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on the bleeding edge

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Tony wakes up with Hulk roaring in his face, with Thor leaning over him, Steve not far from them – there are familiar buildings leaning over them all, all of them in a familiar state of being battered. It's like a scene from a nightmare – one he usually doesn't wake up from. This part, this, Hulk roaring in his face, this goes differently. Happens, but also doesn't – usually it's with him still floating in space, or with New York destroyed, or –

Shit.

"It worked," Tony breathes, staring at the beautiful blue sky high above them all – there are still signs of the disturbance there, the clouds are all funky – distractedly he wonders, again and for the millionth time, why the portal didn't just suck out the atmosphere, it was opened to the dead of space, there was no air, it was near vacuum, so why didn't air go in, why didn't – "Oh, god, it worked."

He can feel the hyperventilation coming along, so he breathes harder to undercut it, deep breaths now, stay in control -

"You scared us, Tony," Steve says with a hopeless, relieved sort of smile on his face, and Tony looks up at him. He has dialogue that goes here – something about shawarma, wasn't even that good – but he can't. Steve looks so fucking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, even with dust and blood and bruises on his face. 2012 Steve Rogers in all of his innocence.

"Yeah, I bet," Tony says, blinking, scrambling to say something normal instead of… something not so normal."What – what happened?"

"You got the missile through the portal," Steve reports. "And then you fell – Hulk caught you."

Yeah, Tony remembers. Not the actual thing, he was pretty well passed out, but he'd seen videos. Gotten drunk over them and thrown up all over his workshop too, because of them. Early stages PTSD and anxiety fun.

"It's over," Steve says and smiles brighter. God, he's so pretty. "We won."

"It isn't over yet," Thor says, determined and not a hair out of place. "There is still Loki."

Tony looks between them. Young pretty boy Steve, Hulk without glasses, not soft Thor, this is young Thor, frat boy Thor with luxurious golden locks and not yet enough trauma to fill up a beer keg. "Yeah, yeah," Tony says, lays his head down on the rubble below him for a moment and breathes. Loki. Shit. Yeah. "I'm getting up."

They wait for him until Thor loses patience and holds out his hand. Tony looks at it – he has the hammer in the other hand. Worthy, Tony thinks and wonders what that actually means. Steve can use the hammer too. What the fuck is worthy in the Asgard realm? Hell, Asgard is still a place that exists too. Huh.

Tony takes the hand offered and lets himself be pulled up.


 

Loki is captured, and then the rescue operations start. Tony has his company throw an appropriate amount of money at the operations, ordering the right people to delegate. Somewhere someone gets all the firemen, police and all the useful vehicles they can get their hands on to the scene, in some cases having them carried on choppers from a neighbouring city, and it all happens under Tony's name. Iron Man makes an appearance, briefly, when a bridge starts showing signs of falling over, but that was mostly on autopilot. Somewhere, the Avengers do – something.

Tony has a drink and then tracks down their guests from the other realm.

Loki is under lock and key until Powers That Be start making their moves to claim him. HYDRA and Pierce, that's point 2 in Tony's itinerary. Actually, maybe 3, Loki himself might be number 2. Maybe Thor, if he can get through the frat boy exterior, which is – debatable. Point 4 in his itinerary would be Rhodey, isn't that shitty of him, to shove poor Rhodey back like that? Like he always does.

Point 1 and maybe Only is Pepper. Tony has a phone in hand, and it's ringing, and Pepper is Point 1, and he cannot quite muster up the courage to answer.

Hearing Pepper's voice might heal him. Might break him. He can't tell which one it will be, but it will be ugly.

"Sir?" JARVIS says, and Tony nearly flinches out of his skin. "Miss Potts is on the line."

"I know, J, I know," Tony says, looking at the phone. Pepper's face is on it. She's beautiful. Younger. Not yet stressed out of her brilliant cutting edge mind. It's not his Pepper, but it's kind of his Pepper, but also kind of not – and good god, JARVIS too…

In and out, breathe in… and out. No time for panic attacks.

Tony blows out a breath and then closes his eyes. Like taking a stab, or an injection, or ripping off a band aid, he answers the phone.

"Tony, oh my god,"  is Pepper's greeting, and Tony quivers like something structurally unsound in an earthquake – her voice.

"Hey, Pep," he says, his voice thin, reedy. "Hey, how – how are you? Where are you, are you –"

"In Washington – where are you, how are you? I saw the footage, I saw you – flying to the portal – "

"Washington, right, that’s – that's good, how's the weather -"

"- and I saw you fall, I was on a plane watching you fall, and you called me and I didn't even hear, Tony, I'm sorry – you were calling me when going up and I didn't answer  -"

They babble at each other and over each other until the urge to cry passes, and somewhere along the way Tony re-learns how to breathe. He somehow manages to assure Pepper that he's alright, not dying, the tower isn't about to fall over, even though they have some funky holes in the living room area and the roof is a mess – and yeah, some of the Avengers are still hanging around, Bruce is sleeping off the Hulkover in the guest room, better leave him be, and Steve is somewhere – like a splinter under Tony's nails, but it's fine, it's fine -

"And – and I think – I think you should come back, I think we should talk," he babbles before he can stop himself – but then, Pepper is Point 1 on the itinerary, and he was always going to tell her. No plan he didn't tell her worked properly. "We – we should talk – I – I have some ideas and we should talk them over."

"More Iron Men?" Pepper asks with a laugh that sounds relieved and nervous all at once.

Tony closes his eyes and smiles and lets the tears spill over. "Worse," he says. "Oh, so much worse. Something happened, Pep, I – I won't talk about it on the phone, we're bugged to high hell here and SHIELD is probably listening to every word, but – yeah. Can you come back?"

For once, she doesn't even question it. "I'll be there in two hours," she promises firmly, but with an edge of unease. "Don't do anything you will regret before I get there."

Too late.


 

Getting to Loki alone is impossible – if there's no SHIELD guard there, then there's at least Thor. Which, in the end, is more or less fine, Thor is fine. When he stops being wilfully dumb, Thor is the best – but it's a few years and a lot of losses until then and – fuck it. Tony will take what he can get.

"So," he says, sidling up to the shackled, gagged prisoner. "This is a new look. How is he doing, Thor?"

"He will not be escaping," Thor promises, arms folded as he eyes his brother. "Nor will he be doing any magic. As soon as we've seen to the pleasantries here, I will take him back to Asgard to face justice for his actions."

"Bet that will be fun," Tony agrees, fiddling with his cufflinks while Loki looks up at him, green eyes narrowed and face set under the gag. Humming, Tony looks away, glancing at the cameras aimed at them, and then looks away. "J, cut and paste."

"Already done, sir, you have radio silence," JARVIS speaks in his ear.

SHIELD might still have bugs, who knows, but it's the best he can get, and he might not have another chance. "So I've been wondering," Tony says. "New York? On top of my tower? What was that about? Any nuclear submarine would've done to power the cube, right, so why my tower? Hm? Was it just to show me up, or was there another reason?"

Loki, obviously, doesn't answer, but his eyes narrow further, a hard edge coming to his gaze. Oh yeah, he's onto something here.

"Has your brother ever been on Earth?" Tony asks, turning to Thor.

"Yes. Once at least, though I expect it was more than that," Thor admits. "He knows local customs well."

"Mm. So he would know stuff like… maybe don't start your invasion in one of the most populous cities on Earth, on top of its mightiest defenders," Tony says and spreads out his arms. "Like yours truly. I mean, there's arrogance, and then there's stupidity, and lemme tell you, opening portal right on top of my tower? Tsk tsk."

Loki isn't even moving anymore, just staring at him silently.

"It's like you were planning to fail," Tony comments and arches his brows. "Hm?"

Thor is frowning now, looking between him and Loki. "What do you mean?"

"You've fought in actual wars, right?" Tony asks, looking at him. "Do you start your invasion right on top of the enemy base? No, you start it from the side, you establish beachhead, capture territory to make it safe for yourself and your troops and then, once you're settled and have someplace to fall back to, you attack. You don't start where your enemy is the strongest, not unless you're a complete fucking idiot. Which I take your brother isn't."

Thor scowls and his arms fall. "No, no, he is not," he says, looking at Tony and then at Loki.

Loki rolls his eyes at them and then leans back, arching his brows and making a sort of nodding-nudging motion with his chin, to indicate the mask.

Thor makes an aborted move to take it off and then grimaces, curling his fingers into his palm.

"Don't bother," Tony says, and pushes his hands into his pockets. "I don't even care about his reasons. Here's what I'm taking off from them – because I saw what was on the other end of that portal. Yeah," he says when Loki looks to him sharply. "I went in, I came out – I saw. And this," he motions haphazardly outside, where New York is still rolling with the aftermath. "This was a wakeup call."

Loki looks at him, steady, searching.

Tony nods. "Consider me awake."

Well, that's new, he thinks as Loki closes his eyes and sighs. The guy looks actually relieved. He'd figured, yeah, he'd always had a niggling suspicion, but… seeing the proof right there and then, that's new.

Nothing Tony can do for the guy – wouldn't even if he could. Loki did commit some major crimes, and Tony is not taking the management of that crap onto himself, he's got too much work to do. Loki and his reputation would be too much of a hindrance at this stage. But maybe… maybe sometime later.

"Yeah," Tony says and nods, first to Loki, and then to confused, suspicious looking Thor. "See ya, Rock of Ages. Get back to me when you got the stones to do it properly."

Loki looks up sharply with narrowed eyes, but Tony is already turning away – Pepper is about to enter the tower, and his mind is already in other matters.


 

It takes Pepper about fifteen minutes to freak out over him, check him for injuries, nag at him for flying a nuke into a wormhole and then finally work herself into a calmer, more reasonable state. Tony bites back tears the whole time.

She's beautiful, she's younger, six years younger, she's strong – and she's not his Pep. Not yet. Maybe never.

"Come, come here – we gotta talk, and I can't be sure my space wasn't bugged, so – come here," he says and leads her out and to the balcony, where he knows they're free of bugs. He went over it with a fine toothed comb, and even JARVIS can't hear, not with the damage Thor, Loki and Hulk had done there. Complete black out.

He'd tell JARVIS, yeah, eventually – once he was sure his baby boy was safe and beyond manipulation. That would take a bit of doing, though. Not safe, not yet.

"I'm – okay, this is going to sound crazy," Tony starts.

"Crazier than an alien portal on top of our tower?" Pepper asks.

"Yeah," Tony says with a grimace. "Yeah. So. I'm from the future. I used the portal as a sort of way to hijack my own body, because – because time travel is hard and stupid and this was the only way to stay in my timeline, and not like, start a new one. Breaking few paradoxes aside."

She blinks, looks at him, blinks again, and then says, "What?"

To her credit, she sounds only a little bit incredulous.

"I'm from – from 2023, actually," Tony says. "Took me – a few years to figure out, um. So, the guy who just sent that invasion – not Loki, Loki was just a mind controlled henchman, it's almost not his fault. The actual guy who did this? His name is Thanos, and he's going to come back in six years. And we fight him and we – lose. Spectacularly."

Pepper's lips move, soundless, as she stares at him. Tony urges her to sit down on the Iron Man's launch pad stairs, sitting down on his knees in front of her, and then he starts from the beginning.

"There are six stones, there's one of them in Loki's sceptre, and another in the Tesseract – the blue cube thing? Yeah, so, they are the fundamental forces of the universe…"

It's a long story, and not that long. Takes him less than half an hour to tell the whole thing, skipping and skimming here and there. Mad titan, six stones, battles and deaths and losses, snap.

"H-half? Half of what?" Pepper asks, confused.

"Everything. Everything that's alive. People, animals, plants, fungi, everything. Even cut all bacteria in the universe in half. Lot of people were sick to their stomachs for days, because half of their gut bacteria was gone," Tony says, staring at her and watching her struggle between confusion and incredulity… and her trust in him. She wants to tell him he's insane. She doesn't. God, she's so beautiful and brilliant it hurts.

And she gets it so fast too. "Did I –?"

"Your driver," Tony says, staring at her eyes and watching them widen. "You were on the back seat. Your driver disappeared in the snap, in the middle of a motorway. The car next to yours, it lost all passengers. You crashed into it, into the barrier, and… I - it was quick, they told me it was quick. I. I was in space, obviously, so I wasn't there, you were – shit. I missed the funeral."

Pepper's pale, except for bright red points high on her cheek. Her breath, when she draws it in slowly, rattles in her nose, wet. He can see her swallowing. She might not want to believe, but he can see it hitting home – she trusts him, or maybe trusts her own reading of him. No more incredulity – she gets it. She gets it.

She takes his hands and squeezes them, and Tony slumps down, gripping back. "We were…?" she asks quietly.

"Yeah," Tony agrees and bows his head. "Yeah, we – yeah. Found out from the autopsy report, you were pregnant. It was going to be a girl. We'd been – been trying."

"Shit," Pepper says, feather soft.

 "Don't – don't take it on yourself, I figured, when I did this – it wasn't going to be the same," Tony says quickly and looks away. "I mean, I'm like, over a decade older, and I have gone through shit you wouldn't believe, I know it's not the same and I wouldn't blame you if you wanted space – hell, I want space, you're my Pep, but you're also not my Pep, so –"

She takes his chin in her hand and leans to press a kiss on his forehead. Then she puts her arms around him, pulling him in, and he shuffles between her knees and shakes apart in her arms.


 

"So," she asks later, when the sky has gone dark, and the wail of sirens below has started to quiet down a little, and New York has started to pick itself up. "What's the plan? You have a plan, right, that's why you're back here?"

Tony leans his cheek on her knees, breathes in and out. "You're not going to like it," he warns her.

"I don't like the idea of half of all life disappearing either," Pepper says, with the sort of serenity of someone who's hit the wall of what they'd considered normal and pummelled right through it. "I don't like the idea of portals over New York. I don't like the idea of dying. Not sure about the pregnancy, don't like that idea right now either, but I like the idea of being ready and in a good place for it one day – and I don't like knowing how short it was cut. It sounds like we could've been happy, Tony."

"God, we were. Fighting like cats and dogs and loving it," Tony whispers, clutching to her legs. "We had plans, Pep. It was going to be so good."

She hums in agreement, and strokes her fingers through his hair. "So," she says. "What is the plan, how are you going to stop it all?"

It's a moment before Tony answers. And yeah, he knew it.

She doesn't like it.


 

Then it's mostly damage control and mitigating consequences. Tony managed to avoid it for the first few hours by citing injury and medical treatment and all that – he did die there, briefly, falling from that portal, so thankfully no one questions it. Eventually, though, his grace period ends and there's fallout.

Press conferences – Pepper handles them like a champ, sketching up a quick release for him to read out to the cameras, no questions at this time, sorry – broken ribs and all. Insurance next, then lawyers – insurance lawyers, just to get the worst of both worlds. Containment, containment, containment.

And fuck, Tony almost forgot about all the Chitauri Tech lying strewn about New York. SHIELD had handled it the last time – ha – but this time Tony knows better. This time, he wants in on the alien tech, and the sooner the better.

"Find me who to bribe to get access to Leviathans and those scooter thingies," Tony says to Pepper over the phone. "And then bribe them."

"I'm your CEO, not a genie," Pepper answers. "SHIELD is already laying claim, quarantining the area and collecting all loose bits they can find. It's going to take a miracle to get access once they start making Chitauri technology top secret.

Tony sighs. Figures. Last time Fury did offer him a deal, which Tony of the time spurned with a great gleeful joy – knowing he'd get a better deal eventually and also the vindication of having Fury ask him twice. Which in the end didn't happen, the Leviathans and a lot other Chitauri tech just sort of disappeared into HYDRA's secret bases and was never fully utilised, but Tony did end up eventually building Helicarriers. And people sort of just forgot about the Chitauri.

In hindsight, a bit weird, that. Not the building of Helicarriers, or the disappearance of the Chitauri tech – but that people just… let it happen. A lot of highly advanced alien technology rained on New York, on United States specifically, and no other foreign power raised much of a stink about it? There'd been some mutterings, some articles, but they didn't go anywhere.

Could it be, dare he say, some combination of Barnes and Loki's sceptre at work, pulling bloody wool over the world's eyes, making the world conveniently forget? Or something else? Hmm. HYDRA did have access to both.

"Scratch that, I don't need the tech," Tony says. "I got better stuff. I am going to need my marketing people though."

"My marketing people," Pepper corrects him. "What are you planning?"

"Something vaguely treasonous," Tony admits.


 

While certain someones among certain important governments get convenient leaks about SHIELD and their intention of keeping all the highly advanced alien tech to themselves – and let's not forget the alien technology powered Super Nuke which they fired on New York, maybe foreign powers would like to make a comment on the United States firing nukes at their own cities? – Fury waltzes into Tony's penthouse. Honestly, Tony is almost let down it took him so long.

"You look like hell," Tony says.

"You're no spring flower yourself," Fury answers and nods at his glass. "Any more of that?"

"A whole minibar, knock yourself out."

Fury gets a drink and Tony takes a seat by the Loki-shaped hole in his living room floor. He sips his drink – which is only one fifth of alcohol, the rest is banana juice, because why the hell not – and stares at the hole.

All things considered, the whole thing is gloriously messed up. Loki, fighting under mind control for something he probably had no interest in personally. Banner, fighting with only about a fraction of his usual reasoning and judgement… yeah. Kind of messed up.

Fury falls to sit beside him with a sigh. "So," he says.

"How about them superpowered alien nukes," Tony says and sips his banana whiskey.

Fury lets out a scoff and doesn't bother to justify it. He never did, just pointed a finger at either Thor or Tony – maybe at Carol Danvers – and said we had to figure out how to defend ourselves. Which is something Tony can't really judge him for anymore.

He will judge the guy for half measures, though. The whole thing with the Tesseract was half-assed.

"This is going to happen again," Fury says after a while. "There are threats out there, and they're going to keep on coming. Might be tomorrow, might be five years from now, but they're going to keep on coming."

"Mm-hm," Tony agrees. Try six years, he thinks and glares at the hole in his floor.

"We're going to need a plan," Fury says and looks at him. "We're going to need a team."

Tony arches his brows. "Didn't we already cover this, or am I misremembering it? There was a Helicarrier, and a sceptre, Loki in a box and – oh yeah, we fell spectacularly apart, Thor fell off the ship, Hulk jumped, and then we just sort of ran from your super secret sky base and saved the world."

Fury gives him a flat look.

"I am a huge fan of the sky base," Tony offers. "Really inspired idea, I'm into it. Bases in the sky. Sign me up for that."

"This is serious," Fury says, looking at him. "Are you in with the Avengers or not?"

"What about saving the world did you not understand? I don't even get a participation trophy?" Tony asks and turns to look away. "I figured the whole Earth's Mightiest Heroes is pretty much a go, right now. Everyone's all on board, yay. It's gonna be a fun superpower club house, there will be merch and everything, it'll be great."

Fury doesn't answer immediately, looking at him. "You know it's not that simple," he says. "And it won't be that simple, going forward."

Yeah, no. It becomes oh so simple, in the end. Tally up the collateral, the property damage, the consequences and the lawsuits – send the bill to Stark Industries and call it a job well done. Last time Tony had signed up. Last time he'd modified his tower to make the Avengers fit.

And oh, how far it got them.

"I'm going to need a straight answer, Stark," Fury says. "Are you going to pick this up?"

"Pick what up?"

Fury just gives him a look – implying it without actually stating it, making him fill in the blanks. Tony looks back, very carefully not doing that. He fell for it the last time – taking up any and all responsibility and revelling in it, in showing off and making friends… or trying. It ended up with him picking up a lot more slack than he should've, and Fury and the Avengers let him, because it was oh so much easier – and cheaper – for anyone.

Tony drains his banana drink and grimaces. Definitely not a combo he will be entertaining in the future, eurgh. "Yeah," he says, seriously, and looks away. "I'm going to have to think about it."

Fury looks at him and then nods at his tone. "Well, think fast," he says and moves to get up. "You never know what's coming up next."

"Yeah," Tony agrees with a snort. "You never know."

After Fury leaves, Tony pulls up the building schematics. There are 6 levels just under the penthouse, originally slated for R&D, which had then been refurbished for the Avengers… and which had stayed pretty much empty until the building was eventually sold. Tony looks at them and then spins the hologram with his hand.

"JARVIS, new plan," he says, tilting his head and narrowing his eyes.

"Redecorating, are we, sir?" the AI asks, oh so snide.

"Oh yeah," Tony says and empties the floors down to their most basic floor plans. "Let's play how many fabrication arrays I can fit on six Stark Tower floors. Also, JARVIS?"

"Sir?"

"Get someone fix the building sign." Having just the A up there is frankly a disgrace.


 

It's not until later he gets a proper hold of Rhodey – they exchange words over the phone and text, and a lot of exclamation points are involved, and even more question marks, so there's a certain flow of information going on there. But it's not until a couple of days after the whole invasion that Tony gets him alone and behind closed doors and away from listening ears.

"Tony?" Rhodey asks, all warning bells going off in his head obviously. "What's going on?"

"Oh, this and that," Tony says, runs his hastily modified phone over the walls just in case for one last time – no bugs, no wires, nothing. Good. "Got some things to tell you and will not be doing that in the hearing range of anyone whom I don't much like." Which at this point includes oh so many people.

"Okay, now I am really worried," Rhodey says and folds his arms. "What is it? Is Pepper okay – are you –"

"Pepper's fine – Pepper's busy working, we'll have a dinner later, freak out together, it will be fun," Tony says.

"So it's the other guys – the Avengers?" Rhodey asks, arching his brows. "You know, SHIELD already approached me about it, I've got prior commitments. To the Air Force. As you know."

"Actually – that both is and isn't what I wanted to talk to you about," Tony says, pointing a finger at him. "You're getting your old job back, congratulations."

Rhodey narrows his eyes – he gets it so fast too, man, he chooses his friends so well. "You're… Tony," he says, worried. "But what about – Iron Man and all that? You made a whole thing about it – what's changed?"

"A lot, and a lot," Tony says and blows out a breath. "I got one hell of a story to tell you, Rhodey. And there's a reason for this," he motions around them, at the closed up room. "I don't want this spreading out, so… try and contain any explosive expressions of emotions, okay? I'm just – gonna tell you everything. Yeah."

And he does.

Rhodey takes it better and worse than Pepper did. He knows Tony too, knows how to read him, so there's that level of trust – but Rhodey is something Pepper isn't. He's a military officer, a soldier, a Colonel. He hears about a global threat, and he starts building up threat assessments in his head – he goes all serious and intent and it's kind of scary how relieving it is to see, the soldier in him coming out like that.

"So," Tony finishes with a slow breath. "I'm reopening Stark Industries weapons production… to start with."

Rhodey nods slowly. "And then what?" he asks.

"Then, then I am going to go completely nuts," Tony says earnestly. "I've got a whole itinerary. It has like… a hundred steps. You're the fourth one – actually, third one, didn't get to SHIELD and HYDRA yet, so I guess they were moved to step 4 instead, but… you get my point."

Rhodey hums, considering him. "You're going to need your military liaison, huh?"

"To start with," Tony agrees weakly. Later on, it wouldn't matter if he had one or not, but right now, he needs to lay some groundwork to begin with, and selling weapons to US military would be it. It would get him money, open him new doors – make him a shit ton of enemies to, but what else is new. He needs to cover his basics. Once he has that, once he has that going…

Then he'd use that base to launch himself and all his plans to fucking space.


 

The Avengers part ways the next day. Thor takes Loki – and the Tesseract – back to Asgard. Tony watches them go with a smile and narrowed eyes – there is no way to take the Tesseract from Thor at this juncture without it leading to worse consequences, but that's fine. He only needs to destroy one of the stones to make the Snap impossible – and the Sceptre is staying on Earth.

Loki looks at him when he goes. Tony gives him a cheeky little wave. If something comes of it, so be it, and if not, whatever. It's not essential.

Clint and Natasha make a good showing of having cut ties with SHIELD and going out on their own… but they haven't, not really. They'd be heading  to Clint's farm for a bit, and then they'd head back to work, business as usual, super spies of SHIELD. It's cute, seeing them out of uniform, though. Steve buys it.

Steve takes off on a motorcycle, saying he wants to see America, see how much the world has changed in his absence – and he can't do it while stuck in an underground boxing ring. He'd be in touch. Yeah. Sure. Tony gives him a handshake and that's it. Sincerely, he hopes the guy has fun.

Then there is Bruce.

"You could stay," Tony offers, without much hope. "I wasn't kidding about the laboratories, you could have a whole slew of them, just for yourself.

"I don't know – I mean, I'm grateful you let me bunk in your bedroom, but – New York isn't really my scene," Bruce says. "All this… it isn't me anymore."

Liar, Tony thinks, and smiles. "Well, whatever is you, I hope you find it," he says. "Make peace with the Big Green, maybe, could do you some good. Go all… Doctor McCoy on us."

Bruce smiles, uncomfortable, and says, "Yeah, I don't think so. Be seeing you, Tony."

"Yeah," Tony agrees.

And like that, they're gone, and only Tony is left standing in New York, post Chitauri Invasion and all the destruction and death therein.

Tony leans his head back, breathes in and out. There's dust and ash in the air. Smells like half a universe turning to dust.

"Yeah," Tony says and then turns to head back. The Avengers are out of the way, and for a year or so, Fury would be covering for their asses against the World Security Council, which would give them no end of leeway.... until it wouldn't, anyway. One year to make sure in the next five he could work unhindered. One year to get the ball rolling.

One year to become unstoppable.