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A Beautiful Journey

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"So, who are we starting with in this?" Tony asked.

"It's actually you we are starting with, bub." Logan said to his shock.

"Me?" Tony asked, "Wow! I must be popular!"

"You ARE popular." Pepper pointed out to him.

"He knows that. He just likes saying it." Rhodes told her.

"Classic Tony." Natasha commented.

"While there were some superheroes who came before you", Benjamin started, "It all began with you, Mr. Stark."

"You are the man responsible for many things in this universe, Mr. Stark." Xavier told him, "It all began with you."

"Uhhhh, thanks." Tony commented.

"He is going to let that get to his head, isn't he?" Sam asked no one in particular.

"Won't be Stark if he doesn't." Fury said, "But it won't be Stark if he lets it get to his head too much either."

The scene opened at the Kunar Province, Afghanistan, as a military convoy was passing through the mostly empty road. "Back in Black" by AC/DC was playing at full volume.

"I like this tune." Thor commented.

"Really?" Loki asked, "It sounds like noise to my ears."

"So not only are you a murderer but you also have terrible taste in music." Tony said to him, "Why am I not surprised?"

"It's actually pretty good." Steve commented.

"That's my man." Tony said and everyone was a bit surprised that Steve and Tony agreed on something.

Inside the humvee, Tony Stark was sitting with his whiskey as the soldiers looked at him awkwardly. Tony commented on their awkward silence and asked if they were not allowed to talk, until one of the young soldiers said they could talk.

"It's like people are intimidated by your very presence." Hill commented.

"Well, I definitely was." Peter said, "When I met him for the first time."

"Really?" Aunt May asked, "I wasn't."

"I think he has that effect on many." Benjamin said.

"Well, I am considered larger than life." Tony commented as everyone rolled their eyes.

Tony commented that it must be personal, until the driver, who was a woman to Tony's surprise, said that he intimidated them.

"She just hit the mark." Clint said.

"Wow! You're making archery jokes of all things? Do something unexpected." Tony told him.

"I would but no one would like it." Clint said darkly.

Tony commented on the female airman's bone structure, making her blush.

"Back when you could never keep it in your pants." Rhodes commented.

"Hey!" Tony said, "I am a changed man now."

"I know." Pepper said as she held his hand.

"Awww." Scott said, making Hope smack him in the arm, much to his embarrassment.

The young soldier asked to take a picture with him and he accepted, though he joked about not wanting to see the picture on his MySpace page. Tony also told him not to throw a gang sign, making him put it down, until he told the soldier he was joking, making him put it back up.

"The sarcasm is strong with this one." Sam said.

"It really is." Natasha said.

"I wish I could be like that." Peter said.

"Nope." Aunt May told him sternly, "You try to act like him and I will-"

Peter immediately shut up.

"I told you to be better than me kid." Tony told him.

"Don't worry, Peter. Our brand of humor is annoying enough." Benjamin told him as Odinson, Professor Hulk, Logan, Xavier and Aunt May chuckled.

As the soldier put up his gang sign, Tony said, "Yeah, peace! I love peace. I'd be outta job with peace."

Tony looked down guiltily, ashamed of that sentence he had said. Pepper held his hand to offer support and comfort.

Just before the picture could be taken, the car in front of them was blown up, startling them and trapping their vehicle.

"Oh no!" Pepper said in horror. Tony had told her about this moment many times, but it was still not easy at all to see it happen.

The woman and the other soldier in the front ran out to fire at the insurgents, only to be gunned down in quick succession. The one who wanted to take a picture also got out, telling Stark to stay inside, only to be killed by an explosion which startled Tony.

"He was a good man." Tony sighed sadly as Pepper held his hand to offer comfort.

Steve sighed sadly, realizing why Tony had snapped when he had asked him if it was the first time he had lost a soldier after Coulson's death. [1]

"I'm sorry." Steve said to him and he simply nodded, not caring where his source of comfort came from at the moment.

His ears ringing from the explosions, Tony ran out of the humvee, avoiding two explosions, as the soldiers of the other humvee were also gunned down. He found cover and attempted to call Rhodes on his phone for help, only for a bomb to land close to him. He realized it was made by Stark Industries.

"Shit!" Sam said.

"There is a bit of irony there." Hope commented.

The bomb exploded, throwing Tony away by a few feet. He was still conscious though. He realized he was bleeding badly from various points of his body. He opened his shirt to see that shrapnel had penetrated his bullet proof vest, before losing consciousness.

"The shrapnel." Pepper said, "The thing you were trying to keep at bay."

"The arc reactor did that." Tony said, "For a time."

"Good thing you're free of it now, Mr. Stark." T'Challa said and Tony nodded at him.

The scene changed to an unknown location. Tony woke up, tied to a chair, as several people surrounded him, one of them reading a ransom note in Hindi to an unseen person.

"It is Obadiah Stane they are reading the note to." Vision said.

"Yup." Tony snarled, "That traitor!"

The Avengers who were fugitives from the law decided not to say anything, as he considered them traitors too at the moment.

Tony looked on in dismay at the various guns pointed at him, before losing consciousness again.

"This is where it started, didn't it?" Hope asked, "Your journey to be Iron Man?"

"Yes. This is where it began." Tony said.

"This was your crucible." Pepper told him and he nodded.

"Every hero has an origin story." Peter said and everyone except Benjamin rolled their eyes in annoyance, embarrassing him.

"Everyone still finds that annoying." Benjamin told him and both chuckled.

The scene changed to Las Vegas, 36 hours earlier, where a presentation of Tony's successful life was going on, as several of his achievements were shown- building a circuit board at age 4, a steam engine at age 7, and graduating Summa Cum Laude from MIT at age 17.

"You built a circuit board when you were 4 years old?" Scott asked incredulously.

"Yup." Tony said, "Was pretty basic compared to what I did later."

"And graduating Summa Cum Laude from MIT at 17?" Hope asked, "Really?"

"That's Tony for you." Pepper said.

"Larger than life." Rhodes added.

"I can see why people are intimidated by you." Aunt May told him.

"I wasn't." Thor said suddenly.

"Neither was I." Loki said.

"You are both Gods." Odinson told them, "Or at least considered Gods."

"Good point." Thor conceded.

A headline of Howard's and Maria's deaths was shown, as the narrator adopted a slightly sad tone.

Bucky looked down and sighed in guilt, not able to look anyone in the eye due to shame, as Natasha grasped his hand tightly to offer comfort and support.

Steve put a hand on his shoulder. He looked at his girlfriend and his best friend and nodded in thanks.

Tony decided not to look at him for the moment, not trusting himself.

Obadiah Stane was then shown, as the narrator said how he filled the gap until Tony took charge at age 21 and became CEO. The narrator also talked about the several weapons they had built to ensure freedom and protect America and its interests around the globe.

"Weapons of mass destruction." Fury said, "Back when they made you money."

"While I have moved on from that, it still causes me a lot of guilt." Tony said.

"I know it does." Wanda told him and everyone was surprised that she was the one offering him comfort.

Colonel James Rhodes walked up to the podium and praised Tony, calling him his friend and great mentor.

"You looked so different back then, buddy." Tony commented.

"Yeah." Rhodes agreed, "I looked very different."

"I know right!" Pepper said, "What happened to you?"

Rhodes shrugged, "No idea." [2]

Rhodes presented the Apogee Award to Tony but he was nowhere to be seen. Stane shook his head when Rhodes looked at him and walked up to the stage, taking the award in Tony's place and saying how honored Tony felt to receive this prestigious award.

"I bet you wanted it for yourself!" Pepper snarled angrily.

"He must be jealous of the attention I got." Tony said.

"I can't believe I never saw that coming." Rhodes said.

"Really?" Hill asked, "Because he is already setting off warning bells in my head even here."

"You are a SHIELD agent. You are trained, so you can sense when something's off." Tony told her.

"I know." Loki said as he shot a glare at Natasha, remembering the time she had outwitted him.

Stane said how the best thing about Tony was also the worst thing- that he was always working.

"Can't argue with that." Pepper said.

"Even I can't." Tony said.

"So you're making another suit already, Mr. Stark?" Peter asked in excitement.

"Oh, I made it already." Tony said before turning to Bruce, "You're gonna love it, pal."

"I would love to see it sometime, Tony." Bruce said with a smile.

"It was pretty awesome seeing it for the first time." Professor Hulk said as he remembered the fight with Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian in New York.

"I haven't seen it yet." Rhodes said.

"Oh you're gonna love it." Tony told him.

The scene changed to Caesar's Palace, where Tony was playing craps. The crowd all erupted as they all won big, especially the two hot women by Tony's side. Tony bumped his head into Happy Hogan's shoulder who smiled.

"That doesn't look like work." Natasha said.

"Hey!" Tony said, "Gambling takes brains."

"Or lack of it." Pepper said, earning her a glare.

"And that, Peter, is why you shouldn't try to act like Tony Stark." Aunt May told her nephew as everyone chuckled.

As Tony flirted with the woman on his right using his intelligence, Rhodes arrived, angry at Tony for not attending the event while the billionaire did another roll. Tony was surprised that Rhodes was in on this. Rhodes simply said they wanted him to present it to make him feel honored.

"I am honored, Colonel." Tony said as everyone snickered.

"Very funny." Rhodes groaned.

Rhodes handed Tony the award. He took it and handed it to the woman on his right before picking up the dice again. He had the woman blow on his hand in a flirty manner as a good luck charm. He tried to make Rhodes do it too but he pushed his hand off, making the dice fall. But he crapped out. Tony glared at Rhodes who simply shrugged.

Tony glared at Rhodes and he just shrugged.

A few minutes later, Tony and Rhodes walked out along with the former's entourage, which also included Happy. Tony promised Rhodes he wouldn't be late the other day. He handed the award to a man cosplaying as Julius Caesar.

Everyone snickered as Natasha commented, "Caesar must be feeling very honored."

"He should." Tony said as everyone rolled their eyes.

Tony walked towards his car. As Happy opened the door, someone called out to him. Tony turned around to see an attractive reporter holding a recorder. The security tried to stop her as she introduced herself as Christine Everhart.

"Great." Scott groaned, "Her."

"You know Christine?" Tony asked him in surprise.

"Yuh-huh." Scott groaned, "She interviewed me one day before my release. She was being very unfair to me because Vistacorp, from whom I had stolen, was one of the financial bankers of WHiH World News. My animosity towards her remarks resulted in me getting tazed." [3]

"The woman really is an opportunity grabber." Hope commented.

"Typical of her." Tony said.

"I remember meeting her." Pepper said in disgust.

Tony agreed to an interview as she asked him several questions about his nicknames like the "Da Vinci of our time" and the "Merchant of Death." He dismissed the first one but accepted the second. She said she was a graduate of Brown University as Tony assured her that when weapons were no longer needed, he would start making bricks and beams for baby hospitals.

"So much for that statement." Tony groaned.

As the interview continued, Tony told her Howard's philosophy- "Peace means having a bigger stick than the other guy."

"Sad but true." Steve said sadly.

Tony told her how his father was a hero due to his breakthroughs and also said all the recent breakthroughs he himself had made in science were due to military funding. Christine asked if he had ever lost an hour of sleep in his entire life, to which he replied he would be prepared to lose a few with her.

"Don't tell me….." Aunt May started.

"Really dude?" Scott asked in disgust.

"Did you just call me dude?" Tony said.

"I don't want to see that." Pepper groaned.

"Well…." Benjamin started and everyone from the past groaned.

Sometime later, Tony and Christine have sex on his bed in his mansion, with her already in her panties. As the two continued kissing and groping each other, they fell off the bed.

"Peter Parker, you need to look away right now." Aunt May said firmly, but the young boy was already gawking with wide eyes.

"You do not need to protect him from everything forever." Wanda told Aunt May sadly, remembering how much bad stuff she had been exposed to at a young age.

Vision held her hand in comfort.

"Well, to be fair, I have already seen it Aunt May." Benjamin told Aunt May and she groaned.

"Wow! You must be really charming." Scott told Tony.

"Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist." Tony boasted. He then noticed Pepper giving him a glare.

"Genius, billionaire, philanthropist." Tony corrected and she smiled.

"Hey Viz, could you see when you were JARVIS?" Natasha asked him randomly.

"I couldn't exactly look away." Vision said defensively.

"You got a dirty AI there, man." Sam joked to Vision's embarrassment.

"You are moving pretty fast in the relationship." Thor commented.

"Excuse me, relationship?" Tony asked as everyone looked at Thor incredulously.

"You were consummating so I thought you were-"

"Brother." Loki said as Thor turned to him, "You were on Earth for 2 years and you never heard of casual sex?"

"Casual sex?" Thor questioned.

"I do know about it now." Odinson popped up.

"Good to know." Loki said.

"What is casual sex?" Thor asked.

"I will explain later." Loki said.

"He did get calls from angry exes while working with me." Bruce revealed to everyone's shock.

"You still get calls?" Natasha asked.

"He does actually." Pepper revealed as everyone snickered.

"Never change man, never change." Professor Hulk said.

"Good thing I never gave my number to women I slept with." Logan muttered, "Not that I had a number."


In the nearby room, Matt Murdock and his wife Elektra Natchios Murdock, Jessica Jones Cage and her husband Luke Cage, Frank Castle and Trish Walker were having lunch.

Hearing Aunt May telling Peter to look away from the screen, Matt said, "Looks like they have seen what Tony and Christine were up to."

"That man used to bring a lot of women home." Elektra said with a smirk.

"One of the many reasons I found his personality repulsive, until I found out what he did to save the universe." Frank said.

"You remember what Tony said about your show once?" Jessica asked Trish and the other woman looked away in embarrassment.

"What?" Elektra asked out of curiosity, "What did he say?"

"I think I haven't heard that one." Luke said.

"I want to know." Matt said.

"Yes please. Tell us." Elektra insisted.

"Even I am curious now." Frank said.

"Uh, well…" Trish started, "Tony was once asked if he would ever visit "Trish Talk" by an interviewer."

"And what did he say?" Elektra asked.

"He, uhhh, he said that…." Trish trailed off for a few seconds before continuing, "He said that if he visited "Trish Talk", it would change its name to "Trish Screaming.""

Everyone burst out in laughter at Tony's comment.

"That sounds like him." Matt said, struggling to control his laughter.

"Sweet Christmas." Luke commented.


Back in the viewing room, everyone continued watching.

Christine, who was wearing nothing but the bed sheets, woke up on hearing JARVIS greeting her.  She pulled the sheet around her and stared in amazement as the big window by the bed lit up with electronic icons showing the time, the temperature, and the weather forecast for the day as JARVIS continued telling her about the day.

"The Malibu house." Tony remembered.

Christine walked around, wearing Tony's shirt to cover her bra and panties, calling out to him.

"You're already on a first name basis." Sam joked.

"And you're already exchanging clothes." Rhodes added.

Everyone snickered as Tony blushed in embarrassment.

Christine tried to touch a small blue screen next to a door but JARVIS' voice told her she was not allowed to access the area.

"And you never will be." Tony said.

The voice of Pepper Potts said that it was JARVIS who ran the house as Christine turned to face her. Pepper told Christine her clothes had been dry cleaned and pressed and a car outside would take her anywhere. Christine mocked Pepper than even after all these years, Tony had her picking up dry cleaning. Pepper said she did everything Mr. Stark required, including occasionally taking out the trash.

"Burn!" Sam said.

"My God, you are badass, good woman." Scott complimented Pepper who blushed.

"You have a lot of sass in you." Hope complimented.

"She sure does." Natasha agreed.

"Yup." Clint agreed.

"Your wit sure is sharp, Miss Potts." T'Challa said.

"I'm so glad I never argued with her." Thor said.

"That was the best comeback I have ever seen." Aunt May said too.

"Where do you think she gets that from?" Tony said.

"You get that from me actually." Pepper said with a glare and he shut up as everyone chuckled.

"Who has the better girlfriend now, huh, Point Break?" Tony asked Thor in a mocking tone as everyone chuckled.

Tony was working in his workshop with JARVIS as "Institutionalized" by Suicidal Tendencies played at full volume. Pepper entered, getting off her phone and told Tony he needed to be halfway around the world while his flight was supposed to leave half an hour ago. The two then talked about some appointments as she made Tony sign a document. Tony asked if she had plans. She said she did, because it was her birthday.

"You forgot her birthday!" Maria said in amusement.

"Classic Stark." Fury added.

Tony told her to get something nice from him, sounding unusually sincere. She said she had and it was very tasteful. Tony drank from his cup and putting it in her hands, walked off.

"Awww." Peter said but shut up on seeing Tony's glare.

Tony arrived at the airport in a sleek sports car, with Happy pulling up behind him in a black sedan. The two exchanged some banter before he walked up to Rhodes, who was pissed that Tony made him stand for three hours.

"Three hours dude!" Rhodes said.

"You still salty about that?" Tony asked.

"Yup."

Inside the plane, Rhodes was obviously still pissed over Tony being late, feeling that the man didn't respect him. Tony tried to get Rhodes to drink hot sake as the blonde stewardess poured him a glass. Rhodes protested but eventually Tony convinced him.

"I knew you'd like it." Tony said as Rhodes buried his head in his hands.

Later, "Slept on Tony" by Ghostface Killah was playing as a drunk Rhodes ranted about how every person who had the uniform had his back, though Tony didn't pay attention as he watched the three stewardesses dancing for their entertainment, with their shirts tied above their stomach and their short skirts showing plenty of leg.

Rhodes buried his head in his hands as everyone laughed at him.

The flight descended to Bagram Base in Afghanistan as Tony walked out and greeted the army men.

"Uh-oh." Steve said as Tony looked at the place with wide eyes.

Tony then started giving a speech about weapons. "They say the best weapon is one you never have to fire. I respectfully disagree. I prefer the weapon you only have to fire once. That's how dad did it, that's how America does it….. and it's worked out pretty well so far." Tony said.

"The hell?!" Steve muttered.

Tony gestured with his hand, and the rocket began to move, cameras facing up, tips pointing toward the sky. First one, then the next, and then the third of the rockets zoomed into the air. In mid flight, smaller rockets burst out of the large ones, followed by yet another stream of even smaller rockets, all of which went flying a safe, far distance away. As they fell far behind him, Tony called it the Jericho.

"What will they do to the good guys?" Clint muttered.

Tony spread his hands as the explosives lit up the desert with fire before darkening it with smoke. An explosion that must indeed have echoed the force of the crumbling walls of Jericho shook the ground, and a cloud of dust nearly engulfed Tony and his audience, making some of their caps fly off.

Wanda shivered, the explosion making her relive the trauma of her parents' death from the Stark Industries bomb in Sokovia. Vision held her hand to provide comfort.

"Freedom line?" Steve asked.

"I knew the word 'Freedom' would get to you Rogers!" Tony grumbled

Tony then took a glass for himself and poured the wine before pulling out his phone. He accepted the video chat from Stane, who asked him how it had gone, to which Tony replied it was like early Christmas. Obadiah said he would see Tony the next day and cut the call.

"With a bunch of guns pointed at my face." Tony grumbled as everyone glared at Stane.

Tony then got into his humvee, making comments about it, as Rhodes complimented his performance. The humvee was started up by the lady driver as Rhodes walked off. As the convoy went through the desert, the explosion happened, trapping Tony's humvee, like in the first scene.

"This is where it began, Mr. Stark." Xavier said.

"Yup." Tony said, "Fun's over."

Tony faded in an out of consciousness as he was operated on, with a bright light shining down on him. He screamed in pain as his shrapnel was removed and something round was placed inside him.

"That was the operation?!" Bruce exclaimed, outraged.

"Terrorists didn't care about his pain." Professor Hulk said sadly.

"Because they're a bunch of gits." Logan added.

"They operated on him without anesthesia." Sam said, horrified, as Tony shuddered at the memory and Pepper held his hand to offer comfort.

Bucky held his head, Tony's scream reminding him of the screams of his victims. Natasha touched his face to offer comfort.

After a few more torturous seconds, the surgery was over.