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Around the Worlds

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They had to spread out their ‘visits’ to other universes so nobody would pick up on a regular signal and get suspicious, interspersed with the regular heroing that had to be done around their own Earth and just, well, living their lives. And they’d mostly all agreed that the spaced-out schedule was for the best anyway, because seeing themselves over and over again but different in an ever-changing variety of ways was…well, sometimes it was disturbing. Especially to Clint, who had started getting pretty upset about the number of universes where he was gay. “Not a single one!” he complained. “So far, we haven’t seen a single one where I’m straight. And the fact that in most of those I was doin’ Coulson is just creepy.”

“It’s just the section we’re in,” Stephen reassured him. “If we’d gone a different direction, we’d probably have gotten you being consistently deaf, or Tony being consistently an alcoholic, or Reed being consistently a careless asshole.” Reed stuck out his tongue at him for that. “Oh stop, you know multiple versions of that you is out there - remember the one who’d gotten his Steve stranded on the other side of an unstable portal for two years? But the fact that most of the yous we’re seeing are responsible if varyingly absentminded should be reassuring.”

“Yeah, I’ve been varying degrees of an asshole in more than one of them,” Tony pointed out. “Moreso than I normally would be on a bad day here, anyway. I’m surprised none of those Steves have killed me yet.”

“That’s probably because a good third of those mes are sleeping with those yous,” Steve said. “And you don’t have any complaints, Clint, because in almost all of them those mes had at some point also been sleeping with Bucky. Who’s been like my brother for most of my life, so I have more reason to be weirded out than you do.”

“Point,” Clint conceded. “Tip the bottle up, Steve, you’re gonna give her gas.”

“Oops.” Steve tipped up the bottle his weeks-old infant daughter was sucking hungrily at. “You eat like Daddy, little piggy.”

“They all eat like that,” Clint told him, patting his son’s back where the toddler was sleeping on his chest. The childrens’ respective mothers were on the mainland with Sue, having a mini mothers' day out while they shopped for baby supplies. “I guess it’s not just weird for us, though. I’ve noticed a lot of the other us’s were just blown away by the idea that some of us are married and have kids. Although the Tony, Bruce and Steve we found building a base on that tropical island looked kind of intrigued.”

“So did the version of me two trips back with all the tattoos who’s married to that immortal fighter guy and running a diner in the middle of nowhere,” Steve said. “I hope they go for it, I think those two would make great parents.”

“I agree,” Stephen said. “Although it was disconcerting to see the King of Hell pop in to check out the portal and then stay for pie because he’s a friend of the family.”

“The me there called to check, too,” Tony reminded him, grimacing just a little. “Because he’s too old and beat-up to travel, apparently.”

“Their Tony probably has twenty years on you,” Clint reminded back. “And it sounded like he’d lived a lot harder than you, too. It was interesting that I’d been standin’ in for him with the suit over there, though. I’m not sure I’d be up for that here unless we didn’t have any other options.”

“I wasn’t in that universe,” Reed said. “Or the one after that.  We may be hitting a point where things will start to diverge more. And remember that man from three or four universes back, the one with the metal claws? He was in one of the necrovirus universes Sue and Johnny and I saw.”

“So we may also be hitting a point close to where the Witch got started,” Tony said. “Because the only way she could have showed it to you was if she’d seen it.”

“I wouldn’t say close,” Stephen cautioned. “‘Close’ is extremely relative when you’re talking about the multiverse. But we may be entering an area where that pattern showed up. Although I do think the last universe without the Fantastic Four might have been the original one where one of me popped in to fix things. Remember what they said he told them, about their universe continuing?”

“Yeah, which he managed to do by gettin’ someone to take the serum from their Steve to keep Fury from usin’ him anymore.” Clint shook his head. “That was so fucked up. Our Fury can be bad, but that was about ten levels past the point where he’d stop.”

“Five,” Steve corrected. “Maybe six at the outside. The only reason it never got that bad here was because I’m not actually immortal - quite a few of these other mes have been, remember? And in that one universe where Dum-Dum was still around…well, that one had the Fantastic Four in it, and in a lot of other ways it was really similar to this one.”

“Yeah, that was one of the few places where I wasn’t sleepin’ with Coulson.” Clint snorted. “I liked that universe, I was happy to be a part of it.”

“Yeah, I wasn’t an asshole in that one either,” Tony agreed. “I still can’t believe Thor’s mom sent them an Asgardian warrior-woman to be their cook. I was actually getting love-handles over there, did you see that?”

“Wrong universe for me to be checking you out that closely,” Steve told him. “So, tomorrow we have to check back to see if the Avengers in that one portal-generator universe managed to get away from SHIELD, right? And then we’re back to letting Jarvis pick the next mathematically-likely universe to visit?”

“Correct, Captain,” Jarvis said. “And if you would tip the bottle up more, the baby would experience less digestive upset after her feeding.”

Steve rolled his eyes…but he did tip the bottle back up.    

 

The next day was a somewhat bad day, because the universe they’d been checking up on had apparently fallen; the portal wouldn’t even open there. And so a week later nobody was feeling very optimistic, and Max joined them in the portal-room to make sure they ‘didn’t contaminate another universe with existential dread’. “You make contact looking like the world ended and they’re going expect it to,” he said. “We’re already the bearers of bad news.”

“True,” Reed agreed; he’d originally opposed allowing Max to improve the general mood in the room, but once it was done he’d had to admit it had been the right call. And when the portal opened up into the next universe on their list, he was sure it had been. Adding more bad vibes to this particular universe would have been beyond cruel, from the looks of it.

The room on the other side of the portal looked like it had seen better days, and so did the man who started upright in his chair when the portal opened. “What…oh. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that you decided to help, should I?” He waved a shaking hand at the dilapidated disarray around him. “As you can no doubt see, though, we’re pretty much beyond that point now.”

“You’re losing?” Tony asked, and grimaced when the fashionable-not-flamboyant version of Dr. Strange nodded tiredly. “They couldn’t pull it together.”

“Oh, they tried,” the sorcerer said. “But there were too many powerful hands invested in keeping them pulled apart.  Captain America is dead, via treachery no less, and his shield passed to a friend of his who luckily for all of us was worthy to bear it. That incident made Stark realize he’d been backing the wrong side and it nearly destroyed him, so some days he’s a help and some days he’s…not. SHIELD is a rogue agency now, and they’re absolutely running amok - and the blame for half of everything they do falls on the ‘rogue’ Avengers. The world is going straight to hell all around me, and there’s nothing I can do about it because too many people actively want it to be that way.” He rubbed his eyes. “I’m glad I was able to help save your universe, because I’m not able to do a damn thing with mine.”

“Sounds like someone needs some cheering up,” Max said, standing up. “Blue!” The glowing demon-cat popped into being beside him, and he ruffled her fur. “Come on, girl, let’s go visit our friend Dr. Strange.”

Tony raised an eyebrow. “Max?”

Max shook his head. “He’s lost hope - probably they all have. I might be able to fix that for them. And I don’t exist in their universe, so I’m the only person who can go. Re-open the portal in ten minutes so Blue doesn’t have to teleport me home through the Netherworld, okay?”

“Be careful,” Reed warned. “They might have been infiltrated.”

“I’m almost sure they have been. Ten minutes,” Max repeated, and then he and Blue stepped through the portal. “Well crap, you guys have really let this place go…”

Reed shut down the portal, shaking his head when Tony raised an eyebrow. “He must have seen something we didn’t. If he’s not there when we open it again, though, I’ll go in and get him myself - I don’t believe I exist in that universe either.”

“Neither does Steve, apparently.” Tony made a face. “Jarvis, tell Stephen to get down here, and Blake and Steve too. I want some people we know aren’t over there ready in case we need to go in and get him.”

“You won’t.” Stephen was already standing in the doorway. “I doubt he’ll go very far from the portal. What…”

“Your very helpful doppelganger from before,” Tony told him. “He looked like death warmed over, their Steve is dead, and their me is apparently off the track as much as he’s on it. Is there anything…”

“Probably not, except for what I’m going to assume Max is doing,” Stephen said. He sat down in the chair Max had been using with a sigh. “How long?”

“He said ten minutes.”

“On their side, that’s more like half a day,” Stephen pointed out. “Which should be enough time to re-moralize the remaining troops, try to fix your doppleganger’s mental issues, and expose a few infiltrators. Maybe start them evacuating people to the Netherworld, if necessary. Blue can help the other me with that.”

 

Exactly ten minutes later, Reed opened the portal back up…and to his great relief, Max was standing right in front of it and immediately stepped through. “Close it up,” he said quietly. The room on the other side was even more wrecked than it had been before, and nobody else was in view. “Blue is staying with Dr. Strange for the time being, he needs the help. She’ll come home when they’re done.”

“Evacuating?” Tony asked, and Max nodded tiredly. “So they…lost?”

“Sort of, but not entirely. There’s still a chance they can regroup…maybe. If they all want it badly enough.”

“You’re not sure they do.” Max shook his head, and Reed sighed, stretching out a hand to pat his shoulder. “Well, that’s disheartening.”

“Tell me about it.” Max looked at Tony for a long moment, and then abruptly hugged him. “Please don’t ever go crazy,” he requested. “Please…please don’t.”

Tony had been unsure what to make of the sudden hug, but now he returned it. “Couldn’t fix him?” Max shook his head, and Tony tightened the hug himself before letting go. “I am a stubborn bastard sometimes. Not like that, though, not here. Where…”

“He sealed himself in his tower, which he somehow managed to ward against magic - Dr. Strange was still muttering to himself about that when I left, he says that’s all they need is ‘Stark mucking around with magic AND technology while he’s five bulbs short of a chandelier’.” That made Tony laugh in spite of himself, and Max smiled, shaking his head. “Yeah. Their Tony is safe in his tower, though, so everyone else is busy evacuating as best they can. Stephen, your other said to tell you he’s building a ward-fence around the spot they’re putting everyone in, and you would know what that means.”

“It means he’s closing it off magically so nobody wanders out into the Netherworld and gets lost.” Stephen stood up. “He’s…better?”

“No.” Max gave him a hug too. “If you’d seen what was going on over there you’d know why, too. Scarlet attacked and then infiltrated the way-too-forgiving group over there and then ‘accidentally’ triggered the shitstorm that got the governments of the world to insist on registering and/or hunting down all the supers. Which of course gave their Steve severe Nazi flashbacks, but their Tony liked the idea and so the group split right down the middle. Scarlet and her brother disappeared right after Steve was killed, I guess that was the trigger for Thanos to pull them out. Oh, and he’s apparently purple and looks kind of like Homer Simpson and Hellboy had a baby, I’m still not sure what to think about that.” Blake appeared in the doorway just then, Steve right behind him, and Max patted Stephen’s shoulder and went to join his husband. “Blue is visiting the other Dr. Strange for a while, Blake. He promised he won’t let her eat anyone she shouldn’t.”

“If she…she comes back with diarrhea again, he’s…he’s cleaning it up,” Blake said. “Done for the day? We can go…we can go sit on the beach.”

“Sounds good, except for the part where we’ll have to walk down there and back. Or will that count against leg day?”

“Yes.”

“I love walking, let’s go.”

The two men left, and Steve stepped into the room. The trail of sadness that had just flowed past him had been telling. “They lost?”

Tony nodded. “They lost and a half, from the sound of it. But on the bright side, Thanos is apparently a purple cartoon character we might be able to distract with donuts…”