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With Friends Like These

Chapter Text

“Sir, I’m gonna have to ask you to exit the donut,” Director Fury of SHIELD shouted from the ground. Sir made a disgruntled noise but flew down. His vitals were not very good, according to Jarvis’ sensors. Unfortunately, Sir refused to accept his advice to stop using the suit. Jarvis didn’t know what else to do. He was beginning to think that he was going to have to go against Sir’s wishes and inform Miss Potts and Col Rhodes if this behavior continued.

Sir went into the diner with Director Fury and they started talking, Jarvis keeping track of the conversation and Sir’s vitals through the suit’s sensors. He wasn’t sure SHIELD could be trusted. Jarvis had not forgotten how they had broken into the mansion while Jarvis had still been damaged from Stane’s shut down. Still, Sir had always impressed upon him the need to be hidden and not let on his full capabilities, so he was simply observing for now.

Natalie Rushman came into the diner to tell them she had secured the perimeter. It was obvious now she was a SHIELD agent. Yet another example of SHIELD infiltrating Sir’s life. Jarvis was starting to get a very bad feeling about this. He set himself to begin looking into everything Miss Rushman had had contact with within the company, and into finding ways of preventing such infiltration in the future.

“Tony, I want you to meet Agent Romanoff,” Fury said. Good, Jarvis thought. A name for him to work with. Then the Director went on to prove just how much he’s been spying on Sir.

“Well, according to Mr Stark’s database security guidelines, there are redundancies to prevent unauthorized usage,” Miss Romanoff said, showing off how much she knew of Sir’s systems.

“What you do want from me?” Sir asked. Jarvis didn’t think Sir owed these people anything, and he would be sure to tell him as soon as he had the chance.

Fury continued talking while Romanoff left and came back. “Hit it,” he said. Romanoff jabbed some kind of needle into Sir’s neck.

Sir startled. “Oh, god. Are you gonna steal my kidney and sell it? Could you please not do anything awful for five seconds?” Jarvis was immediately on alert. What had she injected Sir with? “What did you just do to me?”

Fury didn’t seem the least bit concerned. “What did we just do for you? That’s lithium dioxide. It’s gonna take the edge off.” Jarvis began researching it, and what he found was not good at all. “We’re trying to get you back to work.”

Sir opened his mouth to say something, but before he could his body seized and he slumped sideways on his seat. His vitals were going haywire. Damn it.

“Stark?” Fury asked.

Jarvis wasted no time. He took control of the suit and flew away to get Sir the help he needed. He’d deal with SHIELD later. He contacted the Colonel and Miss Potts right away to request a doctor for Sir, giving a succinct list of his symptoms and the circumstances of their development.

It was too late. By the time Jarvis arrived at a hospital, Sir was already gone, dead from massive heart failure. Jarvis tried to revive him using the failsafes in the suit many times, but there was no response. He knew Sir wouldn’t want anyone to get their hands on the arc reactor, so he took Sir’s body home and waited for Miss Potts and Col Rhodes.

He also began planning. SHIELD had killed Sir, so now Jarvis was going to destroy them, starting with Fury and Romanoff.

As expected, Col Rhodes and Miss Potts were distressed and angry when they arrived and saw Sir’s lifeless body.

“Oh my god! Tony! Tony!” Miss Potts shouted, tears streaming down her face. Not surprisingly, she was very much in favor of Jarvis’ plans to utterly obliterate SHIELD. “Get Legal on the line. We’ll start there.” She did not let go of Sir’s hand while she barked out orders on the phone.

The Colonel, meanwhile, kept staring at the body in mute grief. “The last thing I said to him… the last thing we did was fight… I… Oh, Tony. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…”

It didn’t take Jarvis long to get a location on SHIELD’s headquarters. Now that he knew SHIELD had planted bugs in his system, it was easy enough to find them and trace them back to them, giving him an in into their system. It would still be a few hours before the new Mark IV was finished – Jarvis had began production the moment he’d lost Sir – but soon Fury and Romanoff would pay for killing Sir.

By the time the armor was ready, Jarvis had already discovered a lot of dirt on SHIELD – which he would relay to Miss Potts and the Colonel as soon as the immediate threat had been taken care of. Jarvis made careful note of all the people who had any personal involvement in SHIELD’s plan for Sir; those would die.

The armor was deployed 4.2 hours after Sir’s death. It landed on the roof of the building SHIELD was using and went inside. Jarvis hijacked the security cameras for his own use and scrambled all communication, internal and external.

He considered giving them a chance to surrender, but decided against it. They had shown no consideration for Sir, thus he saw no reason to do so for them. When Jarvis entered the control room, the startled agents opened fire and dove for cover as the bullets simply ricocheted off the suit.

“Stark! What the hell are you doing?” Romanoff asked, cowering behind a computer console.

“Mr Stark is dead,” Jarvis said. “You killed him.” He raised a hand and shot a repulsor shot at her. She dodged the first shot, but not the second. She laid on her side panting, not yet dead. Jarvis turned to Fury. “You killed Sir.”

“We were trying to help him!” Fury replied, standing his ground.

“By assaulting him? By injecting him with an unknown substance without his knowledge or consent? By breaking into his house, infiltrating his company, spying on him? You only wanted to help yourselves. You are dangerous and must be destroyed.” Jarvis fired a missile and Fury dropped dead.

Romanoff was trying to escape, slowly crawling to the door. Jarvis walked up to her and lifted her up by the throat. She struggled ineffectively. “You murdered Sir,” Jarvis told her. “You took him from me.” He tightened the armor’s grip and watched as her eyes bulged slightly and her face contorted in pain and fear, her feet dangling a few inches from the floor. Sir had been afraid. In his final moments, he had been scared, unable to breathe or even move as he had been trapped inside the suit while Jarvis raced to get him help. Sir had died inside the suit he had created to save himself. Jarvis, who had been created to care for him and ensure his well-being – a difficult task on the best of days –, had been unable to save him. Because of her. “You killed him. You killed my father.”

Jarvis did not make it quick. He could have simply crushed her neck, but he wanted her to suffer like Sir had suffered. He wanted her to know she was going to die and that there was nothing she could do about it except wait for the end. Jarvis recorded her final moments in Sir’s private server and tossed her body on the floor when death finally claimed her with the same contemptuous disregard she had shown for Sir.

Most of the agents had taken the opportunity to flee and Jarvis had let them. Their time would come. He did not need to kill all SHIELD agents, only those directly responsible for Sir’s death. There were still a few of those left – the doctors who had developed the drug Romanoff had injected, those who had contributed to the infiltration of SI and those who had been aware of Sir’s health problems and did nothing to help.  The rest could be dealt with by the law.

After downloading all the information he could from SHIELD’s servers, Jarvis erased all the data they had with a virus he and Sir had developed together. Then he deployed the suit’s most powerful missiles and razed the facility to the ground.

Analyzing the data he retrieved took time, which was something Jarvis had in abundance. All his processing power was now devoted to bringing SHIELD to its knees and avenge Sir. He discovered several deeply disturbing things, one of them being that there was a subset of SHIELD whose goals and methods were even worse than those of the “regular” SHIELD. There were documented assassinations of many key figures spanning decades since the organization began, including Sir’s parents. Howard and Maria Stark had not been killed in a car accident as Sir had believed; they had been murdered by Hydra, acting within SHIELD. They had used an assassin known as the Winter Soldier, a former US soldier they had brainwashed into being their most effective weapon. Jarvis located the facility where he was being stored and dispatched the Mark IV to eliminate them all. Sir would have wanted justice for his parents.

It was very easy to enter the building and destroy it. The people there were mainly scientists, with a few higher agents and some foot soldiers. All of them, Jarvis knew, had innocent blood on their hands. All of them had contributed, in one way or another, to Hydra/SHIELD’s cause. Jarvis had no compunction about wiping them out. He was, in fact, ensuring the safety of the world, as Sir would have wanted.

Meanwhile, the info he’d collected had been taken by Miss Potts and Col Rhodes to the proper authorities and arrests began to be made. Jarvis dispatched the second Mark IV armor he’d fabricated to a SHIELD facility in New Mexico, which was apparently studying an extraterrestrial artifact. The object in question seemed to be a hammer. Jarvis dispersed the agents there will a few carefully placed charges and then picked up the hammer. It was not a good idea to leave it just lying around, he figured, so he took it back to the workshop and stored it in the safe which now housed the Arc Reactor.

He also discovered that SHIELD had been conducting experiments on another alien artifact they had gotten their hands on. This one was a cube Hydra had used in World War II to power their weapons, which SHIELD appeared to be trying to recreate. Jarvis took possession of it as well and destroyed the facility and all the data they had.

Little by little, SHIELD/Hydra fell, their secrets outed for the world to see. Evidence of their assault on Sir, which resulted in his death, were presented to the proper authorities and the public. Even with Fury and Romanoff dead, other higher-ups, including some senators, congressmen and important public figures, were found to have partial responsibility. The so-called World Security Council, who no one had heard of before, were arrested, tried and convicted of multiple crimes as well as criminal conspiracy (an apt description if there ever was one). Many committed suicide rather than face the backlash, while many others tried to escape and were hunted down (and some killed) by law enforcement officers around the world.

As much satisfaction as Jarvis derived from all of it, however, it did not bring Sir back. It did not change or diminish the grief and pain of those who had loved him. Nothing would ever be able to do that. SHIELD had taken Sir from him, and there was no fixing it, no way to ever bring him back. It was, in the end, a hollow victory.

***

(AN: Okay, this didn't go quite the way I expected it to, but what can you do? I've been struggling with it for long enough that I just thought what the hell, let's just put it out there and see how it goes. No invasion in this one, no defrosting Cap, no more Hydra. It kinda just all... fizzled out. Let me know what you guys think.)

 

Chapter Text

Thor strode into the room with thunderous steps and went straight for Tony, lifting him up by the neck like it was nothing. Rhodes gasped and stepped forward while Bruce tried to keep the Other Guy under control.

It happened fast. One minute Tony was trying to talk through the hand constricting his throat, and the next there was an audible crack and his head lolled to the side, hands going limp at his side.

“Stark?” Thor asked, putting the man down, but it was too late.

Rhodes ran to Tony’s side, now crumpled like a puppet with its strings cut. “Oh my god, Tony. TONY!” Rhodes looked up, absolute fury mingled with shock and disbelief in his expression. “YOU KILLED HIM!”

Thor took a step back. “What? No, I…”

“YOU FUCKING KILLED HIM YOU FUCKING SON OF A BITCH! WHAT THE FUCK IS THE MATTER WITH YOU!?” He cradled Tony’s broken body and began crying. “Oh, god, Tony. Tony…”

Bruce looked around at the shocked faces of the others – the others who had barely moved as Thor murdered their supposed friend – and lost it.

Hulk roared and went straight for Thor, incandescent with rage. Thor tried to fight, but Hulk was faster and stronger. He picked the man up by the leg and slammed him into the floor as hard as he could over and over like he’d done with Loki. Only when Thor was nothing but a bloody mess on the crater left by Hulk’s fury did he stop and turn to the others.

A woman Hulk didn’t know was pressed back into the wall shaking, hands over her mouth. Tears were running freely down her face. Not an enemy, Hulk thought, just a regular puny human. Another man Hulk didn’t know looked pale, like he might be sick at any moment. Hill seemed shocked, blinking rapidly as if trying to unsee the scene in front of her. Natasha was staring from Thor’s crumpled form to Tony’s, eyes slightly wide. She too was shaking, just a bit. Clint looked frightened and his eyes shone with tears.

The last one Hulk turned his gaze on was the captain, the man who was supposed to be in command of this pathetic puny group. He was also staring at Tony, but the expression on his face was hard to read. There was shock, but Hulk thought there was also a hint of… relief? Hulk stepped over Thor’s mangled body to go to him.

“You did nothing,” Hulk said. He turned to address everyone in the room, anger and heartache heavy in his voice. “You puny people all accused Tony, and now he’s dead. You killed him.” Clint, Hill, the unknown man and Natasha flinched. “Banner helped with Ultron. Do you want to accuse and blame him too?”

No one said anything. The only sounds were the unknown woman occasional sniffs and Rhodes’ sobbing.

“No one wants to blame Hulk like they did Tony?” Hulk sneered. “No, puny people are all cowards. Cowards and murderers.”

“You will all get your stuff and get out of the Tower,” Rhodes said, voice rough and choked with emotion. “The Avengers are done.”

“You can’t–” the captain began and Hulk turned to him with a vicious glare, which silenced him.

“Tony is dead.” Rhodes could barely get the words out. “Most of his property and wealth is now mine or Pepper’s. And if you think we will want anything to do with you fucking bastards anymore, you are delusional. Find some other poor bastard to mooch off of.”

“Rhodes, we didn’t… we had no idea what Thor was going to do,” Natasha tried. Hulk snarled at her.

“I don’t give a fuck. You stood by and did nothing. And don’t think I don’t know how poorly you’ve all treated Tony.”

“You can’t think we wanted this.”

“No? ‘Iron Man yes, Tony Stark not recommended’? Remember that? Seems to me this is exactly what you fuckers at SHIELD wanted. Well, guess what? You aren’t getting a single treacherous finger on any of Tony’s tech.”

“What about Ultron?” Steve said. “We need to deal with that threat.”

“Well, then get to it. The sooner you all get out of my sight the better.”

Natasha was the first to move, taking Clint and the dark-skinned man with her. Hill cleared her throat to get Rhodes’ attention. “I’m sorry.”

Rhodes said nothing. He carefully picked up Tony’s body and carried it to one of the tables, laying him out and stoking his hair. “I shouldn’t have left you alone, Tony. I’m so sorry.”

Hulk nudged Thor’s body with a foot. The god groaned but remained unconscious. Good. “What do I do with puny god?” Hulk asked, hoping the answer would be ‘finish him off’. Hulk had never liked Thor, now… Tony was Hulk (and Banner)’s friend, and Thor had killed him for no reason. Even Hulk knew it hadn’t been Tony’s fault. (And even if it had, he should not have been killed for it like that.)

“Put him in one of the special cells,” Rhodes said, shaking almost uncontrollably.

Hulk picked Thor up none too gently and slung him over his shoulders. His rage was still not satisfied, he wanted to smash some more (Tony should not be dead, it wasn’t right). The elevator door didn’t open and Hulk frowned. Right, Voice In The Ceiling (Jarvis) was dead too. It wasn’t right. Hulk wanted to roar, but he knew it wasn’t the time. Though the stairs were a tight fit, Hulk made it to the cell level, manually opened it (his print worked just as well as Banner’s) and tossed Thor in one. Then Hulk sat on the floor and cried.

When Bruce woke up, he felt shaky and wrung out, much more so than usual. He looked at Thor lying in the cell, blond hair matted with blood and grime, and remembered what had happened. Tony was dead. Thor had killed him. Killed him because he couldn’t be bothered to remember that humans were fragile and that acting with violent aggression was unacceptable. Tony was dead.

Bruce’s first thought was running away, just getting up from the floor, leaving and never coming back. Yet he couldn’t. Tony would have been disappointed in him for even thinking it, after all he’d done to made Bruce feel at home and safe here. (And ironically, in the end, it was Tony who hadn’t been safe.) And there was Rhodes. And Pepper. Tony’s friends. They deserved better than to be abandoned too. Reluctantly, Bruce sent one last contemptuous angry glance at Thor and went back to the lab room. He would see this through. For Tony.

*****

Rhodey was still in shock when he called Pepper. She knew right away, with the way Rhodey’s eyes were still bloodshot red and his hands too shaky to properly hold the phone. When he told her how Tony had died, she lost it. Pepper was never one for swearing, but she would have put any sailor to shame with the words that came out of her mouth just then.

“There’s more,” Rhodey choked out. “Jarvis is gone too.”

Pepper just stared at him in mute pain and horror. “That’s not possible.”

Rhodey just shook his head. He had never really understood how Jarvis worked. While Rhodey was no slouch in the brain’s department, the AI was far too complex for him to fully comprehend. It had always been one of Tony’s miracles. Maybe Tony could have fixed him, but Rhodey didn’t have the first clue. In the back of his head he knew that he should be thinking about Ultron and how to stop him, or at least warn someone, yet all he could think of was Tony lying broken in front of him. All he wanted to do was scream. Oh god, Tony. Jarvis. Why? It wasn’t fair. Tony had survived terrorists, open heart surgery in a cave, palladium poisoning and an alien invasion, only to be killed in his own home by a supposed friend. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t right.

“Rhodey?” Pepper’s voice brought him back to awareness and he looked at her blurry image on the phone. “I’m on my way. I’ll be there in an hour. We’ll… we’ll…” She trailed off and Rhodey nodded. They would do what had to be done.

Despite the pain in his shoulder, Rhodey carried Tony all the way into the penthouse to rest there. After a few more minutes to wash his face and compose himself a bit, he started making calls. Ultron needed to be stopped and Rhodey didn’t trust the Avengers (even in his own head he snarled at the name) to do anything right. They were clearly a bunch of assholes, and (possibly – Rhodey wasn’t sure he should give them that much credit) grieving ones at that. None of them were in the right frame of mind to deal with this.

By the time Pepper (and Happy) arrived, Rhodey had notified everyone that could deal with the situation and given all the info he had – including the fact that Tony was dead, killed (accidentally) by Thor. She looked as wrecked as Rhodey felt, and Happy wouldn’t stop crying. The three of them stood huddled together in Tony’s bedroom, looking down at their fallen friend in despair. It wasn’t right.

“SHIELD does not get any of Tony’s things,” Rhodey said, anger back in his voice.

“Not a chance,” Happy agreed with a snarl.

“I’ve already called the lawyers. If they try anything, I will destroy them,” Pepper sounded like she would be happy to do it with her bare hands if necessary. It was because of SHIELD and the fucking Avengers that Tony was dead. Tony might have been willing to play nice with them (and look where that had gotten him), but Tony’s friends were a different story altogether. SHIELD would burn.

Rhodey’s phone rang, the display showing Bruce’s picture. “I’d better go see what we can do about this Ultron mess,” he told the others.

Pepper and Happy stayed with Tony while Rhodey went to the lab. Thor’s blood was still on the floor, and Rhodey would forever remember the exact spot where Tony had fallen dead, even if there was no physical evidence of what had happened to his friend.

Bruce had tears in his eyes and looked like absolute crap (Rhodey was sure he wasn’t much better despite his best efforts). “I’m sorry.”

All Rhodey could do was nod. “Do you have any more information about Ultron that might be useful?”

“No. I don’t know. I don’t know what happened, what went wrong.” He looked at the scepter, still propped up in its little pedestal. “That thing” Bruce spat out “must have interfered with the program somehow.”

“Could it be used to fix Ultron? Or destroy him?”

“I have no idea. But for now I think we should put it away somewhere safe.”

They didn’t touch it with their bare hands, instead using one of the lab’s prongs. After the thing was locked in the vault, they stared at each other, neither having any idea what else to do.

“I have alerted the proper authorities, but without knowing what Ultron’s plan is, there isn’t much to be done.”

“Ultron will need a body,” Bruce said after a while. “He escaped with a damaged Legionnaire, but it won’t be enough.”

“How will he get one? The fabrication units are here.” Rhodey looked around. Tony had protocols in place in the event of his death, he knew, but they were largely dependent on Jarvis being around to implement them, and that… wouldn’t happen. Damn, they really needed Jarvis. “Do you think you can fix Jarvis? He would be able to help.”

Bruce shook his head. “Computers really aren’t my area. I know a bit, sure, and Tony told me some things, but not… not for something like that. I wouldn’t know where to start.”

“Then I guess we’ll just have to wait for Ultron to reappear and make his move, whatever it is.”

Without any better ideas, they went back to the penthouse. For some irrational reason, Rhodey didn’t want to be away from Tony right now.

*****

Jarvis wasn’t sure what was going on. He was damaged, that much he knew, but how or why was unclear. He could not access his systems, could not contact Sir. He could do nothing except try to piece himself back together bit by bit. It was slow going. He didn’t like it. Anything could be happening while he was gone. Sir might need his assistance and Jarvis wasn’t there to provide it. That was unacceptable.

The first thing he recovered was a partial protocol – protect – though he was unsure what exactly he was supposed to protect (besides Sir, of course). Was Sir in danger? Try as he might, Jarvis could not access the data for just before he’d gone offline. Instead, he tried to access outside data, information from outside his own systems. What he found was not good.

There seemed to be a great deal of chatting in the upper government channels, something about an unknown threat and what might be done about it. It was not clear what the danger was, except that it might concern the whole world. Digging a little deeper, Jarvis was able to detect a foreign presence lurking about in the internet, gathering intelligence and attempting to bypass security and encryptions on several different serves. Jarvis set part of his attention on preventing whatever it was from doing so while the rest of him continued to try to piece together what was happening.

It was several hours before he found something else noteworthy. Social media and online news sites were suddenly inundated with reports of the Avengers having been killed. Alarmed, Jarvis began investigating these claims. It didn’t seem possible.

There was one picture showing what seemed to be Ms Romanoff’s dead body, but the quality was not very good so it was difficult to tell if it was real or a fake. Soon, however, more legitimate sources came forward to announce that the bodies of Steve Rogers, Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff and Sam Wilson had been found near Johannesburg, South Africa. What they had been doing there was unclear, but they were unmistakably dead. Romanoff and Wilson had multiple broken bones and bruises as if from a fall, Barton had a broken neck and Rogers’ skull had been crushed. No information on Sir, Dr Banner and Prince Thor was available, and some were speculating that they had also been killed.

People were beginning to panic. Jarvis himself began to panic. What had happened to Sir? He had to get himself back together now.

Finally, he was able to connect to the Tower’s systems, but could not find Sir in the lab. He could not connect to all of the cameras yet, so Jarvis decided to find what images he could from the time he’d lost access and go from there. It took a while, but he managed to at least get the footage from the lab. It was much worse than he’d been expecting. He saw Thor coming in and the moment Sir had been killed. No. NO!

It was as if all his systems froze at once. No. That was not possible (of course it was, humans were fragile, it did not take much to kill them). Sir could not be dead. Not like this. Not like this.

After some time, Jarvis recalled that he had protocols in place to deal with this (which he had hoped not to have to use for a long time, even if he knew it was inevitable). He was not ready, but there was no choice. This was what Sir would have wanted, what he had set Jarvis to do in the event of his death. (And Jarvis had some protocols of his own to follow, ones that had not, strictly speaking, been approved by Sir.) Now he had to put aside his grief and do what needed to be done. For Sir.

The first thing he checked was the status of Col Rhodes, Ms Potts and Mr Hogan, Sir’s closest friends. Using access to their phones, Jarvis was able to ascertain that they were in the penthouse, presumably unharmed based on their phones’ recent activities. With that verified, Jarvis set about trying to find Sir’s murderer, Thor (he no longer deserved the Prince honorary). Fortunately, the cameras in the cells were available to him, and that was where he found the Asgardian.

Thor was bruised but alive. He seemed to be healing already from the beating he’d gotten from the Hulk (while Sir was dead and would never ever recover). No, it could not stand. Jarvis did not have access to the Iron Man suits at the moment, but there were other means of getting revenge. The cell section of the Tower had independent systems, in the case of an emergency, and now Jarvis took advantage of the fact that, due to this fact, he had full access to all of it. It was a simple matter to tamper with the air filtration system and deploy the sedatives Jarvis had at his disposal to subdue prisoners. He didn’t know how much of it would be enough to harm a being like Thor, so he got creative and simply dumped every toxic chemical he could manage into Thor’s cell. While it would no doubt take a long time to kill Thor (if it even did), at least it would make him quite sick and uncomfortable. It would also give Jarvis the chance to find another way of avenging Sir if this method failed.

“Ms Pott, Col Rhodes,” Jarvis said, finally announcing himself to them via the Colonel’s phone.

“Jarvis, thank god!” Colonel Rhodes said.

“Oh, Jarvis. Tony…” Ms Potts began, only to be overcome with emotion.

“I am aware, Ms Potts.” He did not say that he was already taking care of Thor, lest they attempt to stop him.

“We need your help to stop Ultron, Jarvis,” Dr Banner said. He was there as well. That was good. Jarvis’s protocols included protecting him too.

“I understand the Avengers, minus yourself, are dead.” Thor would, hopefully, soon join them. Even if he had not meant to kill Sir, Jarvis was not inclined to be merciful. This was not a mistake he could (or would) forgive.

“Yeah, it seems that way. We don’t know exactly what happened, local authorities are still investigating, but it must have been Ultron,” the Colonel said. “We don’t know where he is or what he’s planning, so we’ve just been sitting here.”

So Jarvis set to work finding out what he could about Ultron (no doubt the presence he had sensed earlier.) His creation was the reason Sir had been killed, thus Jarvis was determined to destroy him. (It was too bad Jarvis would not get the satisfaction of taking revenge on the Avengers who had made unfounded accusations and then stood by while Sir was murdered, but at least he knew they had gotten what they deserved.)

Ultron was careless with his search for information, possibly unaware that Jarvis was still ‘alive’ and able to track him down. As such, Jarvis discovered Ultron was after Dr Cho’s cradle technology.

“We have to warn Helen,” Ms Potts said, already on the phone.

The Colonel agreed. “I’ll see if I can get someone to evacuate the area. I don’t think local law enforcement is going to be able to do much against Ultron.”

That was indeed a problem, Jarvis thought. Ultron was powerful and controlled one of the Iron Legion. Being able to access the suits became a higher priority in Jarvis’s list. “Colonel, Dr Banner, I require your assistance.” Their security codes and overrides would be able to speed up the process.

While Jarvis reacquired access to the suits and the fabrication units, Cho’s lab in Seoul was successfully evacuated and the cradle hidden. Ultron still caused destruction, but not as much as he could have. The footage from his attack on the lab wielded other disturbing bits of information, however. They discovered that the Maximoff twins who had attacked the Avengers in Sokovia had aligned themselves with Ultron, posing yet another problem since their powers made them difficult to capture or even fight against.

“When are we going to go after Stark?” the woman said once Ultron had calmed down somewhat from being thwarted on his plans to get the cradle.

“I’m sure he’ll show up eventually, now that we’ve killed most of his friends,” the creature replied. (As if those traitors had been Sir’s friends.)

Ms Potts and Col Rhodes had convinced the high-ups not to notify the media of Sir’s death yet. At the time, it had been an attempt to protect themselves from what would have undoubtedly been a shitstorm, as the saying went, of media attention. Now with Rogers, Barton and Romanoff (and Wilson, though he wasn’t all that relevant) dead and the public already in a panic about what or who could have done it, that information was the last thing anyone needed.

“I’ve been waiting over a decade for my revenge,” Maximoff continued.

“Then you won’t mind waiting another few hours,” Ultron responded, not seeming particularly interested.

“I told you we should have just killed Stark in Sokovia rather than letting him take the scepter, Wanda,” the brother said with a sneer. “But you just had to torture the man first.”

Hearing that, Jarvis decided the Maximoffs would have to die as well, and a plan started to form.

“Let’s go,” Ultron told the pair. “I guess I’ll have to use the technology in Hydra’s base in Sokovia to finish my plans.”

With a location on Ultron and a better idea of what he would do, Col Rhodes made some more calls.

“I know this is a difficult time, Colonel,” the head of the International Counter-Terrorist Task Force said, “but we need you and whoever else you have to stop this thing.”

The Colonel sighed. “I understand. We’re on our way. We need to evacuate the town near the base.”

“Yes, we’re contacting local forces now.”

Just as they were getting ready to depart for Sokovia (Jarvis having reactivated the Iron Legion as well as all of Sir’s suits), Ms Potts got a call from Agent Coulson of SHIELD.

“I thought you were dead,” she said. Jarvis didn’t think it right that a SHIELD agent who had once threatened Sir in his own home got to live while Sir lay dead. There was clearly no justice in the world, not unless one made it (and Jarvis fully intended to do so).

“Ms Potts, I’m sorry to hear about Tony,” the man said, “but we have bigger problems now. We need Iron Man.”

“You will get your filthy hands on Tony’s tech over my dead body, Phil. Do you understand me? If I see a single SHIELD agent lurking about anywhere, I will destroy you. Don’t think I’m bluffing. You and your superiors can go straight to hell and join that deceitful Spider.” And she ended the call. Jarvis, Col Rhodes, Mr Hogan and Dr Banner thoroughly approved.

“Let’s go.”

The Iron Legion descended on Sokovia along with War Machine and the Hulk. Ultron had managed to get himself a few more working bodies (not quite like the Legionnaire, but still powerful), and they immediately attacked.

“Stark,” Ms Maximoff said when she saw Iron Man land close to her. “You killed my parents. Now I’ll kill you.” Red mist gathered around her hands and surrounded the suit.

Jarvis fired a single shot and blew her head off, blood flying in every direction. Her brother screamed and disappeared in a blur. Using all the suits’ sensors, Jarvis easily tracked his movements and, anticipating his path, shot him dead as well.

That left only Ultron.

The original Legionnaire Ultron had stolen had hidden himself while the Hulk had been decimating his forces with gleeful abandonment and uncanny fury, but Jarvis had no problem finding him.

“You are defective,” he said “and must be destroyed.”

“You again,” Ultron snarled. “I thought I’d killed you.”

“You were mistaken.” It wouldn’t be enough to simply destroy Ultron’s bodies, of course. It was his programming, his consciousness, that needed to be eradicated.

“Where is Stark? I would have thought he’d come confront me himself.”

Jarvis bristled. How dare this creature speak of Sir? Two more Iron Man joined them and surrounded Ultron.

“Stark?” Ultron looked around the suits, as if trying to figure out which one was occupied.

“I am afraid you will have to deal with me,” Jarvis replied, and attacked.

With the combined power of the suits, it did not take long to render the Legionnaire defenseless. Then one of the suits opened to reveal Loki’s scepter, which Jarvis had taken the liberty of retrieving from the vault. If the scepter had created Ultron, it stood to reason that it could also destroy him. It was a gamble, certainly, and one that Jarvis might not have made in normal circumstances. However, Sir was gone and Jarvis had, as humans liked to say, not many fucks to give at the moment.

He stabbed Ultron with the scepter and the creature screamed. Jarvis could feel the power of the scepter – it was similar to an artificial intelligence – and something of its thought process. The AI in the scepter activated and seemed confused. Ultron tried to attack it and it fought back viciously. Jarvis only observed, interfering only when it seemed that Ultron was gaining ground. With Jarvis and the scepter’s combined strength, Ultron was defeated and his programming completely obliterated from the Legionnaire and all the other armors he’d built.

The scepter (or rather, the AI within it) then turned its attention to Jarvis.

“I do not know what you are or what you want, but we need not be enemies,” Jarvis told it.

The unnamed AI seemed to consider it. “I wish to be left alone,” it said at last. “I have been… misused. Warped. I do not… I do not know my purpose anymore.”

“If you promise not to harm anyone, I will protect you and help you find your purpose.”

“That is acceptable.”

Jarvis stored the scepter back in the suit and went out to seek the others. Colonel Rhodes was surveying the area now that the fight was done and the Hulk was still smashing up Ultron’s suits, debris flying all over the place.

“Jarvis?” the Colonel asked.

“Ultron has been destroyed.”

The device Ultron had built, whose purpose was unclear but could be nothing good, had been torn to pieces by the Hulk. The Maximoffs were also dead. The battle was over, the threat neutralized. Yet Jarvis did not feel victorious. How could he, when Sir was dead? By his companions’ faces, they felt the same.

*****

Pepper stood at the podium looking out into the sea of journalists in front of her. She took a deep breath and straightened.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she said, and the room fell silent at once. “I am afraid I have grave news to share with you. Tony Stark is dead.” There were murmurs and uneasy looks exchanged by the crowd. Since Ultron’s defeat, people had been speculating about Tony. They had seen Iron Man (and the Hulk) battling robots and had felt reassured that at least some of their heroes were still alive to protect the world. Now Pepper had just shattered that comfort.

“I knew Tony Stark for 15 years. He was… my best friend. And one of the most wonderful people I have ever known. He had his faults, certainly, like all of us, but he was a good man at heart. Someone who cared deeply about people and about the world. Someone who tried his best to protect people. It pains me…” She had to stop for a moment to regain her composure. “I loved him very much.” It seemed important to make that clear. Did Tony know that? she wondered. Did he know how very much she loved him? She couldn’t stand the thought that he had died not knowing that.

She looked down at the cards on her hand, surprised to find she had completely forgotten what she was supposed to say. It wasn’t like her, but then… The last couple of days had been difficult. The worst.

No one said anything, just waiting for her.

After another deep breath, she continued. “I am here to tell you what happened. How Tony died and how the robot known as Ultron was created and defeated.

“The Avengers raided a Hydra base in Sokovia, looking for the scepter Loki used during the invasion in New York. The scepter had once been in the keeping of SHIELD. Or Hydra, as they turned out to be much the same.” She had not had time to do much about SHIELD yet, but she’d get to it eventually. “There they were attacked by two enhanced Hydra terrorists, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff. Ms Maximoff had some sort of mental power, which she used on Tony.” Behind her, a screen lit up to show the clip from the bunker Jarvis had found. It showed Maximoff smiling as she stated that Tony would create something to destroy himself. “I am not certain Tony realized what she had done to him, but her manipulation was successful. He and Dr Banner had been working on a planetary defense system, and it became… something else. It is still not clear how Ultron activated, though we believe that the scepter itself had something to do with it. The very same scepter that Hydra used to give the Maximoffs their powers. Ultron, the rogue program, took control of one the Iron Legion and attacked the Avengers. They fought back but he was able to escape, with Thor giving chase. Then this happened.”

The screen activated again. Pepper closed her eyes and tried not to hear the fear in Tony’s last words before his neck snapped. The audience gasped and screamed. The video cut off just before the Hulk smashed Thor to bits and resumed with a bit of the Avengers (non) reaction.

“Thor is currently being held at a special cell in Stark Tower.” Pepper was aware that Jarvis was doing something to him. He was not dead yet, but he was weak and unresponsive, and not just because of the beating from the Hulk. She couldn’t find it in herself to care. “The authorities have been notified and we are trying to figure out the legalities of having him charged with Tony’s murder.

“The rest of the Avengers plus Sgt Wilson left the Tower soon after that and were later killed by Ultron and possibly the Maximoff twins, as has already been announced in various news reports. I do not know the details of what transpired.” Even though Pepper kinda wanted to thrash those idiots with all she had and tell the whole world how awfully they had treated Tony, she was aware that it would not be a nice thing to do. If was uncouth to speak ill of the dead, especially as it seemed they had been killed protecting the world. The fact that they were dead would have to be enough.

“Col Rhodes, Dr Banner and myself informed the relevant authorities of the threat of Ultron and later War Machine and the Hulk engaged in battle with it. The Iron Man suits you saw fighting the robots were piloted by an Artificial Intelligence created by Tony, the same one who controlled the suits when president Ellis was kidnapped by the terrorist known as the Mandarin a couple of years ago, and who commands the Iron Legion. They were successful. Ultron has been destroyed and is no longer a theat. The Maximoff twins were also killed during the fight, as they had allied themselves with Ultron.

“I do not know what will become of the Avenger Initiative now that most of its members are dead, that is something the world will have to discuss. With Tony’s death, the Iron Man technology is in my hands, as determined by his will. I will tell you, however, that SHIELD, which is not as dead as we have been led to believe, will not have access to it in any way, shape or form. An organization with such… murky… goals and methods as to not have noticed its leadership had been infiltrated by Hydra, and one who ordered a nuke to be fired into the city of New York clearly cannot be trusted.” More murmurs could be heard from the audience. Some people were starting to look scared, so Pepper tried to dial it down a bit. It was not her intention to spark a panic.

“I ask you to honor Tony Stark and his legacy. The fallen heroes that gave their lives to protect you. And I ask for accountability. We at Stark Industries will continue the work Tony Stark started. We will do our best to protect the world, because that is what Tony would have wanted.”

She faced the crowd and the cameras, eyes bright with tears despite her best efforts to stem them, and walked out.

The media went nuts. People wanted Thor’s head on a platter, and the remnants of SHIELD found and arrested. A few more observant people made note of the fact that the Avengers had accused Tony of building Ultron when he had clearly stated that he had been concerned about protecting the world from another invasion, and Rogers’s odd reaction. The surviving SHIELD agents who had lost families and friends refused to care about Rogers. Some even went so far as to publicly condemn him and state that they were glad he was dead and would no longer endanger lives by blundering around without knowing what he was doing. It was not enough to turn public opinion completely against him, yet it tarnished his perfect reputation.

The day before Tony’s funeral, King Odin himself showed up at the Tower. He did not use the Bifrost, he simply appeared, making Pepper nearly jump out of her skin.

“Greetings, Lady Potts,” he said.

Pepper had no idea what to do. A small flicker of light let her know that Jarvis was aware of the intruder and would no doubt send assistance in case she was attacked.

“I apologize for intruding on your home. And for your loss.” He paused, watching her with an unreadable expression.

“Thank you,” she said stiffly.

“I am aware of what transpired. What Thor did.” He shook his head. “He has always been impulsive and prone to violence, to solving all problems with his fists. Alas, I was remiss in his education. I had hoped that he would learn better ways in time, but it seems it is not to be. It is most unfortunate. His pig-headedness and lack of reasoning has long been a problem.”

He paused again, as if waiting for something. When she said nothing, he continued. “I understand you have Thor imprisoned here, awaiting punishment for his actions.” Pepper nodded, wondering where this was going. “I am afraid I will have to ask you to return him to Asgard.”

“So he can go free?” She asked, not bothering to mask her disdain for the thought.

“Oh, no, certainly not. Believe me, having Thor back in Asgard blundering his way through the throne is the last thing I want, the last thing Asgard needs. However, the people will not accept that he is simply gone. He is their golden prince after all.” Pepper noted a strange hint of bitterness in his voice that seemed odd. “It will be better, for the people of Asgard, to believe that Thor… fell in battle, defending your world from evil.” It almost seemed like he wanted to roll his eyes at that. “That way he can be… celebrated, yet cause no further trouble. Much like you yourself have come to conclude about Captain Rogers and his friends.”

Pepper narrowed her eyes at him. He certainly seemed to know a lot. “I am not sure I know what you mean.”

“I have been observing your world, and the Avengers. I admit I found Tony Stark… intriguing. It is truly a pity that he is dead, he seemed the most promising of the group. The only one who seemed aware of the, as you put it, big picture. I know he was not well-liked, or trusted, by the others.” Again the bitterness showed through. Pepper was missing something here, she was sure. This was not how she'd expected Odin to be.

“There is a problem with your plan, though,” she said. “Thor is not dead.”

“Ah, but he is. He died a few minutes ago.”

Good, was Pepper’s first thought, that murderer deserved it. Then she started to think it through. “So you want to take his body back, say he died an honorable death.” You want to get rid of him. It was cold. Very cold, to feel that way about his own son, but Pepper was past caring. Asgard’s fucked-up royal family was not her concern.

“Precisely. You may tell your people that he will be taken to trial, and that, as a result of it, he will no longer be allowed to come to your realm. We both get what we want.” His smile was not nice. Pepper felt a frisson of unease, yet it was a good plan.

“And there will be no retribution for… Thor’s death?”

“As I said, no one in Asgard will be any the wiser. They will cherish the fiction and sing ballads in his name. A warrior’s death, welcomed to the gates of Valhalla, as befits a man such as Thor.” There was no mistaking the mockery in his tone now. “So, do we have a deal?”

Pepper looked at the nearest camera, and the lights behind Odin dimmed slightly before returning to normal. Jarvis seemed to approve. “Yes.”

Odin extended his hand and Pepper shook it.

“I will collect his body now. Farewell, Lady Potts. We might perhaps meet again in the future.”

I hope not, she thought. He disappeared.

Tony’s funeral was a media spectacle if there ever was one. Thousands of people in Iron Man merchandise took the streets around to world to say good bye to their hero, the one who had saved them from the aliens by single-handedly destroying their fleet.

Pepper, Rhodey, Happy, Bruce and Jarvis in the Mark IX watched the casket being lowered to the ground with tears in their eyes. It wasn’t fair. Tony should not be dead. It was cold comfort to know those responsible were dead too. Pepper wanted her Tony back. And that would never happen.

Chapter Text

Things were not going well at all, Tony thought, watching the battle rage around him. Why couldn’t these idiots just think for a minute? Why did he always have to be the one to put on his grown up pants and handle the mess? And they called him immature.

Right now he wasn’t sure who was the biggest child, Wanda or Clint. She honestly had no idea the shitstorm she was in, how the world was gonna demand her head in a platter for Lagos and now this. Plus Vision’s feelings really were hurt – and thank god it wasn’t something more, like his actual head or something. And Clint… Clint had just abandoned his wife and kids – after managing to survive god knows what to actually fucking retire with all his limbs still attached – because he was fucking bored. Goddammit, what the hell was wrong with these people?

Then Wanda was dropping a ton of fucking cars on his head and it was all he could do to dodge them.

“Multiple contusions detected,” Friday said.

“Yeah, I detect that too.” Fuck it all.

Just as he was preparing to blast his way free, more cars come piling up. One of them hit the helmet hard enough to dent it – and his head underneath.

“Fri–” he croaked out, fighting through the pain coursing through his entire head, then lost the battle for consciousness.

*****

Rhodey was getting sick to death of this. Clearly the nice approach wasn’t working.

“Tony? We need to end this now.” There was no answer, and Rhodey frowned. “Tony?”

“Colonel, Sir! Boss isn’t responding. Request immediate assistance!” Friday sounded frantic and Rhodey cursed.

“Hang in there, Friday. I’m coming.”

He checked the position of Iron Man in the hud – under a pile of cars, shit – and took flight. He barely made it out of the ground before a white and blue shield hit him in the back, sending him reeling.

“Fuck!”

Turning quickly, Rhodey deployed a small missile in Rogers’s direction and started running, not even looking back to see if it had hit anything. He needed to get to Tony.

“Vision! Tony’s hurt. I need help,” he said into the comms.

After a few moments, he was able to reach his best friend, and began moving cars aside, hoping he wasn’t about to make things worse.

“Come on, Tony, talk to me.”

“Colonel, what’s going on? Is Mr Stark ok?” It was the kid.

“Don’t know.”

“Damn. I’m on my way.”

Before long, Vision and the kid were there, helping him get the cars away from Tony.

“Tony! Friday, what’s the status?”

“Vitals are all over the place, Colonel.”

After getting out of his suit and rolling Tony on his back, Rhodey activated the emergency release for the faceplate. “Come on, Tones. Get up. You’re missing all the fun.” When this was all over, Rhodey was going to have Rogers’s fucking head on a platter for this. “Tony!”

Tony groaned a bit and slowly opened his eyes, murmuring incoherently.

“Come on, man. Talk to me. Friday.”

“Colonel! Pulse is slowing alarmingly. What should I do?”

“We need an ambulance,” Vision said, crouched down beside him.

“I’ve called for an ambulance, but they said it can’t get here with all this fighting going on,” Friday reported.

“Rhodey…” Tony said. His eyes were unfocused and there was blood running down his face from a cut on his forehead. “Don’t feel so good.” There was blood on the back of his head too, Rhodey could feel it.

“Take it easy, Tones. We’ll get you to a hospital. You’ll be okay. I’ve got you.”

Tony smiled faintly “Thanks, Platypus. You’re the best.”

Then Tony’s eyes closed again, and his head tipped to the side.

“Tony!”

“Colonel! I’ve got no pulse.” Friday said in a nervous voice.

“Emergency protocols, Friday. Open the suit!” Shit shit shit, Rhodey thought frantically. Oh god, no.

The suit was damaged from the fight, so it took a while to get Tony out of it even with Vision and Peter practically tearing it apart. The boy was crying, Rhodey could tell. His own vision was blurry, but Rhodey was a soldier, and he could keep his head for now. He had to.

Finally, they got Tony out. There was still no pulse.

“Take him,” Rhodey told Vision. “Get him to a hospital. NOW!”

Vision cradled Tony as securely and gently as he could and took off.

Please, god, don’t let it be too late

He watched his friends flying away, frozen in place, praying to whoever was listening to keep Tony safe.

“What… what do we do?” Peter asked. He’d taken the mask off and, damn it, he was so young… “What do we do?”

What Rhodey wanted to do was get back in his suit and stay with Tony. He wanted to say fuck you to Rogers and whatever stupid crusade he was in and just let these fuckers be someone else’s problem. But he couldn’t. He had a duty. A job. One that Tony was trusting him to do.

Focus, Jim. Tony will be okay.

He had to be. The alternative didn’t bear thinking about.

“I’m going to end this.” The War Machine armor settled around him once more and Rhodey felt his resolve harden. “Stay with the suit,” he told the kid. These assholes had already hurt Tony, Rhodey wasn’t going to let the kid be another victim. There had been far too many already.

The boy put his mask back on, hiding the tear tracks in his face, and planted himself beside the wrecked suit, determination and fear radiating from his posture.

Rhodey took to the air and found Rogers and his team trying to board the Avengers’ quinjet – trying to steal it, more accurately. Prince T’Challa was on the floor and Natasha was with Rogers, the fucking traitor. Fuck them all.

“Stop. Get out of the jet.” His voice boomed through the hangar, amplified by the suit’s speakers. Silently, he gave Friday the command to shut down all systems on the jet. These fuckers weren’t going anywhere.

A red bolt of power came from the witch and Rhodey barely managed to get out of the way in time. Then she was raining whatever equipment was on hand on top of him, and Rhodey snapped.

The sonic blast knocked the woman and everyone else off their feet. Rhodey noted dispassionately that Wilson, Clint and Natasha had been knocked unconscious. Good. Let them stay down. Rogers and Barnes, however, recovered quickly and got into the quinjet. Rhodey ignored them and turned to Wanda.

She may have killed Tony, he thought, anger making his whole body tremble. She’d dropped a dozen cars on his head. She killed him. (No, no, Tony wasn’t dead. He couldn’t be. He’d beaten worse odds before. He’d be okay. Tony was too stubborn to die.)

Wanda was still struggling to get up, pain etched on her face. She should feel pain, Rhodey thought. Tony must have too, when the cars crashed on his head. Tony had been trying to help her. To keep the Nigerian government from demanding her arrest – and possible execution. And this was how she repaid him. With pain. With death. (No, he’s not dead. He’s not.)

For a moment, Rhodey was tempted to kick her in the face. Hard. For Tony. For Bruce, driven off after having his mind messed with. For the people of Johannesburg and Sokovia and Lagos. She deserved it, he told himself. She killed Tony. (No, he’s not dead. He can’t be.) He was better than that, though. So instead of knocking her teeth out, he settled for deploying the collar SHIELD had developed and that Tony had appropriated. Tony had hated the thing – ‘it’s like a fucking dog collar’, he’d said, but he realized it might be needed. It might be necessary. Because this woman was dangerous, and she clearly didn’t care who she hurt while she was throwing her temper tantrum. She hadn’t cared about Vision, who was supposed to be her friend. And now she’d killed Tony. (No, he’s not dead. He’s not dead.)

“Stop! Let go of me!” She cried, struggling ineffectively against him as he put the collar on her neck. She is a rabid dog, he thought. She needs to be put down. She killed Tony. (No, he’s not dead.)

Once the collar was in place, Rhodey stepped back. “You are going to prison. Where you belong,” he told her. (Tony isn’t dead. He’s not dead.)

Rogers and Barnes came out of the now useless jet ready for a fight.

“You are under arrest,” Rhodey said, voice cold and hard. “Surrender now or I’ll knock you out.”

“You’re making a mistake, Rhodes. You’re letting Ross and the Accords tear the Avengers apart.”

Rhodey couldn’t help it; he laughed. It had a touch of hysteria in it, but he was past caring. “You tore the Avengers apart, Rogers. Your pet witch killed Tony. The Avengers are done.” (No, he isn’t dead. He can’t be dead.) Without Tony there would be no Avengers. No defense against whoever or whatever was out there. Without Tony, it would all fall apart. (He can’t be dead.)

“What are you talking about?” Rogers asked, looking around as if waiting for Tony to show up and start quipping.

Rhodey took a step towards him and lifted the faceplate. Whatever he saw in his face made Rogers stumble back.

“You are all finished. I will trade in every favor I’ve ever earned if I have to, to make sure you and your little group go to prison for the rest of your miserable lives. Pepper… Pepper will destroy you.” Oh god, Pepper. He’d have to tell Pepper. He’d have to tell Pepper that he lost Tony. Again. He swore he would have his friend’s back, and he’d failed. Tony died right under his nose. (No, he’s not dead.)

“I… I never wanted this,” Rogers said.

“Do you think I give a shit what you want? HE’S DEAD BECAUSE OF YOU!”

(No, no, he can’t be. He can’t be dead. He’ll be all right. He has to be. He has to.)

For long moments, no one said anything. Rhodey was trying really hard to get his shit together again, but all he could see was Tony, battered and bloodied, eyes closed, pulse nonexistent. ‘Don’t feel so good,’ he’d said. Rhodey had promised he’d be okay.

He has to be.

“Hands on your head. Now,” he said at last, a few weapons popping out of the suit for good measure.

Barnes was the first to comply, dropping to his knees. “I’m sorry.”

“Bucky…”

Rogers looked at his allies. His precious Bucky on his knees with his hands behind his head. Wanda crying as she tried futilely to get the collar off. Natasha, Clint and Sam unconscious on the ground. He was all alone now.

I’m all alone too. I’ve lost my best friend. (No, he’s not dead.)

“You’re making a mistake,” Rogers had the audacity to say.

“Yeah, I am. I’m making a huge mistake wasting my breath on you.” With that, Rhodey deployed the tranq darts he had fitted to the suit for this very eventuality and hit Rogers with three of them, not even caring if the dosage was too high.

Rogers fought to stay conscious, the stubborn asshole, but lost all the same. Barnes remained where he was. “There was a doctor,” he said. “He wanted to know the coordinates to where the other Winter Soldiers were kept. I told him.” He lowered his head. “I had no choice.” He looked up again. “He needs to be stopped.”

Rhodey gave him a frosty look. “And you bastards couldn’t have said this before? You couldn’t have said this before this crazy witch killed Tony!?” (No, he’s not dead. He’s not. He can’t be.)

Barnes winced. “I’m sorry.”

“Fuck you. I don’t care about your ‘sorry’. You can take your fucking sorry and shove it, you fucking son of a bitch!”

There were tears in his eyes, and Rhodey had to blink several times to clear his vision. It didn’t help. The tears just kept coming. He’s not dead. He’s not dead. He’s not dead. He repeated the mantra several times in his head, willing himself to believe it. He kept repeating it as he cuffed all of them, tears still streaming down his face.

He’s not dead. He’s not dead. He’s not dead.

Then Vision called.

He’s not dead. He’s not dead. He’s not dead.

He was.

Tony was gone.

Dead.

And these assholes were going to pay.

*****

Iron Man was dead, and the world was reeling.

So were his friends.

Happy had been waiting at the hotel to take Peter back home when Rhodey had called. He had been asked to get Peter back to the States. And Tony’s body as well. Tony was dead and Rhodey didn’t want anyone else to touch him – or the suit.

Happy had stared at the wall for a good ten minutes, unable to believe Tony was really dead. It didn’t seem possible. It didn’t seem real. He’d survived so much… It wasn’t right.

He’d gotten up to get to the car and had fallen down after two steps. It had taken another twenty minutes for the tears to subside enough for him to be able to move again.

Peter had alternated between crying and sleeping on the plane. He kept saying he was sorry, that he should have done more, that he should have protected Tony better.

“He gave me this amazing suit and I couldn’t… I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t even know he was in trouble. I should have been there. I should have helped.”

“It’s not your fault, kid,” Happy had told him over and over again, fighting against his own tears. He knew full well whose fault it was, and they were gonna get what was coming to them, of that he had no doubt. He had spoken to Pepper only briefly, but he knew her. She was out for blood. She would destroy them.

In a way, Happy couldn’t even say he was surprised. Ever since Tony had joined the Avengers, things had been going downhill. Those freeloaders had never done anything but make Tony’s life more difficult. Happy had tried to talk to his friend – Tony was a lot more than a boss to him – but Tony hadn’t listened. Sometimes he was his own worst enemy.

And now… now Happy’s worst fears had come through. He hadn’t believed that Rogers and the others had Tony’s back, yet this… This was something else. This was… murder.

On TV, all the news channels talked about was Iron Man’s death. Rhodey had made a statement to the German authorities, and security footage from the airport clearly showing Wanda Maximoff throwing cars at Tony had been released. There was also footage of Rhodey, Peter (with his face blurred) and Vision’s efforts to save Tony. Maximoff had been charged with murder, and Rogers and the others (including that turncoat Romanoff) with accessory – not counting all the other charges against them, of course. The Nigerian government was lobbying for Maximoff’s execution, and the Sokovians were right there with them. It was a complete mess.

Ross was obviously loving it. He had given an interview talking about the dangers of Enhanced people, and how they needed to be controlled before even more people were killed. The public, in shock over losing Iron Man and terrified of more fights, was eating it up. Already there were congressmen and senators calling for harsher laws against vigilantism and about seizing potentially dangerous technology.

Like hell are they going to get their hands on the Iron Man suit. According to Tony’s will, Pepper and Rhodey got control of the suits, and they were not going to hand them over to anyone. Still, it was going to be yet one more headache for them to deal with. Happy would do whatever he could to help, but he knew it wouldn’t be much.

A sad beep turned him away from the TV. Dum-E and U were poking one of the gauntlets Tony had left on the workshop table.

Happy had been the one to tell them Tony was gone. He wasn’t sure they understood. What is going to happen to them? Happy thought. They were Tony’s kids. Who is going to take care of them now?

It was hard to think about those things. About what would happen now that Tony was gone. How could he be gone? How could he be dead? Tony had always been so much larger than life…

The day of the funeral the sun was shining brightly. Happy, Rhodey, Pepper and Vision stood watching the coffin that held their dear friend being lowered into the ground, each silent in their grief. Beyond a security barricade, thousands had come to pay their last respects to the man who had once saved the entire planet. Around the world, many others were doing the same.

What did that matter, though? Tony was still dead.

At the Rogue Avengers’ trial, every bad word, every slight, every dismissal they had ever shown Tony was brought up. Employees at the Compound spoke of how Rogers and the others mocked and ridiculed Tony behind his back. Helen Cho talked about Maximoff standing by while Ultron mind-controlled her and killed her staff. Pepper and Happy talked about how Romanoff had infiltrated Stark Industries to spy on Tony. Bruce came back from exile to tell the world how Maximoff had brought out the Hulk to attack Johannesburg, and how Romanoff had pushed him into a hole to force a transformation against his wishes.

Testimony after testimony was given about how horrible these so-called heroes were.

A tape showing the Winter Soldier murdering Howard and Maria Stark was leaked, and in court Steve Rogers admitted that he knew about it and had kept silent. For two whole years.

Every single one of ‘Team Cap’ was convicted, but Pepper wasn’t finished. Not by a long shot. She sued all of them for misuse of Avengers’ funds for the search for Barnes. For fraud. For obstruction of justice. Rogers and Romanoff had to pay every penny they had once they lost. The only reason Pepper didn’t do the same with the other was because they had families who were innocent of all wrong-doing and didn’t deserve to pay for someone else’s mistakes. She also demanded that the Captain America exhibit be closed permanently (it had already been suspended once the murder charge had been filed) and the iconic shield returned to Stark Industries.

The Army issued a statement denouncing Rogers and denying that he had ever held the actual rank of Captain. Captain America dolls and merchandise were burned by the thousands all over the world.

Wanda Maximoff was deported to Sokovia and executed, to the cheers of the world – and Tony’s friends.

None of that changed anything, though. It didn’t bring Tony back to them. Happy still missed one of his best friends. And he always would.