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Around the Worlds

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Once the Avengers Initiative had everything as sorted out as it was going to get - island base set up, portal generator working perfectly, security locked down - it was time to get back to work saving the world. Or worlds, rather. In between bouts of saving their own, of course.

They started with a ‘near’ world, and so nobody was too surprised when the person they connected with was another Tony Stark. Tony waved at himself. “Hey, glad to see I’m not fat or bald.”

The other Tony slowly sat back in his chair. “Ditto, I guess. Jarvis…”

“It appears to be a trans-dimensional portal, sir. I do not advise going through it.”

“Wasn’t planning on it - I’m already there, anyway.” He raised an eyebrow. “Do you…”

“He does, sir,” portal-side Jarvis answered. “I see you have not upgraded the speakers in the mansion for optimum sound quality. Shall I send the specifications to my other self?”

“Jarvis is getting spoiled,” portal-side Tony told his double. “We…inherited a new base that has a kick-ass sound system. You can have the specs if you want.”

“Sure, go ahead.” The eyebrow stayed up. “So, to what do I owe the trans-dimensional Skype call?”

“You may have a major bad guy coming,” Tony told him. “Asshole that’s trying to take over the multiverse, apparently, and it’s possible he’s already got agents in place.”

“Oh, him.” Other Tony waved it off. “Yeah, we had a team of Space Avengers show up a while back to tell us about Thanos. Big purple dude, apparently he really really wants to get his hands on a full set of Infinity Stones so he can declare himself god-emperor of the universe or something like that.”

“I haven’t heard about stones,” Tony told him. “Here he has a bunch of camouflaged alien killers infiltrating the planet, and he sent a witch and her brother from yet another dimension over to take out me and the other Avengers and sundry in one big swoop.”

His double appeared a little startled by that. “Wait, you and…the other Avengers? They’re all there, with you?”

Tony sat forward. “What happened?”

Other Tony made a face. “I did, unfortunately. Long, stupid story. Short version: I said some things I shouldn’t have, to the press. Things snowballed, Rogers gathered up the rest of them and enacted some contingency plans nobody knew he had to keep everyone safe. They work with me if it’s necessary, but we aren’t exactly buddies.”

“Because they don’t trust you.” Tony was nodding. “Yeah, I can see how that could happen. Pepper?”

Other Tony grinned. “We got married last year. You?”

“Still living in sin, but I’m working on it. Space Avengers?”

“A mostly human guy who got abducted from here when he was a kid, a green assassin woman a la Star Trek, a big green guy with red tattoos, a talking raccoon, and a tree.” Other Tony rolled his eyes. “A really sarcastic tree. It gave Rogers a twig because it decided he was lonely - which he was - so now he has a tiny little sarcastic tree all his own.” He made a face. “Ooh, I’ve got one. Have you guys found Bucky yet?”

“Yeah, he’s here. The thing the witch did to us deprogrammed him, then Steve and the new kids broke him out of SHIELD’s secret underground dungeon.”

Another face. “I wish that had happened to the one here. He seems to be doing okay now, though, he lives in the Bat Cave with the rest of them…oh, and he and Barton are an item. Did you know Barton was deaf?”

Tony shook his head. “I know ours isn’t, he has ears like a fucking bat. He’s also married and has a kid. Your Barton is gay?”

“Apparently it was him and Coulson until SHIELD resurrected Coulson from the dead and decided to delete all the parts of him they didn’t like while they were at it. ‘They’ being the HYDRA part of SHIELD - you know, the Nazis?” Tony nodded. “Yeah. Fury was ignoring it, what they’d turned the guy into, but it finally got bad enough that I went and had a talk with him. According to Jarvis he went out the next week, picked up Rogers from work, and went to take care of the problem…and now the Avengers won’t let him anywhere near Rogers and they’ll just barely work with SHIELD. When Fury wants to talk to them, they send Thor.”

Tony tried, he really did…but he just had to snicker. “Tell me you’ve managed to record those meetings.”

Other Tony snickered too. “Of course I have - they do try to keep me in the loop for the important stuff, but it’s better to keep myself in. The first time Thor showed up wearing Saville Row and Italian leather shoes I thought Fury was going to wet himself.”

“Thor was wearing a suit?” Reed stretched his head around so he could see in the portal. “Here he wears flannel shirts and blue jeans, Johnny calls it lumberjack couture.” Other Tony’s eyes widened. “Oh, sorry. I’m not in your universe?”

“You’re in New York,” Other Tony told him. “You guys work with the Avengers. And you’ve publicly stated that you think I’m egotistical and completely unacceptable as a role model.” He cocked his head. “You know, there was an incident - from what Rogers says it wasn’t an isolated one - you had with Dr. Doom. He’s…well, hot for you?”

Reed colored up a little. “Apparently he was, yes. Ours appears to have moved on now, we haven’t had any more…incidents like that since Sue got pregnant with Toby.”

Other Tony frowned. “Hmm. I’m not sure the you here can have kids - at least, you guys don’t have any here. Since we found out about the Thanos thing and a bunch of other stuff that had been going on, though, they may have just decided to hold off until it was safer.” He cocked an eyebrow. “Wait, did you build this portal thingy or did I?”

“I did,” Reed confirmed. “And I’m not the only one of me who did so. The next time you speak to the me there, warn him from me-here that the portals are inherently unstable unless he can find a way to modulate and filter the generator’s quant-ion output. Tony was the one who solved that problem with mine, so if my double wants a stable portal generator the two of you may have to learn to work together.”

“Hmm. And when it’s unstable?”

“Johnny compared the result to a television show called Sliders.”

Other Tony winced. “Crap. So when it’s stable?”

“Still dangerous, but you’re going to need Bruce and Stephen for that part,” portal-side Tony told him. “Between the two of them they should be able to create the bio-filter you need to keep anything nasty from coming through.”

Other Tony cocked his head. “Stephen?”

“Crap. You don’t have the Sorcerer Supreme there?”

Other Tony’s eyes bulged, just a little. “Sorcerer?”

“Sorcerer.” Tony made a face. “Double crap, I bet that means no magic. Okay, in that case, get with your Space Avenger buddies on that if your Reed makes a portal generator, okay? Bruce should be able to figure out the parameters for the shield, but he had no way to make it stick to the portal - and we have a fail-safe on this room, too. Ours are sealed with magic, you’re probably going to have to use tech.”

Other Tony was looking grimmer now. “Sounds like you already know something bad is out there.”

Reed nodded. “I’m not the only one of me doing it…and one of me is extremely careless. Several worlds he visited were infected by a necrovirus which even Steve’s enhanced immune system couldn’t defeat.”

“It’s a zombie plague,” Tony elaborated. “Possibly cooked up by Thanos as a going away present for one of the Earths where we beat him.”

“Of course he’s a sore loser, of course he is.” Other Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. “Okay, if you have Thor, you had Loki, am I right? Because if you had the blue cube…here that had one of the Infinity Stones in it. Just one has enough power to blow up a galaxy, and there are apparently only a few races of beings in the whole universe who can touch one of them and live - Star Lord, the kid who was abducted, his daddy was one of those. The suit won’t protect you,” he warned portal-side Tony. “We’re hooked into the suit’s power because of the arc reactor, we’d get fried if we tried to pick one up, but anyone else can do it with a pair of ice tongs and they’ll be just fine.”

Tony was nodding. “So even if the Stones are unique to your universe, it’s possible we could see some here because Thanos is collecting them. Do we know what he wants them for, other than destructive power and hoarding issues?”

“Worse than that,” Other Tony said. “They fit into a gauntlet, sort of like ours only a lot gaudier. If he can get them all in it…well, he basically becomes God and we’re all screwed.”

“Not going to let it get that far,” Tony assured him. “The other versions of our Sorcerer Supreme twigged to this problem a while back and started hopping around the multiverse trying to head it off, and now that we have a safe, stable portal generator we’re pitching in to help.” He made a face. “There’s something else, but I’m not sure they’d believe you. Got your phone?” Other Tony held it up. “Video call them so I can tell them myself. You guys have trust issues, they might not listen to you-me but they might to me-me, right?”

“Right.” Other Tony made a call. “Hello to you too…well, sort of. Guess who just called me from another universe?” He turned the phone around. “Say hi to the me who managed to keep his natural impulse to fuck things up under control.”

On the palm-sized screen, Steve Rogers rolled his eyes but didn’t comment. “Okay, that’s…a different you. You called Iron Man?”

“I called me,” portal-side Tony corrected him, even though he hadn't actually 'called' himself on purpose; the portal had a magical finding function layered over the controls which would open it in front of whoever was best-suited to help. “We’re making sure everyone knows about the Thanos situation, someone clued us in a while back and we just now got Reed’s portal generator working so we could pay it forward. Your me has all the details I could give him - we can’t keep the portal open too long, it might attract some bad attention - but there’s something you specifically need to know. Is Thor around?” Steve held the phone farther away, and he saw that pretty much everyone was around. “Okay, that…fuck, I knew we’d be seeing a lot of ourselves doing this, but that is just creepy. Anyway, Thor, since you guys don’t have a sorcerer there that I can pass this on to…do you know what a lynchpin is?” Thor nodded, and Tony pointed. “Steve is one. The way the Sorcerer Supreme who helped us explained it, that means that if you lose him too soon or in the wrong way, you’ve lost the last war. Does that make sense to you?”

Thor nodded again, and clapped a hand on his Captain America’s tense shoulder. “Far too much sense, yes. It would explain much of what has gone on. Had this sorcerer any advice to give?”

Tony shook his head. “Just don’t let SHIELD kill him.” He locked eyes with the other Steve Rogers. “Steve…this isn’t something you have to do anything about, okay? I asked. Just keep doing your thing, it will all work out.”

The other Clint Barton - thinner and somewhat blonder than theirs - chuckled. “You really do know him.”

“We’re good friends, yeah. Which is a good thing, since we all live together on an island for security reasons. Our Steve pops back over to New York to do his tour bus shtick in Brooklyn a few times a week, though. The Army never did get his pension worked out.”

That made the other Steve’s worried blue eyes widen with disbelief. “He’s a tour guide?! I thought I got enough of that on the USO circuit.” He answered the raised eyebrow with a shrug. “I’m with Ladder 196 here, FDNY.”

Reed stretched back into view. “I can see that being a good job for you too. I should suggest it to Johnny.” 

The Steve on the other side of the portal quirked a smile. “He’d be a natural, that’s for sure. Our Johnny volunteers sometimes if we need to check a structure that’s too hot to get in.” His blue gaze swung back to Tony. “You know SHIELD is not your friend, right?”

“Oh believe me, we know,” Tony assured him. “Our Steve has come close to killing Fury a couple of times already. I would have even helped him that last time - bastard was spying on his wedding, we had it at the mansion.”

That seemed to surprise him. “Your me is married?”

“Yes, to me.” Josie scooted her chair into view - she’d been off to one side, out of view and silently monitoring the conversation - and gave him a little wave. “Hi, I’m Josie. He met me at a friend’s wedding and we hit it off.” His eyes widened again, and she patted her protruding stomach. “Yes, he did this. Now where’s your baby tree friend, I want to see it - I don’t think we have the Space Avengers here in our universe.”

Steve rolled his eyes again. “They’re actually called the Guardians of the Galaxy, only Tony calls them the Space Avengers.” A little head poked over his shoulder, big liquid black eyes looking right at her. “This is Groot. To us they’re all named Groot, all of their species, because their language is…complicated.”

The little creature nodded vigorously at that, climbing the rest of the way up so it could sit on his shoulder, and piped, “I am Groot!”

Josie’s mouth fell open. “Oh my god, you aren’t kidding.” Tony and Reed were both giving her a look, and she shook her head. “That…it’s hard to explain, but he just told me all about it.”

“Yeah, it’s really hard to explain,” Clint agreed. He tapped his ear at the questioning looks. “My hearing aids double as translators. Is your Clint…” Tony shook his head. “Huh, weird.”

“We’re actually fairly close to you, dimensionally speaking,” Reed chimed in. “So most of the differences are probably minor. As we go farther afield I’m sure that will change.” This time he raised an eyebrow at Steve. “Your version of me, he is…responsible?”

“Very,” Steve assured him, echoed by Bruce. “Some of you aren’t?”

“At least one of me isn’t, no.” Reed picked up what looked like a bound technical manual and carefully fed it into the portal, giving it a little flick with his finger to make it fall through to the other side. “There, that has all the information we have to give you in it, and the technical schematics for the portal generator. Tell him I said to be extremely careful…but I think all of you might need it.” He pulled back, checked something. “Ten seconds, Tony.”

“Other me?” Tony pulled back the phone, looking around it. “Hang in there, dude. And congratulations on beating me to it. I’ll try to convince her again this weekend. ”

The portal shut down. On the other side, Tony Stark sat back in his chair, turning his phone around. “Jarvis, please tell me you got all of that.”

“I have recorded it, sir.”

“Good, good. Put this call up in the conference room, please.” He picked up the manual and walked down the hall into said room, dropping into a chair. “Well, I don’t know what to say. I’ll get this copied for everyone, but I don’t think we should trust it to the mail or even a courier.”

“I agree.” Steve was giving him a very thoughtful look; so was Groot, but then Groot always looked kind of like that to Tony. “It sounds like they all had to move to a secure location. Thanos?”

“Thanos sent someone to attack them, and then a sorcerer from yet another dimension stepped in and bailed them out, told them what was going on. They have magic there, one of the guys on their team is called the Sorcerer Supreme. And the reason they were so worried about whether our Reed Richards is responsible is because the one that isn’t spread a necrovirus through several Earths he visited using his portal generator. A necrovirus they think was created by Thanos to wipe out the heroes that beat him on yet another Earth.”

Steve’s eyes went wide. “So even if we drive him off…”

“The war won’t be over,” Tony said. “Constant vigilance is about to become everybody’s middle name around here.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Oh hell, this is gonna be bad. SHIELD?”

“I wouldn’t trust Fury as far as the Other Guy could throw him,” Bruce said. “He’s got surveillance on the Baxter Building, round the clock, and eventually he’s going to find us and do the same thing - he already watches everyone when they’re at work.”

“Yeah, the Chief is about ready to turn a hose on the one he has watching the ladder,” Steve concurred. “He’s watching the Tower too, but those guys are in a whole different class. We think they’re not just there to watch, they’re also there to protect Pepper.”

Tony couldn’t help it, his jaw set. “I wouldn’t doubt it, because I know he likes her, but that probably also means he knows something we don’t - something he hasn’t been sharing.”

“Sharing is not the way of a man such as Fury,” Thor intoned. “I agree, however. When I have spoken with him, it is apparent that he is hiding many things, and choosing his words with care so as not to give more information than he wishes us to have.”

“Or in other words, the bastard’s gonna end up getting us all killed,” Clint said bluntly. “And probably a lot of other people, too.”

“Yeah, possibly.” Tony thought for a minute. “Okay, do you guys all want to come here, or should I come to New York?”

“We’ll come out there,” Steve told him. “We’ll be on our way as soon as we can get the Quinjet cleared for takeoff. Take every precaution for your own safety until we get there, Tony.” When that appeared to startle the other man, he rolled his eyes. “You know, even I don’t hold a grudge that long. Yes, you fucked up, but I never did think you did it on purpose, or with malice. So in light of the situation we all just found out we’re in…I have a plan, okay? And I’m going to trust you with it, you’re going to be part of it, just…don’t let me down again, please?”

It took Tony a minute to find his voice. “I’ll do my damnedest not to, Steve.”

Steve smiled at him. “That’s good enough for me.”