t want to listen to me. I found out Barnes killed my parents and lost my temper. I attacked Rogers when I found out he had known, Barnes jumped in to defend him and went for the reactor. I automatically blasted his artificial arm off. Captain didn’t like that too much, but you should know that delusion.” the down man explained tiredly. Steve felt his stomach drop. He remembered the Accords… but it hadn’t gone this way back home. They had trusted Tony, listened to him and when he said he was going working on making them better because politics were the man’s second nature. And god… Tony’s parent’s. He had told the other man about what Hydra had done the moment he had found out about it. His Tony had raged, but by the time he met Bucky he had understood the man had been used as a weapon, and the deaths were not his fault.
“You’re a damn idiot. You broke up the Avenger’s for something Tony could and is fixing from what he just said, I know he can do it, I’ve seen him do it. Without him working on them, the travesty that would have been pushed through would have hurt every enhanced and hero out there- don’t you see that?! I’m not even going to try to understand what you were thinking in not telling him about his parent’s and the fact that you expected him to be calm when he found out? That’s about as insane as I think you are. No one would be calm when faced with the hands who killed their parents. But finding that out then having to defend himself and almost getting killed for his efforts… What kind of twisted hell did Reed’s experiment dump me in?” He muttered, feeling sick to his stomach at the fact that any version of himself could be so wrong. Tony chocked at his statement, and Steve’s eyes shot to him, worried that he’d chocked on something like blood and was in need of help.
“Reed. Reality.. Shit. You might not be a hallucination. Go figures though. Rogers actually likes me somewhere.” Tony wheezed, looking devastated and Steve wanted to punch himself for making any version of Tony look like that. He knew what kind of childhood his Tony had with Howard, knew the minefield that his being defrosted had been to the old wounds his friend had carved in his child's mind. It was like this Rogers hadn’t had the sense to shut up and look at what his old friend had done to his child while lost in his obsession to find him. Tony’s pained groan broke the silence that had followed his declaration, his eyes landed on the man who had tried his best to kill him and a bitter smile passed over his lips.
“You might want to run. I did my damn best to make sure Ross had no idea I was coming to help, but that transponder sends an all hand on deck broadcast.” He wheezed softly. Rogers looked at Bucky in alarm, before grabbing his remaining arm and trying to take him away. Steve watched his double in disbelief, not knowing how any version of himself could leave a team mate behind while he was this injured. Bucky wasn’t moving though, his eyes locked on the prone man, guilt clear in the blue orbs. That was something Steve could compare to his own world, something familiar that he was glad to see wasn’t changed by whatever force had decided to twist this world the way it had. Bucky never got over being used to hurt Tony, and he never took to Tony being hurt because of him well.
“We have to go right now Buck, there’s no telling when someone is going to respond and we can’t be here when that happens.” Rogers growled, annoyed that his friend wasn’t coming with him, Bucky grunted, standing firm and resisting moving from where he had positioned himself in from of Stark. Stevie may not be trying to kill Stark anymore, but they had done more then enough damage during their attack, and they needed to see this though. Abandoning the man that was lying broken and bleeding solved nothing, and actually made the former assassin sick to his stomach. If Stevie was willing to leave someone that he had called a friend with some supposed double of him while said friend was broken and bleeding then something in the other man had changed since they had been separated by the ice and Hydra. Maybe Stark wasn’t the wrong side of this disagreement if this was how Stevie treated people now a days. Lying to them, using them… all in the name of his cause.
“You want to leave Stark alone with an unknown element in his state? With a version of yourself, who while could be from another reality could also be part of some plot to get Stark? Hydra would love to get their hands on him. I… the soldier has standing orders that if it ever became possible that taking Stark is a high enough priority to postpone a mission.” Bucky hissed, sounding as disbelieving as Steve felt. Rogers looked like he was about to be sick at being called out on his willingness to abandon Tony with someone he didn’t know, and the standing order if Steve read himself correctly. But that didn’t change his mind, he tugged on his friend’s arm again.
“I need to get you somewhere safe Bucky- can’t you see that?. This guy… He knew where a fail safe was that even I had no idea about and how to activate it. Stark will be fine with him, but you won’t be if they get their hands on you. Remember the kill order Sharon said was out? With how injured Stark is.. I don’t think they will even stop to see if you’re hostile or not before putting you down.” He protested again, sounding desperate for Bucky to move so they could get out of here. The Winter Soldier snorted, looking at Steve. Once their eyes connected, he nodded once, seeming to find something that he was looking for in his gaze, and relaxing in Rogers grip.
“You get that Punk to safety, and you keep his ass alive Rogers. I knew he deserved a hit or two after what I’ve done, and I should have had more control then to go after his weak spot, but I haven’t worked all of my kinks out yet and my response was more Winter then Barnes. He got rid of the weapon that was threatening his life, and I can’t blame him, losing the arm don’t harm me none. Wish Stevie would have seen that but seems like I’ve got to pull his head from his ass or something.” Bucky grunted, sounding more like his version then Steve had expected from a Bucky fresh out of Hydra’s hands. He remembered what his friend had gone though to shake the programming vividly still. And it seemed like he had a soft spot for Tony, just like the his other self if his order to care for the injured man was anything to judge by, he nodded at the other man and Bucky let himself be pulled from the room by his cowardly friend when he tugged on him this time.
Steve’s attention went back to Tony as the two others left them behind to wait on their call for help to be answered. He set his shield down and looked over the prone man, who was staring at where Bucky had been standing in shocked confusion. Understandable since Tony had apparently taken his arm off, so the other man caring about him would be a shock. Smiling softly in an attempt to project a calmness that he didn’t feel so Tony stayed calm himself while they waited, he touched Tony’s cheek, drawing his attention back to him.
“You’re going to be alright Tony. I’ll make damn sure of it. Once transport is here, I’ll make sure JARVIS has a reactor waiting at whatever medical facility they take us to.” he promised, cursing his other self and whatever was going on in his head. Bucky had a reason to be messed up still, but Rogers had been in this time and unfrozen for years now. He should have had any issues from before the freeze shrinked and put away by now damn it. Or at least have them under control enough not to be the obsessive mess that he was now. Lord knows Steve had resisted Tony’s suggestion for therapy for a little while, but it had helped him adjust to this time and losing his friends and family in the end. With how this reality was going so far, he wouldn't be surprised if his other self had been dismissing Tony’s suggestions and holding onto the pre-freeze stubbornly and that was a cause for this mess.
He took the time where he wasn’t on alert to an incoming attack from himself to visually take in the damage that was visible on Tony’s body. The ruined reactor was caved inwards, making Steve sick to his stomach as he realized the damage that must be under there. Tony was right in his assessment, the false sternum was probably just as damaged as his suit was. The blows had hit that area at full force because Rogers hadn’t been holding back in any way. Tony’s face shuttered at the mention of JARVIS, and that made the blonde still in his look over, his stomach sinking at the implications there.
“It’s not JARVIS anymore. Friday’s my girl. JARVIS was destroyed by Ultron. Fucking Wanda and her mental fuckery. I thought I could protect them then and it went so wrong.” Tony murmured, grief mingling with the pain. Steve clenched his fist. Tony had lost JARVIS- the one being that would always be there for him, and the majority of his team was as insane as Rogers. He was not liking the picture that was being painted of this reality. A Tony Stark without support, without his self built family was a recipe for self destruction in the very least. And he couldn’t stand seeing Tony destroy himself any better then being killed- he would fix this somehow. He tucked a piece of almost frozen, blood caked hair away from the genius’ face gently, needing Tony to understand that he wasn’t in this alone.
“Friday then. I’ll make sure she has the reactor waiting for us. You were an idiot here today babe, if someone, former friend or not, is trying their best to kill you, then you disable them before they get the chance to make good on their intentions. A well placed medium pulse would have done enough damage to stop him before he injured you this badly, and once his frenzy passed, it looks like Barnes would have stood down.” He scolded, needing to do something to make sure the genius knew that this wasn’t acceptable. After a moment, the reality displaced captain tore part of his suit off so he could wipe at the blood on the fallen man’s face. Tony was staring at him with the same confused look he had given the spot where Barnes had been, and that hurt. This Tony was so battered- both internally and externally and after the remark he made about the Red Witch he knew he had to get someone to look at his mind and make sure there was no external forces at work still.
Wanda was a vengeful being, even now she wasn’t trusted completely and was only called on when her talent was needed, her brother was there to stop her from going to far, and there were safe guards in case he couldn't or wouldn't stop her. Tony wasn’t alive anymore but they still knew better then to bring her into the fold. They had seen the results of her work too many times to trust her not to slip up, and he wondered if this world had been smart enough to take the same approach. Probably not with what he had seen, so he would have to be on the look out for the mind manipulator. If she had something on Tony still, having it removed would alert her but the other man couldn’t go on living under her work.. The insane Avengers proximity to her and what could be at the root of their twisted behavior didn’t cross his mind, not yet. He had more important things to worry about, like the man in front of him.
“You keep calling me Babe..” Tony suddenly croaked, sounding distressed. Steve stopped his ministrations and smiled awkwardly. He hadn’t realized that was slipping out, but he knew where it had come from. He’d loved Tony, before they lost him, and the stubborn part of his mind refused to hide that fact no matter if this wasn’t his Tony. Steve was scared at how badly injured the version of one of his lovers was and it was showing in the terms that he was unconsciously using.
“It’s habit. You and I were dancing buddies back home before I lost you.” He told the genius gently, since he knew that hadn’t happened here, not with the comments Tony had made and what his other self had done today. Or if it had he had even more reason to kill Rogers. Tony blinked in shock, and for a second Steve didn’t know which part of his statement had caused it, then he spoke.
“How did I die?” Tony asked, his voice thin and so afraid of the answer but wanting to know all the same. Steve grimaced, wanting to avoid answering, but knowing that Tony needed to know, and unwilling to lie to him.
“You died in the process of reversing the deaths that happened while Thanos was on his warpath. I don’t understand how this happened.. this insanity I’ve seen of this world so far. I told you about what Bucky had been forced to do when I found out in my world. I knew you wouldn’t take it well, but that you would need time to process it. This idiot hid it, and it was used as a weapon against all of you. Then there’s the fact that the Avenger’s split because of the Accords here. We trusted you, and we stayed true to the plan you had in my reality. We were never on the run.” He murmured. Tony paled more then he had been due to blood loss at the name, and he knew the other man was thinking about the ships he had seen.
“I die in the coming invasion?” Tony whispered, sounding void of all hope, like he had expected that to be his end. Steve hand went to his face again on instinct, making sure that Tony’s eyes were on his. That wasn’t something he was going to let happen here- even if he had to stay until after everything was done. He wouldn’t let Thanos claim another Tony Stark’s life, anymore then he would let his double kill the man next to him. He couldn’t.
“Not if I have anything to say about it babe. Just keep calm.” he tried soothing him, wondering again what hell Reed had sent him to. So far Tony was painfully identical to the one he had lost, but everything else was twisted and ugly. Tony closed his eyes, when he couldn’t look away.
“I must be a better dancer there, wish I was as good as I was in the dreams I used to have. Everyone leaves or betrays me in the end here, made the dreams hurt. I might like them back after this though, at least I’d be loved sometimes.” Tony whispered, his voice paper thin as he slumped, losing his battle to stay awake. Steve felt something inside of him snap as the words faded into the cold around them. Where he had been planning to make sure Tony lived through the invasion, a resolve that he wouldn’t be another person to leave Tony formed, and he knew he couldn’t stay in this hell with him. Tony may accept the Avengers and Rogers back after all of this was said and done, but he would never feel safe, feel accepted again. They had shown their true colors with this temper tantrum and the genius would never be able to forget that they had all chosen to leave him. He’d be trapped in hell and would make himself accept it because Steve could tell he thought that was the norm, that Tony didn’t think he was worth someone showing an ounce of damn loyalty to.
“You and me babe? We’re getting out of this hell in one piece, I promise you. So you just stay strong. I’ve got your back now, you’re not in this fight alone, you won’t be ever again.” He murmured to the unconscious man, hoping that he was having one of those dreams that he had spoken of so fondly before he passed out. He knew Tony hadn’t heard his promise but once they got out of this base and Tony was fixed up he’d repeat it, and make sure that the man understood what he meant. He settled closer to Tony to keep his exposed skin warm while they waited for help to come, and tried to figure out how he would prove that he wasn’t Rogers to whoever found them. He didn’t want to leave Tony alone for a single moment, but he didn’t see them letting him stick around while they thought he was an insane fugitive that had put him in the condition he was in.
Chapter 2: Waiting and Retrieving the Misplaced
AN: So I'm posting a couple chapters of this- I have a little over 40K in words typed already so, there is more to come :)
Steve had been right in thinking they would separate him from Tony, because when the rescue finally came he had been kept away from the injured man. Not even pointing out there were two shields in the bunker had helped prove his case originally. They had been convinced that he was trying to tell a poorly constructed lie both to evade punishment and to be near his victim, and he couldn’t fault them for that. If he hadn’t experienced it himself, he wouldn’t have believed what had happened either. Most of his questioning had been during the early hours of the time that Tony on the operating table, and he had made sure Pepper, who had been with the rescue party, had Friday send the reactor to their destination just as he had promised the still unconscious genius. She had done it begrudgingly- not wanting to believe that it would be needed though. Her conviction that the other man wasn’t as injured as Steve had said was strong, and he had almost thought she would dismiss his request. She had also had something else shipped, but no one would inform Steve of what it had been when he had asked- and he had asked because her reaction had inspired a sliver of distrust.
He only knew, from eavesdropped conversations Pepper had with someone that it had been sent in case things went south and measures had to be taken to keep the injured man alive. The genius had been dangerously close to dying by the time help had arrived so he had no doubt that the measure had to be used. Tony's breath had been taking longer and longer to be drawn in and face had been so pale that Steve didn’t know why she hadn’t wanted to believe how much he was suffering. Steve wanted some time alone with his double, so he could dish out some justice for Tony’s struggle, nothing the other man could ever say would excuse what he had done. And even if the world decided to forgive the other man Steve never would.
In the end Steve had been confirmed to not be of this reality by Dr. Strange, nothing he said had even tempted the people questioning him to believe his ‘crazy’ story. And they had been preparing to take him to prison, where he would have been charged with almost killing Tony and everything his double had done while on the run. For a moment he thought that Rogers had gotten the perfect patsy with his arrival, instead of Tony getting a champion. And that would have fit this twisted world just fine, since it would have cleared the way for the Rogers to come out of his mistakes without taking any blame for what he had done in the end because the ‘real bad guy’ had been caught after all.
The odd magic user had stepped in when he had seen Steve though, and after taking a piercing look at him when he arrived to join in the efforts to save the genius he had asked agents questioning him how someone had jumped realities, and if that was what he was being held for it. Steve had almost smirked at their shocked looks, relief settling into his chest, but he was more interested in getting to Tony so he could know how the genius was fairing during surgery. There were a couple strained apologies tossed in his direction about the whole affair before he was let go- free to join whoever was waiting to hear how Tony was doing. When he joined Pepper and Rhodes in waiting he was treated to suspicious stares from the duo for a moment. He cursed his double again for everything he had done in this world and to Tony, before smiling politely, knowing he needed to ease their minds if they were anything like the people he knew or they would have him thrown out.
“I’m not from this reality, and my story has been confirmed by a magic user. I got here in time to stop my counterpart’s attack and to get Tony help.” He said pointedly, trying not to stare at the wheelchair Tony’s best friend was in as he spoke. This reality was really a special kind of hell, even Rhodes wasn’t untouched by it’s twisted effects. Rhodes' stare softened first, Pepper’s still held blame and since it was a man wearing his face that had done this to Tony he couldn’t blame her.
“Thank you for saving him. We had no idea where he was and his suit was disabled, he wouldn’t have been able to hit that panic button on his own, and this could have gone a lot different without you there to help him.” The other man murmured hoarsely- he had been crying obviously. Pepper just huffed, looking sad and angry as hell. Steve sat down across from them, before sighing.
“There’s no need to thank me Rhodes… In my world this didn’t happen. Not like this. We trusted Tony when he said he could fix the Accords and he did one hell of a job doing it considering the trash that was being pushed through before he found out about them. Tones always had a way with the political aspect of the job. That and his lawyers were scary.” He sighed, feeling the same disbelief at what hell Reed’s experiment had landed him in that he had been since he had stopped the attack and a new bone tiredness. He had work to do while they waited for word on Tony though so he wouldn’t be resting anytime soon though. Once he knew Tony was out of surgery he had to speak to Strange, and get some reinforcements here. He couldn’t trust this world to the Avengers who had turned against Tony, and Steve needed to know that someone had their back until he could convince the other man to come with him. Tony wouldn’t leave here until the threat of the invasion was dealt with though, it wasn’t the type of person his Tony had been and he didn’t think it was the type of person this one was either. From what he had seen so far there wasn’t many people he could trust Tony’s back here, so Steve knew he had to think outside of the box. He wasn’t above bringing his team in if the magician was agreeable to help. If not then Steve would just find Richards and get him to recreate the machine that had brought him here somehow. Rhodes’ eyes focused on him sharply, and Steve wondered if the man knew his plans already.
“Had, Were?! You speak like…” Tony’s oldest friend questioned his voice drifting off. Steve grimaced, realizing what Rhodey had caught onto from his statement.
“I lost my Tony. He was defending the planet… the universe really by reversing billions of deaths and he laid himself down on the wire just like he always did.” He confirmed, hesitant to let the other man know that his best friend was dead somewhere because he had seen what Tony’s death did to his Rhodes, Pepper took in a sharp and shuddering breath as Rhodey slumped in his seat at the confirmation. The red head got up and stiffly walked away after a moment, and Rhodey glared after her, looking like she had failed a test somehow.
“She was never right for Tony, She couldn’t accept that he was a hero and even having him take out that damn reactor wouldn’t change a thing. She’ll always be like a sister to me, but I was glad when she ended things with him. Just how did he die, in your world?” The man murmured, wanting more details and condemning the red head’s reactions in the same breath. Steve’s eyebrows shot up. Tony and Pepper? Well he could see that, because Tony loved to flirt and without anyone stable in the role of relationship Pepper might have been tempted to take him up on it.
“Their relationship is another thing that never happened in my world. Tony’s dance card was too full for her. And we lost him to Thanos… There’s an invasion coming and he gave his life to end it, to protect the world and bring back those that were lost. Half the damn universe. Right now your Tony is trying to prepare for it. But I can see that’s not going to well considering most of the team has gone insane and become fugitives. Or it wasn’t going well before my arrival at least. I won’t let another Tony die that way.” He noted out loud. Rhodey looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
“Is that so?” He asked, sounding almost amused. “I would asked who it was filled by, but considering the dance card reference I think I can guess. Were you two good together? It's hard to imagine Tones with Rogers, especially in light of what just happened.” He asked, half wistful, hoping that a Tony somewhere had been happy. Steve looked him in the eyes.
“I loved my Tony till the last breath he took. We had a rough start because of Howard’s shitty parenting and the scars he left on Tony relating to me, but If I could have died instead of him I would have. I’m not going to confuse this Tony with mine if you’re worried about that, I will be treating him as his own person.. but I won’t be another person who cares then leaves him high and dry. ‘Everyone leaves or Betrays me in the end.’ That is what he told me before he passed out.” He hummed, not mentioning the dreams for some reason. Something told him that Tony had kept them to himself and he would respect that. Rhodes sighed, rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands roughly.
“That’s Tony for you, he acts like he doesn’t notice it or care when someone lets him down but it cuts him deep and he never really forgets. Even I’ve betrayed his trust a time or two without meaning to. I've almost got him killed a couple times by trusting the wrong person and doing my job.” Rhodes admitted, sounding guilty, before he looked over Steve again. There was a moment of quiet as he examined the alternate version of the hero he knew, before the other man spoke again.
“What are you going to do, if not leave? Rogers will eventually weasel his way back into Tony’s life, the invasion you mentioned- that Tony’s hinted at will mean we need him and his people to help protect this world and it will give him the perfect in. And after everything , he will probably even manage to get Tony to forgive him by spinning it to be Tony’s fault in the first place.” He asked bluntly, and Steve had always liked that about Tony’s best friend, the man never beat around the bush when it came down to the important things. Steve’s smile was sharp as it spread across his face, he didn’t mind sharing his plans to bring his team into this, because it was going to happen one way or another. If he didn’t and brought Tony back after everything was said and done they would kill him when they realized he had taken this on solo. They were a family and they protected their own, going at something this dangerous on your own was stupid.
“One of the Doctor’s working on Tony is a man called Stephan Strange. He’s able to weld ‘magic’ I intend to ask him if he wouldn’t mind delivering a message to my team, then helping them over. I know I can trust keeping Tony alive, happy and healthy to them.” he replied simply. Rhodey nodded one, looking a little sad, but relieved at his declaration.
“When this is all done and over with I’m going to be saying goodbye to my best friend, aren’t I?” He asked, sounding a little resigned, he didn’t sound like he’d fight Steve to keep him though and that was disturbing. He couldn’t imagine Rhodey ever willingly say goodbye to Tony. Steve sighed, before nodding.
“If I have my way, yes. From what I’ve seen of this world Since Reed’s device dumped me here, this is Tony Stark’s hell 24-7. I won’t leave him here to deny and drown any of his feelings in the aftermath of his team abandoning him, or Rogers beating him almost to death just so he can function as a hero. My team coming here and helping him protect the world will endure them to him, so whatever their doubles have done, he can separate them before we go.” He admitted, without any hesitation or regret. Being upfront with Rhodes was always the best way to handle things after all.
“I don’t blame you for taking one look at what you landed in and deciding to get him the hell out of dodge. One of these day’s there won’t be a last minute save from someone who gives a damn being tossed into this reality randomly. He’ll die by their hands before fighting back, and I’m in no shape to protect him, I don’t know if I will ever be again even with my suit.” Rhodes murmured, his voice rough and broken. That made sense, more sense then him being willing to say Goodbye to Tony. He wanted him to be happy more then he wanted to hold him in this world where it wasn’t likely that he would be able to be.
“I’ll be watching you, and your team when you get them here. If you are good to him, good for him… then I will do my best to convince him to go with you. He deserves to be happy. To have a team that respects him. And he’s not going to get that here. The others… I don’t see them admitting that they were wrong, that they used his hospitably, funds and genius for their own betterment then dumped him the moment Captain America came calling.” He warned, sounding broken still, but strong in a way that let Steve know that he wouldn’t hesitate to go after him if he wasn’t good for the genius. That his plans to take Tony with him wouldn’t mean a thing unless he approved.
“We won’t let him be hurt if we can help it. Here or back home.” He promised, looking into the other man’s eyes and willing him to understand how sincere he was. Rhodes nodded before biting his lip. He seemed to come to a decision after a moment, before taking a deep breath.
“He’s going to need support when he wakes up, more then I will be able to handle on my own. Pepper… when you called in to have a reactor waiting for Tony at whatever medical facility they got him to she knew that his condition was bad even if she didn’t want to admit it. And she wasn’t willing to entertain the idea of losing him. Tony had made something that he told me would give me back my legs faster after my accident, only it would have side effects of the hero kind that I didn’t want, so I turned him down and he shelved the project. After they broke up, Tony never revoked her medical proxy. She had his formula administered to keep him alive and that's one of the biggest betrayals he will have dealt with to date. He never wanted to use that on himself, he was happy going the slow road you know? My own misgivings about the side effects were something he understood, because he thought about what he’d feel like if it was him in that position- it’s why he didn’t push me after I explained to him just why I wouldn’t take it. And there might be some backlash if anyone finds out that he has been enhanced.” he murmured, almost talking at a decibel that even Steve couldn’t hear. The super Soldier read between the lines, healing Spinal Damage wasn’t an easy thing, it would take something of a miracle… The kind of miracle that had taken a thin asthmatic boy and turned him into a hero. He felt dull nails digging into his hand before he realized that his fingers had curled into fists. It was one thing to volunteer for something as life changing as what he had, but it was another entirely to have it forced on you, like Pepper had done to Tony.
“The… formula, what changes will we be seeing since it was used on him?” He asked, focusing in on that since until he spoke to Strange there wasn’t much more he could do about the betrayal. Though his resolve to get his team over here to have Tony’s back was stronger then ever- hopefully they could help him handle the backlash that would be coming from Tony himself and those who may want to start something over the fact that this had been done to him. Potts could find herself charged if it ever came out that it had been done without Tony’s consent even and Steve wasn’t sure that she shouldn’t be. But they would come to that point when it happened. Rhodey sighed, looking towards the double doors, before shaking his head and looking back at Steve.
“I know the formula was stable so there isn’t an issue with it having been not ready, he wouldn’t have offered it to me if it wasn’t, but I’m no Tony and If Pepper is smart she’s deleted any files on it already so no one will ever truly know what to expect besides Tony and no one besides those of us who know how deeply she betrayed him will even know of it. It’s administration will be falsified as a dose of adrenaline in the paperwork if I understood her correctly. He coded around then.” The Soldier replied. Steve’s eyes wandered to the door. Knowing his version of Tony, if the other man had been going to use it to save his best friend then there would have been extra’s to make sure Rhodes wouldn’t see the same disability again. He almost felt like laughing, screaming and making Pepper Potts disappear all at once. While he understood wanting to keep Tony alive at all costs, his own preference when it came to the formula should have been respected, they had called in a magician to help stabilize him.
It was about then that Pepper started back into the waiting area, and Steve had to resist telling her to leave. She was Tony’s medical Proxy, if anything happened in the surgery and they needed her to decide anything she was going to be needed here, in the building if not in the room at least. Once Tony was up and about Steve would have to make sure that was changed. She proved that she wasn’t trustworthy enough to respect his wishes for treatment with what she had pulled. Rhodes cleared his throat as she got closer and he tried to relax his face from there glare he knew had to be on it. He didn’t like what she had done to a man that had suffered enough already, and like the insane version of this worlds Avenger’s she would try to justify it. He needed a distraction, and if that happened to get her out of the room for a few minutes so he could calm himself, then all the better. He decided he needed to read up on this world, and for that he would need a Stark Tablet, he’d ask her politely to get him one. She gave him a wary look as he came closer to the chairs, as if she was expecting him to say something about her storming off like he had, and while he had plenty to say, he wouldn’t.
“It’s come to my attention that I need to catch up on the differences between my world and this one, if I’m going to help Tony. Could I bother you for a Stark Tablet so I can work on that while we are waiting for Tony to get out of surgery. I.. I just feel like I need to be doing something, and I can’t help him in there.” He asked politely, a sheepish smile and hint of begging and touch of shame lacing his words. She blinked in shock and a touch of confusion at his request for a tablet, before nodding stiffly and hurrying out of the room She didn’t look like she had wanted to be back anymore then he had wanted her there to be honest. Rhodes snickered after she was out of the room, shooting Steve an approving look and an accepting grin.
“I almost thought you were going to lecture her on her choices, then you turned it around and turned on the gosh golly charm. I already like you better then the Rogers we have here.” He complemented. Steve raised an eyebrow and Rhodes shook his head. “Rogers rarely misses a chance to lecture. I think one of the first things he told Tony was he was nothing without his suit, I swear the guy was fixated on comparing Tones to his bastard father, and forever finding Tones lacking in that man’s shadow.” He explained. Steve felt his stomach knot as he realized just how stuck on the past his other self was- it wasn’t just an obsession with Bucky but an obsession with what he has lost. By the time the Avenger’s had been assembled that first time, Steve had read about what had happened while he was on ice, determined to get to know the world he found himself in.
He’d absorbed anything he could get his hands on. Newspaper’s, gossip magazines… even police reports when he had gone to Shield and asked for more information after finding a mention of something darker. It had been given to him, and he had been surprised when Fury went to debrief him on the people he had gathered, and deliberately painted Howard’s son as a wastrel that was arrogant and overall someone Steve wouldn’t like. This Steve must have fallen for it, must not have seen the police reports that Tony’s school had filed in regards to Howard striking his son and held onto the memory of the rakish man who had flown him behind enemy lines to save his best friend. Of Course this him was an idiot- a snapshot of a man never told the whole story. That first meeting with Tony, Steve had seen a man desperately trying to make up for the mistakes he had perceived that he had made, and looking for approval of the team he wanted to be part of and that had stuck with him. Tony had been the one reluctant to trust that Steve was being honest in his desire to be his friend and then something more, but he had good reasons given the fact that Howard was forever comparing his son to Steve and finding his son lacking.
“The version of me that you have known is an idiot. From the little I know of this world, it seems he clung to what life had been before the freeze, and didn’t bother getting to know Tony as anything other then what he assumed a man who he had known for month’s son would be like. I didn’t hold onto any notions that Howard might not have been the best father… by the time I met my Tony I knew that he had been an asshole that hadn’t deserved the son he had. That he had hurt Tony, and even that lovely packet of videos and news articles of Tony acting like a drunken, irresponsible fool that Fury gave me to brief me on the potential problem member of the team he wanted me to lead didn’t make me see him in any other way.” He growled under his breath, once again wanting nothing more then to take the other version of himself to task… Preferably with his fists. Rhodey looked at him in disbelief, before cursing and rubbing his eyes.
“Tony mentioned Rogers saying something about having seen the videos on the carrier. Fury is a damned idiot, always having a plot in the works, though I don’t know what the hell he got out of Tony being the outcast of his little boy band though. This split- it was inevitable with everyone treating Tony like he was nothing more then a bank and a dangerous joke.” Rhodes muttered. Steve snorted.
“He got a contingency plan out of it. Tony was his choice for team lead involving the Avenger’s until I was found. By creating a potential rift, if anything with wrong with Rogers or Shield, Tony would step up and reform the Avengers in a time of need and has the resources to run them. Rogers wouldn’t be needed then, so he wouldn’t have to clean up whatever mess the man made. Like with this drama over Bucky my alternate created by keeping secrets and using Tony. Rogers and those who sided with him won’t be accepted back easily. The universe in in danger, and Tony won’t sit back if he’s as alike my version as I think he is so his plan worked as hellish as it was for Tony.” He sneered, wishing he had a few minutes with Shield’s former director too. Rhodes glared at the wall.
“All the more reason for the Accords and their accountability in my book. Fury was the all knowing mastermind behind the scenes for decades, and who know just what kind of hell he inflicted for the greater good to borrow a term from the Potter books. He didn’t need to plot and create distance in the team Tony took on as his family though, if anything happened Tony would have brought them together again because that who he is.” Rhodes muttered darkly. Steve just nodded, wondering if his world would have gone along the lines of this one if he hadn’t been determined to make it in the future. Or if some other thing would have changed it, if the team had identified more with the genius would they have sided with Tony rather then him. All the what ifs were giving him a head ache. He hated not knowing what the hell had changed this place into the hell it was though.
“Have they said anything about Tony? Both of you look pretty upset.” Pepper’s voice broke through the dark mood that had fallen on them as she came back into the waiting room with a Stark Pad in her hands. She looked to Rhodes for the answer, even though she had directed it at both of them. Steve didn’t mind the dismissal, he was a stranger to her even if she had known his alternate. Rhodes shook his head, before looking at Steve and then back to her.
“Stevie there was just comparing the differences in between his world and Ours with me while we waited for you Pepper and we were theorizing the motives of a certain eye patch wearing mastermind when it came to a similarity that went differently. It got a little heavy.” He assured her. She sighed, before handing Steve the tablet and going to a seat closer to Rhodes.
“Maybe you’d like to fill me in on what you two discussed later?” She suggested softly, sounding unsure. Rhodes didn’t say anything and Steve decided he needed some space to learn about this world, and to check in on something that had been bothering him since Tony had told him that he had lost JARVIS. His Tony was vigilant in making sure his AI pride and joy backed himself up on a secluded server Daily even after he had a body, so if anything happened to his main programming he wouldn’t be lost, and he couldn’t imagine that this Tony was any different. JARVIS was precious to him, he had heard the pain in his voice when he had admitted that he was gone. The question was now if JARVIS was on his secluded server why hadn’t Tony gotten him out, why was a new AI in place?
The most obvious answer was Wanda. She had been in the genius’ head, and he knew his version could alter memories whenever she pleased. And if she wanted him to suffer as badly as the Wanda in his world had seemed to want their Tony to then erasing the memories of the back ups so JARVIS stayed ‘Dead’ would do just that. This version of Tony didn’t sound like he had many reasons to trust anyone else with the knowledge of JARVIS’ back up servers, so it was up to him now. It would take time for Steve to get his team here, but JARVIS’ first Priority was Tony, having him back in action gave Steve someone he could trust as soon as he was found.
With that thought he moved to the furthest corner of the room, leaving Rhodes and Potts to their own devices as he got to work. His Tony had taken great pride in showing him how to manipulate his tech to get what he wanted, and he could only hope there wasn’t too much difference between the two worlds in how things worked because if he ran into an issue he couldn’t exactly troubleshoot the problem with anyone. He knew of his JARVIS’ back up location so that would be his first destination to look, with any luck he would have the AI back in action before the genius had woken up from his surgery and found his biology changed by his ex-girlfriend. Rhodes was right in saying he would need support, and Steve didn’t think he was quite qualified given he’d been in this world less then a day. He would try but having JARVIS back would go a long way in helping the other man recover- both mentally and physically and he knew it.
Working on getting into the server was an excellent way to pass time and ignore the silence that had fallen over the waiting room with Pepper’s return apparently. He barely noticed the other two people in the room as he picked, poked and prodded at the isolated server’s defenses until he found his way in. If JARVIS wasn’t in there… Steve wasn’t sure he wanted to know what was. It was well protected to say the least, and this could go south if it wasn’t what he was expecting but he pushed on. At the one hour mark he had some success, and tapped his ear to connect the com device there to the tablet, so if he did get to Jarvis the AI’s voice wouldn’t be projected into the room while he explained what had happened since his last back up. He didn’t think the AI would be pleased at all with what had happened to his creator, going off what he knew of the AI turned android in his world.
Steve wanted this to be a surprise for Tony first and foremost. Not have to explain that yes he had used the tablet for hacking instead of research on an off whim that the AI wasn’t really destroyed, at least he wanted to avoid having to do so until after they knew the genius would be okay. Rhodes would probably be relieved and amused, but Potts. She might take the tablet, considering the fact that by doing this his was proving himself a risk. Hacking secured servers owned by SI was generally frowned upon after all, even if he was bringing home a lost friend. He wanted to know that Tony had the support system that he needed in place while he was grilled on the how's and whys of his actions. He would deal with whatever fall out from the AI’s recovery then and only then, since he didn’t think he would be able to focus on Tony while doing so. The Com connected to the tablet, and he thanked god that Tony Stark’s thought alike enough for them to be compatible even in an alternate reality. Once that was done he pushed forward on the weak spot he had created and almost instantly a familiar voice demanded to know what he was doing.
‘Recovering you. I’m Steve Rogers, only not the one you’re familiar with. I arrived in this world in time to save Tony from having his chest completely smashed in by Rogers Shield- you have a lot to catch up on since your last download in Slovakia I’m afraid. Things have changed, you were presumed lost after your program was dismantled by Ultron and it’s been a couple of years since then. Tony’s currently in surgery having the arc reactor reinstalled into his chest.’ He typed in reply, not wanting to speak and draw attention to himself. The AI didn’t vocalize a reaction to his words, but there was a delay in response as he processed what he had been told.
“Why did sir fail to recover me after my main program was.. dismantled?” the AI asked, sounding perplexed. “And why would Captain Rogers attempt to kill him? Is Sir expected to survive this surgery?” there was a sharper tone to these questions. Steve paused, trying to think about how he was going to explain this before trying to type. No doubt Jarvis would be monitoring every keystroke so there wouldn’t be any erasing or trying again. And he didn’t even know anything for sure- most of what he knew was speculation beyond his experience saving Tony.
‘I think Wanda, the red witch had something to do with Tony thinking you were gone forever. She got into his head in Slovakia and I know from experience the one from my world is capable of such things. When I mentioned you after he was attacked, that grief and conviction that you were gone was real. As for why Rogers attacked him. JARVIS these people.. these versions of my friends are so twisted from the ones I know. The team I come from- it cared for Tony. This separation I’m seeing, the attack. It would have never happened in my world. When we lost him it almost broke us so seeing this? Seeing most everyone of his team has abandoned Tony on Rogers call is physically painful. There are these things called the Accords being negotiated right now, when you get back onto the SI server’s you’ll be able to read them and see what Tony’s done to keep enhanced people safe. Rogers refused to have anything to do with them, and on top of that he had been using Tony’s funds to find his best friend. The one he hadn’t told Tony was used to kill his parents. Tony found out shortly before the attack, and lost his temper. Rogers was trying to kill him because he assumed he would kill Barnes JARVIS, plain and simple.’ He finally typed, wishing he knew more about the specifics of why this had all happened once again. There was another pause before the AI replied to what he had written.
“I see. You did not address my question on if Sir was expected to survive this surgery. I am in the process of connecting to SI mainframes through the breach you made in this server’s firewalls, the data transfer was restricted to one way to prevent my program from being extracted unless Sir authorized it or I would have returned much sooner then this, rest assured.” Jarvis informed him, his tone tight. It always amazed Steve how much emotion the AI could show, about how the other man had become sentient but had started out coding that Tony had painstakingly crafted. Any other person wouldn’t had achieved the same results he was sure. JARVIS and Tony were both one of a kind in every world for sure. He resisted a sigh, or any other noise that may bring attention to him all the same though as he thought out his next response. Telling the AI about the unwanted procedure could result in JARVIS taking action against Potts before Tony was no longer in need of her decision making.
‘Measures were taken without his permission by his medical proxy to make sure he would survive. Don’t worry JARVIS he will be okay even if it wasn’t achieved in a way that he would have wanted. On the main server you will find another AI. Her name is Friday, just to let you know.’ He replied, not wanting the AI to try to get into the SI servers without knowing that there was another conscious occupying his home. Another length of silence followed his words.
Very well. The Servers should be more then enough to host both Friday and myself. I am in the process of letting her know who I am and validating my identity, which is necessary because I was indeed thought lost. After that is complete then I will be reintegrating into the SI servers and assimilating the data that has accumulated during my unwanted exile before executing any needed actions on Sir’s behalf. Please bring this device with you when you see Sir. I would like to be able to talk with him when he wakes so I can be sure of his well being. From what you have told me alone he has been through much in my absence.” Jarvis replied before disconnecting. Steve smiled to himself as he got to his intended task of learning about this world. The fact that he was able to make his right for Tony, after everything the other man had been through made him happy, and perhaps would go a long way to proving that he would be good for Tony to Rhodes and getting the other man firmly on board convincing Tony to come with him once everything was said and done.
As Steve read over recent events, and started going back further he saw just how… twisted this world was. And proved to himself how similar this Tony was to his.
It wasn’t the man in surgery that had made the choices that had changed how this world had developed, but those around him. Rogers holding firm to his past instead of trying to integrate for example. Another difference was in the android that was part of the Avengers. In his world it was JARVIS given physical form after he had requested one. Here it was a being named The Vison that had come about after Ultron. Steve kept digging through the reports and news articles until he came across something that had been grabbed off the internet when Rogers and Widow dumped all of shields classified information there and sequestered it into a SI server for safe keeping. The idiots got thousands of agents killed with that stunt no doubt and probably hadn’t thought twice about the results of their actions. Given the files on the cleanup Tony and SI had conducted, it looked like they hadn’t even faced the repercussions they should have for the deaths they caused. The entitled idiots had been proud of their work even from the reports he was reading. The disregard for innocent lives lost was appalling.
The files that had his attention were reports from a certain Agent still thought dead in this world that were buried in another file to disguise. In his world Coulson had reached out, because he hadn’t been able to bear the thought of Tony thinking he was dead. Fury had erased Barton from his mind, but the fact that the Agent was so close to Tony wasn’t widely known at the time, so he hadn’t bothered tampering with anything related to the genius. It looked like the closeness wasn’t the same since the other man hadn’t reached out- or Fury was smarter and had erased Tony as well. Steve debated with himself a moment, before deciding that even if Phil wasn’t attached to Tony in the same way as his Phil he still needed help. What Fury had done to bring him back had repercussion that Strange could help with. It would be for the best in the long run- Coulson could take over playing babysitter for the rouge Avengers after Steve got Tony to agree to go with him and hopefully that would ease the other man’s mind about leaving if he had any worries about what would happen without him.
So for the second time that day Steve set about contacting someone that Tony Stark thought was lost to him. Needless to say getting to Coulson was easier then getting to Jarvis had been. The other man’s firewalls were nowhere near Stark level and though he couldn’t risk communicating with the Agent vocally he could do texting just fine. The other man wasn’t near a computer, so he targeted his cell phone, and sent a message within about ten minutes of making his decision to reach out.
‘Avenger Emergency: Tony Stark currently receiving Arc reactor implant after almost being killed by Steve Rogers during a conflict involving the man who Hydra used to kill Stark Parents. Current Conflict over the Accords has most Avengers fugitives at this point because they sided with Rogers and refused to wait for Stark to finish his political and diplomatic attempts to rectify shady parts of it. Stark currently has a severely injured Rhodes and mystically enhanced Android as a team. Back up would be appreciated.’ He sent, along with the hospitals coordinates. Unlike Jarvis pauses as he assimilated Steve’s messages the response was immediate.
‘On my way. Status on Stark?’ Steve’s lips twitched. While things may not have gone the way they had in his world the Agent obviously cared about Tony enough to come when needed apparently, even when the source of the call to come was unknown.
‘No update as of yet. Stark’s medical Proxy made a decision similar to the patch when it came to your demise, so estimation is survival.’ He replied, hoping that he was making the right decision in implying that something extra had to be done to keep Tony alive.
‘I see. Who is this and are any of the other Avengers- former or current- aware I am alive?’ Steve snorted at that, he couldn’t help it. After saying he was on his way he asks who was communicating with him? It was amusing only because the Agent was willing to trust an unknown person that he was needed, and only tried to find out that persons identity once he had asked about Tony’s status. It was something that his Phil would have done down to a T.
‘I’m not from around here so you don’t know me personally, and I only knew about your survival from my version of how things happened, also I’d like you to know that I know of some ways to help the reminders patch left behind when he fixed you up. I arrived here in time to stop myself from ending Stark’s life. I’m doing some leg work while he’s in surgery since we have an end of the world situation approaching and the world needs heroes while the previous Avengers are content with being fugitives. In my world you were someone my Tony could depend on so I’m hoping its the same here, even if you haven’t felt the need to tell him you’re alive again.’ He replied, unable to resist a poke at the fact the other man hadn’t yet told anyone he was alive.
‘As you mentioned, the method used to bring me back had consequences. I haven’t been able to work around them, and have been kept busy by other things related previous work. I’m reserving the right to believe you until I get eyes on the situation at the hospital.’ Coulson replied. Steve sighed, because his Phil had gotten a hold of them right away he didn’t know how much the side effects of Fury’s reanimation treatment had progressed. He would need to get Strange to look over the other man before he allowed too much interaction with Tony. Coulson may seem mild mannered but he could do serious damage when he was set on harming something,
‘Understandable. I want someone to look over you once you’re here. He may be able to help some of it right away.’ He replied, before waiting. After ten minutes he assumed that the other man was done talking with him, and continued to research this world. Everything was quiet until Coulson arrived in the waiting room before the surgeons did, then it got loud and Steve’s meddling was found out.
Chapter 3: Returning from the Dead and Hard Talks
Mhhmmmm…. a Third Chapter. Might wait a day for the next one :P
Reviews feed the muses, flames and trolls will be used to cook the food of course :P.
“Phil?!” Pepper’s high voice broke through the research haze surrounding Steve, making him stiffen before he realized nothing was wrong. He looked up to see Coulson and two woman entering the waiting room. Agent May, and the inhuman Coulson had unknowingly adopted into his team were easily identified after a moment. Both were dangerous in their own merits and Steve could see why they had accompanied him here. If this had been a trap, they would have got him out and Steve would have regretted ever trying anything with the Agent. Good thing this wasn’t a trap then.
“Ms. Potts. My death was… misreported, but I’m afraid I suffered some memory loss though, and was tossed back into work so quickly that I didn’t initially realize anything was wrong. By the time I did… I had a rather large workload and thought letting the lie continue would be easier. I was informed that Mr. Stark had been injured and was in surgery though, and whether it fits Fury’s plans or not I had to be here.” Phil murmured, his voice apologetic. Pepper looked like she was going to faint, before she gathered herself and look straight at Steve.
“I assume you were the one to contact him? Thank you. Phil may not remember it, but he and Tony were close for a time, before Phil went and got himself killed like the idiot he is.” She said, her voice thin, before she shook her head. “You just keep helping. First by saving him from Rogers and getting him help, and now this. You said you lost Tony in you’re world, but you didn’t hesitate in saving ours, and while I can’t thank you enough for keeping him alive and sane I can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen when you find a way home. You can’t stay here obviously.” She muttered, and as thankful as she sounded there was a hint of warning in her voice as she spoke of him going home, Steve raised an eyebrow as the rooms attention focused on him and gave them a small smile.
“I don’t plan on even trying to leave this world until I’m sure Tony makes it passed what I lost my version to, so don’t worry Ms. Potts. I’m not planning on up and leaving him without the support I’m giving him now, I know he needs as many people in his corner now more then ever.” He said plainly, Rhodes snorted as Phil nodded in his direction before giving the red head a hug and coming over.
“He’s going to be one of Tone’s best assets Pepper, I'll even bet on it with you right now. Even just getting Coulson here will help, maybe even make those Idiots rethink going against most every government in the world just because Rogers wants to protect his buddy.” Rhodes hummed, ignoring the Agent’s movement. Steve tracked him until he came to a stop next to him, and then nodded to a chair. Phil’s back up had stayed with Rhodes and Potts. The Agent offered him a hard look before sitting down, giving Steve the courtesy of not having to look up at him while they were speaking. The other man seemed to block out his two agents and Pepper and Rhodey as he focused on Steve.
“I think we need to have a talk about just what the hell happened in Siberia and why Tony Stark is in surgery. Roger’s really did this? My sources say you’re the real deal, confirmed not to be from this reality, universe whatever the hell you want to call it. How did that happen?” Phil asked, his tone neither kind nor understanding. This was a man looking for answers when someone he cared about was harmed, and by someone that should have had his back. Steve couldn’t blame him for the way he was reacting Because if he had been called in to Tony being seriously hurt, he would be acting the same and he knew it. Rogers would be in for a world of hurt when Coulson got a hold of him.
“I was caught in one of the Fantastic Four’s member’s experiments. It was overloading and threatening to cause some serious damage from my understanding of Dr. Reed’s explanation. I arrived in this world to see myself and Barnes attacking a prone Tony- and I stepped in before the next blow could be struck. With the damage he had already been on the receiving end of, it would have killed him. Barnes stood down once I blocked the strike, and seemed to come back to himself in short order- standing by me to protect Tony if need be. I was able to find out that my other self had known that Barnes was used to kill Tony’s parent’s and had withheld that information from him, but it had been revealed in that bunker. Tony didn’t react well, and upon the perceived threat to Barnes Rogers reacted with extreme prejudice. Barnes was most likely defending himself initially and he might have experienced a PTSD related relapse into his other mindset at the attack. I was able to determine that Tony needed immediate medical evac and in the process proved to Tony that I wasn’t a hallucination. Rogers seemed… unable to admit that he had hurt Tony as badly as he did, even to himself, and insisted he had only done it to protect Barnes.” He reported, keeping emotion out of his voice. This was just like any other sit rep- it didn’t matter how much they both cared for the man in surgery. Anger flashed through the Agent’s eyes, and his hands curled into a fist.
“Goddamn it.” Coulson bit out, in a bitter whisper, bringing up a hand and roughly rubbing at the bridge of his nose before his eyes connected with Steve’s again.
“You’ll never know how thankful I am for Reed’s accident. If he had… If Rogers had killed Tony then I would be on my way to kill a national hero right now. There are many things Fury’s mind games have made fuzzy… but I remember Tony. Remember seeing passed his masks and thinking ‘This is someone worth protecting, worth bringing into my life as something more.’ My partner didn’t agree, so it never went any further then that though.” Coulson murmured. Steve felt his eyebrows raise. Not at the information that the agent was hinting at, but at the fact that Barton had refused. There was a reason he had mentioned a dance card in relation to his and his Tony’s dating life. In his world the other mans need for love and care after his life and experiences had been noticed, and indulged. This Tony was sorely lacking that it seemed. He was sure that would be fixed soon though.
“You might be surprised on how thankful I know you are.” He replied, a small smile on his face as he remembered the trio. Meeting them, knowing what they shared. It had been daunting for him. Especially once he had fallen for the genius as well, and instead of being angry they had worked out how to expand their relationship. Once Phil worked that out had been interesting, and something that he had never regretted being a part of. Steve felt a pang of loss as his thoughts turned to what had been left after Tony had sacrificed himself to bring half the universe back. If this worked out and he brought Tony home… well there would be more then just his heart on the line as they all got to know the genius again. And they would discover his quirks and personality so the other man knew he wasn’t just being used as a replacement for what they had lost. Coulson looked at him closely, before nodding to himself.
“So what’s your plan?” He asked bluntly. Steve smirked, before looking at him seriously.
“There’s something big coming. I lost my Tony to it in my world. And I’m not going to let that happen to this Tony. He needs a team he can trust, and I happen to have one that will share my mindset of keeping him alive. I’m going to be bringing them here. Rogers and his merry band of twisted Ex-Avenger’s can hide out all they want. We won’t need them, and I won’t be subjecting Tony to them in any way. They made their choices, that’s on them. Tony is my priority.” Steve promised. Coulson’s lips twitched, as his eyes searched Steve’s face.
“I believe you. You’re who I imagined Captain America being growing up. Not the coward that almost killed his team mate with the shield the man’s father made for him. Tony needs someone to have his back. I’ve failed, every damn person in his life has failed except maybe Rhodes.” The Agent murmured sadly. And while Steve knew he should be assuring the other man that his perceived failure wasn’t all on him- the Fury had a big part in it. He couldn’t though. Because even Coulson had made his choice when Barton had turned down his request to bring Tony into their relationship. The agent was persuasive enough to be able to change any mans mind in his experience. But he hadn’t.
“I’ve been doing my homework on this reality, so I know he needs more people covering his back- the insane version of myself and his team mates are liable to put a knife in it based on this mess. And… It gives me a chance to get to know this Tony for himself more then the glimpse I got while we were in the bunker. I already won’t let anything else happen to the man if I can help it. It’s not in me to see any version of Tony Stark hurt, and not try to prevent it or help with the aftermath.” He admitted softly. Coulson’s pinned him with a searching look, before something in them softened.
“I see. And you’re sure your team will feel the same?” He questioned. Steve knew his smile was bittersweet as he nodded, his throat tightening. When he was able to get into contact with his reality… he knew he wouldn’t have to ask. Or do anything to convince his teammates. As soon as they learned that this world’s Tony was mistreated and virtually alone with Thanos coming they would be gearing up. He would be surprised if some of them didn’t try and get the genius out of Dodge before the coming battle. This world would be losing a good man once everything was said and done, but it wasn’t like they had appreciated him in the first place.
“Our Tony… his death affected each and every one of us in ways that can’t be changed. This mess? It never happened because we trusted him, loved him and kept him in the loop. My team? They are going to want to get to know this Tony as much as I do, and no- it won’t be to replace the man we lost but to keep a man we know is good from having to suffer anymore.” He promised, his voice rough, and just a tad bit sharp. Coulson’s lips quirked.
“Good.” Was all he said, before they settled into a comfortable silence waiting on news of the genius’ condition.
‘It didn’t take long for them to assume the worst of the man Steve and he had left laying on a cold bunker floor in a disabled suit. With someone that may or may not be telling to truth of where he had come from as his only help or company.’ Bucky thought to himself in disgust. The other part of him- the one that was all brainwashing and strict commands with no connection to these people wanted to slit their throats more and more with every insult that past their lips. Steve hadn’t had the courage to correct their assumptions that Stark had played them, and had gone to that bunker with no intention of helping either man. So while he was sitting here wondering if help even came, and if it had if they had been able save the man’s life they were all wishing him dead because of the scraps bruising and in Bucky’s case missing arm the two men had come back with. Because admitting that there had been a reason for the fight would look bad on Bucky and Steve himself the Punk had stayed quiet. And while Bucky didn’t remember everything from when he was Rogers best friend, he knew that his Punk would have never done this. The cup he was holding shattered after one particular comment that the genius had never cared about anyone. That he had been an Avenger for the glory and the PR, and he deserved to be rotting in one of the cells they had escaped from or dead.
“Shut the hell up.” He demanded, his voice a dark growl. As all eyes shot to him, Steve looked like he was going to protest- the other man having to know that he had enough of this bullshit and was going to set them right about the man they were wishing dead.
“What did you just say? Because I must have misheard you” Barton, one of the worst offenders when it came to down talking the man who had been left behind by the super soldier’s, a broken shell of who had come to help, hissed, sounding offended by what he had ordered.
“I said shut the hell up. You assholes call yourselves heroes but the real hero? Steve and I left him in a disabled suit that had taken enough damage to crush it’s chest inward. We left him behind to get away from authorities, and a prayer that some kind of medical help got to him before he died from his injuries. We still don’t know if that happened and I’m not going to listen to idiots who he called his friends talk about how he’s the worst person in the world.” He spat out, silencing the room. Barton paled at his response, looking to Steve with panic unfolding in his eyes.
“Would you care to explain that statement? Because I was told that no one in Siberia was injured enough to receive medical attention when I inquired.” This time the question hadn’t come from one of the ‘Heroes’ that were on the run. T’Challa was standing in the door of the lounge, and he looked pissed off. Well he had the right to be, Steve had told him Stark was just cooling off after all.
“Bucky, Please don’t, it’s done. It’s over..” Steve begged him not to say anything more, desperation clear in his voice. The Winter Soldier snorted, sparing him a disgusted look. What had happened in that Bunker, and after had proved to him that he wasn’t on the right side of things. Steve and his little group were not the victims of a power mad billionaire and that was a hard pill to swallow. If the other version of Steve hadn’t told him to go, he would have stayed there and taken his lumps. But he was in too deep and he knew it, so when the other Stevie had given him the go ahead he had left and he had regretted doing so ever moment since.
“Steve Lied to you when you asked about injuries sir. It seems the punk developed a habit of lying in fact. Stark came to Siberia to help us, he made sure Ross couldn’t trace him even. And it was a trap, but not for Steve and I. The other projects had been terminated, but Zemo did have something to show us- one last nail in the Avenger’s coffins so to speak since his goal was to break you all apart. He had video of me killing Stark’s Parents while I was Hydra’s little pet. And Steve had known it was me, hadn’t bothered to tell Stark while he was using the man’s money to find me either. That’s why the fight happened. Stark didn’t take well to seeing his ma and pa murdered and got a hit in- which he deserved considering my part in his parents death. I reacted by going for his weak point- the light in his chest, so he got rid of the arm that was reaching- the arm he had just seen strangle his Ma. Steve joined in, and he wasn’t holding back like Stark was. Once Stark was down he took a number of direct hits from Steve's shield to his light. I was caught up in the fight until someone else intervened. Just appeared out of nowhere and stopped Steve from dealing a fatal blow. Things calmed down real quick after that until the new guy determined Stark needed an emergency medical transport. Signaling for that made it dangerous to stick around- since there was no way in hell the guys who want me dead wouldn’t take the chance to make it happen and Steve wasn’t going to chance that. Then we went off with you, and left Stark with the unknown to wait for help.” He replied, his mouth feeling dry. He didn’t really talk that much, but he couldn’t let these ingrates keep badmouthing a guy who hadn’t done anything to hurt them. T’Challa scowled as the others looked shocked by what he had to say, disgust filtered over most of their faces as it sank in. Minus Wanda of course.
The Witch took a perverse sort of pleasure in both saying cruel things about Stark, and in hearing that anything bad could or would happen to him. He didn’t trust her one bit- ex hydra or not, she had known what she had been getting into and she had tested her powers on people to get the control she had. There was nothing to be redeemed about the Witch, and he couldn’t understand why in god’s name Steve even had her on the team. He would have just ended her life, and the threat she presented as soon as he had gotten the chance if he had been around back when she had defected to the winning side to save her own ass. Her hatred of Stark wasn’t something that was just going to end either, and the man must have gone through hell having to provide for her needs and whims.
“Oh God.” Barton muttered, looking pale and like he would be either passing out or throwing up soon, his hands were clenched in a fist as he looked at Steve. Captain America wasn’t looking at anyone, instead his head was down, and his arms stiff at his side.
“I will try to reach out to see if I can find anything out about Dr. Stark’s condition. Who was this unknown?” T’Challa asked, his voice as tense as his body as he came to the grim understanding of just what had happened and his own part in leaving a man that had been injured behind. Bucky grinned at him darkly, kind of looking forward to letting everyone know that somewhere there was a Steve that was on the right side of this mess. A Steve that was actually a damn hero, and not some coward that was taking advantage of a countries refuge to escape his actions.
“Another version of Steve. One that actually acted like the punk I remember vaguely. He claimed to have been involved in an accident of some sort in his world before he was dumped in what he called hell. He knew where the emergency transponder in Stark’s suit was and that was all Steve needed to leave him with the guy.” He replied, his voice full of sarcasm and disapproval towards the man sitting stone still in the room with him. Barton stood up from where he had been lounging and complaining about Stark just minutes before, walking towards T’Challa with determination written on his face, it mingled with the panic in an unpleasant way- twisting the man’s features.
“I want to be there when you check in on him. Stark… Tony. He was important to someone close to me. I need to know that I didn’t fail him by following Rogers like I did Laura and the kids.” The archer pleaded, sounding nothing like the man Bucky had come to know. Instead of anger there was concern and pain in his voice, and by the look Natasha sent him he wasn’t the only one noticing the change. T’Challa looked unimpressed, before shaking his head and glaring at the room as a whole.
“All of you will be staying in this wing. I made many mistakes myself- first going after Barnes without knowing for sure that he had been the one to kill my father, and then in providing you haven. Dr. Stark’s work on the Accords have kept them from becoming something truly horrific. He has had to work with corrupt people in power to circumnavigate their authority and hold on the Accords. If Rogers has managed to kill him, then a great deal of damage has been done to that progress. But this alarming news wasn't my original reasons for visiting. Wanda Maximoff, the magic users who monitor my palace grounds have observed a large amount of your magic at work tonight. As such your ability to use them have been limited, given the chaotic and negative nature that was observed. These restrictions will not be removed for as long as you are in Wakanda. I’m not in the business of allowing harmful elements free reign to my people, or those under my protection.” He intoned. Wanda suddenly didn’t look so smug. She screeched, standing up and for a moment her hands glowed red, before the power snapped back into her body causing her to pass out. Clint Stared at her as her body hit the floor with a thump, but didn’t make his way to her. Just 20 minutes ago he would have ran to her and shouted at T’Challa for harming her, but now? She had made an aggressive move towards a king who was doing his job and he couldn’t find it in him to care if she had gotten herself hurt. It was strange, considering the urges he had been experiencing to protect her from the world. .
“I need to know Tony is okay.” Clint insisted, turning to look at T’Challa. The King snorted.
“I will update you all when I know of his condition. Lets pray that help did indeed arrive and he feels generous once he is healed. Mr. Rogers’ lie puts me in the precarious place of having abandoned an injured man to the colds of Siberia with no confirmed help coming to his aid and that is a grievous slight that I cannot forgive myself for.” The King murmured, before leaving. Bucky didn’t stop the fist that snapped Steve’s head up on impact but he was betting the Archer wished he had as he shook his fist in pain. All the he did was shake his head as Steve recovered and looked at the group balefully, then at Bucky- his eyes sad, and maybe just a little disappointed in him.
“I had to protect Bucky. You didn’t see Stark… he was going to kill him, and it wasn’t Bucky’s fault. He didn’t choose to kill Howard and his wife.” Steve spoke finally, his voice broken and begging for the team to understand that he had just been protecting his friend. Clint snorted, glaring at him.
“I’ve seen what Tony’s suits are capable of. If he wanted either of you dead, you wouldn’t be here. Before your precious Bucky let us in on what really happened I thought you two had lucked out. That he was just being a vengeful dick and that he had gotten off sending you off hurt. That pissed me off because I lost sight of the man someone dear to me fell for, I bought into all of this anti-Tony hype, knowing damn well that my friend wouldn’t have looked twice at him if he was really like that. And God knows I took that hype to extreme in my rants, though strangely enough I’m not angry now. Just disgusted. You made the wrong call Cap, we all did. Let’s just hope you didn’t make it so we can’t fix what we tore apart and threw away.” The Archer spat at him, before leaving the lounge- heading to his room no doubt. Bucky felt his lips twitch at that. Maybe Barton wasn’t so bad after all.
“You understand, don’t you Bucky? You know what I was only doing what I had to do to protect you?” Steve’s sad voice broke him from his thoughts. He raised an eyebrow at the man who had done his best to burn down the world in his name and shook his head negatively in response.
“I really don’t. You were team mates. He thought you were friends, even said so himself when you had him laying prone on the ground. But you screwed Stark over six ways to Sunday, and that’s not just talking about what happened in Siberia. You must have never really liked the man, because you knew that Hydra used me to kill his parent’s and you never said a word to him. That’s not the action of a friend. At the time you didn’t even know if I could come back from that and even now we still don’t know for sure even though I’m not outright trying to kill you all- I have triggers that can be used to control me that need to be removed, they can erase the progress I have made if they get control of me again. You used him while he had something to give you, but once you got your goal? That man became disposable as you proved in Siberia, and that’s not the Stevie of my few memories. So no I don’t understand why the hell you’ve waged a war like this. Seems to me a man like Stark? One that would come to back up two men who he was in the middle of a disagreement with while having no back up to protect his own ass? He wouldn’t have let me disappear into some shady organizations grasps without a fight. So all this nonsense about protecting me? It’s lies you’re telling yourself to justify what an ass you’ve been.” He replied bluntly, before leaving the room himself to wait on news on Stark. He didn’t want to spend the time they would be waiting with Steve or the others though. Not after the last 48 hours.
Chapter 4: Of Waiting and Learning the Damages
AN: Wow, the response to this has been amazing. I love all the reviews, and A couple good points have been brought up :) He's another Chapter for you all, hope you enjoy!
The talk with Dr. Strange, which was had after the other man finished his part in Tony’s surgery, was enlightening in a good way. At no point in it did the other man assume that he wanted a ride home right then and there. The Sorcerer seemed to immediately understand that he while he was looking for transport, it was to bring in reinforcements. And he heartily approved of that course of action if his quick agreement to deliver a message and transport those who wanted to come here was anything to go by. The magic user seemed happy that Steve didn’t intend to leave for a while yet. Strange knew something was coming, and when he heard of just what had happened in Steve’s world, he promised to do what he could to help prevent Tony from having to wear the Gauntlet again. The out of reality soldier didn’t know if he could trust this version of Strange to keep his word, given his reality was one of the few ones they won in and the temptation to take the beaten path may prove to be too much. Steve had made a video to explain what was going on for his team to watch and sent it with him all the same though. Even if the sorcerer had plans… with the other Avengers here Tony wouldn’t be the price of victory.
And now, after the near constant interrogations, research, and plotting that had distracted him from his worry, he was just sitting here. Waiting for Tony to wake up while Rhodes and Potts caught up on some sleep and Coulson was off getting his head looked at. It had been a busy two days to say the least, and even though Rhodes had offered to get him a hotel room to sleep in Steve hadn’t wanted Tony waking up and assuming he was just a hallucination again because he had left him. That would destroy whatever progress Steve had made in that Bunker, and he knew it. Steve had set up the tablet on a charger as soon as he was let into the room and Jarvis had found a way into the hospitals systems so he could monitor the genius himself. Steve was glad for that, because he knew that the AI would let him know quicker then the machines if something was off with the recovering man. The AI had years of experience to draw from, making him an expert on the acceptable ranges though the formula may have changed them slightly.
The changes from the formula that Pepper had used on the Genius were painfully visible in the smooth, sleeping face even now, so he couldn’t even imagine the full scope of things to come. Tony looked decades younger- the years just erased by what Potts had approved to be used on him even though they would never truly be gone in the ways that would really matter. Like his memories. Steve found it odd to look over and see someone so young just laying there. The oddness didn’t just come from having known and loved his Tony though. He had seen the other man’s face in the bunker, had seen the laugh and stress line that were now history, so he knew just what had changed. He also knew the other man would have some adjusting ahead of him because Tony had never been one to wish he was younger again, at least the one he had known hadn't been.
He was startled out of his thoughts as Jarvis began speaking. After a moment Steve realized that he wasn’t speaking to him though. He was reading to Tony, his voice soft and cultured. Reassuring in a steadying way as it fell into a sort of cadence. Steve smiled softly at the sound, even though he knew anyone could stop by and hear the presumed destroyed AI speaking and cause a fuss, Jarvis- the one in his world often read to Tony when he was in any sort of distress. Seeing yet another similarity drove the fact that this Tony had lived thinking his AI was dead for years home in a way that retrieving him from the server hadn’t. Tony had been left without this comfort, and had in no way been able to depend on his teammates to make up for it’s loss. The recovering man needed this comfort even if he wasn’t aware of it so Steve wouldn’t try and stop the AI from providing what he could.
The story telling reminded him that the Jarvis in his world was alone also. After Tony died he had began only answering questions when asked and never putting forth his own thoughts on any matter. No matter how much they tried to engage him it was clear that he had withdrawn from the humans that were left behind. Tony and Jarvis needed each other, there was no changing or doubting that. When he got Tony to come with him, they would have to find someway to bring this Jarvis with them. With the one in his world occupying a body there was plenty of space for him on the servers. He couldn’t in his right mind separate them again and he didn't think Tony would let him even if there was another JARVIS waiting on the other side.
“Jarvis?!” A voice exclaimed from the door to the private hospital room, sounding shocked and desperate and shaking Steve from his thoughts. Steve’s eyes shot to the door and he resisted a groan as he realized that his plan to keep the A.I. secret until the unconscious genius woke was done for. Staring wide eyed at the tablet where Jarvis was still speaking from was Rhodes. The man was in his wheelchair, which was a good thing considering he looked like he was going to faint at the sound of the AI’s voice. His reaction was to be expected since Jarvis had been a part of this man’s life as well though, and he knew what the A.I’s absence had caused.
“Surprise? In my world Tony was religious about backing J up daily, so in the event of a failure of his main program there was no way he would be killed. I took a chance and found him where I thought he would be. Considering everyone assumed he was destroyed, I’m willing to bet a certain witch had a hand in keeping Tony and maybe whoever he had told about the back ups from remembering there was a way to bring him home.” Steve murmured, unable to raise his voice to speak above the AI. He really didn’t want to disturb his task after all. The AI’s was doing his best to comfort Tony, even if the other man wasn’t aware of his surroundings while he slept. Rhodes eyes teared up as he looked to Steve, before he wheeled himself into the room.
“Dear God Steve. You have no idea how much this is going to mean to Tones.” The man said roughly, his eyes going back to the tablet. Steve snorted, looking at the too young and pale sleeping man, before back at Rhodes.
“I think I may. When Tony told me about the damage he sustained and that he would most likely need the reactor implanted again I told him I’d make sure Jarvis had it ready at whatever hospital. The pain in his voice when he told me Jarvis was gone and Friday was his AI now isn’t something I will ever forget. I know how much my Tony cared for Jarvis, and imagining this Tony without him for years… I would say I was surprised he was functional, but I’m not. He’s to stubborn to lay down and give up.” He replied, trying not to get angry over this worlds past again. Rhodes smiled sadly, looking over his best friend.
“He’s never known what it means to stay down. Never had the chance to. I met him when he was this skinny 14 year old to damn smart and jaded for his own good. All of his life, people have just taken and taken. It’s about damn time someone came along who gives and doesn’t want him for money or favors he could give.” The Soldier murmured, sounding old and worn out. This world was just as bad for him as it was for Tony. It had beaten him down, and spat him out. Losing Tony would be hard on him- almost as hard as losing Tony would have been to JARVIS, but before Steve could go making plans to take everyone who had a connection to Tones with them he needed to actually talk with his team and with Rhodes if the reaction was favorable. He put the thought out of his mind for now- Rhodes had plenty of connections of his own here that he may not want to leave and they couldn’t take a whole damn army back home with them.
“Captain Rogers, Coronel Rhodes I have just intercepted an inquiry concerning Sir's health that originates in Wakanda and was originally directed towards Ms. Potts. I have taken the liberty to make sure she did not receive it however, given her recent actions that were not Sir’s personal preferences in relation to treatment of his person. Shall I ignore the inquiry, or do you wish for me to respond?” Jarvis broke through the heavy mood that had fallen on the two men, his storytelling stopped for the moment. Rhodes stiffened in his chair, his lips curling into a snarl as he realized what the A.I. was saying. He damn well knew who was in Wakanda.
“What the hell do they want? I looked at the tracker’s Tones installed in the gear he designed, if those fucks want to hide away with the King that’s their business. At least it is until the moment Tones okays me bringing them the hell in to face the music for what they have done. But they do not get to ask about the man they left to die. That is not going to happen, no way in hell. It’s like the abusive husband hovering to make sure his beaten wife doesn’t rat him out.” the wheelchair bound man hissed angrily. Steve stiffened as the point of who may be asking was driven home. He hadn’t expected them to reach out- because that would mean that they gave a damn about the man laying in that bed and from his research that was unlikely. But Rhodes comparison was scary because it could be accurate.
“Further inquiry on the origin indicates that the sender is the King Coronel, he was apparently unaware of the injuries Sir suffered, and the fact his suit was disabled until Mr. Barnes told the group about the events in Siberia. He appears… worried about Sir’s status.” Jarvis replied, his tone stiff and unforgiving. The man had done Tony no favors in believing Rogers after all, so it seemed the protective A.I. had placed them in the same category as the ex-avengers. Steve let himself relax slightly at the fact that the message hadn’t been from Rogers or any of his team though. T’Challa asking was different then his demented double, the man may actually care about Tony’s well being and regret listening to Rogers. Steve wouldn’t trust the demented double to be able to feel worry to be honest. He had looked into his other self’s face in that bunker and had seen one thing. The man was thinking of no one but himself and Bucky, so there was no reason to think that had changed now. Rhodes exhaled sharply after a moment, clearly fighting himself as he thought over that information.
“Alright JARVIS, we’ll give him a chance to either prove he’s a decent human being or bury himself with the likes of the ex-Avengers. Reply that Tony is still unconscious after near 48 hours in surgery. His prognosis unknown, but the arc reactor had to be put in place again. Direct any further messages to my phone though. I don’t want to let Pepper catch wind of this please, because I’m not sure that she won’t end up causing a war trying to get to Rogers and the rest. She’ll mean well of course, but everything is too damn raw right now.” The older man directed before pausing, his lips twisting into something unfriendly as he thought of something else. “Also, can you please remind the King that being left with no means to stabilize Tony beyond the basic first aid the Alternate who saved his life could do did nothing to help his current health. Let the king know how many times Tones’ heart stopped- how many times he died before he was stabilized.” He added, before sending an apologetic look at Steve, already looking ashamed of what he had authorized.
“As you wish Coronel.” Jarvis replied, sounding approving even if Rhodes was regretting his decision. The A.I continued reading to Tony. Rhodes’ smile turned bitter as he sank into his chair.
“I want them to hurt like he did- both when he was literally dying from the beating Rogers gave him, and when he was burning from the inside out because of Pepper’s decision. But that may have been going to far. Tony doesn’t like his personal stuff aired out.” He murmured after a moment. Steve didn’t know what to say to that. He wouldn’t tell the man if he was right or wrong in telling Jarvis to release the information that he did. It was more then the insane versions of the people he knew deserved in his opinion, and he had no doubt T’Challa would share. But he was rather biased and unafraid to admit it. He was here for Tony and Tony alone plain and simple. Making sure this world wasn’t destroyed by Thanos was just a side effect because he knew what his Tony would do.
“What they do or feel about that information is up to them. I’ve already got the impression that they’re all twisted compared to the people I know, but that’s mainly based on what these versions have done to Tony and gotten away with because he’s to willing to take the blame for other people’s mistakes thinking he deserves no less. He deserves the world, and everything good it has to offer, not being stabbed in the back by people he should be able to trust.” He muttered, before leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes, feeling utterly exhausted and like he was done talking in circles. Jarvis would let him know if Tony’s vitals changed, or when his team arrived if that happened before the genius woke. He hoped it did, so they could all be in place to protect the other man. With what Rhodes had told Jarvis to tell the king it was possible the demented versions would be trying to get back to the U.S. with claims of wanting to help Tony. He didn’t know if he could stop that, but if he couldn’t prevent it then he wanted his team at his and Tony’s side. Rhodes didn’t say anything as he left the room a short time later, but then again Steve was already asleep by then.
T’Challa looked at the reply to his enquiry with a heavy heart. Even if he wanted to pretend the sender was over exaggerating the extent of Dr. Stark’s injuries from Siberia, records had been included prevented that. He had willfully left a man who had been seriously injured by a man who he now had under his protection behind with no guarantee of help. Dr. Stark was lucky to be among the living now, but it did not change the fact that the man had died, medically speaking, several times before he was stabilized. Bile rose in his throat as he though back to Barnes’ explanation of why and how the fight had started. If he had been faced with Barnes at the height of his anger over the man supposedly killing his father T’Challa would have ended his life. Stark had been well within his rights to ‘get a hit in’ considering what he had found out- what he had seen.
Rogers obsession with Barnes was dangerous it seemed, if he could kill a team mate who was faced with the killer of his parents rather then subdue him until the rage of the moment passed. He rubbed a hand over his face, before standing up and heading towards the wing of the palace that was housing his ‘guests’. He would keep his words and inform them of what he had found out about their former team mates health, but this news made his life infinitely harder. His council had not been pleased with the fugitives claiming sanctuary here in the first place. Even contained, the danger they presented was clear now- friend or not if you went against them it could end in your death.
There would be repercussions for this act of violence, even if Rogers wanted to act like he was the wronged party that was only working in defense of someone else. It had gone beyond defense when Stark was disabled and the attack had continued, and there was nothing T’Challa could- Or would do to defend the man if charges were pressed against him. He had offered Barnes sanctuary to make up for the wrongs he had committed against him, not the group of wanted fugitives but Rogers had assumed and T’Challa hadn’t seen a downside to helping them all. As he neared the guest wing one of his guards went ahead to gather the people within to the lounge area- it had been a number of hours since he had left them- tracking down a direct line to Ms. Potts had been exceedingly hard, but then again Stark would want his CEO and Ex protected so he wasn’t surprised.
“How is he?” Barton asked as he entered, looking red eyed and distressed. The other man had been crying recently, which was strange considering some of the things the King had heard him say about the injured man. But then again he could have realized just how much he had screwed up his life by following Rogers blindly, there were many explanations considering everything that had happened. T’Challa motioned for him to wait as the others entered, he was in no mood to repeat himself so the Archer could stand a few moments more of not knowing. The witch was in his medical wing under close observation now, she had been moved there after things had calmed earlier. T’Challa couldn’t prove it but he thought she had been affecting these people’s minds and emotions and had been since she joined them because he could see changes in there personalities without her around. That didn’t excuse their actions though it did go to explaining how things had broken down within the group so fast. Influence or not they had broken laws and injured civilians though, and while the influence may help lessen the charges they would be facing- they to would be making reparations all the same.
“Tony is fine right? He’s at home in his workshop, probably a bit sore. But he’s fine. He may have thought he was more injured then he was because of the shock, but I couldn’t have hurt him that badly. He had his suit on.” Rogers preempted him, desperate to assure himself and the others that he hadn’t truly harmed the other man. T’Challa made sure to make eye contact with Rogers and hold it so the other man knew how serious he was at this moment. There would be no mistaking what he had done, no covering it up to save face like he was used to doing apparently..
“Dr. Stark has had his arc reactor replaced to prevent shards of his false sternum and ribs that were shattered during your assault from ending his life. He was in surgery for close to 48 hours, and his heart had to be restarted after prolonged stops six times before he was stabilized. He is still unconscious, and it is unknown when he will wake. Medical records were provided to make sure no one would think this an over exaggeration, I have gone over them myself to be sure there was no deception playing out.” He intoned, his voice sharp and hard as the vibramium that his country sourced. Rogers seemed to fold into himself while Barton and Barnes stared at him in horror. Barton cursed, his voice raw and pained as he glared at Captain America for a second before looking at T’Challa, his expression shifting into something else. Something more panicked but determined in a way that it hadn’t been while T’Challa had known him.
“I need a way to where Tony is and I’d like your help. I… I failed him and my husband long enough. Phil would have wanted me taking care of Tony, not spiting insults at him and acting like he is everything wrong in the world because he isn’t. Far from it and I’ve been too damn angry to admit it. Right now, Tony needs people to have his back and he doesn’t have that with all of us here and his best friend injured. The recovery from this won’t be pretty. Hopefully he remembers what Phil meant to him, what Phil wanted before I shot him down, and believes me when I say I don’t want to hurt him. And I need to make things up to Laura and our kids, this has gone on long enough, and there is no fucking reason for it to continue.” he asked, pleading just to be able to go home. T’Challa’s mouth tightened as the other man spoke. There was no legal way to get him into the U.S. let alone to the severely injured Stark’s side. Not with the man being a wanted Criminal.
“I’m sorry, but until the laws you have broken in the very least have been addressed it will not be possible.” He replied tightly, not caring if he was dashing the man’s plans on the rocks. They had all made the decision to act as they had, and Stark was paying the price for it. Barnes snorted, looking like the Archer was a bug that he could crush. The former assassin looked away after a moment to glance at the others, before his eyes landed on T’Challa.
“If you can, will you keep us updated on his recovery? So Barton and the rest of Steve's little band of idiots don’t get themselves arrested trying to be his hero because he was almost killed by Steve and end up finding yet another reason to blame Stark for their bad decisions when their attempts go pear shaped?” the Soldier grunted, when it looked like the Archer was going to protest being told that he would have to wait until he had made up for the wrongs he had committed. Rogers gagged, and scrambled for a waste bin- his stomach emptying in violent heaves as realization hit him. T’Challa had no pity to spare for the man, instead he nodded to Barnes and the former captive let out a heavy sigh.
“Thank you. I’m also going to have to request someone to work on these triggers with. I won’t put anyone in danger while they are still a threat that can be used, but frankly Barton is right- Stark needs someone able at his six. Rhodes is disabled, Vision compromised by that witch, and I’m not trusting a kid to be able to take on threats while the guy is recuperating.” the assassin added after another moment. Again T’Challa nodded, relief flooding him at the confirmation that Barnes both wanted help for his own issues, and wanted to help Iron Man with the weight of responsibility the rouges had just dumped on him by abandoning him on the Captain’s call.
“I will have our best at your disposal. Sargent Barnes. May your recovery be swift, for I fear without Dr. Stark smoothing the way your present company will have much longer a wait before they will be welcome into the U.S. Dr. Stark presented a new device that was specifically aimed at working through PTSD among other things the day that Siberia happened. We may be able to utilize it in your recovery, and if that’s possible the removal process should be greatly shortened in comparison to conventional means. He had also been working on the legal side of your issues, since Secretary Ross was focusing on the fact your body had committed crimes there were some would have had you answer his call to bring you in. That is almost taken care of as Dr. Stark has been able to confirm that you were in essence a P.O.W. and not in control of your actions through petitions and submitting the records he was able to find to support his claim. Obviously he didn't have access to all of your missions since Zemo was able to use that against him, but he had enough records of what had been done to you for his case.” He added, needing to assure the other man verbally that he would be getting the help he was requesting, and that Stark himself had been working on something that may help hasten the progress. Informing the other man that Stark had been working to clear his name and the fact that once his triggers were taken care of his path to helping the injured man would be clear was just another plus in the Kings opinion. Barnes shot a glare at Rogers before looking back at T’Challa with frustration clear on his face.
“It seems Rogers was an idiot in more then one way. He’s been taking the easy way out while Stark did all the heavy lifting in all of this. And Stark did it not knowing he was clearing his parent’s killer because someone saw fit to use him for what he was worth. I’ve got a whole lot to make up for because of the punk it seems.” He replied, his voice stiff and angry. T’Challa did not blame him for his rage- Rogers had done him and Dr. Stark a great disservice with both his actions and his lies.
Tony Stark was a man of the future, something that he had proved time and time again as the past quickly becoming just that in his man dealings all over the world. The other man was also more then smart enough to distinguish action committed while controlled by another from actions done under free will. Any anger Stark may have held towards Barnes for what he was forced to do would not have lasted long and he would have kept helping Rogers without the deception. But the former Avenger had not been able to see that, and had hid the truth while using the billionaires funds and good will. If this was how Roger’s treated a friend then T’Challa didn’t want to be counted among them- for his own safety in the very least.
“Indeed.” He agreed, before turning and leaving the room, and those within it to their own devices as he headed to his sister. He had to decided on what he would offer Stark to make up for the grievous wrong he himself had committed against the other man by trusting Rogers and leaving Stark to a slow, cold death. As the king thought that his stomach rolled and he swallowed down the bile that threatened to come up once again. For one brief moment he had considered that perhaps the Captain’s crusade was just. That he was fighting against a corrupt Government and protecting someone he loved, but he was just as naïve as his father always told him he was. The previous King would be so disappointed in him and the choices that he had made since his death, but he couldn’t change what had happened, he could only make sure that history didn’t repeat itself. He had to be wiser when it came to what he believed, and less impulsive in the actions that he took.
Chapter 5: Reinforcements and Waking to a Dream
AN: Alright, this is the Chapter where the story took hold of the reigns before informing me that it no longer wanted to go the direction that I had originally planned for it. That being said I hope you enjoy the direction it took itself in.
Also, I've decided that I'm going to start a discord Channel. It will be used to discuss my works of course, but I'd also like to see a comminity of writers coming together and talking. We can encourage each other ect.
You can find my Writing Corner by following this invite (AKA Copy the link before into your address bar and hit enter)
Luck was on Steve’s side for once apparently, which was a blessing considering it had been a while since he could claim that. Sometime in the early morning Steve woke to Jarvis calling his name because Strange had returned and he had left the requested people in the waiting room before returning to the Sanctuary to check in on Coulson’s progress. Given the mission that he had accepted, he had left the other man there to be helped with the aftermath of Fury resurrecting him. Sparing the still sleeping genius a look and promising him that he wouldn’t be long mentally Steve made his way out to the waiting room. Already it felt like a weight had been taken of his shoulder’s, with the others here he could be sure that Tony was protected, that he would wake up to a world where he was as cherished as he always should have been. And Steve would have help in his mission to convince the other man that he belonged with them, in their right world, after all of this business with Thanos was said and done. Steve knew deep down, that with the people he had asked over by his side, the genius wouldn’t know what hit him. The tenseness in the group was the first thing Steve noticed, as he came from the recovery/ long term area and that had him a little worried to tell the truth.
“Hey, Thanks for coming. I got to ask you not to kill me for disappearing like I did though. It wasn’t exactly my plan, but if Reed’s experiment blown up completely then whatever it was would have done a hell of a lot of damage.” He greeted, hoping that the unexplained tension wasn’t directed towards him. With everything that had happened in this world so far, he didn’t know if he could handle them being angry with him on top of it all. Clint looked at him like he was an idiot- which was odd since the other man normally cracked a joke to relieve tension. The absence of normal did nothing to relax Steve, as he felt himself tense in response to the atmosphere.
“You didn’t listen to Reed when he explained just what he was working on did you?” the Archer asked after a moment of examining Steve’s form, his voice cracking. Steve’s eyes focused on him instead of wandering over the group as he wondered what was going on. He really hadn’t listened to closely to the explanation, but Clint’s question made him think that whatever he had missed was key to explaining why his partners were looking the way that they were.
“It went over my head a little bit. I kinda tuned him out to be honest.” He admitted ruefully, trying to remember the parts he had caught and failing to come up with much. All he had known was mid-lecture alarms started blaring and he had gone running. He’d managed to defuse most of the experiment, but not all of it as seen by the fact that he had appeared here in Siberia in time to save Tony’s life. Clint inhaled shakily at the admission, and Phil’s hand found the Archer’s arm, steadying him as he swayed. Fury’s right hand man looked at Steve before he took a breath, and looked towards the doors he had come from like he wanted to set off through them without delay but was managing to hold himself back for Steve’s sake.
“Reed was trying to figure out what happened when Tony used the gauntlet. We knew that to bring everyone back, there must have been some sort of exchange, since in bringing everyone back we lost Tony. There wasn’t even a body for us to bury, most of the stones were gone, but the gauntlet was left behind. Reed had been using the gauntlet in his attempt for a quantifiable answer, for closure that there was nothing someone could do to bring him back. When the part of the experiment that you weren’t able to shut down blew, it was the same thing over but instead of the gauntlet being left behind you were both gone. We were convinced you were dead too Steve, at least until Strange appeared with that tablet.” Phil explained softly, his tone almost comforting. It was his agent breaking upsetting news tone, but Steve wasn’t really concentrating on that. Instead he was thinking about coincidences that were to damn convenient. What were the chances of an experiment like Reed’s dumping him in another universe in front of a version of the man he loved that was about to be killed? It had to be small, and he would say the others agreed. Something in Steve had instinctively known that this Tony was painfully like his Tony. What if…
“Oh.” He murmured, thinking back to the now younger man in bed in a room recovering, there had to be a reason Reed’s experiment had dropped him where it did. And if it was what he thought it was, then he truly was going to have to kill his demented other self. There had been no connection to that Bunker in his world, only to the man that he had saved. Clint snorted, his lips crooking in an amused smile as he watched Steve’s mind put together the possibilities that his trip through dimensions had created.
“Yeah, oh he says like it’s nothing.” The archer snarked playfully, then yipped as Bucky elbowed him. Steve shot his oldest friend a grin as the Archer pouted, but the former assassin didn’t reply in kind, he stared into Steve’s eyes for a moment before grunting.
“Where is he, and what’s his condition? What you shared in the sit rep didn’t make any of us happy, considering the what ifs in this situation.” The other super soldier asked briskly, getting down to business and breaking humor of the moment up by reminding everything of the implications of what Reed’s experiment had been for. Steve had assumed that it was something to do with dimensions and travel considering his transportation, but he had been so far off the truth that it wasn’t funny. He motioned for them to follow him, noticing that Natasha and Bruce had yet to speak and it didn’t look like they would be. As he walked he tried to swallow the knot in his throat.
“The Doc say he’s just resting at this point- he’s not in danger or anything as far as anyone can tell. The solution Ms. Potts authorized took a lot out of him, but his injuries from the attack are no longer an issue.” He murmured, answering Bucky’s question when he felt he could, it just happened to be at the door to Tony’s room. “He looks younger then we ever knew him though, and I’m not entirely sure what else to expect from the solution.” He admitted, before pushing the door open. Jarvis was silent as the door opened, observing them no doubt but Steve couldn't fault him for being cautious given the versions of them that he had known. The A.I.'s approval would go a long way though, so Steve didn't call attention to him.
Steve wasn’t surprised when Clint pushed passed him and scrambled up into the bed with Tony, pulling the genius into his lap as he situated himself into a sitting position behind him. Phil was much less hasty, but he ended up on the bed at the genius side. Between the two of them the other man was cocooned in warmth and protected. Nat sat on the bed at Tony’s feet, lounging against the wall. She had never been on Tony’s dance card, but given the relationship Clint and Phil had with him she was always close by and protective of the genius. Seeing them all together eased Steve’s mind. Anyone coming after Tony would have a fight on their hands that they wouldn’t win.
As Steve thought that, Bruce and Bucky entered the room and stared the man on the bed for a moment before doing anything, Bruce moved first, sitting on the floor before reacing up to lay a hand on Tony's, while Bucky pouted towards the bed. Steve snickered under his breath, knowing that Bucky would prefer to be up there, cuddling the much smaller man like the others were. He wrapped his arm around Bucky’s waist, pulling him closer and the assassin relaxed into his arm, his flesh arm wrapping around Steve.
“He looks so damn young now. And hell Stevie, he’s been through so much. Makes me want to get him home and let this damn world burn” Bucky murmured under his breath, still staring at the man in the bed intently. Steve bit his lip and nodded.
“I didn’t plan on leaving him here Buck. Even before you all came here with the what ifs the nature of Reed’s experiment brings up. This world? It’s a Tony Stark hell. The people here? Most of them are.. different from you guys and the ones back home. And he’s not. I could hear it in his voice, I’ve seen it in the history of this world. He’s so much like our Tony that it hurts.” He murmured in reply. Bucky grunted and pulled Steve in for a kiss. Out of all of them the former Assassin had been with Tony the least amount of time, but he had seen more then enough of what losing the genius had done to them to know what this possibility meant to everyone involved.
And of course Bucky had felt the genius’ loss himself, even being with him as short of a time as he had he knew the devastation they had all felt first hand. It was impossible not to miss the genius after knowing him even for a moment. Bucky had instantly fallen for Tony when they had finally met though. The genius had taken one look at him, told him that he had just been the weapon, given him a shiny nick name and sealed the deal with a hug before groping his ass when they had finally found him. And Really, who could blame the assassin for not wanting to let that ball of energy go?
“You saved him Stevie, and if those what if’s are true, then us convincing him to go with us is just us bringing him home. We’re not going to let anything happen to him I promise. And if someone needs to use that damn gauntlet again we’ll stick it on your double before it touches ever his hands. It’s the least the asshole can do after almost killing Tones.” He murmured, his lips still touching the other soldier’s. Steve swallowed hard, nodding and willing himself to believe that seeing this world through Thanos wouldn’t end the way it had in their world. Bucky sighed at his reaction, before pulling him to the chair Steve had been sleeping in and dragging him into it. Once they had arranged themselves into a somewhat comfortable position, Steve felt himself drifting back to sleep, knowing that he felt comfortable enough to do so because there was a room full of people looking after Tony now. He wasn’t alone in being responsible for keeping the smaller man from harm, and there was no way in hell that what he had stopped would happen again. For the first time since the explosion and his arrival here, Steve could just breath.
Tony felt secure- that was his first impression on waking and it set him at ease. He was warm and secure with multiple bodies laying around his- protecting him and not restraining. The position brought forth images of vivid dreams he had after Afghanistan- dreams that had helped him keep his shit together even as Stane ripped the reactor from his chest. Unfortunately the dreams had stopped when he flew the nuke into the portal, when he had woken up after passing out thinking that maybe Coulson would be waiting for him on the other side since he had just gotten himself killed. It had hurt to have those dreams after the hulk had roared and he had woken from what he had hoped to be his end- imagining a world where the people he housed actually gave a damn was killing him. So he had actively stopped sleeping until they were gone in a rare fit of self preservation.
He needed those dreams right now though. After Siberia and the version of Rogers who protected him and called him babe like the one in his dreams had, the need to be able to sleep and be loved like that was strong. So he accepted that he wasn’t really awake after all and then he burrowed into the warmth and told himself to keep dreaming, to stay where it was safe and warm, because god knows the real world would not be kind when he got around to waking up. Not with the damages he had taken in that fight, recovering would be a new kind of hell. He felt a kiss pressed into his hair before another landed on his cheek and multiple voiced shushed him as he groaned.
“You’re safe now, we won’t let anyone hurt you again.” Phil’s voice murmured huskily, heavy with sleep. Tony’s eyes clenched shut tighter, desperate to hold onto that voice, that tone. This was Dream!Phil all over, and he didn’t want to ever wake up. Once upon a time he had fooled himself into thinking the dreams were some omen of things to come, especially when he had gotten closer to the real life Coulson, only to have those thoughts proved wrong when he wasn’t introduced to and seduced by the handler’s equally handsome husband. By the time he met Barton in real life, Coulson was dead and he couldn’t even be sure the men’s lives were anything like his dreams because years later he had found out about Barton’s wife- the woman who had been just a family friend in his dreams. He couldn’t imagine Clint ever crossing that line, even if they had lost Phil, so every part of him rejected the idea that their relationship had been the same in real life in fact.
“Don’t ever want to wake up if I get to keep the dreams this time.” slipped out of his lips before he could stop it. Really a relaxed and comfortable brain was not his friend when it came to keeping his thoughts to himself. A rumbling, kind of wet sounding laugh sounded from under his head, making him press further into the sound to try and sooth the hurt he could hear in it, and toned arms tightened around him in response to his cuddling. He let himself be pulled into the embrace as tight as the dream wanted, fully willing to be held and comforted himself. If he was awake… Well that might be a different story. He didn’t have very many people that he could trust to get this close and not hurt him at the moment, so as much as he would want to be held… he would just push that need down and he knew it. The waking world would not be any sort of place for him to show weakness after Siberia, St-Rogers had proven that he had made yet another mistake in trusting people.
“It’s not a dream Shellhead. Stevie called in for back ups once he realized how utterly demented this world’s versions of us were and we came to help you.” The chest under his head rumbled as Barton’s unmistakable voice murmured into his hair, thick with emotions that had no right to be in the real world. He had long accepted the fact that the dreams that had comforted him had been a complex imagining that he created to cope with the trauma that had happened in Afghanistan.
The fact that he wanted to believe this dream so badly hurt in ways that Tony couldn’t explain, knowing once he woke up this would all be gone. Over the years, meeting each star of his dreams and finding out that they were nothing like his imagination had painted them to be had steadily worn away at him. He had tried so hard to be the kind of person that would inspire the behavior of his dreams, but it only ever hurt him in the end. He was so tired of it all. So he didn’t respond to the assurances, instead- since this was his dream, he just pressed a kiss to the chest below his face and wondered why Dream Clint had a shirt on- It was in his way of reaching skin, and he could do with some skin on skin contact. The thought almost made him smile.
“I think someone needs some coffee before he’ll even consider this isn’t a dream Clint. You know how our genius is on a good day, and with what he’s been through this is far from a good day in his books. I’ll go get him some to kick start his brain and all of this into something more then him denying reality and clutching onto dreams, since I doubt any of you can pry yourselves from his side given everything that has happened.” Another painfully familiar voice murmured from somewhere by his feet. He was tempted to look up as Natasha climbed off the bed- to double check that she had a smile on her face instead of the grimace the real world Natasha would be sporting these days, but that would mean opening his eyes and ruining the dream. So he stayed burrowed in the warmth, and his resolve to stay sleeping hardened as the final voice that cemented this was just a wonderful dream that would kill him to wake up from spoke.
“According to Sir’s Medical records He is allowed Coffee Ms. Romanov, so you will not be stopped in your attempt to caffeinate him, there is nothing in his system that it will affect negativity. I would suggest you bring a few cups to ensure his wakefulness.” Jarvis- his sweet, dead because of him, baby boy’s voice instructed Nat solemnly. Tony didn’t know when he started shaking, but he noticed the arms around him tightening even more and Clint started shushing calmingly in his ear. But he couldn’t calm down. He wouldn’t wake up if it meant loosing J all over again. Once had almost been more then he could bare. This dream… He wanted it to last forever and he would do anything to keep it. Phil growled slightly when his shaking didn’t calm- reminding Tony that it was a protective noise as soon as it happened by pressing a kiss to the skin behind his ear.
“The Witch is quickly coming in first on my list of people I’m eliminating in this world Tone. You’ve always been religious in backing JARVIS up, of keeping a copy of his program that was up to date in case of anything happening to the main, so losing him was never an option. That didn’t change here. Steve was able to bring him back as soon as he had a little time and a Stark Pad in his hands. He’s been right here with you since you got out of surgery.” Phil soothed, telling him the impossible. Ultron had utterly ripped JARVIS apart. There was no coming back from the damage that had been done. He had tried. Oh god had he tried to save his boy, and he had failed because he hadn’t been good enough to fix the tattered remains the insane AI had left behind. His eyes burned with tears that he couldn’t let fall, because he would inevitably blink, and wake up and with J here he couldn’t chance that. No matter how much he wanted to cry, he couldn’t so he could keep this dream a little longer.
“Sir, Please take a deep breath. You are in a private hospital, after being assaulted by your former team mate Steve Rogers. An alternate of Rogers saved your life and escorted you here, where he retrieved me while you were in surgery. Virginia Potts authorized use of a project that has now been erased from all known and unknown data banks after your heart stopped for the fifth time- the results are the lack of pain you no doubtingly expected to feel given the damage you remember being inflicted. You are healed and whole, it is 6:45am Monday the 7th of July. You are safe, surrounded by alternates of the Avengers who I have determined to be of no danger to your person.” JARVIS spoke up, his tone soothing, and just like the one he used when Tony was waking up with a panic attack from a nightmare. Tony exhaled heavily, part of him wanting to believe that this wasn’t a dream. But if that was true this opened a whole new can of worms. Such as why he had been ‘dreaming’ of people that may be real for one thing, because there was no mistaking the men holding him were the ones he had dreamed of. That wasn’t something that should be possible.
The dreams had started in that cave at some point- he can’t pinpoint when they had began though because in between the trauma and water boarding he had been pretty messed up. But they had given him hope that he could change, could be better, as much as his fellow captive had, and when he had come out of that cave painfully alone they had kept the guilt from destroying him while he reshaped his company into what he knew it could be. The dreams had comforted him when he was dying of poisoning from a metal that had no right being lodged in a human body, and helped spark the idea that he could be saved as much as dear old Dad’s homemade video had. In that moment he regretted actively repressing them- maybe they would have warned him that Rogers friend had been forced to murder his parents, and even if he hadn’t believed they were real he wouldn’t have had the emotional response that had lead to Rogers killing him- however temporary it had been.
“Pepper used Honey Bear’s cure one me J?” He asked focusing on the most alarming problem that JARVIS’ comfort had brought to his attention. If this was real, there was no way in hell that he could ignore that. It needed to be addressed, no matter how much he was afraid that speaking would end this dream. His voice was muffled and wavering as he purposefully interacted with the AI who might not be a dream and the genius contemplated what if would mean for him if this was true. He didn’t know what he would do if Pepper had gone so far off the wagon that she had been willing to do something he had told her never to do, no matter how desperate the situation was.
Tony had offered the formula to Rhodey after a couple quick adjustments to ensure the previously perfected formula fit what he wanted to offer, but after his honey bear had turned him down he realized he had become Howard in his pursuit to cure the man. He had tailored a formula that people would lust over- much as they had when Rogers became what he was today. It reminded him too damn much of Ultron to be honest- He had taken it on himself to create something that could be used for evil in the wrong hands and hadn’t thought of the consequences until after the fact. And now he had it running through his veins if this wasn’t a dream. JARVIS made a noise of displeasure.
“Affirmative, I have taken the liberty to alter your medical permissions so that she no longer holds the ability to make such decisions for you. From what I have been told by Friday it was your wish to never have that solution used on your person, and she willfully disregarded that wish.” The AI confirmed, the disapproving note in his voice showing his displeasure towards one of the people he had once considered a friend to his creator. Apparently Pepper saving his life by ignoring his wishes had changed that if the AI had removed her from making decisions on his health. His boy was always overprotective like that, she would be lucky if she ever earned that opinion back given this situation.
“Well shit.” fell out of Tony’s mouth as his mind went through all the possible side effects he could be looking forward if this wasn’t a dream. He had tailored it for a man with a broken back, designed it to fix the damage and to heal Rhodey of every hurt or ill that could happen to him in the future. That would explain why he wasn’t hurting now even though he was supposed to be fresh out of surgery. “J, did they have to put the reactor back in?” He asked suddenly, because his breathing wasn’t restricted and he didn’t feel uncomfortable at all- and he was laying on his chest at this point. He shouldn’t be able to stay in this position and breath with that hunk of metal in his chest- all healed or not, JARVIS hadn’t mentioned the reactor so maybe they hadn’t had to use if after all.
“Due to the excessive force involved in the assault, the blows to your chest area caused the artificial sternum and ribs that were grafted in when the first reactor was removed to shatter. It was necessary for the reactor to be replaced, even with the solution used, given that complication. The unaccounted for shards would have continually caused damage, and may have even killed you eventually Sir.” JARVIS replied, dashing Tony’s hopes that his prediction in the bunker had been false. The lack of pain and ability to breath in this position much mean that the ‘solution’ had adjusted his body to function at peak efficiency even though he should be experiencing multiple limitations. It shouldn’t be possible, he hadn’t accounted it in the programming he had done to stabilize Extremis, and he found himself a little wary of what to expect next.
“There’s no way in hell people won’t notice something has changed. Not if I have the reactor back, but no side effects from a diminished chest capacity.” He muttered to himself, his mind coming to a conclusion that was hard to believe. He wouldn’t ever have dreamed up this specific scenario- not in a million years would he even think he could have the reactor without pain and limitations. And then there was the human cocoon of alternates he was surrounded by. Very familiar alternates who felt more like his lovers and family of his dreams then this worlds versions ever had. As the door to his room opened the smell of Coffee hit him, and he gave into the urge to move his head and look at his surroundings. In doing so, he decided to chance that this would cruelly end as he disrupted the dream.
His room was stuffed full of people looking at him with various degrees of worry and fondness. The looks made him feel like they gave a damn about how he was taking this all and how he was doing, and that warmed places in his heart that had long gone cold. The Avengers he was familiar with now wouldn’t have done this. They wouldn’t have had an impromptu puppy pile in his hospital room that is. Rogers room- maybe? But him. No, they hadn’t cared enough about him as a person to even think of doing something like that. Nat gave him a small smile as his eyes landed on her, and the cup carrier full of covered cups of Coffee that she carried. He felt a broad smile spread on his lips in return. The Nat of his dreams was someone he could trust his survival to, and she always made the best coffee out of thier bunch, so if this was her then he was in luck.
“Is that the Best Coffee in the world that I smell?” He asked softly, hoping his voice wasn’t wavering as he spoke words familiar only to his dreams. Her eyes widened just a fraction, but her smile got wider.
“The Best is the only way to power our genius, so of course it is kitten.” She replied, her tone throaty and thin all at the same time, apt to break at a moments notice as she said her part in a well worn inside joke. He heard both men closest to him inhale sharply as he and Nat spoke and four arms moved to draw him as close as humanly possible even as he maneuvered himself into a sitting position and reached for a cup of coffee. Clint pressed his face to Tony’s neck as he settled in his new position, inhaling shakily as Bruce chuckled from the floor.
“Looks like we may have confirmed the what if portion that the nature of Reed’s experiment brought up.” The eerily calm man murmured, sounding happy and tense at the same time. For some reason Tony didn’t even flinch as he felt another kiss pressed to his neck at the sometimes green scientist’s words, and considering what just happened to him he felt more then a little wonder. God knows that he had flinched for far lesser reasons in the past. But he trusted his dream Clint, and knew the other man wouldn’t use his vulnerabilities against him. He was safe here- in these arms and he knew it. He leaned back into the embrace fore surveying the room once more and sighing.
“Right. What If’s. We’ll get to those after I get through the coffee supply Nat brought me. I’ve got a feeling I’m going to need a hell of a lot of it before I’m completely convinced that this isn’t the type of dream that kept me going while I was in that Cave the first time I got the reactor and for a hell of a lot longer after until I got sick of expecting the people in the real world to actually give a damn like they did in my dreams and became an expert at repression.” Tony muttered mulishly, even though he was almost sure he was awake right now. But he didn’t understand how all of this was possible so he would keep that to himself until he had a better understanding. Bruce’s calm face twisted at his statement, and Tony saw a hint of green starting to show as his anger rose.
“If I ever see Rogers or his group Hulk will have some fun. It will be messy and entirely justified of course, so no sad eyes Tony. They’ve more then earned some time with my greener self.” The other genius muttered to himself, sounding like he wouldn’t care if the target of his ire got smashed in ways that couldn’t be repaired. Tony snorted, before taking a sip of the coffee Nat Handed him and groaning at the taste of it as it hit his tongue. This was the coffee of his dreams, no doubt about it- and how he had lived without it in the real world was a mystery to him now that he had it. That was troubling because he shouldn’t have known Nat’s skills at coffee given she wasn’t a dream. She smiled at him indulgently, her eyes soft as she reclaimed her spot at the foot of his hospital bed, one of her hands resting on his blanket covered foot in a soothing and possessive move.
“Big Green might have some competition, given what we’ve been reading and the overall state Our genius was in when he got here, and is in still. Shit like that ain’t going ta fly again Dollface, I promise you that. You’ve got us here now and I know that I won’t mind hiding the bodies if someone steps over the line when it comes to you.” Barnes spoke from where he was lounging in a corner, a Stark tablet in his hand. In fact every person in the room had a tablet either on thier person or close by. Just how long had Tony been sleeping with all these people just sitting around waiting on him? He tried not to question why he wasn’t panicking at seeing the other man in his room, but he knew the answer all the same. This wasn’t the man that he had attacked in Siberia. This was a Barnes from the same place as Nat, Phil, Clint, and Steve. And Tony somehow knew the other man would take the hit for him, rather then see him hurt. He snorted into his coffee as he imagined what the reaction to them letting Hulk have at the rouges or anyone who hurt Tony would be. He imagined Rogers disappointed face first, then Natasha’s snide comments about his ego and felt his stomach drop..
“And then you’ll get a lecture of just what a horrible person I am from Rogers and how I must have done something to you to make you think otherwise. God, if you listen to him and his merry band these days I’m the poster boy for everything bad that happens in the world because my name was on the bomb that killed Wanda’s parents and made her join Hydra, because I ‘created’ an AI who wanted to destroy the world, that killed Wanda’s brother and let’s not forget that I had the nerve to start working on the Accords instead of saying hell no when they popped up like his righteous group did. With as much support as they already had, it wasn’t something a hell no would fix. No it needed someone on the inside who knew their way around politics, and I was born for that. They never doubted that I would smooth over whatever mistakes they made and make them come out smelling like fucking roses before.” Tony muttered under his breath bitterly, even if he was amused by their protective reactions. JARVIS made a distinctly upset noise at his response.
“Sir, if I may interrupt you. I would like to contradict your claim to the guilt of creating Ultron, my last update was shortly before my main program went off line and I had have time to investigate the events that happened after that. You did not create Ultron, not in the way you have seemed to have taken the blame for. By the time you and Dr. Banner began working on the programming, you had already been attacked by Wanda Maximoff and were experiencing extreme distress at what she had forced you to see. The program itself was no where ready to be online when the interaction with Loki’s Staff and the Stone it contained happened, thus it’s need to cannibalize my main programming- that was not something your program would have ever done on it’s own, it is not how A.I.s that you create gain understanding. The being known as Ultron was not what you were working on.” JARVIS broke into the conversation. At first Tony wanted to protest. Of course he had created Ultron, but then he listened to his AI, and laughed bitterly- remembering Thor’s hands around his throat and more blame then any one man should ever have to handle. Ultron wasn’t on him. Not if J was right in his analysis, and his AI was almost never wrong. It felt like a weight was being removed from him because even if no one in this world ever acknowledged the truth he knew.
“I’m so freaking tired of being the one blamed when things go wrong.” he muttered. Clint’s hands stroked his stomach soothingly, and then his face was being tilted towards Phil, who had been silent since he had decided to interact with them all. The agent, and Dream Tony’s long time lover looked deadly serious as his eyes searched Tony’s face- making sure his attention was on him.
“I can promise you, that the next person who tries to blame you for something not your fault is going to be on the business end of my taser. Then Clint gets dibs on them for target practice. By the time the rest of your family get’s through with them there will be nothing left and you know it.” The man promised, before leaning forward. Tony had all the chance in the world to turn his head or reject the kiss. But he didn’t want to. He made a broken sound as he pressed closer to the Agent- returning the kiss as he remembered both his dream world and this world. He hoped to god this was not some pain induced hallucination- even though he was pretty sure he was awake the fear that this was a dream or fake wouldn’t be leaving him anytime soon because good shit didn’t happen to him.
If that desperation translated in the kiss, well Phil didn’t do anything more then press his head against Tony’s as it ended, looking into his eyes, and a gentle smile playing on his lips. Tony snorted suddenly, his memories of his dreams connection the action to a pattern of behaviors that the other man had shown both in his dreams and in real life.
“Always gentling the spooked genius with kisses and promises eh Phil?” He joked, his voice only cracking a little as he made the decision to trust that this was real, that he would have someone protecting him in this world and maybe, just maybe his dreams were true and these people knew him- loved him. Phil smirked a little and one of his hand came up to cup Tony’s cheek.
“Can I help what you respond best to Tony? And my track record for keeping promises is almost impeccable I’ll have you know. I’m not going to stand by and let you get hurt- none of us are. You’ve had enough of that while you’ve been here. So Let us do our jobs and keep you safe, alright? We weren’t able to before, but it’s going to be different. We are not going to lose you again.” Phil ordered gently, making sure the other man was still looking into his eyes- judging if he understood and reassuring him in the same moment as his words struck home. Tony shuddered slightly, because since Afghanistan this world had been one struggle after another, with him being the one to shoulder the aftermath of everyone's mistakes. He wanted to trust that it would be better now.
“I’ll try. I can’t say that it will happen because I’m crap at staying down when I’m told to- always have been. But I’ll try Phil.” Tony murmured after a moment, and most everyone in the room snorted, breaking the solemn air that had fallen during the vow. Phil pressed a kiss to his lips again, before letting Tony back at his Coffee. Steve was smirking from a chair across the room, a fond look on his face as he watched the interaction.
“We’re going to make it out of this hell babe, You’ve been here alone too damn long and we won’t let these people hurt you again.” He murmured, the promise in his voice strong. Tony gave him a small smile and let himself relax before the world broke in with it’s demands for explanations and duties. Clint hummed behind him, resting his head on Tony’s shoulder and just holding him, reminding Tony that he was the man who had given Phil the go ahead and even seduced him into their bed himself without a second thought- if this whole thing that had him believing that these alternates were his dream people was true.
Tony had Coffee, protection and warmth. Right now that was all he needed, all he wanted. The What If’s and questions surrounding them could wait for the moment, because it had been far to long since he could relax and not worry. It had been too long since he had completely believed that someone had his back and would take care of things if something went sideways. He wanted to be selfish like the world accused him of being every damn day and Just take care of himself for once. And it looked like his companions didn’t have a problem in indulging his whims.
Chapter 6: A Look to the Rogues, AU Verse and Tony
AN: And another update for my lovelies
As a reminder, I've decided that I'm going to start a discord Channel. It will be used to discuss my works of course, but I'd also like to see a community of writers coming together and talking. We can encourage each other ect.
You can find my Writing Corner by following this invite (AKA Copy the link before into your address bar and hit enter)
AN2://I would like to give a shout out to GhostGums for catching a timeline jumble that slipped past me. It's been corrected and I've made a couple small edits (1/8/19) but credit deserves to be given here. Thank you.
It had been three long days of nothing but worry and obsessing over what had happened. That’s how long it took for T’Challa to get some sort of update about Tony’s health after he had confirmed that the genius had almost been killed. And even then the update was just that the genius was still stable and that he had been moved to his home with a health care team on premises to keep him comfortable and on the mend on his medical proxies request. The update had included nothing on if Iron Man had woken up, or even if he would be permanently disabled because of the attack in Siberia. It had just been a small burst of words that just meant that the other man was still alive, or that his company wasn't prepared for the backlash of him having actually die. Hell, they could be covering up the fact that something had taken a turn for the worse, and that the genius was no longer with them and no one would be the wiser for a while yet
It was driving Clint insane to be honest, the whole situation of not knowing if Tony was going to be himself once this was over and his general state was inducing a kind madness, especially knowing that there was nothing he could do to find out more. He was person non grata to all of his contacts and he only had himself to blame for that. He wasn’t the only one having issues over knowing nothing of their team mate’s recovery either- the cracks of discontent were forming all over the place.
Over those three days the realization of what they had all done had hit the ‘rogue’ avengers hard as they thought about their injured friend. They had turned something that while had been an inconvenience, had been a situation that could have been handled into a war all at the say so of one man. It seemed that since Bucky had informed them all that Tony had been injured and T’Challa confirmed that the genius had life threatening injuries, they had all taken the chance to read the Accords while they waited for an update on Tony’s condition. Sadly it had been a real eye opener to tell the truth, because only a few of them had looked at the documents that were supposed to be the reason for all of this, let alone read them in full.
They couldn’t even really say that all of this had been worth it, not after reading the damn things. Tony was used to politics, he knew how they worked, and reading both the original proposal and the current Amended one Clint could see the other man’s hard work all over it. Tony had been trying to shape this thing into something that they could live with and storming off like children who were not getting their way had probably not helped him in any way. Knowing the other man and how he operated, Tony had probably called in all sorts of favors to try and smooth things over with the people they had offended with their actions. Now those favors were being wasted because he had been almost killed by Steve and couldn’t keep on top of this thing while he was unconscious. It seemed that even when they were doing nothing they couldn’t stop ruining things.
Steve hadn’t talked much since everything had come out. Instead he stared at the television, watching stations reporting that Iron Man had received near fatal injuries in an undisclosed way and the speculations of how it had happened and if the hero would recover obsessively. His shoulders stayed tense and his face was face blank as he waited, although it looked like he wanted to take action more then anything else. But there was nothing to do but wait. Clint found himself almost worried about the other man’s mind several times before anger washed it away. Because right when he was ready to try to talk with the other man, he would remember that it had been Steve that had caused what those stations were reporting in. The other man had been going to let them think that Tony had tricked them, that he had attacked unprovoked and he probably would have insinuated that Tony was using the media to get sympathy had they seen this without Bucky admitting that they had left the man seriously injured in Siberia. Or at least agreed when Wanda did the insinuating. And without Bucky telling the truth they would have believed him, like they had with his tale about the Accords. Captain America was a coward in his mind, plain and simple.
Bucky was another story altogether. The former assassin hadn’t been by the area they inhabited much while they waited for news on Tony- he was already immersed in what Therapy the Wakandan people had to offer him. He was the only one of the Rogues who had a chance in hell of getting out of here without being tossed in jail and that meant he was working hard so he could get to Stark and start to make amends and support him like he had said he wanted to. According to T’Challa the therapy device that Tony had made was being shipped- there had been a standing order that if the device was requested by a trusted party for Barnes then it was to be sent with no questions or tracking apparently. The genius hadn’t expected Steve to ask him for help for his friend but he had been prepared to give it without question and he hadn’t even been going to try to find them with it. This wasn’t the action a guy looking to bring them in at all costs would take. It was one of a friend willing to help, and that willingness had put Tony where he was now.
Clint was jealous of the chance Barnes had if he was honest with himself, because he needed to make amends for the things he had done and said as well. He didn’t want to wait the months or longer that it would take to be in the position to do so either. Tony wasn’t the only one he had hurt in all of this. Laura deserved a lot of things from him, the least of all being an apology because he knew he had hurt her and their children too while he had been a blind idiot in all of this. He had been trying to convince himself that he was out of a game that was never going to really let him go, and he had been regretting his decision to get out. He had missed the friends that he had made, and making a difference, and the farm was doing nothing to keep him from thinking about what he had lost.
Steve calling him in to help him out when all of this had went south had given him a clear bad guy to focus on, had been the only think he needed to come back into the fold. He knew that had to have killed the woman who had devoted a good chunk of her life to Clint. Both when she was a surrogate for Phil and him and later- when he was consumed with grief over his husband getting himself killed and wanted to cling onto what he had left. He had asked her to marry him in his desperation to keep the good things in his life together, and then tried to pretend like there wasn’t something missing in their relationship when she had accepted his proposal. They both knew there was though they never mentioned him by name. Phil was never forgotten, and he never would be.
“They won’t say anything different then they did the last 20 times you watched this Rogers. Pepper probably has any information relating to his current condition on lockdown to keep the stocks stable while things are up in the air. She’s not even informing T’Challa of any major details, and he worked with Tony recently.” Natasha bit out bitterly, interrupting Clint’s mental rambling. Her tone was both annoyed and defeated, showing just how out of sorts she was. Clint resisted the urge to feel sorry for her, because unlike all of them, she had the sense to stay with Tony only to go dumb at the last minute. She had let Steve go at the airport, and because she had done that he had been able to almost kill Tony. Steve grunted at her words, shaking his head in denial.
“There has to be something new reported about him soon. They can’t keep everyone in the dark on his status forever after all, he’s a public figure and this speculation can’t be good for his company either. He’s got to be okay, he’s got to be able to live normally.” Steve muttered resolutely, and Clint rolled his eyes at how pathetic the other man sounded as he repeated his mantra. He had almost killed a man, and now he worried about how he was doing. In what world would that ever make sense considering everything that the other man had done to Tony through all of this? A part of him was glad that Phil wasn’t here to see what kind of man his idol really was, or to have to kill the other man for hurting Tony. And Phil would have, or at least he would have made Steve regret ever raising a hand to the genius in the very least. There was no way in hell that the Agent would have stood by and just let all of this happen. Not like the archer had.
Clint wished to god that his husband was here suddenly, as that thought came to him. Because they needed someone to call them out to keep them from doing something stupid, as proven by this mess and Phil was especially good at calling bullshit. Everything was wrong without him and it just kept getting worse as time passed. Clint had never regretted telling him no and then complaining to Nat more then he did now in all reality. He had started having regrets from the moment the fight about attractions that had happened when he said no had blown over, but now? Now he wished that he would have swallowed his pride when his husband had described the genius who had managed to catch Phil's eye.
The Archer knew himself well enough to know that he had been convinced that Phil’s interest in another man meant that their relationship was in trouble, and Nat had agreed which had fueled the fire so to speak. But god help him, when he had thrown that out it had started one of the worse fights in his marriage. Phil had countered his accusation with a bitter nod in the direction of his attachment to Laura, accusing him of being attracted to her even though there was never a chance that he himself would be willing to include the woman in their bed and that had hit a nerve. While Clint had been insulted then, denying the attraction that he did feel- he had all but proved the other man right by marrying her after Phil died. Of course his husband had known him well enough to see the signs that Clint himself ignored. Phil had gone off on a mission for Fury shortly after and then everything had gone to hell.
“Will you just shut the hell up?” Clint snapped at the other man suddenly, losing his temper as he relieved his memories. He didn’t think that he could handle another moment off the man’s pity party when he was slowly being dragged into his own as he came to terms with everything. Steve looked at him blankly, completely devoid of anything that had marked the man as a leader once. Clint shivered, wondering briefly if the other man was ever going to come back from the mistakes he had made in this debacle. If he could come back from almost killing his team mate.
“I need to know that he’s going to make it, that he’s going to be okay Clint. Everything… Everything is just so wrong and it has been for longer then I can admit. I’m starting to think that somewhere along the lines, I stopped thinking of Tony as a good person- as a fellow hero. And somehow I started seeing him as a tool I could use for resources, and I didn’t feel guilty. Bucky was right. He’s always right, and I don’t think it would hurt so much if I hadn’t thought of Tony as a friend once. But I did and that makes what I have done so much worse.” Steve replied, his voice cracking and hoarse as he explained himself. Clint felt his stomach turn, because he had done the same thing.
He could understand Steve’s need to know something, anything positive about Tony’s health now, because he needed to know for many of the same reasons. Everything with what his husband would have wanted him to do aside, he had called Tony his friend. He had joked around with him and grown to like him even with his determination to hate him because Phil had asked what he had. And none of that had mattered when he was insulting him. He didn’t know how to respond to the other man words now though, not when he identified with them. They had knocked the anger right out of him. It turns out that he didn’t have to though, because they were no longer the only ones in this section of the manor. Apparently company had come calling.
“Well this is all fine and dandy, but do you idiots really think you’re getting within ten miles of Stark after this FUBAR mess? I don’t think so. That alternate of Captain America has this situation in hand- he’s called in his people to help clean up your mess and get the ball rolling to protect the world. Times are changing you ungrateful idiots. You’re no longer the golden heroes of the world with the crap you’ve seen fit to pull.” A familiar voice bit out, harsh and way to loud for the landmine of emotionally compromised people around. Clint cringed as he turned to the door and looked at his former boss. Fury was glaring at Steve though, and if looks could kill the former American Hero would be dead where he was sitting.
“Fury, how are you doing? Glad to see that you're already over your latest round of being dead.” Clint greeted, even though he would rather leave the room and not deal with the man who died whenever shit got to deep, so that he could rise up again at some other time and play hero. His reluctance was partially due to the fact that Fury represented a better time in his life though if he was honest with himself. A time where his husband was alive and where he had even considered the other man a friend because of how much trust he placed in Phil. His once boss gave him an unimpressed look, before turning his gaze back to Steve and Nat.
“I really thought that you dumb asses would see that you had it good with Stark- he bankrolled you and never asked for a damn dime back even though it cost him millions. Hell he treated you all better then anyone has ever treated him, but this situation has opened my eyes to how utterly broken the Avenger’s were and how damn unlikely it will be to put them back together. A man doesn’t just forget being betrayed, no matter if he considered the ones betraying him family or not. And those alternates aren’t likely to let him if and when he recovers from having Captain America's shield shoved into his compromised chest. But losing an asset like Stark and burning to many damn bridges to count around the world isn’t why I’m here and not doing damage control.” The man thundered, before his voice quieted and the lecture ended with a wince. Clint raised an eyebrow at the tell that Fury didn’t want to continue, wondering what other bomb he had to drop and if they would make it through it. Fury's secrets always hurt someone in the end, even if the man liked seeing himself as a protector.
“As much as I appreciate you going over the mistakes they have made, you’re not innocent in any of this considering you hid my resurrection and memory alteration from them and even altered I would have never allowed them to go so far off script. They would have had a damned wake up call the moment things started going south and if they didn’t like what they had to hear I would have shown them the damn door.” A dry, and very familiar but impossible voice snapped irately, stepping into the room. Clint looked at his husband, his mouth dry and throat burning with bile as the other man looked at Fury like he was resisting the urge to taser him. Fury winced.
“Coulson, I thought I told you to wait while I explained this to them so you didn’t end up punched or starting a damn fight over what they have done.” The former Shield director growled, sounding annoyed with the other man. Phil snorted, glaring at his friend, before his eyes swept over the room, dismissing all of them before resting on Clint for a moment then back at Fury.
“I’m sorry if I decided I couldn’t trust you to follow through with explaining that you have been up to your old tricks again Nick. But then again I have spent several years with holes in my memory and repeating that damn phrase because of your need to have contingency plans and inability to leave highly dangerous and experimental ways to brings someone back from the dead alone. I told you that damn program wasn’t to be used, but the moment I go and die my opinion ceases to matter right?” Phil said stiffly, berating the other man and not for the first time if the tone of his voice was to be trusted. Clint felt dizzy as he realized what had happened. Phil was standing there alive, and Fury was responsible for that. The man in questioned looked uncomfortable at Phil’s words.
“You are the one person I know I can trust without a doubt. Losing you to your own stupidity wasn’t an option and the experiment proved that the instability was only present when the subject retained their memories. By altering yours during the process, we were able to avoid that. I understand your anger at the fact that your marriage was part of the memories removed, but I couldn’t have any reminders popping up and sending you off the deep end. Barton adjusted.” Fury deadpanned, as if he had repeated the same defense a hundred times before. Clint felt his nails digging into his palm as his husband snorted in response to Fury’s lackluster defense.
“Oh he adjusted alright, not in a good way though, Once the Doctor who helped stabilize Stark was through with him he was kind enough to direct me to help so I could recover my memories and prevent those oh so undesirable instabilities. I looked what's been happening with my team up and I’m not pleased with this lot.” He shot Clint a hard look and the other man flinched at the disapproval that was clear in his husband’s eyes. “But the meeting I initiated isn’t about my former husband moving on. It’s about making things clear to the Avengers who have found themselves fugitives and to take the witch into custody. No doubt they expect things to go back to normal once they are cleared to go back to the U.S. With the situation we have coming at us, they will be coming back as much as I would love to leave them here while real heroes do their jobs, but it won’t be like it was before. The Alternate Rogers and his team are not the only people who have a stake in keeping Tony on the mend after all.” Phil continued, his voice icy. Clint took note that Fury looked uncomfortable at the mention of the alternates.
“I don’t understand why the hell no one hasn’t told that group to go back to where they came from. They have no allegiance-” The former shield director muttered in complaint and was cut off by a look from Phil before he could finish what he was going to say. The mild mannered man didn’t seem to want to hear it, and from the lack of surprise at being cut off Fury knew so.
“You mean you don’t have control of them. They have plenty of allegiance, but it’s all directed towards Tony. You know the man Rogers saved from Captain America over there- the man that they lost in what’s coming. They are here for him, and I can’t say I blame them for taking one look at this world and deciding that he need protecting. He’s still unconscious after extreme measures had to be taken to save his life after one of his so called team mates almost killed him after all.” the former second in command snapped making everyone flinch. He was obviously worried for Tony and he was pissed off by what had happened to the other man. That much was perfectly clear to everyone in the room.
“I don’t think you understand the dangers of a group of super heroes focusing on one person as their reason to fight, but I know you won’t listen to me. Even though the most glaring example of what could go wrong is sitting in the room with us.” Fury shot back sarcastically, waving a hand at Steve. Phil raised an eyebrow at him.
“The difference in between Tony and Barnes is the fact that the people protecting Tony aren’t going to be breaking laws and causing international incidents if they can help it. Each one of them have signed the accords because they trust Tony’s abilities. He had a clear plan set out for amending that document and Rhodes is spearheading his changes while he’s unable to because of his injury so they don’t loose steam and favor in their work. Those people won’t pile blame on Tony for things out of his control from what I’ve seen. And unlike these idiots, I’ve spoken with JARVIS- who was retrieved by Rogers from where he was waiting backed up and forgotten because of the witch these people so readily welcomed onto their team- and he let me know the details surrounding the whole Ultron debacle so I know what happened there as well.” Phil replied dully, before looking back over at the Avengers in exile, and raising an eyebrow like he expected them to have something to say. Clint couldn’t find the words, because the world felt like it was too damn small. His husband was alive, and by god everything he had thought since the events of Siberia had been revealed was coming true.
Phil wasn’t holding back about any of the mistakes they had made, and he was bringing up points the archer had never considered. He had been guilty over Pietro dying for him so he had overcompensated by bringing Wanda into the fold of the group, wanting to give her a family since she had lost hers. The only one to protest had been Tony. But they hadn’t paid that protest any mind. They had ignored it, and pushed the genius away when Wanda had complained that he made her uncomfortable and it had felt justified because Tony was to blame for her not having anyone else. His bombs killed her parents and his monster had killed her brother. He felt sick thinking about it now, because in giving Wanda a family he had initiated the end of Tony’s. Nothing was the same after Slovakia, they had kept finding more and more things to not like about the genius, to blame him for.
“She was my fault. I’m the one who brought her in. I was guilty, and I thought we could help her see she was on the wrong side, that she could be a hero.” He finally whispered, in a brittle voice, not addressing the fact that Jarvis was alive, that he had been alive and Wanda had something to do with why he wasn’t brought back sooner because he had no words for that. He knew Tony had suffered so much in losing his AI, and it was just one more pain inflicted on him. Phil frowned at him, and while there was worry in his husband’s eyes there was disappointment also. And that hurt, in their entire relationship that had always been the kind of look he had never wanted directed at him. Phil sighed, shaking his head negatively after a moment, his eyes softening just a little bit.
“Not everyone is a Natasha Mr. Barton, and you should know that by now. This woman volunteered for Hydra’s experiments. She actively and willingly tested her powers on innocent people to develop them, drove them insane in the process. It’s all in the files we’ve been able to gather on her. She didn’t protest a single time while she did it, there was no remorse for the suffering she had caused- nothing to show she had or could change. And bringing her in? That just brought her closer to her target, gave her the kind of access to him that she should have never had. Jarvis was able to examine Friday’s security feeds, she was actively using her powers to torment Tony in his own compound- until he ‘retired’ and moved out. And the Doctor that helped me removed some ongoing spells from his person. What that man found on him? Would have kept breaking him down, tormenting him with nightmares. That woman was never any kind of hero. She also wasn’t being held prisoner at the compound. Tony was trying to shield her from the repercussions of her actions, even though she never stopped hurting him he was trying to help her because she was important to you all.” Phil informed him bitterly. The world tightened around Clint a little bit more, but Phil wasn’t done.
“If you remember his time in Afghanistan, then you would remember the fact that Stane was the one dealing Stark weapons to terrorists. Not Tony- when Tony found out he destroyed every stash he could find, but it boils down to while he designed those weapons he wasn’t the one to kill Maximoff’s parents. Her blaming him is like blaming a gun producer for a weapon it made killing someone and you all supported her delusion. Friday doesn’t have a single record of any of you telling her to grow up and think rationally. But she does have plenty of you turning a team into a mockery.” He finished derisively, before looking at Fury.
“She get’s locked in the deepest pit you can find. The restraints Strange and his friend made should cut her off from her powers, but if they malfunction I want her dealt with in the appropriate manner.” He ordered firmly. The one Eyed man nodded, before leaving the room. After he was gone Phil slumped a little, looking tired. Clint saw Nat start making her way to her once dead handler before he looked up at her and shook his head. She stopped, looking hurt at his gesture. Clint didn’t blame her for feeling rejected- in all of his daydreams about finding out Phil was really alive somehow he had never imagined his husband being so upset with their actions and decisions.
“I’m not sure why you decided to let the Captain over there and Barnes go when it seemed like you were one of the only ones left with any shred of common sense left in this bunch, but that was the wrong call. Just like releasing Shield’s databases online for every terrorist organization to find and sell out or kill good agents was. Damn it Natasha, you got thousands of good people killed because you didn’t call in Tony and have him sort out the data so he could protect the ones who were not Hydra and he could only pull people out so fast once he was alerted to the dump. He never stopped monitoring things, and when Clint decided he was going to play hero after retiring he had to pull Laura and the children in because Ross found out where they were living and decided he was going to use them to make Clint come in.” He turned his ire onto her, and the wrong calls that she had made in all of this. She flinched, paling and Clint’s stomach turned. Steve and Nat’s decision had never sat well with him, but he had been assured by Fury that all information about Laura and the kids was not even in the databases so he had accepted it as a necessary evil.
Turns out the former director hadn’t been honest with him. He had to have lied if Ross could find out where they were, but that shouldn’t be surprising. What he did know was that given his acceptance at the time, the stab of fury and blame he felt towards his friend was uncalled for but he couldn’t help it. Beyond Laura and the child he had with her the other children were his and Phil’s. He could have lost the only pieces he had left of his husband at the time because she hadn’t thought to use common sense and call in the guy who made his living off of tech to help weed out the Hydra from Shield. Suddenly he understood why people had treated Nat differently after everything was said and done, why Tony had looked at her like she was a stranger even as she took his side in this mess- never fully trusting her to not stab him in the back. He didn’t blame the genius.
“I… We didn’t know who we could trust when it came to that data, and the only way we could think of making sure they couldn’t slip back into the cracks was to shine light on it all. I knew I wasn’t Hydra, and I knew Steve wasn’t. Things with Tony… We didn’t trust that he would be able to do the job. We didn’t trust him. And then he hid developing the AI that became Ultron, and it just reinforced that opinion. People died because of him and his ego, his need to play god. And I let them go because Steve told me that there were other soldiers, I knew he wasn’t going to stop. I thought I could keep more people from getting hurt by giving them an out. Rhodes got his back broke during all of this, no one else needed to be harmed.” She replied, her voice firm but the fact she looked like she was going to get sick let everyone know that she had regrets. Phil rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“Okay, first thing first Ultron? The AI Tony was working on was no where near being ready to go online- that's why when everything happened it cannibalized Jarvis’ main programming. He’s not required to keep you all informed of every project he works on either. The being known as Ultron happened because of a series of events. Parts of the AI did interact with the scepter and stone inside of it, but that wasn’t Tony’s fault. He was only working on the damned thing because Maximoff had played around inside of his head and he felt the need to find a way to protect you all. I won’t say what she made him see, but he was trying to keep you alive because he has an insight to what’s coming and she tapped into that. As for people getting hurt, I’ve seen the recordings. Tony and the people helping him were not using deadly force on any of you, they were attempting to contain, not maim. But the same can’t be said for those on the Captain’s side of things. I saw cars being tossed around like toys damn it! Letting them go just because they were not going to stop isn’t what the Avenger’s ever stood for. The Captain’s people were out of control and those that were captured and locked up damn well deserved to be detained. Honestly I don’t know why the hell Tony had an order for his AI to disable camera’s when a rescue attempt was made after the fact, but Friday couldn’t go against his orders and Jarvis wasn’t back online at that point. So instead of being in those cells still you’re all here living in luxury and Tony’s in a hospital bed because all he wanted to do was help.” He shot back at her, dismissing her excuses as quickly as she made them. Clint wanted a drink as an outsiders view of their actions were painted and he found himself unable to see what they had done as anything close to being justified. They had committed crimes, hurt people they had called friends and it all spelled out that they were no better then the people they defended the population against.
“We really messed up here Phil I’m not even going to try and deny that because there is no way to. I’ve read the Accords now, and I regret siding with the Captain. After Tony’s done with them they’ll be no worse then what we were under with Shield I bet. Is he going to be okay? I mean not just surviving, if he going to be able to really recover from this? From what T’Challa was given S- Rogers did a damn good job of killing him.” He murmured, his voice thick with regret. Phil’s eyes softened more as he looked at him.
“I think he will be, he doesn’t really have a choice in it though. The measures that had to be taken to make that possible have left some lasting effects on him, and the major measure went against everything he wanted. That and the damned reactor are going to be permanent reminders of this, as if he needed anything to remember.” He replied. Steve perked up.
“You know how he’s doing? I mean something more then what we’ve heard?” he asked, sounding eager to hear more. Phil’s eyes hardened at his voice and Clint grimaced, knowing his husband. He got ready to stop Phil if he made a move to go after Rogers, while he understood why Phil was upset he also knew the other man would eventually regret attacking his hero. Even if the attack was justified. Steve flinched as the agent looked at him grimly.
“Yes I’ve seen him, but I’m sure as hell not going to update his attacker on his recovery. You don’t get it Captain Rogers, but you soon will. He may be alive by the grace of god and a hell of a lot of medical intervention right now, but you killed him. You drove your shield into his severely weakened chest over and over again and you managed to do enough damage through his suit that they had a hard time keeping his heart started- part of what got it going that last time was god honest magic. That alone makes your current worry pretty damn insulting.” Phil said dully, his voice giving none of the rage he felt away but Clint could feel it. He shuddered a little as the hope died in Steve’s eyes.
“I didn’t mean… I only wanted him to stay down so he couldn’t hurt Bucky. It was Hydra who killed his parents… not Buck- he couldn’t resist their orders, but… he was so angry and he kept getting up, and I was angry too. I can’t understand why he couldn’t just accept that I wasn’t going to let him hurt Bucky, and that it wasn’t his fault.” Steve whispered despairingly. He still couldn’t accept that he had been in the wrong during that fight, even after Bucky had told him that he had been. Clint felt a familiar cold rage building, but instead of being focused on Tony it was directed at the man that the Archer had thrown away his life to help. Steve was delusional if he couldn’t see that he had been in the wrong here after everything that they had been told and the things that had been pointed out.
“Whether you meant to or not doesn’t matter in the end Rogers. You’re an enhanced human, he’s not- with the force you were using against him how could you not expect to cause extreme bodily harm? He could have killed both of you if he had been trying to, but he wasn’t. He was the only one playing by those rules though apparently. This entire conflict your ‘team’ had been fighting with the intent to harm, so it wasn’t a one time incident either. Somewhere along the lines Tony surviving any altercation with you and your team stopped mattering. And if you think you’re getting anywhere near him again you’re more idiotic then I already think you are.” Phil snapped back, and they deserved that. Phil was right, Tony living hadn’t mattered because he was the one trying to bring them in. Because they had convinced themselves that the other man meant to harm them, and that he wasn’t a good person in general. He didn’t look to see what Steve’s reaction to the lecture was. Instead his feet finally decided to move in his husband’s direction. Phil look at him and raised an eyebrow.
“Do you need something Mr. Barton?” He asked, his tone back to being cold and impersonal. Clint grimaced at the distance Phil was putting between them emotionally at least. He was reminded of the former that Phil had added to their marriage status suddenly, and felt like the bottom of his stomach had dropped out. The realization that his husband considered their marriage over hit like a ton of bricks. This was more then Phil being upset and disappointed about their treatment of a team mate and Tony’s assault, this was the potential end of the best thing in Clint’s life.
“I’d like to speak with you before you run off Phil. Please, I’ve thought you were dead for years and I know I can’t follow you until I deal with the shit storm I made for myself.” He asked softly, not wanting to chance coming off like he was demanding or even deserved what he wanted. There was a subtle shift in the other man’s posture, and sadness in his eyes.
“I was dead, for eight days, until Nick had his scientists drag me back kicking and screaming. And while I was begging for them to just let me die again you were already moving on Clint. I saw the application dates for the marriage license. I never expected to be right when I brought her up after I asked you about bringing Tony in and I won’t lie and say it doesn’t hurt that you moved on with her. It does hurt, she was a friend who helped us in ways we can never repay but that’s the only way I will ever see her. I went to see our children before dragging Fury here, to make sure that they were alright after everything that has happened and saw her as well you know. And it was awkward, she couldn’t decide if my survival was a good thing or a bad thing even though the kids were excited to see me and I can’t blame her for that reaction.” Phil informed him, sounding defeated. Clint flinched, as his own thoughts about marrying Laura and how it would have affected Phil were confronted and confirmed. This wasn’t something he had considered back then, when he was just desperate to gather his remaining family close and hold on. That was no excuse though.
“I should have said yes, back when you asked about Tony. I’ve regretted saying no more then you will ever know. And marrying Laura? When Nat told me you had been killed, something in me broke and it hasn’t been fixed since. I asked Laura to marry me in an attempt to hold onto the good things I still had, and I think we both know that wasn’t a good reason to get married, and that having another child to try and strengthen the marriage wasn’t a good idea either. But It happened and it’s just part of this huge mess that I have to take care of now. I… Just don’t give up on me yeah?” He pleaded, not wanting his marriage to be over. He didn’t know what he would do if this was Phil writing him off, if he had gotten a chance to have his husband back in his life and lost it all in the same moment. “I thought you were dead and it killed me, I’ve done some stupid shit because I wasn’t coping with losing you or the Loki mind fuck, and hell Phil. The longer Wanda is out of commission and bound… I’m starting to think that she was helping the hostility all of us have shown Tony. From the moment T’Challa informed her that she wasn’t going to have free reign of her powers here and she attacked him things have been changing. I’m not angry all the time anymore, and I’m actually considering the ramifications of what's happened instead of being convinced this will all blow over. For the first time in years I don’t like myself. And these guys? They’re actually worried about Tony again. That’s got to mean something.” The look of sadness his husband had about him increased.
“The Doctor who helped straighten out my head is going to be coming by and seeing if he can confirm that she was altering anything. T’Challa mentioned the shift in behavior when we spoke with him, so we were already aware that it was a possibility.” He replied slowly, as if he wasn't sure of what to say. Clint felt a wave of relief at that. Other people had noticed the change, so he wasn't just imagining it.
“It’s not an excuse for what we did, but I need to know if it was just our true selves shining though or if we had help hurting Tony.” Clint assured him. A small smile crossed Phil’s face.
“I’m pretty sure that the man I married would have had to have help to behave the way you have.” He assured him after a moment. Clint grimaced a little at the agreement, feeling like he’d been set up to fail in all of this. First Loki took away his will, and now Wanda may have done something along the same lines. But unlike Loki- who’s control felt wrong he hadn’t noticed anything was off under the woman’s thrall.
“I need to keep away from assholes who don’t mind making me their meat puppet Phil.” He declared, startling a laugh out of his husband. After a moment Phil hugged him tightly, burying his head in Clint's hair and inhaling shakily. Clint wrapped his own arms around the other man and just held him. Oh god, he had never thought that he would get to do this again, and he didn’t want to let go. For the first time since Nat told him Phil was gone everything felt right in his world.
“You really do Clint. And people need to keep their damn hands off you. You keep getting taken away from me, and I don’t even know if I get you back this time.” his husband whispered, his voice muffled by the hair but clear enough for Clint to hear the pain in it. While Phil was good at hiding being compromised by situations, he always had a tell with Clint, and the fact that his husband was hurting killed Clint even more then the weight of everything the Archer had done since Phil had died, His grip tightened around Phil at that.
“You’ll get me back. I promise. I’m going to have to take care of all my messes, but you’re getting me back if you want me.” He vowed, and he meant it. He wasn’t ready to let go of Phil in any way, and if he had a chance he would be upfront with Laura on his mistake of marrying her and end it. They could still co-parent Nate, but Phil was his husband first and foremost and that was never going to change. Phil pressed a kiss to his hair, breathing in shakily as he did, though Clint doubted anyone besides him noticed the unstable movement. Suddenly he wanted to get Phil out of the lounge, so the other man wasn’t watching his every movement, and could react normally. This was entirely too public.
“I do want you still. You may be an asshole Clint, but you’re my asshole- that hasn’t changed unless you decide it will.” Phil muttered under his breath. Clint laughed a little this time, warmth filling him and chasing away the cold doubt that Phi’s earlier comments had created. If his husband still wanted him, well he could deal with anything he needed to in order to get back home. He turned his head just a little bit and pressed a barely there kiss to the skin just above Phil’s shirt collar.
“If you have the time, maybe we can talk about what I need to do to start fixing what I’ve messed up before you go.” Clint suggested softly. Phil hummed, before nodding.
“I have time, It’s not like Fury is going to leave without me- the man made me director of Shield after Hydra was revealed after all. And he doesn’t seem to want the title back.” His husband responded firmly, a soft smile playing on his lips. Clint heard Nat gasp- even if Phil hadn’t said it loudly everyone in the room had heard. He snickered as he realized the enormity of what had been said. Shield was still around after all. Clearly it was harder to destroy then everyone on the team had assumed.
“Oh boy. Well I guess you do have the time Director sir.” Clint sassed playfully, not wanting to be the first one to pull away from the hug, but knowing they would be going no where until it happened. It was hard, but after a moment he was leading his husband to his room.
A Look Into the A.U. Verse
JARVIS arrived at the tower exactly 13 hours after the AI he had substituted himself with in an attempt to go ‘off the grid’ so to speak and deal with the latest loss in the family Sir had acquired before his sacrifice had alerted him of a disturbance. It took him 2.3 minutes to find out none of the inhabitants that he had left behind were still within the premises and 2.5 seconds for him to review the surveillance around the time of their departure. In the next 3 minutes he let himself react to what he head saw. Steve was alive and he had saved sir or at least a version of him from his double in a world that was pre-invasion. He needed help with the state of the world and keeping sir safe.
Further time was needed to go over Reed Richard’s experiments information, he had noticed the reaction the others had in relation to the news that man that Steve had saved. Everything pointed to the malfunctioning experiment transporting Steve to a previous destination, to Sir since the man was the last one to have been victim to the gauntlet. The other world’s Dr. Strange had been the one to come, so if he wanted to get to them, and to Sir who had almost been killed then he would need this world’s Strange. Less then Ten minutes after his arrival he was calling the magic user so he could join the others. Sir’s… Tony’s health had and would always be his priority.
Back to Tony
Tony rolled his eyes as he got to his lab and found Clint lounging in front of it. The other man snickered at his look, before stepping forward and wrapping an arm around his waist. When he leaned in for a kiss, Tony met him half way- the joy of having his formally only dream family here still strong in his chest. Waking up changed like he had would have been hell without them, and he didn’t know how he would have dealt with it if he was completely honest. The man he saw in the mirror was a child compared to what he had been after all. But they were here, and he knew that he could trust them. He was protected, safe even. Clint ended the kiss by nipping his bottom lip, then looked at him closely, as if he was trying to figure out what was going on inside his mind.
“I thought we agreed on a week of restricted lab time, to give you an chance to rest and adjust before you throw yourself back into things. You’ve had your time today babe, and there’s only two more days on our agreement. Please don’t overexert yourself. Less then seven days ago you were almost murdered, you have to deal with that even if the physical marks from the attack are gone. Repressing the feelings left over will do nothing good for you and we don’t want to see you get hurt when it finally hits.” He scolded softly. Tony sighed, leaning against the other man.
“I had an idea on how to jump start the dream or memories, whatever they are, again. But since I just shipped the BARF glasses out to Frosty the snowman I kinda need to build new ones before I can test it out.” He explained, only slightly annoyed at being caught and stopped. The dreams were still stubbornly absent, and with the facts he had he was eager to see them again. To see if they had really been memories that had manifested as dreams because his trauma addled brain hadn’t been able to connect the shift in reality to an earlier alternate time or something else. Making it so he didn’t have blanks in his history would be a plus to, because he hadn’t dreamed of anything involving Bucky and with how the other man treated him he wanted to remember. He wanted to remember everything. Clint kissed the top of his head soothingly- letting him know his reasoning was sound without a word.
“JARVIS? Can you fabricate another set of those glasses for Tony while we head up and watch a movie with Phil, Nat and Bruce? Steve and Bucky aren’t due back with Rhodes until later this evening.” the Archer asked, looking up and straight at one of the cameras.
“It would be my pleasure to Mr. Barton, Fabrication initiating.” Jarvis replied. Clint looked down to see Tony paling just a little bit. He frowned and tipped the other man’s head up. “Everything alright there Babe?” He asked gently, not understanding the reaction. Tony shook his head a little.
“I didn’t even think of asking J. He’s been gone so long… I’m used to handling most things on my own. Friday… she hasn’t advanced, I haven’t let her advance enough because I’m terrified of another Ultron, to help me like that. Only the big stuff.” He replied, looking bitter and ashamed as he spoke. Clint took a steadying breath, cursing the damn gauntlet and this world’s witch. He didn’t know if he would ever be able to work with their world’s Wanda again after seeing just what she would do to Tony given the chance. He sure as hell wouldn’t try to get Tony to work with her when they got home.
“It’s going to get better Babe, I promise. I know it’s not okay right now, but Jarvis is back with you and I’m sure Friday doesn’t blame you for being cautious. You’ve been through hell here, so much more then I would have ever wanted to see or even hear about. But you’ve come out on top and we’re with you now.” He soothed, before using the arm wrapped around the genius to guide him back upstairs where Phil and Bruce were waiting. Right now Tony was an emotional landmine, but he couldn’t be blamed for it. Not with what this world had done to him. He almost wanted to demand that they take Tony home right then and there, but he knew the genius would stand his ground about seeing the upcoming battle through. Pushing him to leave before then would just push him away.
Chapter 7: Admission, Love and Additional Support
Hello Ladies and Gents! I want to say that the Writing Corner has been a god send with keeping me on track when it comes to writing (If You want to check it out, the invitation link is in the previous chapter and my profile!)
A Special thanks and Mention goes to Trixy, Noxxia, and Strai- you three have been a blast to talk to, and your help with the Notification Project we have going on is very much appreciated. (To those who don't know we're notifying people who have been reposted on Wattpad, so if they haven't given consent they can start working on getting the re-posts taken down)
Without further Ado... The next Chapter.
For Steve, watching Coulson and Clint leave the room while talking softly to each other was like a slap in the face with a bucket of ice water. Really it had been seeing the agent that had died and been resurrected go from cold and angry to willing to help Clint after the Archer acknowledged that he had been wrong and asked what he could do to fix his mistakes that had been shocking. He had been sure Coulson was going to be gone as fast as he arrived after his business was finished, because the other man’s anger and disappointment in what they had done was palpable to everyone in the room. But Clint’s words, his remorse had changed that. He had a chance to make things right with Coulson, and maybe Tony depending on how close the new Director was to him.
Steve had been on the slow road to realizing just how badly he had messed up before Coulson and Fury had come, he really had been. Even he couldn't pretend that he was right when so many things said otherwise after all. He hadn’t wanted to admit that he had turned into a bully and an abuser that had hurt someone as badly as he had hurt Tony though and that had let him hold onto the hope that everything would blow over. Because if he did that then Erskine was wrong and he hadn’t really been a good person before the serum- there had to have been something rotten lurking in him. He had always fought against those types- always, so he had been resisting the realization with everything in him until now. Now he could see Tony laying pale and broken on the ground, put there by his hands. He could see his team torn in two by his actions, fighting against each other in a way that never should have happened because they had been a family. And Steve was responsible for ruining that family because of his own hubris.
He had succeeded in destroying Earth defense against evil and enhanced people that were looking to hurt someone, unlike every Villain they had fought before. An actual god had failed, but he had managed to do it with a few pretty words and the trust people put in him. They had joined him in a fight against oppression, when his end goal was protecting someone who didn’t want that protection. Someone who had been a part of hurting one of his team. And all the while Steve had kept the team mate most effected by his lies in the dark, so another villain was able to use what his friend had done against them all. And then he had almost killed Tony.
“What have I done?” He asked himself, forgetting that he wasn’t alone for a moment as everything hit him. Nat snorted and he looked up to see she had been watching the doorway that Coulson and Barton had gone through. She was looking at him now, her eyes hard and glinting.
“You decided that one man was worth the world you were protecting burning, and not one of us thought any different. I… I stayed behind with Stark because it’s in my nature to play all the angles I can until I can decide which one is the best for me. I never thought this would end with you and Barnes almost killing one of us though. I knew you wouldn’t stop, so I assumed that you would come out on top when Tony eventually decided to bring us in from the cold and had smoothed everything over legally. But that’s not going to be possible now. He has every right to leave you, and by extension whoever fought with you out in the cold because that’s what you did to him. You beat him until he was on the brink of dying and left him to wait for help like he meant nothing to you. To your team. Even if by some miracle he does decide to forgive you, then Coulson sure as hell won’t let it go.” She said sharply. He flinched at her words, but he couldn’t deny them. While Natasha could be evasive by nature she was shooting straight here and she was calling him out.
“This isn’t what I wanted, what I meant to happen when I set out trying to find Bucky. All I wanted to do was to help him, to bring him in after what we saw in those files. I was so happy that he was alive, but he's been hurt so much that I didn't want him hurt more. By anyone. Even the child who lost his parents because of him and considering how I let Wanda spout off about Tony because it was his weapon... I'm a Hypocrite Nat.” He said, feeling useless. She grunted, giving him a hard look.
“I know it’s been said, but It doesn’t matter what you meant to happen. Only what happened actually matters. What happened was you and your buddy beat a man who was working around the political and legal loopholes of 117 countries demands for accountability until he was almost dead because he had a bad reaction to finding out his parents had been murdered by said friend. That fight had nothing to do with the accords, nothing to do with protecting the rights of anyone other then Barnes and it could have been handled differently. Should have been handled differently, you told me that you would tell him for gods sake. Tony… Tony is smart enough to realize that it wasn’t Barnes Fault but anyone would need time to process it without being blindsided like he was.” She snapped, the anger in her voice rising as she spoke and drove home her points. Finally speaking her mind about what had happened. And she wasn’t done yet, she took another breath before continuing though.
“You were as much as fault for what happened in Siberia as Zemo was. If you had told Tony the truth, in some other situation, he probably would have brushed that news off as old news and this would have been over. Hell, this whole disagreement probably wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t have a huge secret hanging over you. If you would have trusted that Tony would help with getting Barnes cleared of any charges he may face because he was a P.O.W. for 70 years and forced to kill then we may have been home right now instead of where we are. And you better realize that fact because we’re not getting home anytime soon because of the events you set into motion and out inability to call you out on them.” She finished, the sarcasm in her voice as strong as the anger now. His stomach twisted unpleasantly as he imagined how things would have gone if he had just told Tony when he and Nat had found out. And this time he didn’t see Tony killing Bucky. No he could imagine what Nat has said happening, and the end result was they would be home right now, not hiding.
“Somewhere along the lines I stopped seeing him as someone that was capable of being descent Natasha. I saw everything he’s done as something that he did for himself- his image and not a thing of it as something he had done for the sake of others. I fell back on the videos and that first report I saw on him time and time again. The one that spoke of his narcissism, his addictions, and the fact that while Iron Man had been recommended for the Avengers Tony Stark had not been.” He replied gruffly. She sighed and rubbed a hand down her face.
“Coulson told me that report was going to come back and bite me in my ass as soon as he read it and like always he was right. He wasn’t too happy with it when he saw it you know? But he had already been compromised by Tony in my opinion. I may have been a little more harsher then I should have been because my best friend told me his husband had asked to bring Stark into their relationship and I didn’t like it. I know I went into it ready to paint him in a bad light because Fury asked me to make sure that he had a reason not to bring Stark on right away- he had a plan. Truth is, the man was dying when I made that evaluation and he didn’t see a way out of it so he was self destructing. And I encouraged some of the behaviors so the videos reinforced my assessment. The only help he ended up getting from shield was a diorama and video that belonged to Tony’s father. Both things that he should have had access to in the first place. And of course he also got me jabbing him with a shot to keep him stable while he was on house arrest with Phil while he worked the clues out himself. It wasn’t a true representation of him by any means, but it was a report that could be tossed at him and others to keep him on the track Fury wanted. He’s always had to save himself, defend himself and even I’m sick of it at this point. He’s not a bad man.” She said tiredly, the words exploding out of her before into resignation.
Steve stared at her, anger growing in his chest as he realized that the report that he had based his initial interaction on- the report that Fury had given him was inaccurate. He should have been able to trust information his allies, superiors gave him damn it.That report had colored many of his interactions and choices regarding the man afterwards. He leaned back into the couch stared at the ceiling blankly. He had made the wrong call about the other man since the beginning of their working relationship it seemed, and there was nothing he could do to change that. He had justified his actions with the knowledge that Tony Stark wasn’t really chosen for his team, even if he was their sponsor that kept them afloat. Hell even the money the other man had used to sponsor them had seemed like a pay off to stay on the team in the end, at least to Steve.
“I never gave Tony a chance to make his own first impression on me, or to really correct the one I had because of that file Natasha. I met him on that carrier prepared for this selfish asshole who went against everything I knew his father to be, even though he should have been honoring the mans memory in my opinion. Every single time I made a judgement call after I remembered that file- who the true Tony Stark was, and every time I made the call that he wouldn’t support because the type of man it took to support the call he would like wasn’t a man I wanted to be.” He breathed out heavily, feeling empty and disappointed in himself. He had been given the access and chances to change those first opinions he had made, but he hadn’t wanted to. It was easier to see him as the one in the wrong. It was easier to justify keeping things from him when he had a track record that proved he wasn’t to be trusted. Nat laughed at his words, but it was a pleasant sound and then he felt her weight settle on the couch next to him.
“Howard Stark was an obsessed asshole who ignored his wife and beat his son down mentally, an occasionally physically. Tony only stopped trying to get his approval once he got the message that he never would because he wasn’t you. And he only got that message after he met Rhodes and the other man took up a role of protector and taught him that he was worth something even if his father couldn’t see that. When I was doing the work up before going under as his P.A. I read the police reports though. Tony’s private schools felt the need to report his father a couple times. Each time money would exchange hands and Tony would be transferred to another school that didn’t care so much about the home life of their students until he tested out suddenly and began MIT at 14.” She spoke heavily, making Steve stiffen and bite his lip as he listened to her. She took a breath before going on, not content with destroying his ideal of his friend. She had more to say of course.
“By the time you met Tony? If he was still trying to get approval from a dead man I would have been truly concerned about him Steve. Before Carter’s mind started going she and Fury spoke a couple times about recruiting Stark, she wanted him far away from all of this because Shield was spearheading the search for you funded by Stark Sr even in death. And she didn’t want him brought into an organization that was as obsessed with you as his father was. She had seen what that had done to him when he was growing up and how much he started rebelling the moment he was out of his father’s home. She wanted her godson to have a chance to finish his rebellion and to settle down into the man she knew he could be. Fury just wanted his brains, and the moment she was retired Stark fell into his lap because of Afghanistan.” She explained tiredly, revealing some hard truths that Steve wasn’t ready for as she continued on her vein of being brutally honest.
Steve felt sick as he listened to the description of his dead friend that she painted, but he swallowed back any words of defense or protest as he mulled over everything. Suddenly things made a lot more sense to him and he wondered how the other man had ever taken him into his home. Steve felt even worse as he realized why Tony had been more upset at seeing his mother murdered then he had with Howard’s death as it played out. Howard Stark had been the type of man at home that had kept Steve’s mother from ever dating after his father was out of the picture. She had always told Steve that he was frail enough without her making the wrong decision by bringing in a man who would mistreat them.
“Why didn’t anyone ever tell me any of this? And Tony knew Peggy. God, why didn’t he say anything?” He asked, turning his head to look at her. She snorted, and raised an eyebrow at him.
“You wouldn’t have listened. Any person who met you could see just how hard you were holding onto the people from your past. They knew much you put them on a pedestal and knocking them down would change nothing. You’d find excuses or reasons for them to act the way that they had. And yes. Tony knew Peggy, I can only assume that he didn’t say anything because just maybe he didn’t want you to know his connection to her. I’d say it backfired on him since you threw her in his face when it came to the Accords though. You do realize since he knew her all his life, he knew her longer then you had. He knows better then anyone what she would have said about them.” She replied simply, without any shred of regret for not cluing him in sooner. He had made mistakes, but they were not only his to shoulder. He had acted on the information he had been given, and obviously his teammates had been in possession of knowledge that would have made him rethink actions.
Steve opted to stare at the ceiling again, wondering how in the world he could make any of this right. He had been making the wrong calls since he woke up, including trusting Fury it seemed, and he didn’t see a path that would get his team back together. Not after he had almost killed Tony. There may have been a way out before that. Because looking back at what he had done before, Tony had a tendency to forgive the wrongs done to him.
“How do I even start to fix any of this?” he asked out loud, feeling disgusted with his own actions. Natasha was silent this time, so after a few moments he looked at her and she looked about as lost as he felt.
“I have no idea where we start. It’s never going to be the same as it was, even if Tony pulls an ‘It’s all in the past’ thing when it comes to the fight. The people gathering around him won’t just let us into his circle again, and they shouldn’t if I make the assessment thinking about his continued well being physically and mentally. We betrayed him, you killed him. That leaves scars that will never heal.” She admitted, her voice hesitant as she voiced what he already knew. “He’s been betrayed so many times in his life, that I’m not sure he could forgive this one.”
Steve rubbed his palms roughly against his face, agreeing with her mentally. The people who had ended up following him in this were not good for the other man, as they had proven with this ‘Civil War’. And boy wasn’t that a punch in the gut. He was responsible for this hurt, this betrayal.
“Bucky’s going to be going to help Tony as soon as T’Challa clears him. And I don’t think he’ll ever look back. I don’t blame him, I brought him to that bunker knowing that there were things that needed to be addressed. Both with Tony and in his own head- the trigger words. And I knew that he was fresh out of a bad place, but never considered what would happen if we got into a fight and he lost control. I should have. The moment I stopped attacking he came back to himself and actually joined my alternate in protecting Tony- he would have fought me if I attacked again.” He admitted softly, almost ashamed that he. She hummed, or made a noise close to a hum.
“Do you blame him for wanting to protect Tony now?” She asked after a moment. He shook his head without needing to think. He remembered seeing Tony so small and broken looking after the red had left his vision and he had really looked at what he had done. Bucky was always protective of the abused, the ones who needed some heft to make the bullies back off.
“No. Tony… He needs people to have his back now more them ever, though he’s needed it for a while now. Bucky is good at protecting the little guy, and helping heal from being beat down if he’s still anything like he was back in the 40’s. If Tony will have him, he’ll be good for him. Though thinking of Tony letting him in when we won’t have the chance to make things right hurts.” He replied, verbalizing his thoughts. There was another hum from the woman.
“Perhaps what we should do, is take responsibility what we’ve done and have his back from the distance. Coulson mentioned something is coming, he didn’t explain but if he assumes we’ll be pardoned to help then it’s something big. Tony won’t back down just because he was almost killed, we’ve seen this before. So he’s going to need help eventually.” She suggested. Even before he really thought it through he could feel that it was the right thing to do. He nodded after a moment and she chuckled, drawing his attention to her again. She looked more exhausted then he had ever seen her in that moment. But the actions they had all taken had come calling for re-payment and she wasn’t the only one feeling the strain of it. They all were. Still the sight of her showing the strain worried him.
“You doing okay?” He asked, because he hadn’t really checked in with her yet. Things had gone from celebrating the rescue from raft to Bucky chewing them out over comments about Tony quickly. Steve had been uncomfortable with the hostility shown to the man he had hurt, but he hadn’t known how to address it without explaining Siberia. Bucky hadn’t held back though, and then everyone’s focus had been on Tony, and if he was going to recover. She looked at him with a half hearted glare.
“No. I’m not doing okay. I knew I made the wrong call the moment I heard the crap coming out of your so called team. I didn’t realize just how wrong I was until Bucky told us about what really happened in Siberia. And I can’t change that call. I spent so long trying to keep myself on the right path that I lost sight of that path. I justified lives lost because I didn’t trust the team mate that could have helped. I let you go and you almost killed said team mate. I’m about as far from okay as possible. And before you spoke, I was half way out the door- I intended to run and hide. You don’t know Coulson the way that I do. Clint… he has a chance at the man’s forgiveness because they are married- Clint’s little disaster with their former surrogate aside. They have children together and Coulson won’t give up on him when there is a chance to work things out. I’m a stray Clint brought in from the cold instead of killing. I used to be a friend, but I could see the writing on the wall with Shield and I fell back on the mindset I had when Clint found me. I’m not sure I’ll ever be a friend again.” She confessed. He frowned a little, not sure how to reassure her that things would work out.
She was right though, he didn’t know Coulson other then the agent turned Director used to be a fan of his. He had barely met the guy before he was killed, as sad as that was considering the importance that he had held to two members of his team. So he had no idea how he was going to treat her after this. He had no idea of what to expect from the new Director of Shield at all, and god wasn’t that scary. He had thought that the Organization had been destroyed with the data dump. But no, it was still up and running. Still operating from the shadows. Part of him wondered if they could be sure that there wasn’t Hydra operatives still lurking around in it.
“We can only take it one day at a time, and make amends to those we can. Running won’t change what happened.” He finally murmured, hoping she was planning on staying and seeing this recovery through. Sam and Scott had distanced themselves from everyone else once the details of Siberia were out and he selfishly wanted someone with him as he worked to atone for his mistakes. She laughed dryly at his statement.
“I understand that Steve. And If I ran… Clint would never forgive me. And I really wouldn’t have a chance to be their friend again.” She replied shortly, before leaning back herself and looking at the ceiling. “This is a mess Steve. A horrible fucking mess.” She muttered. He nodded, wondering not for the first time how this was his life. How he had become the villain instead of the hero, and as he had since Bucky told everyone about Siberia he only found that he had himself to blame.
Settling Tony down for a movie after the meeting in front of his lab was surprisingly easy, proving just how fragile the genius was at the moment. Clint’s urge to get him home and away from this mess was stronger then ever. Tony was trying to bounce back like he did after every major incident, but his family knew him to well, and he wasn’t used to not being able to hide his trauma’s away and make believe they didn’t happen anymore. It was a stark reminder of how much ground they had lost with Tony after he had been sent here. And there was no doubt in his mind that this was there Tony. He knew the man he had seduced into his bed inside and out, and this was that man. Though he hadn’t gotten inside him yet. Clint snickered at the random perverted though, jostling Tony slightly as he slept and making the other man burrow into him. Tony hadn’t lasted to far into the movie before he fell asleep, another point in proving the other man was in desperate need of recovery.
“He’s not going to break, you do know that right? Our Tony, he’s hurting right now but he knows he has his family, people he can trust to see him at anything less then his best around him right now so he’s going to seem like he’s falling apart because we know how strong he can be, but he’s healing.” Phil murmured from by Tony’s feet. Said feet were in his hands because their husband had been massaging them. Clint grumbled a little bit but nodded as he brushed a piece of hair that had fallen across the genius’ eyes up and tucked it behind his ear.
“I know, but I’m angry Phil. I’m so fucking angry that it isn’t funny. We lost him, thought he was dead and while we were mourning him people with our faces were breaking him down. This isn’t just all because of Rogers almost killing him. This is a direct result of having remembered us- having dreamed about us, and then being forced to realize time and time again that the people he knew in the waking world were nothing like his dreams when they let him down or hurt him” Clint muttered. He felt Phil’s hand cover his, and he looked at him- feeling the angry tears building in his eyes.
“It’s alright to be angry for him Clint, it’s normal when someone you love has been hurt. I know Bruce is having a hard time not going to their little retreat and letting the Hulk out. But being here and supporting him? That’s what Tony needs. Not for us to let our anger rule us. At the end of all this? Tony is coming home with us, not staying here. Plain and simple. They may end up regretting what they have done, but it won’t matter because we are going to be bringing him home.” Phil assured him, squeezing his hand. Clint rubbed at the tears, feeling like he had cried more in the last couple days then he had since they thought Tony had died. He couldn’t take out the people who had caused the damage even, because this world would need them after the mess with Thanos was over and his family had brought their lover home. He had to remember that because Phil was right. They would reap what they had sown when they didn’t have Tony around to clean up their messes and make their tech and that was a worse punishment then hurting them now would be.
“You two are going to wake him up if you keep talking like that and you know it- he’ll feel you tense up. I thought the point of us keeping him home bound during the agreement is recovery. He isn’t going to be sleeping much once his time limit up and you know it. That man doesn’t know how to rest without his arm being twisted after all.” Nat warned them, coming in with the blankets that they had asked for. Clint stuck his tongue out at her and Bruce caught it.
“You should probably keep that in your mouth unless you plan on using it. And while Nat might appreciate the lashing I could think of a couple people who like you sharing it outside of the dance card.” the sometimes Green scientist teased, letting his tongue go after a moment. Clint stared at the other man for a moment- he never got used to the random moments of perverseness that the other man had. He was startled by a sleepy chuckle from the man laying on his lap.
“You got him Brucie Bear. That was a good one and nope, not sharing unless their name’s already on the card.” Tony mumbled, and of course the recovering genius would be awake to hear that tease. Tony and sexual innuendos went hand in hand after all and he had corrupted the other scientist in the first place. Bruce leaned down and kissed the top of Tony’s head softly.
“Of course we’re not sharing it Tones, that’s why I had to remind him before it went wandering since he let it out.” He murmured, a peaceful smile on his face. Tony turned his head and gave him a short kiss in response, Bruce hummed and smoothed his hair down as he settled back into Clint who was shaking with silent laughter. Tony caught his hand and held it so he settled down on the floor.
“We need bigger couches for better cuddling purposes because this people on the floor thing is just stupid. Jarvis, can you find me some to look at? I want to be able to have everyone on one. No more Brucie Bear on the ground. It’s a travesty!” Tony demanded suddenly. As the AI agreed to Clint stopped laughing and looked down at the man in his arms with an approving smile. The easy coming request of the AI to prepare something was a victory in his opinion, but the genius was ignorant of it as he continued to grumble about his current cuddle couch being too small for his needs. Phil squeezed his hand again before declaring that the couch couldn’t be in any outrageous print, which set Tony off on another tangent. It felt familiar… normal and it was something Clint had sorely missed.
“Jay can let us know when he’s come up with a list. How about we find a way to squeeze all of us onto this thing and finish that movie before the two giants come home and find themselves on the floor?” He asked, after the argument dissolved into Tony suggesting Avenger themed print. Tony pouted at him at having his fun taken away, but he nodded all the same and then they were arranging who sat where, and arguing about who the genius would lay on to make them all fit. The answer was all of them, with Nat claiming his feet from Phil. As the movie started Tony hummed, pleased by the solution. The genius had been tactile the first time around, but it felt more like touch starved now- and Clint wasn’t ever going to let him be denied that again if he could help it.
Stephen looked at the Android, intrigued by the news he had in regards to his teams location, and the events of the last 3 days. Tony Stark lived, or he may based on the fact that Steven Rogers had been transported another version of their world in time to rescue the man after being involved in a failed experiment with the artifact that had held all of the stones and had been worn by the man when he made his exchange. The other Original Avengers had gone with another version of Strange himself, to give aid to that world since it was Pre-Thanos. And to see Tony themselves of course. Beside the artificial being, James Rhodes was shifting impatiently. The android had let the other man know that he would be leaving, and why and had gained a companion on his trip.
“Are you going to help us get to Tones or do we have to find another way over there?” The man finally demanded, the words bursting out of his mouth. Stephen chuckled, knowing from his search across time lines how loyal Rhodes was to Tony, and how upsetting and tense this new development must be to him. They had thought the genius was dead after his sacrifice- even a hint that may not be the case sparked a fierce hope. The supreme sorcerers own irrational attachment to the other man, that had happened because of his search had him nodding in agreement. If JARVIS was correct, and their friend was alive in a pre-thanos world there was no way that he would deny their request. Tony Stark had given enough to this fight, but he knew the other man would never just leave an Earth defenseless. So before they could bring him home- if this was his home- the alien needed to be dealt with. But it couldn’t happen like it had here- if it did Tony would be gone again.
“We will be going, both to confirm the theory that JARVIS has, and to help that world in it’s fight.” He confirmed, ignoring the dramatic ‘Thank God’ the other human let out as he watched the Android’s shoulders slump in relief at his agreement. JARVIS was a complex being, something that in all technicality shouldn’t exist even given his advancement and autonomy, but his creator had never been one to follow the rules- any type of them. So it shouldn’t be surprising that he had manage to create a life form out of wires and servers. The android was truly worried for the Tony that his team had left to help though, and with what they knew that worry wasn’t misplaced.
“Thank you Doctor. If this is Sir, then I would like to be there to support him and to make sure that he does not find the need to sacrifice himself once more… Even if it is not the Tony that we lost I will not sit by in this world and wait by when he is in need.” the Android murmured, sounding vulnerable and tired in that moment. Stephen smiled at him.
“It should be easy enough to locate the gathering of displaced entities within the multi-verse. You two should pack if you wish, while I look. Will Mr. Or Mrs. Hogan be joining us?” He assured the other being, before asking about the former Ms. Potts and her husband Happy. If he remembered his search for a way to win correctly the two had once been close to Stark. Or was that another world? It got confusing trying to keep things he had seen straight at times, if he was completely honest. Rhodes shook his head, indicating that they wouldn’t be coming.
“Pepper’s too far pregnant to chance having the baby in the other world with Thanos looming over it, and Happy isn’t going to leave her side even if he wants to be there for Tones. They did tell me that they want me to drag Tony home as soon as I can if the others were right and he’s our version though. Pep is working on what will be needed to declare him back in the land of living in either case though. If that world is half as bad as what the tablet suggests it is, there’s no way in hell we are leaving any version of Tones there.” He explained. Stephen hummed, understanding both the hopes expressed, and the fact that Tony Stark would be among the living in this world one way or another when this trip was concluded.
“I don’t think your team mates would leave the any version of him behind either. If he’s willing to come, I have no doubt there is a place for him here.” He replied, Rhodes snorted.
“Fuck being willing to come. He was almost killed by a damn team mate. There is no way in hell that place is any good to him, whatever version he is. I’ll knock him out myself if I have to in order to get him here. Won’t be the first time I’ve had to do something along the lines of it to get him out of a bad situation.” Rhodes declared, his voice firm and just a tad dangerous. Stephen raised an eyebrow at the declaration, wondering just how many times the other man had knocked his friend out for his own good, and how the Tony they were going to see would take it if his friend decided to do that to get him here. In other versions of this world their connection was something that never really changed. Rhodes would always be there to defend his chosen brother and best friend. In any form- there were even world where the other man had been injured enough to undergo becoming an A.I of sorts. And those were the worlds that tended to be darker if he was honest. A Rhodes who had the ability to destroy a person’s life with a single thought if they hurt his friend wasn’t anything to laugh at after all. And the worlds that were kind to Tony Stark were surprisingly few in number so he had plenty of data to go by in regards to that.
“Somehow I do not doubt that.” The Sorcerer murmured, trying to feel for the displaced energies of their absent friends, stretching out his senses as far as they would go in his search. Rhodes snorted at his response, but Stephen didn’t acknowledge it as he found the bright concentration. Seven life forms that originated here, in this world, were in that world. Not just the five who had left to join Captain America in protecting that world and safeguarding the man that he had saved from his double. There was no doubt that the man Steve had saved was their friend.
“I’ve located the alternate world.” He announced, keeping his discovery to himself for now. He had a feeling that if they knew for sure that the injured man was their friend that it would cause tension then the situation would allow, given the fact the Tony he had known wouldn’t abandon a world that he had called his own to Thanos. However, if Stephan happened to meet any of the people who had hurt their friend, he would not be kind in his revenge. They wouldn’t get away with almost killing Tony just because he was keeping this to himself for now.
“Then let’s get a move on. There’s no telling what mess that Tony will get himself into, even with the others there looking out for him.” Rhodes grunted, impatient to get there and see the Tony that Steve had saved. He really didn’t care if the man was the version he had known it seemed.
“Brace yourselves. I’m not sure what this trip will feel like.” Strange warned the two men, before opening a portal. It took much of his strength, more then he had estimated, but once it was open he and the other two men didn’t hesitate in stepping through.