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A Beautiful Journey

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"I have a feeling we're about to see some very interesting stuff now." Tony said.

"Right you are, Mr. Stark." Charles told him.

In Afghanistan, two Ten Rings terrorists argued over the construction of the pieces of the first Iron Man suit as the bald leader looked on with a critical eye.

"They don't have the technology to get it right, do they?" Sam asked.

"Even if they did, they won't have the brains." Fury pointed out.

"What's the name of the bald guy?" Peter asked.

"His name would be Raza, bub." Logan said.

Tony looked at the digital mask on his screen in the workshop and commented on several problems, including the icing problem. JARVIS said that they should improve the exosystems if he intended to visit other planets.

Everyone laughed at the AI's wit.

"You are very witty." Odinson told him.

"Was I really that witty?" Vision asked.

"Who made you again?" Tony asked with a laugh.

After telling some solutions, Tony's attention was attracted by the television in the corner. It was about his own third annual benefit for the Firefighter's Family Fund. Tony asked JARVIS if he had gotten an invite, to which the AI replied in the negative. As Tony looked at the damaged mask of his second suit, the announcer said that no one expected Tony to show up.

"And he has jinxed it." Pepper said.

"Jinxes? You really believe in that bullshit?" Logan asked.

"Everyone has got to believe in something, James." Steve told him.

"It's Logan, Captain." Logan said.

"Logan." Steve corrected himself, "What do you believe in?"

"I believe that", Logan started, "I am the best there is at what I do. But what I do isn't very nice."

Steve simply nodded with a sigh, realizing how hard life must have been for Logan in all the years he had been alive.

JARVIS completed the render of the suit, but it was in bright gold, so Tony asked him to change the color by throwing in a little hot-rod red, which the AI did. The render was complete and JARVIS told him the estimated completion time was 5 hours. Tony told the AI not to wait for him.

"Now that's what I am talking about." Tony said.

"The render itself is pretty good." Rhodes told him.

"Which is why the finished product was even better." Professor Hulk told them.

Later, Tony sped down the road in a silver sports car with a nameplate that read STARK 4. He pulled up alongside the curb of the concert hall and stepped out, wearing a business suit. Obadiah Stane was being interviewed.

"And there he is." Hill sighed.

"Weapons manufacturing may be a small part of Stark Industries but that is the only one you care about." Sam said.

"Some people only care about power and position." T'Challa sighed.

Everyone cheered on seeing Tony as one of the women asked if he remembered her, to which he replied he didn't. He patted an elderly man with a cigar and good looking women around him on the shoulder. "You look great, Hef." Tony said as the man turned around to reply but the billionaire was already gone.

"Him?" Thor asked with a horrified look.

"You know him, brother?" Loki asked in surprise.

"He is the one who cut my hair!" Thor said.

"What?" Tony asked in surprise, "How could he have done that?"

"I think he is a neighbor of mine." Peter said.

"Really? I don't remember him." Aunt May said.

"But if he is your neighbor, how can he be at this party?" Pepper asked.

"And how can he cut my hair?" Thor said.

"We have seen all the recordings at least once." Odinson said, "And for some reason, he appears in all of them in some different role."

"Who he is, we don't know either." Benjamin said.

"Maybe he is a watcher or something." Natasha shrugged.

"A watcher?" Logan wondered.

"I like the sound of that." Clint said. [1]

"I think he shows up at a lot of places." Fury said as he looked at the man suspiciously.

"Well, to be honest, I like your hair, Thor." Natasha told him as he smiled, "So it looks like he hasn't done anything sinister."

"Which is a good thing." Professor Hulk said.

"Some mysteries will never be solved." Bruce sighed.

Tony greeted Obadiah who was surprised on seeing him. Tony then went inside as Obadiah said the board was at a good place now. Tony went up to the bar inside and asked for a Scotch, only for someone to call out to him. He turned to see Phil Coulson walking towards him.

"There he is again." Steve sighed.

"He looks calm and collected here." Natasha said, "But he fanboyed over you a lot."

Tony once again told Phil he needed to work on the name of his organization, though it had already been worked on. Coulson asked for an appointment. Tony wasn't paying any attention now though. He had spotted Pepper who was in a light blue satin backless evening gown.

"Look at that!" Scott said.

"That looks really good on you." Hope complimented as Pepper blushed.

"Yes, you look very good." Aunt May said too.

"Gift from Stark, right?" Natasha asked as Pepper nodded.

"That's me." Stark said with a smirk.

"Asgardian women would be jealous of your look." Thor complimented her.

Tony shook Coulson's hand while staring at Pepper and agreed before walking up to Pepper. He told her she looked so fantastic he didn't recognize her. Tony asked her about the dress and she told him it was a birthday present from him of all people.

"Classic, forgetful Stark." Natasha said this time as everyone laughed.

Tony asked for a dance and after some hesitation, she agreed. Tony swung her like a pro as she bit her lip nervously. Tony asked if he was making her uncomfortable, to which she replied that she always forgot to wear deodorant and dance with her boss in front of everyone she worked with in a dress with no back.

Pepper winced involuntarily at that.

Tony told her she looked and smelled great and then the two exchanged some witty banter about how long he would last without her. She asked him his social security number and he fumbled for the answer.

"Told you." Natasha smirked as she and Sam high-fived.

"You really don't know your own social security number?" Bruce asked in amusement.

"Still don't." Tony shrugged.

"You should." Aunt May told him sternly.

Pepper became nervous again and the two agreed to get some air. The two went off as Phil Coulson looked after them. The two argued again about how harmless the dance was, with Pepper saying how he was her boss so it would make her look bad. Tony was deflated and tried to calm her down. Without realizing, the two took a step forward as their heads came together. But then they realized what they were doing as Pepper asked for a drink.

"Oh, snap!" Rhodes said.

"That didn't go very well." Wanda muttered dryly.

She asked for a vodka martini with three olives and Tony walked off to get two from the bartender, with his dirty. That moment, Christine Everhart walked up to Tony, wearing a black dress, saying it was fancy seeing him there.

"Great." Scott groaned, "Her again."

"Fancy seeing a man at his own party!" Tony said snarkily.

"She hates you, doesn't she?" Pepper asked.

"Yup." Tony said.

"Won't blame her." Clint whispered to himself.

She said he had a lot of nerve showing up and asked for a reaction, to which he replied panic. Christine wasn't pleased and gave him some printed pictures, saying they were of a town called Gulmira.

"Gulmira?" Thor asked in a growl, making Loki a bit nervous.

"That's how you found out?" Bruce asked.

"That's how I found out." Tony said.

"Well, someone is going to be very screwed now." Bruce said.

Tony looked at the pictures in shock. There was death and devastation all around, with the terrorists carrying a smaller version of the Jericho Missile.

Wanda could feel the real Tony's fury at the reminder.

Christine said they had been taken the previous day, shocking Tony as he hadn't approved of any shipment. Christine pointed out his company had, which made him stride past her to Obadiah outside who shooed away some reporters. Tony inquired about the pictures and asked if they were double-dealing under the table. Obadiah simply said they should take a picture and they did, though Tony's eyes looked like could blister the concrete of the steps under the carpet. Obadiah told Tony he had filed the injunction to protect him before walking off.

"To protect him?" Pepper snarled angrily.

"To double-deal more." Tony snarked.

"You don't even look irritated or disappointed." Rhodes told him.

"He looks like he is ready to go to war." Thor noted.

"Good observation." Odinson told him.

"And now you're complimenting yourself." Loki said dryly as the two Thors chuckled.

"The truth has come out." Steve said.

"And it won't end well for some." T'Challa noted.

"That was the business he wanted to handle." Professor Hulk said.

"He is so screwed now." Bruce said.

"He sure is." Benjamin agreed.

Later, Tony was twirling with a screwdriver at a part of the glove of his new red-and-gold suit as he watched the news on the TV about the death and destruction in Gulmira. The news reporter described it as "a descent into Hell, into a modern day Heart of Darkness." The flight stabilizer in the palm began to glow as Tony watched live footage of armed men making their way into the ruins of the town. He also spotted Raza standing in the ruins. Tony's face was an emotionless mask but the fury he was feeling inside was visible. When the Jericho missile appeared on the screen, Tony's metal-gloved hand clenched and he stood up.

Tony's look matched that of his onscreen self. Pepper glanced at him a little uneasily.

Wanda had to forcefully squash down her own memory of what she had gone through at the scene she was witnessing.

Loki looked away in shame, reminded of what the Chitauri had done when he had brought them down to New York. Thor put a hand on his shoulder in support and he nodded in appreciation.

Aunt May held Peter tightly on witnessing that, afraid that she would somehow lose him to atrocities like that.

Tony walked around the couch he had been sitting on and threw the screwdriver away. As the news continued, Tony raised his arm, his palm held out in front of him. He aimed it at the other side of the garage and fired. After that, he walked into the middle of the room, in full view of the glass panels, as the news continued. He looked at his own reflection with self-loathing and fired at all the panels, shattering them into pieces.

The viewers did not miss the significance of that. Tony was blasting his own reflection due to self-loathing.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Rhodes gasped.

"Jesus." Scott muttered.

Tony then walked onto a black grid which opened in pieces around his feet, and came up to the boot and leg pieces of Iron Man Mark III, all red and gold, and fastened over his feet and around his legs. A large yellow bot reached down with the front and back plates, the Arc Reactor glowing as the chest plate slammed down over it, and then came the arms and hands. Last of all came the sides of the helmet, the mask closing over his face and the "eye holes" glowing.

"This looks better." Steve said.

"YES!" Peter, Bruce and Thor cheered happily as Aunt May shook her head in amusement.

"You're going to Gulmira?" Sam asked.

"Yup." Tony said.

"I remember that." Rhodes sighed.

Tony, in his Iron Man Mark III Armor, soared through the skies. In Gulmira, the villagers were running around in terror as shots rang around them. Armed men kicked open doors of homes and fired into them. They grabbed all men who ran past, tearing them from their families, and shoved the women and children to their comrades. Raza's bearded thug was shouting orders. A family of four with a little girl and a slightly bigger boy were being hustled out when one of the children tipped and all four of them fell down. The leader ordered his men to grab the father. One of the men did as the boy broke away from his mother and sister and ran back to him. The father broke free of the grip of the man and ran to his boy, the two hugging each other tightly as the leader marched up to them and threw the boy off.

"GET YOUR HANDS OFF HIM YOU BASTARD!" Aunt May of all people roared in a rage as everyone looked at her in shock, Peter included. This was the wrath of a mother who saw innocent children getting hurt.

Peter was pale and Wanda saw in his memory the closest thing he ever had to a father bleeding to death at the back of a street in Queens. Aunt May held him tightly.

Wanda was stiff herself, memories of her parents and Pietro making her eyes water. Vision held her hand tightly to provide comfort.

Steve, Bucky and Logan were shaking with rage, reminded of the cruelty in the concentration camps.

"I wish I could have got my hands on them." Rhodes snarled angrily.

"You're not the only one." Sam said.

Natasha's blood was boiling at the scene. While she never had a family as a child, she would never wish the same upon anyone.

"Bastard." Clint snarled at the screen too, thinking about how many ways he would use to kill this man and others like him who would dare to hurt his family.

"Burn in Hel." Thor said angrily.

"Trust me, they are." Odinson said with a dark gleam in his eye.

"In all times, one thing that has remained a constant unfortunately is people's capacity to feel hatred for other people." Xavier said sadly.

Hill looked horrified at the scene as well, with Fury's face an emotionless mask.

Tony's expression was the same as his onscreen self earlier as Pepper held his hand tightly, horrified by what was going on in Gulmira in the screen.

"Jesus." Scott said uneasily as he thought of Cassie in this situation.

Hope held his hand to offer comfort, uneasy herself as she remembered losing her mother.

The children and the mother sobbed as the father was forced to his knees and was about to be shot down. The boy was calling out to his father tearfully when everyone heard a sound like thunder, and villagers and attackers alike looked up at the sky to see a red and gold blur descending down on them. Tony landed on his left foot and right knee, straightening up to face the man who was going to shoot the father.

"Just in time!" Thor said.

"Now they will burn in Hel." Loki said.

"No more than they deserve." Fury agreed.

"You guys are so screwed now." Bruce said.

"Like you wouldn't believe." Professor Hulk said.

The man fired vainly at the Suit, which charged at him and sent him flying off into the ruins of a house with a single punch. He then fired his repulsor beams in quick succession at three of them, sending them flying off. He turned around to fire a fourth one but saw the terrorists holding the villagers hostage.

"Cowards!" Steve spat.

"What're you going to do now?" Pepper asked.

"Cut the wire." Tony said with a gleam in his eye as Steve shot him a curious look which he returned and everyone realized it was something between the two of them. Only Thor, Natasha, Bruce and Fury knew what it was.

Tony lowered his palms as JARVIS identified the civilians and attackers with icons on the screen. Once it had been done, a small row of miniature guns rose from Tony's shoulders and shot down all the armed men, leaving the villagers intact.

"Hell yeah!" Peter cheered.

"They got what they deserved." Aunt May said.

"Sure did." Loki of all people agreed.

"You did good as well." Wanda told Vision, who was JARVIS back then, and he nodded in appreciation.

"Thank you, Wanda." He said.

The boy ran up to his father and the two hugged tightly.

Peter discreetly wiped his eyes as Aunt May patted his head lovingly.

Wanda did the same as Vision put an arm around her.

The boy saw Tony in the suit walking past them. The bearded thug was hiding behind a wall, trying to dial for help, when a red metal fist burst through the wall, startling him. It grabbed him and yanked him back through the hole, throwing him to the civilians.

"Shoot that dog!" Fury said.

"With pleasure." Hill agreed.

"I wish I could do it." Clint sighed.

"He got an even better punishment." Tony said.

Tony flew into the air and told the villagers, "He's all yours." As he flew off, the villagers surrounded the bearded thug who looked back at them in fear.

"This is even better." Natasha said cheerfully.

"I wish we could see what they did to him." Thor said.

Scott started, "I wish I could go up into his nostril and ex-" [2]

"Don't finish that sentence!" Hope said as she smacked his arm and everyone laughed for the first time since watching the action in Gulmira.

Tony flew through the air, identifying the Jericho Missile, when he was hit by a missile and thrown out of the sky. He crashed into the ground, forming a small crater.

"Ouch!" Rhodes said, reminded of his own fall, which was much worse.

Tony climbed out of the crater and surveyed the site. As a tank fired at him, he leaned sideways to dodge before lifting his arm and firing a small missile, destroying it. He walked away as the tank exploded behind him.

"Badass." Peter smiled.

As men fired at him, he flew up into the air and looked down on them. He fired at the Jericho Missile. The explosion killed all the men and destroyed all the weapons as Raza and more men arrived in trucks, watching the explosion with astonishment and horror. Tony flew off. At Edwards Air Force Base, California, the military watched their screens as they saw a blinking red dot, wondering what that was. When they discovered it wasn't the Air Force, Navy or Marines, Major Allen asked to get Rhodes.

"Now the military is interfering?!" Pepper asked in amazement.

"They want to take credit for my work." Tony said as he shot Rhodes a look who sighed in annoyance.

"They never got the green light, really?" Steve muttered.

"You have no idea how much people of power try to control the military these days." Rhodes sighed sadly.

"Tell me about it." Bruce groaned.

As Tony soared through the clouds, Rhodes walked into the intelligence room at the base, wondering how the thing had appeared out of nowhere and not shown on the radar.

"Too small." Scott said and everyone laughed at his shrink-jokes.

As the Major asked him what they were dealing with, Rhodes decided to make a call. While Tony was flying, a shrill ringtone sounded inside his helmet. He accepted the call, asking who it was as he couldn't hear due to the noise. JARVIS put Rhodes' credentials on the screen as the Colonel told him that a weapons depot had been blown up a few clicks away from where he had been held captive. Tony said someone did his job for him. As Rhodes asked him about the noise and his out of breath voice, he said he had been driving to the Grand Canyon where he was now going to jog.

"Jogging in the Grand Canyon?" Peter asked innocently.

"Yeah that's believable." Bruce said.

"And I thought Steve was a bad liar." Natasha muttered.

"There was a lot of noise there." Tony said.

"I know." Rhodes agreed.

Rhodes asked him if he had any tech there, to which Tony replied in the negative. As the bogey was spotted, Rhodes told him they were about to blow it up. Tony cut the call as two planes flew after him. He flew off at supersonic speed.

"Whoa!" Peter said, "Supersonic?!"

"Yup." Tony said.

"I'm beginning to think your father was wrong about the Iron Man Suit." Scott told Hope who simply nodded.

One of the planes fired a missile at him but he deployed flares and they made the missile explode behind him. He started falling before the Suit picked itself back up. One plane fired bullets at him and he avoided, though they scraped the metal of the Suit. He deployed flaps and two planes shot past him, shocking the pilots. Rhodes got a call from Tony and accepting it, berated him for sending civilian equipment into his war zone, to which Tony replied it was a suit with him inside it.

"And cat's out of the bag." Sam said.

"Just in the nick of time." Rhodes agreed.

The pilot of one of the planes spotted Tony on the underside of the other one and called out that it looked like a man. The pilot twisted his joystick and the plane rolled through the air. Tony lost the hold and crashed into the wing of Whiplash One, breaking it off.

"Uh-oh." Aunt May said.

"You okay?" Pepper asked.

"Yup." Tony sighed.

The military men stared in horror as the plane spun out of control. The pilot pulled the yellow handle and shot out of the plane just before it exploded. Still bolted to his chair, he fell through the sky, unable to open his chute which was jammed. Tony suddenly flew down. Major Allen commanded the other pilot to fire in spite of Rhodes' protests. Tony reached the falling pilot and punched the compartment open, with the chute coming out. He flew off as the pilot landed safely to the relief of the military men. Tony thanked Rhodes on the phone who gasped with a laugh. Rhodes asked what excuse he should give to the press, to which Tony replied training exercise.

"Nobody buys that anymore." Rhodes said.

"They did back then." Tony said.

"I'm beginning to think my father was a bit wrong about Tony too." Hope sighed. [3]

Sometime later, Rhodes lied to the press with the training exercise excuse as Obadiah watched the thing on TV.

"He definitely didn't buy it." Pepper said.

"Because he is smart." Steve said.

In the workshop, Pepper made her way down to the stairs and gaped at seeing the broken glass panels. She looked up to see a bot removing Tony's suit painfully piece by piece. She asked what was going on and he turned to see her. He tried to diffuse the situation but she was horrified on looking at the suit and asked, "Are those bullet holes?"

"Busted." Hope said as everyone chuckled slightly.

"I can relate." Peter said as him and Aunt May exchanged a knowing smirk.

"This is not going to be pleasant." T'Challa said.

"Right you are, Your Highness." Tony told him.

"Yup." Pepper agreed.

"The Suit had to be removed piece by piece?" Aunt May asked in surprise.

"Not anymore." Tony said.

"It got really cool and advanced later." Professor Hulk said, once again thinking of the Bleeding Edge Armor.

"Let us see what happens next." Steve said.

"It is about to get very interesting, bub." Logan told him as they continued watching.