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Of Battles Unfought

Chapter Text

 

Tony trusted Bruce with his heart, and maybe, in another life, Bruce picked up on the gravity of the situation. 

In another life, he would’ve gone ‘wait a minute, let me get tea because it’s either that or risk an elevated heart rate because your life was in danger and your only ally for part of it was a kid who wasn’t even past puberty’. 

Sure, he might not have been a good listener, might’ve interrupted a bit, and maybe he missed a few bits [since the ‘we make our own monsters’ bit wouldn't have fallen very well with Bruce], but he at least listened

And once Tony’s finished, he goes ‘excuse me, I need to go to the Hulk room because you’re a friend and you were at risk and brb gotta break something’. This is so not what he’s trained for, isn’t anywhere near what he’s trained for, but his friend needs him so dammit he’ll try to be as supportive as Tony’s been for him.

Because Bruce may not have PTSD, after having been hunted by General Ross, but that’s only because he instinctively knows the Other Guy takes care of most problems. Plus his years of searching for a cure means he’s aware of different approaches to mental health, and maybe it was useless for his predicament but maybe, just maybe, it might help Tony. 

Tony, meanwhile, finds that he’s got support from an unexpected quarter; he’d only wanted a sympathetic ear, had only wanted someone to understand, and yet Bruce seems to be furious on his behalf? What gives? Weird.

Weird, but...it's nice.

 

Basically, what happens in the short-term is Tony gets help from someone who’s not a vaguely-morally-ambiguous AI. 

So, slightly healthier coping mechanisms, but also not exactly what a doctor would prescribe, given Bruce’s knowledge is all over the place: a breathing technique he picked up from Tibetan monks, a tea from Argentina, etc. 

 

Bruce has been mostly living on the go, but right now Tony needs support and he’s the only one who can give it who’s not an AI, so as strange as it feels to not move every two weeks or so, he sticks around. 

Rhodey is very happy that Tony’s got someone who can be there for him, Pepper’s got part of Legal working on securing a better defense for whenever this Ross guy tries for the Hulk again, and also supportive [while also adding a line-item for R&D’s ‘property damage because SCIENCE’ budget], and JARVIS is slowly warming up to him. 

Time passes, and when CA2 happens, he’s on the sidelines because anything otherwise would be a Bad Idea given how overworked Legal is at the moment, plus the press doesn’t need any more fuel for the fire that is the DC breach. That being said, he’s also watching how Tony’s tearing apart at the seams dealing with the fallout, and going ‘yo this isn’t okay, what gives?’

Tony’s marginally more invested in the team, meanwhile Bruce is more reserved than canon. 

He doesn’t fall in love with Natasha [because I just can’t see it, no matter what canon says plus I can’t confidently write romance to save my life anyway], and is  watching things pan out and not liking what he sees.

He immediately steps up during the Penthouse Incident, because having seen Tony at his lowest, he knows what his coping mechanisms are, and is even more protective of him because of it. Turns out that having eyes flash green [because the Other Guy also disagrees with how the team’s treating Tony] in the middle of an argument is a good way to derail things, who knew?

Johannesburg’s still a huge mess. 

 

The Hulk fought Wanda’s influence, but her power is insidious to the extreme and Bruce feels the kernels of true hatred when he sees the wreckage, sees Tony’s injuries, and the Other Guy’s absolute horror and fury when he came to and found that he'd hurt his best friend—

 

Canon ensues, but he’s less shaky because he can’t afford to be. His entire life’s hinged on keeping his head down and surviving, on keeping quiet and ready to run, but now there’s someone who’s fought for him [legally, giving Ross hell; but he also did his level best to give him a home, and was so, painfully kind—], who’s hurting and he’s the only one who can do anything about it. 

So he does. Bruce is shaking like a leaf inside, but by now part of that's the smoldering rage that comes with seeing how the rest of the team's coming down on Tony and the bitter knowledge that they're accepting this woman who just forced him to experience his worst nightmare. 

Wanda’s wary of him, and the team as well, because they’ve seen him with calm anger before, but this is pure, frigid wrath. [Some things rub off on people; Tony’s ferocity in defending those he cares about is just one of them.]

Bruce still goes MIA during the end of the Age of Ultron arc, and Tony feels his loss keenly. It’s part of why he withdraws from the Avengers, here; sure, Tony had already known where the wind’s blowing anyway, but seeing how shaken his friend had been after Johannesburg is what motivates him to immediately sever any and all ties, rich protocols be damned. 

Canon ensues, and Tony’s raising hell earlier, because he hasn’t heard from Bruce in months and he trusts him but he doesn’t trust Ross to leave well enough alone. [Tony’s low-key getting pretty damn frantic, actually, but he settles for giving Ross hell while trying not to violate Bruce’s privacy because he was a grown adult and if he wanted a vacation, that was his right even if Tony wasn’t happy about the radio silence.]

Which results in an even messier Civil War arc, since Tony's been harassing Ross this entire time which ends up delaying things for Zemo's plan. In fact, he has to scrap Ross entirely and use situational stressors to leverage everything to his advantage, since Tony's been making decent headway on the 'give Thaddeus Ross a migraine because this asshole might have my science bro imprisoned' thing and doesn't seem to be letting up anytime soon. That, and that Tony isn't exactly a fan of the Avengers [they let Wanda Maximoff in on the team. Like hell he's going to have anything to do with them before that witch apologizes to Bruce!], which results in him not pulling his punches from the get-go.

 

 

This also means Siberia probably doesn't happen, which...throws another wrench into the works.

Bruce, meanwhile, is in space, and in full agreement with the Other Guy that they need to get home ASAP because a) he did not sign up for this gladiator schtick, and b) his best friend probably needs him. Thor doesn’t know how bad team dynamics really were, so he thinks it’s 95% homesickness when it’s closer to 80%

 

Canon ensues, TWiFFON ensues, Bruce gets home and when Tony takes over the world [by accident, because of course it was, what else was new], Bruce isn’t laughing at Tony, but it’s a very close thing. He’s facepalming when Tony’s epiphany happens, and the disbelieving look he throws becomes its own meme later on.

Chapter Text

Had Rhodey shown up earlier...

Well, first and foremost, the bulk of TWiFFON wouldn’t have happened. Because, Rhodey being quite possibly the Only Sane Man in this situation [Happy recovering from IM3 and Pepper’s like Tony, in too deep to realize what’s going on before it's too late], would’ve gone ‘hey, Tony, not that I’m complaining but why’re you amassing a robot army, again?’ which, while the healthiest approach, would also have meant the accidental world domination would’ve been 1000% harder to pull off.

Sure, it would’ve happened eventually, but it’s kind of hard to miss things, or misinterpret things, when there’s someone ready to question it. Someone who's got a level head and an outsider's perspective on everything going down, and would be enough of an influence to derail the plot entirely the moment he enters the scene. 

For instance, it has been kind of alluded to Rhodey already starting to see Something’s Off as early as Chapter 5, when Tony talked about how JARVIS would cut him off from his coffee; in the main fic, Rhodey basically went ‘okay, that’s kind of unhealthy but desperate times, desperate measures, and I don’t trust anyone else to take care of Tony so full speed ahead, JARVIS!’ because it’s not like he could do anything himself [what with his career and all]. Plus he hasn’t seen the levels of codependence yet, partly because a) it’s not as extreme as it is later on in the fic, and b) by this point, Tony and JARVIS already have a system set so it’s more subtle than not.

But if Rhodey had shown up earlier…

Hmm. It depends, actually. I actually kind of wanted him to take Bruce’s place as the silent audience, except instead of sleeping through Tony’s trauma Rhodey’s just quietly compiling a shit list with JARVIS on his phone, and going ‘okay, PTSD’s a legit thing and I’m 99.999% sure you’ve got it, Tony, let me try to help’. 

This, in turn, would snowball into Tony having slightly healthier coping mechanisms, and his self-esteem[/mental health in general] wouldn’t tank the moment the Avengers tried to pull anything on him. Tony’s self-awareness also doesn’t vanish into the ether, and the accidental world domination is nearly 75% through when he looks around and goes ‘wait wtf when was this part of the plan?!’ but then remembers they’ve got bigger problems so is just pretending he doesn’t know what’s going on like it’s not a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the parlor.   

[Elephant’s way too small, for this analogy.]

If Rhodey’d made an appearance after that, however, but before when he did in TWiFFON, he would’ve seen the budding codependence between Tony and JARVIS, and Tony’s situation in general, and immediately gone ‘hey I’m a phone call away if you ever need me, got it Tony? Literally, anytime, just hit me up.’ because Tony’s one of his oldest friends and while he’s known both him and JARVIS the AI since the beginning, that situation’s just…no.

He trusts JARVIS, really— he's been around since before he went online, met his namesake even. However, that still doesn't change the fact that Tony and JARVIS' codependence is not healthy and as such, he would step in. Even if he's got a very, very busy career as a colonel and pilot of the War Machine suit for the Air Force, Tony's one of his oldest friends and there's no way Rhodey wouldn't reach out however he could.

So overall, Tony’s socializing more, and Rhodey’s trying to remember every last thing he’s ever heard of PTSD in his various years at the Air Force, and maybe it’s not ideal but it’s as good as it’s going to get. 

Even if his career’s demanding, Rhodey’s still kicking ass and taking names, and JARVIS clues him into what SWORD’s up to earlier and that’s the story of how Tony’s inbox suddenly explodes. For instance: 

‘you didn’t tell me you had minions’ 

‘when the hell did you get minions’ 

‘why didn’t you tell me you were taking over the world I though we talked about this second year at MIT’

'gdi answer the phone Tony this better not be happening'

He’s also joining SWORD's listserv and quietly laughing at Tony while also headdesking because of course he’s got minions, he’s had Skynet for decades now why not this too. 

Things escalate, canon ensues, and Rhodey is gritting his teeth and screaming internally at some points. However, in payment for his stress the plot gets derailed and Tony isn't like a hair away from imploding or collapsing in exhaustion, so...there's that.

Chapter Text

“Let me get this straight. Dr. Stark engaged the Hulk in South Africa’s biggest city, after the Avengers fucked up, is that right?” Lee the PR rep demanded, leaning forward in his chair and glaring at something offscreen.

“Yep.” She answered, equally deadpan. They couldn’t mince anything, not right now.

Jordan the Legal representative merely sighed, sipped from her mug once more, and tilted her head before contributing to the conversation. “Okay, so I know SI’s got an open-ended contract with South Africa, and the Security department’s involvement gives us an edge…”

Potts, meanwhile, leaned back and started to rub her forehead to forestall a headache. [Extremis was useful, but apparently didn’t do much to for stress, good to know.] “Okay, so JARVIS’ working on coordinating relief, and between that and the Legion damages could’ve been far, far worse, we can work with that,” she threw Lee an apologetic look over the connection, “but I’ll admit, the Avengers really screwed up, media’s going to have a field day.”

“You’re telling me,” he groused and closed his eyes. “Alright then. We’ll spin the low damages and pretend that it was all under control, rather than Dr. Stark’s AI doing what it does best…but where the hell were the Avengers?”

“They had an encounter with an Enhanced woman, she’s got mental manipulation under her belt and whammied 80% of the roster, they were out of commission at the time.” Maria hesitated for a moment, then continued. “Though…I think boss said something about leaving the team.”

“What?!” Both Lee and Potts blurted out simultaneously. Maria was impressed by Jordan’s composure, really—the woman didn’t so much as widen her eyes, and merely took a larger swig from her mug. [Actually…did it have anything other than coffee in there? She was starting to suspect.]

“I can forward you the pertinent memos, and I’m fairly certain JARVIS has the footage of the discussions where it comes up. The Avengers…” Damn, it still hurt to say, even after having some time to come to grips with it, why was her throat so tight, “They aren’t who we thought they were.”

Potts was the first respond, even if it was a bit wooden. “You’ll…this has to do with Ultron, doesn’t it. J mentioned something, but I haven’t had the time to check up on it beyond what we have at present.”

“Dr. Stark did not create Ultron as we know it—the alien stole the project’s name, as well as a Legionnaire, and the Scepter. But…the Avengers didn’t quite see it that way. They took offense. All of them.” She replied frankly. There, it was out there, out loud, and now they’d be able to do something about it.

Jordan eyes sharpened, probably seeing more than Maria had meant to let out. “Oh?”

“Review the footage—actually, don’t, it gets ugly. Boss said something, too, afterwards. He’s not going to stay on. Maybe as a backup, in a New York-type of emergency, but I don’t see him dealing with them more than absolutely necessary, especially after they dissed his latest work on…I think he’s calling the project JOCASTA, now.”

Lee frowned. “Does he want the split to be favorable or not? When’s he planning on doing it?”

“Give me a moment.” Maria tapped at her phone to ask, meanwhile the rest of the video conference took in this latest revelation. [Good thing she and Dr. Stark were in the same time zone—it’d be an even bigger headache otherwise.]

Potts, too, was flickering through her phone, and paling before glowering [and starting to literally glow] at the screen. “Okay, yes, Stark Industries is cutting its ties to the Avengers.”

Jordan’s gaze had, in the span of a few seconds, cooled even more. “How much?” She asked, and her smile was the same one the Merchant of Death used, all placid menace edged with the absolute certainty that this would end in fire.

Potts returned her look evenly, and ignored the now-splintered armrests of her chair. “JARVIS listed them as a potential threat, and Tony wants them available for emergencies, what do you think?”

The Legal representative’s smile sharpened [somehow—Maria hadn’t known it was even possible]. “I’m thinking that my department has a grudge against Captain America and Romanov, and we could extend that to the rest of the Avengers with less than six words. Too bad the accords aren’t done yet, but Ross is being an asshole and refuses to leave well enough alone. Keeps calling and trying to scare the more paranoid delegations, the works.”

“Are we going with the rich protocols?” Lee asked tersely. “How nice does he want us to be?”

“Rich protocols?” Maria asked, confused. What the—

“You know, ‘keep your friends rich, and your enemies rich, then find out which is which’…oh, right, you’re new. It’s basically an ‘enough rope’ situation.”

 

At the Helicarrier, after the last lines of the chapter, which got scrapped because it didn’t set the tone I wanted but still most definitely happened:

 

Turning away, Maria smiled at the agents who’d lingered in her field of vision, and her mood lifted marginally as she noticed how they quickly scattered once they noticed. Good to know her reputation was still intact, and that her glare was as effective as ever. 

Her smile only continued to sharpen as she made her way to the labs, and tapped her headset once more for status updates.

Chapter Text

Lo and behold, Nick Motherfucking Fury easily stepped away from the makeshift hidden alcove. [Dear god, what was it with SHIELD and dramatics? Shadowed corners, seriously?]

Tony didn’t blink. “Looking pretty good for a dead guy. Hey, what is it with SHIELD and Schrödinger, anyway?”

“Long time no see, Stark.” Fury sounded vaguely amused as he raised an eyebrow. How he managed to combine the two and still make it look badass, Tony’d never know.

“We’ve shared lab space for nearly…half an hour, now? Wow time’s flied.”

“And you’ve been busy, too.” He observed, still regarding him with more warmth than the situation warranted.

“Okay, you just summed up my life in a nutshell, you know. These past few months especially—and next time you offer me a spot in your boy band, pass. I’ve got enough to deal with on my own.”

“I can see that,” Fury barked out a laugh, “you’ve been pretty damn active lately, you know. Some of the headlines aren’t as kind about it, either. And that’s without the whole mess with…whatever caused Johannesburg.”

“What, because being the owner of a Fortune 500 company, and the guy who privatized world peace won’t net me enemies? Pull the other one. Actually, no, don’t, my quota for enemies has been filled for the current biannual calendar. Can I pencil you in for never? Never sounds great.”

Fury, however, frowned. “Yes, but that’s what the team’s for, so you can take care of them together. Though I’ve heard you’ve been doing a solid job on your lonesome.”

Tony couldn’t help but scoff, at that. “Haven’t your super-spy buddies kept you in the loop? The WSC’s been having powwows, and they keep wanting to invite me. There’s only so many ways to politely tell someone to fuck off and leave me alone, you know. I’ve only ever been a consultant, not part of the team, and don’t want in.”

“The Avengers Initiative—“

“Look, I’m trying to keep the world safe, long after we’re all dust and ash, and this super-secret club you tried to form keeps telling me to not bother, so save it, take it to someone who cares.”

The man straightened up, and his gaze sharpened. “What do you mean.” His tone had gone from casual, amused even, to deadly serious in the span of a second. Tony wasn’t very impressed; Howard had been capable of the same, so had his godmother [when he’d had the chance to see her at work], and he’d mastered the art of it by the time he was 27.  

So, with the same smile he’d been biting back for the past week or so, he replied, “I mean, that when the alien who’s our current pain in the ass made his debut, everyone in your little boy band blamed mefor having the tech available. Damn thing near killed one of my oldest friends, and all they could say was that I shouldn’t have been looking into it anyway, even though we’ve had two invasions, not counting Puente Antiguo, in the past five years. And yeah, I want to make us redundant, want to make sure the world doesn’t need us—but apparently, they don’t.”

He took a breath, and noticed the dismay in Fury’s reaction.

“What, did Hill not tell you? For a spy, you’re really out of the loop.”

“Director Fury’s dead, Stark. I’m just an old, tired man who wants to leave the world in better shape than it was when I entered it. And we don’t have ears where we used to. Hill’s one of yours, she shares intel as necessary for a liaison to us, but HYDRA screwed everyone over good.”

“Paranoia’s the name of the game, isn’t it.”

“Damn straight.”

  

 

Also, after Fury finished That Quote at Tony [because I couldn’t resist], this might’ve gone afterwards, but it offset the gravitas I was going for:

 

 

Stark was eyeing him carefully, again. “Not sure if I’m flattered or not.”

He flashed a wry smile. “What do you think?”

“That the Avengers got their name from a more biblical source than I’d previously assumed. And that you’ve got a good memory for quotes.”

“Well…that’s part of it.” He shifted his weight and headed towards the doorway, and turned back. “You’re a good man, Stark. Glad you’re on our side.”

With that, he swept through the door, and nodded briskly at those who recognized him in the halls before melting into the shadows once again.

Chapter Text

Alternate Opening I:

 

See, here’s the thing: the Stark family was terrifying.

Howard Stark had more than made a name for himself as a titan of the industry, by the time his involvement in the Manhattan Project got declassified. He also managed to get the time to start up a covert government organization, somewhere down the line, too.

But he wasn’t the scariest.

No, that dubious honor went to Maria Stark, who ruled the PR department and New York high society with an iron fist and a beatific smile. See, Howard was always out, always away, and all the while, it was Maria Stark who held down the fort.

When the press tried to sniff around, she was the one who held them off; when government employees tried to discreetly wander around the mansion, she teamed up with Edwin Jarvis to firmly but politely send them on their way, and dispatch any bugs planted. Howard was the face of the company, but Maria was the power behind the throne when it came to PR, while Obadiah Stane took care of the corporate front.

And then Tony Stark was born. That’s what cinched it, really; Maria had always been formidable, but the claws had never really come out until the first time she saw her son cry.  

Everyone thinks Tony took after his father, because he was the spitting image of the man. That was not true; the ferocity with which he defended his family, the warmth with which he treated his friends, the brilliant smiles he’d perfected for the cameras— all of it, he’d inherited from his mother.

 

 

Alternate Opening II:

 

In other ways, however? There were more concerns than ever: the Stark name had a heavy legacy, and that was both a good and a bad thing. Being able to say that their CEO had personally  helped draft x-percent of their patents was very well and good, but the nigh-unnatural speed with which said patents were being churned out had already sparked more than a little unease, right out the gate. Suffice it was to say, it was no coincidence that his image in the media soon became more interested in play than in work.

Actually, that’d been a long-standing issue: more than once, especially early on, the PR department had been hard-pressed to politely tell the moral purists and hippies just where to stick it, when hearing their “valid concerns” about how a prodigy would fare as the sole heir to an arms company, with all their talk about “reaching his full potential” bull. [Ha—that family was a mess, but damn if they weren’t as supportive as all get out, when they’d found their only child was a prodigy.]

 Before, the PR department made sure to emphasize the family aspect of it all, and the achievements that’d already churned out. Now, however, was another ballgame entirely: there was no beautiful wife to host galas, or adorable child to smile for the cameras. Instead, it was just a twenty-one year old with three doctorates, four AI of varying levels of intelligence, and nowhere near enough sleep.

So, they set about making Tony Stark larger than life through other routes. It was remarkably easy, actually: they only had to ask him to play up some things for the cameras, and the media more than took care of the rest. The ‘playboy’ component in particular took center stage, and really helped deflect attention from the way the man treaded the fine line between 'revolutionizing the industry’ and 'kick-starting the next arms race’.

The first time the Merchant of Death was used in a headline, an emergency conference was held in the New York branch as to how they’d deal with it. In the end, it was decided that they’d focus more on the Maria Stark Foundation and hope for the best.

Chapter Text

 

I ended up going with Ultron’s POV for this, and went in a very different direction from there. Originally, however...

 

The entire battle with Ultron had only taken a minute or so, and mostly in his mind, why was Vision so tired? He swayed on the spot while he regained his equilibrium, and—huh.

He didn’t realize just when he’d closed his eyes during the altercation, but when he opened them, he noticed the stolen Legionnaire had finally collapsed sometime during the fight, and…Ultron was a ball of crimson, held prisoner in both his hand and his mind. [That was new, that was very new. How?!

…okay, rolling with it, rolling with it, Vision could do this. Right.

“Your mind is a very strange place, you know.” Ultron supplied unhelpfully from his spot in…wherever he was. 

Yeah, no. Better to focus on shutting off that port— wait, the portal!

A cursory exam was more than enough for Vision to realize its generator was a very different make than the one from New York, so presumably a different way would be necessary to shut it down…Except he didn’t know the slightest about alien tech and the world was counting on him, how was he going to—okay, right. Clearly it was time to interrogate his uninvited guest. Ultron had assembled it, he would know how to safely take it down.

 

 


 

 

I’ve been getting a few comments talking about how JARVIS’ choice regarding Pietro's death wasn’t that cold-blooded, etc. What they don’t know, is that it was literally a flip of a coin that kept me from going this route instead. Heads landed, but this was what might’ve happened if it’d been tails instead. 

Because, in the earlier versions, there was no civilian family for JARVIS to pretend to choose over Pietro. 

 

 

Data at hand: the Enhanced Male was in a ‘hot zone’, an area with a high concentration of Chitauri foot soldiers, and isolated from the bulk of the Avengers. All reports indicate the likelihood of injury without external interference: 97.2%, and likelihood of death without external interference: 68.4% The nearest possible backup was Agent Barton, and he would be unable to assist from his vantage point.

Conclusion: Pietro Maximoff could die if JARVIS did not interfere. 

 

Emergency analysis: Pietro Maximoff was second on the Threat Assessment Index, posed a hazard to Sir’s safety, had Enhanced abilities that JARVIS had yet found a way to counter, and did not appear to wish to change in any way, shape or form regarding it. His latest decision to take part in the battle was an anomaly relative to previous actions registered, and possibly motivated out of situational self-interest rather the altruism the Avengers seemed to assume was the default in humanity. 

 Conclusion: Pietro Maximoff posed a valid threat to Sir.

 

Data at hand: there were no witnesses, and the only one aware of the situation was JARVIS. If he chose to inform Sir or the Captain, there was a 100% likelihood of receiving orders from either to divert resources currently assisting safeguarding Sir to support the Enhanced.

Conclusion: Sir would be put at risk if JARVIS did anything to interfere with Pietro Maximoff’s situation. Especially given his already-precarious position.

 

Ultimately, the Primary Protocol superseded all else. Though Sir would doubtlessly attempt to aid as many as possible at his own risk, JARVIS was far less willing to comply. Assisting Pietro Maximoff would come at the cost of Sir’s safety, and as the man was a known threat on the index…

Conclusion: JARVIS would not interfere in the situation. It would be a waste of resources on a number of levels.

 

 

He did not report on the male Enhanced's precarious position. Of the way he fought desperately when surrounded on all sides, unable to evade and overwhelmed in short order.

 

JARVIS coldly watched Pietro Maximoff die alone, and didn't. Say. A. Word.

 

Even as the female Enhanced immediately registered his death and screamed, as the rest of the Avengers were immediately sobered by the fall of one they'd deemed their own, JARVIS did not break his silence. 

Sir would have been burdened by unearned guilt, had he known; he was unfortunately prone to taking on the burdens of others, after all, even when it came to his enemies.

 

He did not need to know. 

Chapter Text

Ultron was not subtle at all about his obsession with stealing Tony away; it’s pretty obvious what would’ve happened if he hadn’t been stopped. Vision got to him before he had a chance— but if he hadn’t been assimilated, Ultron would had most definitely done his damnedest to do so. 

As for exactly what happens…It depends a bit, actually. In Chapter 20, Vision was lucky; Ultron hadn’t expected him to be that strong, and managed to win the fight. 

But maybe, in another universe, Ultron won, because Vision powerful but young, whereas Ultron knows his limits, and has been sitting for years with little more to do than wait and plan. 

If Vision had lost the battle, Ultron would’ve possessed the Mind Stone, and been amused by Vision enough to transfer him to the now-mostly-defunct Legionnaire while keeping the shiny new vibranium body for himself.

 

 

…or perhaps he does something else, but there’s only so many what-ifs I’m willing to keep track of for this, so just roll with him ditching Vision, all right? 

 

 

And with it, Ultron would have been unstoppable.

Tony, of course, would’ve known right away that something was wrong, but he’s busy fighting a huge horde of Chitauri on his own lonesome, cut off from everyone else, and would not have been able to take Ultron on as well. The Iron Legion’s good, but their numbers are being decimated because Ultron’s got his main objective [the Mind Stone back] and he wants to take Tony with him when he goes to report to Thanos, so subtlety isn’t a concern anymore. 

The Avengers realize they’ve been played, pretty damn fast. 

Because it’s pretty hard not to notice, when the Chitauri aren’t working as a distraction anymore, just focused on overwhelming Iron Man, and Tony’s very clearly trying not to lose it over the comms and the portal’s acting up but they don’t have Loki’s Scepter, don’t know how to influence it. 

The battle’s almost entirely shifted to the air, so the team can only watch while Tony Stark’s finally overwhelmed by the entirety of the Chitauri army, and swept away into the portal, and it closing almost immediately after. 

 

Now, since I’m fighting off plot bunnies already, I won’t go into what would’ve happened if Ultron had left the portal open, because that’s pretty self-explanatory and any alternatives would mean this becomes even more of an AU than I'm inclined to mess with.

 

Tony’s very obviously freaking out, and this is literally his worst nightmare, cut off from JARVIS and the rest and he’s seeing the alien army he’s been trying to get the Earth ready for and…welp. 

That he’s being dragged and ‘presented’ to Thanos, is only the goddamn cherry on top.

He doesn’t know what happened to Vision, but Ultron’s wearing his body and that’s not exactly helping either. The only silver lining to being around Ultron is his tendency to monologue, which is how Tony gets an idea of what’s going on. 

Thanos is looking at him like he’s an insect, and oh, that’s where Loki got some of his crazy from, makes sense. [He’s so, so screwed, isn’t he?]

…oh, wait, they want to recruit Tony? And have him make them an army, because they’re curious as to what he’s capable of? This, he can work with.

  

…it’s been a few years since the debut of Iron Man, and Tony never really advertised what went down in Afghanistan. Plus, these aliens have different priorities, and really it’s not their fault they’re making the exact same mistake the Ten Rings did. 

Except for the way it really, really is. 

Add in Tony’s resistance to the Mind Stone [Loki tried it on him in the Avengers and failed, remember? Plus with humanity's surprise tolerance for items of infinite comic power that has come up multiple times in the past] and you get Tony with highly advanced alien tech, being forced to supply the enemy with his creations. 

Because that’s ended so well for his captors before, right?

 

So this entire time, Tony's doing what he does best: innovate under pressure. Only, this time the stakes are higher, and there's not even a Yinsen for him to plan his escape with— closest thing he's got is Ultron, who has a very bizarre sort of respect for him. 

Which actually kinda evolves into a twisted sort of friendship, especially as Ultron learns more about his actual creator. Turns out Thanos is an asshole to everyone around him; Ultron's loyalty to the guy is very clearly unreciprocated, as shown by the way Thanos ripped the Mind Stone out of his forehead first chance he got. Only reason he survived is because Tony went out of his way to stabilize him with some of the alien tech he had at hand. 

Cue convoluted subplot as Ultron shifts from enemy to ally while Tony continues working on this 'army' for Thanos, culminating in a mutiny with Tony and Ultron vs. Thanos and the Other. 

 

 

Meanwhile, back on Earth…

 

First off: the Avengers are reeling, are going ‘oh shit’ and ‘looks like Tony wasn’t as crazy as we thought, oops’, while JARVIS…

Umm. Well, obviously he’s not going to take it well. 

And I can’t honestly say how that’ll go down. Because JARVIS, at this point, is very traumatized from his multiple consecutive not-deaths and close calls and has been hyperfixating on Tony’s safety to cope. His morality’s never been much to write home about, Tony was what was keeping him reigned in. He has a robot army at hand, doesn’t believe in overkill, and his morality chain’s gone, there’s no way this can go wrong, right?

He was already borderline Skynet in some ways, but seeing Tony get kidnapped [and hearing him, and feeling the connection become static]…well. I’ll leave that up to your imagination.

 

It depends, really.

 

If he goes the subtle route:

 JARVIS would regroup the Iron Legion, collect Vision and any alien artifacts, and book it home. He wouldn’t care about what happens to the Avengers, except to run a subroutine to monitor them [because he’d deemed them a potential threat before but now Tony got captured on their watch—] and mobilizing as many researchers to get on the case as he possibly can. Dr. Foster’s data gets copied to his private servers, SWORD and R&D are on it, and it still doesn’t feel like it’s enough.

Vision gives him the data, and got moved to an Iron Man suit [because the body he’s in was mostly running on willpower], while they’re working on making him a newer and better body. [And if the Iron Legion’s also growing exponentially…well, that’s no one’s business, now, is it?]

Rhodey immediately gets brought in, and is kept in the loop the entire time. 

This isn’t his normal field of study, and the only words he recognizes are the ones that also pertained to aviation engineering, but he does his best to not get lost.

He’s seething, and only part of it’s guilt [he’d been less than 500 meters away, again, just like last time—], and JARVIS clued him in as to how the team had treated Tony from what he'd missed because of his concussion [he’d punched Thor while still in the suit, when they’d first met. Thor had let him, and didn’t lift a hand to fight back]. 

But things are going slower now, because Resident Genius 1′s the guy who got kidnapped, while Genius 2′s MIA […or not? Maybe he sticks around? Hmm…] and Dr. Foster and Selvig’re doing quite a bit of heavy lifting. Not to say SWORD and SI aren’t, but their specialties are in ways to make things explode better other fields, so progress isn’t what it used to be.

 

The Avengers, meanwhile…well, they get shafted, simply put. Tony was the one doing all the heavy lifting, and now that he’s gone and SI’s devoted its spare resources to finding him, they’re facing the scrutiny of the world and don’t have any good answers to their tough questions.

Turns out losing billionaire philanthropists was a bigger deal than they’d thought, and now that Tony’s gone it’s Steve that is getting called by the World Security Council, except this time it’s about reconstruction efforts in Johannesburg and questioning his recruitment choices and what was being done to secure the planet and he doesn’t know what to say, doesn't have a good answer for some of it. He's forced to face the consequences of his actions, put in a position he's never been in before and it is not pretty. 

 

…that might’ve been a bit harsh, actually.

 I’d like to think that Tony’s loss would’ve been the wake-up call the Avengers never had after AoU, the likes of Phil Coulson’s death in the first Avengers movie, because I’m a sucker for good team dynamics and even if it won’t go this way in TWiFFON, if I can fix it even a little, I will. 

Just…umm. 

Please ignore Wanda’s absence, or pretend that the Chitauri took out both twins instead of just Pietro in this one, because of reasons. 

 

Thor’s taking it the hardest, and Vision’s mention of Thanos [one of the few things he’d managed to get from Ultron’s mind during the fight] makes his blood run cold as he remembers Loki’s Scepter [and the gleam of madness in his eyes], the similarities between him and Tony, and goes back to Asgard as soon as possible because—oh, please no. Hopefully Heimdall had something, please, don’t let this happen again—

 

Steve’s the team leader, and he’s taking it pretty damn hard, too. He’s looking back, and remembering what happened last time, and wants to punch himself in the face. How had he not seen this? Why hadn’t he— just— how could he have been so stupid? [And what could they do now?

His nightmares had featured Bucky falling for years now. Seeing Tony getting swept up and up and up is not much better. 

 

Natasha’s calling in as many favors as she can, and between her and Maria Hill, a good chunk of SHIELD’s scientists are also working on it. Relations between SWORD and SHIELD improve, because they’re collaborating more, and working towards the same goal. 

  

Clint’s retirement either gets moved up from ‘after this mission’ to ‘right fucking now, go to ground and lay low stat’, or he stays with team, since half the roster’s MIA and the other half isn’t doing so hot. He’s also calling in every favor he’s got, and the scientists who were working on the Tesseract and weren’t in Natasha’s debt tended to owe him one. [Or two.


Bruce’s situation I already covered. Either MIA or hard at work.

 

They’re doing what they can with what they have, and maybe it’s not enough right now, but they’ll get there. 

 

[Aka the cast of TWiFFON assembles to rescue Tony.]

Of course, that’s assuming JARVIS has a modicum of self-restraint and subtlety, when Tony’s been kidnapped on his watch. [He doesn’t believe in overkill, after all.]

 

If JARVIS had decided to go forego subtlety, though…

 

He can make Skynet look like a toddler, his morals are now officially compromised, and Tony did his level best to keep him safe.

You do the math.

He may or may not have kidnapped every scientist who hadn’t replied favorably to his request within 72 hours, is what I’m saying. 

He may or may not have shamelessly stolen all pertinent data from multiple countries, and scared the crap out of the planet while at it. 

Ditto as to what the Iron Legion’s up to. Or Stark Industries. 

 

 

 

Tony would gladly raise hell for those he cares about, and some things run in the family. Whether or not this is a good thing is up to you.

 

Either way, at some point another wormhole’s made, or opens up.

Everyone’s gearing for battle and panicking and the Iron Legion’s assembled, when a single figure in slim black-and-gold armor slowly exits.

“This the right place? Terra—Earth, I mean, Earth! Damn I’ve really spent too much time abroad. Hey, JARVIS, miss me—oooh boy. You’ve been busy, haven’t you?”

Chapter Text

Peter Parker's routine, however, got promptly derailed when he realized got called over to—wait. 

 …that was the department head’s office, wasn’t it? The one that’d been empty and dark for the entirety of his time at Stark Industries, because it was Dr. Stark’s office?

 “JARVIS, are you sure this isn’t a typo?” He asked, even as he started to head over.

“No, Mr. Parker, it’s not.” JARVIS replied, blandly polite, as if this wasn’t Peter’s hero they were talking about, as if this exact scenario wasn’t one that Peter had been stressing over ever since he’d found out that normally Dr. Stark spent the majority of his time in R&D.

No pressure, no pressure, his hero was just calling him to his office, no pressure. 

“Do remember to breathe, Mr. Parker. And please get going, he’s waiting.” JARVIS added, and Peter just knew he was laughing at him, that was the only time J said things in that particular tone. 

Okay, he could do this. No pressure. 

His hands were slightly clammy, by the time he knocked on the office door.

“It’s open, come in.”

 Peter had [accidentally] participated in dubious genetic engineering, had faced down muggers, and done patrols late at night sometimes on weekends. This was nothing. [Right?]

 He wiped his hands once again, and pushed it open.

 Dr. Stark looked over from his computer, then brightened as he saw him. “Oh, hey! You’re the intern this round, right? Peter Parker?”

Peter nodded, then caught himself. “Yes, I am. It’s nice to meet you, Dr. Stark.”

“Oh, hey, no,” Dr. Stark waved him off, “everyone knows to call me Tony. So, you’re the newbie this round? Sorry I couldn’t introduce myself earlier, something came up.” 

 Peter was pretty sure he was rooted to the spot. Dr. Stark wanted to call him Tony, and called the Ultron mess ‘something’, this was so not what he was expecting. “No, don’t worry about it, I get it.”

“Still, things’ve been off-whack lately. R&D’s not normally like this.”

“Really?”

 “Yep. Usually less stuff catches on fire by accident and more on purpose.”

Chapter Text

 

Tony Stark hadn’t had any coffee that morning.

It may not have sounded like a major detail, but given it was who-the-fuck-knows in the morning, and he’d just finished all of his planned politicking for the week when Ross decided now was the best time to present the Accords to the team, it meant his patience was already flagging since before he saw the asshat’s stupidly self-satisfied smirk, and so when Ross decided to try and pull the same shit he’d done as a General, that was it.

Because he may not trust the Avengers, and odds were they’d like him even less after seeing the Merchant of Death, but right now he was out of fucks to give. He’d been trying to decide if he was more indifferent to the team than he disliked Ross, but this last round made his choice for him. 

 

Here, he goes full-on Merchant of Death when Ross presents his version of the Accords, and the team gets a front-row seat to seeing what happens when Tony gets serious.

 

He pulls absolutely no punches whatsoever, doesn’t break eye contact with Ross when he pulls out his phone and calls his legal team right there and then. No details, but enough to prove he’s not messing around, and then hangs up with a vicious smile that basically has Ross running because in the span that brief, one-sided conversation everyone in the room heard, they’ve realized just whatit meant to piss off Tony Stark.

Specifically, why it was a bad idea, and how obvious it was that Ross hadn’t thought this through—because, in the span of a few minutes, he now has a multinational corporation gunning for him, with some of the best legal teams on the planet. 

Ross pretends he doesn’t flee, pretends he’s not on the defensive and trying to figure out how to take on the Merchant of Death. [He fails miserably.] The minute he’s out he door, Tony’s expression doesn’t change when he turns to the team, and with that same smile, says, “He won’t be a problem soon, taking him down shouldn’t take too long.”

Then he visibly warms up and approaches Rhodey to go in for a hug, teases Vision for forgetting the other Widow’s Bite, and leaves soon afterwards, complaining about coffee—and leaving the team to reassess everything they knew about Tony Stark, because what the hell.

Things are only downhill from there, really.

Within the next week, headlines are being made, as the encryption of SHIELD’s files on anything related to Ross ‘mysteriously’ get cracked by an ‘anonymous hacker’, and go viral. The timing could not have been worse, as world’s getting wind of what the UN’s talking about possible Accords. Specifically, someone manages to get his version of the Accords online. It may not sound that bad, but this is Ross’ version of the Accords, aka the US’ official version—and it does not look good, especially when compared to the one being pushed for by a record-breakingly large international coalition. 

All in all, Ross is not making his country look good, and combined with the incredibly-intimidating-and-still-growing lawsuit Stark Industries is filing against him? Well, President Ellis isn’t a fool—he drops him like a hot potato, to the applause of basically the entire world.

In the back, the team’s seeing all this go down, and quietly going “what the hell”, because they’ve never seen Tony this way, have only seen him messing around or in mission mode before. This is their first encounter with the Merchant of Death going all-out against an enemy, and in that moment, they all quietly decide they do not want to get on his bad side. Ever. 

Also, they’re getting slightly less Lex Luthor vibes from him, what with being distracted by all the media’s attention about the Accords, and, since Ross’ visit to the team was made public what with the clusterfuck surrounding his version of the Accords, soon they get inundated with legal counsel to actually explain how the Accords’ll work.

 

[and thus averting the bulk of Civil War]

 

Talk about the clauses and how it’s an international thing, about how if they try to barge into other countries to fuck shit up [the way Ross did Brazil, the way they did Johannesburg and Lagos] they’ll be persona non grata too, and basically drilling it into the team’s head about how the Accords actually work. Ross’ situation is quickly turning into a cautionary tale, now, because the lawsuit’s a monster and there’s rumors several countries’re thinking of joining in. 

 

The more time goes on, the uglier it gets, too, especially because…

 

Tony is not a happy camper, and he hates everything, how the fuck is this his life. Because this is the latest storm in a series of them, just the last round of paperwork he’s had to deal with, and the fact that he had to bring out the Merchant of Death to get shit done is actually not a good thing in his book [again, he’s not proud of it].

The only silver lining is that there’s a finishing line to this mess, and that he can vent his frustration via the legal battle going on.  And even that’s mired in a snarl of issues he doesn’t want to think about, because the longer this goes on, the more the world’s seeing the Merchant of Death and thinking he’s a responsible adult who knows what he’s doing when really he just wants some coffee and maybe a nap, and that leads to…weird consequences.

Specifically, there’s quite a few people looking at him, now. Even more specifically, some of those people are looking at him working with his company, coordinating with Pepper and Legal and PR and the Council and various other countries, and the newly-vacant position for Secretary of State, and going “hey, there’s an idea”.

 

[I did mention this was crack, right? Yep.]

 

So, no. Tony is not a happy camper at the moment. At. all. Especially since the press is now in on it too, and wasn’t that an embarrassing headline? And it comes up again and again, in interviews and articles and Thor knew what else—”Tony Stark for Secretary of State?”

…yeah, that’s a no. Hells no, haven’t these people ever heard of conflicts of interest?! 

Made even worse, since it turns out the speculation wasn’t actually bs, and Tony hadn’t even finished his coffee when the goddamn President of the United States of America called him to ask about it, how the fuck was this his life.

Suffice it is to say, Tony is so, so tired by the time the lawsuit’s over. 

On the plus side, at least shit got done? Ross’ career is now dust, the Avengers are now no longer his headache, they’re some committee’s problem now. Danvers, the head of said committee, looks like she has a good head on her shoulders, and Tony wishes her luck. [All the luck.]

Even better, now that people’re taking him seriously, he can finally work on a global planetary protection program without getting laughed out of the room [looking at you, Avengers], or having to resort to do it all on his own.

 

Thanos arrives to an Earth that is ready for war, with the Merchant of Death as its first line of defense.

Chapter Text

Tony clenched his jaw and ignored the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach as the giant continued decimating the Iron Legion. 

Son of a—

Okay, he could fix this. Even if he was drawing a blank as to how, and as every second ticked by he couldn’t help the helplessness he felt as the SWORD volunteers over the comms were screaming about evacuation and limited escape routes and structural integrity and dammit he was freaking out again.

He couldn’t help it. 

Maximoff’s rampage meant he had to keep her attention to distract her from his people, and the Iron Legion were dropping like flies and he didn’t know what to do—

And then Peter spoke up.

“I’m coming in.”

Oh, no.

“Kid, don’t—

But even as he started, Tony watched as the familiar red and blue figure swept in just in time to get one of his staff members off the precarious rooftop and onto solid ground.

Tony hated the prospect, but…he didn’t have any other alternatives.

“Just for evacuations, got it?” He barked out, firing at Maximoff yet again and dodging the red blasts as they came his way. 

“But I can—”

“Parker, your aunt’s going to kill me. Then you.”

“…point. But I have an idea!”

Chapter Text

JARVIS had mostly been indifferent to Pietro’s fast-impending death, when he’d sent that Legionnaire towards the three life signs buried under the rubble. Neither he, nor the rest of the world, would ever know just what bullet was dodged that day.

 

Zemo’s desire for vengeance never takes root, not when it’s overwhelmed by the relief and gratitude felt at the sight of his family being treated by first responders after having been pulled out of the wreckage.

That doesn’t mean he’s not pissed off at them having been put at risk. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t hold one hell of a grudge, or start making plans and contingencies. But in this world, he has something to lose, has something to live for.

In this world, he sends out quiet feelers, eases slowly back out of retirement. Whenever he’s not caring for his family, he’s quietly decoding files and calling in favors late into the night, crossing items off his list. Starts politicking again, and calling in old favors and making new allies— but is far, far more subtle in his maneuvers. After all, this isn’t a dead man walking, but a very angry father acutely aware of just how close he’s come to losing it all [and would probably be best friends with Miriam Sharpe, now that I think about it]. 

 

In this world, the Accords are an even bigger mess. 

 

Zemo clues in to what Tony’s been up to, and his research around the Avengers means he has as good a picture as anyone’s going to get without being a member of Stark Industries. His influence means the SI's version of the Accords are the most popular in the UN, which in turn means Ross makes an even bigger ass of himself when he tries to pull a fast one.

Canon ensues. Zemo’s not as active of a player, since his motivation is very, very different and his priorities lie with his family, but…the botched mission in Lagos would’ve happened regardless.

Which is how T’Challa comes into play, because turns out that Wakanda’s not happy about how the situation was handled.

There is no Winter Soldier attack during the UN meeting; Zemo volunteered to work security because he’s very very invested in this thing going through.

…that there was a sighting of the guy nearby just as a few of his shadier mission files got decrypted is a complete and utter coincidence, really. 

  

[Hey, had to get the ball rolling somehow.]

 

The manhunt for one of the most infamous assassins of the century intensifies, and all Zemo has to do is sit back and watch as the dice fall. Turns out it’s a domino effect: Steve busting in with absolutely no regard for international relations leads to Tony getting called in, which results in even less trust in the Avengers worldwide. 

Really, Zemo didn’t even have to lift a finger. Although…when he did his research, he found some very interesting things. Such as, you know, a certain videotape.

That, he immediately forwards to Tony, in thanks for the whole ‘saving his family’ thing. The fact that said videotape will almost certainly turn Iron Man against the Avengers is just the icing on the cake. [let’s just cut the multiple Winter Soldiers thing since that was a red herring, okay?]

There’s no Siberia, no big dramatic showdown. There’s just Tony, who’s been steadily losing patience with the team and is now presented with evidence that their esteemed leader had tried to keep from him when he had absolutely no right to do so.

The Merchant of Death had already made his appearance; this just cemented things, just killed any hope the team had of not getting ripped to shreds as their most powerful supporter became their greatest enemy.

…and Zemo’s just seeing this go down while sipping his coffee, safely back home with his family.