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Death's Merchant, Life's Guardian

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Tony POV

He's not sure how long he's been lying here. Blood on his lips, ice sinking, sinking into him. Words echoing in his mind. Images flash by, memories pile up. He can't see a tunnel but it is like life is flashing before his eyes. Or at least every painful moment. 

There are so many. 

Things are not in order, not by date or severity. Maybe his brain is firing as he dies and memories are being sparked. He's forced to watch events from a different perspective. 

Is this madness? 

Looking back, he wonders if they were really his friends.

"The futurist, gentlemen! The futurist is here! He sees all! He knows what's best for you, whether your like it or not." 

The problem is, that he thinks the answer was yes. 

"You better watch your back on this guy. Chances are he's going to break it." 

Sitting in the vents with Clint's eating mini snickers. Hanging with Clint in the rafters. Snarking with Clint during battles. Holding baby Nate… 

 "I said I'd help you find him, not catch him. There's a difference.." 

Natkas hand slipping into his when he was feeling overwhelmed. Natkas head resting on his shoulder as she slept. Natkas face when he ordered those sweets. 

"Sometimes my teammates lie to me ." 

Steve bringing him food. Steve pulling him away from the workshop when insomnia gripped him so tightly. Steve's concern after battle… 

This is what madness feels like

They were his friends. But it didn't stop Steve… Rogers lying.

"Look, I'll tell you… but you have to go alone and as a friend." 

It didn't stop them running off to his side. 

Red sparks with visions that for some reason look different now. 

The vision. The nightmares. He can see them all not and they seem to vibrate at a different frequency to his memories. She was still playing with his mind? 

He had done everything Steve asked to bridge the gap

He'd known though. Oh he'd known. He asked, he cajoled, he downright begged Rogers to make her stop using her magic around him. 

You're being unfair Tony. 

It's integral to her being. 

She is her magic. 

Who gives a fuck about people's trauma, right? 

He coughs and he feels like he's drowning again, but slowly this time. Every cough tastes of iron. 

"Tony, I'm flying dead stick." 

Why did it take nearly dying to gain this clarity? Again?

Not when he had people like Rhodey in his life. His brother. His best friend. His saviour.

The man who caught him when his knees hit sand.

The man that he failed to catch. 

Footsteps appear out of nowhere. 

Steady pace, they aren't in a rush. Women's shoes. 

But he can't see. 

Even though the footsteps sound close enough that he could reach out and touch them. 

"Oh, your memories have yet to return. Well, I could wait, but it seems needlessly cruel." 

The woman is suddenly kneeling over him and Tony is spiralling.

"You've been through far too much this cycle little one."

Her eyes are while. Completely white and that should be terrifying but it's comforting. 

It probably says a lot about Tony's life, but that scares him more. 

Her words barely register. But she feels like homecoming. 

He can't pinpoint her age, she seems ageless somehow. She could be your sister or your mother. Silver hair, the colour of the metal rather than usual greying hair. Her skin is pale, her lips are deep red and her dress is black. It looks complicated, layers and layers, silver writing of some kind is embroidered but it's no language he knows and looking at it makes him dizzy. 

She reaches an arm out, towards his face and he tries to back away but it hurts and he's drowning

He notices odd details, like the laugh lines on her face and the complicated blue design that start winding around her fingers and vanish up into her sleeves. 

But that isn't the strangest. Nor is the fact she feels different. His mind is screaming at him that she is not human. Danger is here. Caution. A primal instinct ticking at the back of his skull. . 

So why does he want to curl up on her lap?

"Calm my Cadeyrn." 

"Look lady, I think you have the wrong gu-" 

She brushes her fingers across his forehead this time, delicately but still smearing blood. Tony freezes and his eyes turn white. Memories flood through his mind, power floods his Veins. 

"Dammit! I was a few years off winning that bet. I… probably… maybe… could have survived this mother." 

"Maybe, but perhaps I tire of watching you suffer in this cycle."

"Mother…" 

"Don't you mother me, come on up you get. You are going to be Tony Stark a little longer anyway." 

"It's the Titan isn't it?" 

"Yes, even as a human you sensed him. But you need to be more than human to fight this threat. We can afford to be a little direct. Times are changing." 

Times are changing. 

The last time those words were uttered it had been at the start of the exodus at the end of the last battle he lead the charge on. 

He nods and then winces, realising there's still metal in his chest. Rolling his eyes he's engulfed in black flame and is then kneeling next to the suit. Dressed in a simple black tunic with celtic design in silver. His arms are covered in deep blue intricate design as he stretches, similar to his mother's, but also completely different. Signs of age have bled away and he cracks his back, sighing at the lack of pain. With a flick of his hand the suit, arm and shield disappears into a pocket dimension. He stands up, stretching. He might have lost the bet, but he'd be damned if he doesn't feel better. 

"Much better."

She walks over to him and fussed with his shirt and he just smiles and allows it. He still wants to curl up on her lap, but there is time for that later. He indulges himself by linking his hand in hers. The connection is a balm to the pains of this cycle that he knows will haunt him. Not like that's new for him, he has a knack for getting in trouble when he enters the cycle to direct events. They exit the bunker and she pulls him close, he sinks into the hug. He knows she will have to return, to explain what is happening. Their kind don't have much connection with this world anymore, only a few of them stay connected. But maybe.. 

Times are changing. 

Humans had recognised, named and gifted titles to many of them, they are ties to this world, many have snapped or worn away. His family, however, they are still tied to this world, those ties will never erode as long as humanity survives. One of his titles even flowed to his mortal form strangely, but then this cycle had been strange after Howard struck him down when he was 4. It hadn't quite killed him, but it also hadn't not killed him. It hadn't brought his memories back, but it had brought him closer to the surface than he had ever been during a cycle. There were enough parallels to give him chills. 

"I have to get back for now, I trust you have this in hand?" 

"Of course, one thing first though." 

He turns to face the bunker making a gesture with his hand forming a black pole, a blade slices out at the top, black and wickedly sharp. A fitting weapon really, he amuses himself at what the reactions would have been if some of his so called friends had seen him now. He spins it a few times lazily in his hand, with ease despite its size, before slamming it into the floor, a shock wave rolls and spreads out towards the Hydra base, striking it as metal screeches, concrete is rendered to rubble and it implodes in on itself. Leaving a collapsed circle of dust. So fine the wind creatures flurries with it, mixing with the snow. Much better. 

"Was than really necessary?" 

"Yup, definitely." 

"Hm, well, I'll never be far away, are you okay from here? I will check on you soon."

He waves away his Scythe in a flash of black fire and she pulled him into a hug that he melts into again. They'd never been apart this long, his cycles usually had a tendency to turn rough, but were required to nudge or direct events down a certain path. But he had never lived past age 28 before. Then again, he'd never not quite died before, it had caused a complication, it had gotten him rather close to winning too...

"Of course mother, I'll see you soon." 

She nods, kisses his forehead before vanishing and a huge, white eyed Crow takes her place, she Banks and flies in a graceful circle that brings a smile to his lips and memories of open skies for miles and miles, with a caw that would send chills down anyone's spine, but floods him with warmth, she flies away. Tony watches until she completely vanishes before vanishing in a burst of black flame and arriving in Rhodey's hospital room.

Not even looking back at the crater where he had died.

Again.