Someone once asked Tony what he was without the suit. He considered the answer pretty obvious but apparently the rest of the world needed a reminder.
Without the suit he was Tony Fucking Stark.
He was a genius. Without the suit, he’d build another one. And he’d make it fucking better. He didn’t need a super serum or special training or breathtaking anger management issues.
He was Tony Fucking Stark and he’d find a fucking way to come out on top every single time.
It’s what he did.
It’s what he did in the business world, young and inexperienced in a sea of sharks. He met their manipulations head-on with a charming, razor-sharp smile. He could negotiate and manipulate with the best of them. He took the company his father built and he made it better. Dragged it into the future through stubbornness and sheer willpower.
It’s what he did in Afghanistan, surrounded by enemies and tortured. He told them yes while planning their demise in the same breath. He took the materials, the scraps they gave him, and he built a miracle. He built the impossible in a cave right under their noses and then he destroyed them for what they did.
And he dragged himself home afterwards and pieced himself back together into something better.
It’s what he did after Afghanistan, when the world called him crazy and he was betrayed by his own godfather. He took the rage and pain and betrayal and forged it into something stronger, into Iron Man.
It’s what he did during the expo, gritting his teeth through SHIELD’s blatant manipulations and threats to do the impossible (again) and save himself with a never-before-seen element.
And then SHIELD had the audacity to sit there and tell him ‘Iron Man: Yes, Tony Stark: Not recommended.’ How stupid did they think he was? If anything, Tony Stark was the one they should want.
After all, Iron Man was nothing without Tony Stark.
Which was something they learnt very quickly after the invasion. After Iron Man went through that portal, carrying a nuke on his back. After Captain America ordered the portal closed when he’d barely cleared it.
“Wait! He could still fall back through!”
The leaked comms recording had shown Hawkeye’s protest but Black Widow hadn’t hesitated to close the portal.
And Iron Man was lost to them, taking Tony Stark with him.
Initially, SHIELD wasn’t concerned. Tony Stark was a wild card and impossible to control. They wanted his tech and money, not him.
They ran into multiple obstacles very quickly.
Namely in the form of a vengeful AI, CEO and Colonel. JARVIS blew up the Iron Man suits as per his protocol before the agents could get within a mile of them. He also sent the labs into total lockdown. Nothing short of another nuke could crack them right now.
Pepper refused to have anything to do with the organisation after hearing the comms recording. She offered Agent Barton help with finding a good therapist after his experience since he’d had the decency to protest stranding Tony in space without hesitation or waiting a few seconds. The bomb hadn’t even blown yet when the portal closed!
But the rest of them?
They wouldn’t see a dime of Tony’s money or tech. She also hit SHIELD with a lawsuit over the espionage Natasha Romanoff committed.
She may not have been dating Tony when he went through that portal, their brief romance having fizzled very quickly, but he was still one of her best friends and she’d be damned if the people responsible didn’t suffer for what they did.
Rhodey focused mostly on the military, riling up those in charge against SHIELD. It wasn’t hard. Tony had still been one of the biggest manufacturers of defence gear for the military. They made certain that War Machine never fell into SHIELD’s hands so that the organisation would never have any part of Iron Man.
And that wasn’t even mentioning the public’s reaction. They were in an uproar over the loss of the superhero they knew best. Captain America was a legend sure, but who had they actually seen recently? Protecting them and being the visible hero?
And now he was gone, with no hesitation on the good captain’s part. Once that recording of the order and Hawkeye’s protest was leaked, probably JARVIS’ work, along with the recording of the confrontation on the helicarrier, there were riots in the streets.
“Justice for Iron Man!” They cried.
“Justice for Tony Stark!” They demanded.
Yes, he’d sacrificed himself for the planet. But his team could have had the decency to wait more than one damn second to close the fucking portal!
Bruce quickly ditched SHIELD, disgusted by what happened while he was the Hulk. He took Pepper’s offer to live at the newly rebuilt Stark Tower since, as she said, it’s what Tony would have wanted.
He often found himself sitting at a window at night and staring at the stars, usually joined by Clint who’d left SHIELD and Natasha behind. They’d both wonder what Tony had thought in those last moments, as the portal closed literally as he passed through, as no one made any effort to save him.
What had he felt?
Alone and betrayed probably.
“If only they’d waited a few seconds,” Bruce said one night. “I did the calculations. The chances are high that Tony would have fallen back out of the portal from the initial shockwave of the nuke exploding, ahead of the radiation and blast. He would have fallen back to earth and they could have closed the portal just before the explosion.”
Many scientists had made these same calculations and it had damned the captain and widow even more. Thor had long since left, grieving a good warrior and Loki had been oddly subdued when they captured him.
“I thought Natasha changed,” Clint said softly. “I thought she cared about people. But she still only sees them as assets. And Stark fulfilled his purpose in her eyes. And was now expendable. So she didn’t argue the order. She’s done it before, I’ve seen it. Ignored an order she didn’t agree with. But… she never liked Stark.”
Neither had Rogers. He’d hated Stark since they first met. And the man who’d been so determined to save everyone in New York… damned one of his own teammates without a second of hesitation.
And with no regret.
The world mourned the loss of Iron Man.
But it suffered the loss of Tony Stark.
They lost a hero. But the loss of a brilliant mind and big heart, that hurt more. And they only realised what they’d had when they lost it. They only saw the arrogant act for what it was when the will was put into action and billions went to charities across the globe. Most of his work with charities had been anonymous and as it was suddenly exposed, many felt bad for how they’d treated Tony Stark.
It was too late now though.
(Steve Rogers truly only felt regret when a sobbing, aged Peggy Carter threw a punch and demanded why he didn’t try and save her godson.)
The world mourned.
And Tony Stark? Well… he did what he did best.
He found a way.
Tony wasn’t all that sure how he’d survived both the blast and the vacuum of space (note to self, build a space-worthy suit), but he did and he woke up again in a cell on what he soon learned was a Ravager ship.
They planned to do, well, something with him. Mostly they wanted his suit which they’d confiscated and almost took his arc reactor (thank tesla they decided to leave it).
Shame that they had no idea who he was so they weren’t prepared for anything. Within a day he’d improvised a weapon and hijacked the ship. The crew was so impressed that they made him an honorary Ravager and gave him his suit back. It was in bad shape but, as he’s said before. He’s Tony Fucking Stark. So he fixed it and made it better.
Since he kind of wanted to head back to Earth the crew kindly dropped him off at a safe-ish planet with a universal translator. They weren’t heading back to Terra anytime soon so he decided to make his own way there.
It didn’t take him long to figure out the intergalactic currency and how things worked out here. His skills as a businessman came in handy as he negotiated and charmed his way onto ships and into tech. He upgraded his suit as he travelled, took apart any tech he got his hands on and experienced multiple different cultures.
He made friends, he made enemies and admittedly, he had the time of his life. No one out here knew who Tony Stark was. They just knew him as Tony, a smart-ass genius who talked his way into and out of trouble in equal amounts. They knew him as Iron Man who took out Thanos’ fleet and he was praised for that.
He became a hero known across the galaxy nevermind just on Earth. Thanos’ people went after him, which was how he met, fought and eventually befriended Nebula. Nice girl, they bonded over terrible fathers. He took her under his wing and they travelled together as he fixed the mess that was her cybernetic parts, designed specifically to cause her pain.
Thanos was a fucking monster.
He learned about the Guardians of the Galaxy through her, listening to her grumbling complaints of her sister Gamora and her silly little group of friends.
After meeting them he kind of got what she meant but at the same time he liked them. They were a mess but a fun mess.
Gamora and Nebula immediately started a weird sisterly fight with swords while the rest of them finished cleaning up the would-be invaders of this area. The talking raccoon promptly demanded his suit, the hot human smacked him over the back of the head and scolded him before tripping over his words as Tony’s own helmet folded back.
“Damn you’re hot,” he blurted.
Tony threw his head back and laughed as the guy turned red. Yeah, this group was fun.
Once Gamora and Nebula seemed to reach a truce and were no longer trying to chop each other’s heads off, the Guardians offered them a lift. Tony accepted because he enjoyed the horrified expression on Nebula’s face and he wanted to continue flirting with Peter Quill, AKA Starlord who had recovered himself and was pretty charming when he tried.
They naturally ran into trouble on the way and somehow the lift just turned into them joining the gang as they travelled around helping people. Admittedly Tony had stopped thinking about getting back to Earth, he was so busy making alliances with people who could help against Thanos and the Guardians were just so much fun to be around. None of them pretended to be perfect. He helped Gamora and Nebula through their family issues, sharing his own problems with Howard. He and Rocket built all sorts of things together and the raccoon helped upgrade his armour even more. By now he was working with nanites and the Iron Man armour was just brilliant.
He’d hang out with little Groot who was funny to watch and talk to as he slowly grew to understand his language. Drax was also a lot of fun to hang with.
And then there was Peter. Tony and Quill got on like a house on fire, flirting and trading sarcastic comments back and forth. Tony upgraded his gear and Peter got him new tech. They spent long nights talking about Earth and why Peter never tried to return. Tony kind of got that. The only reason he’d want to go back was for Pepper, Rhodey, JARVIS and the bots.
He would go back eventually but being out here was just so… freeing.
Then there was the mess with Ego and Tony admitted that Peter might have the worse dad out of them all. They escaped just barely and Tony got to know Yondu who he’d managed to save with some quick work with his nanites.
Peter kissed him hard for that and then they just sort of kept kissing and ended up in bed together.
And that happened a lot after that.
Tony expected to find a lot of things in space but love and a family weren’t on the list. But he did. And he found himself not really wanting to give it up.
He still needed to go back to Earth though, not even for personal reasons. Thanos was on the move and apparently had his sights set on Terra. They heard the rumours and without a word, Peter set them on a course for their home planet.
On the way, they ran into another legend in the universe, Captain Marvel. Or as she was known on Earth, Carol Danvers. She stayed with them for a couple days and she and Tony swapped stories about Earth. She seemed disturbed by what she heard about Fury. She left them with a promise to warn the planet that aliens were coming to help.
And that Tony was alive.
He had no idea how that news would be received but he might as well give them a heads up. He didn’t have very long to worry about it though since Peter decided to distract him.
And Peter was very distracting.
Carol arrived on Earth bringing the news of Thanos’ approach. She took Tony’s advice and went to the military instead of SHIELD. In a matter of hours a meeting had been called with heads of agencies and world leaders. She spotted Fury and two people who were probably the Black Widow and Captain America judging by the clothing. It was interesting to see Hawkeye and Bruce Banner with a Colonel from the military though instead of SHIELD. When she found out he was Colonel Rhodes she almost blurted out her message right there and then but restrained herself. The world needed to know about the threat before they needed to know about Tony’s survival.
And geez but he had one hell of a story. She’d learned of him long before meeting him since the legend of Iron Man had spread like wildfire across the stars.
Drawing on her military training she told them what she knew about Thanos and his army. They all looked worried and panicked by the end.
“There are aliens on the way who intend to help defend Earth though. They’ve already gone against Thanos’ people before,” she explained at the end. “I ran into them on my way here and they’re only a few days away.”
“Can you tell us about these aliens?” someone asked as people settled again.
“They’re known as the Guardians of the Galaxy. They’re led by a human who was abducted years ago. Peter Quill, AKA Starlord. His second in command is Gamora. She was raised by Thanos to fight for him but she turned against the Mad Titan and has been actively fighting against him. She was recently joined by another of Thanos’ so called children, Nebula, who left the madman as well. They have an engineer named Rocket and an alien I don’t know much about named Groot. He’s essentially a tree.” She enjoyed their blank expressions for a moment. “Their other members include a warrior who has a personal grudge against Thanos named Drax and another who joined them recently named Mantis.” She hesitated for a moment before steeling herself. “They have one other member. He’s recently become very well-known across the universe and he’s been actively working against Thanos for a while now.” Her lips quirked. “You should know him. His name is Tony Stark and the entire universe knows who he is now.”
The room broke out into chaos at that declaration and she glanced at the SHIELD group to see Fury’s eye widened in shock.
Suddenly Colonel Rhodes’ voice cut through the noise. “Tony’s alive?!”
She looked back to him and she softened a bit as she took in his desperate expression.
“Yes. I spoke to him only a few days ago actually. He’d doing well. He asked me to let you know he’s alive so it didn’t come as a shock when he arrived with the others.”
Rhodes let out a shuddering sigh of relief. “Thank you.”
She nodded. “He’s certainly something,” she admitted. “The universe is singing his praises.” That got her the attention of the entire room again. “The man of metal who took out a large part of Thanos’ army in one strike, who won the respect of the Ravagers and travelled the galaxy helping people on his journey home. Everyone knows who Iron Man is, who Tony Stark is.”
No one seemed to know what to say to that, Colonel Rhodes smiling and Hawkeye and Banner exchanging relieved looks.
The days leading up to the Guardians’ arrival were annoying. Everyone wanted to speak with her, not about Thanos, but about Iron Man. She understood Rhodes and Potts, who asked for an appointment to get more details. But Fury constantly cornering her to try and get information was annoying.
And then there was Captain America.
“So he’s fine?” he’s asked hopefully.
Carol had looked the man in the eye, thinking about the footage she’d seen of the invasion, of the recording of his order.
“Yes, but his abilities and determination don’t erase the fact that you left him out there in the first place,” she told him coldly. “You could have waited.”
“I needed to close the portal!”
“If it was anyone else, you would have waited,” she purposefully let her eyes flick to the hovering form of Bucky Barnes nearby.
Rogers looked stricken. “I did what I had to do.”
“That doesn’t make it right. The bomb wouldn’t have gone off immediately. You should have waited a few seconds before closing it.”
With that she turned and left. She’d only known Stark a brief time but she liked him. He was a good man.
She no longer believed that Captain America was.
If that had been Thor or his new buddy the Falcon, he would have waited. According to the information she’d found on the internet since returning, he’d torn up cities in his quest to find Barnes.
He could have waited a few seconds for Iron Man.
Carol was waiting at the landing site as the Guardians’ ship drew closer. There were military men and a number of people she didn’t know there with her. Colonel Rhodes and Pepper Potts were there. Hawkeye and Banner were there.
SHIELD and the Avengers were there, made up of Rogers, Romanoff, Wilson and Barnes.
She looked up as the ship came into sight and made a smooth landing. The tension shot up as the ramp came down and the Guardians filed out.
Gamora and Nebula gave her respectful nods. Rocket complained loudly about the level of tech he was seeing, Groot looking around curiously. Drax and Mantis came down, talking and oblivious to the stares they got.
Then came the one they were all waiting for. Tony Stark stepped onto the Earth’s surface for the first time in three years alongside Peter Quill.
He looked different, no fancy suit or sunglasses. Instead he wore a red jacket like Peter’s, marking him as someone with ties to the Ravagers. His clothes were worn and his hair windswept.
The arc reactor shone brightly in his chest though and he moved with an undeniable confidence as he faced his home planet again.
“Missed me?” he asked, smirking.
Pepper and Rhodes raced forward to drag him into a hug, laughing and crying and demanding that he never do that again. People smiled as the reality of him being alive really sank in.
Iron Man was alive.
More importantly though, Tony Stark was alive. And that was infinitely more relieving.
Tony hugged his friends, Pepper curled against his chest while Rhodes hugged him tightly.
“Sorry it took me so long,” he murmured. “There were some things I had to do.”
“Like what?” Rogers demanded, skeptical. “Sounds like you were living it up in space.”
He flinched at the glares he got, even from Wilson and Barnes.
Tony just laughed. “Thanos has an army. So I thought we’d get one too.” He looked up and everyone followed his gaze.
Jaws dropped as more ships started arriving, from numerous planets all across the universe.
“They don’t want the purple grape to win any more than we do,” Tony pointed out with a grin.
Someone laughed and that set off everyone else.
“Only Tony Stark,” a general said in wonder.
Peter stepped forward when Tony’s friends finally pulled back. “Do I get an introduction Starlight?” he asked gently.
Tony’s smirk softened into a smile as he slipped his hand into Quill’s and introduced him to his two best friends and JARVIS via Pepper’s phone.
“It’s good to have you back sir,” the AI said, too much emotion in the words to belong to a computer.
“It’s good to be back J, for now.” Tony looked back to Peter again.
They didn’t welcome him home, because it was abundantly clear that Earth wasn’t home anymore. The Guardians were. So while he’d come back to defend his home planet, he wouldn’t stay.
And once Thanos was defeated, the Asgardians joining them in their war against the mad titan, Tony packed up to leave again. His friends hugged him and Tony installed JARVIS into the ship so that the AI could go with him, leaving Friday under the care of Pepper.
“You’re just going to abandon Earth?” Rogers demanded the day he was leaving after Romanoff had failed to guilt him into staying and joining SHIELD.
He turned from where he’d been saying goodbye to Clint and Bruce, promising to visit again sometimes, and raised an eyebrow at the super soldier.
Every one of Rogers’ attempts to mend the bridge between them had failed. Tony was understandably upset that the man had seen fit to strand him in space instead of waiting a couple of seconds for him to fall back through the portal. And then on top of that he’d found out from Barnes that the Winter Soldier had killed his parents. Rogers had tried his hardest to hide that fact but Barnes believed that he deserved to know.
So yeah, he had no interest in befriending the man.
“Yes, I’m leaving. There are new superheroes showing up every day. One leaving won’t make much of a difference and the world has War Machine. I’m leaving, with my friends and my fiancé. You stranded me in space Rogers. You can’t be mad that I found happiness out there. And you can’t be mad at me that Aunt Peggy won’t talk to you. That woman doesn’t let anyone tell her what to do.”
“Agreed,” Sharon said from nearby. She’d also come to see him off, visiting Aunt Peggy with him to assure the poor woman that she wasn’t hallucinating her thought-dead godson. Her illness had worsened but Tony got a few good hours with her.
He probably wouldn’t be around for the funeral but he wouldn’t have gone anyway. She’d have a public funeral and his presence would detract from the importance of the day.
Turning away from Rogers, Tony hugged Sharon goodbye before starting to walk towards where Peter was waiting, the galaxy in his eyes. Some dormant powers may have been awakened when he thought Tony had died on the battlefield. The two had long since admitted they were past casual sex and were head over heels in love with each other.
A hand suddenly caught his wrist and he glanced back at Rogers, catching a glimpse of Peter already moving over.
“Listen Tony, I’m sorry okay? I thought I was doing the right thing,” he pleaded.
Tony studied him for a moment and shook his head. “If it had been Sam would you have closed the portal?”
Silence fell and Tony smiled. “The right thing is supposed to be hard Rogers. It’s never easy.” He pulled free and stepped over to Peter who was eyeing Rogers suspiciously. The man immediately wrapped an arm around Tony’s waist. “Closing the portal on me was easy for you and Romanoff to do. And that’s what everyone has a problem with.” He leaned against his boyfriend. “I don’t blame you for closing the portal Rogers. I’d have been pissed if you didn’t and allowed the explosion to get to earth. What I am mad about, what everyone is mad about, is that you didn’t hesitate to close it the moment I went through. You didn’t wait even a few seconds on the off chance that I might make it back through while the bomb flew to its target.”
“You closed the portal immediately and you didn’t regret it,” Clint spoke up from nearby. “You didn’t care about Tony, so how can we expect you to care about anyone else unless they’re your friend?”
Rogers stared at them all, lost. Tony didn’t know if the message had got across but it was no longer his problem. Rogers was dangerous, using that line ‘I did the right thing’ as a justification for everything he did. Whether it was saving one man at the cost of many others or screwing one man over because it was easier than waiting a few seconds to end a fight.
He was dangerous.
But he was someone else’s problem now.
“Ready to go Starlight?” Peter murmured.
“Yeah, let’s go.” Tony nodded and they walked over to the rest of the Guardians waiting by the ship.
Rogers didn’t try and stop them again and Tony waved at everyone one more time before climbing into the ship.
“Welcome aboard sir,” JARVIS greeted and Tony closed his eyes, leaning against Peter as the ship took off.
He was home.