The aftermath of almost causing an apocalypse was messy.
Tony probably deserved to have it publicly declared his fault and be bankrupted by the clean-up of Sokovia, but the government found it useful to blame Ultron himself on ‘rouge actors,' painting the Avengers as heroes for the incredibly low death toll.
“You blew up a city, and 200 people died. That’s a downright miracle.” Sharon Carter sat across from him, giving him the bullet points of the slew of meetings she’d had in Washington. “I got ears with the right people. Turns out Fury still has some friends here and there.”
“So you won’t be facing a charge of Grand Theft Helicarrier?” he asked. They wouldn’t have saved very many lives at all if she and Fury hadn’t shown up with that damn thing. God knows where they stole it from. He thought they’d all been destroyed after the fall of SHIELD.
“No. They don’t mind forgiving things that nobody knows about. Hence, you. People are pretty wound up about what the entire world saw. Like the Hulk smashing Johannesburg.”
Tony sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "What should I do about that?"
She spread her hands. "I'm still working on it. But I think Bruce should get out of New York for a while.”
“Out of the city or off the grid?”
"I mean, the city for sure, but off the grid might be wise.”
Tony wasn’t surprised, but he was unhappy just the same. “I’ll go down and talk to him and Violet.”
"I'm sorry. It's just until I finish negotiations.”
“It’s valid. I know how bad it looks.” He stood up. “Thanks, Sharon.”
"You're welcome. I'll keep at it.”
He squeezed her arm as he left. Steve Rogers had good taste in girlfriends.
One floor below his penthouse, where the rest of the Avengers lived, Tony knocked on Bruce Banner’s door. He actually had to wait for someone to come open it, because he hadn’t installed FRIDAY or anything else in the tower to replace JARVIS. At the moment he couldn’t bring himself to.
Inside that apartment was the most important thing in the world to him, and she came hurtling towards him on her chubby little legs with her arms up. “Da! Da!”
He scooped his daughter up and tossed her in the air before tucking her on his hip. "Hello little girl. Are you having fun?”
“Ibit ga ibda,” Ruby replied seriously.
“She’s been yammering at me in her language all day.” He and Pepper had hired Violet Marsh to look after their daughter during the day. Not a nanny—he was obstinately pedantic about this—but a babysitter. Who lived in the building and watched Ruby full time.
But she made one of his best friends very happy, so it all worked out. Or, at least, it had started to. “Is Bruce here?”
She pointed. "In his office. Totally working on something and not stewing.”
Tony sighed. “Right. Come with me. You should be part of this conversation.”
Explaining to someone they’d have to go hide in a foreign country for an indefinite period of time was not a fun thing. All Tony could promise him was lots and lots of money to make his exile comfortable. “And we’ll throw you a really nice going away party.”
Bruce chuckled at that, holding Violet's hand tightly. "Thanks, Tony.”
“We will do everything we can to make it as short as possible.”
From there, he took Ruby downstairs with him to the infirmary to talk to Doc about the medical field suits she’d convinced him to mass produce. Amanda Newbury had been brought on as a staff doctor and ended up an Avenger. She was also one of the only people on earth who could reliably win an argument with him.
"My friend at MSF damn near had a heart attack when I called and talked to her," she said, spinning in her lab chair. "I want to do training sessions here with small batches until they can set up their own training.”
“I think that’s probably good. Start small. See how they work with people of different builds. Everybody I’ve built suits for has been around the same height. Different scales will be a new experience.”
"I warned her there'd be a transition period.”
“It’ll give me something to occupy myself, what with Bruce gone.”
She nodded sadly. “Sharon told me.”
“Yeah, well. . .” he sighed. It was what it was. “Bring your husband up for dinner tomorrow, we’re having a thing. I promise it won’t get crashed by evil robots. Mine or anyone else’s.”
"Won't miss it." She looked at him a moment. He thought she was probably thinking of something comforting to say.
Finally, she reached out and patted his arm. "When we're done with the MSF suits I'll find you another project.”
“That I don’t doubt for a second.”
The party was a relaxed affair, considering how the last party had gone down—crazed robot, floating city, stashing everyone in the underground bunker Pepper was still a little mad at him for building against her wishes.
Booze helped everybody’s mood, too.
"I have never seen you drunk. Are you sure you haven't taken a hit of your own medicine?"
Teasing Doc improved his in particular.
Barnes put his arm around her shoulders. "Jealous my girl can out drink you, Stark?”
“Honestly? Yes. Yes I am.”
“Oh, honey, I’m so proud of you,” Pepper said. The baby monitor sitting on the coffee table beeped, and she leaned over and poked it. “Also, please put an AI in this damn building. I’m tired of this stupid thing.”
Violet shook her head. "Poor Pepper, having to parent like the normals."
Everyone cracked up at the sudden sass from the usually sweet Violet. "I see you've grown comfortable with your boss," Bruce said when he could be heard again.
“She’s drunk, too,” Jane Foster said. She poked Thor. “Did you pass that flask around again?”
“Only to Bucky and Steve,” he said primly. “I was hoping there would be singing like last Thanksgiving.”
“Still heartbroken I missed that,” Sharon said.
“I’m going to go check the baby,” Pepper said, standing up and kissing the top of Tony’s head as she went. She pointed at him. “No mead.”
He spread his hands. "Can I make Doc drink some?”
“No, I like Doc.” She disappeared off into the hallway.
“Is everyone tipsy enough for me to break out the cards?” Natasha asked. “I could use some spending money.”
Sharon pointed at her accusingly. "Never again, Romanov.”
“So no, not drunk enough, yet.”
The round of laughs was followed by another round of drinks. Tony leaned back on the couch with a sigh. They'd all needed this. A little unwinding, a little teasing. Pepper came back with Ruby tucked against her shoulder. The baby had on footie pajamas and clutched her favorite blanket—which Auntie Amanda had knit her. “She didn’t want to be put down,” Pepper said.
"The more the merrier!" Thor announced, waving at the little girl.
On the other side of the room, there was a flash of light, and what could only be described as a portal opened, and disheveled man wearing a large cape stepped through it.
There was a moment of utter silence as they all stared. Then Barnes said, "What the fuck?”
The man held up his hands to show he wasn’t armed. “What’s today’s date?”
Tony wanted to call one of his suits up, but he couldn’t because there was no building-wide AI. He settled for standing up so he could put Pepper and Ruby behind him. Steve and Thor both stood up, too. “Who are you?”
The man looked exasperated. “Did you just beat a genocidal robot? Ultron, I think his name was?”
There was a rumble and a jolt and then Moljnir punched right up through the floor and into Thor’s hand. At least someone could summon a weapon.
Steve had tried to step in front of Sharon, but she dodged around him. "Yes, we fought Ultron two days ago. It's the fifteenth of September.”
“Who are you?” Tony demanded again.
“My name is Dr. Steven Strange, and I need your help.”
Tony tilted his head. "No, but really, who are you."
Sharon shushed him. "That's his name.”
“I’m from the future, and I need your help to save the world.”
Amanda lifted a hand. "Thor. I'll take some of that mead now.”
“I’ve heard your name,” Steve said. “You were on Sitwell’s list of Insight targets.”
“That doesn’t surprise me, but it’s not the point. I come from a future where a madman has wielded immense cosmic power, and used it to wipe out half of all life in the universe.”
"How can we fix that from here?”
“You actually can’t. You need to fix it about five years ago. If you try now, it will be too late.”
This was one of those conversations Tony really wished he could have sober. "I feel like you've started in the middle and this is one of those conversations that needs to start at the beginning.”
“The path to the decimation began with the Tesseract. It contains an Infinity Stone. There are six in total, he needed all six to do it, so one of them has to be destroyed. I’ve seen millions of permutations and the only one that is feasible is this. I need to send you back to fix it.”
"How do we destroy it?" Nat asked. "It seemed pretty indestructible.”
“They can destroy themselves, and each other,” Thor said, sounding resigned. “At that particular moment in time, we had two of them, though we didn’t know it.”
“I don’t think you can destroy them,” Jane said. “They are elemental powers of the universe. But they might be able to be broken apart and scattered, though. Though they will eventually reform.”
“He’s mortal. Thanos, the madman,” Strange said. “Shove the pieces to opposite ends of the universe a couple centuries apart would have the same effect. Whatever you do, this is your window.”
Steve looked over at Tony, but didn't say anything. The two of them, for better or worse, were the heads of this team. When they disagreed or kept secrets bad shit happened. But right now, he figured they were probably in perfect agreement. So he gave him a nod.
"We'll do it," Steve said. "Just let us suit up-“
“Not how it works,” Strange said. “Good luck.” He pushed his hands forward and the portal grew rapidly in size. There was a chorus of cries of alarm as the portal closed around them. The last thing Tony heard Strange say was, “Shit, is that a baby?” before the green light swallowed them.
The moment of blinding light and vestibular disorientation passed slowly. Amanda blinked rapidly, and found herself looking at a supply cabinet. She turned immediately to see if James was okay and where the others were, but she was alone.
She was also no longer in the Tower, though she was somewhere very familiar. Turning back to the supply cabinet, she pretended to study it as she figured where the hell she was.
Of course, when she was might be the better question. Strange had said they had to go back five years, which was before SHIELD had fallen. She wasn't with the others so where-
She found herself staring at her left hand, which no longer had the little platinum wedding ring on it. She also realized her right knee, which she'd dislocated a couple years ago, didn't ache.
This was SHIELD. Her lab in the Triskelion. She glanced again at the people in the lab behind her. Some strange, some very familiar. Her eyes fell on Tiff Meyer, who had fought with her when the Trisk fell and was now her head nurse in the Tower. She looked so young she was practically a kid. She had been, SHIELD hired her right out of school.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Five years. What had been happening five years ago? Something about a tesseract and Infinity stones and-
Shit. The Battle of New York. Loki, aliens. The others were on a helicarrier or in Germany now.
And James was in cryo in Siberia, still under Hydra control.
Breathe. In and out. Find your center and solve the current problem, then worry about the next. Right now, she needed to find the others and get to New York.
“Hey, Dr. Newbury?” one of the lab assistants whose name she didn’t remember called. He was holding a phone. Still attached to its base with a curly cord. “You have a call. Some guy from IT. He says it’s urgent.”
Summoning a smile she nodded and turned, reaching for the phone. "Thanks." She half turned away again as she held the phone to her ear. "This is Dr. Newbury.”
“Hi,” said a familiar voice. “I’m Cal Bennet. Do you know who I am and does the word Ultron mean anything to you.”
"Yes," she replied, trying to keep relief out of her voice. "It's good to hear from you.”
“Oh, thank God. For a minute I thought I might have lost my mind. Are we really in the past?”
"I think so. Would it be easier to talk in person? Where are you located?”
“Right now I’m in a hallway in sub-basement B. It’s loud in the server room, but it will be private. Bring a sweater.”
"I'll be down in a minute." She hung up and went over to the rack that held her coat. "Some mix up with equipment," she said to her confused looking nurses. "Not sure when I'll be back.”
She took the elevator down to Sub Basement B, and Cal was standing on the other side of the doors when they opened. Like Tiff, she was surprised at how young he was. He had a somewhat ill-advised goatee and his hair was cut so short you couldn’t see it was curly. He grinned at her. “Hi, Doc.”
She stepped off the elevator. "Hi. I'm going to hug you, don't be scared.”
He chuckled and hugged her. “This is really terrifying and insane,” he said “But on the other hand, dude, nothing hurts.” Cal had been crushed in the rubble of this building when it collapsed—or would collapse—in 2014. He’d broken a lot a bones, including his spine. “I didn’t even remember what that was like. On the other, other hand, I have no idea where my fiancée is.”
Amanda tipped her head back. "I think Jane was moved somewhere out of the way once SHIELD figured out Loki was on Earth. I'm sure Darcy is with her. My husband is currently in cryo sleep somewhere in Sibera.”
“God. I’m sorry. There’s probably info on where he is somewhere in these servers, but I don’t have that kind of access.”
The elevator opened behind her, and they both turned. Sharon Carter was inside. “Cal. Amanda.”
"Sharon!" They said in unison. Amanda hugged her too, because it was that sort of day.
"We need to get to New York," Sharon said. "I checked the latest reports and Loki is on the Helicarrier heading here.”
“Uh, can any of us fly a plane?” Cal asked.
"I can," Sharon said. "But I don't have access to them."
Amanda blew out a breath. "I can get one.”
“Do I want to know how? Sharon asked.
"Confidence and bullshit.”
“It’s a start.”