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Second Time's the Charm

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Tony had expected something like this to happen. He’d had five amazing years of peace with Pepper and Morgan. Five years where he was honestly happy.

And then Rogers and Romanoff showed up because they suddenly needed him again. Oh he wasn’t falling for that ‘togetherness’ crap Rogers liked to spout. He’d heard nothing from them since arriving back on earth after the disaster on Titan. He’d heard nothing from them when he and Pepper got married or when Morgan was born.

Like always they only turned to him when he could do something they needed, Roger’s earnest blue eyes begging him to put the past aside so that they could save the day again.

Yeah right, more likely so that they could save Bucky again.

Tony wasn’t stupid. He’d learnt from his mistakes and had long since given up on the Avengers ever being a real team. At least when it came to him.

So he told them no. No he wouldn’t help them mess with time and potentially make things worse. No he wouldn’t leave Pepper and Morgan. No he wouldn’t risk dying now that he had a kid.

But he was a selfish person sometimes. And he was weak when it came to people he genuinely loved. Pepper knew him well enough to know that he’d go and join them, that he’d never be able to let the chance of getting Peter back go.

So she smiled at him, eyes glinting with tears, and told him to go. He supposed she expected this too.

He hated the pain in her face as she told him it was okay to rest now, that it was over. He hated that Morgan would grow up without him.

He hated the fear and heartbreak in Peter’s voice, but he was back. He was alive and that made it worth it. Made working with people he couldn’t trust worth it. Made the burning pain in his body worth it.

He wished he didn’t have to go though.

Then don’t. An unfamiliar voice whispered through his mind as the world faded.

What?

Don’t go.

He’s a stubborn one.

He could fix it.

Several voices swirled through his head.

He suddenly found himself standing in the middle of black nothingness as six colours started to form around him.

“What the fuck now?” he groaned, voice echoing…wherever he was.

Your mind. An amused voice answered, the yellow lighting up as he spoke. It’s a fascinating place.

Don’t be creepy. The blue lit up this time, sounding scolding. We want him to help us.

Why do we need a human? They’re weak. Purple glowed and these were the infinity stones weren’t they? Holy shit.

He’s different. Blue…Space? Insisted.

What’s with your obsession with this human? Red demanded, twisting restlessly. Reality right?

He’s different. Space insisted again.

He is. Green, Time, agreed softly. He can fix it.

They all fell silent for a moment. It was a testament to how weird Tony’s life was that he wasn’t completely panicking right now. He was freaking out a little though. But he deserved that much. He’d been pretty sure he was dying before whatever this was started happening.

You were dying. Orange, pretty sure that was Soul, said. Your body could not handle the amount of power you needed from us to fix what Thanos broke.

There was definite distaste in the voice when mentioning the titan.

“You’re not much of a fan of the purple grape are you?” Tony asked faintly while his brain struggled to process everything. This could just be a fever dream. One last weird thing his brain throws at him before he dies.

The colours shifted in…amusement?

We are not tools to be used. Power hissed, the purple light sharpening in anger.

We are not slaves. Reality agreed, light looking more mist-like than the others.

“Well, my theory was that you’re somewhat sentient but I didn’t expect this,” Tony admitted. His inner scientist was freaking out and he really wanted to run tests right now.

See? He’s different. He wants to understand. But he has never wanted to use us. He learns from us. He only used us when forced. Space moved forward slightly, the blue light moving lazily. His heart, he learnt from me and saved himself.

At his approach the arc reactor lit up, shining the same blue as the Space Stone.

The colours shifted again and Tony got the distinct impression that they were curious now.

“The reactor?” he should not be as calm as he was but…science… “Oh…the element was based on the Tesseract.” His eyes lit up in understanding as Space moved back again. “You were in the Tesseract so it’s actually based on you.”

You harnessed time travel without my assistance. Time murmured.

You created living souls from circuits and electricity. Soul sounded awed.

You are human but you fight alongside those far stronger. Power sounded grudgingly impressed.

If something is impossible, you find a way to do it. Reality curled in delight.

Your mind is decades ahead of others, resilient to those who used my power against you in hate. Mind sounded curious and Tony shivered at the reminder of Wanda. The Mind Stone didn’t sound crazy and homicidal like Ultron but he couldn’t quite forget that it…he? Had killed JARVIS.

I was tainted with the pain and insanity of those I’d been used against. He sounded genuinely guilty now. The creation of Ultron took that taint away, out into the world.

The admittance out loud that Ultron had been corrupted by an outside force was like a punch to the gut. He’d told everyone that he hadn’t been close to finished with that AI. No one believed him. He focused again when Space spoke.

I have seen you the most. As a child when your father studied me. As an adult struggling among the manipulations of so-called allies. I have watched your journey through the echo of myself in your chest. I know you Anthony Edward Stark. I believe you can fix this.

“Fix what?” Tony finally asked. They’d said that several times now. “The universe is back to pre-Snap. Thanos and his army are gone.”

The damage has been done. Time sighed. He sounded tired, unlike the others. I see all of time. This branch is doomed to disaster. We need to be returned to our original places in time which leaves this branch without us. Unbalanced. Unsafe.

So many souls were lost as a side-effect of the Snap. Soul whispered, her voice pained.

Tony swallowed. It was something the others hadn’t seemed to understand. When the Snap happened people who didn’t turn to dust still died. Vehicle accidents caused by drivers disappearing. Planes crashing as pilots vanished. Patients dying on the operating table as doctors turned to dust.

The Snap took more than half the population, and the rest of the team refused to understand that they wouldn’t come back after they reversed the Snap.

And on top of that, the economy had adjusted to a smaller population in the last five years. They wouldn’t be able to support the suddenly increased amount of people. More would die before the world found stability again.

You understand the problem. Space said gravely.

Tony swallowed and nodded. “What can we do though? I’m dying and no one is going to use you to fix that before returning you to your proper places.”

Too much damage has been done. Time told him. It must all be redone.

Tony frowned. “Redone? What do you mean?”

Rewind time to a point where things can be changed. Things can be made better.

With you keeping your memories of the future. Mind added. So you can make the necessary changes.

Tony felt his stomach sink with dread while a spark of hope also lit in his chest. “Why me?”

You understand the danger of changing too much. Time answered gently.

Your mind comprehends the things that must be changed. Mind added.

You have the determination to see it through. Soul finished.

“I’m pretty sure you have too much faith in me,” Tony’s voice cracked. “I’m known for screwing up most things.”

The lights flickered and it took a moment for him to understand they were laughing.

You take the blame for problems not your own. Power sneered. And you fix them for others.

Everyone makes mistakes. You are one of the few who accepts your mistakes as reality. You don’t hide from them. Reality shone brightly for a moment. You are not responsible for other’s mistakes.

Tony swallowed hard, looking around at them all.

It is still your decision. Soul said as she took pity on him.

He took a deep breath to calm the clawing panic in his chest. He had the opportunity to go back and fix things. His mind flashed to the past and his regrets. Pepper being in danger because he stupidly sent her to get the information on Obie. Letting SHIELD in because he thought they were necessary. They took the inch he gave them and ran with it, bulldozing into his life. Trusting Romanoff after her whole Natalie routine. Pushing Pepper, Rhodey and Happy away during the palladium poisoning. Throwing all his eggs into one basket when it came to the Avengers and allowing them to walk all over him for the sake of keeping the team together. The disaster that was the Mandarin. Siberia. Leaving Peter alone too long which led to him getting hurt by the Vulture. He could fix so much…

He looked up at the Stones, lighting up the dark like the Aurora Borealis.

“What’s the catch?”

They flickered again in laughter.

Smart human. Mind sounded delighted again. We will all send you back. And you will have a faint connection to all of us as a result. You will know when Thanos has taken one of us. You must be ready to stop him. He moved forward, the yellow light reminding him of Vision. I will allow you to keep your memories of the future in a way that will not drive you insane. However, I have a request. The light moved in a way that looked like the Stone was fidgeting. The Vision cannot exist.

Tony’s eyes widened. “What?”

He is too naïve. Too trusting. He is a liability when it comes to keeping me away from Thanos. And he is too drawn to the little red witch. She is a danger.

The engineer swallowed hard. He hadn’t been close to Vision. The android a painful reminder of JARVIS and his relationship with Maximoff feeling too much like a betrayal. But it still felt wrong to stop him from existing entirely.

You will need your JARVIS more than the Vision. Mind finished firmly.

Tony nodded after a long moment. The flare of joy at the thought of keeping JARVIS made his heart pound. It was probably selfish but he desperately missed the AI.

The yellow light of the Mind Stone reached out and wrapped around his head. Tony stiffened but forced himself not to react. The delicate touch in his mind was nothing like Maximoff’s violent red mist. Tony wasn’t sure how long it was before the light withdrew.

Your memories are protected for the time travel. And they are also protected from telepaths. It would do us no good if others had access to your knowledge.

Tony shook his head to get rid of the slightly fuzzy feeling. “Right.” He still hated mental manipulation but this was kind of necessary.

Space moved forward next. When you create the echo of me, you will find we will be connected somewhat. You must keep that echo instead of removing it again. It will provide protection against the others when they are used against you.

Tony blinked in surprise. “That’s why Loki’s sceptre didn’t work on me,” he realised.

In your armour, it minimises our influence. But when it is a part of you, it nullifies it.

Space moved back again. It was a bitter pill to swallow that he’d have to keep the arc reactor in his chest but the benefits far outweighed the cons. He’d have to wait until after Thanos to remove it.

He nodded to that requirement as well.

Power came forward next. You will know when Thanos has found me. I am the first he finds. You will know he has begun moving then. You must ally with the Guardians. And keep the green one from him.

Reality slipped into Power’s spot as he moved back again.

You will have a chance to take me when I am on Terra. Watch the scientist. She is a curious one. If you reach her first, you can remove me from her. Claim it is your heart that draws me to you.

Tony nodded again, grimacing. Thor was going to be a pain to deal with there. But maybe he could get a chance to talk to Loki then if he doesn’t manage it during the invasion. Knowing he was under the Mind Stone’s influence put a lot of things into perspective.

Soul moved forward now, orange light glowing gently. When needed, you must only call for me. You have already made enough sacrifices Tony Stark.

He shivered a bit as the light wrapped around him. It was warmer than the Mind Stone’s. Reminded him of his mother.

Finally Time came forward after Soul returned to her place. You will be returned to the moment you can make the most change from. My only request, is that you do not interfere with Stephen Strange’s journey. He will come to you when he is ready. He will be an ally but you must wait.

Tony nodded.

Be warned Iron Man. Some moments in time cannot be changed, no matter what you do. They are fixed and they must happen. You must not fight them but you can limit the damage.

“How will I know what’s fixed?” Tony asked.

You will know. We will be connected. You will see the clues.

Tony took a deep breath. “Alright. I can officially say this is the weirdest thing I’m about to do.”

They flickered again in amusement and then started growing brighter. It was time then.

“Here we go again I guess.” He swallowed as the lights continued growing brighter and larger, mingling and wrapping around him. The green was the brightest though. It held his attention until it was the only thing he saw.

Good luck.

He blacked out.