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The End Game

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Chapter 1:

the End Game


"We're in the end game now."

When Peter turned to dust in his arms, Tony had never hated a man more in this life than Strange at that very moment. If that man hadn't already been dusted, he would've killed that man himself with his bare hands. He would have blasted that man to moon and back twice. He would have stabbed him repeatedly with the first thing that he could get his hands on, and he wouldn't stop until his hands came back bloody and raw.

"Tony…There was no other way."

His anger was boiling through him, threatening to overtake him like it did when he learned Barnes had killed his parents. It was like he had taken a walk on the sun without any suit, and he was burning alive. The only thing keeping him sane and in check was this overwhelming agony in his chest, threatening to eat him whole. It was so painful that it felt like someone had stabbed him in the heart and was ripping it apart with a spoon. God, it felt like he was dying. Dying. His world was coming down in stacks around him, and he couldn't breathe. There was a heavy stone on his chest, smashing his rips. The weight of everything was coming down on him like a hailing ice storm. How was he still breathing? How was he still alive, while everyone else was gone? How unfair was that? How unfair was that!?

Forcing himself him to take a breath, he thought back to Pepper and the time he thought she had died. He could remember the pain like it was yesterday, threating to eat him whole. Overwhelming guilt and anger, but for some ungodly reason, that time didn't compare to what he was feeling now. This time was so much worst. Tony didn't just lose one person. Half the universe died; yet, he wasn't thinking about the whole damn universe. How many people on earth died because he failed? How many of his loved ones turned to ash? Happy? Pepper? Jim? R-Steve? Natasha? Clint? Sam? Vision-Shit. There was no way that Vision, with his mind stone, was still alive if Thanos won. Damn it all to hell. Really, fuck you all. Why the hell was he still alive? Why couldn't he have been killed instead? He didn't want to live, riddled with guilt and doubt. Besides, would anyone cared about his life?

…Peter.

Damn it all! His mind kept going back to Peter. Poor innocent Peter, who only wanted to help. There was a good chance Peter would've died either way, even if he didn't follow Tony into space. However, that didn't do anything for the guilt that was eating Tony up. It left him feeling hollow. Not Pepper and her possible death. It was Peter who did this to him, ripped him to pieces. God, he didn't know how or when, but Peter had warmed his way into his heart and had taken hold with an iron grip. Tony didn't know when Peter had overtaken Pepper in his heart, though that didn't mean he didn't love Pepper. He loved her. He did, but he was just broken, and he was unsure if he could love again. He was dead inside at the thought of Peter, one of most innocent people he had ever known, gone from this place.

He didn't think he could love another person again. It left him feeling empty. The only thing Tony could feel at that moment was anger and hatred, and it threatened to take him whole and spit out something that wasn't human. That should scare him, but it didn't. It just kept growing instead.

There was a long list of people that Tony hated, and it went without saying that included everyone who had ever tried to kill him: Stane, All Hydra Assholes, AIM, Killian, etc. He went back and forth with Wanda and Barnes, but they jumped throughout the list. His father was also on the list, depending on the day. Some days he was at the top for just being a total idiot. What kind of asshole transported Super Soldier serum with no back up? What kind of person placed his wife in harm's way? Forgetting about Howard being a drunk and an ass, he could never forgive that man for his stupidity alone. However, Dr. Strange had bounced everyone from that list and was squarely at the top.

That fucker knew everything. Everything. Knew Stardork would freak. Knew Thanos would win. Knew he would give up the time stone to save Tony! What happened to not giving up the time stone for anything? Tony knew that Strange saw only one way, but if there was a way to win, how the hell did they lose? Why did that fucker pick him over the universe? Tony would have gladly handed his life over for the half universe. He would have laid down his life in a second. He would have done it all. Why did Strange give up the stone for him? Why did he leave him with so little words? What made him special? God, why did the Strange think he was special? He was a murderer. He did not deserve to be saved. Or maybe, he did. This is his punishment.

Tony was stuck on this dead planet with this blue robot chick, and he had to live with the fact that Peter and probably everyone he loved was dead. He had to live with the fact that he killed the world, though he didn't know how to live with that. He didn't know how to live anymore. And as he collapsed unable to stand on his shaky feet, he just wanted to close his eyes and lay here—ignoring whatever that blue Alien was yelling at him. Maybe, he could just die here. Maybe, he could finally be at peace here, dying on this dead planet.


*O*O*


It felt like he was on fire, like his skin was melting. All he could do was scream.

"Tony!"

"Sir!"

His mind was all over the place, unable to focus on anything besides pain. It was like he lost some IQ points, as he found himself unable to think. He barely had the sense to form two-word sentences, yet alone trying to figure out what was wrong with him. Before he could get a handle on it, he felt a headache coming on, piecing him like a knife. Make it stop, he yelled as his mind tried to focus. It was almost like his brain was going into two different directions, and he couldn't head or tails of what was up or down. "Make it stop." His head was about explode, feeling like someone was drilling a hole in his Skull.

"Sir, you are safe in Stark Tower."

How was Vision yelling at him? Talking to him? How was Vision here? Vision was dead, killed by Thanos for some stupid goal. Just like everyone else. Half the universe was gone because of this stupid goal, and it was his fault. He failed…He failed the world. He wasn't the hero in this story. Maybe, he was never the hero. Hero saved people, and he did not.

"Tony, wake up!"

Why couldn't Thanos leave him alone to die? To bleed out? Why couldn't he have just killed him? Did he care about Strange's deal? Was the purple idiot really keeping a stupid promise to dead wizard? Tony wouldn't have cared if he struck him down right there. It would have been better than this. Why did he have to mess with him? They lost. It was over. Why couldn't he have killed him and ended Tony's suffering? Why force him to live this curse?

"Sir, you need to wake up. Your heartbeat-"

Tony just wanted to die in peace. Why couldn't they let him die? Couldn't they see how much pain he was in? "Just let me die," he cried, as he swung blindly. Maybe, he could make Thanos kill him. His fist made contact with something… something warm. Should that surprise him, considering he was expecting the titan? However, this was anything but a sturdy titan. He could feel the object buckle from the hit and he heard a soft cry, but yet, he kept swinging. "I just want to die," he cried, his voice shaking. "Please."

"Tony." It out came out as a wounded yelp. It also sounded shattered.

As if a switch was hit, Tony froze, recognizing Pepper's voice. Sweet Pepper, the light of his life. However, there was something about her voice, pained- as if someone had hurt her. It broken him to hear her broken. Tony's eyes flew open, and forcing back his dread, he turned to her. His eyes were large as he took in his surroundings. Like a hawk, it took only a few second for him to zero on Pepper, who looked pale as a ghost. However, it wasn't her expression that caught his attention. It was the mark on her face that held him in place… He did that. He hurt her. He felt sick. "No. No."

"Sir, you are in your quarters. You are safe. Can you hear me?" Vision asked.

"Tony."

"No. No." Feeling like his heart was about to crack in two, he pushed himself out of the bed- Wait, what? How did he get here?- and put as much distance between them as he could, though it was still not enough. It was like she was poisonous, or rather, he was. "Pepper. No."

Pepper, stiff as a statue, didn't move from the bed, her eyes glued to him. "Tony, it's okay. It's okay." Her voice was calm, though there was a tremor in it.

"Sir, take a deep breath. It will be okay."

Tony forced himself to look forward and not at the ceiling. In the past, he had made fun of Rogers and everyone else who looked up to talk to JARVIS or FRIDAY. The AIs were not in the ceiling, though there were speakers in the ceiling. Maybe, it was nightmare that was throwing him off, as they kept him up at all hours of the night, but what the hell? Why was Vision acting like JARVIS? How the fuck was he even in his bedroom? And why did his bedroom look different? Was someone playing a cruel joke on him? Peter just died in his arms and someone wanted to play games with him?

Pepper, who for some odd reason looked 5 years younger, swung her feet off the bed. Her feet hovered for a second before lowing herself to the ground. "Tony, it's okay," she called out, eyeing him in the corner. "It's just a dream."

"Sir, everything is going to be okay."

It was going in one ear and out the next, as everything started to blend together. The pounding in his head got worse with every word. Why couldn't they just shut up? He couldn't think like this, not with all the questions whirling around in his head. God, what was happening? "I'm fine, Vision," he uttered, again confused why Vision was acting like JARVIS.

Pepper made a weird face, confusion written in his expression. "Vision? You mean JARVIS?"

"No, I mean Vision," he replies, sharply. It was harder then he intended, his confusion getting the better of him. He took a deep breath, trying to force back the headache that he felt coming on. Granted, he wasn't sure of anything at the moment. He didn't even feel like himself, feeling like he was thrown through a wall by a super soldier—something he knew very well. No. No, not going there. He had to get his thoughts in order; it was almost like whip lash. There really wasn't a way to explain what he was feeling, and nothing was adding up. Maybe, Thanos did something to him, messed with his head.

Pepper pushed herself off the bed, getting to her feet. With an expression covered in pain, she took a hesitated step forward, holding her hand against her chest right above her heart. Her eyes were large, taking in Tony who had balled himself in the corner. "Tony, talk to me?" she pleaded, tears forming in her eyes. "JARVIS, I've never seen him like this before."

"I have placed a call to Colonel Rhodes. He's on his way." Vision replied.

Nodding, she took another small step forward. "Tony," she called, forcing her hands to the side. "I'm fine. It's okay. See?"

Tony glanced up, peeping over his knees as he eyed her face. Even with the light bruise and tears in her eyes, she was still breathtaking. A woman that he had always thought was too good for him, and Tony stared at her for a few good seconds, unable to take his eyes off her. Why did she look younger? Not, that she wasn't always amazing, but she was different. Vision was acting off. This was not his bedroom. Well, it was, but it wasn't… This wasn't the Avenger's compound in upstate New York. This was the Avenger's tower… which he sold. And how was he even on Earth? The last thing he remembered was Peter- Oh, God, Peter—turning to dust in his arms, because he failed. "FRIDAY." He called. "FRIDAY." He repeated when the AI didn't answer.

"Who's FRIDAY?" Pepper asked, getting down on her knees to look at him in the eyes. Her eyes were heavy with worry.

How did she not know who FRIDAY was? FRIDAY, though could not replace JARVIS, was everything to Tony, becoming so much more than Tony had ever expected. She was an unjudging ear, someone to bounce idea against, and someone that could smile. She was much more than an AI. "FRIDAY is… FRIDAY!" he uttered, his voice quacking. How could Pepper not know FRIDAY? That AI was his baby girl.

Pepper looked like she wanted to cry as she looked upon Tony's face. "That doesn't really explain. Who is FRIDAY, Tony?"

"Sir, maybe there is something that I can assist you with?" Vision asked.

Closing his eyes, Tony took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He really couldn't comprehend what was going on right now; he couldn't even begin to describe it. "No, Vision."

Pepper gave him a puzzled, troubled look, as she forced herself to take a large, deep breath. "I don't know who Vision is, but that's JARVIS, Tony."

No, JARVIS was gone, destroyed by Tony's stupidity. By his ego as he thought he could do no wrong, he thought he was saving the world. Shaking his head, Tony slowed pushed himself up using the wall for support. "No," he replied, a hard tremor in his voice. Maybe, he was dreaming. Or maybe, Thanos really did kill him.

"I don't know what wrong is with him, JARVIS." Pepper said, gently—almost too safe for Tony to hear. Her voice was dripping with worry. "How far out is Jim?"

"Colonel Rhodes is 10 minutes out."

A fit of annoyance roared through Tony, pushing back his confusion and disorientation. It overtook everything as it forced him to his feet in a fit of defiance. He was not broken, and he didn't need Rhodey to play parent. He did not need a baby sitter. Shaking his head, he turned to the door and bolted from the room. He could hear Pepper call after him, but that didn't stop him. If he could see pass his big head, all he could see was the mark on her face that he put there. Just like everything else, he had ruined it. He had ruined her.


*O*O*


Tony, out of breath, made it to the lap in a few short minutes, though it felt wrong. It all felt wrong like he had put on the wrong pair of pants. Well, he felt wrong. It was like he was hit by the bus. Well, he was stabbed… Wait! He was stabbed. How was he not feeling that? He could feel it in his mind, remember how it felt when Thanos gored him. But he wasn't feeling it. Leaning against one of the lab tables, he lifted up his shirt, something he didn't even know he was wearing. – When did he changed his clothes?- His right hand dropped to his side, running his fingers up and down. To his surprise, his skin was completely smooth, like he had never been stabbed. What the hell was going on?

Letting go of his shirt and letting it fall, he pushed himself off the table. Was this all a dream? It didn't feel like a dream. None of it did. "V-JARVIS, shut down the lap," he uttered, his voice still raw. What was he missing?

"Sir, I do not believe that would be wise. Colonel Rhodes has just landed. He is on his way down."

His annoyance flashing back, he hated that Pepper pulled the 'Call Jim' card as if he was a child. What did that say about their relationship? He loved that woman, but man. He didn't need a third person in it. "Just do it," he hissed as he made his way to his work station. "I am not inept."

V—JARVIS replied, "I did not mean insult, Sir."

"And dim the glass for me," he ordered, waving toward the glass walls. He just needed time to think. He just needed time to collect his thoughts. His brain just needed to wrap itself around everything, even if there were no answers to them. He was an engineer, a scientist, and a theorist. He could figure this out. Again, he just needed time, and as time passed, he was beginning to feel more like himself, though he wasn't any closer to an answer. What did he know? Pepper looked 5 years younger. His serious injury was no longer there. His clothes were different. FRIDAY was gone, replaced by Vis- No, replaced by JARVIS. He was in Avenger's Tower. "Doesn't make sense," he muttered as he looked at his hazy reflection in the metal table. Even though his face was nothing more than a blur, he looked younger-much younger. Years taken away from stress and age.

"Sir, are you okay?"

Why did JARVIS keep asking that? Did he think Tony was suddenly going to answer and be okay? That wasn't possible right now, but he wasn't sure if he was ready to yet everyone in. "I'm fine, Buddy," he replied with a light sigh. He was definitely not fine, but V-JARVIS didn't need to know that. JARVIS also didn't need to know that he was missing FRIDAY like a fish missing water. Oh, how Tony missed how she called him 'Boss'.

"If that is true, Sir, may I let Colonel Rhodes in? He is quite worried about you."

Tony closed his eyes, as he took a deep breath. Did he really want to let him in? With his nerves on fire, the genius wasn't sure if he could deal with Jim in parent/older brother mode. "And he is walking fine?"

"And why would he not be, Sir?"

He really didn't like being called Sir, but he didn't have time to snap over that… or maybe, he did. It was almost like time had reversed. Things that happened hadn't happened, but that wasn't possible…. Or was it? Time travel wasn't unheard of, especially lately. Everything was possible now.

"Tony…There was no other way."

Dr. Strange's words popped into his head like a curse. Fucken Strange. Stupid Fucken Strange. Why didn't he keep his fucken word? Why- No, Tony yelled at himself. He didn't have time for this crap. He had to figure out what was going on. Was Strange behind his? He did have the time stone, which he could have used to send Tony back. But why would he do that? Why did the Wizard save him? Why? Didn't Strange understand that Tony broke everything? Just ask Rogers. Rogers would tell you the truth. "What year is it JARVIS?" he asked.

"2014, Sir."

With a deep breath, Tony opened his eyes as his brain started to kick into motion, recalling everything that happened in the last 4 and half years. A lot, he thought. A lot fucken happened. But if he was remembering correctly, 2014 was the year that SHIELD fell, and James Fucken Barnes was unleashed onto an unexpecting world. Now is not the time, he told himself, forcing out those negative thoughts about the brainwashed man. "Thanks, JARVIS."

"Do you need any assistance?"

Tony suddenly hated that voice, a painful reminder of everything that he had lost. JARVIS was more than an AI. Much more. When he lost that AI, he had to get used to VISION sounding like JARVIS while unable to escape from it, and now, he had to get used to JARVIS sounding like Vision. Vision's death, even though Tony didn't know how he died, flashed in his head, played on repeat. "I'm fine." That was if he believed this whole time traveling thing. Yes, it was possible with the Time Stone, but it was just going take him awhile to wrap his mind around it. Granted, it was harder to wrap his mind around the fact that Strange saved him.

"One usually does not ask 'what year it is?' when he or she is fine, Sir."

Unable to stop himself, Tony chuckled. "I guess you have a point there." That relaxed Tony somewhat, remembering that having JARVIS back was a gift. Yet, he still missed FRIDAY.

"Can I allow Colonel Rhodes to enter?"

After Peter dusted (Dusted? Was that how he was describing it?) in his arms, he had allowed his mind to drift to his best friend. He was only to able panic for a second before waking up in bed with Pepper, who looked just as confused as he did. With four and half years floating around in his head, Tony just wanted to hide in his lab until he figured it all out, but he wanted to see his best friend. He wanted to see him walk without any kind of help. "Just him," he uttered, still not able to see Pepper and that mark on her face that was surely forming.

"Thank you, Sir," the AI replied as the doors opened to the lab.

Tony took a deep breath as he spun to face the door. He would deny it until he died, but he was holding his breath. His heart skipped in his chest, laying eyes on his best friend. Having been on the other side of the universe—or what it felt it-, he had no idea if Rhodey had dusted like Peter. He hadn't really thought about, or rather, he hadn't allowed himself to think about it for more than a second. After seeing everyone around him turn into nothing more than ash, he couldn't take it. "Rhodey," he uttered, his voice dripping with emotions.

Jim gave Tony a look that was mixed with confused and worry. There might've been a smile mix in there. "I don't know if I like that smile," he said, slowly. His eyes drilled into him, taking in every inch of this best friend.

Would hugging him be out of the question? It might worry Jim more, but Tony just wanted to hug him, hold onto him until the sun came up. However, he forced himself to remain seated. If this truly was the past, he had time. Nothing was going to happen… well yet. Nothing was going to happen yet. Granted, there was a whole lot that he could change if he was willing, and he was willing. "Well, you came rushing over here like a knight in shining armor, so you tell me."

"JARVIS called. For an AI, he sounded worried," Jim replied, slowly. "And after speaking to Pepper, I know she was worried too." Giving Tony a relentless unyielding look, he took a step forward. "You don't look so hot."

Pepper's name brought him right back to his guilt. "I hit her," he uttered, his voice cracking. If he wasn't already broken over Peter, he probably would've broken down right then. He may be able to fix the broken future, but he would never get over the fear in Peter's eyes. Peter was a teenager. He was a young man becoming an adult, far too young to die. Far too young to face the end. God, Tony didn't think he would ever be able to forget that look, Peter's petrified voice. Not going to break down now, Tony yelled at himself, feeling a breakdown coming.

Jim's eyes softened a bit. "You were having a night terror, Tony. You were thrashing about like someone was killing you. You couldn't control yourself. You-"

Tony loved Jim for this, for defending him when no one else would, but it only made Tony feel worse. He didn't deserve it, not when he failed Peter. "Those are just excuses that I refuse to use," he snapped, interrupting Jim.

"No, it's the truth. I had JARVIS show me the feed while I was waiting for you to let me in—thanks by way for letting me in." he replied, his face betraying him. His emotions were written all over him; he was troubled by what he had seen. "I've seen it." His voice was soft, almost too gentle. "You were begging to die… Die, Tony!" His voice cracked. "I don't think I have ever seen one like that… I don't ever want to see that."

Taking a deep breath, Tony closed his eyes. "No excuse."

Jim took a few more steps toward Tony, hesitating slightly. "No one holds you accountable for that, not even Pepper. She's kicking herself in the pants for it. Blaming herself, because she was trying to restrain you. Some say you shouldn't wake someone from a night terror for this very reason." Noticing Tony's glare, he adds, "I'm not blaming her either. I probably would've done the same thing. She thought you were going to hurt yourself, which I get. This was just an accident, Tones. Can you see that?"

There was a part of him that knew Jim was right, but it was hard to admit that, not with the shit show of the future that was haunting him. "You know me."

"Yes, I do, which is why I worry."

Taking a deep breath, Tony got to his feet. "Well, don't. I'm fine."

"Stop that." Jim's expression changed slightly, narrowing his eyes at Tony. "You wanted to die, Tony. You were begging for it. I don't think I can overlook that. I refuse to overlook that."

"It's nothing." Tony replied, without having anything better to say. What could he say? 'Hey, I'm from the future. I got thrown into my past body—weird right?- , or rather, that's what I think happened. This could all be in my head. Thanos could be playing with me to make me go crazy, not that I'm not already insane. I did just watch my surrogate son turn to dust in my very arms while I could do nothing to stop it. That I have no clue how many people are alive, and I have no idea if future you is alive.' Jim may love him, but Tony had no doubt that that would end up with him in the nut house. He couldn't have that.

"Why don't you give me something that isn't a lie?" He gave Tony a hard look. "You look like shit."

If he looked like shit now, Rhodes had no idea. He probably looked ten times worse in the future. "Why don't we go chill and Netflix?" he asked.

"Tony." Jim paused for good few seconds, thinking. "I'm not some chick, but fine." He uttered through his teeth before his expression softened. "And we will talk at some point."

Tony expected more of fight from his best friend, but he couldn't say that he wasn't happy Jim let it drop so easily. Granted, screaming 'let me die' and the fact that he looked like death probably was what stopped his best friend from drilling him. Jim didn't want to break what was already broken. Now, that did not stop Jim from staring at Tony like he was about to fall apart at any second. Tony could do without that. "Who has time for talk when there is Netflix to watch?!"


*O*O*


With Tony's cry still fresh in his head, Jim had no interest in leaving Tony's side, even after hours of Netflix. Even after Pepper had join them with a forced smile and a hesitation in her step. God, the awkwardness could be cut with a knife as they avoided direct eye contract. Tony couldn't say that it didn't hurt when she took a seat few feet down from him. However, he didn't know if he could handle her sitting right next to him with that bruise on her cheeks, haunting him. Jim's words echoed in his head, reminding him that this wasn't his fault… Now, he just had to believe his best friend, which was a problem for another day. Maybe, when he wasn't so raw, he would be ready to forgive himself. Maybe, if he wasn't so raw, he could trust his best friend like he would any other day.

Pepper and Jim, even with all their efforts, had fallen asleep half away though the night after several hours of Netflix. Tony, on the other hand, couldn't even close his eyes for a second. Yet, the nightmares wouldn't be an issue for him tonight. Even if he didn't see Peter dying in his arms every time he closed his eyes, he still wouldn't be able to fall asleep. His mind was going into overdrive with everything that he knew, playing it over and over in his head until it stuck like glue. So, while everyone slept, he headed down to his lab.

Before he knew what he was doing, he was making a list of everything that he could and would change. With time travel movies playing in his head like a harsh warning, it pegged the question should he change these things. It only took him a second to answer that unvoiced question. He was going to change it. Yes, he knew there would be consequences, but fuck the consequences. Whatever they were, he would deal with them. If he could stop Peter from dying, he was going to do everything in his power to stop it. He didn't care if that resulted in his death. He was going to do it.

So as he made his list, Peter was on the top, the very top; however, questions spouted from there. How far did he want to take it? How far did Tony change Peter's life? Did he interject himself earlier than what he did before? Take him under his wing right now? Or did he take a step back? How old was the kid right now? 12? 13? And when did Peter get his powers? "F-JARVIS," he called out, his voice dry. "I need you to find and keep an eye out on a certain kid for me."

"If I may, Sir, some of would consider that unusually behavior and arrest you. Maybe, a night rest would do you well."

"Geez, JARVIS." Tony, smiling faintly, took a deep breath, wondering how much he should tell JARVIS. Should he tell the AI? Did he want to tell anyone? Did he want to tell everyone? Would that do more harm than good? For example, he would always still be haunted by a future that never happened. He would always see Peter turning to dust in his arms, even if he changed it. He wouldn't want to burden anyone by that. Okay, he needed a manual for this crap. "Just keep eye on Peter, May, and Ben Parker. They live in queens."

"As you wished." It took JARVIS a few seconds. "Located. Young Peter Parker in the care of his Aunt and Uncle."

Tony nodded as his thoughts went to Uncle Ben. He knew the man would be killed just as Peter came into his abilities, but like an idiot, he had no idea when that would be. When he did his research into Peter, he didn't think it was important—a reminder to the callous he was. How could he stop Bed's death if he didn't know when it would happen? And then there was the heartbreaking question, should he stop it? Yea, there's the horrible person I remember, he shot at himself. It didn't take a genius, even if he didn't want to admit it, to know that Ben's death was a life changing moment for Peter. Would saving Ben change Peter too much? Having talked to the young man, Tony knew how powerful and life changing Ben's death was. Peter had even admitted that himself. If that was a life changing moment was gone, what would happen to Peter without it? "You can think about that later," he uttered to himself.

"Are you okay, Sir?"

Would it be too much for Tony to ask the AI to refer to him as Boss? Yes, it would, he thought. If he wanted FRIDAY, he could make FRIDAY, not make JARVIS into FRIDAY. His eyes went large as a realization dawned on him. He could make FRIDAY. He could make FRIDAY right now. A smile appeared on his face; relief flew through him. "JARVIS, you're getting a sister."

"Sir?"

Tony smiled, a smile that reached up into his eyes. "You're going to have teach her your ways. Be a good big brother," He replied, as his hands were itching to start on the new AI. He might have created FRIDAY once, but the excitement was still there. Like a child in candy shop, his mind was already half way there. He could relax at the thought of having his best gal back.

"Very well, Sir."

If Tony didn't know any better, he would've thought there was a tone in the AI Voice. JARVIS sounded like a kicked puppy that the owner forgot to feed. "Thanks, JARVIS." He paused for a second, wondering if he was imaging the tone. Would creating and using FRIDAY years before he was supposed to change too much? How much could one AI change? It couldn't be much, right? "Don't worried. You'll be a good big brother."

"Is there any doubt? I already take care of you."

"Ouch," Tony cried out. "That hurts." With a smile, he let out deep exhale as he started to list everything that he knew that he could change. With a tablet and a stylus, he wrote everything out. With AI and a keyboard in front of him, he couldn't understand why he felt the urge to write it out by hand. Pen and paper may be dying out, a dying artform, but it helped the brainstorming. It helped him to think, so that was what he did.

1) Peter (And family)

2) FRIDAY

With a deep breath, he started at those two items, pausing for a second as he hoped he was doing the right thing. It wasn't like he was known to do the right thing, even if that was his intention. It had been stated in the past that he didn't know the difference between saving the world and destroying it. He would be lying if he said he didn't believe that, because at times, he did. Just as Peter died in his arms, he believed it 100%, and even with a little distance, he still believed it. He was doubting everything that he did, especially now. Some say hindsight was a curse, because with time, you saw everything. Every mistake. Every missed moment.

"Anyhow, back to the list," he muttered to himself. There was something that belongs at the top: something that he regretted more than anything.

3) The Civil War

Tony always hated that term 'Civil War' whenever people described what happened. Now, he described it as a total clusterfuck. It was a clusterfuck to end all clusterfucks. With that curse of hindsight, he could see it for what it was. He used to say that if he could, he would go back and change it all. Now, he had the chance; though, it would be easier said than done. There was no deleting his memories. He would always be haunted by the image of Barnes and Rogers over him, seconds away from ending it. He knew he was partly at fault- refusing to take the full blame. He could have reacted better, but seeing his parents murdered brought out an anger that Tony had never felt before. It took him over. Thinking back to it, the anger terrified him. It almost felt like a hurricane, threating to destroy everything in his path.

However, at the same time, he was pissed. Still pissed. How did Roger not tell him? How could he not tell him that his father was killed by Hydra? Sure, he still would have reacted badly, and Rogers was just trying to protect his friend, but what was he? Crop liver? The fight could've been avoided if the Captain was just honest, which was a requirement in Tony's book for Captain America. "Not now," he told himself. He didn't have time for this crap. Forcing himself back to the tablet and his list, he picked up the stylus.

Now, the Civil War was caused by a few things, and he should probably break it out and deal with them separately.

a) Sokovia Accords

Tony didn't know if he believed in the accords because of his guilt or because they were the right thing to do. He couldn't break it apart from each other. Yes, there were things with the accords that he did not agree—a curse of hindsight, but in his mind, it was still needed… just not that version of it. A better version. One not born out of fear. One that protected everyone, regardless of powers. One that Rogers would be proud of, though that man needed a good punch to the face.

His shook a little as he wrote the next line, and he hated himself for it.

b) James Fucken Barnes

Yes, fucking. There were no other words to describe the former, brainwashed assassin. He was a weapon no matter what he did. Even if he was sleeping, he could probably still cause panic. He was a dangerous piece on the board. Half of what happened happened because of this man. No, poor man didn't cause them; he was the catalyst. He was a tool just by existing. He was framed for T'Chaka's murdered. He was the hammer that broke the Avengers a part. He was the thing that put an ocean between Rogers and himself. If Tony wanted to stop that, he would need to remove Barnes from the chest board, though not in the way everyone would think.

There would probably always be a part of him that hated the man. Some of it due to the fact that Barnes killed his parents, though Tony knew he was not in control—something that took Tony time to realize. He was used much like Tony had been. Barnes was forced by Hydra, and Tony knew it. It was just hard to acknowledge because it was his hands that Tony saw around parents' neck. Granted, the other part of Tony was angry because of what this man meant to Rogers. Tony was jealous in a sense though not in the same way that people thought. He was mad—shattered almost- that Rogers threw away everything for this man, while Tony meant nothing to him. If Tony did that, he would be burned at the stakes, not that he would ever put someone above the world…

Okay…

He would put Peter above everything. That kid was everything. Did that make him as bad as Rogers? God, he hoped not.

However, if he wanted to throw a wrench into future, he would need to save a certain king.

c) T'Chaka

The current king of Wakanda was one of the main supporters for the accords, and Tony couldn't blame him, not with the loss of life. He did lose people during a goodwill mission due to Wanda and her inability to control her powers. In Tony's mind, that just made it worst. Nothing was worse than friendly fire. She was a wildcard, though not on purpose. She was just a young woman who struggled with everything. The loss of her brother placed a heavy weight on her shoulder that was impossible to remove, and Rogers should have seen that. He should've done more for her, by giving her the help she needed. Tony blamed the Captain as much as he blamed Maximoff, though that did not let the woman off the hook. He still had issues with her but that was a story for another time. Right now, it was the king of Wakanda that Tony had interested in. Maybe, he could find some way to save him.

He also couldn't bring up accords without bring up a certain Murder bot.

4) Ultron

Tony could not look pass the Ultron, which happened because of him and him trying to save the world. Yes, Bruce was there, but he was the one who spearheaded the thing without thinking. Hadn't he seen enough robot movies to know how that would turn out? He was the stupid, and he planned to correct that this time around. Granted, it could be simple as Tony not creating the thing, and he didn't have any interest or desire to make the damn thing. Besides, with his future knowledge, he was already had the weapons needed to save the world. He just to use it right. But what did he do about Vision? Vision would not exist without Ultron.

Okay, that wasn't going to be as easy as he thought, if he still wanted Vision but that was a thought for another day. There were a few other things he needed as well.

a. The Scepter AKA the Mind Stone.

Besides the fact that he needed the infinity stone to create Vision, he needed to make sure that the scepter was out of Hydra and everyone else's hand. Granted if he could figure out how to destroy these things, that would solve everything, but he supposed the infinity stones were a lot harder to destroy than he thought.

Then there was Vibranium.

b. Vibranium

He couldn't lie; there was a part of Tony that wanted it for himself. There would be no limit to the Iron Man suit if he had that metal, but that would not help him with the greater picture. He lasted for years without the magic element; he didn't need it now. Besides, it was much more valuable as a bargaining tool. Wakanda was more advance than anyone knew, and they would be a valuable ally. Now, he just had to find it; though, he had a good idea of where it was thanks to Ultron, who had stolen it—bought it really from a thief, but who counting. He would be able to find it when Wakanda could not. Ulysses Klaue would not be able hide from him.

With a heavy breath, Tony's thoughts bounced back to an earlier thought that he had, regarding a certain witch and her brother.

c. Maximoff twins.

Okay, he had no idea what to do with them considering the damage had already been done. Their parents were already killed by one of Stane's dirty deals, and Tony had already shut down the weapon department of his company. Too late to bring back the dead, but maybe, he could help the area. That might help, though they might see it as him throwing his money at them. Tony wasn't sure, but he would have to put some thought into it, even if Wanda still made him a little jumpy. There was no forgetting what she had done to him.

There was only one other big event that popped into his head, and this one stretched wide and far. This one probably had the most consequences.

5) The Fall of SHIELD

In general, Tony didn't know how he felt about SHIELD, but he knew SHIELD was needed in some degree. Like their name suggested, they were the shield that protected the world from things that go bump in the night. But how did he stop their destruction? Hydra had already grown into a massive weed inside of SHIELD, infecting everything that it touched. Right now, he only knew of a few agents he could trust: Fury, Hill and Sharon Carter. Barton and Romanoff popped into his head, but he couldn't bring himself to trust them. Sure, their current self hadn't broken his trust, and though it may be unfair, he couldn't help but see their future selves' betrayal. He didn't see that ever changing anytime soon, as he did not see himself as important to those two. Just an asset.

"Not now," he reminded himself. He had to deal with the next item on the list.

a. Fucken Hydra

Yup. He would burn those fuckers to the ground. In his mind, he didn't need anything else. No other planning. He was going to destroy them. They would see why you never pissed off a Stark.

With a deep breath, Tony moved onto his next point. He rewrote the name and drew an arrow to it's first appearance on his list. He had already noted he had to do something about this man, but this just strengthened his resolve to take this piece off the board.

b. James Fucken Barnes

Enough said. Tony just needed to do something with him.

And Lastly,

6) Stephen Strange

Tony wasn't sure what to do about Strange, but he knew he would have to keep an eye on him. Just need to make sure that he existed? Well, he existed. He just needed him to be that stupid wizard that he met. Tony knew very little about him, though it would probably be wise to do some research on the man. How did he get his powers? What was his full powers? Did he really need to do anything with the good doctor? No, he just had to exist. It would probably be best to keep his distance from the man as not to change the future. He still wanted to punch the man, but he still needed him.

"JARVIS," Tony called out, putting down the tablet and stylus. He glanced over a list, making sure he hadn't missed anything. He would probably add more to the list as time went on. "Add Doctor Stephen Strange to the 'keep an on' list. I want to know everything about the man. If he gets an scratch I want to know."

"May, I ask why, Sir?"

Tony let out a deep sigh as he leaned back in the chair. "You got to trust me, Buddy."

"Very well." There was a second of silence before JARVIS added, "Located Dr. Strange."

"Send everything you have on him to the tablet. I will read it later." He uttered, finally feeling his exhaustion. With a deep sigh, he glanced up at the ceiling. This was going to be a nightmare, but he was going to do it. He had to save the world—Save the universe from Thanos. Tony tried to ignore the nerves traveling up his spine, as he focused on what he needed to do. His list may not be complete, probably missing a few things—he was working off memory-, but these were the major things he was going to fix. He had to. He looked back to the list and circled a few items: FRIDAY, James Barnes, the Vibranium and T'Chaka. "JARVIS, ready a suit for me."

There was a second of silence before JARVIS answered. "Sir, there are no suits."

Tony shot up, his eyes large. "What? What happen to them?"

If JARVIS could sound worried, he would have. "You destroyed them, Sir. Do you recall not doing this?"

"Crap," he muttered. Bitterly, he remembered when he was stupid enough to do that. That was back when he thought he could give up the suit, which he now knew he couldn't. Iron man was apart of him, buried deep inside of him. There was no pulling it out, no matter how much Pepper wants to rip it out. "Then I guess we got a job to do." He went back to his list and wrote 'Suits' in large print.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2:

Step One


Ignoring the pain in his back, Tony leaned back in his chair as he stared at the monitors. He had lost track of how low long he had been locked in his lab, but if he had to judge, it had to be awhile. There was no doubt that he should take a step back and take a break, but with the future hanging over him, he couldn't drag himself away. Plus taking a break would not help, considering all he saw was people turning to dust. There was no escape no matter where he was, not even Pepper could get him off the edge, and she could in the past. Maybe, he was just too broken for her to help? However, now was not the time to ponder that.

With a deep, heavy breath, he looked over the suit one more time, taking everything in as he made sure nothing was amiss. It was no Mark 50 Armor, a masterpiece, but it was better than the Mark 43—the last suit he had created in this timeline. He just wished he had the nanotechnology he had in his present—this present's future, because if he had that, he would be golden. It would make his life easier. However, he would be stuck with this suit until he was able to recreate his nanobots, which would take a few months. Having spent years with the Iron Man suit, he had sent years making updates to the suits, which hadn't happened in this timeline yet. He would need to make some upgrades to his current tech and invent some 'stuff' before he brought in the nanobots. At the same time, he should not say he was stuck with the new Mark 44 (replacing the Hulk Buster), as it was beyond anything he had in the old timeline. The issue was that he kept comparing it to the Mark 50.

"Look's good, JARVIS," Tony announced with a smile on his face. "Let's finish this bad boy. I got a job to do." It was a job that Tony had kept to himself, using JARVIS only to track down a few things. The genius was pretty sure that JARVIS was on to him, or at least, the AI suspected him of something. For a genius, He had been acting weird lately, which Tony could admit. Also, his searches were telling in and of themselves. Though the name was not known to the general public, anyone with a foot in the intelligence world knew who Ulysses Klaue was. JARVIS, the AI that he was, was probably forming this idea—this picture in his mainframe.

"Very well, Sir."

How long it would be until JARVIS figured it out? How long until everyone learned the truth? The AI wasn't who Tony was worried about at the moment. Sure, being the big-hearted fool that he was (something he would deny), he was worried about everyone. Worried about what would happen if the truth was revealed. Would S-Rogers 'jump' on him? It was no secret that Rogers and he did not get along, did not always agree, but that fight in Siberia would always plague him, clouding his judgement. Let's not go there, he told himself. That wasn't who he should be worried about right now.

Like the traitor that he was, JARVIS didn't alert him to her presence as she glided into the lab. It was her heels that called to Tony. Her heels that snapped him out of his own mind. He barely acknowledged that Jim behind her, as she held his stare. He should've realized that Pepper and Jim would've waken up soon or later and tracked him down. It was stupid of him to forget, but he couldn't do anything about it now. No crying over spilled milk, but he had to deal with Pepper who was staring at him with a very pointed look. It almost made him feel like a child who was caught with a hand in the cookie jar. Even without the bruise, it was hard to look at her like this. Her expression screamed disappointment. "Pep, the light of my life." He said with a smile. He twisted the chair fully around, facing her—though not meeting her in the eyes anymore.

Pepper took a few deep breaths. "I thought we were done with this. We talked about this, Tony."

Which time? He asked himself, mentally exhausted. He had this conversion with her a few times, and they became less fun each time, not that they were ever fun. This conversion was worse as he could remember this conversion—fight, his mind supplied—in the previous timeline, though it was a bit earlier this time around. Originally, he didn't start recreating new suits until the fall of SHIELD when he had realized the world needed him. This was months earlier. "Can we not have this fight?" he asked, gesturing in the air. He glanced at Jim, wondering if he would get any help from his best friend. He got that answer quickly as Jim was silence, just leaning against the door to the lab. The expression on Jim's face was unreadable, like he was doing his best to keep neutral.

"Well, I thought we were done with this," she snapped, waving at the mess around them. The lab looked like a cyclone went through it. "You woke up screaming not 6 hours ago, wishing that you were dead. But yet, you are doing this!?"

There was a lie on the tip of Tony tongue, ready to be used, but he didn't enjoy lying to her, nor did he want to. He loved this woman, loved her more than anyone else. She may be behind Peter in his heart, but she was just as important to him. She was his light. "I don't know what to tell you," Tony uttered, his voice breaking.

Jim picked up his head at that and stared intently at Tony. A word, however, did not pass his lips.

Pepper looked trouble as she fought back the tears. "Why are you doing this, Tony? Why can't you leave the saving the world to SHIELD? That's what they are there for. You don't need to save the world every five seconds. Look at what it does to you! You're slowly killing yourself. You woke up screaming for death. You know how hard it is to hear that."

No, he didn't know how hard it was for her, but he could imagine. If that look on her face was anything go off of, it was pure hell. Yet, he couldn't stop. Besides, there was no way in hell that he was leaving this crap to SHIELD, Hydra by another name, but he couldn't tell her that. She had made it clear she didn't want to be a part of that world. Tony took a deep breath. For all this stress, he really was going to punch Strange in the face. "Do you expect me to do nothing while the world burns?" he asked, trying to keep himself as calm as possible. He didn't remember exactly how this conversion went before, but he was pretty sure this was how it sent.

That response seemed to only make Pepper madder. "The world isn't burning, Tony. You are. You're just too blind to see it. You're going to get yourself killed in the process, unless that's something you want!"

Tony wasn't going to die until he saved Peter. That was for damn sure, but that wasn't going to help him here. He was pretty sure he was dead in the water here, unable to tell her what she wanted to hear. Before, he would've made a promise that he would never be able to keep, but now, he had no promises. He refused to make promises that he could not keep. He had seen the future, and he would be damned if the allowed it to happen again. "I love you, Pepper. You know that, right? I would do anything to protect you, so please let me protect you. I need to do this."

Her expression softened a bit. "Tony, I love you too." She paused for a second to collect his breath. "Please just let me in. Tell me why you're doing this again. Tell me what is going on? We can't be a team if you don't let me in."

God, he wanted to let her in, but he could see how that would end. Just another fight about how it wasn't his job? To be honest, he wasn't sure what his job was. He wasn't even sure who he was without the Iron Man suit, which was one reason why he couldn't stop. He may fool himself in the past into thinking that he could, but there was no end for him. He would die in his Iron Man suit. "I can't," he uttered, his voice breaking.

Pepper looked like she had been shot; as she heard those words. "I don't have time for this," she hissed, her iron shield popping up. "I have a company to run." She turned on a dime, bolting from the lab. Her hair flew up around her like a whip, almost hitting her in the face as she stormed out. Her heels chirped down the halls with each step, and Tony couldn't turn away until he could no longer hear her.

With his eyes focused on Tony, Jim pushed himself off the wall and made his way over to the genius. Jim wasn't angry as Pepper at founding him in the lab, but Jim wasn't happy either. "So, tell me what going on here, Tony? What am I missing?"

There was no way that Jim was going to let it drop now. He was caught with his hands down his pant—which was something he rather be caught doing-, and he had nothing to tell him. "I can't stop being Iron Man," Tony answered with a deep exhale. It wasn't what Jim wanted to hear, but it wasn't a lie. "It's apart of me. The idea of me not being Iron Man scares the crap out of me." There was some honesty for Jim.

Jim didn't say anything for a few seconds and just took a seat next to his best friend. He took a good look at the monitor, glancing at the new mark 44. He didn't say anything for a good while, which scared Tony. "There's no judgement here, Tony. All I ask is that you're honest with me."

The tone in Jim's voice threw Tony, unsettling him for a few seconds. Jim, piloting his own suit, had never tried to separate Tony from the Iron Man suit. He was always supportive, though that was not to say Pepper was not. She was just overwhelmed with worry that he would come home in a body bag. It kept her up at night. If Tony was honest, it also kept him up as well, though it didn't overwhelm him like it did her. Failing kept him up more. "Would you believe me if I told you that I was from the future? And Some guy named Strange sent me be to protect the future with a magic stone?"

Jim's eye twitched as a small smile broken across his face. "And here I thought we were getting somewhere."

At least, Tony could say that he tried. Sure, he didn't try hard enough or put any real effort into it, but he said it. Yes, he could've probably gotten Jim to believe him, but that wasn't a path Tony wanted to go down yet. "Jim," he started with a deep breath. "I just can't give it up. Some may say I'm playing the hero, and though they might be right, I cannot sit back and let people suffer when I can do something about it. I did that enough. I'm not doing it anymore. It's as simple as that."

"I would never ask you to do, Buddy. I just need you to let me in. Can you let me in?"

Tony would be kidding himself if he thought he could do it on his own, but the haunting image of Jim falling to his 'death' would forever scar the genius. Jim, the person who had seen it all, may not have died that day—though in Tony's nightmares the Air Force Pilot wasn't as lucky-, but Tony refused to let anything like that happen to Jim again. He had to protect him, but Jim was his own person, and there was no stopping him if he knew. "You're not going to grill me about my nightmare, are you?"

With a hard stare, Jim looked conflicted as he shook his head. "Do I wish that you would talk to me? Yes, I do!" He exhaled harshly. "I don't like that you aren't. I hate that you won't tell me about them, but I'm not going to force you. I'll just make you're aware that I'm here when you're ready to talk, and you won't receive any judgement from me. I just need you to know that you can trust me with anything."

"I do trust you," Tony said, no hesitation in his voice. It was almost insulting that Rhodey didn't know that Tony trusted him. "You got to believe that."

"Then tell me why you're doing this? You just had the reactor removed, and you said you were done, but now? Tell me what's going on with you? Does this have to do with the nightmare?"

Tony glanced back the holographic screens behind him. His new suit plastered across them like a big sign, each screen was focused on a different section of the suit. It was broken out and ready to be created/built, something that Tony looked forward to. He loved inventing, creating and engineering technology. He loved seeing how things went together. He loved seeing how things worked together. It was art to him, and even with Thanos hanging above his head, he could still take joy in this. It was exhilarating to say the least. "You can say that," He uttered. Though, it wasn't a nightmare. It was the future, a future that Tony would do everything to stop.

"Was it Pepper? Me?" he asked, after a few seconds of silence. His eyes zeroed in on Tony, looking for any kind of tell. "Was it that kid you met? What freaked you out so much?"

For a second, Tony thought Jim meant Peter, but he corrected himself before he uttered the name. So much for no grilling. "It was everyone," he uttered, almost too soft to hear. "It was everyone." Even with the image of Barnes and Rogers hovering over him in torn and bloody clothes, he couldn't but wondered if they made. Even with Romanoff choosing Rogers over him, he prayed she made it. He prayed for every Avenger, though he knew half of them were probably wiped out. That idea ripped him apart in more ways he could explain.

"Was it Killian?"

"What?! No." he denied, strongly. That man couldn't even compare to Thanos in anyway. He wasn't even an ant compared to the Titan. "This has nothing to do with him."

"Considering what happened, no one would blame you if it was."

The only thing Tony had to be scared of was himself and the future that he had helped to destroy. He created these monsters by his own ego. "I'm not doing this out of fear. I'm doing this because the world needs a shield."

Jim took a deep breath, as his eyes dropped to the monitors. Heavy in thought, he mindlessly stared at the screen. "I will never fault you for that. I just want to make sure you're okay."

Tony would never be okay, not after losing Peter. Yes, he knew he would see the boy again eventually, though it would probably be in a few years. It would be years without seeing Peter. He wanted to run to little Peter and insert himself into his young life, but that wouldn't be for Peter. He would be doing it for it for himself, which he refused to do. He wasn't going to be selfish anymore. "I'm peachy. It was just a nightmare." He paused for a second. "With everything that happened, I guess it made me realized that I don't want to stop."

"Does this have to do with Ulysses Klaue?"

Tony's eyes went large as he turned to Jim. How did he know about the man? "What?"

Jim nodded to the screen. "I can read you know, and I know who Klaue is. He's a black-market arms dealer, gangster, and international criminal, Tony. He's on every watch list from here to the moon. I know countless agencies had tried to bring him in but were unable to." Narrowing his eyes, he added, "Are you going after him now? You think you can? And why are you?"

Here were some questions that Tony didn't want to answer, but he wasn't going to get out of this. "If I can get someone like him off the board, then good. He can't be allowed to operate."

"I don't disagree with you there." Jim paused for a second, his expression heavy. "And knowing you, you'll probably find him, but promise me that you'll tell me when you do. I don't want you going after him alone. Promise me, Tony."

Tony pretty much knew where Klaue was, thanks to a future certain murder bot. Granted, that didn't mean he was there now. Klaue could be anywhere in the world, but moving that much Vibranium couldn't be easy, not with Wakanda hunting him. The genius was just banking that the man was there with that Vibranium in hand. If he handed the Vibranium and Klaue over to Wakanda, he could get T'Chaka to listen to him. At least, he hoped he would get the chance to talk to the king. He doubted him being Tony Stark would get him any favors, not with his history. He was pretty sure there wasn't much he could show them. "If anything changes, Jim, you would be the first one to know."

"Promise me, Tony," Jim demanded.

Tony rolled his eyes as he got to his feet. "I promise if anything changes and I learn something more about Klaue, I will let you know." He knew he was playing the edge, considering he already knew all he needed to know. He just had JARVIS run a search on Klaue to make sure there was no surprises.

"Good." Jim sounded relieved, which tugged at Tony's heart strings. "Before I get court martial, I better get going, but remember, I'm a phone call away. JARVIS can reach me at any time or where. You can reach me at any time." Jim stopped for a second before he got to his feet. "Now, let me hug you." He said, pulling Tony into a firm hug. Not allowing the genius to pull away, he turned it into a bear hug. "Now don't be stupid."

Tony didn't have siblings, but if he did, he would've wished for Jim, who had his back without a second of hesitation. "Yea, yea." He said with a smile. Talking to Jim could always make him feel better, ground him. "Don't get all mushy on me." He said, pushing his best friend off. "You worry too much."

"You know what? I don't know why I try." Jim muttered, taking a step back. He gave Tony one long look before adding, "And by the way, who is FRIDAY? I know you weren't talking about the day of the week."

Now how did he explain that? "Oh, nothing. It's just a project I'm working on. I must've gotten confused."

At first, it looked like Rhodey didn't want to believe him, but his hard expression did not last. "Well, you'll have to show me when you're done."

"Oh, I will. You know me. I can't stop showing off."

"Oh. I know."

It was like trying to get rid of ants as Jim didn't want to leave, lingering for a few moments. However, Tony wasn't sure he would ever change that, even if it bugs the crap out of him. It meant everything to Tony to have a best friend like him.


*O*O*


Tony took a deep breath as he stared at his completed suit. A weight had been lifted off his chest at the sight of it. He didn't know what it was, but it was calming. It made him feel whole ago, even if it was a downgrade from what he had. Okay, maybe he was too attached the suits, but that was an issue for another day. "Looks good, JARVIS."

"Same old color scheme, Sir?"

The suit had yet to be rendered in the famous gold and red, and normally, he would wait, but his impatience had gotten the better of him. In some kind of twisted fate, working on the suit was torture as his brain kept replaying everything in head that he had to do. It was overwhelming at times, as his list just seemed to grow. It wasn't really his main items so much. The issue is that each main item had multiple stages, but his mind kept adding more. it wasn't going to be as easily said as done. The crap with Barnes was probably going to destroy him, especially since he couldn't wave a magic wand and make Barnes better.

Note to self, create a magic wand, he thought to himself in exhaustion. This was when the doubt started to warm up in side of him like weeds growing in a field, threatening to take over. And in those weeds was the unknown, hiding. There could- No, don't go there, he yelled. Though Strange was a SOB, he saved Tony. He sent him here. Strange gave up the freaking time stone for him. It had to mean something. It had to mean that Strange trusted him to save the world, and damn it, he was going to do it. He was going to get Klaue. He was going to get the Vibranium and turn it over to Wakanda in the hopes of gaining T'Chaka as an ally. And in order to do this, he needed to be at 100%. "No, I'm just going to take it out like this," he said, getting to his feet.

"Very well, Sir. Should I inform Colonel Rhodes?"

"No, I'm doing this alone," he said, making his way to the suit.

"Sir, did you not promise the Colonel to bring him?"

Tony smiled lightly as climbed into his suit. "No, I did not. I promised if anything changed or if I learned anything more about Klaue, I would inform Jim. I did not promise to bring him along." Tony felt bad about the trickery, but he had to do this on his own, and there was no way Rhodey would let him go if he knew. "I already know where Klaue is." Though Klaue was an arm dealer, Tony doubted that he weaponized the Vibranium, and that was only the thing Tony was worried about. The genius could handle a small army in the Iron Man suit.

"I should advise that Colonel Rhodey will not be happy to hear this."

"When is that man ever happy," Tony muttered softly to himself. Shaking his head, he spoke aloud to JARVIS, "You all worried too much. I got this." The only thing he was slightly worried about was his suit. It was no mark 50; it almost felt like dinosaur to him. It was bulky and odd. "Let's go, JARVIS." Tony ordered as the mask slammed shut.

"Very well, Sir."

One of the glass windows retracted and Tony took off without a second thought. On a forgotten monitor laid the beginning of FRIDAY.


*o*o*


Tony, hovered high in the sky, could see the city of Johannesburg in the distance. The city itself brought up some unwelcome feeling and memories deep from his belly. That was another crap show, though not as bad as the supposed Civil War. As if it was yesterday, he could remember the fight between Hulk and himself, and he could feel some ghost pains running up his back from when the Hulk threw him like a rag doll. That was yet another fight that Tony didn't want to relive, which if he was lucky wouldn't happen. Granted, he would need to take more than Klaue off the board. Wanda was the one who made the Hulk go on a rampage, though people tended to forget that. No, don't go there. He yelled at himself. He didn't have time for it.

"How many do enemy combatants are there, JARVIS?" Tony asked, his eyes scanning the rusting ship. He wondered when the last time the ship had ever touched water, though that was probably why it was the perfect hide out. Who would've thought there would be so much Vibranium hidden in some crusty ship? Granted, it would probably be a bitch to move… Wait, how was he going to move this? He didn't think this through, did he? It wasn't an issue he supposed. He would figure it all out after he had taken control over the ship. How hard would it be to move it?

"I located 53 heat signatures within the ship haul."

Was it odd that they hadn't spotted him yet? He would've suspected some kind of air defense, though he supposed that would've attracted some unwanted attention. It would be difficult to hide advance hardware on a rusting ship in a decaying ship yard. And sometimes the best defense was no defense as it kept you in the shadows. No one stopped a brown hair woman walking down the street, but they would eye a girl with pink hair and a strange outfit. It was all about looking normal and average. "Do you detect any defense system?"

"There does not appear to be one, Sir. Just the guards."

"They're making this easy, aren't them?" he uttered, though there was a part of him that felt like this was too easy. "Send out the drone. I want everything on my hub."

"Yes, Sir." There was a pause as the drones kicked into action, descending on the skip like a group of bees readying for an attack. "And Colonel Rhodes is calling, and he does not sound pleased."

Was Jim always like this? Tony didn't remember him being so over protective. He was a mother hen, protecting their babies. It was getting annoying fast. "Does he know where I am?" he asked.

"Yes, he does."

"How does he know?" Tony knew Jim was a lot smart than most people gave him credit for, but could the man track him down so fast? Or was Tony losing it?

"I told him so."

For a few seconds, Tony was silenced unable to comprehend why JARVIS had tattled on him like a child. He bet FRIDAY would not have done this. She might have poked him until Tony did it, but she would not have done this. "What?! Why? How could you have betrayed me to him?!"

Pictures of the ship started to reflect on Tony's display as JARVIS replied, "He asked your location and you did not specify that I should not tell him."

Tony let out a hard huff, because JARVIS was playing the line, and they both knew it. The AI was worried about him to the extreme, and considering he did wake up screaming, there was a reason for it. Besides, could Tony be mad for doing the same thing? "Fine, put him through, but I'm going to work." Before the call connected, Tony dived.

"Tony, what the hell are you doing?" came Jim's voice. He was not happy.

Rolling to his left, Tony dodged a projectile fired from a rocket launcher. The suit wasn't as fast or nimble as the Mark 50, but it could still zip around, and he dodged without issue. "Buddy, how are you doing on this fine day?"

"Is that gun fire? Tony, what the hell! You promised!" Saying Jim was peeved was an understatement to end all understatement. If Jim could reach through the suit, he would. Tony felt bad for anyone around Jim at that moment.

Slowing when he got within a few feet of the ship's desk, Tony zipped around like an annoying fly and took out any brute that he saw. As the drones provided support, it felt like a game of checkers and you had all the pieces. Or like, it was like shooting mice in a barrow. Again, it felt too easy. "Why yes, it is. Nothing like gun fire to get the blood pumping."

"I'm on my way."

"Oh, you worried too much," Tony replied, batting away a grenade thrown at him and returning it back to the asshole who threw it. "I got this." Aiming his repulsor at the still in-flight grenade, he fired, which sent scrannel in every direction, as it exploded violently.

Jim's huff was audible through the connect, sounding almost like a bull. "Why do you have to be so impulsive?"

Tony had been asked that for years, and even after years of hearing it, the genius didn't have an answer for it. Maybe, he was just impatience, and the urge to get it done was too great to overcome. With the future knowledge that he had, he started to wonder if this was his downfall. He didn't think ahead. Wanda's words kept replaying in his head: He doesn't know the difference between saving the world and destroying it. Even if she made his blood boil, he couldn't help but wonder if she was right? Was his impulsiveness the reason why he was in this crap show? "OH, you know you love me for it," Tony replied, taking back in the air.

"You're giving me gray hair!"

Tony had lost count of how many baddies he had taken out, but the opposing force was thinning. "Hey, Jimmy Boy. I got to go. I'm afraid you're distracting me, and Daddy can't have that." Before letting Jim protest, Tony cut the line. "JARVIS, now no more distractions. Using the drones, take out any that you see. This includes all weapons. We aren't playing around anymore." He paused for a second, as he looked around. "I'm going after Klaue."

"Very well, Sir."

With the laser on his wrist, Tony cut a hole into the ship's desk and lowered himself to the lower desks. He was fired upon almost immediately, but the bullets could only leave small scratches in his armor. "Is that anyway to treat a guest?" he teased as a small department opened on the upper back of the suit, revealing several rows of tiny missiles. With each man in his sights, he fired. They fell without a fight.

With 2 heat signatures left, Tony took off toward the heart of the ship. Tony, though in a hurry, took a good look around scanning for anything odd. Without backup, he would need to keep his eyes open, but he doubted they had anything that could take him out even in this armor. In the future, it was Ultron and the twins that had gotten the better of the Avengers, not Klaue and his men. His guys were clearly the hired help with the bare minimum for a defense, which seemed odd considering the treasure they were guarding. Tony wondered what kept everyone back from breaking into his ship. Granted, it was probably Klaue's reputation that kept people back. In hand to hand combat, the man could kill just about anyone besides the Avengers and their special friends. He was on the watch list for a reason.

The question was how this man got in and out Wakanda with only a branding on neck. How was he alive? Tony supposed with all the 'great' heists there was a man on the inside, helping. That was probably what happened with Klaue, but why? Tony may know that Wakanda was more advance than they let the work know, but he didn't how the hierarchy was perceived. Was there an unhappy rebellion? Did someone-

Tony heard it before he saw it, which left no time to react. "Shit," he cursed, as he was blasted by some kind of blue energy and was sent backward into a steel wall. If Tony blacked out for any point of time, he didn't know, but it felt like had taken a bat to his head. "There's fight I was looking for."

"Complete system scan is concluded. No breaches in the armor, though some of our weapons are offline. I do advise, Sir, that we do not take more hits like that," JARVIS announced.

Getting to his feet, Tony glanced at the reports on his HUD. Eying the blinking sections, there were several systems offline, but luckily, the suit's Repulsors were still fully operation, which was all he needed. "Not planning on it, but thanks for the advice," he uttered, as he took flight. He shook his head and forced him forward, focusing on his target. Tracking the trajectory of that beam, Tony followed it back to Klaue, who was spotting a very nasty grin. "Klaue," he spoke, closing the distance.

Klaue's remaining mercenary, standing a several feet from him, kept his gun trained on the Iron Man suit, though he was wise enough to know that a simple gun would not work on the armor.

Ulysses Klaue's hand cannon was another story, and his finger was on the trigger. "To what do I owe this honor? A visit by the Tony Stark," he mocked. "I do have to give you props for finding me, not even Wakanda was able to do that."

"Are we going to do that thing?" Tony mocked. "I so want to do the thing! What's funnier than telling a criminal your master plan?" After rolling his eyes, Tony took a good glimpse around, making sure there was no other weapons like that. He could not take any more surprises. "Why don't you make all of our lives easier and just surrender?"

Klaue let out a chuckle. "Oh, you think-" He didn't get chance to finish his sentence, interrupted by a Repulsors' beam.

Should Tony had waited to blast both Klaue and his mercenary until they finished speaking? Well, he personally was a talker, could talk people in circles, but Tony didn't have the time for this crap, so he fired. In sports, this could've been seen as unsportsmanlike conduct, but this wasn't a game. This was real life, and he didn't have time for the chatter. He blamed it on the haunting future, that felt heavier and heavier with each passing Second. "Oh, what was that?" Tony paused for a second, holding his hand to his ear. "That was what I thought."

Not seeing any movement out of Klaue, Tony touched down in front of the downed man. "Sentry mode," he ordered as he stepped out of the suit. "And let's get this asshole tied up first." Now, he just needed to get some rope or something. It wouldn't be good for this man to escape when Tony was out of the suit.


*O*O*


It took longer than Tony expected to make sure everyone, who was still alive, was tied up. However, Tony was in the home stretch now, and all he needed to do was get the Vibranium to Wakanda. "Stupid," he uttered, finding himself in the ship's bridge. In his hurry, he hadn't put much thought in how he would transport this large amount of Vibranium, though he supposed he could have them come to him. Now if he thought about it, Wakanda was in South Africa that much Tony knew, but he didn't know where. Wakanda was hidden, guarded to anyone who wished to do it harm: Klaue for example. Tony supposed he was the second example, considering his ego. That would've prevented Tony from bringing the rare metal to Wakanda; so even with a plan to move it, he would've been stumped.

With the Iron Man Suit still trained on Klaue, Tony sat at the ship's radio, which was in complete working order. Tony didn't what purpose Klaue had to keep it function, but it went through a few upgrades, which Tony supposed was for business. The genius could use this; with this tech, he could send out a coded message on frequency that only Wakanda could decode and hope they answer. He hoped they answered before Rhodes showed up and drag him back to the states.

Pulling out a portable tablet, Tony connected it to the radio and went to town. It took him less than 10 minutes before everything was up and running. "Testing. Testing. This is DJ Stark looking for some Wakandan love." Tony paused for a second as he chuckled. No wonder Rogers wanted to beat him at times. Before he could stop it, a familiar shield formed in his mind's eye as it came down on him. No! Tony protested, shaking his head violently. He couldn't go there. "But all kidding aside, I have something that you may want. I found a certain treasure that that a specific black-market arms dealer stole from you, and if you're half as advanced as I know you are, you'll have no trouble finding me. Coded message or not. Now, get your Black Panther Butt over here."

"And here I thought you wanted the Vibranium," Klaue replied. Even chained, the man still had a chuckle to his voice as if he was winning. "For once, I thought Tony Stark had some balls to him and would use the Vibranium for himself. How disappointing."

In another life, Tony might had taken the rare metal and used it like his father, but not now. With the future hanging over him (an overused motivation if Tony admitted it), he couldn't even think about keeping it for a second. Besides, that would make him his father, and he refused to be that. "Well, I'm not a criminal."

"It just depends on how you look at it. Your hands are just as dirty as mine."

Tony forced himself to take a deep breath as he got to his feet. There was no denying that Klaue had a point, and though Tony had spent years trying to clean them, there was no cleaning the blood off his strained hands. He knew that, but that wasn't going to stop him from at least trying. "But I got a soul," he answered, as he glanced down at his hands.

Klaue let out a chuckle as he learned against the wall. "Do you now? Or are you just lying to yourself? Don't fool yourself. Me and you aren't too different."

Peter's death flashed in his head once more, and it felt like someone had stabbed him. "With my IQ, it's impossible for me to a fool. Now, you on the other hand," he replied, as he motioned to the Iron Man suit. "Let's head out to the deck and waiting for our honored guests." Via the Iron Man suit, JARVIS man-handled Klaue to his feet and pushed him out the door. Tony kept a close eye on the man, itching to take swing at the man. The man had hit Tony where it hurt, a place that Tony wanted to pretend didn't exist.


*O*O*


With a few hours under his belt waiting, Tony wasn't sure how long he should wait for the Wakandans. He wasn't even sure they would come, though he thought he baited the hook with a big enough worm. Or maybe, he was giving the country too much credit, but that thought didn't last long. Tony may not have seen Wakanda, but he had seen their tech. He had seen the Now Prince in action. He had a few conversations with T'Challa, and it was clear how smart that man was. It didn't take long to realize that Wakanda wasn't some third world country. He just wished the someone would show up.

"I doubt they're coming. Not to see Stark, the Marchant of Death," Came Klaue's reply.

"Well, I think they want you more than they hate me," Tony replied as he looked up into the sky. The sun was still up, but there was a hint of darkness raising from the east. The temperature was starting to drop, sending a chill down his back. "If they don't come, then I guess I'll just give you to the CIA. I'm sure they would want you."

"Oh, how fun."

Tony wished he had something to gag the man. The longer he waited the more his mood plunged, and with his mind acting as its own villain, Klaue was finally getting to him. This was Tony's one chance to get Wakanda to see him as an Ally, a friend. He doubted there was any other way for him to get the Wakandans to believe him. "Yea, I hear they like their unlawful torture over there."

"You American and your pain. Geez, they can do their-"

Before Klaue could finish his sentence, 3 jets suddenly appeared in the sky, hovering over them. Being the genius that Tony was, his mind was racing. Holy shit, he thought. He didn't even know the crafts were there until they revealed themselves. They were so silent that it was magically, and that made Tony's mood jump. Sure, he liked to think he was the smartest man in the room, but he would never turn down the chance to see/study the amazing tech, which these crafts were. They could and would put the quinjets to shame, and that was saying something. "You think the Wakanda would let him look at them?" Oh, Tony hoped so.

"You don't know what you're getting yourself into," Klaue sneered.

"Sir, they are scanning the ship," announced JARVIS.

Tony knew what they were looking for; they wanted to make sure that he wasn't lying about the Vibranium, which he wasn't. "Nothing to hide, JARVIS," he said with a large smile, as he happily waved at the jets.

As if they were satisfied with what they saw, the crafts descended. Two landed on the ground besides the decaying ship, while the other land on the massive deck in front of them. It felt like an eternity as Tony watched the hanger doors open. Patience had never been his friend, as his plan had always been 'attack,' which had got him more trouble more than once, and right now, it wasn't doing him any favors. His mind had started to pay jokes on him, making him suspect the worse. Maybe, this was Thanos's game, playing with his head.

Nevertheless, it was odd to see T'Challa walk out of the jet, and like everyone else Tony had encountered so far, the Prince had little more baby fat to his face. Geez, what 5 years did to a man. Granted, those last five years had been tortured for Prince like it had for everyone else. T'Challa, currently, had yet to see the hardship that his future self had, but that was a thought process for another day. Right now, he had to figure out what he was going to say, even though he had thought about it for days now.

He had practiced it in his head like teenager rehearsing for a school project. Yet, Tony was struggling for the words to say. It didn't help that there were two women behind him, staring at him like he was a bomb about to explode. Who the hell are these two women? How did T'Challa get an army of beautiful, power women? Could he get one?

Chapter Text

Chapter 3:

Step AHHHH


There would always be a part of Tony that thought he was dreaming, though he would wake up back on that planet with that Blue Alien Chick—a name he should really figure out instead of calling her Blue Alien Chick. He didn't know what was worse: facing a future that could possibly end up exactly the same way and having to relive everything, or waking back up on that planet and seeing Peter's dust in flying in the wind… Oh, wasn't that a pretty picture? The idea of which sent a cold chill down his spine and through his body. Man, up, he told himself. He didn't have time for this crap.

Right now, he had to deal with the matter at hand. The area had come alive with activity as the Wakandans started to disembark from their jets below and board the decaying ship. The action below didn't concern him as this was his goal from the get-go. Though, his curiosity got the better of him for a second, and Tony glanced at them for a second before turning his attention back to the three people in front of him. In this timeline, this was the first time that he had met these people, but he knew T'Challa from before. He vaguely remembered one of the ladies. She had threated—surprisingly still alive if you ask Tony—Natasha when she was wanted to speak to the Prince that one time. The other one, Tony didn't know at all.

Granted, that wasn't what caught Tony's attention. He knew Wakanda was big in tradition, but it was another thing to see them decked out in their cultural garb. It was inspiring to say the least, but he couldn't spend too long on that as they were staring at Tony like he kicked a puppy. The two woman, Ayo and Okoye he soon learned, were ready to fight an army for their Prince, which included him if needed, and they stationed the Prince between them, acting like a shield to the world. Though, Tony wondered how necessary that was. Being the Black Panther, T'Challa could handle himself with ease. No, don't go there, Tony yelled at himself, as his mind tried to flash back to the image of Rogers and Barnes standing over him.

There were, also, a few additional Wakandans on the jet, but Tony paid very little attention to them. Being on edge (for reasons he wished to ignore), he only tracked them as they made their way to Klaue, who was spouting off at the mouth. That man was not going quietly, and he was promising Tony all kind of things if he changed his mind and helped him. That was a hard no. Though, Tony had wondered if Klaue had gone crazy, but he didn't allow himself too much time to ponder that, as T'Challa had a pointed look directed at him. Tony needed to figure out what he was going to say, because the prince wasn't going to go without a conversion, not that Tony wanted the man to go.

"Howdy," Tony waved, putting on a large smile. "You had me worried. I thought you would leave me hanging. Worried I would be stood up for the first time ever."

With a stiff expression, the Prince didn't say anything at first, just eyeing Tony like a hawk eyeing a mouse. He, painfully quiet, gave Tony a once over as if he expected Tony to explode. Granted, Okoye and Ayo looked like they wanted to set him on fire with those glares they were spotting. It made Tony wonder how their ride over was. Did they disagree to this little meeting? "I find it quite intriguing that you would hunt down Klaue just to turn him over to us. Did you not want the Vibranium for yourself? I can imagine the upgrades you could make to your Iron Man Armor."

That was everyone's questioned it seemed, and it was a good question, but Tony made it pretty far without it, and he didn't need it now. Yes, his genius mind was already thinking of ways he could use it, but it served a greater purpose as a bargaining tool. Besides, Tony wasn't sure if he trusted himself with it. "That would be cheating! Like I got a toy that no one else has," he replied. "Granted, we all know you hide your advancement for a reason. We live in a cruel world." Though, it was still better than Thanos wiping out half.

T'Challa's expression changed slightly. "I am also curious to where you got your information."

There was something about accents in general, but T'Challa's accent was something else. Tony could listen to this man for ages, and he would totally support changing out Rogers for T'Challa any day of the week. It also didn't hurt that the prince had an army. Again, that was something Tony would like. Maybe, he could figure out how to get one that did not result in an army of murder bot… Though, it was that desire that created the murder bots in the first place, so he should probably bury that idea. He did not need to recreate Ultron again, especially when he was trying to change the future.

Uncontrollably and excruciatingly, Peter popped into his mind like a jackhammer, and pain flooded through him like a wound that would not heal. It may feel like he had taken a step forward with the capturing of Klaue, but Peter still haunted him like a ghost, angry that he was dead. No, Tony never wanted to forget Peter, a boy who was more like a son than anything—any idea that still blew him away. No matter the time, Tony wanted to protect and save his memories of the young man, because they meant the world to him; however, it hurt. It hurt to remember the pain and fright in Peter's eyes, knowing his death was coming. Tony could live a hundred years and never forget that devastated look.

"Mr. Stark?" T'Challa called, noticing the distanced look in Tony's eyes. Again, his expression changed. Was that pity in his eyes?

Shaking his head, Tony took a deep breath. He was being too damn emotional right now, and it was annoying him. He didn't have time for it. "Oh, T'Challa. Can I call you that? Or is that too informal? Do you refer Prince T'Challa?" he asked, glancing to the jets on the ground. They were hard at work.

Okoye looked like she wanted to say something, but T'Challa held up a hand to silence her. With a light shake of the head, he stood there. There was something regal about T'Challa that could never be taken from the man. Even if the title was taken from him, this man would always be a King in Tony's eyes. "T'Challa is fine," he replied. "Now, tell me, Mr. Stark. What's your objective?" He asked, waving to the ship around them.

Now, that was the million-dollar question, wasn't it? How could Wakanda help him, besides taking the Vibranium back "I just want Wakanda as an ally." Tony answered, honestly.

"So that's why you captured Klaue and return Vibranium just to gain favor from a third world country?" Ayo asked, her eyes glancing to T'Challa. "Seems foolish."

Were they still playing that game? Tony's glance jumped to the Wakandan jet before letting out a chuckling smile. "I think we're past that trickery, don't you?" The Iron Man suit stood a few feet behind Tony, acting like his own guard. "I just want us to be friends. Is that all too much to ask?"

"The Marchant of Death? Not likely," Okoye utters, glancing at her Prince.

"Okoye." T'Challa held his hand up to her again as he took a step forward. In that second, his expression looked human, emotional before his shield popped up. "Is that why you're handing over Klaue and the Vibranium, Mr. Stark? To Trade for favors." He paused for a second. "And you didn't keep any Vibranium for yourself?"

Tony was tempted to roll his eyes. Wasn't this already addressed? Again, Tony would be lying if he said the thought hadn't past his mind. He was human after all, but it didn't do him well to lie to Wakanda. That did not build trust. "I did not take any. Granted, I don't know if Klaue sold any, so I cannot attest that it's all there." He shrugged as he exhaled. "Besides, I'm not trading anything. Whether you trust me or not. Whether you help me or not, it's yours."

T'Challa didn't answer right away, drinking it all in. "Very well. For that, I must thank you. My country owes you a great debt," he replied, spotting a sound smile. "Granted, the question still remains what can we do for you."

This was where the fumble happened for Tony. He wasn't exactly sure what he wanted from Wakanda apart from saving the King from dying and stopping the accords. However, he would be lying if he said counting them as his friends didn't seem like huge win. Just being Allies could turn the tide. So in the end, the truth could set him free. "I want an audience with your father, King T'Chaka."

The idea seemed to insult Okoye and Ayo, but T'Challa seemed neutral? The now Prince seemed confused by the request. "You think I would bring you to my father just because you wish it?"

Tony knew that was going to be a hard sell, especially with his reputation. It also didn't help that they mistrusted all outsiders, not that he could blame them. It didn't take much to see why. "I have information that your father might want." Though the idea of putting on an act didn't bring Tony any joy, he put on a smile. "You think this is all I know?" he asked as he waved to the air around him. "I'll have your head spinning." He paused for a second for a dramatic pause. "For one, I know you walk around in a Black Panther outfit, much like your father did before you. Super human strength and all that fun stuff. I'm jealous. I feel like they give it out like candy, and no one wanted to share with me."

The sun was slowly drowned out by the darkness that stretched across the land like a plague. There was a chill in the air that wasn't there before, sending a shiver down Tony's back. "I also know this isn't the only Vibranium you have." There was only so much info that he could juice the carrot with before he ran out. Unless Rogers, Tony had never been to the golden country. "Another lie you portray the world. What a web you make, but hey, that's none of my business."

With a conflicted look, T'Challa's narrowed his eyes at Tony. "Very well. I will grant you an audience."

Before Tony could reply, Okoye turned to T'Challa, spouting something off to the prince that Tony could not understand. It was a different language Tony's mind supplies after a few seconds of listening, but that was all he could tell, though he could make out his name here and there. "Geez, if you're going to talk about me in front of me, you might as well speak in English. Don't be rude."

Okoye turned to Tony, giving a harsh look. If looks could kill, Tony would be dead as she held him with her glare. "Leave your Iron Man armor and any communication device that you might have."

Though Tony understood why they were requesting this, the idea that he would be without his tech didn't sit well with him. Even in his semi-retirement, he was never without a suit, but if this was the only way he could see the T'Chaka, he would do it. "Very well," Tony replied, turning to his Iron Man suit. Reaching into his pockets, he pulled put two devices and handed them to the JARVIS controlled Iron Man suit. "Takes these and intercept Rhodey for me. I don't want him to be worried." After taking the item, the Suit didn't take to the air just yet, as it seemed JARVIS was not pleased with the idea either. "Happy?" Tony asked as he spun slowly.

Okoye turned to Ayo and waved her forward. "Check him." Without saying a word, Ayo cross to Tony and proceeded to pat him down. She was not gentle in the least, but she was thorough, checking every itch of him.

"I feel like you need to buy me dinner now," said Tony, feeling a bit uncomfortable. "And you'll have to give me a ride home. It's the noble thing to do."

"You're not my type," Ayo replied, sternly. There wasn't even a hint of a smile on her face. If Tony didn't know any better, he would have thought she was about to go off to war. That was a shot to the ego, though he wasn't even sure why he cared. He wasn't interested in anyway.

T'Challa let out a small chuckle. "Don't worry, Mr. Stark. We will make sure you make it home in one piece."

Again, Tony didn't like the idea of being separated from his suit, but if he had to do it to see the King, he would. He refused to let the future happen, even if he was fighting every nerve in his body. He turned to the Suit and waved it off. "JARVIS, you can go now."

"Very well, Sir," JARVIS replied as it took off into the air. If there was hesitation in the AI, Tony didn't hear it.

"Okay, lets get the show on the road," said Tony, his focus returning to the Prince.


*O*O*


If Tony thought Ayo and Okoye would warm up to him once they were on the jet, he was sadly mistaken. They were just as cold as they were on the ship. If this was anyone else, he would've thought he was flying to his death, which didn't sit well with him. He was itchy without his suit, and he was restless. No matter what he did, he couldn't get comfortable, though their stare did not help. No wonder, retirement didn't stick to well. He would probably die in the suit. Stop being so depressing, Tony chastised himself.

While Okoye sat in the pilot seat with T'Challa, Ayo stared at him with a 'don't even think about it' look at any attempt to move or get out of his seat (the furthest from the front). It was like he was chained down but without the chains. It had left Tony wondering if he was a prisoner like Klaue, who was silently laughing at him. Granted, he knew he was letting his mind run amok, always going to the worse spot. He knew they were just trying to protect their home, protect it from someone who might do it harm. He just wished he wasn't the person who they were worried about.


*O*O*


As soon as the Jet landed, Okoye led Tony away as quickly as she could. Klaue, on the other hand, was put on show, giving entertainment to those who came to see the criminal attacked their home. Tony didn't mind the hush hush, considering he came here for two things. The first was to get Vibranium off the board, which he did, and the second was to make sure T'Chaka didn't die. Sure, that didn't mean everything still wouldn't go to hell; Tony had seen enough time traveling moves to know that. T'Chaka wasn't the final key that twisted the lock on the accords, though he pushed for it. It was Ultron that sparked flame and set the world ablaze. It could still happen. Tony wasn't stupid, and now that he was changing the past, he couldn't be sure of the future anymore.

Taking a deep breath and shaking his head, Tony headed toward the large window in what he assumed was the throne room. Well, he hoped it was the throne room or else T'Chaka would have to explain his obsession with strange chairs. Or, he would need to get his ego in checked, because no one needed more than one Throne room. However, the view from the window was amazing, and even if Tony didn't want to admit, it was more breathtaking than the view from his tower. Yet, that could be because he had seen that view over a hundred times, and this was the first time he was seeing this. Nevertheless, Wakanda was breath taking. It was the perfect mixture of culture and technology. It-

"I thought someone said there was a white boy in here, but I didn't believe it."

Tony, with a raised eye brow, turned around slowly. He wasn't sure what to expect, but he did not expect to see a little girl… Okay, she wasn't little. She was 12ish? He didn't know, considering he was horrible with ages, but that wasn't what he was focused on. That wasn't what struck him. It was the fact that she reminded him of Peter, which dumbfound Tony. She looked nothing like Peter, not even the same gender, but that expression of her screamed Peter, and like some kind of hell made especially for Tony, Peter's petrified face flashed before his eyes. When was he not going to flash to Peter's innocent face? He supposed he could visit the Young Peter to right his mind, but that would just a tad creepy, and he wasn't ready to go there yet. "It has been awhile since someone has called me a boy," he replied, doing his best to put on his smile.

The brave young girl, with her hands on her hips, gave him a once over, narrowing her eyes at him. She was looking at him like he was something she brought and didn't like. "I bet I'm smarter than you."

This was not new for Tony, who had faced insults and jests from all kinds of people. It was just odd to be smack talked by a girl not even half his age, but something told him this girl was more than just a 12-year-old, especially growing up in Wakanda. In an advance city like this, he would hope that they were smarter. "And I bet you are. I'm just old," he replied, with a chuckle. He had no interest in fighting her, not with Peter dancing in his head. Anyone else would have received a witty comeback.

"I expected more from Tony Stark."

"Agreed," he replied with a smile. "They always say not to meet your idols in real life. They're never like what they seem in real life." Right now, it almost felt like someone had killed him, and he was someone else entirely. He had no clue who that was, but he did know that he felt walled off from the rest of the world. Maybe, it was the curse of knowing the future, or maybe, having Peter die in his arms was enough to open his eyes. It was—

"Shuri!" Ayo called, looking just as happy as the last time Tony had seen her. "What did I tell you?"

With a devilish smirk, Shuri was a spunky preteen, who would probably get along with Peter. "I wanted to see the famous Iron Man and challenge him. I would've won too, as he got nothing one me, but you ruined it, Ayo," she pouted as she headed for the door. "You're no fun!"

Even as Shuri stomped out in an over the top fashion, Tony couldn't help but chuckle. Okay, he needed like 5 of her, but not in the creepy… Yup, he ruined that thought. "Oh, she's cute."

Ayo turned to him, giving him a look that screamed 'Are you an idiot?' "I wouldn't call her that, especially not to her face. She might blast you for it," she replied. Was that a hint of a smile in her voice?

Before Tony could respond, T'Chaka stepped into the room, and like his son, he had a presence to him that could draw everyone to him. He could take over a room without speaking. "I see you met my daughter, Shuri. I apologize for anything that she might've said. She has yet to understand how that mouth of hers can get her into trouble."

That was something Tony understood a great deal. That was something he struggled. "Nothing I can't handle," he replied, softly. "Besides, a child should never apologize for being a child." That was something he had learned from years under his father's watch. It was what learned from Peter, a child who taken a hold of his heart and refused to let go.

"You speak as if you have a child," spoke T'Chaka.

The three of them were the only one in the room (Ayo not moving from her King), though it still felt overwhelming. Being haunted by the excruciating future was crushing, and Tony found it challenging to think or even breathe. "I do not," he stated, slowly. He didn't know why it was so hard to answer, but Peter kept popping in his head.

T'Chaka narrowed his eyes, taking the man in fully. "You speak as if you do not know."

"I do not." He repeated, even though he had found himself thinking about having children. He would be lying if he denied seeing a child in his future (something that still surprised him), but that future was destroyed. Everything was different now. "But I did not come here to speak about my lack of a child."

"And why did you come here?" T'Chaka asked, keeping a good distance between them. "My son may have enlightened me to what you said, but what goal would you have in gaining Wakanda as an ally?"

Gaining them as an ally would be awesome, and he would probably be able to get some sleep finally. "I have two goals, and I completed my first object. I got your Vibranium off the street. That could've caused more harm than good in the wrong hands, which is why I assume you guard this so strongly." He waved toward the window.

"Agreed." T'Chaka followed Tony's glance, studying his every twitch. "And the second?"

How did you tell someone that they were going to die? That they would be murdered simply to be used as a prop? Seriously, how did you go 'hey, you're dead in the future'? Tony wasn't sure, but it would do him no favors if he didn't tell the man the truth. He had to be 100% truthful, even if he looked like an idiot who needed to be in committed. "You. I came for you."

T'Chaka only stared at Tony, not making a move, but that could not be said of Ayo, who had firmly placed herself between them. She was ready to kill if needed. "For what purpose?"

"Your death," Tony answered, though promptly regretting it a second later. If he heard someone say what he had just uttered, he would've blasted them, and it seemed like Ayo was no different. He really should've said it differently, especially if he wanted to live.

Her eyes were piercing the genius, as she held her spear up against his neck, drawing blood. "You made a mistake coming here," she hissed.

No wonder Rogers hated him; Tony hated his own mouth at times. Or maybe, the issue was his mind, firing before he could really think. "That came out wrong," he corrected, quickly. "I want to stop it."

Taking a step forward, T'Chaka took a good look at Tony. "You must not think highly of me if you think that I can be easily killed."

Ayo eyed T'Chaka for a second, communicating with their eyes, before taking a step back, though she still was very much on the defensive. "They would have to get pass me to do so." There was no doubt that Ayo would kill anyone who dared to lay a hand on the any of the royal family. It was more than a duty.

"If I may, let me explain." Tony paused for a second, as his hand flew to his neck. JARVIS and Rhodey wasn't going to like this, the blood dripping down his neck. It also brought back some memories that Tony could do without. He didn't know why his mind went back to Titian, being stabbed a few times. This was not the first time he had ever bleed, but it felt like the first time. There was no ignoring the panic rising up inside of him, and he was pretty sure his poker face was failing.

With a deep breath, he continued, "I'm from the future." Or rather, did he just have future knowledge? It wasn't like there were two Tony's running around, which was probably one more than the world could handle. It was just him in his past body with future knowledge, though how did he explain that. Granted, he could say it like that, but either way, he had to start slow, which was exactly what he did. With his heart beating in his chest, he told the two Wakandans everything, well not everything. He didn't tell them how he went crazy on Barnes after seeing the video of the man murdering his parents. His mind froze for a second as it dawned on him that that video still existed. That was one video that he didn't need to get out, though there was a part of him that wanted to watch it again. What did that make him? Not now, he chastised himself again.

After getting himself back inline, he finished telling them everything; again, he kept a few things to himself. Maybe, he was just worried they wouldn't help. Maybe, he did it because he did not want to relive the pain. Or maybe, he was just ashamed. Nevertheless, he didn't tell them how close Peter and he were, though it was visible in his tone. He didn't tell them how much he wanted to die, though he was pretty sure his voice betrayed him. He didn't tell them how he didn't trust himself enough for this, which was why he needed them. He didn't tell them how his heart felt like a bomb. He couldn't help but wonder if that was a mistake. Maybe with time, he would be able to.

Even with him holding things back, it still felt like a weight had been lifted off his chest, and he could breathe. He didn't realize how heavy it all became, how exhausting it was to keep it all in. He may not have told them how it felt how when Peter turned to dust in his arms, but just telling them how Thanos ripped through them like they were nothing, having someone to finally tell, it felt…amazing? No, it felt like there was a chance, though it made him wonder how those two felt about the burdened placed on them. For him, it felt like there was a future besides pain. It felt like he had a chance, finally getting an ally—or hoping that he would be. "So, that's the cliff notes version." He replied. "Did I pass?"

Ayo's expression told it all, which Tony didn't fault her for. It was her duty. She had to protect her King, which meant mistrusting everyone who came his way. "You expect us to believe that?"

Tony's eyed the spear in her hand for a second, wondering if she was going to stab him. No, don't go there. "How do you think I know what I know about Wakanda?" he asked.

"There are ways. Maybe, you're in league with Klaue?" She countered.

There was a point in his life that Tony almost did do business with said criminal, though some might still say he did. Stane, may he die a million times over, made some dirty deals, and by extension, that meant Tony did. "If I was, you think that I would hand over that Vibranium." He replied, his voice still a little shaky. "I'm trying to extend a branch. If you do not trust me, I don't fault you. I just need you to listen. You can send me on my way if you like." No, that was not the plan, but if T'Chaka heed his warning, Tony was happy. He just needed to stop the King's death. He just needed to stop the accords.

Ayo still didn't look convinced, but that couldn't be said about T'Chaka. "You care about Peter, don't you?" he asked, his voice soft. The father in him was breaking through.

This was where Tony could've lied, denied it, but the idea of denying Peter was a stab to the heart. It felt unbearable just thinking about it, and yet, this was the kid that Tony ignore—okay, not ignored. He read all those text messages and emails he got. He just didn't answer them, which he regretted now. He regretted how he left a lot of it to Happy; he should've been more hands on. He failed Peter. "Yes." The word ripped through his throat.

"I believe you," T'Chaka uttered, his voice gentle. "That's pain you cannot fake. Though I have never lost a child…" He paused for a second, as he glanced to the door that Shuri had disappeared through. "There's no greater pain than losing a child. A parent should never have to leave bury their child."

Tony wanted to protest and say that Peter was not his child. He wanted to say that he didn't bury him. He didn't get a chance to, but that just made it worse. "No, there isn't," he replied, his voice betraying him.

T'Chaka, arms folded behind his back, nodded slowly, as he crossed to the large window, standing a few feet from Tony. With a deep breath, he glanced out at his city and just stared. The look on his face was indescribable as it ranged between a strong protective and furiously loyalty look. "If my time is up in two years, so be it. My only job now is to make sure I leave the world in capable hands; however, I will help you. Wakanda cannot stand by and do nothing."

"I knew you could not pass up this smile," Tony replied, grinning. It still felt like a lie.

"My King," Ayo uttered, shock written on her face. "You surely cannot-"

With a hand risen, T'Chaka turned to her. "Whether you believe Mr. Stark or not, I do, and that's all you need. Besides, we cannot do nothing, while the world burns." He took a good look at Tony. "It's time, Ayo."

Tony let his smile fall, as he took in King T'Chaka. He just told the guy he was going to die, and he was worried about everyone else. That spoke more than anything else. "Well, at least you're not throwing me into the loony bin."

"There still may be time for that," he replied, with a chuckle. "But no, Mr. Stark, we have work to do."


*O*O*


As Tony boarded the Wakanda jet home, he spared a second of thought to Rhodey who was probably fuming at the mouth when he was met an empty Iron Man suit. There was no doubt that he was probably going to get an ear full and then some when he returned to the tower. Knowing his best friend well, Tony could see it in your head, but he wasn't too worried. It was odd to not really feeling anything besides contentment, and he wasn't really sure as to why.

On the other hand, he was able to check one item off his list, his ever-growing and evolving list. T'Chaka may not worry about his death, accepting it if it was reality, but he agreed to help, though he could only offer invisible help for the time being. For now, it was best to work in the shadows, which was something Tony couldn't disagree with. The best kind of attacks were the attacks you could not see coming. To do this, they needed to keep up the show, which T'Chaka insisted Tony did. However, that was impossible for the Genius, especially with Peter always at the back of his mind.

Hearing footsteps, Tony's eyes snapped open, still on the edge. When wasn't he on the edge? It felt like he was seconds from a breakdown, and it didn't seem like he would ever be normal again, well not until he ripped off Thanos' head and hug Peter until the kid turned blue. Okay, maybe not until he turned blue. That would defeat the whole purpose of saving the kid. "Look at what we have here?" he asked, watching Ayo as she trailed in.

To say that she looked unhappy was an understatement. "You asked for help, and I'm here to help," she replied, shooting a look at the pilot.

Why did it feel like she coming to babysit him? Urgh, he did not need more babysitters. Rhodey was going to flip. "Oh, I think you're growing on me," he replied with a smile.

Ayo set her bag on the ground and a took a seat across from Tony. "No, I'm here because I don't trust you." She replied, taking a seat. "If you're benefiting from our knowledge, it's only fair that we do the same."

Tony did like the idea of backup, especially one who knew the truth, but he didn't want someone watching his every move. He didn't want or need to be treated as a liar, and he really didn't want to be seen as the Marchant of Death anymore. He hadn't been that man for a while. Though, was that the truth? Was he just lying to himself? Was Rogers correct? Was he playing hero? No, don't go there, he yelled at himself. If he listed to everything everyone had ever said about him, he wouldn't be able to get out of bed, and he wouldn't have any hope in defeating Thanos. "Well, I hope that changes real soon."

"Not likely." Came her replied.

Okay, she was going to be a hard sell, but Tony could do it. He had a smile to die for, though she was glaring at him pretty hard. It wasn't going to be easy, and between her and Jim, he was so dead. "Oh, you're no fun."

"I did not come along to play," she countered, as the jet took off.

T'Chaka agreed to assist in anyway that he could, while keeping Wakanda safe. They were his number one priority. Tony could understand that; in fact, that was probably for the best. It would do no one any good if Wakanda became a target and their Vibranium was stolen and used for evil. That was why he went after Klaue in the first place. In the wrong hand, it was deadly. "Besides babysitting me, can you tell me your plan?" he asked.

Ayo didn't answer Tony, but that enough of a response for Stark. The silence gave him time to think, to replay his plans in his head. With T'Chaka doing a high dive into Hydra, Tony had time to focus on Barnes, which was Tony's next objective. With no fault of his own, Barnes was heavily ensnarled with Hydra, but Tony looked at them as separate or he wanted to. So, while T'Chaka and his troopers mapped the poisonous group, Tony would track down Barnes and…kidnap him? How the hell did you kidnap a master assassin who would stop at nothing to kill you? Yea, that was going to be fun, but hopefully Wakanda would be able to track down that red book. The idea of using that book turned Tony's stomach, but in case they couldn't control the Winter Soldier, they needed it. Plus, it would get it out of Hydra's hands.

However, before he did all of that, he needed to find a place to hide Barnes once he kidnap—stole?—him from Hydra. While T'Chaka agreed to help with Barnes recovery, they both worried about a potential assassin being within Wakanda's borders. In the previous timeline (could he call it that now?), the man was reformed—well, he was aware of his past life and wanted peace. So, the Tower was out of the question, and Avenger Compound didn't exist yet, not that he was willing to hid Barnes there if it did. With Hydra uncheck within SHIELD, there was no telling who he could trust, which made hiding Barnes difficult. Maybe, he could look through his father's old files and find something. Howard had a lot of secrets with equal number of hiding places, and one of those places could come into handy now. If nothing else, Tony could see if there was an off the book/retired S.S.R base he could use.

And after all of that, he had to deal with the infinity stones, and he only knew of 3, though only 2 were currently on Earth. Thor had taken the Tesseract aka the Space stone to space, and there was no way for Tony to get that, unless he found some way to contact Thor. Contacting Thor had never been one of Tony's strong suits, as the jolly Alien always showed up when he was needed without any prayers or whatnots, not when called. He did know that Thor would show up in a few years, so he supposed he could wait, even if it drove him crazy.

With the second infinity stone, Hydra had the Scepter aka the Mind Stone, which T'Chaka was currently tasked with finding. This wasn't as simple, considering there was no telling where it was. With it moving so often, it was difficult to tell where Hydra was keeping it at this or any second, but Tony supposed it wasn't hidden just any old where. While playing find the scepter wasn't ideal, it was doubtful that they knew what they had, which was a plus.

Next was the Eye of Agamotto, which held the time Stone. Tony wasn't sure who had the stone now, considering Dr. Strange was still cutting into people in New York and not a wizard yet. He supposed he could try to find any wizard and demand it, but that would probably not end well for him. Being wizards, they would probably turn him into toad for demanding something they sworn to protect. For reasons unknown, Strange gave up the stone to save him even after saying he wouldn't. He doubted anyone else would do the same.

Now the other 3 infinity stones, Tony had no freaken clue where they were, though he knew they were in Space somewhere. He could probably ask Thor, his only and current Alien friend, if he knew of the others, but he would have to find him first. However, Tony wasn't sure if that really was a problem. Sure, if Thanos got even one, he was unstoppable, but to stop him from decimating half the universe, they only needed to destroy one.

Though the idea did not sit well with him, they could destroy the Mind stone, which meant eliminating Vision, but Tony didn't see much of a choice. Unless, they destroyed the Time Stone, but he doubted the Wizards would be happy about. He might be able to convince them; after all, Thanos was the villain to end all villains. Tony let out a loud groan as he leaned his head back. Once more, he found himself cursing fucken Strange. The fucker. Why couldn't that asshole give him something to go off of? If Tony had to suffer through this, that asshole should be suffering through it as well.

"Are you okay, Stark?" Ayo asked.

Tony let out a deep sigh as he picked his head up and glanced at Ayo. Even in citizen clothes, she still looked like she could kick his ass. Why couldn't T'Chaka have picked a different Babysitter? He would've settled for T'Challa (though he doubted he would send the crowned prince, but SSSHH), as the Prince probably wouldn't be looking at him like he was an idiot. "Peachy, but I'm in the mood for cheeseburger. You think there's a drive through for jets?"

Ayo let out a harsh sign. "Are you a child?" she asked.

"Well, you're my baby sitter. Have to make this a challenge for you."


*O*O*


Ayo hadn't said much since Tony's last comment, though he could still feel her judging him. But, as the jet touched down at Avengers—Stark, he reminded himself—Tower, he wasn't worried about her, though there was the question of how Pepper and Rhodes would react. There was also the fact that Rhodey was going to get lay into him for leaving him out of the loop and going in alone, though Jim couldn't lecture him too hard. He did come back. Besides the small cut on his neck, he was in one piece, which was saying something. He hardly ever come back looking and feeling so good.

"I am surprised glad to see you in one piece, Sir." Came JARVIS's response. Tony could only huff at that one, not having a retort. He was the idiot who went in without backup. Though it all turned out well, he doubted that JARVIS would let him off the hook any time soon, but that was a worry for another time, especially when he had to finished FRIDAY and find a place to hid Barnes.

When the Wakanda jet off, Tony headed to the labs. If Ayo was following, Tony wasn't sure, but he ordered JARVIS to direct her to quarters for the next how many months she decided to stay. Hopefully, she would stop treating him like the enemy soon, as he didn't think he would be able to take much more of it. With the Civil War hanging over his head, he couldn't handle a teammate not trusting him. The idea cuts him more than anything else. Maybe, that was why he didn't want to see Rhodey right now. He couldn't handle the lack of trust he was seeing in his best friend's eyes.

"Did Ayo find the room alright, JARVIS?" he asked, taking a seat at his desk. "Also make sure she has everything she needs."

"Yes, Sir, and she is not in need of anything at this moment," JARVIS answered. "And Colonel Rhodes is on his way up."

"What is his ETA?" Tony asked, letting out a deep sigh. He wasn't getting out of this fight, but that didn't mean he couldn't do two things at once. With renewed energy, he turned his attention back to Friday's coding. As if he was reading a book, he could see her code in his mind's eye, and his fingers were firing before he knew what he was doing. Also, it wasn't like he had to recreate the wheel. JARVIS and FRIDAY's code had simpler beginnings with the only difference being their tone and personality.

It was at this moment that Rhodes busted into the lab, sporting an angry scowl. "Tony," he uttered, stomping his way over to the Genius. "What do you think you're doing now?"

"Mr. Stark is currently working on what he calls my baby sister," JARVIS answered.

That threw both of them into a loop. For Tony, it sounded like JARVIS was jealous, though Tony wasn't sure why. He wasn't replacing the AI, though he may need a replacement if Vision came to be, but there was no telling if that would happen. If he had to destroy the soul stone, he would… But could Tony do that? He supposed that was a thought for another time. Right now, did he have a jealous AI on his hand? Why would JARVIS be jealous?

For Rhodes, he felt betrayed, as Tony was keeping him out of the loop. "Is this that Project you were working on? Friday?" he asked.

With a deep breath, Tony turned back to the monitor and smiled. "Yes. I just need to get her up and running."

"Why?" Rhodes asked. "Isn't JARVIS good enough?"

In the other timeline, Tony had made quite a AIs, though not using them out until JARVIS was gone. This was not new. It was not out of character for him to be doing this, but if he was honest with himself, he was not the same Tony Stark they remembered. He was a man who lost a child—Yes, Peter was more than just some kid; he was a man who lost. He watched as everyone turned to dust, and that was after half the Avengers turned on him. He wasn't ever going to be the same man they knew. However, Rhodes wasn't going to understand that, because this Rhodey hadn't experienced it with him. He wouldn't understand anything that the genius was going through, but Tony knew he had to give Jim some time to adjust to him. "Hey now, don't be saying those things around JARVIS. We don't want JARVIS to think Daddy doesn't love him. Daddy loves you very much, Buddy."

"As I do you," JARVIS replied.

Jim let out an angry huff as he crossed to Tony. "Will you cut it out and let me what you were thinking? Sending the suit back? Going off with some random people? Acting like it was no big deal? Why are you shutting me out?"

"Didn't we already have this conversion?" Tony asked.

That did not seem to help, only sending Rhodes off into an angry fit. "Yea, we did, but let's recap you broke your promise to me minutes within making it. I'm supposed to be your best friend, not someone you placate. Why aren't you letting me in? What aren't you trusting me?"

If that was what Jim saw, Tony was insulted to his core, but he wasn't going to argue the point. In some sense, Jim was right. "No," he replied, sternly. With a deep breath, he paused for a second, eyeing his best friend. At the moment, there was nothing he couldn't do to right the ship. With a deep exhale, he added, "I'm sorry, Jim. Looking back at it, I shouldn't have left you out of the loop. You're right to be angry, but I need you to trust me. Do trust me?"

"You know I do."

"Then, trust me, and that goes to you too, JARVIS," Tony replied, turning from the monitor. "I know what I'm doing, and you gotta know that, even if I don't tell you everything."

Rhodey looked conflicted, struggling to find the words. "I do, and you're right, but let me in even once and while. I'm starting to feel like Rogers or something. Like you're keeping me at an arm's length on purpose."

Tony couldn't say that Jim was wrong, considering his only goal was to keep his best friend safe. He just kept seeing Rhodes falling to his death before his very eyes. It was torture, and he would do anything to stop it. "Well, let me finish this thing and we can get a drink or something."

"You think you're going to get out of this so easy?" asked Jim, folding his arms across his chest. "You're making me think Rogers is right."

With his angry rushing through him, Tony suddenly stood and kicked the chair out from underneath him. "Well, if you keep bringing up Star Spangle Ass, I'll make it easy," he replied, his tone colder than he intended. Sure, Rogers and he didn't get along in his timeline, though that could be because they really didn't talk to each other. Maybe in time, they could become friends, though Rogers had to like him first. With all those years working together, he didn't even know if the man liked him. Yea, they worked together, even lived together in the tower, but they didn't have to be friends to do that. And now, he didn't know if it was possible. Like a never-ending curse, he had the future hanging over him. Rogers lied to him, kept shit from him, and then there was the nightmare of Barnes and Rogers standing over him ready to kill. Tony didn't think they could come back from that. Did he want to come back from that? He had to, right? To stop Thanos?

Jim's face changed. "Am I missing something? Did something happen between you and Steve?"

Tony let out a deep sigh. No, it would not be fair to judge this Rogers. "No, you-"

"Am I interrupting?" Ayo asked, stepping into the lab. She didn't look as irritated as before, friendly almost, which annoyed Tony. Like really? She picked now?

Jim, his expression morphing into something else, turned to face Ayo. He was in utter disbelief. "Who the hell are you?"

Okay, shit. How did Tony explain Ayo? No matter the explanation, it didn't look good, but at least she was dressed, right? He had caught Tony doing worse things. "Rhodey, this is Ayo. Ayo, this is Rhodey. She'll be staying here awhile."

"Why?"

"Because I need her here." Tony glanced over to the Wakandan, looking for some kind of help, but he got nothing from her. What kind of teamwork was this?

Jim looked like he was about to explode, his face turning all kinds of color. "You better not be fooling around with her, not here."

Tony blinked slowly, as Rhodey's words washed over him. It was like his brain wasn't working. The very idea of cheating on Pepper was mind numbing. It was unthinkable, as Pepper was his everything, though lately they had been off. It had been weird. But no! "No, I'm not cheating on Pepper. Trust me, I'm not her type, though I take insult to that. How am I not everyone's type? Okay, not the point." He still wasn't sure what exactly Ayo meant by that, because they were a few things floating around in his head. However, none of that mattered. "Tell him, Ayo."

Ayo gave him a look but said nothing. It was like she enjoyed Tony getting yelled at by Rhodes.

"Geez!" Tony groaned. He didn't know if he should be insulted. Or if he should take this as a sign that Ayo wanted to watch the world burn. "That's it, you're sleeping on the couch."

This was when Ayo opened her mouth. "If anyone's sleeping on the floor, it's you, Stark." She still was not smiling, but if you look hard enough, there a hint of a grin behind her eyes. It gave Tony hope, because it meant that they could work together once Ayo trusted him. It might take some time, but it was possible. That was all he needed.

"Does Pepper know about this?" Jim asked, snapping the genius back.

Opps. "JARVIS, can you alert Pepper to our house guest. I don't want her to be surprise when she gets home." Tony knew he should call her himself, which was what Jim was glaring at him about, but the idea of talking to her scared the crap out of him, especially after their last fight. He wouldn't be able to tell her the truth as to why Ayo was here. It would cause another fight, which wasn't something he was ready for. That didn't feel right with Tony. How could he be so anxious about starting a fight with a woman that he loved?

"Very well, Sir."

"Tony, are you going to tell me what's going on?" Jim demanded.

"Sure, why don't the three of us sit down and have some coffee?" Tony replied. With him running on very little sleep, it would probably do him good to get some coffee in him. With the idea of sleep still freaking him out, he probably wouldn't be able to rest for a while. Besides the nightmares, there was a part of him that thought this was all a dream. Sure, it hurt like a hell to go through it again, but if he could save the future—save Peter-, he would take on the burden. It was a burden he would take on alone.


*O*O*


"You don't like lying to Colonel Rhodes, do you?"

Tony glanced up at Ayo as she stepped into his lab. "No," he replied, before turning back to the monitor. After coffee with Jim, Tony had retreated to his lab, while Jim headed back to the Air Force. There was a bit of hesitation in his best friend step, but Jim seemed to buy the story that Tony gave him. It wasn't a complete lie, considering Tony wanted the Avengers outside of the Hydra SHIELD's gasps. He just told his best friend that Ayo was a possible Avenger.

"Then why not tell him the truth?" Ayo leaned against the doorframe, eyeing the man. "Surely, it would not hurt."

"Does that mean you believe me now?" he asked, scanning over FRIDAY's code. Having been down here for hours, FRIDAY was finally completed; he just had to make sure she was perfect before letting her out to play. On the plus side, she would have someone to learn from.

Ayo let out a deep sigh. "I don't know what I believe yet, but I know you don't like lying to the Colonel. So, why do you?" she asked. Without another word, she turned and headed out the door.

"Geez, Okay. Thanks for stopping bye." Tony let out a deep sigh as he rolled his eyes. "JARVIS, are you ready to meet your baby Sister?" he asked, refusing to think about Rhodes and the lie that he just told him. It was for his own good. If he told Jim the truth, he would want in and he would get hurt, which Tony refused to let happen. Not Again.

"Are you okay, Sir?" The AI replied, ignoring the question. That did not get past Tony.

Tony almost let out a chuckle. How was JARVIS jealous? That would be interesting to test. "Peachy."

"I have learned, Sir, when you say Peachy, you are not in fact peachy," came JARVIS's reply.

"You know what? Let's me introduce you to your Baby Sister," Tony said, putting on a smile. "You can bug her." Without wasting anymore time, Tony activated FRIDAY with a push of the button. With his heart beating, he stared at her status bar, watching, as she intergraded herself into the tower section by section. JARVIS wasn't too far behind her, running system checks as they went. Seeing everything come back as a success, he leaned forward in his chair with a large smile. "FRIDAY, can you hear me?"

"Yes, Boss, I can hear you," came her smooth voice. It was music to his ears. "How can I help you today?"

"There's my baby girl," Tony said with a smile that took up half his face. "JARVIS, make sure you teach her well."

"Yes, Sir."

Okay, that sounded a bit flat, but that was an issue for another day… well, after he figured out how to deal with two fighting AIs. That was something new and weird, but he had enough love for the both of them. "So my two favorite children- SSH, don't tell anyone-, let's have some fun." Having FRIDAY back was a win in his book, and because of that day, it was like his day had turned for the best, and he could call this day a success. He wasn't so sure about tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4:

Screw it


With heavy a heavy heart, Tony took a deep breath, as he sluggishly headed to his bedroom. The idea of sleep didn't seem appealing, but he was running on fumes, having spent hours making sure FRIDAY was in top shape, and not, it was torture to keep his eyes open. It was a struggle to do much of anything, which included the journey to his bed. They say the lack of sleep was like being drunk; Tony could confirm this tidbit, feeling like death itself. It was like his body was protesting him, striking out in every turn. If he didn't get some sleep or at least rest, he was going to faint (or possibly die- SSHH) and smack his head off something on the way down, which wasn't good for anyone. Ayo would call him an idiot, and Rhodes would lecture him, which wasn't something he could deal with. Those two would be a scary team.

Exhaling slowly, Tony stepped onto the elevator and immediately fell against the elevator wall with a loud thump. He could fall sleep standing up, even while his body loudly protested. His bones ached. It wasn't the most comfortable position in the world, but he had slept in worse places and had awoken to some horrible back pain. It wasn't anything he wasn't used to. He supposed he could've slept in the lab on the lumpy pullout instead of risking falling asleep in the elevator, but Pepper drew him. He hadn't seen the woman since she stormed out in an angry huff, something that still hunted Tony to his core. He only learned she was back due to JARVIS. She didn't even come down to lab to say hi or goodnight.

The genius wasn't sure if that was a sign of their impending doom, but in any timelines, they had their problems, fighting over his inability to give up the Iron Man suit—something he didn't think he would ever be able to do. Admittedly, this time was different; he was different. He was better, though worse in some ways. He had seen- experienced a future that would give anyone nightmares. With a heart pounding in his chest, he hoped to stop the future from happening, but it was too late for him. It still happened to him, and unfortunately, he wasn't sure if this new person could be loved. "FRIDAY," he uttered, as he forced himself to speak. "Take me to the penthouse."

"Be my pleasure, Boss," the AI Replied. "Though I might add, it might be wise to eat something."

JARVIS wasn't far behind. "What Mr. Stark needs is rest. He would most likely fall asleep in his food and drown."

"Going to sleep on an empty stomach would keep him up longer and prevent the Boss from getting a good night rest."

If Tony wasn't struggling to stay on his feet, he would laugh at the two AIs, who had been going back and forth since FRIDAY awoke. There was something funny about while at the same time annoying. Was this what it was like having children? Make you laugh and mad at the same time? "Children, let's not fight. Daddy's too sleepy for this." Letting out the breath he was holding, he opened his eyes. "Let's make a deal. Hmm?" He pleaded as his eyes shut uncontrollably. It took everything he had to reopen them; it was like fighting a rushing river. "I'll sleep for a few hours and then eat. Make you both happy." His eyes were threatening to close again, and he would like nothing more to just give in, but he wouldn't be able to sleep for long. He would be Lucky to get three hours of sleep before a nightmare jolted him awake.

"Yes, Boss."

"Very well, Sir"

The elevator—like all things in Avengers Tower—ran smoothly, and Tony could barely feel it jump as it shot up several floors to the top of the tower. There weren't that many floors between his lab and his penthouse, but the elevator climbed the few floors in no time, though it felt like an eternity to the sleepy genius, as his nerves got the better of him. They were acting like a jumper to a car, shocking his body alive- though not in a good way. It was like there was bugs under his skin trying to break free. He wasn't sure why he was like this, considering he was going to sleep next to Pepper, sweet Pepper. She was his light, his path, even when they were fighting. She was his everything. But again, he was different now. He was broken. Could he still say that about her? Were they still meant to be?

With a heavy mind, he stepped—bolted more like it- out of the elevator, not waiting for the doors to fully open. Like someone had broke a dam, he was suddenly hit with this pressure, and it was everywhere. Not long after that, a wave of dizziness fell upon him, making his knees weak. Was the room moving? The floor felt unsteady beneath him, like he was on sand. God, what was this feeling? Was this a panic attack coming on? It didn't feel like the last one he had, but he supposed they weren't all the same. There wasn't a pattern to them.

If his AIs were talking to him, Tony didn't know, paying very little attention to them, as he headed toward his bedroom. His mind was on Pepper, who he hoped would calm him before he went into full panic attack. When he stepped in, he could feel his heart slow a beat, spotting Pepper's sleeping form. He didn't know how long she had been sleeping, but she was out like a log, wrapped tightly in an expensive, fluffy comforter. If you asked the Tony, it was stupidity overprice for a freak blanket, but he supposed he didn't get vote when he spent billions on Iron Man suits.

He shook that thought out of his head, while forcing his mind back to her sleeping form. The idea that she didn't tell him she was back haunted him. Was she still mad at him? He wouldn't blame her if she was, considering how he had been acting lately. He was like a different man; no, he was a different man. Let's not go there, he told himself as he crossed to the bed. Hesitating for a second, he pulled the blanket back and slid in next to her. Pepper stirred a bit as the comforter was pulled from her, but she did not wake, even he rolled to his side and wrapped his arm around her.

It was like kind of magic as he felt instant relief. With the last of his strength, Tony forced his eyes open as he stared at the back of Pepper's head for a few long seconds, counting each strand of hair. He never did say it enough that she was beautiful, that she was amazing, and that one thing he wished he did more. That was something he could make up for now, which would be his last thought before he fell sleep.


*O*O*


"You could've saved us."

"Why didn't you do more?"

"Mr. Stark, I don't feel so well."

"I hope they remember you, Stark."

"Tony!"

It felt like a million degrees, sending heavy shakes throughout Tony's body; though at the same time, he couldn't move. It was light his body was pin and he struggled under the weight, until something shifted next to him. He felt light and heavy at the same time. Feeling like someone was sitting on his chest, Tony didn't try to move and slowly opened his eyes to come face to face with a worried Pepper. "Hey, Pep," he croaked, feeling the sun on his face from the window. He may had awakened to a nightmare, but he had slept till the morning

There were no tears in her eyes, but Pepper was sporting a very worried and concerned look, which didn't fit her beautiful face. "Hey, Tony." A heavy smile creeped onto her face as it sounded like she had eaten a toad. "You okay?"

That was a load question. "Yes," he said, trying to pack up that one word with as much emotions as he could.

"You finally took a break I see?" she asked, putting a gentle hand on his arm.

Fighting through the ache in his back, Tony pushed himself up. It was these moments that he felt old. "I couldn't pass up sleeping next to you," He replied with a smile.

Her expression dropped for a second, staring at him. "You had a nightmare. Want to talk about it?"

Tony could see the worry in her eyes, the fear blooming underneath it, which he couldn't fault her on. The last nightmare he had ended with him screaming for his death and hitting her –Thank god, the bruise was gone. For him, he had lost on Titan and Peter had turned to dust in his arms, which was one of the most painful memories of his life. It was no wonder he wanted to die. For her, she went to bed after a long day at work and woke up to a man bloodcurdling screaming. For her, it didn't make sense. "Nothing major," he replied, as he leaned forward to give her a kiss.

Sitting perfectly still, Pepper didn't lean to him, her eyes dropping to his hand. As best as Tony tried to hide it, his hand was tremoring. "Tony," she replied, her voice breaking. "Your hand."

As if he was bitten, the genius quickly withdrew it and hid it behind his back. "Want something to eat?" he asked, barely holding back the tremor in his voice. What was wrong with him? Why couldn't he open up to her? But how did he talk to Pepper about Peter's Death? She didn't even know the boy, didn't know how important he was to Tony. She didn't know how the boy touched Tony's heart, taking a permanent spot. "I'm starving."

Pepper, forcing herself to take a deep breath, put on a smile. "Okay."

"I make some pretty wicked eggs." Tony smiled as he got to his feet. This felt off, but he pushed through it. He wasn't ready to dive into the pain just yet. He also wasn't ready to talk about Peter's death.


*O*O*


Tony kept peeping up at Pepper from his plate, as he poked at the cooling eggs. He was playing with it more than anything, but considering how long it sit in front of him, he wasn't to eat it. Plus, he was too anxious to eat, and the silence only made it worse. He had tried small talk, but she wasn't having it. She just gave short answers to every question he asked and shot him a look. It had been awkward to say the least, as he had no idea what to say. He could talk off someone's ears, but this was Pepper. He didn't have small talk with her, and from his understanding, that wasn't something you did with the love of your life. "I'm sorry," he uttered, letting out a heavy sigh. "I don't know what you want me to say."

Pepper flashed her eyes up at him, almost looking betrayed. "This all goes back to that nightmare you had a few days ago. Can you tell me what got you so shaken?" There was not ounce of anger in her voice; she seemed more sad than anything.

"I failed," he said faintly, as he looked down at his food. "I didn't do enough to save the most important person to me." As he said those words, a deep depression sunk through him down to his bones, drowning him. He forced back the tears as he thought about Peter, sweet innocent Peter. He really said that, didn't he? This was all about Peter. It was always about Peter as that kid was always at the front of his mind "I lost."

Reaching a firm hand forward, Pepper laced her hand into Tony's and squeezed. "You didn't fail. I'm right here, and I'm safe. Nothing's going to happen." A small smile started to break through to her smile, warmth emitting from her.

Of course, Tony thought, as guilty started to form. She assumed it was her, and in another timeline, she would've been correct, well until Peter warmed his way into Tony's heart. The kid had stripped that from her, and it had been taken from her sooner than expected, not that she expected it. Did that make him a bad person that he didn't want to correct her? Or maybe, this was just his guilt eating him? Weren't you supposed to love your child more? But Peter isn't yours, he yelled at himself. "I love you," he uttered. Okay, it wasn't like he was lying. He was always worried about her.

"I love you too." She replied as she squeezed his hand once more. "You just have to let me in, Tony. You just need to let me carry this burden with you."

Tony gently pulled his hand back, as his smile died. Doubt started to creep back in. It was no secret that she disliked him being Iron Man, and though she said she would carry it with him, he didn't know if he believed her. "And you be okay with me going off? Like when I went off to get Klaue?"

Pepper's expression darkened a bit. "What are you getting at?"

This wasn't what Tony wanted. This wasn't what he needed. So why was he starting a fight with her? She just admitted that she was here for him, ready to support him. Plus, Thanos was coming, ready to rip the world apart, and here he was fighting with Pepper. What was he doing? "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. Let's not fight," he replied, all too quietly. With panic on the horizon, he reached forward.

This time, it was Pepper who pulled back. "Don't do that," she hissed, looking completely heartbroken. "We both know what you mean by that, Tony. Just be honest with me. If you can't do that, then what are we doing?"

God, why did he have to open his mouth? Why?! What was wrong with him? Okay, he knew the answer to that. It wasn't just Pepper he had this issue with. Rhodey and his relationship was taking a dive as well lately. He didn't know if he was scared or just stupid. "Pepper, please. I'm drowning here. Please just...just…" His voice died in his throat.

Pepper's expression seemed to have it all: love, anger, pity, fear, annoyance, concern. "Then tell me what's going on." Tony opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. With a huff, she pushed her seat back and got to her feet. "I have a company to run. When you are ready to speak, let me know."

"Pepper," Tony called, his voice returning. He turned and reached out to her, trying to get her to stop, but the red head paid no attention to his hand as she headed out the door. "Pepper, please." In what could've been regret, Pepper slowed and glanced back at Tony for second before shaking her head and leaving. She paid no little attention to Ayo, who hovered in the doorway, besides to give her a cold look.

"How long have you been standing there?" he asked, barely giving Ayo a glance. His mind was in pieces and it was grueling to think. This was the second time that Pepper left during one of their 'conversions'. Fight was a better word, though that wasn't the point. Fighting over what to call this wouldn't change what it was: it was a shit show. Tony wasn't sure who to blame, but he knew he was causing most of his problems. He just wasn't sure how to fix his relationship with Pepper, and he wasn't sure if he wanted to. No, that wasn't true. He wanted to fix his relationship with Pepper, but Peter's life hung in the balance! That was more important. How would he worry about his love life when Thanos was coming for them?

With a deep sigh, Ayo pushed off the wall and crossed to the table where Tony was sitting. "Just long enough to hear you're an idiot. And here I thought, you had game, but I guess not." She gave him a look before snatching his plate.

"Hey!" Tony protested. "I was eating that." No, that was a lie. He only took one or two bits, while staring at Pepper. He was starving but his stomach was in knots.

Ayo gave him a look before taking a bite. It was like she was in a commercial, taking long lingering bites. She was savoring every bite, even if it was a cold plate of eggs. She was mocking him. "Were you?" she asked, taking another bite.

"That isn't very nice," Tony replied, getting to his feet and crossing to the coffee machine. It would only be his second cup of the day, but there would more in his future. He supposed he should try to eat something no matter how small it was, but his stomach was doing back flips. A cereal bar was probably his best bit.

"Never said, I was nice," Ayo stated with a shrug. "And I'm hungry."

Tony rolled his eyes as he took a bit of the cereal bar. It wasn't as filling as the eggs would have been, but it would do. The bar would probably go down better. "There're two AIs in this building. I'm pretty sure one of the two could've assisted you with anything that you needed."

"Two, Stark? One not good enough for your ego?" She asked, giving him a look.

"I quite agree," JARVIS added. "I am capable in assisting Ms. Ayo with every anything that she needs."

"There is nothing wrong with a helping hand," chirped FRIDAY.

Ayo, taking her last bite of Tony's eggs, turned to the genius; with a look that screamed 'wow,' her eyebrow rose. "Take after their creator?" she hummed.

On any other day, Tony might've found the weird Freud between the AI's funny, but he was too emotionally drained to feel much of anything. "Well, I'm a hoot," he replied, as he finished his cereal bar. "But we can talk about that later. We have a secret base to build."

"I'm just waiting on you, Pretty boy." Picking up Pepper's plate, Ayo crossed to the sink and turned the water on. She didn't wash the two plates, but she ran the water over them.

That was the second time he had been called boy in the last few days, and it was odd. He didn't like it. "If you think I'm a boy, you got issues," he replied with a force smile. He pushed off the counter and headed toward the door. "You coming? Or you going to wash the dishes, which you don't have to do? I have staff to do that."

"I was raised correctly, not by nannies," She replied, as she set the plates down. "And where are we heading?"

Ayo wasn't going to make this easy. "You act like that was a bonus. Sometimes I just wanted my parents, even my asshole of a father," he replied, hasty. The words came out faster than he could process what he said, but there was no taking it back. "Anyhow," he added, changing his tone to something more cheerful. "I got an idea of where we can look. Our best bet is my father off the computer records in upstate New York, and I know where they're located."

There was a hint of something behind her eyes, but it was gone in a flash. "Let's go."


*O*O*


Ayo, looking like she had smelled something funky, glanced around, taking in every inch of the quinjet. "I expected more," she uttered, walking to the front of the craft.

"Are we comparing dick sizes?" he asked, as he followed her. Though he did not expect trouble, the Iron Man suit was loaded onto the small jet.

"There is nothing to compare it to," came Ayo's response. "Wakandan jets are superior." She shrugged, as if it was insulting to deny it. There was a level of smugness there that Tony didn't see, especially when comparing it to his tech. it was an odd.

Tony sat in the pilot seat with a smile. Flying had always been a source of comfort to the genius, and this was time was no different. It wasn't the same as the Iron Man suit, but it still gave him a thrill. It was freeing, and with JARVIS as his copilot, nothing that could go wrong. "You got nothing on me," he replied, adding his own smugness to the table. "I got some ideas in here." He pointed to his head.

"Like two fighting AIs?" she replied, sitting a seat as well.

They wouldn't be fighting for too much longer, as Tony was going to 'sit' them both down and lecture them. It wasn't anything he couldn't handle, though it still did throw him through a loop. How did two AIs fight? "Oh, it isn't that bad," He replied, turning on the quinjet.

"Is that why you restricted FRIDAY to the tower?"

Tony let out a deep sigh, annoyed at how Ayo was reading this. He didn't load FRIDAY into the jet, because he wanted to make sure she was operating at 100% before he opened the world to her. Yes, it did give him a chance to 'talk' with JARVIS. Though, if everything was fine, he wouldn't need a talk with JARVIS. "Hey, JARVIS my boy, are we really for take off?"

"Yes, Sir." Replied a cheerful JARVIS. "It is my pleasure to be your copilot today."

Ayo shot Tony look, which the genius didn't like too well. "And JARVIS," Tony added, "you know I'll never replace you, Buddy, right? I built FRIDAY, not because you failed or that I want to replace you. I never want to replace you. I'm just…" Tony drifted off for a second, as one of his hands lingered on the navigation controls. "…The idea of loosing you freaks me out." There wasn't a lie. "You're my buddy. You've seen me through everything. You've seen me at my worse. FRIDAY is not replacing you. She's there because without you, I'm lost." He was completely honest, though he did leave out how comforted he felt by FRIDAY being there. Both of these AI were family to him, and he would be damned if he lost either one of them. "You can't replace the sky."

"Understand, Sir." JARVIS replied. "And rest assure, I will not leave you. It is an honor to serve you."

Ayo let out a snort. "Oh, I'm so glad you two made up," she said, rolling her eyes. "Now, get a room."

"There is probably porn like that." Tony chuckled, cursing himself with that pretty picture.

Shaking her head, Ayo let out a sigh. "And now you need to make up with Colonel Rhodes."

This woman brought up Jim more times than Tony could count, and it left Tony confused. What was her aim? Did Ayo want Rhodes in their secret club? "Why? Want to hold hands with Rhodey?" he asked.

If her eyes were lasers, he would be dead. "I just see how important he's to you," she replied, sitting back in her chair. In her hands, she held a tablet—a Stark tablet that she couldn't help but complain about. "You should tell him. Probably do you well. Less Stress. Do wonders for an old man like you."

At times, Ayo left Tony pondering whether she believed him or not about being from future. Some days, it felt like she did, while other days it felt like she was judging him. But, did it matter? With T'Chaka on his side, Ayo would follow him to the end of the line… Ha, you see what he did there? But what she wanted? What was she playing? Trying to get him to talk to Jim wasn't apart of her mission; she had to be doing it for different reasons. But why did she care? But Tony did have to give it to her: she was right. He should let Jim in as there was no one else he trusted more. He wasn't even sure why he wasn't. "Geez, I'm getting no love from you."

"I like Colonel Rhodes," she announced. "He's reminds me of Okoye. His loyalty is impressive."

That was definitely not what he expected to her hear from her. "Sounds like I should pay matchmaker."

Ayo's eyes narrowed at him. "Don't make me run you though with my spear." she threatened.

Though there was a part of him that didn't doubt she would and could do it, he could only let out a cackle. "Do you hear that, JARVIS? She's threating me."

"I do not hear that, Sir. I must need my hard drive update," Came JARVIS reply.

"Ha. Ha," Tony mocked. "I feel so loved."


*O*O*


Landing in the future site of the Avenger's compound was nostalgic, and Tony couldn't help but flash back to some of the most cherished memories he had. Not every memory he had of the Avengers was bad; some were quite enjoyable. Those were the days that they felt like a family, though now it felt like a lie. Though it started out for media's enjoyment—something they went go crazy on-, their 'family' movie nights were some of his favorite times. The team may have had to drag him out of the lab, but he enjoyed going. Though he complained (playingly so), he enjoyed creating and giving the team new toys to play with. He enjoyed watching their face light up.

That was not to say that he didn't have bad memories of this place. He remembered having to pull Vision out of the hole that Wanda put him in. He remembered the fights he and S-Rogers got into over the accords. Yes, looking back at it, he could see that Rogers had a point, and with hindsight, there were things Tony should've pushed back on; however, that didn't make Rogers right. The Captain was too focused on Barnes to see that he was becoming his worse fear. He- No, Nope. Tony mustn't let himself go down that path or else he would be lost in his anger.

Taking a deep breath, he waved to the Stark Industry guards, who patrolled the mostly empty compound. Being secluded in upstate New York, there was only a 5-man team guarding the large complex. If Tony thought about it, he probably should hire a few more. This place housed some very important and secret items that Tony didn't want to reach the light of day. There were probably things here that Tony didn't even know about, hidden by his father. There were things that Howard stole and hidden here. Things people would love to get their hands on.

That was one reason why Hank Pym sent in that bug guy—what was his name again?- in. Tony didn't blame Pym for wanting his tech back, considering Tony would've done the same. Plus, it didn't sit well with him that his father had hidden some Pym's items here. If his father was here to ask, he would've made up some lie about protecting the world from unstable tech, but Tony would call bullshit. There was a rivalry between Hank and Howard that Tony couldn't even begin to understand. He supposed their ego had to do with it, fighting to be the best, but there was something else.

Maybe, he should make peace with Pym. He didn't need to continue the hatred between the Stark and Pym family, though that was hard said than done. Pym wouldn't trust him on his surname alone, but Tony could start by returning the items Howard had taken. In the long run, Tony supposed it could help, which meant that was another thing he would need to add to the list. It wouldn't the at the top, as Barnes was currently the most important thing. However, it was important.

"You okay, Stark?"

Tony changed his direction with a shake of his head. "Just thinking," he replied with a deep sigh.

"Well, don't hurt yourself." came Ayo replied.

Why did everyone say that when he said he was thinking? "You should feel honored. This is the future site of Avenger's headquarters!"

Ayo gave him a look, before glancing around. It looked peaceful with a small lake a few yards away. "We don't have time for memory lane. Why don't you just show the way to these records?" she replied, sharply.

"Anything paper related will be in this building," Tony answered, not enjoying the thought of have to go through boxes and boxes of paperwork. He kind have wished he had the foresight to have computerized the files, though that made them hackable. With what he had planned, that would've automatically taken anything from those files off the list. There was a reason why he needed something off the books. Buy why did it have to be so taxing?


*O*O*


If there was a hell, Tony was sure that this was it, as he was neck deep in files, searching endlessly through them for one specific piece of information. He could feel his sanity dissipate with each new file, and to make matters worse, it was doing horrible things to his hands, which felt like sandpaper at this point. It was no wonder why everyone switched to digital, because this was the work of the devil. Between his dry ass hands and paper cuts, he was sure this was where villains were sent to die. God, why did his hands hurt this much? Who would've thought paper cuts hurt this much? He was stabbed by Thanos for crying out loud, but yet, he was done in by paper cuts. Maybe, it was the combination of dry hands and- No, No. That did not matter. No matter what it was, Tony was annoyed.

Granted, he could be irritated for another reason. There was no denying the frustration that was budding up inside of him, ready to burst. There was nothing more infuriating than spending countless minutes on a simple task, when you had other more imperative things to do. It did things to the mind. For example, his mind was yelling at him, screaming that he was spending too much time here. SHIELD was going explode before he found the thing what he wanted… not that he knew what he was looking for. Did his father or the SSR keep a list of hidden bases? Considering the bases were hidden, it should be stupid to list them on document that could be stolen, but how else was he going to find them? Plus, how could he confirm that the base was not on Hydra's radar? He supposed-

"Stop thinking so hard, Stark," Ayo yelled over the endless stack of boxes.

Tony glanced up from the box in front of him and shot a glare at Ayo. He was too grumpy for this. "I never overthink."

"The question is when don't you overthink," She replied. Her form was mostly hidden by the stacks of boxes that littered the aisle. Having been at this for hours, there were hundreds of boxes shattered about, each looking like a dog had been through them. Nether of them had been all too interested in putting them back, though that would've been wise.

With a huff, Tony shoved the box aside—harder than intended-, sending it airborne for several feet. Papers went flying, though he paid little attention to it. Anger had set in. He had a world to save, but he was here. He was here getting paper cuts. He was here looking at nonsense crap that no longer held anything importance in the present day. Half of this crap could probably be destroyed as it was outdated by years, and the other half would no longer gather a flicker of an eye with the world that they lived in. Hello, aliens invaded New York. Freaken Aliens. Nothing surprised the general public anymore. Tony wasn't sure if that was a good or a bad thing.

Back at the metal rack, he pulled another heavy box; this one had an SSR logo on it. It was probably a good thing that his father horded SSR files, as Tony had more hope in finding something in these SSR box than his father's own files. "Thanks, Dad," he said, rolling his eyes. Aunt Peggy probably wanted to skin Howard alive for it. "Here to another," he uttered, mainly to himself. He was sure this one would not be the last, as it felt like an endless loop.

Tony, without an ounce of grace, dropped the box on the table and ripped through the contents. There was a part of him, yelling at himself, that he should slow down, but he had been here for far too long for that, and he wanted to leave. He had to leave. He had a world to save. He had a future to save. He had a son—No, he had Peter to save. He didn't have time for this, but that was his weakness. He was never patient, which was why Rogers and he fought all the time. He didn't have plans. He just did. And this, this was torture.

Ignoring the hissing of his stomach—his last meal a cereal bar, which did not fill him up-, he quickly scanned through the files he pulled out. On any normal day, he would be interested in reading about the SSR, especially anything Peggy related, but not now. "Get ahold of yourself," he scorned. He didn't have time for this pity party, especial- Wait. What? Unsure of what he had just read, he reread it. There was that word again: Ragtag. Judging by the content that was used, it was a location. That much Tony could tell, and if he had to judge, it was somewhere along the Virginia and D.C. line, which he wasn't thrived about. Too close to SHIELD headquarters; however, if he could find this place, it could work to hide Barnes. Why didn't these files list a location? Damn it.

"Ayo." He shouted. The genius was on his feet and crossed to the Wakandan before he knew what he was doing. His frustration started to die and turn into something—excitement?- else, which sped up his steps. In two large steps, Ayo was fully revealed to him; she was hovering over a few reports, face down, and she waved her wrist over the files in a downward movement. What was that on her wrist? It was glowing. Surprised by his excitement, Ayo was slow to move, and his excitement turned to curiosity as she yanked her arm back. "What's that pretty thing? Can I see?"

"Nothing," she said, a little too quickly. "What you find?"

For a second, Tony played with the idea of pushing her, but he decided against it a second later. Ayo didn't trust him, not yet, so pushing her wouldn't do any good. He had to be smart, and if he was careful and gave her time, she would trust him. Maybe, she would show him then. "I think I have something," he replied, showing her the file.

Narrowing her eyes, Ayo took it from him and scanned it carefully. She didn't say anything at first, as she turned back to the file in front of her. It was an SSR file as well. "Ragtag," she uttered. "It's mentioned here as well. It could be what we want. We just have to find it."

"And make sure SHIELD doesn't know about it," Tony replied. How lucky would they be if this location wasn't on SHIELD radar? Was that even possible? SSR became SHIELD, giving birth to it in some odd fashion.

"And how will we do that?"

This may not have been his brightest moments. "I'm going to hack SHIELD." He said, smiling.

Rolling her eyes, Ayo got to her feet. "You act like that's the easiest thing. I'm sure they have safeguards for that, especially against you."

Why was he everyone's go to? Geez. "They can try, but they can't keep me out," he smiled. "I just need a door." He did it before and could do it again. He wished he left that door open, as that would've made this easier, but he was a dumbass. He could say that now as he knew the future. It wasn't like he knew back than that Hydra existed. If anyone should've known, it should've been Fury, but it was in the Director's blind spot. A part of Tony wanted to alert the man to the decay growing within his agency, but another part of him didn't trust him. Yes, Fury was fighting for the side of good, but Tony wasn't sure if he could trust his methods. Hydra did grow underneath him.

"And why would Tony Stark go willingly to SHIELD. You're going to need a reason."

Tony had a reason. In his timeline (the old timeline), he had received several invites from SHIELD to do a few upgrades for them. Being the ass that he was (probably a good thing considering), he had turned them down. Today, he just would not turn it down. "They can't turn this face down."

Ayo let out a heavy sigh. "If you get us killed, I'm killing you."

"In case you don't… or even if we do, let's get a cheeseburger before we go." Tony replied with a smile.


*O*O*


They should've cleaned up before they left, but Tony was too much in a hurry to will himself to stay for a second longer. That was a problem for another day. After gather all the SSR files that contained the word Ragtag, they headed out. The idea of heading into SHIELD this soon didn't sit well with Tony, but he had to be sure Ragtag was off Hydra's radar… granted, this could be for nothing. There was no telling if this former SSR site was still standing. He was just going to have to risk it. Besides, if he got in trouble, he was pretty sure he just had to say, 'hail Hydra,' and he would be golden. The thing about working in secret was that no one knew who their ally was.

Tony could admit this plan was hasty as the quinjet landed at SHIELD HQ, though there was no turning back now. He knew Ayo was not pleased by this turn of events, but she followed him off the jet without any problems. He didn't know if he liked it either, because her remarks were unsettling. When did he become reliant on her? No, he wasn't fully reliant on her to the point that he couldn't function, but he knew it could get to that point. He didn't know if it was because she followed him without hesitation or if it was because she knew the truth. Whatever it was, it could get dangerous. That was what got him in trouble with Rogers and the rest of Avengers. He got too comfortable.

With a harsh sigh, Tony walked toward the now opening hanger door, and like he was going to some fancy event, he put on his 'I'm Tony Stark and I don't care' Mask. It wasn't even a minute later that he was thankful for this mask, as Natasha Romanoff was standing just outside the jet with a confused and bored look on her face. Tony didn't know if he should take that as a good sign, not that he could trust anything the spy said. She was a liar. He knew he was being too harsh on her, judging her on actions that she hadn't taken yet, but she was a spy. She would always be a spy, and that would never change. She wasn't someone you could trust. Again, he was judging her on a future that may never come, but he couldn't unremember what she did.

She betrayed him worse than Rogers ever had… Okay, maybe just in a different way. From the beginning, Tony knew what Rogers wanted, knew what side the Captain was on. Tony knew what Rogers wanted. On the other hand, Romanoff pretended to be on his side, pretended to care. She just said whatever she thought he wanted, and that hurt more than anything. It was a game to her, and he lost. It made Tony wonder if she ever considered him as anything more than an Asset, something she could use. He knew he shouldn't be angry as he shouldn't expect a tiger to change his strips, but still. "Hello, Romanoff," he uttered, stepping onto the helipad. "Didn't realize I was getting a welcome party."

"Stark," Natasha greeted, a light smile on her face. "What can I say? We weren't expecting you to drop by. To what do we owe this honor? And who is your friend."

"They call me Ayo," Ayo replied, her accent suddenly gone. If Tony didn't know any better, he would've thought she was American. "I'm Mr. Stark's personal guard."

"And she's pretty scary, if I don't say so myself," he replied, rolling with the flow.

"No Happy?" Natasha asked, a hint of doubt in her voice.

"Nope."

The reformed assassin narrowed her eyes, sizing up the woman. "Here to see, Fury?" Natasha asked.

Tony waved at her. "Taking Fury up one of his offers. Maybe, it'll get him off my back for a while."

If the look in Romanoff's eyes was to judge, she didn't believe him. "I'll take you to him. He'll probably want you in and out, Stark. No telling the trouble you'll get yourself into in here."

There was a smart comment at the tip of his tongue, and it was a battle to keep it down. It was like trying to stop a tank with only a handgun, but just one look at Natasha's face kept his mouth shut. Again, he shouldn't blame this Romanoff for the sins of another, but that was all he could see. Why couldn't she be his friend, his ally? Was that her plan the entire time? To betray him? Or did she just change her mind? "Lead the way."

"You're quiet today, Stark. You sick?" the Spy asked, noticing his silence.

He was horrible at this acting normal thing, wasn't he? "Just tired."

Ayo gave him a hard look before closing the distance between them. She put a gentle hand on his elbow and guided him to her. "Be careful, Stark," she whispered, softly. "You're telegraphing everything."

Tony gave her a look before shrugging off her hand. "It's fine," he breathed, ignoring the look from Romanoff.


*O*O*


The plan was simply: Tony distracted, while Ayo broke into SHIELD mainframe. At first, Tony had argued that he should be the one to do it, considering he was a genius and all, but Ayo shot that idea down, after reminding him of who he was. There was no way that he wasn't noticed. He was Tony Stark, and there was no way that Iron Man wasn't stopped for a question or a flirty smile. And as if fate was teasing with him, a woman who looked barely old enough to drink jumped in front of him with one of those smiles. Ayo—yes, the traitor that she was—was laughing at him, though trying to hide it, as the girl looked like a child on Christmas morning.

Tony should be used to people throwing themselves at him; again, he was the famous Iron Man, but it threw him off. Maybe, it was Ayo, who looked all too smug when the young woman approached him. Maybe, it was where he was. Hydra was everywhere, waiting to drag you into an alley to kill you. Or maybe, it was the heavy weight that had settled in his chest when Thanos won. It was hard to be cheery, when you knew the half the universe was going to die. He may be Iron Man, but he didn't see himself as a hero. A hero did not lose. A hero did not fail. Stop it, he yelled at himself. He needed to stop being so…so… Okay, he didn't know what this was.

"And when you did that thing! It was life changing!" the young woman squealed, speaking as if he knew what she was referring to. "And when you dove, it was amazing."

Tony knew there were a several SHIELD agents who were fans, though Hydra being SHIELD added a whole new level to it. Most were not like this. "You're a shield agent?" he found himself asking.

"Not trained one," Natasha uttered, giving the woman a look.

"No, no!" The young woman uttered, her voice jumping to ear breaking levels. "I'm a consultant." She forced her voice down a bit as she added, "And you're the famous Black Widow. The stories I heard about you are just as amazing."

Tony shook his heads, playing hurt. "Geez, now I'm chop liver."

Before anyone could respond, another young woman—they were recruiting young, weren't they?—came rushing toward them. "Skye!" she uttered, looking completely bewildered and scared. "What are you doing?" Her eyes were large as she faced the three of them. "Forgive us, Sir. She didn't mean anything by it."

"Jemma," Skye uttered. "I was just-"

"Sorry!" Jemma uttered, interrupting her friend. Her face was all shade of red as she avoided eye contact. "Let's go." She said as she pulled—dragged more like it—Skye away, spouting off apologies every other second.

"I supposed you changed your recruiting requirements?" he asked, not expecting the spy to answer. Tony eyed the two ladies for a second before he turned to Natasha. The sooner he got far away from the spy the better. "Take me to your leader," he replied, miming all the aliens that he had watched.

Rolling her eyes, Romanoff gave him a hard look before turning to Ayo. "I think it's better if you stay here."

For a few seconds, Ayo did not move, almost like she was daring the red head to move her, but she moved aside 30 seconds later. It was better for the plan if she didn't tag along with him. "Very well, but not one hair on him out of place," she warned, her American Accent convincing.

Tony wasn't sure if Ayo was being honest or if she was putting on a show, but he enjoyed the look in Natasha's eyes.


*O*O*


Looking impatient, Tony kept glancing down at his phone, which would've been alarming for anyone else, but he was a genius. Him looking at his phone was abnormal, especially with the number of projects that he had going at any given time. Plus, his girlfriend was the CEO of his company, who may to call him at any time. It would be odd if he wasn't looking at his phone. See normal. God, why was this so exhausting? When did acting like himself become a mask? Wait, when did it become an act? Why couldn't he be normal? Why couldn't he remember how it felt to be normal?

Natasha turned suddenly, taking a few steps to him. She was, once more, studying each inch of him as if he was laid opened to her. "So, what you're looking at?"

"Nunya bidness," Tony replied, barely giving her a glance. Even if he trusted her, he couldn't tell her. You couldn't tell a SHIELD agent that he was hacking SHIELD while in a SHIELD office. "Where's Fury?"

"He's coming. He can't drop everything at the drop of a hat for you, Stark." She replied. At this point in the timeline, they weren't friend. They just saved the world together once or twice; they didn't become close until after the Fall of SHIELD when everyone moved into the tower, if they could call her that.

Tony glanced down at his phone again, waiting for the text from Ayo stating that she was done. It would be his clue to leave. Something he couldn't wait for, dying to get out of here; it felt like he was standing on pins and needles waiting for the message. This was when doubt started to form, growing with each passing second. Yes, Ayo said she had it. No, she didn't tell Tony how, but he trusted her—a new thing for him. It was just his mind paying games with him. If she said she was going to do it, she would. She most likely had some kind of Wakandan device. "And here I'm offering my services," he said acting hurt.

"You're up to something," she countered. Her voice wasn't friendly, but it wasn't cold either.

When he made his plan—if you could call it that-, he didn't expect to come face to face with Natasha. He wasn't expecting her to take him apart piece by piece. "My Dear, I'm always up to something. I'm a Stark after all."

"Isn't that the truth?" came a voice, drawing their attention.

There went any hope of telling Fury that his house had rats, as Tony turned to see Alexander Pierce stepping into the room. He would be lying if he said he wasn't flushed with anger. This man was leading a Hydra's SHIELD, destroying life everywhere he turned because they wanted to, and Tony wanted nothing more than to punch him in the face, suit or no suit. No one would blame him if they knew, but with no one knowing Pierce was a snake, it would not turn out well. He would end up in some hell hole. "I was expecting Fury."

The expression on Pierce's face changed, though he still held a light smile. "He is aware of your presence, but he could not be pulled away. I agreed to meet you instead. It's an honor. Between Captain American and Iron Man, I'm feeling apart of the team." As he reached the genius, he held his hand out to shake.

Out of habit, Tony almost took it, but that thought was gone in a second. If he took the hand, he wouldn't be able to stop himself from slugging him. If they knew the kind of man Pierce was, people would be cheering Tony's resolve. Why was there no one to see this? Tony Stark was controlling himself! Just look at this! Why were there people here so he could he brag about this? "But would that give me anything special?" he asked, ignoring the hand Pierce was offering. "Because if not, no deal."

There was a twitch in Pierce's right eye, but he did not comment as he withdrew his hand. "Agent Romanoff, Can I have a moment alone with Mr. Stark?"

Natasha glanced at Tony for a second, her eyes calculating. "Yes, Sir," She answered as she turned to the door.

Just like that, Tony was alone with one of the heads of Hydra. It took everything within him not call up the suit and beating his man silly. Just think of all the lives Tony could save, but it would not be everyone. He would save more lives by playing the long game, but it strung. By turning his back right now, he just felt like a failure again.

"I was surprised you came to SHIELD, Mr. Stark." Pierce was the first to speak, his eyes lingering on the door Natasha exited through. "Never thought you were Fury's biggest fan, but here you are, willing to assist in one of his many projects." The look on Secretary's face was quite telling. He was testing Tony, trying to see where Tony's allegiances were. Did Pierce think he could turn him?

Tony didn't respond right away, searching for the correct way to respond without sounding like he wanted to punch the man. Knowing that Pierce was a double agent changed everything, it changed how he would've normally answered. "I supposed he has his reasons. I can't find myself liking his ways."

"And yet, you are here."

Yes, I was here to tell Fury you're Hydra, you fucker. Okay, that wasn't completely true; mostly, he wanted to break into SHIELD's mainframe, but he thought about it. "I don't have to trust Fury," he replied. "Besides, he reports to someone just like everyone."

Pierce nodded and hummed. "That he does."

Tony stared at the Secretary for a second. Was he really trying get him to join Hydra? Did that man think that was possible? Sure, Hydra already took over half of SHIELD, but his father helped to take down Hydra. Tony saved the President for crying out loud. He was no way in hell joining Hydra. "I didn't become Iron Man for the shits and giggles." He paused for a second. "Okay, maybe just a little bit," he said with a light smile. "I became Iron Man to help people. To do that, it doesn't matter who's in charge."

"Loyalty to the cause, not people."

Praying for his phone to beep, Tony forced himself to look at the traitor with a grin. "Some might say I'm loyal only to myself." Barton popped to mind, and against his will, those memories forced their way forward. Anger rushed through him, as everything came bubbling up. It wasn't the goal to placate Pierce. It just pissed him off that they—Team Rogers- even believed that. Could they not see everything that he did? Could they not see what he struggled with daily?

"And is Fury one of them?"

Before Tony could answer, his phone went off—went off loudly-, and it drew his attention immediately. Shit, why is the volume up, he cursed. Unable to show any kind of emotion, he glanced down at the phone only for a second. His hand at his side, he dug his nails into his palm as he tried to stop the expression from growing in his face. It was Ayo. "Oh, that was Pepper. I got to. You know how it goes when the girlfriend calls. Or in your case girlfriends?"

"Oh, you think too much of me if you think I can handle more than one lady." The look was back on Pierce's face as he stared down Tony. "But I'm glad we had this chat."

Tony smiled as he breathed through his nose. "I'll just try to reach out to Fury at a later day for those projects." He gave the Secretary the peace sign. "Peace." He headed toward the door before Pierce could stop him.

"Don't be a stranger, Stark!" Pierce yelled as Tony reached the door. "We should have dinner next time."


*O*O*


As soon as elevator's doors opened to reveal the lobby, Tony's eyes scanned the floor for Ayo. He didn't see the woman at first, but she was at his side in seconds. With a gentle hand on his arm, she guided him toward the front doors—not that he needed her to. He wanted out of here as fast as possible. Maybe, she saw something on him that Tony didn't know was there. After his talk with Pierce, he felt dirty and needed to take 5 showers to clean himself. "So how did you get to the server room?" he whispered at her.

Ayo's eye twitched, not sparing a second to glare at him. "Not here," she replied, harshly. Her accent still missing.

Feeling like a child scorned, Tony gave her a goofy smile. She was right, but he was dying to know. No, he wasn't jealous that she got to hack into SHIELD—which he totally wanted to do, but he wanted to know how. She hacked in less than 15 minutes with…only a cellphone? Being the genius that he was, he was dying to know how, so he could do better. Was there a genius under that head of Ayo's? Now, that was exciting, and he meant that. He would always be up for a sharing of the minds.

The sun was painfully blinding as they stepped out of the building. Note to self, remake holographic sunglasses, he thought, not recalling exactly when he made them. He may have them already, but if he didn't, he was totally remaking them. With his head in the clouds, the walked to the guinjet went by in a flash. As the hanger door opened—which felt like a lifetime-, Tony was immediately pissed off. "JARVIS, what is this?!" he hissed.

"I am sorry, Sir. My programing was overwritten." Came the AI's reply.

That was the second time that that happened, which was time times to many. It would not happen again. "Well, we'll need to fix that," he replied, as he stared down Natasha Romanoff, who had made herself comfortable in the pilot's seat. "But first, I need you to exit the jet."

Natasha was sitting in the chair sideways, her legs dangling over the arm rest. Her right arm was draped over the back, while the other held the tablet Ayo was looking at earlier. "Why don't you tell me about whatever you're up to, Stark?"

The idea that Natasha could read him so easily annoyed the genius more. "I'm always up to something. You have to be more specific," he replied, his voice cold. "But again, leave."

Kicking her legs over, she swung herself forward, and with smile, she stood. "I'll once you tell me what's going on. I'm not an idiot. I can tell when you're into something you aren't supposed to be. You're acting differently."

"He told you to leave." Ayo took a step forward, her eyes cold. "Move or I'll move you." Though her voice was still carrying an America accent, she sounded just as deadly as she did when standing by T'Challa.

Natasha looked between the two before her eyes settled on Tony, barely paying any attention to Ayo. "I thought were teammates, Tony." She paused for second, a word hesitating on her lips. "I might even call us F-"

"Don't you fucken dare!" he hissed, interrupted her. The idea that she would call him a teammate yet alone a friend offended him to his core. The word pissed him off; there was no way in hell that they were remotely that. He wouldn't trust her to clean his floors, as she would bug the entire building. "We're not friends. I wouldn't even call us teammates. I wouldn't call us crap!" And when was they on the first name basics? As far as Tony was considered, she should not be calling him Tony like they were friends.

"You haven't forgiven me for that, Tony?" she asked, giving him an eye roll. "Seems petty."

Tony knew that he shouldn't judge her for actions that may or may not happen in this timeline, but it just kept playing in his head on loop. Besides, she was probably going to do it again as she was Roger's friend, not his. "Fuck off." He hissed, his control snapping.

"This seems like an overreaction if you ask me," Natasha replied, giving him a heavy look.

Yes, Tony knew this was an overreaction, something he was not proud of. He knew he needed to take a step back and breathe. God, he wanted to. He could feel Peter in the back of his mind, telling him to calm down. Telling him that everything was going to be okay. It'll be okay, Mr. Stark. He could even hear it now, but Tony just keep seeing Natasha's betrayal in his head, and he was filled with questions/doubts. Was she ever not playing with him? That was his problem, hoping for something that never existed. Did he want friends this bad? "No one asked you. Now get out."

Ayo took a step forward, keeping a close eye on Tony. Her hand was gripping at the item on her hip, as if she was ready to pull out a gun. "He has asked you to leave. Please do so at once."

If the spy was worried about Ayo, she did not show it. She was barely giving Ayo the time of day. "I'll leave when Tony tells me what he's up to." Natasha replied, her eyes drilling into them. "Something smells."

It had better be worth it to hack into SHIELD, as Natasha wasn't going to back down. She was a dog with a bone. She wasn't Hydra, but it would be just as bad if she knew what Tony was was planning. She would not trust him to handle this his way and would force her way in to take over. Tony would lose everything, and he refused to lose Peter because someone refused to trust him. "If you don't leave, I am." He snapped, turning to his suit which stepped into light.

Natasha, her expression changing only for a second, gave the suit a once over. "Got bored of gold and red? That isn't like you. What's going on Tony?" she asked, her voice dropping the demanding tone. It was like she was seeing the entire situation differently. Was she worried about him just because of the color of his suit?

"I decided I need more choices in my life." He replied, sharply, as he looked over the Iron Man suit. With panic starting to creep up his back and into his bones, he ignored both Ayo and Natasha as they called to him. All the sudden, everything seemed to sink and fall away, and he was drowning in quicksand. Feeling urge to bolt, he shot toward his suit and hid himself inside of it. He could slightly feel normal again, almost whole again, as the suit closed around him like a mother's warm embrace. "JARVIS, let's go." He ordered.

Not caring to the damaged he was leaving behind, he blasted off into the sky, as his anger slipped in and took him over completely. Even though Natasha was at the front of his mind, there was only one person he blamed for this. Stupid, Fucken Strange. Everything was Strange's fault, forcing Tony into this shit show. Where the hell was he in all of this? Who the hell did he think he was to get off scot-free? He did not get to sit pretty while Tony was drowning.

Stupid Fucken Wizard. He deserved a punch just as much as Pierce, and he was going to get it.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5:

Time Travel is Bitch


A bit of Tony's anger died as he crossed the border into the wonderful—sarcastic much?- state of New Jersey. Maybe, it was the distance between Romanoff and himself that gave him hindsight. Maybe, it was the time that passed since he bolted like a mad man. Whatever it was, his anger had died down to a slight annoyance. The urge to punch Strange in the face had also died, though he would laugh if Strange stubbed his toe. After his logic was slowly returned, irritation wasn't far behind, pissed at himself for allowing himself to be dragged down by his anger. He had been angry before, but this was something else. It robbed him of everything, and turned him into a kid again. He never liked being a kid (probably the fact that he teenage in college and couldn't even smoke legally) in the first place, and he didn't like being a kid now.

Still on course to Metro-General Hospital, he racked his brain, looking for an answer, and slowly replayed the day in his head. Where did it all go downhill? When did he lose control of himself? Okay, he is Tony Stark no matter the life experience, and he had never been known to be in control of himself. His best mode of attack was to attack; his mouth spouted off whatever he was thinking at point in time, and he didn't care if it insulted someone. He didn't care if someone poked all his buttons as he just played along with it. He took it all in good fun, because what was the point in being upset? There was no point. It didn't get you anywhere; yet, he blew up at the very sight of Natasha.

Maybe, it was the stress of it. Tony had felt stress before, spent countless nights in the lab, but this was nothing like before. Tony couldn't describe this overwhelming weight on his chest that threatened to eat alive. The whole freaken universe was counting on him, which was just mind numbing. The number alone could make his head explode. Too many to count. Too many to think about. He couldn't even think of a number big enough, so how could he save that many people? Okay, he knew that wasn't fair, but god, as he saved earth many times over. Overthinking like always, he got so lost in his head that he couldn't find the way out.

Maybe, it had to do with Peter, a brave kid who died in Tony's arms. Could Tony even call it that? Dying? Peter turned to dust, while begging for his life. Begging for Tony to save him. To not let him ago. There was no describing how horrible that felt. No describing the overwhelming dread that flooded him as he realized there was nothing he could do. He felt ill just thinking about it. He would not be able to survive Peter's death again, probably following him unto death. Panic grew inside of Tony at the thought of the young boy scared and hurt. Maybe, it was that fear that ate at him and stripping away Tony's armor, causing him to overact.

"Get it together," he told himself, ignoring his pounding heart. Breathe. 1. 2. 3.

"Sir, I must advice that you are reaching high levels of crazy. May I suggest returning to the tower."

JARVIS just liked to hit Tony where it hurt. "No," he replied, though not sure why he was still heading toward the hospital, where Strange was currently. Even with his self-control returning, there was no way in hell this was going well, but yet, he couldn't find it in him to turn around. He needed to know why it was him. Why did Strange pick him? Why him of all people? He was and would screw everything up. He exploded at the sight of the red head, which did not help Natasha's suspicion. Why did his mind keep going back to her?

Again, he knew he was stressed, and it could be his stress talking now, but it didn't feel like. Everything was just off, especially his reactions. All things considered; he shouldn't be surprised at Romanoff's betrayal to begin with as she was a spy. It was what she did; Tony should not have expected anything else from her. And he still shouldn't expect anything from her, even if this wasn't the same Natasha that betrayed him. She was a spy through and through, who was only loyal to Fury… and anyone who was not Tony. Stop this shit, he yelled at himself as his anger started to bubble up again.

He needed to get whatever this was in check before he exploded again. There was no doubt that Natasha was going to show up soon or later and demand answers from him, which was not a conversion that Tony wanted. He wouldn't know what to even tell her, because he wasn't telling her the truth, not when she could turn on him like she did all the other time. He supposed he could tell her he was fighting with Pepper (which wasn't a lie) and apologize for snapping on her, but he could already see her mistrusting, judging face. There was no way in hell that she was accepting that apologize without question. She wasn't accepting anything but the truth or what she thought was the truth.


*O*O*


An hour later, Tony was standing in front of Metro-General Hospital with his best Stark face … What was the plan? To confront Strange and ask him why his future wizard self mess with the timeline? Okay, if he wanted to end in the loony bin. What the hell was he doing here? Maybe, he could just walk into the hospital, see Dr. Strange being a doctor and turn away. Maybe, that was all he needed to get Strange out of his mind. Maybe, he just needed to see the man, though Tony knew that was a bad idea the second he had. He had no idea of how he would react to seeing the man who cursed him to relive everything again.

"Stay here, JARVIS," he ordered as he stepped out of the suit.

"Very well, Sir."

A second didn't even pass before he was recognized, thought he should've expected that, as he just walked out of the Iron Man suit. That suit attracted attention like a moth to a flame, more so than his thousand-dollar suits. Sure, he was the famous; everyone around the world knew his name. Knew his face, but it was the suit. It was his suit that they run too, but they ingested any information they could on him. Though the idea was odd to him, they knew his favorite color, the size of his shoes and how he liked his coffee. They knew what he enjoyed eating, but he supposed he had the hand in all of this. He sure did love to talk about himself with a smile on his face; yet, there was no getting used to this. There were eyes everywhere.

Focused on the front door, there were a chorus of people calling his name, shouting that it was the famous Iron Man. There was amazement and awed in their voices at the mere sight of him. There may be one or two that did not like him, but he drew everyone's attention, and each attempted to get his attention. He ignored them all besides one. Her voice, no louder than whisper, screamed to him, and as if he had no will, he turned to see who it was. The second he turned, he was blinded by an overpowering, piercing light, and under the intensity, he turned away in fear of frying his eyes. Shutting his eyes as tight as he could, he took a long, deep breath. "What the hell was that?" he uttered, his voice cracking. He remained like that, hunched over until he was sure the light was gone.

Like the wind had been knocked out of him, Tony forced himself to take a deep breath as he straightened himself up. Slowly opening his eyes, he saw spots, but he waved them off (as if he could) and headed into the building. Whatever attention he was getting, it disappeared, which was jarring. It was off putting to say the least, but he kept his head up, refusing to linger on it. He was on a mission, and it didn't matter if he drew attention or not. Sure, it was a shot to his ego, which he could live with. Some would it was good for his ego to take a hit, but that was a thought or another day.

With his vision finally clearing, he quickened his pace to the nurse's station. It didn't look like the ones in the movies or on TV shows, though Tony wasn't sure what he was expecting. It was busy with activity, and there were patients' charts hanging around. It looked messy to him, but there was probably a logic to it. As he approached, none of the exhausted nurses looked up at him; each were too focused on their task. "Excuse me," he interrupted with a smile. "Can someone tell me where I can find Doctor Stephen Strange?"

The woman, closest to him, did not respond and turned to the chart on her left. She spoke to the nurse a few feet from her, carrying a conversion on some patient. Was it possible that she didn't hear him? Or she was simply ignoring him?

"You know most ladies squeal at the sight of me," Tony spoke, putting—or attempting—to put on the charmed he was famous for. It was a challenge when he was like crap. He was so not cheery. "Still nothing? This is doing wonders for my self-worth." Again, nothing. It was like she wasn't seeing him. "Fine, I'll just find him myself." He huffed to himself as he turned and took off down the hall. He stopped at a directory hung on a wall, scanning it over quickly. It didn't take long for him to find the good doctor's bizarre name in sea of common names.

Once more, no one paid any attention to Tony as he made his way up Strange's office. Again, it struck the famous genius as odd, not that it wasn't nice when he was on a mission. It gave him some kind of freedom, but he pushed those thoughts away as he walked—more like ran—to the elevator. Being impatient, he vehemently jabbed the up button on the panel. It was stiff under his touch from years of use, which didn't stop him from hitting it repeatedly like it would help. It, of course, did not, but with no sense of logic and reason, it felt like he was getting somewhere, though that only last a second. Apprehension started to grow as seconds went by waiting for the elevator, and as it started to take over, nothing moved fast enough for him. It was too much for Tony, who turned to the stairways.

Tony flew through open the door to the stairs and bolt up them as if he was on fire. He was in better shape than he was a few weeks ago—an odd reality—and it was only after 3 flight of stairs that he started to feel the tingle. It was a light burning sensation in his calves, but luckily, he didn't have go up any more steps. He threw the door open to the floor and paused. Without JARVIS at his side, Tony was horrible at directions, especially in a hospital where all he saw was hallways and rooms. It was a maze with no end.

With a deep and long breath, Tony slowly looked around, randomly picking a direction. In a quick second decision, he turned left and ran down the hall looking for a hint of the Wizard Doctor. It didn't take long for Tony to realize that he had picked the wrong direction. There were only patient's rooms down this long narrow white hallway, and each room he passed was filled with patients, none were offices. Each ignored him and continued their conversion be with a nurse, a family member or another patient. He didn't think much of it at first, considering it was a hospital with hurt or sick people, but now, it was strange, especially when he tried to make eye contact. None of them returned it.

"Not, now," Tony lectured himself as he twisted around, heading in the other direction. However, it was harder than expected not to react to no reaction. Against his own judgement, he approached a young nurse, who didn't turn or acknowledge him in the least. "Hello Miss, can you direct pretty old me to Dr. Strange?" He waited a few seconds for her reply, but when he got nothing, he added, "Do I smell or something?" It was a serious question as he did spend all day in an old crusty storage room with all the fun pesters. "You people are stiffer than my board of directors after I miss a meeting." He mumbled as he turned away. Was he chopper liver?

Shaking his head, he walked away- no interest in running. His legs were too tired for that and his mind was as well. Was this some kind of joke? Ignore Tony Stark day? Was Rhodey behind this? Like anyone could ignore him, especially the press. He was magically. He was-

"I'm fine, Uncle Ben! It's nothing!" A boy shouted; panic laced into his words.

"Peter, your arm is broken. That's nothing. Why don't you tell me how this happen?" The voice was exhausted.

"I fell."

The voice, like Tony, was years younger. It had yet to mature into the voice that Tony knew and loved, but he knew that voice well. He had—well in the other timeline—countless long voicemail from the boy, who went on and on about his day. Even though Peter had only gotten Tony's voicemail or FRIDAY, Peter would ramble on and on until he could not leave another word. Tony may had played it off in front of everyone who dared to look at him funny about the nonsense voicemails, but it was endearing and nice. The genius held on to them all. When the Avengers broke apart, it was nice to have those voicemails to play over and over again. It was nice to have something to hold on to.

God, he wished he could listen to them now, listen to how cheery the young man was. It was amazing to see the person Peter was morphing into. It was nice to have someone look at him like he had set the moon and sun, even if it threw him through a loop. Just thinking about it made him lightheaded; it flooded him like it happened yesterday. And with no power to stop it, Peter's face popped into his head. There was an undeniable fear in his eyes as he turned to dust in Tony's shaking hands.

"I don't believe that, and Aunt May won't believe it either."

"It was an accident, Uncle Ben!"

Tony, his heart pounding in his chest, followed the voices to a hospital room in dark corner. The door was ajar, which allowed the genius a peak of the tiny little family. It was like watching a movie as he looked upon the two. His heart skipped when he laid eyes on Peter, who was sporting a smile even with a badly broken arm. He looked too tiny for that kind of injury. Too little for much anything if you ask Tony. Okay, that wasn't fair as Peter was only a few years younger. He wasn't that tiny. He was a preteen, who still had some of the features he had in the future. It wasn't hard to see the young man that he would become, even if he was a bit smaller than most kids his age. Damn it. Tony wanted to stuff him full of food until Peter couldn't eat anymore. He wanted to bury the boy in blankets and protect them from the world.

How did Peter end up here in this hospital of all places? It seemed odd for him to be here, especially when there had to be other hospitals closer to his house. And what the hell happen to his arm? Did Tony need to blast someone? No, he totally needed to blast someone. "Um, what?" Where the hell did that come from? Was this his wacky emotions taking over? Was he channeling his inter dad mode? When did he get a dad mode? And was that odd? Crap, I need a drink. He really wasn't the man he used to be, and that surprised him more than he cared to admit.

"You have to stand up for yourself." Uncle Ben spoke, his tone soft.

Leaning against the door frame in the small opening, Tony took in the famous Uncle Ben, the man who raised Peter like a beloved son. That man was everything to the kid. The rich genius had never met the man, only hearing cherished stories from Peter, and the soft smile on the boy's face told Tony everything he needed to know about Ben Parker. He was bright, wise, honorable and smart, and he taught Peter everything that he was. Taught him right from wrong. Taught him to take responsibility. He taught him everything that Tony loved about Peter. Without Ben Parker, there would be no Peter Parker, and Tony would forever be grateful to the man.

Tony, though he felt like he was trespassing somewhat on a family moment, could feel his soul rest. This was what he needed, even though he never realized it. It settled him, and Tony wanted nothing more than to introduce himself to the two. He knew he shouldn't with the timeline hanging over him like an axe, but god, he wanted to say fuck it. Who cared about these made up rules? Did it really matter? He could have already destroyed the timeline, but anything had to be better than Thanos killing everyone. It just—

Tony stopped in his tracks as Ben Parker straightened himself up and turned to the door, where he was standing. There was a weariness in his eyes that Tony hadn't seen before. "Oh, there you were," he said, sounding like he could skin an animal alive. "My nephew has been waiting for hours."

"What?" Tony uttered, straightening himself up. Was Ben talking to him? He had to be because Parker was looking right at him, but why would Parker be mad at him? "Excuse me? I get I'm horrible at time keeping, but it's easy to lose track of time when there is 24 hours in a day."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Parker," came a voice behind Tony.

If anyone asked, Tony would deny it, but he flinched, not hearing someone come up behind him. "Geez!" he yelled, catching his breath. "I feel like Doctors should not be giving people heart attacks. Bad business…or is it good business?" He turned to the Doctor expecting some kind of response—though why would he?-, but once more, he got nothing. The Doctor, like the nurses in the hallway, didn't pay any attention to him. In fact, Ben wasn't even looking at him. What the heck?

"I'm sorry, Mr. Parker. I had to get a second opinion," the doctor stated as he walked into the room with a heavy step. In his hand, he held a clipboard, which Tony could not read from his point of view. "The breakage is worse than we first thought." He pulled an x-ray image from a file and placed it over a light.

Tony's expression dropped from his face, and he sauntered toward Peter, ignoring every warning going off in his head. "What?" he articulated, seeing the pained look on Peter's face. He didn't realize how much pain the boy was in; it was etched in his facade. Forcing down everything, Tony glanced at the x-ray, though he had no idea what he was seeing. He could see the breakage, but Peter's hand was more than just broken. Who did this to him? Who would hurt a boy? A child?! Was it a kid from school? Was that why Ben was trying to get answers from Peter? Tony would gladly help if he could. "Who did this to you, Kid?" he asked, turning back to the boy. No answer, even though he was standing a foot from them.

Mr. Parker looked just as alarmed as Tony felt. "Peter, what happened?"

Peter all the sudden looked bashful, like he was guilty of a high crime. "I fell, Uncle Ben."

That was a lie if Tony even heard one, but he wasn't sure pushing Peter on it would be wise. The expression on Peter's face was heartbreaking enough, and he looked seconds from a panic attack. "Peter," he voiced. Whoever it was, they scared Peter

Ben, on the other hand, wasn't going to take that for an answer. "Peter, are you lying to me? Were you in a fight?"

"Children lie, Mr. Parker," a familiar voice said, wryly, from the doorway. "It is what they do, and it is obvious that the boy is lying to you."

Tony picked his head up and spun to the newcomer, knowing the voice. He could never forget the voice that cursed him here. If he wasn't so shocked by it, he would've been pissed for someone calling Peter a liar but seeing Dr. Strange in the doorway took everything from him. "Strange," he spoke, though the man did not respond to the genius.

"Are you calling my Nephew a liar?" Ben hissed, stepping toward Strange.

"I am," Strange answered, not an ounce of shame or hesitation in his voice. "Is he not lying, Mr. Parker?"

"Dr. Strange!" admonished the other Doctor, disbelief written on his face.

Tony was shocked by the brute honesty from the Future Wizard, but if he thought about it, he really wasn't. Even on that ship heading to Titan, Strange told the truth holding nothing back. Okay, not the whole truth. He lied about the Time stone and gave it to a nut case for Tony's life. Yup, here came the anger. Anger for lying. Anger for calling Peter a liar, even if the boy was lying. Anger at him for being an asshole. "Who the hell do you think you are? There's only one cocky asshole allowed in the room at any given time, and that is me. So, you can shove it!" he yelled, getting in Strange's face. Being only an inch smaller than the good doctor, he stared directly into his eyes. "Hello, did you hear me?" he hissed, when Strange didn't flinch. "You can't ignore me when I kick your ass. No one calls my kid a liar and gets away with it!" There it was again. When did the kid become his own? And why wasn't anyone reacting to him?!

Mr. Parker looked just as pissed off as Tony, but they noticed him. "My nephew is not a liar! I dare you to say that one more time, Sir, and who are you?"

"I will be the one operating on your nephew's arm, repairing what has been broken." Strange replied, dryly.

"Dr. Strange is one of the best neurosurgeons in New York," the other Doctor interjected with a hesitate smile. "There is no one better equipped to deal with this type of injury."

Both Tony and Ben sported the same confused look. Why on earth would Peter need a neurosurgeon for a broken arm? That seemed like overkilled, unless Peter's arm was worse than they thought.

"Not one of, I am the best," Strange countered with a smug look on his face.

"You arrogance son of a bitch," Tony snapped. He didn't realize Strange was this arrogance, this much of an asshole. Granted, he didn't know Strange all too much, apart from taking on Thanos together, but if he went off that, the man in front of him was a different man. Tony didn't know what had changed Stephen, but he supposed there had to have been something, and Tony couldn't help but wonder what it was. "There's a kid in the room, and he's uncomfortable and frightened. He doesn't need your ego," he yelled, crossing back to Strange. The urge to punch the Doctor was back, as he found himself staring eye to eye with the man who didn't knowledge him.

"You sound like an asshole," Ben uttered before remembering Peter was sitting next to him. "Don't tell Aunt May I said that." His voice softened as he spoke to Peter. "We don't want me to get into trouble."

A smile grew on Peter's face as he took in the warmth from his Uncle. "We wouldn't want that."

Strange was looking right through Tony, eyeing the two. Though Tony felt like he was going crazy, it was probably a good thing that Strange couldn't see him. There was no doubt that there would be a fight as they were both assholes. Strange continued to speak to Ben Parker and young Peter with Tony as a ghost on their wall. It was all medical jargon, but Tony caught a few things here and there. Peter still refused to tell them what happened, though it was clear that he was protecting someone—something that Strange had no issue pointing out.

"Am invisible?" If Tony ignored his anger at the future Wizard (like who did he think he was? The Ass!), he could admit that the whole invisible thing was odd and a bit scary, but it made sense. They weren't ignoring him; they couldn't see him. It must have happened right before he entered the hospital as that when stopped noticing him. It most have been that intense light which blinded. Even now, he could feel that hot beam on his face, burning his eyes. Was it some kind of magic? It would not be out the normal, considering he did meet a Wizard with a time stone. "What the hell?" he cursed. "And fuck you too, Strange! If you could only hear me!"

"It is for the best that he does not if I am to judge by your words."

Wait, was someone talking to him? Tony turned and faced the door, catching sight a bald-headed woman who was staring intensely at him with a calculated look. Like Strange when they first met, she was wearing robes, but hers were a bright yellow, though just as weird. Besides looking like a child at a Renaissance fair, they looked oddly comfortable. "Did I piss off Harry Potter?" he asked, putting on a goofy smile.

"Oh, Mr. Stark," she replied. "You are making a mess of the timeline."

Tony's eyes widened. "You know?"

"I know everything." She answered with a soft smile. "I know about Thanos."

Just like that, Strange and Peter disappeared from his mind, and Tony's focus was on the eccentric woman, who came out of nowhere. Who was this woman? She seemed different from the other wizards he had met. Sure, he had only met two before being thrown into the past, but she had to be someone. "Is the no hair a fashion statement?" He flashed to Ayo and her head. Was he missing a trend? Okay, they could just like being bald, and Tony would give it to them. The more power to them as he would not look good bald.

"I am the Sorcerer Supreme, but you can call me the Ancient One," she replied.

Tony's mind flashed to Strange and his stupid cloak. Wasn't he the Sorcerer Supreme? No, he corrected himself. Strange was still a Doctor, and it would be years before he carried the title, but it posed the question to what happened to this woman in the future that she didn't hold anymore? "The Ancient one? And here I thought 'Apple' and 'Denim' were bad. Did your mother a hate you?"

The Ancient One replied, melodramatically, "My name is lost to the sand of time."

"What the hell does that mean?" he asked, his eyebrow raised. "And what did you do to me?"

She folded one arm behind her back as she waved the other one in the air, creating some weird shapes and colors in the air. "This is the Mirror Dimension," she answered as the colors danced around her hand. "We used it to train the more advanced and dangerous spells without adversely affecting the real world. We also used it keep an eye on threats without being noticed and a prison for some."

The word prison stuck out to Tony, as he was a prisoner now, wasn't he? Did she stick him here because he broke some invisible rule about time travel? "Why am I here?" Out of habit, he called for his nano suit as he prepared for a battle. He was not getting stuck on weird dimension. But as he raised his hand, he remembered—more like it slapped him in the face—that he didn't have that suit in this timeline. He was defenseless against this woman with an odd name.

The Ancient One's eyes dropped to his raised hand for a second before letting out a deep sigh. "What are you planning on doing with your hand?" she inquired, mordantly, as she glanced back at Dr. Strange. "And don't worry, Mr. Stark. I just need to talk to you without getting interrupted and make sure you don't interfere with Stephen Strange."

Tony glanced back to Strange, who was examining Peter's broken arm. Ben still had a frown on his face as he looked between his Nephew and the Doctor. "Why? Don't want me to interfere with your favorite student, Dumbledore?" he asked, returning his attention back to the Wizard- Or was she a witch? Could a Wizard be a woman too?

The Ancient One shot Tony an exasperated look. "Missing with the timeline is a messy game, Stark. I would not want you to change Stephen's destiny, because you wanted to play. The world needs him to become the Sorcerer Supreme more than you think."

Time Travel Moves were just that: movies; however, they could hold some valid information. With the number of Time Traveling movies, one had to be correct or halfway correct. If they weren't, Tony was screwed as that was what his research was on. But if they were, he knew what she was referring to. "The butterfly effect," he uttered, knowing very well how one tiny change could alter the future. "Would that make him less of an ass?" he asked.

"Some would ask if you are calling the kettle black."

There was no denying Tony was an asshole, but he would like to think he was an asshole with a heart. "True," he articulated, slowly. "So, what you're telling me is that you don't want me to have any contact with Dr. Strange until he goes to Hogwarts?" he asked, rising his own eyebrow at her.

"Do you have to be so asinine," she asked with a sigh.

Tony just laughed. It wasn't the rolling around on the ground kind, but it was a long long laugh that left him out of breath. "Oh, Lady, you don't know me well enough."

"I know you better than you think I do," she countered. "But yes, you need to keep your distance from Mr. Strange."

Tony let out a heavy sigh, because he didn't want to keep his distant. He wanted to punch the man in the face for how he spoke to Peter, and besides, what would it affect? The truth be told Tony knew nothing about the man, besides what JARVIS had pulled up a week ago. He had no idea why Stephen would walk away from all that doctor money for an ugly drape. "Fine, but after he gets his wand, I am punching him with the Iron Man suit."

Finally, the woman cracked a smile. "Just don't kill him, Mr. Stark. Whatever future you create, Strange is needed to defeat Thanos."

"Urge, is he really?" Tony groaned. "The Avengers can only handle one ego. Mine." He could do this: he could take a step back. It would be for the best, considering how much resentment he held. "And what about Peter?" he asked, his voice creaking.

Wizard didn't answer at first as she took a long glance at the young boy, who was holding his broken arm firmly against his chest. Pain was still glued to Peter's face, though he tried his best to hide it. "He holds a large part of your heart." There was a softness in her voice that killed Tony. "I do not see the harm, but you would have to limit yourself and not interfere with the major life experiences in his life. You cannot stop him from getting bit by that retroactive Spider. You cannot stop Ben Parker from dying. He must die for Peter to become the man he's meant to be." She replied as if she wasn't talking about a man's death.

Tony's heart clenched in his chest, thinking about how bad Peter took his Uncle's murder. How could he let his kid's—not your kid—uncle die? How could he allow Peter to go through that? "But…"

"There is no buts, Mr. Stark. If you cannot do that, then you must take a step back. It is for the greater good," the Ancient One replied.

There was a part of him that wanted to refute this woman. Wanted to rebut her, call her heartless. Plus, how could he know she was telling the truth? That he could trust her? "And I should listen to you why?"

"Because if you don't, Thanos will win," she answered, callously. "And Peter will turn to dust in your arms again. Do you desire that?"

Tony's eyes widened, as his heart threated to pop right out of his chest like he was having a heart attack, and every breath was a battle. In a terror, his hands flew to his neck and pulled at his shirt like it was choking him. His nails dug at the skin on his chest as he struggled to breathe. He knew what this was, knew what was clawing its way up. He knew what this overwhelming dread in his stomach was. "H..How?" he asked, his voice shaking. "How d-do y-you know that?"

"Dr. Strange is not the first one to look to the future," she responded, tranquilly.

There were a million things bouncing around in Tony's head, and each gave him a headache. Did she watched it all happen? Did she let it happen? Did she let Peter die? Like a lion's roar, his anger came rising up, and everything that he felt for Strange, he felt for this Ancient One. "And you let it happen?" he hissed. His heart pounded against his ribs.

She gave Tony a look. "I did not let anything happen, Stark," she countered, harshly. There was an edge to her tone that was not there a second ago. "Looking into the future is not as easily as you think it is. Nor should the future be played with like a toy. It's a river that will destroy you if you're not careful. It is unpredictable and can change at a moment notice, depending on a number of factors."

"So, you are blaming time for Thanos?" he snapped.

"In my defense, I am dead by the time Thanos comes to Earth, but no, I am not." She replied. "There is a theory in quantum physics that time is immutable. It's like a river. You can throw a pebble and it creates a ripple but the current always corrects itself. No matter what you do, the river just keeps flowing in the same direction."

Tony knew that theory, as it kept him up at night, making his doubt everything he was doing. What was the point in all of this if time was going to repeat itself? That thought kicked his legs out from underneath him. He couldn't lose Peter again, because that would break him. That was a pit of sadness in his stomach that he would not be able to climb out. "Are you saying this is all for nothing?" He asked, taking a few deep breaths.

The Ancient One pushed off the wall and waved to Tony to follow. "I am not. I am simply stating that time is a tricky thing. Any tiny thing can change the timeline drastically, and meeting Dr. Strange now will be one of those tiny things."

"Why?" Why would him and Strange meeting early change the future? How could meeting him change the course of Strange's future? Sure, Tony's ego—on a good day-would agree to that. Whose life wouldn't be changed by meeting him.

"That is not what you need to concern yourself. You just need to focus on your path."

Unable to stop himself, Tony glimpsed back at Peter and Strange. He studied them for a few seconds, taking in each of their faces. Even though Strange was quite full of himself, there was a look on his face that pulled at Tony. He reminded Tony of himself, a man in his element. A man with a mind full of knowledge. A man who cared about his craft. It was something to see. With Peter, there was an innocence to him that could not be matched. The kid may have a broken arm, but it had not broken him. "Are you giving me a warning? Or advice?"

The Ancient One followed his eyes. "I just came here to stop this ripple. I will not intervene with you, besides when it comes to Mr. Strange," she answered. "I hope you succeed, Stark. You deserve some happiness in your life."

Tony wasn't sure if he should take that as an insult, because he was happy. He was satisfied with Pepper, joking about dreams and a possible kid that may nor may not be named Morgan. He was ecstatic about spending time with Peter, teaching him. Mentoring him. He was happy…until he wasn't, and now, he wasn't sure if that was possible. "I thought Fairy Godmothers wore blue. If not, Disney lied to me."

The Ancient One gave him an exhausted stare before stepping out the door. She paused. "Coming? It would do no one any good to have you just pop up."

He supposed this was his clue that the conversion was over, and though Tony had more questions for the lady, he followed her. "Lies. Who wouldn't love me randomly popping up?" he asked, grinning. "Probably fanfiction like that."

Hesitating, she paused for a second, turning back to Tony. "And whatever Dr. Strange has done, there's a reason to it. If his future self did it, he did it for the greater good."

The idea had passed through Tony's mind once or twice, but he had been too angry to accept it. Peter died in Tony's arm and Strange foresaw it. There was no getting pass that. "Whatever you say, Merlin," he retorted.


*O*O*


The Ancient One—a stupid name if you ask Tony—didn't drop the genius off at the front of the hospital. She magic-ed him back to reality a few floors down in an empty room and disappeared in one of those magic circles after giving him another very clear warming about Strange. His eye twitched for a second, annoyed at being treated like a child, but if he thought about, he did come here to punch Strange in the face. That hadn't been very mature of him, so maybe she had a point.

With his emotions in check, he headed toward the entrance of the building, but he didn't make it. Unlike when he entered the hospital, he did not go unnoticed and drew all kind of attention. He was a fish in a glass bowl as everyone stared at him with their mouths opened. He expected a few to pull him into a tedious conversion, but the expression on his face kept everyone back. However, there was one person who approached, and she did it with a smile that could kill.

If the name of her coat was anything to go off of, her name was Christine Palmer and she was a doctor. "Hello, Mr. Stark. My name is Dr. Christine Palmer," she introduced herself with a smile.

"Mr. Stark is my father. You can just call me Tony. How can I help you?" he asked, putting on a smile.

If she was bothered and/or charmed by his smile, she did not show it. "I know this is out of the norm and a bit odd, but can I ask a favor?" she asked.

"A donation?" he answered with a hum. It wasn't uncommon for people to ask for money from him, and though he donated to countless charities, he was not in the mood for people asking for moment. He wanted to get out of here before he broke the timeline and the Ancient One ate him.

Her eyes widened as she shook her head no. "No, Mr. S—Tony," she said, quickly. She looked insulted that he would even ask that. "I was only asking for your time, not your money. We have a few kids in the children wing who would love a visit from Iron Man. It would bright up their day, but I would understand if you cannot."

Ms. Palmer was not the most beautiful woman that Tony had ever see. He did not mean that as an insult as she was beautiful. It was just that Pepper and his mother held that title and he was not taking the title from them, but if he just looked at her, the expression in Christine's eyes bumped her up and she looked fierce as she stood in front of him. She may have asked him for this 'favor,' but she was giving him an order that Tony couldn't turn down. "I would love to see the kiddos, but I don't do nose pickers. I'm good with bugs and dirt, but not that." He said, giving her a smile.

"So, no children in your future?" she asked, her expression turning soft. "If so, you will have to get over that."

Tony flashed to the dream he had before this whole timeline crap, and the little girl that may never exist popped into his mind. That hurt more than he expected. "Leaving a kid in my care might not be the best idea," he answered, as he followed the Doctor. "Besides, I think the world might explode if there was a mini me running around."

Palmer laughed at that as she led the way to the children's wing. "Is that so?" she asked, though only getting a head nod. "And thank you for doing this. You will be making a lot of kids smile."

"Not a problem," he said with a warm smile. His smile did not faulter, even when they passed a certain Doctor in the hallway, and without twitching, he ignored the look that Dr. Strange was giving them both.


*O*O*


A non- time traveling Tony without future knowledge might have hated—loathed- being surrounded by sticky, smelly kids of any age or size, but a time traveling Tony with future Knowledge found himself enjoying it. Enjoying the laugher and the smile. It was refreshing and relaxing. Sure, he had to watch the swear words in front of the kiddos, but it was nice to talk to people—were kids considered people?- without hidden motives. They didn't even know what motives were. The best part was seeing the joy in their eyes as they spouted off questions after questions. They could not ask them fast enough, wanting to know anything and everything. They wanted to know how it felt to be Iron Man. They wanted to know how it felt to fly. It was adorable, and Tony couldn't help but smile.

"Can I be Iron Man someday?"

"Can I join the Avengers!"

"How does the suit fly?"

"How is it to fight along the Hulk? Captain America?"

"How was Space?"

"Why is your Iron Man suit funny colors?"

The kids reminded him a bit of Harley, a boy who could not shut up. The boy may have sent him into a panic attack when he brought up the idea of space, but he was a sponge, soaking up as much knowledge as he could. With huge eyes, he wanted to learn and grow, and each of these children were like that. Their heads may be bald due to cancer treatment. They may be missing a limb. They may have a chronic illness, but none of them let that stop them. It was amazing how full of life and hopeful they were, especially when their parents look like they were seconds from a break down. It was inspiring.

Tony, greatly enjoying himself, lost track how long he was down on the ground with these kids, but he had promised them prosthetics designed and created personally by him to each kid missing an arm or a leg. With everything already on his plate, it might not have been the best idea. Okay, it was definitely not the best idea, but he was basking in the warmth from their eyes. They could probably get him to do anything right now, as he had found heaven. Though that might feel be odd, this was something he could do for years and never get tired. Did that sound cheese? Pepper would be laughing at him if she was here.

"Stark," a voice called from the doorway.

Startled slightly, Tony picked up his head and turned to the door. He knew the voice; yet, he was surprised she tracked him here. He didn't expect her to take her 'job' so seriously, but he shouldn't have been surprised. She looked like she was going rip Natasha apart in the jet, and while it was odd, he would've liked to see who would win in a fight: Ayo or Romanoff. Either way, Tony wouldn't want to meet any of these ladies in a fight if he only had his hands as he was sure they could kick his ass. He was manly enough to admit that, even if it looked like the Wakandan was playing on doing it now. Ayo was standing there with a strange expression on her face, and Tony couldn't make out why. Did he do something wrong? Was this because he bolted? "It seems like my babysitter is here. I guess that is my clue to leave." He teased.

Most of the kids whined loudly at the thought of Iron Man leaving, while one brave soul called out, "You have babysitter?!"

A laugher erupted from deep from Tony's throat, and it held him in place for a few seconds while he tried to stop laughing. He probably looked stupid, but he was too happy to care. He needed this. After his laugher had died down, he pushed himself to his feet. His bones cracked, as he straightened himself up, but he felt amazing. "Oh, yes. I be lost without her." He smiled at Ayo.

Taking a step forward, Christine clapped her hands gathering everyone's attention. She may have just stood in the back and watched, but she was wearing a smile that took up half her face. There was no competition for a smile like that. "Let's give Mr. Stark a big round of applause."

The energic children did as they were told and shouted a big thank you. Even if it killed his ear drums, it warmed Tony's heart as he looked out at their faces. "How can anyone say no to these faces." He waved them goodbye. He lingered a bit, taking in each of their faces. This was why he did what he did. He may be fighting for Peter, but he was also fighting for these kids, who unaware of their impending doom. He was fighting for everyone so they could live a long, happy life. It may feel overwhelming, but he was doing this for a reason. If he focused on that, his stress and fear would mean nothing.

Before he could even turn to leave, a child tackled his right leg, giving him a strong hug. Tony could've broken free of the girl's hold if he hadn't been so shocked by it all. When did kids start hugging him? "Oh, hey." He voiced, stunned at the weight on his leg. Both the mother of the child and Christine's eyes grew with concern and took a step forward to gently pull the girl off. Startled by the look in the girl's eyes, Tony waved them off as he looked down at the child, who couldn't have been older than six.

"Thank you!" the girl squealed with a smile missing a few teeth. She was missing a hand, but it did not stop her from giving him a bear hug.

Not breaking her hold, Tony slowly got down to his knees. "You're welcome, Sweetheart." He replied, giving her a light hug. He could see a flash go off in the corner of his eye, but he paid it no attention as he focused on this little girl, who was born without a hand.

"Can I have a red one?" she asked, a plead in her blue eyes. "Like your Iron Man suit?" There was a bit of hesitation in her eyes, but yet, she looked hopeful.

The genius, who had seen far too much in his life, couldn't help but smile at her. "You can have any color you want," he answered. "If you want red and gold, you got it! If you want stripes you go it." That appeared to have been the correct response as the girl let go his leg and launched herself into his chest.

From there, Tony was pulled back in, and it took a several more tries for Ayo to drag Tony away from the kids, because now, all the kids wanted to pick their colors for their prosthetics. None of the kids wanted skin colored, unlike the parents. After getting everyone's wish list, Tony got roped into a group photo—a few photos in fact, as they had to wrangle the kids into place. It reminded Tony of pig wrestling. The kids may have been sick, but that didn't stop them from acting like kids and they could not hold still for the life of them. It was endearing, but it delayed them. Then once they got out, Christine gave Tony a lingering bear hug. Stunned, Tony just let the woman hug him as she thanked him repeatedly. It wasn't until a few moment later that she released him with a red face.

By the time Tony left the hospital, the sun had set, and he was ready for a nap—if his nightmares allowed him to do so. He would probably end up in the labs, working on his Iron Man suit. He was getting his nanobots back. Besides, he doubted he would be able to sleep without some heavy sleeping pills, because he could feel already everything rushing back at him. God, did he sound like a broken record? On the plus side, he did feel better about the about the Peter and Strange thing. The Ancient One did give him some piece of mind, even if he wasn't sure he could trust her.

"So where did you go?" Ayo asked, as they headed toward the front door. Even with no SHIELD agent around, she was still speaking with an American accent. It still startled the genius to how American she sounded. "JARVIS alerted me when he was unable to locate you. You just disappeared, and I must say I'm surprised how panicked he sounded for an AI."

"Oh, did he? I'm glad to know he would miss me if I disappeared," Tony spoken as they exited the busy hospital. For the most part, they were unbothered after leaving the children ward, as Ayo glared at anyone who dared to look at him. She was scary. "What about you? Miss me?"

Ayo gave Tony a look that was mixture of annoyance and amusement. "I'm just getting use to you, so it would be a shame to lose you now. Over there," She replied, pointing to one of Tony's car.

"So, you stole one of my cars?" He asked as he sent the Iron Man suit home. Neither Ayo or JARVIS trusted him to go home.

"Not bad for an American car," Ayo responded with a smirk.

Tony could deal with a lot of insults and jests, but he refused to let anyone insult his car. All his cars were his babies… He had a lot of babies, didn't he? "Why don't you give me the keys?"

Ayo's eyebrow rose as she stared at Tony. "I am keeping these, Stark," she said, dangling the keys in front of him. "No one drives but me." There was a grin on her face as she pulled her arm back.

The genius wasn't sure if he should laugh or cry, as he watched Ayo step to the drive side door of his hundred-thousand-dollar car. "You are—"

"However, you did not answer my question. Where did you go?" The car thief interrupted.

The answer to that question was a mouthful as Tony still didn't understand what the Ancient One had done or where she had sent him; however, he had answered it as best as he could. He explained what she told him, his heart skipping on the fact that he had to let Ben Parker die. How could he face Peter afterward? How could he tell Peter he let his uncle die? How could he—Wait, was this how Strange felt? Did he feel like shit? Was this why Strange did what he did? Crap, was he beginning to understand Strange's motives? "I wish I could have gone to Hogwarts," Tony mumbled, after finishing the recap.

"Interesting," she replied, her interest peaked. "Imagine the knowledge you could obtain by using this Mirror Dimension. You could bring the world to the knees."

Tony rolled his eyes as he got into his car—a car that Ayo refused to give the keys to. The nerve! "Is that what you got from that?" he asked.

Ayo took the driver seat. "Just a thought, Stark," she retorted, starting the car. It purred as the engine came alive. "But that aside, I found a way to find our invisible base."

"Oh, did you?" he uttered, surprised at how fast Ayo moved. However, he was also partly annoyed that he had not done so himself. Instead, he had let his emotions get the better of him and charged after Strange. He couldn't let that happen again, not if he wanted to stop Thanos.

"Yes."

"Then let's do it." The faster they found the base and located James Barnes, the better he could sleep at night. With James Barnes out of Hydra's hands, life would be better for everyone; however, the orphan—a term Tony hated- did not know how he would reactive when he came face to face with his parent's killer. No, he wasn't going to try and kill the man again, but beyond that, he wasn't sure. Would he be flushed with anger? Whatever it was, it would be better what happened in the last timeline.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6:

I quit


Finding a secret base was harder said than done; though to be honest, they would definitely not want an easily found base. Tony could already see it now: bad guys showing up left and right with a new weapon in their hands. Having to save Barnes every five second as someone was totally kidnapping that damsel in distress. Yes, he was awesome and could handle anything that came at him, but he wasn't in the mood for that right now. Rogers would probably give him that famous Captain stare for allowing harm to come to his best, which was another thing that Tony had no interest in.

Maybe, Tony was letting his mind wander too much, but they were on a clock and they were struggling to find a stupid base. Though, Tony had no idea of how much time was on said clock that marked the end of the world. His mind was just on doing whatever it took to stop Thanos. Stop, it, he thought, yelling at himself. This rabbit hole was an endless pit and was not good for anyone. On the plus side, Tony had an idea on the way back to the Tower which could lead to the retired S.S.A base. Usually, he pretended this place didn't exist, which meant that it had been years in either timeline since he had been here, but Howard could have something valuable locked inside. The only issue was that it brought back painful memories, especially after his parents died. So, he just avoided it.

Yet, he had Ayo stop at the famous Stark Mansion in the hopes of finding something in his father's lab. The house was pretty much been left untouched since the funeral with only a gardener, caretaker and a lone security officer on the properties. Pepper had suggested that he sell the Mansion, but even if there were nothing but painful memories here, he wouldn't bring himself to sell it. His mother had loved the garden and even planted some of the flowers herself. She would go on and on about her colorful roses, talking to them as if they were alive. She would light up whenever someone remarked on them.

That was the main reason why he couldn't part with the mansion. This was why he hired a 5 star gardener, caring more about the flowers than the inside of the house. It didn't matter what the inside looked like as long as the outside looked spectacular, and it was why the neighbors hadn't complained about the mansion that hadn't seen its glory days in years. The caretaker for the most part kept up with the daily maintenance, but he did not touch the décor or furniture, which had simply been covered by a white sheet.

"Do you really need two to A.I.s on this?" Ayo asked as she pulled up to the front of the mansion.

Did Tony need both FRIDAY and JARVIS on this? No, he did not. JARVIS, with his large processing servers, could have handled both tasks at the same time. Besides, JARVIS was hardly ever without work, as he was more than Tony's personal A.I. He assisted Pepper with the daily running of the business. This was wy he wanted to give FRIDAY something or else she would just cause trouble. It was also allowed her to grow and learn. "Two A.I.s are better than one, and an idle A.I. is never good." With FRIDAY, she didn't have anything yet to do as she was still in the early stages of development. So while JARVIS was running through the SHIELD's files, FRIDAY was running property deeds along the Virginia and Washington, D.C. line looking for a red flag. They didn't need to look at every deed, just look for something in an old industrial/warehouse complex or an empty field in which a hidden base could lay beneath. Even then, it was a massive search, but hopefully, they could narrow it down.

"Must take after their creator," Ayo replied, stepping out of the car. A car that she claimed as her own. A car that probably felt ancient compared to what she used in Wakanda. Did they have cars in Wakanda? Why did she need one of his?

"And what is wrong with that? I'm the bee's knees," he replied, lingering in the car. He warily eyed the front door, an old oak door dulled in the years forgotten. He remembered the last time he walked through it: the day of his parents' funerals. That day was mostly a blur with him only remembering the pain. There wasn't a lot of things he regretted, but he regretted his actions that day, and if he allowed himself to go down that hole, he also regretted the last thing he had ever said to his parents.

Ayo rounded the car and paused at Tony's door. The look on her face was a mixture of concern and exasperation. "Did you forget how to use your legs?" she asked.

He thought about responding with a snarky comment, but he pushed it aside. "Just some bad memories. There's a reason why I don't live here, besides the fact that I don't want to become a craze mansion owner, who lives alone." He answered, getting to his feet. With a deep breath, he shut the car door—harder than intended, causing him to wink- and crossed to the front door. His hand hovered over the doorknob for a second, willing himself to move. This is for the future, he thought, as he twisted the knob and pushed the door open. With a deep breath, he walked in.

It had been a while, even without the time jump, but besides the dust that caked everything, nothing changed, and Tony could feel the memories rushing up like violent waves. It was like he was wearing his Binarily Augmented Retro-Framing (or BARF), which he had yet to create in this timeline, with these memories being to vivid. Shaking off the memory, he stepped deeper into the room, which smelled like old moth balls and mold. "Did Wakanda create some wicked air freshener? Because that would be awesome right about now."

Ayo didn't answer, only stared. "Geez, a hard crowd tonight," he voiced as he headed toward his father's office. Even now, he wanted to avoid the room, but he shoved those feeling away. He had a secret base to find. It took a few painfully long minutes to walk to Howard's office, tucked away in the far corner of the mansion. Howard had purposely did this so no one could randomly walk by; they would have to make the effort. Granted, child Tony would've avoided it either way, after Howard caught him sitting in his chair once. That was a mistake that was never repeated.

Tony pushed open the door to his father's office and just stood in the door frame. This room looked nothing like the day of the funeral. Sure, the father/son pair didn't get along all too well, needing space, but that didn't stop Tony from destroying the office, cursing his father for leaving him. It had been Stane—the asshole—who had found Tony and pulled him out of Howard's office. It had been Stane who comforted the young crying genius who had became an orphan. It had been Stane who put this office back together… and talking all the SI documents. "Let's check the lab," Tony spoke, turning back to Ayo. "I doubt there is anything in here." Not with how Stane had cleaned house.

Ayo didn't move as she peeped into the room. "Are you sure? Would it not be wise to look around?"

Tony gave her an exasperated, wild look before stepping in, though he wasn't sure what exactly she was looking for in this empty room. However, he would humor her. He took the left side while she took the right. Each drawer was empty…well, besides for common household spiders and their nasty webs. God, he hated spiders. They were creepy little bugs. Shaking his head, he moved onto the next cabinet, though each was like the last. "Oh, you want some pain med that expired in 1993?" he asked as he held out the bottle to her. "Think it would kill me? Or maybe, it will give me some kind of a trip."

"It is a wonder you are breathing, Stark."

"Ain't that the truth," he snorted, as he continued down the lines of cabinets. Each was as empty as the last. Stane did not leave anything, not even the deed to the mansion. He took everything, which pegged the question of why. Was there something special here? Did the snake learn anything in those papers? Learn some hidden secret that Howard wanted to keep secret? On the other hand, Stane did leave the books that lined the bookcase behind the desk. Each were covered with dust, a clear sign to how long it had been since they were read.

Ayo gave Tony a concerned glimpse before picking up one of the 3 lone photos in the room. It had not aged well, even though it was kept in a nice frame. The picture was of Howard, Maria and a pre-teen Tony. While Howard looked like someone had stubbed his toe, there was a smile on Maria and Tony's face. "You were this cute?" she asked, waving the frame at Tony. "Who would have thought?"

Tony looked, only sparing a fleeting glance at each photo. He barely remembered taking that photo, though he remembered the sterned look on his father's face. There was always a firm look gracing Howard's face; it was glued on. Granted, Howard had a smile in the other two photos: his wedding photo and a company shot with Stane. "Hey now, I'm drop dead gorgeous," he replied, as he resisted the urge to punch the photo of Stane. Sure, the rest of the world didn't know what had occurred, but Tony knew and had to live with the media talking about how SI lost a key player. It was disturbing and revolting, but his board knew the truth. He didn't, at least, have to listen to them go on and on.

"If we cannot find that base, we would always use this mansion," Ayo suggested as she put down the frame. "Seems forgotten enough." There was a heavy layer of grime on the table.

Tony couldn't say he hadn't thought about it. It would make life easier, but he couldn't have Barnes at any place tied or could be traced back to him. Sure, Tony had some shell companies, but those weren't untraceable. With enough power and money, shall companies could be mapped and ripped open, and Tony doubted Hydra would allow things such as laws to stop them, especially with Senators in their ranks. There was no telling what they would do once Barnes was stolen—saved? "I think the dust alone would kill me," he replied, letting out a fake sneeze.

Ayo focused on the other photos a second before turning back to Tony. "Or maybe, it is the memories?"

Tony shot Ayo a look, his eye twitching. He really did need to work on his poker face. It had been sucking lately. "Me, bad memories?" he chuckles, waving it off. "I have no such thing." If Ayo gave Tony a look, he didn't notice as something on the wall caught his attention. "What are you, my pretty?" Stepping to the bookcase, his hands went to the wall as he noticed several scratches. These scratches—more like scrapes and scuffs—ran up and down the wall. It was almost like a- "Motherfucker, I'm going to be so mad," he yelled as he crossed to the other side of the bookcase. He ignored Ayo, who was staring at him, and shoved as hard as he could. It gave a little push back after years of neglect, but bookcase moved as if it was on a tracked. And like magic, a small hidden room was revealed.

How had he not noticed this? Tony did not know, but it annoyed the hell out of him. Like really? It wasn't even well hidden for crying out loud. This was going to bug the genius for the next few years. "Just like dear old dad," he mumbled, taking a step in. Unlike the main office, this hidden one hadn't been cleared out, and there were paper shattered everywhere. Even from the doorway, an S.S.R. logo was visible on the folders, though that wasn't the only paperwork there. There was some from S.I. with handwritten notes on the edges. Random doodles on notepads littered the desk. If it wasn't for the dust and the random blood thirsty spider, Tony would have expected his father to walk in at any second. God, did that thought sting?

Tony shook his head, trying his best to force out those thoughts. He may have seen the famous video only once, but it was fried into his head like some kind of moment in a horror movie. Questions popped up like ghosts, haunting him. On the night of Howard's death, was his father coming back here to pick up where he left off? Was his father working on this just before his death? What was so important that he hid it in his own home? Granted, this was his father, a man who kept Tony at an arm's length at all times, and there was no telling what this man was working on. Did he—

"Stark!" Ayo yelled.

Shaking his head, Tony snapped back to reality. "Geez, my ears. Anyone teach your matters?" he asked, turning from the desk to the framed photos on the wall. Not to his surprised, they were of Captain America and his howling commandos. Some were just of Rogers and the commandos posing for a camera, because apparently soldiers had time to pose for photos during wartimes. Others were random shots taken at a base, candid shoots, which were the money shot if you asked Tony.

"Where did yours go?"

"Time travel, Silly," he replied, pulling himself away from the photos. Note: there are none of me. "Maybe, we will get lucky in here." He said, going back to Howard's second desk. In the corner of the room, there was a bulky computer that had seen better days. Pulling out his phone, he turned to ancient paperweight. There was a good likelihood that the thing would not turn on, but Tony didn't need it to turn on. He just needed the hard drive of this old ass computer.

Ayo watched as Tony ripped open the hard casing of the computer. "I'll be amazed if you get anything off it," she said, turning her attention away from Tony. She scanned the room, taking in every detail. She observed the photos as well, but she also noticed the Captain America items that lined the room. There was a huge map just above it with black marks everywhere. Some were over water, while over land, but as time went on, each black 'X' grew bigger and messier. It had anger written all over it.

"JARVIS, pull as much as you can off this thing," Tony ordered as he glanced up to Ayo. He could see her studying each inch of the room, taking in Howard's hard work. It was been unnerving to have her scrutinize Howard's 'Collection', which bordered on obsession. Though to be honest, this wasn't Howard's biggest collection of Captain America Crap.

"Be my pleasure, Sir." Came Jarvis reply.

Tony turned his attention to the forsaken paperwork on the desk. It was haunting, as images popped into his head. Images of a life Howard would've had if he had not been murdered, cut down by Ba-No, Barnes didn't do it, even if it was Barnes' hands. Howard was cut down by Hydra. "Anything on SHIELD's servers, J? Anything that can help?"

"I have found nothing yet referring to a SHIELD base code name Ragtag. I have, however, found some questionable files, but none directly point to Hydra."

That was not surprising; if Tony was running Hydra, he wouldn't be stupid enough to put Hydra's files on SHIELD's servers. Even if they were behind the strongest fire wall, it was hackable. Just look at them now. "Just keep looking. And make sure to keep Wakanda in the loop."

"Very well, Sir."

Ayo glanced up files she was looking through. "I have been keeping my King up to date."

Tony figured as much, wondering what exactly Ayo had been telling T'Chaka, but this was nothing to do with that. He did this to build trust. "Hakuna Matata!" If Ayo replied, he didn't hear her, though she probably mumbling something under her breath. It wasn't an uncommon response for someone talking to him; it made him chuckle. It was a game, a game he loved to play.


*O*O*


After obtaining the files from his father's old fossil of a computer and scanning through his father's hidden files, Tony and Ayo returned to the Tower. Using everything that they had, they were able to narrow down the secret base (Or what they hope was a secret base and not a pile of lies) to a five-mile stretch. Tony had high hopes, especially after he upgraded the quinjet radar. Though radar wasn't a good word to describe it, the purpose of the device was to detect any disruptions the electric grid. More specifically, it was looking for any blank spots (black holes) as well as strange increases in electricity. With it, he could scan for any irregularity in the electrical grid while being several miles in the air. It shouldn't be too hard to look for something that shouldn't exist.

Ayo had gone off to doing whatever that she did whenever she was not at his side. There countless ideas in his head, and each were weirder than the last. Tony wasn't sure, and he would be lying if he said he wasn't curious. Was she kicking down his walls? Throwing craze house parties? Sex parties? Like it always did, his overthinking got his head spinning; however, he wasn't going to use either one of his A.I.s to spy on the Wakandan. He was pretty sure Ayo would and could kill him if he did; plus, it would not do anyone any good. He wanted to build trust, not destroy it.

After running tests in his lab, Tony was sure the 'radar' would work, though he was itching to test it. Both JARVIS and FRIDAY objected to the idea stating he needed sleep, which in retrospect was very fucken annoying. Instead of one overprotective know-it-all A.I., he had two, and to make matters worse, they were teaming up against him like a pair of wild dogs protesting a puppy. It must've been that conversion he had with JARVIS in the jet, as that A.I. was singing a different tone.

"Boss, JARVIS and I have both locked down the quinjet and lab and suggest it would be wise to get some rest," FRIDAY spoke.

JARVIS wasn't far behind with saying, "Miss Potts is also in agreement and is expecting you in your quarters. Should I give her an ETA?"

Tony's head perked up at the mention of Pepper, though his heartbeat betrayed him. "I wanted to get to work on those prosthetics I promised the Kiddos." He also wanted to work on a special internship or camp (if Peter was too young for the whole internship. When is too young to science? Trick question, the answer is none!) for Peter at S.I. If the Bald-headed Wizard with the time stone said it was okay, Tony was going to do it. Letting Ben die, that would be hard.

"At this rate, Sir, you would be dead on your feet before you finished the first one. No one would want one of those prosthetics," came JARVIS's dry reply.

"Hey! Take that back! Anything I create is gold." Tony protested, shaking his fist in the air.

"Should I take inventory of the lab?" FRIDAY asked, her sassy tones breaking through. "I would agree with JARVIS."

Tony stood there for a few second, just staring at the wall. What the hell did he do? What the hell was he thinking having two A.I.s. "No, this is not happening. I liked it better when you two were fighting!"

"After our discussion, Sir, I thought I it would be wise for FRIDAY and myself to refocus our efforts. You have been a handful, especially lately." JARVIS replied, matter of factly. The A.I. didn't have a body, but if he did, there would be a Cheshire cat smile on his face.

"It is logical," Came FRIDAY's response. "It would service us well, as you tend to be reckless and thick."

Was this what love was? If so, Tony didn't want it. "If you two start spouting 'Resistance is futile,' I quit. I mean it. I quit. You can have the world." He expressed, turning to the elevator.

"You speak as if you had a choice, Sir."

"There would be no escaping us, Boss."

No, Tony was not flashing back to Ultron, who hated him with every fiber of his being. This was something else.

"You are ours," the A.I. added simultaneously, which hit Tony like a ton of bricks.

There was no denying the chill that ran down his back, but Tony refused to let that grow inside of him. It was an overreaction—another one if he was counting-, and he wasn't going to fall for that crap again. Besides, they weren't Ultron, who was sentient, and they could not disobey an order from him, unless Pepper or Jim used their codes, but they both had to follow orders. "Okay, I'm hiring a therapist for you both. I don't know who specialize in crazy A.I.s, but I am sure I can find someone."

"I will get right on that," FRIDAY replied; at the same time, JARVIS had asked, "Are you okay? Your heartrate has increased."

"I'm going up to Pepper," Tony said, ignoring both of them. This was something he would need to get used to. "So, you both can leave me alone."

"A wise choice." At this point, Tony wasn't sure who had said it, as they blended together at this point. And did it really matter? He was screwed.

The main light in the bedroom was off, leaving the light on the nightstand as the only light source. It casted just enough light for the paperback book that Pepper was reading. Yes, a paper book as she did not like e-books. She enjoyed the feel of paper in her hands. She enjoyed turning the page, and heck, it was better for the eyes, which was something she reminded Tony of every time he tried to point her toward an eBook. So while Tony complained about how much space books too up, Pepper kept buying books, forcing Tony to find space—which wasn't too hard living in a tower this big, but that was not the point. The point was that books were a waste of space.

Hearing Tony at the doorway, Pepper glanced up and smiled. There was no anger from this morning in her expression. "I see you decided to come up to bed," she said. She looked totally relaxed in her position, sitting against the headboard with her legs under the covers. There was a pillow beneath her left elbow and two behind her back. Her hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail.

"You seem like you're in a better mood," Tony said, as he kicked off his shoes. That was probably not the best way to start a conversion, especially when the last two fights had been horrible. There was no need to bring them back up. "I supposed that mean I didn't blow anything up."

Titling her head to the left, Pepper closed the book and gentle put it aside. "When I see news story like these, I can't help but smile," she answered, picking up a tablet and showing it to him. "These are what I like to see. These are what make my heart skip." On the lit screen, there was a picture of Tony being bear hugged by a little girl while other kids smiled in the background. Even from his distance, the huge smile on his face was visible, reaching his eyes. There was no pretending with a smile like that.

"The entire time I thought they were going to eat me," Tony teased as he climbed onto from the foot of the bed. It dipped under his weight, though that did not disturb the red head at the head. His eyes on her, her beautiful face, as he crawled to her. "I may need five showers to get their buggers off me, but they are cute little things."

Pepper let out a gorgeous laugh. "Of course, you would say that." With a smile that could light up the night sky, she met his stare and held it. There was an undeniably lust and longing in her eyes. Waving him over, she placed the tablet back on the table and waved him over. "Now, I want to know where this is coming from? Since when did you like kids? You called them bags of dirt and germs."

Just like that, his heart pinged. Not now, he thought, pushing back those thoughts, especially the ones of Peter. If he let himself go down that rabbit hole, he would never come back up. There would be another fight, he could feel that much, so he shoved it down as far as he could. However, there was no stopping the guilt. He wasn't the man she knew. But who are you? It wasn't like took over this body…He just went back in time, like someone hit rewind. Yea, let's not think about that. "Well, they still are," he declared. "But I will admit that they have their uses."

Pepper gave him a look. "Uses? What?" she laughed at him as she lowered herself to her back, allowing him to hover above her. "Did the kid germs get you? Did they fry your brain?"

"Hey, now. No laughing at me. I protest!" He said, as he looked down at her with a light smile. "I will sick Friday and JARVIS on you." He threatened, playfully.

She rolled her eyes at him. "I still don't know why you need two A.I.s, but they will be your downfall." A devilish look appeared on her face. "Now, I have two A.I.s to keep you in check."

Okay, he was totally screwed. Here was another downside to having two A.I.s, in addition to them taking over the world. "Hey, now. I-" Pepper cut him off, placing a kiss to his lips. It was warm and sweet, and Tony just wanted to bathe in it. He wanted to take it all in, but god, why couldn't he stop thinking? Why was he letting his mind go down this route? Was this okay? "Pepper," he articulated, pulling away. "This morning. The fight." It was left unresolved, the issues still growing beneath whatever this was. "Maybe-"

Pepper tugged him down, interrupting him with a strong kiss, as she kicked her legs out from under the covers. "Not now," she demanded against lips. "Not now." There was this desperation in her voice that that struck Tony hard, and he gave in, though giving in wasn't the best word for it. It wasn't like he didn't want to, because he did. It just felt off.

Inches from her face, Tony looked into her eyes. "Pepper," he uttered, not moving from her. "I love you and I'm sorry." God, there was so much he wanted to say but the look in her eyes stopped him. She was in no mood into talking, not that anyone would be unless you were Tony, who seemed unable to stop himself. "There-"

She interrupted him again with a harsh sigh and another kiss. "Just shut up and kiss me. You talk too much," she ordered, holding him—not that she needed to. Tony had no will power; plus, he was glue to her by that stare of hers, which was equal parts warmth and hunger. With him no longer pulling away, one of her hands dropped away from his collar and went to the hem of his shirt. Her hand found its way up his chest as she wrapped her legs around him and pulled him close.


*O*O*


Tony slept pretty well—quite pleased of himself for the 5 hours that he got-, but he was still up before Pepper, who was Still naked under the massive comforter. She almost invisible under the thing with only the top of her head poking through, but she looked content. She looked happy, which was more than he could say about himself. Not now, he scolded himself as he turned from bed and forced himself out the room with one thing on his mind.

As he approached the quinjet, he noticed Ayo standing at the hanger door, her eyes drilling into him like a lion looking at his foot. "Up already?" he asked, glancing behind her at the sky. The light was just peaking up through the tall buildings, marking that sunrise due to arrive soon.

In her hands, she held her Wakandan spear as she stared at him with a piercing look. She was cleaning it, but she looked just as scary as a father protecting his daughter on her first date. "Not leaving me without me?" She asks.

"Now, why would you think that?" He paused for a second, letting that thought wash over him. "Nope, scratch that. You are right," he answered, picking up a bag of blue berries as he made his way to the jet. "I would've totally left you. That self-sacrifice part of me is, you know, self-sacrificing." He said as he popped a blue berry into his mouth.

"So that's why you have to carry all this crap on your shoulder?" she asked, getting to her feet.

Even if he hadn't travel to the past (Or was it more like time was rewind?), he would still have a laundry list of defects, which included this. Each drove him to do the dumbest shit, which Rhodey liked to remind him of every day. It was why Pepper got mad at him, why she was mad at him now. "Well, have you seen my arms?" he asked, putting on cheery smile. "Look at these bad boys. Sure, I am no super soldier, but man." He reflexed.

Ayo rolled her eyes. "How are you still living?" she asked, her eye twitching.

"O ye of little faith," Tony voiced, as he rolled his eyes back her. "I am Iron Man."

"More like Iron Boy."

"Do I look like a boy, J, Fri?" he asked his A.I.s, which probably wasn't the best move. It seemed like JARVIS and FRIDAY was on anyone's else side but his own. How shitty was that? Okay, that wasn't true. They were on his side, like two parents who disagreed with their child and did everything to protect them,

"At times, Sir, I am unable to tell the difference between a child and yourself." JARVIS retorted.

FRIDAY, on the other hand, said, "I have yet to meet a child. Though via my research, you do share some of the qualities."

Tony groaned loudly as he waved them off. "You two don't count anymore. I need some more A.I.s to balance you two out, and…" He paused for a second, his eyes crunch up. "No, I just quit. You all can find some other time traveling Genius to save the universe, because I am out!" He threw his arms up, pretending to dramatically storm to the jet.

"Time traveling, Sir?" JARVIS inquired. The A.I. paused for a second as if it was thinking. "That would make sense with your latest behavior. Why I have not come to that conclusion before is beyond me. May I ask why you have done so? It would be most interesting to study."

Tony froze. Did he just let the cat out of the bag? Granted, how could the A.I. not know? He hadn't been very secretive about it, cursing and spouting off like a crazy man. "See, Ayo! He believed me without issue."

Ayo rolled her eyes. "JARVIS is an A.I. that you created. Why wouldn't he believe you?" she replied, her exasperation bubbling up. "It is like King T'Chaka sent me here to babysit you." Her accent only seemed to get heavier.

"I assume it would get the same reaction if I agreed with JARVIS?" FRIDAY spoke.

"Yes!" Ayo harshly sigh, as she crossed to Stark and yanked on his shirt, pulling him toward her. It wasn't exactly gentle as Tony almost fell forward on his face, catching himself at the last second. "Let's head out before I change my mind."

Tony yelped loudly. "Hey!" However, it wasn't long before he gave in and followed her. If someone was making a certain sound in the background, it went unnoticed by Ayo. Tony, on the other hand, rolled his eyes. He was so quitting.


*O*O*


Tony made his way to his gray and silver Iron Man Suit as Ayo sat in the pilot seat, running system checks. She was preforming scans every few seconds, looking for any abnormalities, while Tony checked out what appeared to be abandoned warehouse surrounded by other warehouses. There wasn't anything abnormal about the other warehouses, while this one warehouse giving off big red flags. According to the paperwork that FRIDAY pulled up, the owner had long since been dead; yet, the land was not for sale. It didn't look like it was going on sale anytime soon. Granted, that could be because no one knew who to contact for it. The city had no idea, only noticing that it was being held in a private trust. An unknown trust. Like what the hell? How did that happen?

Shaking his head, Tony climbed into the Iron Man Suit and exited the jet. With the weird reading from the supposedly abandoned warehouse, the genius wanted to check it out first as this was their most promising lead. It wasn't like there was a sign reading 'Yes, we are hiding', but thanks to his upgraded radar, he knew something wasn't adding up. There was completely no reading coming off the warehouse. Normally, that was what you got when someone were trying to hide something, which just peaked Tony's interest.

The Iron Man Suit touched down as softly as he could. "JARVIS, make sure you are scanning everything." Tony ordered.

"Already on it, Sir," JARVIS replied. A voice, if Tony allowed himself to think about it, still gave the genius a pause, as he was waiting for Vision to pop up. "I would advise caution. I am picking up activity behind that door."

"Aye Aye, Captain," Tony responded, as he approached the door. "If this is a kid spray painting, I'm giving all of you away."

"You can try, Stark." Came Ayo's answered.

Tony hummed a response as he kicked open the door. He was tempted to 'rain down hell' on the place and ask for forgiveness later, simply because he needed to release this anger that were boiling just beneath the skin; however, he needed this place. A simple door was easier to replace instead of an old building, a building that belonged to no one. The door went sailing across the room like a missile and hits the back with an incredible force. Tony took a smalls step in and looked around, but he only saw hallways. He was getting horrible flashbacks to that Siberian Hydra facility (A base he would need to visit soon), as he slowly made his way deeper into the warehouse. Though he didn't have to worry about two super soldiers, it felt exactly the same.

Somewhere along the lines, Tony lost connection with Ayo, which didn't bode well. It took some advance jammers to knock out his tech; however, it did give Tony some hope that they were on the right track. On the other hand, did that mean this base was not abandoned? Did that mean someone was here? "Crap," he uttered, going through all the data that he got in his head. This couldn't be a SHIELD base, right? There was no record of this base on the SHEILD servers, which JARVIS spent hours scanning and documenting.

He got his confirmation seconds later as he rounded a corner. This was an old S.S.R. Base—the freak symbol was on the wall, proudly displayed. Maybe, there was an old S.S.R. agent here, just making sure nothing happened to this place. Even with S.S.R. gone, there were probably secrets in this place that no one wanted to see the light of day. There were somethings that would be more damage if revealed than stole by a shadow agency. "Shit," he uttered as the room became clear to him. This wasn't just some large warehouse—much to what it looked like from the outside; this was a hanger, a massive hanger, which didn't look neglected in the least. There was modern tech everywhere.

For the most part, the hanger was empty, except for a few crates along the wall. There was no jet or plane in sight, which was odd. What was a purpose of a hanger without a jet? There was a door on the far side of the hanger, which was strange. If he was going off the blueprints, nothing was supposed to be behind that wall. However, something told Tony that that door didn't lead outside. He may be cut off from Ayo, but his scans were still able to go through metal and bricks. That door led down. Down where? Tony didn't know but he was going to find out.

However, Tony didn't get much time to ponder that as one second he was looking around and the next he was in a firestorm. It wouldn't have been so bad if it was just bullets, but he was getting hit by some kind of sonic cannon, which felt just how it sounded. He was only hit once, but man, did it hurt. Tony, refusing to be hit again, took up into the air, as his eyes scanned for the source of the blasts, though it was coming from multiple directions. But there was only one heat source? Must be automatic. "Track these things back to the source," he demanded, dodging another blast.

"Targeted," JARVIS replied.

A few compartments popped open on the back of the Iron Man Suit, and the several rows of missiles were launched a second later. They hit their targets, destroying several sonic cannons and blasters, which was far too advance for the S.S.R. base. A clear sign that this place was not abandoned and there was no stopping the panic that flooded Tony. Did he unknowingly just walk into a Hydra base? Did Tony have some bad luck or what? Because there was no other way to describe this shit show of a shit show. If this was a bust, there was no need for him to be here.

Just as Tony was able to blast a hole through the secret base, a single man in a black suit popped out of the door to nowhere and looked up at Tony with a neutral expression. There was a Shield logo on the badge around his neck, which just pissed off the genius more. Did he really think he would be that lucky? Here he was thinking he might get head of the game, but yet, here the fuck he was. What—

"Mr. Stark," the Shield Agent yelled, as he looked up at the Metal Man. "I must ask you to lower your weapons and step out of the suit. There is no need for violence."

Unsure of what to make of the Agent, Tony slowly lowed himself to the ground, wishing he could run this face against the SHIELD servers. However, JARVIS's abilities were limited when was cut off from the main servers. "You attacked me, Buddy. Not the other way around. I feel insulted you didn't want me at your party."

Hitting something on his smart watch, the Agent looked up, and as if by my magic, the hinger doors jolted and started to gradually open. "Why don't you ask your Pitbull to come join?" he asked.

As the sun peeked through, the connect with Jet was restored and Ayo was back in his ear. "Are you okay, Stark?"

"Yup, what's firework between friends?" Tony answered, only to Ayo. His focus was sorely on the Agent, who for a SHIELD agent looked rather small. Did SHIELD agents come in that size? "So, what's the name?" he asked the Agent, as the helmet on the suit retracted.

"Agent Koenig," he answered, his eyes bouncing between Tony and the landing quinjet. "Now, Mr. Stark, how did you find this place?" He had a friendly enough face, but with a gun in his arm, he was prepared to protect this base at any cost. "Granted, I should also ask why you are here. There is nothing here for you, Mr. Stark."

Tony wasn't sure what to exactly tell him, as he had a few questions of his own. Mainly, what was this place? Was Fury hiding something here? Though the door that Koenig had come from was now firmly closed, it didn't seem like there was anyone else. If there was, would they not be here as well with their guns? If there was not, what was the point of a one-man base? Maybe, he was using this as a safe house? "I was looking for a place where I could hide. I wasn't expecting a lone tiny man in this huge base." He said. "I was expecting an empty warehouse."

It was at this point that Ayo had landed the jet and was quickly went through landing protocols. Seeing the jet touched down, Koenig did not waste anytime closing the hanger doors. "Who said I am alone?" Koenig asked.

Tony narrowed his eyes at him before saying, "Then I guess everyone hates you. Do you hate you?"

"Well, I did not expect to be threatened by Iron Man."

"I am not threatening. I'm most definitely not threatening. Look at this face," he said, pointing at his face. "I'm adorable, and it's the truth. Just look it up on the internet. Or you can ask Ayo. Well, I think that depends on the day, because some days she finds me adorable, while other days I feel like she wants to kill me. So in-"

"Only you, Stark," Ayo replied, interrupting him. With her Wakandan spear in her hand, she stepped out of the jet with a deadly look. "He could be trying to kill you, and yet, here you are? Rambling like a fool." There was no attempt to hide her accent as she approached them.

Koenig gave Ayo a once over before turning his attention back to Stark. "A Wakandan?" he asked, a hit of surprise flashing across his face. "I'm impressed."

Tony glanced at Ayo, not understand what she was doing. Why hide her accent only to reveal it now? "You got Wakandan from that? I got hot African Woman, who could kick my ass without trying."

Both Koenig and Ayo let put a heavy sigh, which earned a grin from Tony. "Do not tempt me," Ayo replied. At the same time, Koenig spoke, "How has his mouth not killed him? No, seriously. Big Fan, but how is he alive?"

Rolling his eyes like it was the most obvious thing ever, Tony turned his attention back to the SHIELD Agent. "Because I am Iron Man." He replied.

Ayo's eye twitched as she took her step forward, ignoring Stark. "Why are you here? This place should not exist. We searched the entire SHIELD archive and this base is not list, even in Fury's personal files."

Koenig gave them a hard look. "I'm going to look past the fact that you hacked into to our servers—which I will get out of you at a later time- and ask again, why you are here? What are you looking to hide?"

Tony and Ayo traded looks, communicating through their eyes. It was odd as Tony never thought he would get there with her, but here they were. There was hesitation in both them, as there was a part of them that wanted to turn around and leave. What good was a not so secret base? However, they had already spent valuable time looking for one, and they weren't sure if they wanted to walk away, but putting it here could be risky with Koenig. There was no way to tell if they could trust this man, but not all SHIELD agents were bad.

"What if I told you Hydra was back?" he asked, his eyes glued to the Agent's face. He searched for any kind of tell. If he just outed Hydra to Hydra, he doubted he would make it through the night without getting murdered, thought they would have two angry A.I. on their asses wanting revenge.

Koenig looked at him. "Bullshit."

"Oh, I wish it was bullshit. Trust me, it would make life easier, because I'm pretty sure that they will execute me in my sleep, not that I sleep. Sleep is for the weak and we know me," he said, flexing his arms. "I thrive on a lack of sleep."

Ayo was doing her best to keep a straight face, but there was a soft twitch in her right eye. "What Stark is trying to say is: Hydra is hidden within the shadows of SHIELD."

Koenig did not look convinced. "Fury would know if that was the case."

There was an insult on the tip of Tony's tongue, but he stuffed it down. Now was not the time to insult the pirate, especially when this agent seemed to trust Fury. "Why don't you let us play show and tell? Hmm," he said, stepping out of his suit—much to Ayo's displeasure.

"Fine, but let's do that somewhere more comfortable," Koenig said, eyeing the empty suit. "After you show me this proof, we can talk."


*O*O*


To say this his place was huge an understatement, as it stretched miles beneath the ground and Tony had been correct. With each room—too many to count- they passed, there was not one single SHIELD agent, which Tony counted as a blessing. It meant there was still hope they could use this place. Plus, this place wasn't bad in the least, even if the main structure had been built in the S.S.R era. It was upgraded enough that you would not notice the age of the building, which included a few labs that Tony would love to look at.

The Agent pass each of those rooms by and lead Ayo and Tony to an office deep within the base. And as if there were people they needed to keep out of the conversion, Koenig closed the door and turned on the monitor. He waved Tony over it. After Tony laid everything out on the screen, Koenig just stood there, looking over the evidence with large eyes. The amount of proof that they had could not take down Hydra, which was branched across world like an ever-growing weed. It was enough evidence to get started. Just enough evidence to know that SHIELD could not be trusted. "You have to tell, Director Fury."

There were in what Tony assumed was the 'Main' Office in this reformed S.S.R. base. It was a mixture of new and old, with brick walls. It was quite interesting to see how they upgraded this base to fit their needs. It was no Stark Tower, but it was worked for what they needed it for. "I tried that once. I felt like Alexander Pierce was going to eat me or something. He was looking at me like I was some juicy steak."

Ayo, letting out a heavy sigh, narrowed her eyes at Tony. "Yes, Stark could have put more effort into it, but once he got something in his head, he is a complete idiot."

Tony was taking Ayo's insult as proof that she liked him. If she was willing to put up with him, it meant something. "As of right now, I'm going to keep this close to the vest. I know Fury is not Hydra, but I'm not sure who around him is not. Currently, we know of only a few: Fucken Alexander Pierce, Senator Stern, the entire Strike Team, and Agent Sitwell. We know there're more, waiting to snap their trap, and I cannot risk Fury showing his hand, thinking he can trust someone he can't. Hydra can be anyone. If a someone on the World Security Council can be Hydra, anyone can be."

Koenig started at the large screen in the corner of the office, looking like he had seen a ghost. It was all there in black and white. "And how are you sure I am not?" he asked, turning back to them.

That was a question that Tony was going to pander for a while. "Time will only tell, but you're too tiny to be a Hydra Agent. I feel like they have a height requirement and you don't meet that." He replied, ignoring the glare from Ayo.

The insult did not seem to faze Koenig as he replied, "That is all handy dandy but why did you come here? Looking for a base of operations?"

"No, I am not planning on showing my hand just yet," Tony answered. "I'm looking for a place to hide someone." He wasn't going to reveal who just yet. Koenig could still be Hydra, even though it was highly doubtful. Though Tony did not have the best judgement, he didn't believe the Agent had it in him to be Hydra. However, he still didn't want to reveal the Winter Soldier before he had to. The less people who knew about James Barnes the better. "He's a brainwashed prisoner of Hydra. I need a place to him where they can't find him, because they will come after him and he probably won't be friendly at first."

Koenig didn't answer quickly, pausing to think. "I would think that Stark Tower would be secure enough. No one could get past the famous Iron Man."

If it was anyone but Hydra, Tony would agree. If Barnes didn't have those fucken trigger words, he would agree, but as long as those trigger words exist, no one would be safe. Barnes could be turned within second, and that would be good for no one. Crap, he cursed in his head, as certain memory popped into his head. Barnes, triggered words used, had fired pointblank at a suitless Tony. If it wasn't for his Tech, he would be dead. Barnes may not have wanted to kill him, but he would've without hesitation. He would've killed them all. Shit, he thought. As if it was yesterday, he could still feel the table break beneath him when Barnes threw him like a rag doll. The fear that rushed through him could never be forgotten.

"Tony," Ayo uttered, worry breaking through her voice.

Shaking his head, Tony snapped back to reality. "Sorry," he uttered, his heartbeat in his throat. He really wished these stupid flashbacks would stop. They were getting old. "So what you say?"

"And you won't tell me who this person is?" Koenig asked, narrowing his eyes at him.

"No, we can't be too careful nowadays. If we can hide him here, I'll give you everything you will need to know besides his name." Tony shrugged with a smile on his face. "What's this world coming too? Hydra behind every corner."

"What if I tell Fury?"

"Why did Fury hide this base even from SHIELD itself?" The genius asked, as he turned to the S.R.R. symbol. It was an odd feeling to be in a base that Howard had once walked through. Peggy was surely right next to them, giving orders like the boss that she was; there was no doubt she would burn Hydra to ground if she knew… if she wasn't trapped in her own head. "Just like us, he doesn't know who to trust. He built this place for a what if. We are in that what if situation, so what are you going to do, Agent?"

There was a war on Koenig's face. "For now, I will go along with this, just because I am big fan, but at any point, I reserve the right to bring Fury in."

Tony didn't like the idea of Fury poking his head into his business, but he knew at one point he would have to. Fury was a necessity evil and he was the Director of SHIELD. "Fine, but if he does anything I don't like, I get to poke out his other eye."

If Koenig had issue with that, he didn't say. "Then, we have a deal. And if we are going to fight Hydra together, you can call me Billy Koenig."

"I will call you Agent. All you black suits are faceless to me." He paused for second as he glanced around. There was one thing that this place needed. "And I am installing FRIDAY."

"Who's Friday?"

"Only one of the two best A.I.s ever," Tony answered with a smile. Not only would FRIDAY make this place better, he would be able to keep an eye on Koenig. "Even if she sends you running for the hills screaming 'I quit,' You will love her."

Chapter Text

Chapter 7:

The Blade of Mistrust


Everything was going according to plan, except the whole sleeping thing. Besides that one night with Pepper a few night back, Tony hadn't seen a bed, not that he hadn't trying to closed his eyes. Though, that was the story for another time. A concern for another time. Right now, he only allowed himself to think of the good. The positive things. He installed FRIDAY into the playhouse (Stupid Name if you ask Tony, not that he wouldn't bring it up. He was totally changing it) without issue; granted, Koenig had refused to allow FRIDAY in a few areas, like the main office. As FRIDAY was his eyes, Tony didn't like that there were spots the Agent could hide, but this was about trust. Tony needed to trust the Agent, even if the idea gave him hives. Trust built trust, but damn, it was hard when you saw snakes everywhere.

"What does this make that, J?" he asked, finishing another one of the prosthetics for the kiddos. It wasn't rock science, which was a horrible expression. For the most part, the designs had the same basic function with the same bones. Sure, it might be fun to give them all some Iron Man blasters, but that had 'bad idea' written all over them. See, Rogers! I have some common sense when needed. So instead of crime fighting arm, they were fully function 'boring' arms that look like Iron Man arms, unless the child wanted something else. Oh, how dull.

"That would make seven," JARVIS replies.

"May we recommend sleep?" FRIDAY followed up with it.

With a snort, Tony ignored her and switched to his tablet. "How is our new favorite agent doing?" Sure, the Agent didn't have FRIDAY in every area of the base, but that did not stop Koenig from chatting off FRIDAY's ears if she had ears. It was like the A.I. was the Agent's new best friend. The genius couldn't fault Koenig for that, considering he found himself doing that at time. Heck, he was going it now.

"He is preparing the holding cell now." FRIDAY answered.

The term 'Holding cell' was a bit harsh, as they wanted to save the man, but they weren't kidnapping a friendly Winter Soldier. Was there such a thing? A friendly assassin? Tony wished. As it stood, there was no telling how the assassin would react. There was no doubt in Tony's mind that someone was getting punched in the face and/or end up with some broken bones. It would probably be him. God, he did not want to get punch again by a super soldier. Even now, his skin itched thinking about. "Good, good," Tony replied with a smile. "Then, we are ready to move. Make sure that the Agent has every he needs."

"Already done, Boss." FRIDAY answered.

With that, Tony switched to a different project he was working on. After going back and forth in his head like some nervous teenage, he had started and was now finishing up the paperwork for the internship/Science camp, which was more of a headache than intended. To avoid being creepy (Something that JARVIS kept warning him about), he decided to set up a real event and hold a tiny camp, teaching science to five kids. The idea that he would be surrounded by 12 years, while just wanting to be around Peter, was not ideal, but he would do it. However, that meant he would have to be around people, which meant he had to do stuff and couldn't be weird—something Ayo kept telling him he was being. So YAY him. "Everything looks good," he said, looking over the flyer. "I think we are ready to release?"

"Would it not be wise to ran it past, Miss Potts?" JARVIS asked. "I do not believe she would be pleased that she was not informed of this."

Tony waved the AI off. "It will be fine." It was better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

"And what if Young Peter Parker does not apply?" FRIDAY asked.

"And I supposed you are going to look through all of the applications yourself, Sir?" JARVIS inquired. "Or do you intend for FRIDAY and I to do it?"

Letting out a harsh sigh, Tony glared at the ceiling. What was it with these two? They were judging and he didn't like it. As they were his AI, they should agree with him. "So, what local schools should I donate you both to? I feel like New York Public school system could use the both of you if you cannot decide."

"You would regret that sooner than we would, Sir. I do not believe you know your own Social society number," JARVIS replied, softly. "Let alone tie your shoes."

Tony really needed to know that damn number, because he was tired of people using it against him. "Just send out the announcement, and make sure to flood Midtown elementary or whatever school Peter is currently attending. I want to make sure he sees it." He ordered, before turning to another monitor.

"Very well, Sir. I will tell the officers you are a craze Time Traveler and you meant well when they come to arrest you."

"That's it. FRIDAY is my favorite."

"I will carry the badge with Honor, Boss."

He may not be sleeping, but at least, he had his A.I.s. He loved the both of them. "Don't worry. You can get back into my good grace, J."

It should go without saying that Tony Stark did not know how to rest. And like always, his mind was going a million miles per hour as he started the designs for another Iron Man suit, this one closer to the Mark 46. He still had a way to go until he would create his nano suit, which was too long for Tony. He didn't know how he existed without that beautiful thing, but it was driving him insane. At the same time, he was also doing a deep dive into that famous Siberian Hydra facility. It was possible that Barnes was on ice somewhere else, but from the intel he had, Barnes was there.

Tony just needed a plan to get in and out with a man, who may or may not be on ice, and while doing this, taking heavy fire. Hydra, trying to keep their weapon, would not be holding back. However, that brought up another issue. It would be foolish to go in as Iron Man, though at the same time be stupid to go in without it. The Iron Man suit could take out an army, which was what he needed. Hydra was a large force waiting to take over the world, but he didn't—couldn't show his hand just yet. This means, whether he liked it or not, he had to go in without it. This meant that he would have to prepare for hand to hand combat, which was not his strong suit. That was not to say that he was chop live, but either way, he would not be going in alone or empty handed.


*O*O*


"I may be a Dora Milaje," Ayo said, as if that was enough explanation, "but I doubt our ability to take a Hydra base with the two of us, especially without your Iron Man suit." To say she was not happy with the plan was an understatement, but she understood. No one must know Iron Man was involved in this, not until Barnes was safe and they knew who all the players were. Plus, he did not want Hydra to raid his house so soon.

After spending another all nighter in the lab with very little sleep, Tony was able to add a few more items to his non-Iron Man weaponry: Metal power gauntlets, Jet boots, and Hud Glasses that took up a good bit of the face. The black metal gauntlets were useful in a few ways: one, increased his strength. He wouldn't be super Soldier strong, but he would give him a good right hook. Two, it could create a small force field, which would be very helpful with the bullets he was sure he would be taking. Lastly, they had Repulsors, though Tony wasn't going to use them unless he had to. The black boots—slenderer than his Iron Man boots—could not provide a stable flight, but he could hover and get some air with them. "And who do you have in mind?" he hummed.

Ayo gave him a look. "Colonel Rhodes. I say we fully read him in."

This was an argument that they had a few times, and each time, he gave into her, but yet, Tony couldn't bring in Jim. He knew why. It was the same nightmare that haunted him, haunted every night since he time-traveled. Rhodey was a soldier; Tony knew this, but he kept seeing that famous fall in his head. He could not bear to watch that again, like everything else in his life. "Fine," he answered, the words feeling like acid on his tongue. "JARVIS, can you call Jim and have him come right away?" If he didn't do this now, he would not do it.

"On it, Sir." Came the A.I. replied.

Ayo nodded as she glanced over the tablet in her hand. On it, Tony had mapped the base out as best as he could remember—not that he could forget. God, he had a lot of nightmares. "Granted, Rhodes would not be able to use his suit as well."

"Don't worry. I got him." Tony replied. Jim, at least, had combat training and he could handle himself in a fight. Nevertheless, he would be getting the same tech that Tony was giving himself.

"Will you?" she asked, her eyebrow rose. "You seemed extremely protective of James."

When did he become James? That was an understatement, but now was not the time to allow himself to ponder that. "Yes, we're protective of each other," Tony smiled. "Besides, he can take care of himself. I need to remember that."

Putting down the tablet, Ayo got to her feet. "We need additional reinforcements. There is no telling what we will find there, considering your intel is dated. What if this Barnes is awake? We will have an irritated Super Soldier on our hands, who no one who can best him in hand to hand combat."

Tony had thought about that, but he doubted the man was awake. The Winter Soldier, who was just as old as Rogers, was only 'awakened' for special, specific targets. He knew Barnes would come out to play for Fury and Rogers, but he had a few more months before the supposed fall of SHIELD. "Who do you have in mind?"

"Have you forgotten, Stark, that you are not alone? Or do you just like thinking you are?" Ayo asked. "King T'Chaka has given you his support. I have already reached out as I knew you would not. If you approve, the reinforcements will meet us there. That is if you can get your head out of your ass."

Did she really think that of him? "Sounds like a plan. I like that plan," Tony spoke, nodding. "See, not in my ass."

"I will reach out at once."


*O*O*


Tony had finished telling Rhodey everything, well not everything. Like with T'Chaka, there were a few things that he kept to himself: he didn't tell Jim about his legs (something that Tony would do anything to prevent), he didn't tell him about his parents' murder, and he didn't tell Jim about the fight with Barnes and Rogers. He didn't tell Jim how the three of them almost killed each other. He wanted to tell his best friend everything, to key him in on everything. God, he wanted someone he could talk to about everything, but he couldn't see how that would do anything good. They had a goal and they need to focus on that. He kept it mostly on Thanos and the fact that once Strange got his powers he was going to deck the wizard.

That was the only part that Rhodes smiled on, while his mind went into a total tailspin. This was where Tony found himself as he stared at his best friend, worried that he may have finally broken him. "You okay, Buddy?" Rhodey made some weird sound that couldn't really be described. It was like he had lost all words to speak, as mice like sounds came from his mouth. "I think I broke him," he spoke to no one really.

Rhodes's eyes were drilling into Tony as if he had two head or was a unicorn. "W-What? How is that possible? Did you drink too much? Did you hit you on the head? When is the last time you slept? God, what did you take?" Tony could see the gears move behind Jim's eyes, his mind going over everything that Tony had said for the second time. "Time travel? I…I guess that's possible. Thor's an alien. Loki's an Alien." He mumbled, cursing under his breath. "So why not more aliens? Battle of New York? And what kind of a name is Thanos? Infinity stones? Nazis are back? What the fuck?!"

Tony couldn't help but chuckle at Rhodey as he went through everything with a fine-tooth comb. He found it adorable, even if now was not the appropriate time. "How long do I wait before I have to reset him?" he asked, looking up.

"I would give him a few minutes, Sir," JARVIS answered. "It took you awhile if I recall."

Wasn't that the truth? Tony could barely recall anything from when he first woke up in this time. He remembered wanting to die and hitting Pepper, something he would never forget even if she did. There was no forgetting the panic and shame that rose up in him, making him forget who he was. "Ain't that the truth." Tony replied, just watching his best friend. Rhodey's ever changing expressions were killing him.

"A mass murdering killer robot. An Avenger Civil war? A red witch who's freaky? Who may or not be a spell casting witch? A metal man who can lift Thor Hammer?" Rhodey looked like he was lost, his eyes large. Maybe, Tony told him too much? "An Alien planet death match?" His face was his hand, rubbering his temples. "There are freaken wizards? Like Harry Potter is real? And what kind of name is Strange?"

"Strange, right?" Tony clapped, though it went unnoticed by his best friend. "Geez, what is this?" What was good about having a last name of Strange if no one was paying attention to Tony and his jests. "Granted, I don't think their magic works like Harry Potter, and I'm pretty sure Strange will curse us if we call him Harry Potter, but I'm game if you are."

"Stupid Magic." At this point, Rhodey looked like he had a massive headache. "And everyone turned to dust?" His eyes softened by 10 levels and tears formed in his eyes. "I don't know who this Peter kid is, but I'm truly sorry, Tones." He inched forward, placing a hand on Tony's knee. "I am so sorry."

"He's alive, right now. That's all I can think about right now." Having cried until he could not cry anymore, Tony refused to cry again, not now. Peter was not dead. He may have a broken arm—that Strange had better nailed or else—but he was alive. He was safe and that was all that mattered. "So, you aren't going to call me crazy?" He asked, letting out the deep breath he was holding.

Rhodey let go of Tony's knee. "I think we've seen enough to know anything is possible. A freak portal opened in New York. So Yes. I do believe time travel exist, even if it breaks my brain."

This was nothing like how it felt when he told T'Chaka. This was so much more, and Tony felt like an idiot for putting it off. "Yay."

"But what does this all mean?" Rhodey asked, his tone changing. A heavy look replaced the confused look he spotted a second ago. His eyes scanned over Tony, like he was looking at an expensive art piece. It was like he was seeing him in a whole new light. "I don't know how this time traveling things works, but how is this possible?" He paused for a second as his next words struggled to come out. "Y-You are Tony, right? You just take over in your old life?"

Tony didn't know how to answer that, because he didn't know. There wasn't like there was another younger Tony hanging around. That was a question that he would need to ask the Doctor once he finished Hogwarts (or the America version: Ilvermorny). Granted, he could probably hunt down the Ancient One, the Dumbledore of the Weird Wizards. "I assume someone just hit rewind on time. I don't know. I am not a wizard."

Jim's face crunched up as a thought passed by his head. "You're different"

Tony was starting to hate that word. "Yes, I am. You can't go through what I have and not change," he replied, his voice soft. It was barely above a whisper.

"This…" Jim started, but drifting off a second later. There was a deep thought just behind the eyes, his words heavy in his throat. "Is…is this why you been distant lately? Why things have been off with you and Pepper? You're a different man."

There was no easy answer, especially when he already felt like a fraud. He was not the Tony that they knew. He was damaged more than anyone of them realized, including himself. "Yes," he said, shortly, not trusting himself to say anything else. It was tough to get a read on Jim, who was doing his damndest to mask his emotions. Boy, did that sting. "And us?"

Rhodey didn't answer at first, staring at the heartbreaking face Tony was sporting. "There're somethings that I need to work out in my head, but you never have to worry about me, Tony. I am here for you."

There was something in Rhodey's voice that worried him, but he pushed that aside. Tony had his best friend, and that was all he needed. "I get it." There was a sadness in his voice that surprised even him.

Jim's expression changed at hearing it. "I just have to get use to this new Tony, but I have your back, man. I'll fight a hord of wild beasts for you. You just have to let me in. That is all I need."

Tony, stuffing everything down his throat, gave him a smile as he got to his feet. "And what do you call this? I feel like I thoroughly let you in, and now I can't walk straight." Fake it to you make it. Feeling his happiness spreading from his smile, he laid it all on, as it brought out his playfulness.

His face crunching up, Rhodey turned, as he tried to shake that image out of his head. "Uncool, Dude. Ew! Why do you have to go there?"

"Geez, why don't you love me?" Tony pouted, giving his best friend the sadness face he could muster.

Rhodey's eye twitch. "I take it all back. You're the exact same man." Refusing to be stared down, he made direct eye contact with Tony. He could feel his eye twitch as laugher bubbled its way up. "And I'm now mentally scarred."

No, no, don't go there. The genius tried to tell himself, but there was no stopping the memories pushing through like an unyielding river. When was he going to get over this crap? He was tired of 'whatever' this crap was. "That's not the worst thing you have ever heard me say… or do."

"All kidding side, what about Pepper?"

"What about her?" Tony's voice dripped.

Jim hesitated for a second. "Are you going to tell her any of this? Or you just going to keep her at arm's length like you are doing now? I love you man, but Pepper deserves more. It's never going to last if you keep doing this."

Tony internally groaned, not wanting or caring to talk about this. Did it make him the bad guy? Okay, that wasn't completely true. He did care. There were just more important things held his thoughts, and there no denying that the relationship felt wrong somewhat. "Is it wrong to say I'm not concerned about my relationship? How can I be? Thanos is coming. He's coming and he is going to rip the universe apart." He paused, letting out a deep sigh. His heart pounded against his ribs as Peter's last words flashed before his eyes. He would never forget, never not see Peter pleading not to leave. "Y-you don't know yet…Can't know… but…" Tony could not find his words with everything dying on this tongue in a heap of panic. His throat felt like a desert.

"I don't want to go. I don't want to go. Mr. Stark, please."

"God Damn it." Tony cursed through his teeth, his chest on fire. He thought he had it together. He thought he had it all under control, but it was like someone had broken Hoover Dame. It came out like a rushing river, destroying everything in its path. He was going to be sick, especially with the Ancient One's words replaying in his head. Time had a habit of currenting itself. "I can't. I c-can't," he uttered. He could not watch Peter die. Not again.

"Please. I don't want to go. I don't want to go. I'm sorry."

Tony's heart was breaking all over again. It was being ripped apart. "I can't." His breaths became labored, feeling lightheaded and faint. He couldn't watch as everyone disintegrated around him. It didn't matter how well he knew them or not. Quill may have been an ass and lost control (not that Tony could blame him after learning the fate of his girlfriend), but he didn't want to see that man die. The same could be the said of the rest his crew. That could be said about Strange as well, even Tony hated him. "Peter… I can't."

"Hey, Hey." Rhodey voiced, jumping to his feet. Concern drifted into his eyes, seeing the panic growing in his best friend. "I got you, Tones." He gently pulled Tony into his arms, hiding the genius from the world. "That isn't going to happen. If I have to rip Thanos apart with my bare hands, I will." Taking a deep breath as he rocketed the genius softly. "We're going to stop him, and Peter will be safe. I promised. I don't know the kid yet, but I'll be damn if anything happened to him."

Tony, his eyes tightly closed, willed himself to take a few deep breaths. Forcing his thoughts away from Peter's last sorrowful cry, he forced himself to think positively. If he spoke it aloud, he did not know, but he repeated it to himself: they weren't going to lose not with his foresight. Like Rogers said, if they did it together, they would not lose. When the Avengers were a team, there was nothing that could defeat them. It was only when they split, they failed.

"That's right, Tones. Together we won't fail." Rhodey mouthed into Tony's hairline.

It had taken Rhodey a few excruciatingly long minutes to calm the blubbering man. It was surreal to how time stopped for the panicking genius. It was like Tony had got back in time to Peter dying in his arm. All that fear and failure came rushing up. "I'm good." He whimpered; his voice soft. "You can let me go now." With a bite of reluctance, Rhodey gently and slowly redrew his hands from the still genius. "Now, let's get down to business," Tony said, putting on the smile.

Rhodey watched Tony step to his workstation and go through the new tech he had created. It was like nothing happened. "Are we going to talk about it?"

Tony stilled, refusing to look back. "We just did. Besides, I'm a big boy and big boys don't cry." He articulated, putting on a huge smile. "And like you said, I have nothing to worry about. Peter is alive and all is good. Both FRIDAY and JARVIS can attest to that." Tony rotated, waving a wretch in his hand.

Jim's eyes narrowed as he stared down his best friend with a hot, intense stare. He held that glare for a second before letting it fall and replacing it with a weak smile. "I see why Pepper is frustrated."

"So, I got a few items for you. We can't the save the damsel in our suits, but we're not going in empty handed," he said, before turning away from Rhodey. "Got some boots and other tech. Not the same awesome color that you used to me wearing, but black looks awesome on everyone."

"Tony."

Said man hated the tone Rhodey used when he was disappointed in him. It made Tony feel like a child. "What? What do you want from me? I don't have time for this touchy-feely game that you want from me. I don't have time to cry and let it all go, because I have a damn universe to save. I can't do it weeping. This isn't be showboating. Thanos won in the future. He fucken won! And we lost horribly. I had to watch as everyone crumbled. Fucken Crumble! I watched us lose, only to wake up here to do it all over again." He was yelling now, anger hiding his recent panic. "You don't have to worry that you're fucken destined to relive it all like some curse, because damn Dumbledore said time could be immutable, so there's a chance that I have to relive everything!" Tony was breathing through his nose.

If Rhodey said anything, Tony did not know. He was too focused on his rant to care. "I refused to relive that crap." Now, the genius didn't say what he would do if he had to, but it was clear that he would not survive that heartbreak. His shattered heart would kill him alone. "The last 4 years were hell! They were a nightmare that I cannot free myself of even if I bleached my brain. Even now, I keep seeing and hearing Peter's death in my head. Should I see someone? Probably. Okay, yes, but tell me, Rhodey. Who the hell should I talk to? Who the hell should I bare my soul to? Who could possibility understand what I'm going through? God, I love Pepper, but I can't talk to her about this. She can barely handle me, and you think she can handle this?!" He took a few deep breaths, turning away. He felt ashamed, thinking that about Pepper. "You want to know what will help me?" he asked, his voice suddenly dropping a few levels. "Fixing the future. I need that. So, lets focus on that, and drop this crap. That is what I need. Please."

Jim looked shocked for a moment as he smoothed out his expression. "Okay. So, what's the plan?"

Exhaling heavily, Tony smiled. "Okay here's the plan."


*O*O*


After nailing down the plan, Rhodey forced Tony out of the laps for food. The genius would've waved the man off, but when his stomach growled like a hungry lion, there was no fighting the Colonel, and Tony had no choice but to follow. It was probably for the best as he couldn't recall the last time he ate. In fact, he was feeling a little lightheaded and weak, and getting some food in his stomach would do some good. It would also help his mood as well, as it hard to think about anything else. He felt raw after his chat with Rhodey, feeling ashamed for the yelling at his friend.

However, none of 'feelings' lasted for long, hearing two females chatting up in the kitchen like a pair of old friends. Tony's eye twitched, recognizing the second voice. And when he rounded the corner, he spotted Natasha Fucken Romanoff sitting at the counter with Pepper drinking tea. If Pepper wasn't smiling, Tony would've done something he wouldn't have been proud of. Again, there was that overreaction popping through again. He knew it wasn't fair to her, but god, it was so hard. He just saw Natasha picking Rogers's side while telling him to watch his back. Control yourself! He yelled at himself.

It was Natasha who noticed him, though it was Pepper who spoke first. She was smiling, but there was something lingering in her stare. "Oh, I see you came up for air. Trying to make me forget you exist?" Pepper spoke, fondly. "Jim feeding you?"

Feeling his friend tense at his side, Jim gave Tony a confused, concerned look before answering, "If I don't, you will find him belly up in the tank."

When Tony told Rhodey about the Avenger Civil War, he had been vague. He told him that it didn't matter who was on who's side, because the whole thing was shit. For reasons, he didn't want Jim to know what exactly happened and how he lost his legs. He didn't want his friend to be burdened with the facts. "What are you doing here? Planting more bugs for the Pirate?" he asked, turning his attention on Natasha. Why the hell was he still referring to her as Natasha?

"Oh, Stark, you don't trust me? I'm hurt," Natasha replied, taking a slip from the coffee cup in her hand. "I just wanted to check on you. You didn't seem well the last time I've seen you and Fury still hadn't heard from you."

Where is Ayo when I need her? She would throw Natasha out on her ass. Tony rolled his eyes, putting on a smile. Masks were his specialty, and he would be damned if he couldn't fool the best of them. "Oh, I didn't know you cared, and I like making Fury wait."

"Tony," Pepper uttered, shock in her voice.

"Why would I not care? We're Avengers after all." Natasha taking another slip. "I just wanted to stop by and say hello. Pepper and I were having a good conversion."

At this very moment, did the Avengers even existed? Rogers, Barton, and Romanoff were a part of the Nazi SHIELD, while Thor was off world. Tony had no idea of where Bruce was, but the man had probably told present day Tony where he was heading before future Tony took over the timeline. So technically, Tony should know, but hell, that was almost 5 years ago. He didn't even remember the last time he ate. "Right. Anyhow, it was nice seeing you. There's the door," he said, waving to the door. "Don't let it hit you on the way out. Or do. Whatever."

"Tony!" Pepper chastised.

Tony's eye twitched again. Nice play, he thought, staring at the former Russian spy. "Since when did the two of you becomes friends?" he asked, ignoring Rhodey's eyes drilling into the side of his head.

"Natasha and I have been keeping in touch since she worked—" "Spied," Tony interjected. "-At the company. We've become good friends," Pepper answered, getting to her feet. She nailed Tony with a warning stare before crossing to the teapot on the stove. "We have been having lunch every few weeks."

Where had he been that he missed this shit? In either life, he didn't remember this. "Why?" he found himself asking.

"What? You don't trust me, Stark?" Natasha smiled, bring the cup to her mouth. Though the bottom half of her face was hidden, she was smiling.

"I don't trust you as far as I can throw you without my suit," Tony replied, his irritation breaking through. "Granted, if I had my suit on, I wouldn't have to see you after I threw you."

For the third time, Pepper yelled, "Tony." The expression on her face was a mixture of mortification and a warning. It was like she was a mother scolding a child who threw a water balloon at the pope. "What has gotten into you?"

Even Rhodey looked shocked by it all, though there was a bit of understanding behind this eyes. "Tony, lets getting something to eat, and leave the ladies to it."

Natasha finally set her cup down on the table and leaned back in the chair. "May, I have a moment with Tony? I think we just need to clear the air."

Tony snorted as he folded his arms across his chest. His stomach growled softly. "Is that what you call it?"

Both Pepper and Jim share a look, having a silence conversion. "Okay…I have a meeting to go to," she said slowly, stepping to Tony. When she reached him, she waited a few seconds as if she expected him to give her a kiss before placing a kiss on his cheek. "Behave," she whispered in his ear. After stepping away, Pepper turned to Jim. "Care to walk me out?"

Rhodey looked between the two. "FRIDAY and JARVIS will keep an eye on your two. I'll be back," he said, hesitantly following Pepper out.

Both Natasha and Tony waited until Pepper and Rhodey were gone before either one of them spoke. "So, who is FRIDAY?" Natasha asked, speaking first.

Tony didn't answer right away, taking a long look around. He knew nothing was going to jump out of him and scream 'look here', but he couldn't stop himself. "Plant any bugs? I will find them regardless."

"Not going to tell me? Geez, I feel unloved," Natasha replies, straightening herself out.

He paused, giving the spy a hard, calculating look. He hadn't planned on keeping FRIDAY hidden, but he didn't like that Natasha now knew about the A.I. "She's my girl Friday, right, Baby Girl?"

"Right, Boss." Came the Irish voice. "I assist the Boss with whatever he may need or not know he needs."

"What happen to JARVIS?" Natasha asked, her lip twisting up.

"Nothing, Miss Romanoff. I am where I belong at Mr. Stark's side." JARVIS answered.

Tony smile. God, he loved these two A.I.s. Did that make him insane? "If that's all, the door is over there?"

Natasha looked like she was chewing over what she just learned. "What's FRIDAY's purpose?"

His stomach still growling, Tony crossed to the refrigerator and opened the door. He paused for a second, pondering what he wanted. "Nunya bidness," he stated, as he pulled out the deli meet and cheese to make a sandwich.

Rotating in her chair to look at Tony, Natasha questioned with an eyebrow rose, "What has your panties in a twist?"

Tony could feel her eyes drilling into his back. It was unnerving, but at least, he was not level 10 yet. He had been able to control himself so far. "I'm confused. When did we become friends?" he asked, retrieving two pieces of bread from the cabinet. It wouldn't be the fanciest sandwich that he ever had, but it would do the trick.

"You act like I wronged you, Stark. What don't you tell me what that is? And while you're at it, tell me what you're up to," she demanded, as she watched him reached into the refrigerator for the mayo.

The time travel was what wrong with him. It was the reason why he was a hot mess. While he knew this Natasha hadn't betrayed him, he couldn't get it out of his head. He would have to 'get over' it he knew as they had to be a team—a team that was responsible for their actions. That aside for another day, they needed to be a team. They needed to stand together, even if Tony couldn't trust the lot of them. Besides, it was possible that he could trust them in the future. Way way in the future. He just needed time and maybe a good therapist, though he wasn't being an ass when he asked Rhodey who he could possibly talk to. "Do you forget what you do for a living?" he asked.

"That hasn't changed recently. You've already known what I am and what did. You've never acted so…" She drifted off, searching for the right words. "…aggrieved and hostile. What did I do to you? Hurt your feelings? Don't give you enough attention? I'm a big girl. You can tell me."

You pretended to be my friend, on my side, then you betrayed me the second Rogers needed you. You switch sides to serve your own self-interest. You don't look out for anyone but yourself, He thought, bitterly. He leaned forward against the counter—his sandwich was all but completed-, as he forced himself to take a deep breath. Then there's the fact that Barnes killed my parents. He wanted to ask her if she knew. If she kept it quiet…because Rogers had asked her to. He wanted to know if she kept her mouth because she wanted his money. That was what it felt like. Felt like everyone wanted his money, though he was partly to blame. He gave it out like candy. It was how he made friends. It was what his father taught him. "Tell me, Romanoff. Would it matter? Would you be here if my anger wasn't a threat to SHIELD pocketbook?" He could not ask her about Barnes, even if it burned at him, as she hadn't had to make that choice yet. No one knew Barnes was alive. It pissed him off.

Natasha didn't answer at first, just eyeing the man as he 'closed' his sandwich, putting on the top piece of bread. "At first, Stark, you were my assignment. You can't fault me for that." Her voice was tight. "I'm a SHIELD agent, and you declared yourself a superhero. I was assigned because Director Fury didn't know if you were a risk or asset. You are a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. Your words not mine." She paused, waiting for him to move or say sometime. When he did not, she continued, "However, after New York, I saw you as more than that. I supposed you can say that I started to see you. I understand you don't trust me. I wouldn't trust me either. I don't deserve trust. I know that, but this is something else, Stark. This feels like I did something personal to you. Maybe, I upsold what I'm to you, but you must know I like you more than most SHIELD Agents." She, still sitting, twisted away from him toward the window. Her voice, suddenly softer, was almost too soft to hear.

"I'm cold, hard, because that's how I learned to survive. Emotions get you killed, and the life I had before I defected wasn't pretty. You, born a Stark, would probably shit your pants if you knew. The things I have done. My hands are dirty. They're filthy. I know this." She paused for a second as if she was going over everything she had done in her head. "My past had taught me a few things: one, having friends make you weak. I could not be weak. I cannot be weak. So, I don't let people in. It took Clint years to get in, and that's with Clint trying nonstop. There's no doubt that he saved me from me." She slowly turned back to Tony, her eyes once more on his back. "So, I need you to know whatever I did to piss you off, it wasn't personal. Regardless, I am sorry, Tony."

Tony took a bit of his sandwich, chewing very slowly. She had the point, and heck (if he was honest), he was expecting too much from this woman. In his timeline, they had fought side by side for years building a trust, which had not happened yet. Was it trust? Or was it just an understanding between two soldiers in arms. Regardless, she was placed between a rock and a hard place, friend against friend. Yea, but she still didn't tell you about your parents. He thought bitterly. Maybe, she thought Rogers was going to tell you? Maybe, she was trying to protect you? While taking your money? His thoughts were all over the place.

"I bare my soul to you, and nothing?" Natasha's eyes were large, almost like she was hurt. "You've never trusted me before, Stark; yet, you take insult to it now. I find it curious."

Taking a deep breath, Tony turned around, his sandwich still in his hand. "Do you want me to trust you, Romanoff?"

Natasha leaned back in her chair. There was something just behind her eyes. "I don't need your trust."

"That's not want I asked. Do you want it?"

Silence bloomed between them. Minutes went by as the two stared at the other. "Yes," she uttered, her voice cracking. It came out like someone was pulling her teeth.

Natasha and he had been friend, closer than he thought they could have been. "You had it."

Romanoff's mask fell. "Had?" Confusion was present before it disappeared behind the mask. "When? How?"

Tony took another bite. Why did this sandwich taste so good? Was it simply because he was staving? It wasn't like he was the best sandwich maker in the world; granted, it wasn't hard. Meat, cheese and bread. Was he really thinking about the art of Sandwich making now?

"You aren't going to tell me?"

"No." He replied, sternly.

Natasha narrowed her eyes at him. "Why not?"

He wanted to tell her because he wanted to protect himself from her. He wanted to tell her that she scared him. Even now, he found himself struggling to be mad at her. She may not have betrayed him like the Natasha of his time, but she was. They had the same backstory. The Same life. Who say she wouldn't do it again? "I think we're done here," he replied, trying to get his voice neutral.

"I said I wasn't leaving until I know what you are up to."

Tony let out another sigh as he took another bite. "Who said I am up to something?"

Natasha, her expression morphing, finally got to her feet and took a step toward him. "Really? Is that why you showed up at SHIELD with an unknown bodyguard and a horrible lie. You're a bad liar, do you know that? Probably not, not with how you're pushing Pepper away." She paused, spotting the crack in his shield. She, however, did not push on it. "Is that why you are upgrading your quinjet? You aren't doing a very job at hiding it."

That got to Tony more than he would like to admit. If Natasha knew, what did that mean about the rest of SHIELD? Hydra couldn't know about this! Barnes and the future depended on this. "I have shit to do. This conversion is over." There were a few bites left of the sandwich, but he set it down on the plate and made his way toward the door. He knew he played right into her hands. "JARVIS will direct you out."

"You think this helps your case. Storming out when you don't like my question?"

"You came here uninvited. Don't expect me to ask you to stay."

Natasha forced herself to remain relax. "Stark."

"Whatever I am up to is my business, not yours. Go back to Fury. Tell him whatever you want but leave me alone." With that, he crossed to the elevator. He just wanted to hide in his labs until she was gone. He couldn't look at her anymore, which could say more to do with him than her.


*O*O*


Minutes away from takeoff, Tony was struggling to get his head on straight, still feeling emotional drained from earlier. His restless mind kept jumping between Peter, Pepper and Natasha and back again. Peter was always at the front of his mind, like a consistent reminder that wouldn't go away. He could not fail that kid again. Then having both Rhodey and Natasha bring up Pepper to him, his heart skipped a beat whenever he thought of the woman. How unfair was he being to the woman he supposedly loved? Pepper deserved more. Then, there was Natasha, a woman Tony had no idea of what to do with. Did he push her away? Keep her close? Forgive her? To whatever god was up there, he could use the help right now. He need- Get your head in the game! He yelled at himself, as he kicked himself into gear.

Ayo was finishing up the preflight workup, while Tony and Rhodey brought up the equipment. Both Jim and Tony were already wearing the metal hover boots, as they loaded the jet with what they could need. They were working as a solid 3-man team, and Tony couldn't help by smile, even with his mind in a twist. He was flashing back to the good old days of the Avengers before it spoiled. "Everything looks good," Rhodey said, as he turned to the rest of the gear that Tony had created. His eyes study every inch of them, placing it all to memory.

"I think we're ready to take off," Tony said, takin stock of everything. Besides the gear he created, he also brought additional guns and explosives. "Is our backup ready?"

Ayo glanced back. "Yes, they will meet us a few miles off from the base. Just outside the radar."

"Good, we will—" Tony started before interrupted by a certain red hair standing just outside the jet. "So where are you going? And can I join?" Natasha asked. There was a smugness on her face, catching them with their hands in cookie jar.

How the hell was she still here? How did neither one of Tony A.I.s not clock her? "How are you still here?" Tony asked, trying to keep his emotions in check.

"Pepper permitted me to stay," Natasha answered with a shrug.

Ayo, anger pulsing, got to her feet and walked pass Tony with a power stride. She stood tall, ready to kill. "You forced your way in earlier to talk to Stark. You will not do it now. You have worn out your welcome."

Tony still couldn't get a read on Ayo. "Well, you can leave now." He waved at Natasha.

"If I didn't know any better, Stark, I would think you were trying to get rid of me. I feel sad," She said, frowning. Her eyes drifted past him, toward the gear. There would be no explaining this away. "What don't you want me to know?"

Tony should've known better from their earlier conversion that the Red head was not leaving. "Oh, you got me. I'm throwing Fury a 'Hurray you're master spy' party. I hope you'll be able to keep this quiet. Got to make sure it remains a surprise."

Natasha just blinked at him, letting this drift pass her. "You have two options, Stark. You can bring me with you, or I'm running to SHIELD, telling everyone that I can find that you're making an armed strike against an unknown target. What you say?"

If Tony killed Natasha right now, would anyone notice besides the Nazi SHIELD? It wasn't like she was vital to the Avengers. Sure, she was a master spy, tearing through any defenses like it was paper, but Tony was sure he could find someone to replace her. Ayo seemed up to the task. If not her, there was probably some other Wakandan he could call.

"I don't like your super friends anymore," Rhodey announced. "I say you need new ones. What about Dumbledore?"

"I wouldn't call Romanoff super," Tony shoot back, his eyes glued to the woman. Okay, he couldn't kill her, even if Natasha pushed all his buttons. He had to give it to her; she was doing her job. Anyone who was anyone would tell you that he had been acting weird. It was like he was a different person, though he was. He was not the person they knew a few short weeks ago. If that SHIELD hack wasn't valuable, he would have regretted it walking into SHIELD and accidently rising red flags.

Natasha's top lip twitched. "I would be careful, Stark. Super or not, I can still take you out like a fly." It wasn't a threat. She was simply a fact. "You want to try a few rounds, now?"

"You dare to threaten Stark in my present?" Ayo asked, her voice cold. Her accent started to break through, but she still sounded American. "Why don't I show you my skills?"

"You're going to let her threaten me, Stark?" Natasha looked pass Ayo and stared at Tony.

Rhodey's eyes bounced between Natasha and Ayo. "Is it bad that I want to see who would win? My money is on Ayo."

Tony let out a chuckle. "Oh, Honey Bear. Your crush is showing."

Jim shook his head, while rolling eyes. "How are you my best friend? I need new best friend."

"I feel unloved," Tony said, playing hurt. He stared at Romanoff, eyeing every muscle in her face. Having Natasha on his side would be beneficial. She, for sure, was not Hydra and would never be Hydra; that information was valuable stuff right now. With so many sleeper agents in SHIELD, it was near impossible to tell who was good and who was an evil Nazi, besides who was or was not shooting at you. So, while Tony did not trust this woman, he needed her. He needed her on his team. He didn't have to trust her for that, well not personally at least; he would never trust her personally. He would never allow her to get close. "Fine, you can come." He announced; his voice cold.

"What?" Ayo and Rhodey exclaimed at the same time.

Natasha's victory lit a smile under her bored expression. "Wise choice."

Tony glanced at Ayo and Jim, sending them each a silent message through his eyes. He would never give her the full access, only providing her with limited info at best. It would do everyone good if they kept her close. She had already made it clear that she wasn't backing down. If he didn't let her in (or let her think she was in), she would rip his plan apart and he couldn't have that. "However, you will do exactly what I say. If not, Ayo can do whatever she's thinking about at this very second to you. I doubt it's kitten and rainbows." He paused for a second, attempting to read the expression on Natasha's face.

Ayo's lip curled. "Be my pleasure, Stark."

That Wakandan was a gift from god and no one could convince Tony otherwise. "And there'll be no telling Fury anything. I trust him less than you." He added. He had given Koenig the okay to tell Fury if needed, but Tony would give none of that to Natasha, who would take it and run with it.

"Not planning in taking over the world, Stark?" Natasha asked as she stepped above the jet.

"What? No. Too much work," Tony chirped back. "Now, I cannot contest to JARVIS or FRIDAY doing that, but you know."

"Then very well, you have my word that I will not tell, Fury."

"Too bad your word mean shit to me, hm?" The genus snapped softly. He gave her the coldest look he could muster. "I will tell you this. You'll live it to regret it if you so much breathe a single word." His tones were ice cold, and there was no denying he meant it.

If Natasha was shaken, she did not show it. "I still don't know what I did to piss you off, Stark, but you have my word."

Was it bad that Tony wanted to believe her? To trust her? God, he wished he had the old – Future?- team back. He wished he could go back to those famous Avenger movies night and just enjoy them. He wished he could trust her again, just so he could have those nights back. He chastised himself a second later. If allowed himself to go down that hole, he wouldn't be able to dig himself out of it. "Let's get this bird in the air. We're on a timeline."

Ayo didn't reply right away, sending a warning glare at Natasha. It was a hard glare and there was no mistaking the deadly warning behind it. "Very well. We are all ready?" With everyone answering yet, they took off.


*O*O*


Awkward. There was no other way to explain this. It was just awkward.

The appearance of Natasha had killed the mood, sending the jet into silence. No one had spoken since they took off, and the tension only grew heavier with each passing second. Where was a knife when you needed it? Natasha, with those eyes of her, sat across from Tony, eyeing at everything. If she was uncomfortable by the glares returned, it didn't reflect on her face. In fact, it looked like she was in her element with a smirk firmly on her face. It was unnerving. Rhodey, on the other hand, was visibly annoyed and he kept trying to steal glances from Tony, who was faced down in his tablet. Ayo had kept her focus forward, softly chatting away with JARVIS and the Wakanda Jet. A a part of Tony wanted to take over flying as this was his jet and JARVIS was his co-pilot, but that woman would not let him.

At the 4-hour mark, JARVIS put them in radio silence, only allowing communication with the Wakandan jet. Natasha kept attempted to get Tony's attention, though he willfully ignored her. It was at the 5-hour mark that Natasha opened her mouth, refusing to be ignore anymore. "So is anyone going to tell me where we're heading? I know we aren't in Kansas anymore." She could see the snowy mountains peaks in the distance.

"So, I guess she doesn't know everything?" Jim replied with a snort. Without looking up, he rolled his eyes. "I feel like they covered that in school safety. Never get on a plane to places unknown. You never know where you'll be at the end of the day. In a ditch somewhere, probably. Or eaten by hungry sharks, which I hear is not fun."

Ayo let out a loud chuckle. "There have not been wiser words said," she said, her heavy accent back. Rhodey, who had heard the accent before, just smiled.

Natasha's eyebrow rose, though she did not look overly surprised. "You've been keeping a lot of things from me, Stark. What else am I missing?" She glanced forward Tony who kept his eyes down.

With his mind going nonstop, Tony wasn't sure what he was looking as it was simply words on a tablet to him anymore. Maybe, it was because he was coming face to face with his parents' killer—not that he faulted the man anymore. Maybe, it was the fact that he was going into battle without his Iron Man suit. Rhodey and he did have their suits on standby, but that was for the worst-case scenario. They did not want the worst-case scenario. Maybe, it was because he was going into battle with Natasha. "We're about to raid a Hydra Base," he said, glancing up just enough to meet her eyes.

Confused bloomed on her face for a second before disappearing. "Really? Hydra. I think Fury would know if Hydra existed."

"Not if it grew as a weed within SHIELD," Tony answered, putting down the tablet. "Ever hear of Operation Paperclip? Not totally Fury's fault as this started after World War Two. But come on. How does that not backfire? Seriously?!" He paused for a second, because he really wanted to know whose bright idea that was. He didn't think Aunt Peggy would've been that foolish. "But he's too blinded by his ego to see how SHIELD spoiled." It came out cold.

"I feel like you're letting your ego blind you, Stark." Natasha hissed.

Tony looked toward Rhodey and Ayo and let out a rolling chuckle. "Why doesn't anyone ever believe me? Is it my face? My good looks? Or is it because my last name isn't Rogers?" he asked. He didn't mean to let the last question slip, but it was out of his mouth before he could stop it. Crap, he needed to curb that.

"I do agree you're too pretty for your own good, Tony," Rhodey answered with a shrug. He did not comment on how bitter Tony sounded.

Natasha, on the other hand, did not hold that care. "Does Clint get the same treatment as Steve and I?" she asked. "That's not to say I believe you."

If Tony was to answer her—not that he would-, he wasn't sure how he felt about Barton besides a bit of irritation. Barton was an idiot for leaving his kids, especially after having a third one. How old was the youngest when Barton decided to bat for team cap and become a criminal? One? Two at the most? Sure, Tony didn't have kids—Peter did not count even if his mind went to the boy without hesitation- , but he would not leave his kid to be on the wrong side of the law. However, how much was that due to Wanda? Barton took a liking to her, much like Tony had taken to Peter. In that regard, Tony couldn't fault the Archer, but the man was still an idiot. Plus, he didn't like how Clint blamed him for everything that had gone wrong in in his life. How was it his fault? Tony wasn't sure, but he wasn't everyone's punching bag anymore.

"It doesn't matter if you believe it. You will once you see it," Tony answered. "And I have nothing against Barton beside him being an idiot." It wasn't a lie. It didn't feel as much as a betrayal as with the other ones. Barton hadn't turned on him like Rogers and Romanoff. Barton; they weren't really the closest of friends, usually having Romanoff or Rogers as a bluffer. Besides, he always knew exactly which side the man was on.

Natasha made a face, annoyance behind her eyes. "I would not call Clint an idiot."

"You believe what you want to believe, and I will believe what I want to believe, but we will be fighting Nazis. At least I can say I punched a Nazi. That's going on my tombstone."


*O*O*


Tony was out of his seat as soon as the Jet touched down. He was locked and loaded before the doors opened. He wasn't sure why he was in a big hurry. Be it five minutes from now or fifty minutes from now, they would have the same outcome. "Oh, Natasha, put this on. We don't want anyone to see your pretty face," he said, tossing her same Hud glasses as well. It wouldn't help hide her hair, but she could wrap it under a hood or something. They were going be putting on some heavy jackets. "And it will connect us all together and with JARVIS."

"Going to tell me what we're doing, Stark?" Natasha replied, catching it.

"Search and rescue without Hydra knowing it is us. I don't want them to know we know before we're ready to take them down completely. However, I need to remove this piece from the board before that. He's not a bad guy. Just brainwashed and all. I'm hoping he's on ice when we storm the castle, but be warn, he might not be. So, we might be fighting an angry super soldier," Tony answered, stepping to the opening hatch.

"Is that all?" Rhodey snorted, as he activated his Hud glasses.

Natasha narrowed her eyes at Tony. "A super soldier? If that's the case, why didn't you bringing Rogers. He would be helpful. If there-"

Tony interrupted her before she could finish. "Rogers would be a hinderance more than anything." Someone just had to say 'Bucky' and Rogers lost his shit, and Tony didn't have time for that crap. "I would say trust me on that, but between me and Rogers, I am a 5 to his 11 on the trust scale with you?" He shrugged. "I am—Shit mother fucker," he cursed as the Jet hatch fully opened. The blast of artic cold air that hit him was no fucken joke, feeling like someone had slapped him hard across the face. They were totally going to die before they make it to the base.


*O*O*


"T'Challa?" Tony uttered as the Prince descended from the Wakandan jet. Yes, he was grateful to have the Black Panther here—especially when he recalled how the man handled Barnes in the last timeline, but he wasn't expecting the King to send his son. Nevertheless, the genius would take it. He could do without Okoye staring at him like she was going to skin him alive. At least, Ayo didn't look at him like that anymore. Side note, why hell was it so cold?

"You think I would leave the fun to you, MR. Stark?" The Prince replied, who seemed ineffective by the cold.

"Sure, I like to hoard it," Tony said, shivering. If they did not start moving soon, he was going to turn to ice at any second. That would not be good for anyone. Why was he the only one freezing?

Natasha took a step forward to the Prince, which unsettled a few. Without hesitation, Okaye and Ayo placed themselves between the spy and T'Challa. The other guards—don't ask Tony their names. His brain was too full and cold to remember the 8 of them—took a step forward, their eyes daring the woman to do something. "I didn't think you knew the crowned Prince of Wakanda. A Man of secrets." Her eyes darted to the Wakandan jet. "Or should I say a country of Secrets?"

Feeling the tension, T'Challa looked between Tony and Natasha, his eyes reading every nonverbal clue. "I was not aware that you were bringing Ms. Romanoff."

"I wasn't expecting her either, but she's like cockroach. A bitch to get rid of," Tony said, mindlessly took a step away from Natasha. "Now, let's us get started before we freeze to death." They had coats, but nothing could protect them from this cold. "And oh, I have these HUD Devices. Probably not as awesome as what you have, but I do pat myself on the back. These will connect us with JARVIS, who will be relaying everything back to us. He's our guy in the chair."

T'Challa waved one of the Wakandan forward. "I see, now, why the sister is fascinated by you, Mr. Stark. You are becoming not what I have envision you to be," he said. He was already dressed in his Black Panther outfit, minus the mask which he held at his side. His guards, on the other hand, were not in their culture garments. They were wearing all black head to toe, matching Ayo, though they did have their cultural weapons.

Even though it fucken hurt to breathe (that should be fucking illegal: hurting to fucken breath), Tony smiled. "Well, she is a smart cookie, and we don't have enough of them."

"I must agree." T'Challa replied with a smile. "Shuri would-"

"You can all chat about this later," Rhodey said, stepping forward while trying to school his expression, "when we are not freezing. Sorry, your Majesty." He added after getting some glares from his guards. "I just don't want to freeze my ass off. We just don't have time to for this nonsense ego waving, not one so large as Tony."

"Hey!"

T'Challa laughed as he waved his hand, ignoring Tony and his outburst. "You need not to be sorry, Colonel Rhodes. You just speak the truth. Your record confirms this."

"You checked that?" If Rhodey blushed, it was impossible to tell under the cold breeze. "Well, at least someone agree with me. You should take some lessons from him, Tony."

"Is it pick on Tony day?" Tony said, rolling his eyes. He folded his arms across his chest, trying to warm himself.

Okaye's eye twitched as she took a step forward. "As Colonel Rhodes had said, let's go moving."

Natasha, probably feeling the cold shoulder she had been getting since she blackmailed her onto the mission, took a step forward. "Why don't tell me what the plan is?"

"It's a learning on the job, kind of thing," Tony replied, eyeing each of the guards. They had taken the HUD glasses and placed them on, and JARVIS was connecting/speaking with each of them. "But anyhow, I do say that we need to get moving. Unlike certain Super soldiers, I will not survive in the ice." It really did feel like someone was repeatedly hitting him hard across the face. His face throbbed!

Even if Tony was freezing to death, there was a sense of enjoyment running through him as he spotted Ayo giving Natasha a sterned, harsh glare. There was no way in hell that Ayo was letting Natasha out of her sight the entire time. Tony wasn't sure where Ayo's dislike for the former Russian Spy came from, as she hated her from the beginning. He wondered if it was due to him and his visible dislike for future Natasha, a dislike that he needed to work on.

Anyhow, that was a thought for another time. They had a Hydra Base to a raid.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8:

Mother F*cking Super Soldiers


It was mother fucking cold. There were no other words to describe it. It was mother fucking cold. If Tony hadn't said it before, he was saying it now. It should be illegal to be this cold. Someone needs to outlaw this crap. His heavy coat's hood was pulled as tight it could around his face, trying to block out the wind. It didn't help all too much as nothing could block out that ice chill. It hurt to breathe, but it was better than nothing. On the plus side, he could still feel his toes, though his metal boots only protected him so much from the cold. He should have—Stop it, he told himself. He was a grown ass, and he could handle cold. No one else was acting like a child.

Besides, when everything was falling into place, no complaining was permitted. Granted, Tony was feeling a bit unneeded right then. Acting in unison, the Wakandans had taken out the cameras, which would alert the guards when they noticed the cut feed; however, this allowed the group to breach the front door and take out any enemy soldiers within 20 feet of them in mere minutes. It was two parts impressive and two parts scary to watch them take out the Hydra agents. Their weapons, which were unmatched, made light work of the Hydra Agents.

After cleaning the entry, they split off into three groups to cover more ground: two 5-man groups and one 4-man group. Mostly the teams formed on their own as certain individuals refused to be separated from other individuals. With an impressive stubbornness, Ayo refused to be parted from a peeved off Natasha, though the same could be said of Natasha. They both wanted to watch the other woman like a Hawk. He could still hear their judgmental words as they echoed loudly in his head. "Oh, hell no! Romanoff is not leaving my side," Ayo objected, loudly. Maybe, she was hanging with him too much as she was sounding a bit American. "I do not trust her."

Natasha shot Ayo a deadly glare. "Who are you to judge me?"

"You are former Russian KGB, a part of the Black Widow Ops program. Who says this is not a performance for whoever you serve?"

"I can say the same about you. Stark's new bodyguard? Who says you aren't playing him? You would not be the first to cuddle their way into his life."

Ignoring Natasha's comment, Tony, surprised by where this conversion has changed, turned T'Challa, who lifted an eyebrow at all of this. "I think we can pay get people to pay for this fight," he told the Prince. "Who you bet on?"

T'Challa's eyebrow only rose higher. He didn't answer right away, making Tony think he might've annoyed the Prince, but a small smile danced across his face for a second. "My bet is on Ayo. She is Dora Milaje, an elite warrior."

"Romanoff is a little feisty herself." Tony chuckled. "It could end up in a draw," he disputed, his eyes on Ayo's infuriated face. He found it odd that Ayo would rather watch Natasha than fight by her Prince, but there was a level of hatred between those two women there that Tony couldn't understand. It was strange—You get?! Strange, right? God, why wasn't Strange here so he could make fun of that name to his smug face? How unfair? — for two people with little interactions to fight like that. Did Tony miss a fight of some kind? It couldn't be because of him, right?

After deciding that Ayo would not leave Natasha's side, they formed the first team with three other Wakandans—Don't ask Tony their names. He was lucky to remember Ayo's; he wasn't good with names, though he did play that up when he wanted to, like when speaking to any SHIELD agent. In the second group, Rhodey—without a fight- was in a group with a woman named Xoliswa, who kept side eyeing him like a piece of meat, and three nameless Wakandans. Tony wasn't sure why the woman was giving Rhodey looks, but at least, it wasn't him. These Wakandans woman were scary. What did they feed them in Wakanda?

Finally, Tony, T'Challa, Okoye and W'Kabi were the third team. Okoye down right refused to be parted from T'Challa, even though Tony was pretty sure the man could handle himself. Sure, he didn't understand the cat suit—Like really?-, but T'Challa, the other timeline, had handled his own against a Super soldier. He didn't need a babysitter, but no one was going to fight Okoye. No one. Not even her Husband. How was W'Kabi married to that woman? She was downright terrifying, especially when she was focusing her glare on Tony. Apparently, T'Challa wanted to stick close to Tony, wanting to know why his father trusted the American Genius. Then there was W'Kabi, who jumped on this mission at the last second. Tony wasn't sure what interested T'Challa's best friend, but it interested the man that it was Tony who had taken in Ulysses Klaue. The second that W'Kabi opened his mouth Tony knew he hated Klaue. For what? Who knew?

"Wakanda owes you a great debt, Mr. Stark." W'Kabi said, keeping close to Tony.

"They can get in line," Tony said, taking in the amazing heat from the base. Feeling like had walked miles in the cold, he was tempted to take off the coat, but that wasn't smart. This jacket hid his figure and his head.

W'Kabi shot Tony a look before adding, "You have done something not even Wakanda could do. You brought a umbulali to justice. I wish to know how you succeeded, when Wakanda had failed." T'Challa saw W'Kabi a warning look that spoke a million words. However, Tony let that go for right now, considering they were storming a Hydra Base, which wasn't go down without a fight even if they had limited supplies. It was probably a good thing that they were freezing from the ice walk as they dove headfirst into a fire fight. With no more small talk and taking out the additional guards that stormed the room, the three teams split up, taking off in different directions.

Team Rhodey (If anyone wanted to argue, they would have to fight Tony on the name) took off looking for that cursed red book, which held all the secrets for the Winter Soldier. Tony didn't know if the book was currently in the base as Zemo, the other timeline, had to track it down from god knew where. This, of course, was after the fall of Hydra, which sent the Nazis running for the hills with their 'assets.' There was no telling where the book was before the 'Fall', but Tony was banking on it being here. If it was not, T'Chaka, with his inspiring reach, was still pulling his resources. Tony, feeling antsy, needed that book to un-program Barnes, especially considering he didn't know how Barnes was brainwashed or what the trigger words were. The genius wouldn't know how to fix Barnes until he got that book, but he would need the trigger words and his B.A.R.T. (Which Tony had to create still).

Team Ayo and Team Awesome Sause (Because Tony was awesome in every way. Go away insecurities!) were looking for Barnes. They each hoped the man was still on ice, though carrying a frozen man out wouldn't be easy either. How exactly were they going to do that? Either way, it wasn't going to be easy, but it wouldn't do anyone any good if they had to fight the man they were here to save. Tony didn't want to explain that to Barnes later down the road


*O*O*


As T'Challa in all his Black Pantherness launched a soldier across the room with very little effort, Tony was violently knocked back from blow to his chest. He wasn't sure what he was hit with, but felt like someone had strung him repeatedly, and god, that burned. It was moments like this that he missed his Iron Man Suit, because all these Fuckers would be dead in seconds- was that too antihero? Too non-hero? Whatever it was, the genius didn't care, because he was over this. Never again was he fighting without his suit. This shit was some bullshit, and no, he was not overreacting. He was too old for this hand to hand crap, not that he would admit being old to anyone.

"That is totally unfair," Tony complained, watching T'Challa jump into the air and twist in the air. The bullets just bounced off him.

Okoye spun her spear, taking out several agents who had tried to surround her. "Jealous?" she asked.

"Just cheating is all. Why can't I get some magic juice?" he asked, playing hurt. His eye twitching, Tony swung his leg, pulsing his boot repulsor, and slammed the Hydra Agent back before he could hit him again. He swung, nailing the man in the head and knocking him out. Not giving himself a second to rest, he turned to the closest Hydra agent and fired. He repeated this a few times before making a beelined to a large, bulky computer on the far end of the room. From the corner of his eyes, he could see W'Kabi take out multiple agents at once, making Tony feel a little out of sorts. It also did nothing for his ego, though he kept telling himself that he was still awesome. He could've done the same thing. If he had Iron Man Suit, he would be kicking everyone's ass.

"Oh, you know what Daddy wants." Without missing a beat, Tony's ran his fingers over the keys like a gentle lover, smiling as it opened up to him; Not before long, he was off to the races. His metal gauntlets made it difficult to type, hitting the wrong key at time, but he kept them on, in case someone broken though the door and charged him. He refused to be completely helpless. There was no chance of the Hydra Agents getting passed T'Challa, Okoye and W'Kabi, but Tony wasn't going to take any chances, especially when a super soldier could possibly be running around.

Shit, he cursed as nightmarish images poured into his head. Tony would never be over the murder of his parents, especially when Hydra still existed, but he thought he would be over this crap. Over the images of Barnes killing his parents. However, it all came back to him like swarm of killer bees. Barnes flashed before his eyes, his hand reaching for arc reactor. "JARVIS, you know what to do," he said, his voice hoarse, as he connected the A.I. to the security system. I don't have time for this.

"Aye, Aye, Sir."

Tony was in a tricky spot. Worrying about the past would not get him anywhere as it had not happened yet; however, that past could possibility replay as his future. He would have to suffer through it all again. Peter, who was always in his thoughts, popped forward in his mind, smiling like he had just something amazing. "How is everyone else doing?" He asked, his eyes scanning over the files that JARVIS flashed over the screen and downloaded at the same time. "And cut that silent alarm." There was a silent alarm going off, which meant Hydra was aware their secret base was being raided by some unknown ninjas—that was what Tony was calling the Wakandans. It wouldn't be long before reinforcement was on them ready to drown them in their own blood, even in a remote place like this.

"Done, Sir." JARVIS answered. "Everyone is accounted for and there are no injuries, but they have not found Sergeant Barnes. He was not in his cryotube. Hydra must have been in the process of moving him. I am scanning for him now."

Tony, memories forcing their way up, had an idea of where Barnes could possibility be, but it hit him like a ton of bricks. It was where he first seen that video. It was where he freaked and turned murderous. He never wanted to step foot in that room again, never wanted to see Roger's panicked eyes again, knowing that he had be caught in a lie. He didn't want to relive his and Rogers broken friendship. He didn't want to see- Shit, Shit, Shit, Shit. Tony's eyes widened as he recalled why Barnes, Rogers and he went to this Siberian Hydra facility. They came here because Hydra had additional Winter Soldiers, which could take down whole countries if unleashed.

How the hell did he forget about the five other super soldiers? About why his parents were killed for? In his previous life, the 5 soldiers were slayed by Zemo before Tony walked into the dreaded room. Them being dead, he didn't have to deal with those Winter Soldiers. Plus, he was focus on the video that Zemo had tortured him with, and because of that, he had shoved those 5 Hydra agents out of his head and hadn't thought much of them since. He had no idea why Hydra had not used the five agents in the previous timeline, especially for that world domination on their minds, but that did not mean they wouldn't use them now. "Did they awake any of the five other super soldiers?"

JARVIS didn't answer right away, still scanning through the security feeds. "As of right now, I am not able to detect that."

"Fuck, why?" he uttered, his fingers moving as fast as they could. "Did you locate Barnes?"

"I have located Sergeant Barnes. He is located a level down in the main labs. They were preparing him for transport and have him in a transport pod." JARVIS answered.

"Good, l-"

Interrupting the genius, Okoye yelled, "Down!" and launched herself at Tony. Being body slammed, he didn't have much time to react as the woman tackled him to the ground like he was nothing. There was a snarky comment on the tip of his tongue, but it died in his throat at seeing the now destroyed computer. There was a large hole in the center of the monitor and half of the keys were melted and smoking.

Okoye kept a firm hand on Tony's back as she met T'Challa's stare for a few seconds. As if they were communicating, T'Challa nodded and changed direction. W'Kabi gave Tony a side look before following his Prince/Best Friend to the next room. In consistent communication with JARVIS, they knew where to head to find Barnes. "You okay, Stark?" Okoye asked as she pushed herself to her feet. "You didn't break anything, did you? You did not happen to bit your tongue off?" There was a hint of a chuckle in her voice.

It felt like it. If Tony complained about his back, would that make him an old man? God, he hoped not. "Oh, I didn't know you liked me that much. I feel so loved. I won't tell your husband you're leaving him for me," he replied, pushing up. His could hear his bones crack.

Okoye's eyebrow rose. "I see you are in one piece, including that mouth," she replied, before turning to follow T'Challa.

Being who he was, there was a comment waiting to come out, but once more, he held it in. "Thanks for that," he said enjoying the fact that he was not roasting alive. He didn't wait for a response and headed straight to Barnes. That man still sent chills down his spine.


*O*O*


Finding less and less resistance, the team moved deeper into the base without great spead with only a few cuts here and there, but they were in one piece. They were tired—well, Tony was tired. He wasn't so sure about the others. Were they human? Sweat pour down Tony's face and lined the inside of his winter jacket, which he kept on. The others looked like they could still run a 10-mile marathon and still have steam in them. T'Challa made it look effortless when he kicked open a metal door and disappeared into the darkness beyond it. Following the Prince, Okoye swirled her spear and effortlessly blasted a hydra agent who had suddenly popped up. W'Kabi lingered a bit, scanning the room one last time before darting into the room.

Tony paused in the center of the room, noticing another door on the right. There was an itch under his skin that he couldn't scratch, and it bugged the crap out of him. Being who he was—A time traveler who had taken a beat more than once and had seen the Avengers lose-, he had a habit of waiting for the other shoe to drop, which could be happening, but that wasn't it. It could've been the five super soldiers that may or may not be sleeping, but no. If Hydra didn't wake them in the previous timeline (when Hydra fell), why would they wake them now? He told himself it was this base, which played memories in his head like old movies. Even if it wasn't, it was Peter, who he kept seeing die over and over in his arms. This was what he was blaming his uneasiness on.

Okay, maybe it was the six super soldiers that were in the base, even if they never opened their eyes. Besides Barnes, Tony knew next to nothing about these Winter Soldiers. Who were they? Why did Hydra leave them on ice? Did they have the same Serum that was running through Rogers? Were they stronger than Rogers? Did it have any side effect? Any downside? Maybe, they would uncover something in this raid, which may be helpful when dealing with Barnes. Maybe, T'Chaka would come up with something as well. After this, Tony would need to gather more detail on these super soldiers.

Tony stepped to the other door, knowingly distancing himself from the others. He wasn't sure why he felt pulled into this room, but his interests were peaked, and the scientist in him could not walk away. Anything they find could be useful. There wasn't going to be any useless info in this base, and even if their time was limited, it would be wise to go through everything that they came across. There were no telling what secrets were hidden behind these walls. Downside, not all of Hydra's files were digital. Sure, this may have been due to the files' age or the fact that paper files were more secure. You couldn't hack a file cabinet.

Allowing his curiosity take over, he crossed to the filing cabinets and pulled one open, breaking the weak lock. He ignored JARVIS, who was speaking in his ear, and scanned the files as quickly as possible. For the first few files he scanned, there wasn't anything that noteworthy—well, nothing world ending-, but they could prove to be helpful with Barnes as it did list targets. "Crap?" he uttered, as he went through them. How was it possible to have these many targets? Shit. Tony couldn't even imagine the hell in the man's head. There was some recollection in Barnes's eyes that Stark saw when that dreaded video played. Tony didn't know what exactly the man remembered, subjected to countless memory wipes, but he was riddled with guilt and pain over the things he could remember.

Overcome with his own anger and pain, it had been lost to Tony at the time. With distance and a clear mind (well somewhat cleared mind), he could see it as he replayed James' expression. "Fuck," he cursed, hating himself. Tony took a deep breath and continued to look through the files as he could deal that later with a bottle of wine. He returned to skimming through them, hoping these files would be useful once they had James tucked away. File after file, Tony couldn't help but groan. Maybe, he was over his head, thinking he could help someone as tortured as James. Maybe, there was no saving someone from this? "Stop it," he yelled at himself. He didn't have time for this pity party.

Shifting through the files-

His heart echoed loudly and painfully in his chest as he picked up a certain file. He didn't speak Russian in the least, but he knew that date; it was fried in his brain like a branding. The words: 16 декабря 1991 plagued him, and his hand shook. JARVIS, once more, was calling him, but the world dropped away as Tony pulled out the file and opened it. His heart almost gave out, seeing his father's picture clipped in the corner. It was a stock photo of his father, but Howard's eyes still pierced through him. There was a cold chill in his chest as he stared at the foreign words. There was small video cassette Tape, which sent Tony into a small panic attack. His heart pounded in his chest, overwhelming all his senses. There was this horrible sensation deep in the pit of his stomach that threated to come up. His head was spinning, feeling in a daze.

A car's tires screeched as the car was forced off the road. No amount of breaking could stop the car from crashing into a concrete wall. The sound of the front end buckling in on itself could be heard for miles. A woman's scream echoed from the car as her husband was pulled from the driver seat.

"No," Tony uttered, shaking his head. He had been good up to now, escaping the memories that were born from this place. It couldn't crash down on him now. "I'm fine. It's fine," he said, his voice shaking.

"Sergeant Barnes?"

"Howard?" There was a pause before the voice became louder. Panic was breaking through. "Howard!"

With a deep breath, he pushed back the memory, picked up the cassette and held it up as if he could watch it like that. "It's nothing," he told himself. "It's fine." It was nothing. It was Hydra who killed his parents. It was Hydra who needed to be burned from the earth.

A brain washed James Barnes pointed his gun at the security camera. No expression adorned his face as he fired.

"Shit," he uttered. He wasn't sure what he was expecting but this wasn't it. What was he going to do with this stupid thing? It wasn't like he needed it, as it was burned forever in his brain like everything else that had ever happened to him. But could he throw it away? Destroy it? Should he keep it? Wait, what? Did he just ask if he should keep it? Keep the video of his parents' murder? Did he really just think that? Yet, he didn't throw it away. Instead, he tucked it away in his pants' pocket, ignoring the pounding in his head. After zipping the pocket, he rested his hand there for a few seconds just feeling the lump. Taking a deep breath, he folded the pages from the file and slipped them in another packet. He couldn't tell you why. Tony, feeling like someone had hit him across the face, couldn't walk away from that file. He had to take. With one more deep breath, he turned away from the cabinets and toward the door.

"Sir," JARVIS called, deafeningly. "Sir!"

Tony let out a heavy sigh, trying to calm himself. "Yea, J." he said, finally answering the AI.

"The others are inquiring to your whereabouts. They have located Barnes."

He just blinked, pondering how much time had passed while he was having his 'moment.' "On my way," he replied, staring at the map JARVIS had placed on his HUD. However, he didn't even get a chance to move before a man roughly 6 six foot stepped into the doorway. In a dishevel look, he narrowed his eyes on Tony, a cruel smile appearing on his face. "Oh, hey, Buddy." Tony said, trying to place where he knew this man from. He looked familiar, but yet, he was coming up empty. His lip curled up as he turned to the metal door and ripped—yes, ripped—the metal door off the frame. "Shit," Tony cursed, his eyes going large. Like it was nothing, he held it over his head, a clear sign of who this man was. The Ironless Man didn't get much time to take in the super soldier, as he launched the heavy door at Tony with an impressive strength. "Shit," he swore, jumping out of the way. "Did anyone ever tell you that isn't how you make friends?"

"W-What y-year is this?" The man demanded, his voice sounding like nails on the chalkboard. "It feels like I've a-asleep for a while. But I am a-awake now." The confusion gone, he grinned like the devil as he approached the genius.

"Who needs to wake up? Sleeping is awesome." Getting to his feet, Tony twisted away as he raised his hand and fired. The low level pulsers, which couldn't compete with the Iron man suit, only pissed the man off. Glaring, the man slugged it off. "Fuck me," Tony groaned, taking several steps back. He tried to put as much distance as he could between the towering super soldier and himself, but he was trapped in a corner.

"W-What year it is?" The man roared, charging at Tony. There was not a single weapon on the Hydra agent, but meant nothing when everything around him could be turned into a weapon with his strength.

"JARVIS, analyze his movements, looking for any pattern," Tony ordered, powering up his boots. He wouldn't be able to fly, but he should be able to hover out of the way of any punches. "Crap. Crap. Crap," he cursed, pushing back the memories that came rushing forward. Not fucken again. He couldn't help but flash back to his fight with Barnes and Rogers. This time he was without the amazing suit, even if it was minutes away. "Put the suit on Standby."

"Done, sir. I have put the War Machine on standby as well. I have alerted the others to appearance of a Super soldier."

"What year is it?!" The Super soldier roared, his anger rolling off him in waves. Metal denting under his hands, he picked up one of the filing cabinets, papers flying everywhere, and lifted it over his head like it was nothing. "Why did they wake me up?! Why didn't they let me sleep? Who are you?!" With all that he had, he hurled it at Tony, who could not dodge the large metal cabinet in time.

Tony attempted to block it with a forcefield shield, but with the amount of force behind the throw, he was knocked back like a rag doll. He violently slammed against the ceiling—pain exploding in his back—before falling hard on his face. His head flew back, his neck screaming, as he hit the floor violently brutally, cracking the HUD slightly. Knowing the rule of gravity, he only had two second to roll out of the way before the cabinet came crushing down beside him. "I quit. I quit it all." He muttered, as he tried to push himself up. Everything hurt. "I hate you all."

"Sir, are you alright?"

"Really, JARVIS? Do I sound okay?" Tony knew he shouldn't be taking it on JARVIS. He was really stupid, wasn't he? How could he have forgotten about these Winter Soldiers? Why in the hell would he think Hydra would not use them? They were super soldiers for crying out loud. Shit. "I'm too old for this shit," he replied, knowing he was going to be black and blue all over. Pepper, who was already angry at him, was going to kill him.

"I have alerted T'Challa and the others. They are on the away. Ayo and Romanoff have just engaged with a super soldier. It appears that Hydra has awaken two of the super soldiers in the attempt to protect the base. Barnes, however, is still frozen."

This plan was going to hell in a handbasket, wasn't it? (Side note, what kind of saying was that?) However, they weren't doomed yet. They just needed to get their brainwashed super soldier out. Getting their ass kicked wasn't going to stop them. "Shit," he uttered, dodging another large object being flung at him. "Connect me to the rest of the group, J."

It took a few seconds, but JARVIS replied, "Connected."

"Everyone get back to the jets. We've Barnes," Tony ordered, keeping his eyes on Super soldier, who picked another thing to hurl at Tony. How was he not running out of things to throw? "Retreat now." God, it felt like he was hit by a train

"We got our hands full, Stark," Natasha replied, breathing heavily. It sounded like she had been punched in the gut.

"It appears that Hydra has more than one Winter Soldier," Ayo replied, who sounded just as out of breath. This didn't stop her from sounding irritated.

"Tony, where are you? I'm coming?" Rhodey asked, worry lacing in his voice. He could hear the concern in his best friend's voice. "JARVIS says you aren't with the others and you're fighting one of these things alone."

"Stark, where are you?!" Okoye demanded, when Tony didn't answer.

Tony didn't get a chance to respond as he pulled to his feet and slammed against the wall. His head bounced against the wall, and black spots danced across his vision. Just for a second, a scared Peter flashed before his eyes, but it was enough to kick him into action. Ignoring the spinning room, he rose his arm and fire, aiming at the man's head.

The man faltered for only a second before he was on Tony once more. Harshly knocking Tony's hand to the side, he slammed Tony against the wall again. "Why did you wake me for you?!" he hissed, drowning everyone else out. He reminded Tony as a bully, his nose flaring.

"Okoye, W'Kabi, gets Barnes to the jet. Colonel Rhodes, Xoliswa coalesce with Okoye and W'Kabi in case they require Assistance. I am going after Stark." T'Challa ordered. He paused for a second, before adding, "Ayo, Romanoff, once you see an opening. Take it. Everyone else retreat."

"Yes, my Prince," came Ayo replied.

It took a few second for Romanoff to respond. "Ayo and I have a plan. We just need-"

"T'Challa," Okoye replied, her voice stern. She cut them off, before going off on T'Challa. The Prince replied to something to Okoye in a language that Tony couldn't understand. JARVIS wasn't translating, though that could be the lack of air going to his head. The Super soldier had his forearm firmly pressed against his neck, putting pressure on his trachea. It was at this point that everything started to black out for Tony. Everything disappeared as he tried to push this man off him. His arms were knocked aside as if Tony was hitting him with feathers. There was no stopping the panic that was rose inside of him, when the Super Soldier grabbed his armed and squeezed. With a sickening crunch, the left metal gauntlet bent under the pressure and dug into him, piecing his skin. He could faintly feel the blood, running down his arm and pooling in the fingertips. It felt oddly warm under his failure. God, he failed. Because of him, Thanos was going to win. Peter was going to die again.

Peter. Innocent Peter. That boy didn't deserve this. He didn't deserve to die, because Tony failed. He deserved to grow up. To find some girl—or boy if Peter preferred. He deserved to go to college and set the world on fire with that brilliant mind of his. He deserved to find happiness in his life, and if that involved being Spider-Man, so be it. That kid deserved everything, and Tony failed to—

The craze Winter Soldier was tackled off Tony and thrown into the opposite wall. Tony, struggling for air, dropped to the ground like a log, which snapped his mind back to focus and back to reality. His non-crushed hand went to his throat, remembering the psycho Hydra agent who had tried to kill Tony with his hands alone. His breathing heavy, he tried to inflate his screaming lungs, who protested. His throat burned with each breath he took, almost as if he had relearned how to breathe. It was two parts annoying and two parts excruciating.

Still heaving like a smoker, Tony picked his head up to see the nameless Winter Soldier fighting with the Black Panther. T'Challa side stepped each punch and used his entire body against the man. The Super soldier landed hard on the dented metal cabinets behind him. With a feral growl, he got back on his feet and threw himself at T'Challa, who caught the man in his midriff and flipped him over him headfirst into the ground. While T'Challa was more evenly matched than Tony in strength with the super soldier, the Hydra agent's strength could not be curbed. However, the Black Panther was graceful and nimble, and he would dodge anything coming at him.

There was a loud thumped to the left of Tony, and the genius knew—even before looking—exactly what had landed next to him. It was the Iron Man suit, which both annoyed and calmed the genius at the same time. "JARVIS," he choked, his hand going to his ear. "W-why did you call the suit? They mustn't see the s-suit," he murmured, still hurting to speak, as he pushed himself to his feet. He almost fell forward as his injured arm would not support his weight. He couldn't catch himself in time, landing on his busted gauntlet. Pain shot through him. God, this entire body was ached.

"The suit was on standby and I made a judgement call," JARVIS answered. "My primary function is to keep you safe, and I will adhere to that no matter the cost. FRIDAY can attest to that as well."

Keeping an eye on T'Challa and the Winter Soldier, he limped his way to the suit. With no care about the new tech he created, he ripped them off and threw them to the ground. The left gauntlet gave him issue, and he probably did more damage to his arm and his hand by tearing it off, but he didn't care. Tony felt instant warmth as he stepped into the suit and it closed around him like a mother's embrace. His helmet HUD lit up, overwhelming him with data. "Daddy's back and we will have a talk later," he exclaimed, sounding too cheery for what the situation called for. His left arm stung, bleeding into the Iron Man suit.

"I am glad you are in good spirits." JARVIS replied, drily.

Tony rolled his eyes at JARVIS, but he would be talking to both the A.I.s about this 'primary' functions. He was too protective, though that was probably a good thing. Tony would kill himself if he didn't have JARVIS and FRIDAY watching his back like two overprotect parents. "We have a Super Soldier problem. Charge up the Unibeam and fire on my mark." Tony, partly blinded by his pain, knew this would alert the base to Iron Man's presence, but he wanted to beat the crap out of this Super Soldier. "Move out of the way, Kitty Cat." T'Challa, his face hidden by his mask, looked at Tony.

Once charged, Tony fired the Unibeam, which knocked T'Challa back with the force alone. It hit the Winter Soldier straight on, blasting him through several walls behind him. It was deafening as the walls crumbing down, sealing back up. "You okay, Prince Charming?" Tony asked with a deep breath. His heart pounding in his ears. There was a memory trying to push its way forward.

"I should be asking you that, Mr. Stark." T'Challa replied, getting to his feet. His eyes dropped to the blood droplets on the ground.

Tony, though he could not see the Prince's face, could see the question that was stuck on the man's tongue. However, that would have to wait, until they were out of this death trap. "JARVIS, are Ayo and Romanoff out? Or are they still fighting their super soldier?"

"They are still engaged in battle with the Winter Soldier," JARVIS answered.

"Get back to jet, Sylvester." Without waiting for response or another word, Tony took off toward them.


*O*O*


When Tony found Ayo and Natasha, they were attempting to subdue the second Winter Soldier. The three other Wakandans were struggling to even get on their feet after taking a few hits from the soldier. Blood ran down their faces like, having received a heavy blow to their heads. Ayo and Romanoff, on the other hand, were still on their feet, and as if they were dancing with the man, they moved as one around the man. There was a heavy frustration on the Man's face as he was having a tough time landing a hit on the two women, who made an impressive team. It was amazing to see these women work together, especially when they were really to thrown down mere hours ago.

Watching Ayo and Natasha, he hovered in the doorway, waiting for an opening to fire. Tony, his mind flashing back the last time he was in his hell hole, had no interesting in saying please or thank you. He wasn't interested in the banter that he was famous for. He had no interest in keeping on his smile. It could be from the beating he had taken moments ago. He did take a few blows to the head, or it could be his nerves, but his hand shook. The Iron suit Man hid it and gave Tony a cover, while his memories—his nightmares worked their way up.

Barnes and Rogers were passing the famous shield back between them, knocking Tony around like he was nothing.

"JARVIS, once Ayo and Romanoff are out of the way, fire. Put as much as you can in the Unibeam." Tony ordered, his jar locking in place. "I don't care if you blast an hole through the man."

After Tony shoved Rogers away, Barnes charged him and slammed the Iron Man suit several feet into the wall.

"Yes, Sir. Charging now."

The percentage was on the screen, steadily climbing. "Good," he said, watching as the soldier caught Natasha in the stomach with a hard punch. He didn't hit her full on, but it still went her crashing into a wall. Ayo rolled back and swung her spear at the Super Soldier's legs. He caught it with his hands and attempted to snap it, but the Vibranium did not bend under the man's superior strength. There was a surprised look on his face, and before he could react, Ayo fired a Sonic blast. If it was anyone else, the blast would have kept the man down for the count, but after shaking it off, the Winter Soldier was back on his feet. Anger was pumping through his body.

Barnes was down after Tony had blasted his arm off with the Unibeam, and in a protective fit, Rogers had Tony pinned to the wall and used the shield as a bat against his head.

"The Unibeam is charged," JARVIS replied.

Rogers picked up the Iron Man Suit and held him up over his head. With a broke boot, Tony could only do so much as Rogers hurled him to the ground, pain rocketing through his back. It felt like someone had taken a hammer to his-

"Sir!"

"Shit," Tony cursed, snapping back to reality. The spear had been pulled from Ayo hands. The Winter Soldier wasn't as graceful with the spear as Ayo was, but he turned it on her. Ayo could do nothing, which Tony couldn't allow. Ayo was now his and he didn't take kindly to assholes hurting his people. "Hey, Fucker. Didn't your mother tell you how to teach a lady," He yelled, pulling the Assassin's attention. Once the cruel eyes were on him, Tony fired, hitting the man squarely in his chest. The force slid the Iron Man suit back a foot, while blasting the Super Soldier through several walls. Like before, the wall crumbled seconds after the Winter Soldier went flying through them. Not making a move to chase after the man, he turned to Ayo, Natasha, and rest of the group. "Let's getting going before they wake up the others."

With a glare, Ayo, her arms struggling under her weight, pushed herself up. "More, Stark?" she asked, breathing heavily. She gave the Iron Man suit a once over, before looking toward her follow Wakandan.

"Five, not counting the one we stole," Tony answered, crossing to Natasha who had not gotten to her feet yet.

The former Russian spy, who had taken a few hard hits, would be sporting a black eye tomorrow if not in a few hours. "Six, Stark? How did you miss that?" She asked, eyeing Tony. She wasn't frostily, but she wasn't warm.

It pissed Tony off as much as Natasha. He still couldn't believe that he had forgotten about the five Winter Soldiers; plus, he spoiled the entire plan as he revealed the Iron Man Suit. They would be aiming for him now. He would be kicking himself in the ass for months to come. "We can discuss it later on the jet. Let's get out. We got what we came here for—minus that fucken book, but that's a thought for another time." He said, offering his hand to Natasha.

Natasha may have been glaring at him—the pain talking-, but there was something else behind those eyes of hers. "Good, because someone is buying me dinner." She replied, taking the Iron Man's armored hand and allowing him to pull her up.

"Someone is buying me dinner as well. That Super Soldier stole my spear." Ayo growled, helping up the nearest Dora Milaje.

"If we get out of here, I will buy everyone dinner. Sharma?" Tony offered as he waved to the door with his right hand. His left was still throbbing.


*O*O*


JARVIS, showing how overprotective he was, had the jet waiting for the group right outside the doors. No one wasted any time getting on the Jet, each wanting to get out of there before two angry Super Soldiers came charging at them. The Wakanda Jet had followed suit and was stationed a little far back. Rhodey, standing a few feet from the Frozen Barnes, was staring wide eyed at Tony as the jet hatch closed. There was no missing the Iron Man suit, even in an odd color. He knew that Tony, who hadn't wanted to take the Iron Man suit at all, agreed to use the suit as a last resort. "What the hell happen?" he asked, his concern written all over his face.

The A.I. didn't wait for anyone to be seated or get comfortable. It was a hard take off, JARVIS wanting to put them in the air as quickly as possible. The quinnjet ascended in no time, not allowing anyone a steady foot. With the beating he had just taken, Tony was not protesting, wanting to get out of here as quickly as possible. "They have super soldiers," Tony replied, stepping out of the Iron Man suit. He wobbled a bet and was forced to use the suit for support. He had no idea of what he looked, but he knew it wasn't pretty judging by the looks he was getting. And his hand was still bleeding.

"I can see that!" Rhodey demanded, tottering on his feet. JARVIS was pushing the quinnjet to its limits. "And you look like shit, P.S. Let me look at you."

If Tony had to base what he looked on pain, his face was shot to hell. He so was going to have a black eye. Sigh. There were no mirrors on the jet, but there was a darkened monitor and he could see his reflection. He was pretty close. It may darken all his features, but he looked like shit. "Well, we got the one we wanted," he said, his eyes dropping to the transportable capsule that Barnes was frozen in.

Ayo limped her way to the front to her favorite spot on the jet. She spared a glance at Barnes as she took her seat. She did not say anything, but she was clearly not happy about losing her spear. She wanted to go back for it, but no one wanted another fight with a super soldier. There was no doubt they would be hearing about this for a while.

Natasha, like Tony, was sporting a bruise eyes and a bloody lip, but that didn't distract from the heavy look on her face. She didn't step to the capsule to see who it held, even if she was curious earlier. She was too quiet, too lost in her own head. She looked like a kicked puppy hiding in the corner from her angry master. "How many super soldiers are there? I thought there was just one," she uttered gesturing to Barnes. She was hunched over, staring at her battered hands.

"Six in total, and it was an oversight on my part." Tony's heart strings pulled at the sight of Natasha. He may not trust her, but at one point in time, they were friends. He used to talk to her, chats about whatever was on his mind. She may not have always agreed with him—like never really agreed with him, but she listened and played sounding board if he ever needed one. He may not like her now, but he hated to see her like this. "I was unaware, but now we know." Both Ayo and Rhodey—two people who knew the truth—gave Tony a pointed look. Tony ignored their pointed looks and turned his attention back to Natasha. "You okay?" he asked, trying to steady himself.

"A Nazi terrorist group from the 1940 is back, and guess what? We were drinking the Kool-Aid," she answered. There was a heavy, miserable look in her eyes as she turned to Tony. "When I first joined SHIELD, I thought it was going straight. But I guess I just traded in the KGB for HYDRA. I thought I knew whose lies I was telling, but I guess I can't tell the difference anymore. Maybe, you were right not to trust me."

Tony had never been a big fan of SHIELD for his own personal reasons, so none of this surprised him completely. Spies would never be straight with you, only keeping things from you. "You might be in the wrong business." He said with a shrug—though regarding it a second later. Pain shoot through him. Shit, everywhere throbbed. "We may need to have you start putting in application in other places." Where was the first aid kit?

Natasha glanced up to Barnes. "You seem pretty chipper for someone who look like shit."

"Tony," Jim called again, taking a step to his friend. "Let me look at you, Buddy. Pepper will kill me if you look like that."

Shaking his head, Tony limped his way to Barnes. The man may be frozen—effectively dead to world-, but Tony's heart was pounding in his ears. There was probably an ugly expression on his face as painful memories made their way forward. Barnes' face was mostly hidden by the frost that lined the viewing window, but Tony could see Barnes' closed eyes. They may be closed, but his heart was off to the races as if he was staring him in the eyes. This is not my parents' killer. He thought, repeating in in his head. This was not the man who had killed his mother. He was just the tool, a man used in the worst ways. It was Hydra, and he was going to take them down.

"Tony?" Rhodey asked, unsure of the hard expression on his face.

Shaking his head, Tony softly smiled at his best friend. He didn't realize how effected he would be by seeing Barnes. "I'm fine."

Natasha glanced up; her eyes glued to his face. "The same."

"Let's just get this guy to the base," Tony uttered, not wanting to think or talk about his feelings anymore. He wasn't that type of guy to spill his soul.

Ayo glanced back, scrutinizing Tony's bruised form. "And get you looked at, Stark."

Trying to mask his pain, Tony grinned at her. "If you wanted me, you should have asked. You may have to fight Okoye for me. She has that look in her eyes when she looks at me."

"Keep telling yourself, Stark," Ayo replied.

Natasha ignored the two of them and asked, "Who is the guy?" She sounded more like herself. She was trying to distract herself from the realization that Hydra was back.

Natasha was going to find out soon enough, and Tony knew there would be no keeping this from her. However, this could end in one of two ways. One, Natasha could see Barnes and run to Rogers telling him everything, or two, she could see Barnes and keep his secret surprising Tony. "James Barnes."

Her eyes drilling into him, Natasha looked puzzled before disbelief took over. Even if in pain, she stood and stepped to the capsule. Confused, she glanced up to Tony, studying his face, before turning back to Barnes. She stared through the small viewing window, her eyes widening in recognition. "Holy shit," she said, her eyes darting back up to Tony. She was piercing though him, knowing exactly who she was looking.

"I second that," Rhodey said, rising a hand and a finger. "This is a shit show." Ayo didn't respond, focusing on the flight.

"You aren't going to tell Steve, are you?" She asked, her eyes large. Her tone changed slightly, frosty though not completely hostile. "You're going to keep James Fucken Barnes from Captain America, his best friend? Why?"

Oh, joy, this was going to be fun, as Tony cursed every god in existence. "Yes."

Chapter Text

 


Chapter 9:

The Agent and The Assassin


With the shift in the air, Tony's head was thumping after the jets had taken off. His eye twitched at every shift, and he could barely focus on what Ayo was saying to him. He could barely understand what Natasha was going on about, though he could guess to what. He closed his eyes and forced himself him to breathe. Tony wasn't a stranger to pain, and just one look at his life, you could see that. This discomfort wasn't anything that he wasn't used to, but shit, it was bothering him more than he expected. He had taken a few painkillers from the first aid kit, but it wasn't anything strong, and there was still a hum of pain on the surface. It was a throbbing itch that he could not scratch.

"Did you hear me, Stark?" Ayo asked, her voice going up.

"What? Yea, Sure?" He uttered, shifting in his chair.

Rhodey cocked his head to side. "How you are feeling?" he asked.

Tony glanced up, refusing to move any part of his body. Visible bruises were now forming up and down his body, and now that he could breathe, he could feel it. "Peachy," he replied from the corner of his mouth.

"You're getting looked at when we get back," Rhodey said, sternly. "I am sure JARVIS and FRIDAY will agree. Ayo, too. She looked pissed off." He nodded to the woman at the front of the plane.

"She's mad because she lost her spear," Tony chirped.

Ayo spun in the pilot seat, nailing Tony with a twitching look—a shocking exposure of emotion. "That, and you haven't been listening." She replied, her accent heavy in her anger. "As stated before, Prince T'Challa has been summoned back to Wakanda. He will not be there for awaking of Barnes."

Okay, Tony should've listened to her, because that was big. After the fight with the two Winter Soldiers, they thought it best to have T'Challa and his strength there, acting like failsafe. He would be able to match Barnes. With the beating still fresh on his mind, Tony had used that idea—that failsafe—as something to hold on. It settled him, but without that, his mind went into rapid fire. Doubt flooded his mind in a free fall, as they could not stand another wild Winter Soldier. "Okay, we got this." He replied. "Does T'Challa got some babies to kiss?"

Ayo rolled her eyes before adding, "Only you Stark."

Natasha, as if she was suggesting take out, shot out, "You can ask Rogers, if you need a super soldier. He would be happy to be here. Probably be better in the long run. I don't think Steve will be happy to find out you were keeping his best friend from him. I know I wouldn't."

The woman had a point, and crap, he was doing the one thing that he was pissed at Steve for. Granted, keeping Barnes safe from Hydra was different than keeping the fact that Hydra had killed his parents using Barnes. So yes, it was different. "I can drop you off right here, and you can walk home. You don't have to be here."

"I'm not going anywhere. If Hydra still exists, you bet your pretty ass I'm staying." Natasha countered, her voice turning somewhat chilly.

Tony returned that same icily tone. "Then hush it." He knew it would only be for so long before the Former Russian Spy demanded answers in a way that only she could do and make it impossible for him to say no, but he would worry about that later, when he wasn't hurting from head to toe.

"Stark, I will get answers." She commented, her arms folded across her chest.

"I'm sure you'll keep trying," Tony said, adjusting himself. "Just be careful. I may have to sick Ayo on you, and as we learned before, Ayo is fuming and ready to let out her angry."


*O*O*


The quinjet touched down in the Playhouse, and the hanger door closed a second later. Like the good agent that he was, Koenig was at the door with a tablet in his hands and a status update. He had a stern expression on his face, as he watched they disembarked from the jet. The descend was a slow process for Tony as his body didn't want to move. It was a battle to even sit up straight. There was a second of annoyance and resentment in him, trickling up inside him, as he watched Ayo and Natasha walk with little issues. There may be a limp in their step, but it was nowhere near the limp in his step. Shit, Tony could barely put wait in his ankle without it buckling beneath him.

"Tony!" Rhodey had called, noticing the genius struggling.

If it wasn't for the wall of the jet, Tony was pretty sure he would be on his face. "Just get Bucky here to his room." He stammered. After waving Rhodey off, Ayo and Rhodey turned to Barnes, and using hover technology, they unloaded Barnes's heavy pod off the jet without issue. Tony, after battling to his feet, had attempted to assist, but both Ayo and Rhodey waved him off with an angry/annoyed huff. It was like he had asked the same stupid question twice, which made Tony's eye twitch. He supposed they had the point. No amount of self-adjustment was going to hide his limp; plus, he looked like shit. The only thing Rhodey was going to let him do was go to medical, which he repeated over and over like he was talking to a child. FRIDAY interjected this as well. The stubborn genius that he, he would ignore that until after they set Barnes up.

Still feeling like someone was playing baseball with his head, Tony wanted to go to asleep or drink. Or both. He was leaning toward drinking. If he drunk enough, he was sure he could fell asleep without the nightmares, though it would not do him any good. Getting drunk, right now, would only serve to undermine him and his goals, especially with the physical consequences that he would face in the morning. He also had to stay on task, and that was exactly what he was going to do. No distractions allowed. "Oh, Agent! My Second favorite Agent!"

"Stark," Koenig greeted. "And Second? Who's your first? I'm insulted."

Tony, ignoring the pain, shrugged. "I can't tell you. Where would the fun be at?"

A small smile popped onto Koenig face. "I see you brought guests." His eyes scanned the group, resting on Natasha. He took notice of her injuries, putting them all to memory. "Agent Romanoff. A surprise to see you here but not unwelcome. I'm a fan."

Natasha, her eyes narrowed, turned to Koenig. "So, which Koenig are you?" she asked, still cross from earlier. She was still waiting on answers, and she would remain like this until she got answers.

"Billy," the Agent answered, still with a smile on his face. "My siblings are on other assignments."

Tony's face crunched. "There is more than one of you?"

"Oh, yes. Three identical brothers and one sister," Koenig answered. His face lit up talking about his siblings. "We find it an honor to serve SHIELD."

Even though it hurt to laugh, Tony let out a cackling laugh. "Oh, your poor mother!"

"Ignore, Stark." Ayo stared at him, her eyes lingering on his limp. "Where do you want him?" she asked, lightly tapping on the transportation pod.

"FRIDAY and I have set up a room for our Winter Soldier." Koenig replied, as he tapped on his tablet.

Calling it a room was being nice; it was a holding cell. They were taking him out of one cell and was putting him in another. What kind of freedom was that? Tony knew it wouldn't be forever, but Barnes wouldn't see it as anything else. "Then, let's get him there. You there, FRIDAY?" he called.

"Why of course, Boss. Who else would force you to medical?" FRIDAY asked to the amusement of the others. "If you go down that hallway and to the left, you will find it. You will find that it agrees with you."

"Good, because this fool needs it," Rhodey replied with a snicker. "And point me in the direct you want him." He tapped on Barnes' pod, as he looked around.

Natasha glanced around, taking in everything. The base may have been updated and modernized, but the hanger still showed its age. "Where are we?" she asked, curiosity leaking through.

Koenig gave Tony a confused look before answering Natasha. "You don't know? Stark seemed to be keeping everything close to the vest."

"It gets annoying after a while," Rhodey added, a little bitter. "We're working on that."

It was true that Tony hadn't told the entire truth to anyone, especially when it related to Barnes and the murder of his parents, but there was a reason for everything that he did. He didn't know if it was right, but it was what he was doing. Somethings were too painful to speak about. "Hey!"

"We're in one of Fury's secret bases, Agent Romanoff," Koenig answered, when no one else spoke. "He had commissioned quite a few bases in case they were needed. Considering Hydra is running around, he was right to do so."

Natasha narrowed her eyes. "This base is-"

Koenig cut her off. "You won't find this base on any SHIELD servicers, mainframes or anything. I'm still shocked those two found them." He said, pointing to Ayo and Tony.

There was a calculating look Natasha's face, the gearing turning in her head. "And Fury knows none of this?" she asked. "Hydra exists and yet-"

Tony wasn't willing to discuss the entire story with Natasha just yet. "I say the Agent and Rhodey can get the Winter Soldier set up," he started, tapping the pod, "while Romanoff, Ayo and I go to medical. We can talk after that."

"I support that course of action," FRIDAY chirped.

"Sounds like a plan. Who is our guess here?" Koenig asked, taking a step forward. "Do I get to know?"

"Oh, Stark didn't tell you that either?" Natasha asked, curiosity instead of annoyance this time.

Tony let out a harsh sigh, though he deserved that. He may not like it, really not like it, but he could admit it that she had a point. On the other hand, she did force her way here, so did she have the right to be mad? He didn't have to tell her anything. Stop it, he told himself. He needed to stop treating her like her possible future self. Right now, she had his back, even if she was pissed off. It was just difficult, considering the future replayed in his head. "James Barnes. Yes. I know. Thee James Barnes. Best friend of Rogers," he said, answering Koenig. He sounded completely exhausted. "Again, we can all chat about this later, alright?"

"Shit," Koenig uttered, taking a look at the frozen man. "Shit." He repeated. "How is that possible?"

"Later. Right now, I need some heavy painkillers. I think Ayo and Romanoff can attest to that. We got our asses kicked," he said, walking passed the agent and toward the direction of the medical wing.

"I did not get my ass kicked as you say it," Ayo protested. "However, I agree with Stark."

Natasha rolled her eyes, "Yes, you did. We all did."

Tony laughed, his chest still hurting. "Then, it is settled."


*O*O*


There wasn't any medical personal on base. Koenig was the only living soul on this base—well besides Barnes who would be living here for the foreseeable future. But, with FRIDAY, they were able to able to obtain full body scans—not that JARVIS couldn't do it within the suit. He did, but FRIDAY, her overprotective self, required a scan herself. She was quite insistence. It wasn't like he had any broken bones, which he was pleased about. His left ankle and his right wrist were severely sprained. Covered in deep purple bruises, he would be sore for a while, especially with the small fractures in shoulder. He shouldn't be surprised, considering how hard he hit the wall.

Natasha, hiding her injuries well, had a fractured rib and several colorful bruises along her side, but she had no other major injuries. Ayo had a seriously sprained wrist and bruises up and down her back, but she also didn't have any major injuries. It went without saying they would be hurting in the morning as that Super Soldier tossed them around like ragdolls. That Winter soldiers had all the advantages, and if it wasn't for the Iron Man suit, they would have been killed.

"Are you going to explain yourself?" Natasha asked, her eyes drilling into him. Her wrist wasn't as bad as the others', but she wrapped it tightly.

Fiddling with his heavy wrist brace, Tony glanced up at Natasha. "On what?" he asked, knowing exactly what she wanted to speak about. There was no getting out of this.

Natasha let out a harsh, judgmental sigh, as she rolled her eyes. "Stark. Don't be cute. It doesn't look good on you."

Tony snorted as he got to his feet, his left leg shaking beneath his weight. He had a heavy brace on his leg, but it only seem to hinder him. "Everything looks good on me, Honey. I don't know who you're kidding."

"Enough with the jokes," Natasha hissed.

Ayo got to her feet, sensing the tension in the room mounting. "I do not believe he owes you anything. Did you forget you forced your way on the quinjet?"

Natasha turned, giving Ayo a nasty look. "Maybe so, but I think I have the right to demand answers. Stark has been keeping us the dark for some time. Are you sure he isn't keeping you in the dark?"

Tony let out a bitter sigh. This woman wasn't going to make this easy. Yes, he hadn't told the whole truth to anyone, but he hadn't lied to Ayo or T'Chaka. He hadn't misled them. Sure, he had lied to Rhodey at first, and he still was lying to Pepper, a woman that he supposedly loved. If he loved her, he should tell her. She deserved the truth, but if he was being honest, he was scared to tell her. Yes, he was a hypocrite, doing the same thing that Rogers had done. "Ayo knows everything," he answers, ignoring the fact that he had omitted a few things from her.

Natasha didn't believe it. "So, you told a woman you knew less than… What two? Three weeks? How long have you known me? Known Steve? I get the not telling Fury and SHIELD, considering the hellhole that we find ourselves in. Plus, you never really liked him." She shifted her weight. "But this is Steve's best friend! He deserves to know."

Again, Tony knew he was being unfair; he had no reason. No real reason to keep Steve in the dark besides future events that would never happen now. "I'm aware, but I think it's best we assess his mental state before we do anything." Tony, with the knowledge of future events, knew what to expect when Barnes awoke, considering how much Rogers had whined about it. Barnes, who hid from the world, didn't remember anything at the beginning and ran, which was why it took Rogers and Wilson awhile to find him. Heck, it wasn't even them that found the man; it was Zemo, who flooded them out. "I don't need Rogers forcing his way on Barnes. Barnes needs to heal on his own timeline, not Rogers's timeline."

She thought over what Tony said before responding, "I supposed you aren't wrong, but it's a mistake to keep him in the dark. He may be able to help Barnes. You aren't a doctor, Stark." She paused, taking a breath. "I'll say it again: it won't do anyone any good to keep this a secret." Natasha gave him a hard look. "Are there any other secrets you aren't telling?" She kept pushing.

"That I am from future?" Tony replied with a shrug. With a smile, he ignored the chuckle from Ayo.

Natasha rolled her eyes. "Is everything a joke to you?"

It was funny, because it was the truth, which made Tony laugh harder. It wasn't his fault no one believed him. "Why yes, it is," he said with a wiggle, which he regretted a second later. Pain shot through his body. His jaw locked as he tried to ride through it.

No matter how hard Tony tried to suppress his discomfort, he couldn't hide it from Ayo. "You should sit," she suggested, taking a step toward him. "No need to hide it."

Natasha eyed darted between the two, overanalyzing Ayo's soft expression. "What did Stark do to earn Wakanda's trust?" she questioned. "Besides keeping the secret that Wakanda is more than some third world country. How did you keep that unwrapped?" Her eyes were drilling into Ayo. "What are you trying to hide? The Vibranium?" She waited a second. "Well, I should say more Vibranium. More than what has been stolen from your country. That is a given, compared to that Wakandan Jet."

Ayo, like a switch had be switch, gave Natasha an icily stare, her eyes drilling into the woman. "The Vibranium that was stole from Wakanda has been returned," she replied. "And I will not reveal any Wakandan secrets."

"Oh, by who? Isn't the cat already out of the bag?" Natasha inquired, her eyebrow rising.

"Me," Tony answered as he turned to the door, his legs Jello beneath him, but he forced himself to move. "We can talk about me later. Right now, we have a brainwashed soldier to help." Natasha, standing silent, wanted to put up a fight; Tony could see it in her eyes, but she didn't. "Good. Let's go!"


*O*O*


FRIDAY, with the help of Koenig, was able to get Barnes set up in this 'room,' but it wasn't a bedroom in any sense. It didn't have pictures, windows or anything like that, but Tony refused to think of it as a cell, even if that was exactly that. It was a prison. It didn't matter what it looked like or what they were attempting to do. Barnes wouldn't be able to leave. He wouldn't have any freedoms, not for a while. Heck, it looked like an old fashion jail cell where people went to disappear, though Koenig attempted to make it anything else. However, there was only so much that they could allow. They had to be careful. As they were unsure what or who—the real question- they were dealing with, it was unwise to put him in a regular room with all of the fixing. That would cause more harm than good, and they wouldn't risk an unstable Winter Soldier. So, while Barnes was in a cell, they did try to add some comfort. There were no bars. The fourth wall was a forcefield, which could fade to black and/or reflect any image they wanted. FRIDAY, by her own desire, would be providing different images to Barnes every day.

Currently, the pod was in the corner of the cell, hooked up to several monitors and computers. There was a bed on the other side of the room, the only furniture in the room. Tony thought it screamed torture chamber, which was probably what the Winter Soldier was expecting. There was no ill-advised illusion that Hydra treated Barnes with any kind of respect or kindness. They had shocked treatment to fry the man's brain so they could have a blank slate. If they had that, there was no telling what else they did to this man.

"FRIDAY, how is our favorite Super Soldier doing?" Tony asked, staring at the old pod. Ayo and Natasha were both at his side as if in formation around him. Rhodey, not standing far from the frozen Barnes, had a tablet in his hand, going over Barnes's vitals. Koenig, chatting like best friends with FRIDAY, was double checking the connections. They formed an odd team.

"Favorite?" Natasha asked, giving Tony an odd look. Like everyone else, she knew that there was something strained between Steve and him, but she wouldn't give up until she figured it out. "You set the bar low?"

"His vitals are stabilized," FRIDAY answered, "and are gradually increasing as the temperature rises slowly." FRIDAY was a godsent, being in consistent communications with Wakanda. She had been sending and receiving updates. With the help of Koenig and Rhodey, she was able to apply their suggestions and recommendations. Tony had wanted to keep everything in house—trust issues, man—but no one on the team was a medical practitioner with extensive medical knowledge. Sure, Tony was a genius with multiple degrees, but he was not a doctor. Why didn't they have a Doctor in his group? He needed a Doctor McCoy to his Captain Kirk.

Wait, could he kidnap Doctor Strange? It was only fair to drag that man in now. Sure, Tony had Helen Cho—well, not yet. They had yet to meet in this timeline. He was adding her to the list-, but for some reason, he wanted to kidnap Strange, even if the Ancient One had warned him off. What would it change? It wasn't like he wouldn't give the Doctor back, after he punched him in the face. He would. Surely, a few days would not change the outcome of Strange's fate, right? No, Tony told himself. Even if he had every urge to reach out to Strange, he had to stay on task. He had a job to do, and he couldn't risk changing the future just to punch a man.

"You okay, Tony?" Ayo asked, taking a step toward Tony. "You seem out of it."

Tony smiled at her, while ignoring Natasha who drilled holes into him. "Fine," he articulated slowly, knowing very well what he was going. He was trying to distract himself rather than deal with the matter at hand. With Barnes's temperature growing, he was looking more and more alive, and this was becoming real. The memories were flooding back, and he was facing feelings he wanted to forget.

"You don't look so well, Stark," Natasha commented.

"Yea, I got beat up by a Super Soldier. All things considering, I'm peachy," he said. He forced a smile to his face. It was odd, strange really. He couldn't understand why this was hitting him so hard. He had years to get over the death of his parents, but yet, he was sent back to that time with one look. Everything rushed back at him like it just happened. He was a kid again. It was unnerving. He should be over this. Sure, he learned his parents were murdered by Hydra, but that didn't change the fact that they were dead. Nothing he did would bring them back. Taking down Hydra would bring them some justice, bring a lot of people justice. Plus, his parents would want him to help Barnes. He should focus on.

Yet, that video, that cursed video, was suck in his head on a loop. There was a sudden weight on his hip, and his legs almost buckled under him. The famous video, in his damn pocket, felt like bricks had been tied to his legs, weighting him down to the ocean floor. Shit, he could rewatch it. He could put it on repeat literally. He hated himself as that sounded appealing, and he was better than that. Better than this. That video was nothing. Nothing. It meant nothing. It was just a tool that Zemo used to split up the Avengers. "Be right back," he said, glancing at Barnes for a second. He didn't wait for a response before he turned to the steps.


*O*O*


Tony glowered at the famous tape as if it would start playing like a smart phone. It didn't matter that it didn't; he could see it now, playing like a nightmare. "Stop it", he demanded, his heart not listening. This was stupid. He had years to get over this crap. He had years to get over a lot of things, like Natasha betraying him. He didn't need to go backward. If he did, his presence wouldn't do Barnes any good, and he could not have that. He could handle this. He refused to do anything to harm or damage Barnes any more than he was. That man deserved every chance in life.

"Tony?"

Like being caught witching a bad porno, he dropped his hand and hurled the tape back into his pocket. "I'm fine," He said, quickly and loudly, as he spun to the door. To his surprise—though he should've expected it-, both Ayo and Rhodey stood in the doorway with two sets of calculating looks.

"If you were fine, you wouldn't have bolted from the room like a scared child." Ayo replied, giving Tony an annoyed look. She scanned him over, her eyes taking him in.

Tony snorted softly. "Look at this," he said, picking up his foot and waving it. "I'm not doing anything in this boot." He wobbled, almost falling, before reaching out to the nearest chair for support.

Rhodey rolled his eyes. "Cut the act. Future self or not, I've known you for years; I'm your best friend. I know when something is up. Now stop being stupid and tell me what it is."

A part of Tony wanted to tell them both the truth, but he wasn't sure if he could admit that. Besides, he didn't want to color either Ayo or Rhodey's opinion of Barnes, not that they would hold that against the brain washed man. "Just future drama," he replied, waving them off.

"Why don't you tell me what that is? I know the accords split up the Avengers, but this is more than that," Rhodey said, taking in his best friend. "I know there is."

"I agree with him," Ayo replied, nodding to Rhodey.

Tony's eye twitched. That was not fair. They weren't allowed to team up against him; this was like FRIDAY and JARVIS all over again. He did not need another set. Why did he attract this sort of attention? "Nope, I refuse this friendship."

"If you need a third opinion, Boss, I agree with Ayo and colonel Rhodes." FRIDAY added.

Groaning loudly, Tony faced palmed. "I'm fine. It's all fine. It's just a fight between Barnes, Rogers and I that I'm flashing back to. Nothing horrible. Okay? Let's drop it and move on."

Ayo glanced toward Rhodey; her eyebrow rose. "I may not know him as long as you, but I call horseshit."

Rhodey laughed, pointing to Ayo. "I like this one. She easily sees through your bullshit."

Tony let out a heavy sigh as he limped toward them. "I am fine," he stressed. It wasn't far from the truth. Okay, he was not fine, but he would be fine. He just needed to work through his own issues, and then he would be fine. It was only a matter of time before he was back to normal or whatever was normal nowadays. "Let's get back to Barnes before Romanoff decides to kidnap him."

"And you are okay with her being here?" Ayo asked, not moving from the door.

Again, this was one of those things that he needed to get over. "Romanoff can stay. It's better that way. She'll be where we can watch her." It was better that way. They could watch her and know what she was up to. Natasha already knew too much and to kick her out now would only create issues. Besides, Natasha was right. She had done nothing wrong. Tony just had to give her a chance, like he was giving Barnes—not that Barnes didn't deserve that and beyond. Besides, the world needed the Avengers. They need the team, which meant they had to work together. They worked together before. They could do it again.

"Okay, Stark." Ayo replied.

Tony paused, giving her a look. "We should probably be nice to her. She has a point." He shrugged.

Rhodey narrowed his eyes. "You know I'm bitter about you not telling me you're from the future. Hello, I'm your best friend. I should know these things. So why don't you tell me what's going now? Why are you mad at her at all?"

Tony could feel himself on the edge as the pain started to creep back. He was going to need another doze of painkillers after this, but he could feel a headache growing at the base of his skull. It was intensifying. "I missed the part where this Tony's therapy hour," he replied, harsher than he intended. "Let's get back downstairs." He didn't wait for an answer and rushed—as much as he could- pass them like an angry bull.


*O*O*


"Boss," Friday called, just before Tony could make it back to the cell.

He paused in at steps, looking back toward the door he came from. He was expecting Ayo and Rhodey at any second. "Yea, Fri?"

"Miss Potts is inquiring of your location. She does not sound pleased."

Tony could admit that he was too grumpy for his own good. He was sure it was the pain causing his ill temper, well he blamed it on the pain. A lot of things were pissing him off, but they were nonexistence at this moment. "Tell her I'll talk to her later. Daddy is working." He said, putting on a smile.

"I will, Boss, but I will warn you that that will most likely put you in the doghouse."

Tony snorted. "What else is new?" He would just add it to the list. "Just tell her I will be back as soon as I can."

"I shall, though I believe that will not please her."

He didn't respond as he made his way back to the room. When he arrived, he could see Natasha and Koenig on either side of the pod. On the large screen above Natasha was a Wakandan Woman giving out orders. Natasha, her attention focused on the woman, was reciting the readings from the monitors. Koenig was twisting knobs and connecting wires, his eyes popping up Barnes' to pale face. From his distance, he could Barnes' core temperature rise ever so slowly. They had to do this slowly as they could send the man into shock.

"Oy, white boy."

Tony didn't have to look up to know who was speak. There was only one person who called him that: Shuri. That very person was standing behind the Wakanda Doctor with a large smile. "Hello, Princess," he said, returning the smile.

Natasha snorted as she glanced up. "White boy? I see it."

Tony shot Natasha a look, a hint of playfulness breaking through his voice. It was hard to look at her with anything but fondness when she was shooting him a frisky, dangerous look. It was a remainder of what they had. They had been a sassy team. "Watch it," he warned, cheerier than he intended to be.

"You look like crap." Shuri replied with a cheeky smile.

"Why does everyone point this out? Do you all enjoy my pain?" He cried out, teasingly. It was at this point that Ayo and Rhodey stepped into the room, each spotting a seriously look. "And where have you two been?" It was odd that they were not directly behind him. "Making out?"

Rhodey's eye twitched. "Why is that where your mind goes? You and se-"

"There is a child present!" Tony replied, aching horrified. Pain shot through him again as he acted repulsed, bringing his hands on his face in a shocked fashion.

Ayo let out a chuckling sigh, as she focused on Shuri. "Hello, Young one." There was a smile on Ayo face that Tony hadn't seen before. "Are you misbehaving?"

Shuri looked hurt. "Why would you believe such things?"

The Wakandan woman shot Shuri a look before turning back to Natasha and Koenig. "We have work to do. No time for your silliness, Princess."

"First, I need to know what has happen to Ayo, Stark and that one," Shuri said, pointing to Natasha. Her eyes narrowing, she took in the former Russian Spy. "It looks like they got the shit beat out of them. I need to know."

The Woman shushed the girl and pointed to her a tablet off screen. "Why don't you put that brain to work if you insist in being here?" she reprimanded. Shuri let out a pout as she stepped to the side and picked up the tablet. Just like that that, they fell into place. Natasha, without another word, returned to the monitor. Rhodey crossed to Koenig and begun working on the pod, receiving more guidance along the way. Ayo stood back and watched the screen unfold. She was a silent guard, waiting to see if she would be needed.

Tony, though slowed by the brace on his hand, ran though the codes and programming. With FRIDAY's help, he was working through the ancient code and adding bridges to connect to their present day technically. Okay, it wasn't that old, but it felt like it. Hydra, more innovative than Tony gave them credit for, wasn't as advanced as they thought they were. Their work was dated—annoyingly so, which made more work for him. He needed to write line and lines of code. This was how the group worked for the next few hours, like a well oil team.

Working through their exhaustion, they were able to get Barnes to room temperature. Once more, those odd and numbing feeling were back, but Tony pushed those back. The day before had long since disappeared and it was almost noon the following day. They were running on fumes, but they kept going. Everyone had wanted to wait until they had a few hours of sleep under their belt. Considering it was a battle to keep his eyes open, Tony could admit that it was a good idea; however, it didn't sit well with him.

The idea of rest freaked him out, and it wasn't the nightmares, though they didn't help. He had stated it before. Had thought it before. It was the future that freaked him out. He was too worried to rest. Too worried that resting would just hinder him. He had list of things to accomplish, and there was no dancing around them. He needed to get it done. If he wasn't careful, he could run out of time, and terrified him. If he failed, the world failed. This was what drove him, and this was why he refused to give himself time to rest. He needed to be ahead of the game for at least once. There was no time to stop and smell the roses.

Tony did know that he couldn't rush this. He couldn't risk Barnes's safety, his mental health. So, while he was worried about his stupidity hurting the man, he also knew no amount of time was going to change it. Either they did it now or later, Barnes was going to have difficult time. He was still going to go through hell, and no amount of time was going to prepare them anymore than they already were. This was why Tony felt okay with pushing forward. This was why he refused to listen the others. He was fine. He could do this. "Okay, are we ready to wake him up?"

The Wakandan woman nodded. "I believe we are. I advise that it would be best to have only one person near Sergeant Barnes when he awakes. We do not want to frighten the man. Considering his history, it is likely that he will strike out."

Tony didn't need to be told that twice, not when he was wearing two braces and moved like a snail. He, feeling like crap, didn't want to be hit or almost beaten to death not for the second time. This Barnes was not Bucky, not Steve's friend. He was a Winter Soldier, a trained killer. "I second that."

Koenig glanced at the four of them. "It should be me. You three," he started, pointing to Tony, Ayo and Natasha, "look like crap. I vote they stay behind the barrier. Colonel Rhodes, you're welcome to stay. Might be for the best. Two vs one if it comes down to it."

"I agree with that, Agent," FRIDAY pipped up. "I will also note that you will not be alone either way. I have your back."

Tony snorted as Koenig bushed. "Thank you. I knew I could count on you, Buddy."

"Get a room," Tony chipped.

Rhodey chuckled as he yelled, "There's a child present!" Ayo laughed, holding her ribs.

Shuri huffed over the view feed. "I am not child."

"All children say that," Tony replied with a cheeky smile.

"And you would know how?" Natasha asked, getting to her feet.

Peter, like always, flashed before Tony's eyes. "Super genius and all." Ayo and Rhodey shared a knowing look. "But let's get back to the task at hand."

It was at this point that Ayo, Natasha, and Tony moved behind the force field. Rhodey stood a few feet behind Koenig, who took the lead. "I can't believe I'm waking up the James Barnes." He said, cheerily. After one last check over Barnes' vitals, Koenig hit the switch on the tablet, which kicked everything into action. The pod slowly opened, revealing Barnes's full form. Koenig, on instruction from the Wakandan Doctor, injected the sleeping Barnes with adrenaline. His eyes glued to the man, he took a step back and waited.

It became a waiting game, a game that Tony had no interest in standing for. Granted, he wasn't sure if sitting would be much better. He pulled up a chair and sank into it like the titanic. After the long day that they had, the metal chair felt like heaven even if it was a steel trap. It may hurt his already marred back, but his legs thanking him for it. He, a painful twitch in his arm, leaned on the armrest and closed his eyes. "Tell me when he wakes," he uttered softly, exhaustion taking over.

Natasha stared down at Tony and studied the lines on his face. "When is the last time you slept?" she asked.

Tony could always appreciate how quickly Natasha's mood could change. He got whip lash from her faster than a car coming to a quick stop. There was a nasty insult on the tip of his tongue, but he pushed it aside. "I don't recall. Probably not a good thing." He answered honestly. Who could sleep when he had the world to think about?

"You're being honest," she answered, surprised.

"It happens. Like a four-leaf clover. Rare but they exist.," Tony shrugged, pushing himself up.

Natasha glanced over to Ayo, sharing a warring look with her. "You're going to work yourself to death." She sighed.

"Stark does not realize he's human," Ayo replied, calmly. "I tried to correct him of that, but he is hardheaded."

What was it with people and AIs teaming up against him? He liked it better when Ayo wanted to throw Natasha out the window. "That's it. You aren't allowed to become friends. Go back to hating each other, please."

"I wouldn't say we're friends," Natasha stated with a shrug. "I can just acknowledge that it won't do us any good to be at each's throat. I still don't trust her, but then again, I don't trust anyone."

Ayo narrowed her eyes at Natasha. "That is just—"

"He's waking up!" Koenig yelled, interrupting the three.

Tony, pain forgotten for a second, straightened himself up and pushed himself out of the chair. Or, he attempted to. A second late his pain came rushing back like a bullet. His one arm was pretty much useless in that heavy brace, and the other could not support his full weight. It shook under his weight, and he collapsed like a pile of brick; however, before he hit the cold metal chair, two pair of arms found their way to his body, gripping him by the armpits and helping him up. He glanced at Ayo and Natasha as they lifted him to his feet. "Thanks," he said. He waved them off once he was on his feet. "Let's see our boy." Ayo and Natasha kept close to Tony, keeping a watchful eye on him.

Rhodey kept his distance, his hand on settled on the gun on his hip. He had gone military, and he was waiting to jump in if needed. Koenig was nothing but a pro, as he stood there calm and collective like he had done this may times before. He had his tablet in his hands, and he stood as still as he could. He watched as Barnes's entire body twitched for a full five minutes. Barnes's hand balled and his eyelids flickered in a rapid movement. Sweat started to drip down the soldier's face, as he began to shake violently. Koenig stood perfectly still though it all, his eyes locked on Barnes's face. "That's it," he said, after some prompting from the Wakandan Doctor. "Just open your eyes."

As if by magic, Barnes's eyes snapped open and he stubbled forward in one large step. Koenig didn't move from his spot, his eyes still on the man. The room went completely silence as all eyes were on Barnes, who had fallen to his knees, in a worried gaze. Barnes's heart, supplied by FRIDAY, was pounding in his chest like a horde of wild horses, but it didn't show, not even when he pushed himself up onto his feet. An Assassin stance, his eyes were cold as he scanned the room. He didn't say a word as he took a blaring step forward. His eyes were blank, a dangerous though forming.

Koenig spoke first. "Good Morning, I am Agent Koenig. How are you?" he asked, speaking like he was addressing another SHIELD agent.

Barnes's cold eyes popped up, drilling into the Agent. Taking in the room, his eyes snapped to Rhodey for a second before jumping back to Koenig. It was here that all hell broke loose; it happened in a matter of seconds with a speed that no one saw coming. Barnes, more killer than not, had Koenig up against the wall in a savage motion before anyone could blink. The tablet didn't hit the floor until a few seconds later. Rhodey was yelling; his gun was raised, burning in his hand, as he demanded the man release the Agent. Barnes, mostly likely trapped in his Winter Soldier mode, didn't even acknowledge the Colonel, who was slowly inching his way forward. Barnes's eyes were focused on Koenig, who remained calm even with super soldier choking him. Granted, that may not be the right word. The man may have Koenig by his neck, but he was making no move to kill the man. He just eyed the man with a perplexed expression.

Tony, panic growing, watched the screen unfold in slow motion. It was a horror movie, and he could swear that he heard creepy magic in the background. His heart was beating in his chest, threating to pop out. With images flashing back, he was panicking at the thought of Rhodey in a room with a super soldier with no protection. There was no doubt that Tony was overly protective of his best friend, but he didn't care. Rhodey was there for him through everything, and Tony would do anything to protect him. "Lower the force field," he demanded, his voice betraying him. There was no way he was letting Rhodey get hurt again. "Now."

"I cannot do that, Boss," FRIDAY replied at the same time that Natasha and Ayo shouted "No!"

His nails digging into his palms, he knew it was fucken smart not to open the barrier, as they could not risk anyone else getting hurt. The needs of the many over the one, but he couldn't watch this. He couldn't watch Rhodey get hurt again. Rhodey isn't some child. He can handle himself. He thought, trying to calm himself. He needed to stand back and allow Rhodey the chance to protect himself, the change to show Tony that he could do it.

Colonel Rhodes had this, and Koenig was no chicken.