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Death's Merchant, Life's Guardian

Chapter Text

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. 

Chapter Text

Tony POV

Looking down at the pained face of his brother, even in slumber, caused him to frown. 

"This definitely will not do. "

He placed a hand on the man's forehead, gently laying his hands on his brothers head, the heat warming him and chasing away thoughts of snow and drowning on iron, for now. 

He raised his other hand above his chest and closed his eyes. Seeing through the layers as his hand moved down his chest, eventually resting his hand on his stomach. Grimacing at the damage. He opened his eyes and centred himself, it had been a while since he had done a healing like this, and it was not as simple as summoning a weapon that is as fundamental to him as his arm. 

He can't help a little excitement. Most humans will explain away changes, like his eyes for example, humans are very good at seeing normal. Especially in this modern day and age, where humans had practically taught themselves to ignore that feeling in the back of their minds. Something humanity ran a gauntlet of pain and suffering to acquire. He somehow suspects his platypus won't, he's not like most humans, he'll notice . He smirks as his eyes blanch again, turning completely white as black flames lick at his fingers before sinking into Rhodey's skin. Searching for the damage and knitting it back together. 

He is still for around 5 minutes, even the rustle of feathers at the window doesn't cause him to move a muscle, although he smiles in his mind at her presence. Rhodey's features slowly smooth out from the grimace of a pained sleep, smoothing as the pain slips into him, black lines that follow the same twisting, turning pathways as the blue on his arms. 

He slowly pulled back when the damage was healed, blinking a few times as the white swims from his eyes, returning them to gold as he looks down at his brother, just to ensure he has missed nothing. He had not gotten so attached to a human in a long time. Mother will most definitely wish to meet him. When his eyes land on his face however, they widen and he cursed silently.

"It's been a while since I healed a human..." 

He cringes slightly, looking at Rhodey, completely healed but also considerably younger than he was a moment ago. He looks deeper and his eyes widen again when he seems the black flame was still active. That… that was not possible. This didn't happen anymore, a Reaper had not been called for so long, but there it was. It explained why he survived that fall. Even unlocked, the fire increased certain attributes. 

Times are changing. 

He summoned his fire to his fingers, moving it closer to his chest, just to double check. Sure enough, his black fire reached up. His magic, like others of his kin with certain jobs, had their magic seeded in humanity. Humans that could help them. For him, that black flame showed him potentials for the group known as The Reapers. As much as humans thought so, their jobs had less to do with taking souls and more to do with protection. They were a battle ready unit. Unlike others, he was always more invested, he fought with his Reapers than have them fight for him, but it had been a very, very long time. 

Rhodey's fire wasn't unlocked yet, wouldn't be until he made the choice, but it had the potential . Yup. Mother was going to be meeting him. How he hadn't noticed it before he started healing him, he had no idea. Concern had blanketed his senses, but that was a pretty serious thing to miss. 

"Well at least you look my age now Sourpatch." 

He dropped down into the chair next to the bed, suddenly extremely drained, healing magic was very taxing. He relaxed for a little while, set to wait for Rhodey to wake up. The crow watching him from the window, looking highly amused with the situation whilst he looked anywhere else. He scratched his goatee, that was back to its immaculate state he noticed. He hadn't even felt his mother do it. Yes. He was definitely rusty. 

"I'm just a bit rusty, I'll get back up to speed soon." 

He swears she is laughing at him in her shifted form and it makes him smile. Really smile, he hadn't had much cause to lately and it feels good. Plus, he's seen others healing humans make much more of a mess than reversing age a little bit. 

A shining blue light caught his eye from the dark beneath Rhodey's bed, he opened his arms and in a flash of pale white and bright blue fire, a bundle all but crashes into him. Leaving flickering patches of blue fire where large paws skimmed across the floor with more grace than would be expected for a beast of his size. His paws hooked over Tony's shoulders, mouth opening, teeth that were long, sharp and lethal on display and the same blue flame shone from his mouth too. He smiled, running his hand over the perfect white coat as Caratacos nuzzled his head under his chin. He was thin for so large a canine, face shaped closer to a wolf than a dog, his powerful legs articulated closer to a panther than a canine. Sharp retractable claws, there was no mistaking what he was capable off. 

"I missed you too boy, where is Drest?" 

The shadows pulled together beneath the bed, forming into what looked like a slightly larger looking house cat. Her fur was sleek and black as pitch, barring a shining white blaze at her chest. Her eyes, one a bright vivid green, the other golden like his, telegraphed irritation as clear as her very long black tail that whipped out behind her, lashing through the air. In a fluid leap she landed perfectly on his shoulder. Her size shifting down slightly, allowing her to get comfortable. He was surprised not to feel teeth when his fingers slipped into her fur, but he wasn't fooled into thinking she wasn't still mad at him. 

He felt a tug inside him, pulling his attention back to Rhodey and oh that fire was strong! The pair turned to Rhodey at the same time he did, assessing the newest flame carrier. Caratacos nuzzled him one last time before heading back into the darkness, slipping into the in-between. It was probably best not to overwhelm Rhodey as he woke up. Drest however showed zero intention of leaving, she disliked spending large amounts of time away from him and he'd really spent a lot of time as a mortal this go around. She occasionally turned up as a cat in his mortal life, but Howard had been very against pets. She curled up, looking for all the world a bored, younger cat. Her eyes mostly closed but he knew otherwise, despite looking asleep, she was alert. 

He grins, a little giddy as Rhodey wakes up. He can see the moment he realises his legs can move and the stunned shock makes him thankful that his mother pulled him free from the restrictions of the mortal cycle. Even though staying in this land could be complicated, luckily he had friends here. Not that mother overly approved of Coyote, they got each other involved in trouble more often than not. It would earn him safe passage and dwelling rights, especially given the cosmic threat and all that. 

The blue fire felt slightly different here too, compared to the first entrances to home. Not much, but whilst the blue fire flowed through the veins of this world, different locations tended to present in different ways and he had only visited this side of the ocean a couple of times. 

As he had been out of touch during this cycle, he would need to look into the health and strength of the fire sooner rather than later. Unlike others of his kin, he was tied more directly to the fire, born from complications in his childhood. Meaning it wasn't something he could afford to be complacent about. He drummed his fingers where the arc reactor once sat, where a different blue glow rested even now. His connection to the fire is quite literal. 

That's why he spent so many trips in the mortal cycle, even after many others retreated with the exodus. He remained, nudging here and there. The fire than ran in the veins of this land was tied to his heart, tying him closer to this side of the mists than his kin. But then, he was closer to the fabulous beasts than some of his people too. 

That closer connection could either complicate matters or help, occasionally it did both at the same time. 

Strangely, he's sure that he can feel a connection to home much, much closer than it should be. Times are changing indeed. That, and the blue fire is much stronger too, it still needed strengthening for what's to come. It is promising however, the industrial revolution had not been kind to the realm nor the fire. That would be high up on his priorities. 

Either way, it was Tomorrow Tony's problem. 

Right now he could just relish in this , he'd been busy soon enough. Drest's claws flexed, keeping him from getting too lost in his thoughts. 

"Fuck, am I dead? Because when I went to sleep you were missing and I was paralysed . Also, you have suddenly gotten a lot younger and why do you have a cat?" 

Tony summoned a mirror from black flame, earning himself little more than  a shocked, raised an eyebrow as he offered it to Rhodey from his chair. Leaning forward slightly, which of course earned him another taste of claws as she held her place. Rhodey took it and simply assessed his features, with more calm and grace than most mortals could even dream of mustering. He couldn't help the fierce spike of pride at that. He was closer to mortals than some of his people, but sometimes they were painfully annoying, even to him.

"Tony. You just made a mirror appear from black fire. You just did magic ! You hate magic!" 

"Well yes, I always implant that when I hop into a cycle. Humans are disasters at magic Rhodey. I mean, abject disasters, there are some who aren't bad, but as a whole, just no

'Ooo I found this mystical, ancient book! Let's read it!' 

'Oh look, a malevolent space stone that can subjugate someone's will! Let's use it to give people magic !' 

"Dis-as-ters. If I went and prattled around with something, being human , it could carry over to me and then I'd have to deal with human magic." 

He shuddered at the thought. 



Rhodey POV 

The grimace on his face gave the impression that it was the most disgusting thing he'd ever considered. It was actually quite hilarious and he would definitely get amusement out of this when there were answers to his questions. He kept his voice measured as Tony finally calmed down from the grossed out theatrics at the mere idea of humans and magic. 

However, fair play. From what he'd experienced since becoming an Avengers, he wasn't wrong.

Although Rhodey was pretty sure the cat had rolled its strange, odd coloured eyes at Tony's rant and that was a realm of strange he did not know what to do with yet. 

"Tony, why are you saying humans like you aren't one? Am I really not dead?" 

Tony… He was definitely pretty sure this was still Tony he looked like Tony, just back in the peak of his health, but there was something else there too. There were differences. 

His hair was different, the soft brown seemed darker in the muted light of the hospital room, but where the sun hits it, the auburn stood out. It mostly looked to be a deep red, the colour was quite striking with sun streaked highlights showing of an array of reds in the curls. His hair was also much fuller and thicker too, more so than it had even been before the palladium poisoning. 

His face was smooth of the signs of age, his olive tanned skin seemed more vibrant, edging closer to golden now, just not so much as to be glaringly obvious. 

That seemed to be a theme to these changes, they were just that little bit shy of looking completely unnatural. 

The slight kink in his nose from where it had set badly as a kid was gone too. It was lots of little things, individually, there was nothing huge that screamed different, but the more he looked, the more he noticed.  

Like how… for lack of a better word. Perfect. (He would never say that to Tony.) How perfect his face was now, almost to a degree of unsettling , uncanny valley , but not. Because it was still Tony. It was strange how he looked so similar yet he could see all these changes at the same time. 

His eyes were possibly the biggest change, the iris seemed bigger maybe. Or maybe it was a trick of the light, he honestly wasn't sure. They were no longer that familiar whisky brown with flecks of gold, it was like a light had been turned on behind them. Now they were more gold with flashes of brown. But again, the harder he looked… the more it changed, until they were just gold, pure molten gold, like the metal was shimmering and moving in his eyes somehow. 

Strangely, even though the more he looked, the more differences became apparent, he had a feeling that nothing was actually changing. Just him looking harder meant he noticed more

That if he hadn't looked as intently as he did, would they just look brown with flecks of gold? 

Overall, it's a strange feeling with an overlying feeling of familiarity. 

Tony just raised an eyebrow before scooting himself, and the chair, closer to his bed as he assessed the changes in his brother. The passenger perched atop his shoulders opened a single, vivid green eye of irritation. Closing its eye when it seemed Tony was finished moving. 

Tony's shoulders were minutely tensed up, as if he was looking for Rhodey to flee or react badly to this whole situation, which told him this was his Tones clearer than anything else could. It would take much more than Tony getting a freaky deaky magical makeover to make him budge. The slight tightness faded as Tony seemed to realise this and Tony flashed him a bright smile for allaying his fears. 

"You're not dead, but I, potentially, nearly did die, kind of died, and that triggered… something that brought me back to my original self, so to speak, and so I immediately came here to heal you! I'm a little out of practice from being human for so long and might have been a little overzealous.." 

He noted how Tony didn't really answer his first question, but he decided it would be later Rhodey's problem. 

"A little overzealous?! You fountain of youth'ed me!" 

"Want me to make you old again?" 

"Fuck no. With your current track record, you'd make me 90!"

Tony barks out a laugh and it lights up his entire face and Rhodey can't take his eyes off of him. He's not attracted to his brother. Because ew, but damn. Tony had always had a presence, the ability to enter a room and just draw attention. That when he spoke with intent, people tended to listen, like they were drawn in. It had helped him ruthlessly dominate multiple markets in the business world, manage military personnel with a practiced ease and always left people feeling like they won as he walked away, secure that he had actually won. 

It had been a skill he had not used as often after Afghanistan. First, Stane. The betrayal had him off kilter. Then… then it was the Avengers. Who had controlled him to a terrifying degree. However, looking at this Tony, he had a feeling this Tony wouldn't be holding back. Not with that bright, sharp smile, flashing what looked like small goddamned fangs! Oh Gods he hoped they weren't vampires. He liked beaches. If he was a vampire then he wouldn't be able to sit in the sun. 

That was when a strange sound drew his attention from the window. 

"Tony… is that huge bird laughing at us?" 

Tony glanced and smiled warm smile at the creature, that was much, much larger than a crow ought to be! The pale white eyes landed upon him and he got the feeling that whatever it was just saw him. Saw everything. His past, present and future. His life drawn out and analysed. Then the feeling went away and he released the breath he didn't know he was holding. 

"Yup." 

"Tony…" 

"Yes Platypus?" 

"Are… Are you a vampire?" 

Tony fell out of his seat cackling, so he was guessing the answer was no. The cat deftly leaped to the bed just Tony fell to the floor laughing, immediately making itself comfortable on his legs, because why the hell not. 

Well, how was he meant to know?! He promptly lobbed one of his pillows at Tony's head.

Chapter Text

Stephen POV

Dr Strange and Wong had been enjoying their tea and reading quietly when alarms went off. Both of them instantly jumped to action, discovering that there had been several interesting readings. Something small enough in comparison that they could put it off for later had happened in Siberia, the signature however was nothing like he'd seen before which meant they would definitely look into it. It had sent ripples out that definitely needed assessing. 

A similar signature, almost identical but definitely different was what had caused the alarms. They didn't look into every magic user on earth, not for every usage of their power. However, strange magic suddenly appearing usually did warrant investigation. What made this interesting was the strength. It was incandescent and it was still going. There had been burst after burst. So fast after each other that even Wongs eyebrows were up. 

Even one of these bursts at that strength would require at least some recuperation time. Yet… They were still going. It had to be multiple people, but the signatures were the same or someone insane. In a relatively small area it was lighting up like a damned Christmas tree, repetitively. After that continued for a while as they tried to analyse what was being done, a lot of different things apparently. Now they seemed to be moving in a circle, around where the previous bursts had been. 

"Warding?" 

"The pattern suggests as such… but…" 

He reached a shaking hand over the map as another burst splashed out, feeling the magic again. Strangely it had an almost physical presence, a silver liquid metal pooled in his hand, still brightly glowing. He thought maybe his newness to the position explained why he had not come upon this before. Wong however looked equally perplexed. Which had the result of shattering that illusion. The silver liquid then burst into a harmless flurry of black flame, then it winked out of existence, which didn't help matters at all. 

"I think you should investigate this now Stephen. I don't know what this is, but I have a hunch . From a text I had read many years ago back when I visited the London Sanctum. If you are not successful, when you return, I have a few people to question at the Kamar Taj." 

It was easy to find a picture online to summon a portal to check things out. A strange place for magic, but then things had been strange lately. 

"Are you going to share your hunch?" 

"No. It could colour your interaction." 

"Well, that's helpful. I'll guess be off then."

"Stephen. Just in case I'm right. Do not insult them. Just… Do not agree to anything without speaking to me." 

"Well that's not cryptic at all." 

Instead of joking or saying he was being paranoid, Wong looked more concerned now than he had on the day 4 trainee sorcerers accidentally summoned a fire-breathing giant arthropod in his library.

That more than anything else had the Sorcerer Supreme proceeding with caution. 

Most of that caution fled however when he exited the portal onto a lush lawn, in front of him was a very high, white wall that had not been in the images online. There was also the fact that it hummed with enough power he could feel it in his teeth . No, that couldn't be. Not in such quantities. 

He had a small disk of Atronach in his room. An exceedingly rare stone, not naturally formed on earth. He'd never gotten a straight answer as to where it came from either. Everyone wanted it. If news of this wall got out, magic users from several dimensions were going to be turning up with sodding picks. 

Unlike a relic which was empowered and then set. Or any other magic absorbing stone, even Validimire for example, that sucked up spells and magic gleefully. Allowing you to lay an enchantment of your choosing. Unfortunately it had a 6 month half life and required cleansing and topping up. It was also very rare. Atronach didn't have a half life and could take multiple enchantments, the only limit was the quantity. His small disk was a priceless treasure he'd been given for helping a Sorcerer in a different dimension. 

Which was what made this insane.

This entire fucking wall was made of Atronach. He ran his hands over the stone, sensing and confirming the impossible. It stretched in both directions too, it was definitely a large wall. Surrounding what he had thought was the Avengers Compound. He had noticed the Avengers had a magic user, he'd been about to look into it before the chaos of the Civil War. He had not expected something like this. 

The magic was still building too, as a flash assaulted his senses again, this close it was more than a little disorientating. Whoever, whatever was doing this, wasn't done. 

He rang his fingers over the stone again, unable to stop himself as he felt it down to his bones. That was another thing. Atronach felt good to magic users, probably because how it worked with them. He'd never even conceived of being in the presence of so much of it. 

The magic being laid into the wall felt like it was building under each iteration, layering what he was sure were wards of protection in. He cast a simple revealing spell, expecting the wards to become visible to him. Instead the wall shimmered, as if it was about to comply, and then it absorbed his own damned magic and added it to whatever the hell was building up. That was disconcerting

Given the fact it was a wall, protection and warding seemed logical but against what? 

He had never conceived of a person using such a rare stone for something like this. That, and the fact it was building in strength with each iteration, he had never read of a warding like this, probably because it required a huge wall of Atronach. He'd never felt magic like this, it wasn't what they used, it didn't come from the source that he was taught. It also wasn't an Asgardian using the Odinforce, there simply were not many types of magic user on earth in this dimension. It didn't even feel like any signature that he had become accustomed to in different dimensions. It was already extremely strong, yet it was still building up to something. 

He closed his eyes and walked back and forth, trying to discern which side was weaker and then more likely, where this creature would likely be. The wall was large and in the distance,  the edges disappeared into a woodland area on each side. An odd thing to have close to a wall, trees would help someone gain access surely. It was odd, an extremely rare stone, a very powerful warding, a strong defence… and then put something you can easily climb next to it. Although the ward likely protected against that. Shrugging he discerned the direction they were moving in. Widdershins. 

So. Left. 

He started walking and eyed the little woodland area as he was coming up to it, a hand out near the wall to monitor the spell caster. As got closer to it, alarm bells began ringing in his mind. He didn't know why, it was just trees for The Vishanti's sake and they were in upstate New York! And yet… it didn't feel like an innocent little woods. It felt like an ancient Dark Forest. The kind you walk in and may never come out again. The kind that help all manners of creatures that had faded into lore.

A loud cawing snapped him out of his thoughts, making him act ually jump, jarring him from the extremely strange direction his thoughts had taken. The woods were still there, it was still looming before him. Putting ideas in his mind. Scratching at a primal fear of the dark and of Dark Forests like this. A leftover from a time when these forests stretched for miles and those who survived to produce the next generation knew to fear them. 

He wanted to scoff.  But yet.. 

He glanced at the crow and froze. That bird was much too large and those eyes… 

As if in recognition, as if it saw him with those blind eyes, the bird dipped it's head before taking off in the direction he had already been heading in. He got the impression he was meant to follow. 

Wong was going to be so angry, because he was intrigued, so he followed it. 

He stood at the precipice of the forest, because there was no calling it a simple woods now, even stranger was that he felt the pressure of passing through a threshold. 

He knew another fact. This forest had not been here yesterday, as far as he knew there were no Dark Forests of this kind on this side of the ocean . Those previous readings, the flashes before, this creature somehow brought this forest here and it already had a threshold that felt like walking through syrup-y molasses. He expected it to leave a chunk of his magic behind, forcing through a threshold without invitation did that. It was why creatures that relied on their magic to sustain their life force were unable to pass through a threshold without invitation. 

He would not be powerless, but it would diminish his power marginally. So when he breached that step, he fully expected the disconcerting feeling of part of his essence being dragged away from him. It was not a thing he did often. However, the threshold parted before him and nothing was held back. 

The first thing he saw when he shook off the confusion, was the crow. Sitting on a branch. He got the feeling it was amused. He remembered Wong and stuffed down his instincts and gave the creature a bow. Somehow he was given an invite and this was the only creature he had come across and he was actually capable of being polite. Occasionally. 

The next caw reverberated around him seeming to echo and stretch. Causing him to glance behind, but he didn't see the neat little lawn he'd stepped over from. There was more dark forest and there was no light through the trees. He swallowed, wondering what exactly he had gotten himself into and decided to continue following a few feet away from the wall now, not wanting to be too close to it should another iteration complete before he discovered the caster. 

Until he came upon a man. 

The back of a very human looking man.

It had not been what he was expecting, but he also knew mortal appearances could be deceiving. He was short, around 5"5 at a guess. Thick, dark red, glossy hair. He had an athletic build, corded muscles flexing as the ward came together under his hands. A fitted, short sleeved, black shirt of an odd design with what he guessed was silver embroidery. He was too far away to tell, but the muscular, tanned arms, skin that looked just this side of too golden when compared to a natural tan, hardly noticeable but he was looking for clues. The intricate blue designs covering his hand and up arms, vanishing into his sleeves were also very interesting and matched the colour of the ward. The trousers seemed to be similar to the shirt and what he assumed were black leather boots. 

He was drawing a huge sigil. The base was circular with large symbols on the inside edge. Inside followed a series of interconnecting geometric shapes with further symbols getting increasingly smaller. It wasn't too dissimilar to what he was used to, but at the same time it was night and day. It practically thrummed with power, he didn't understand how the person could stand so close to it, let alone cast it. He was using some kind of blue substance that he could not immediately identify. 

To add strangeness to the situation, a small black cat was just dozing on the wall above the sigil. A paw casually hanging down towards the lard, a long tail lazily swishing back and forth. One vibrant green eye, another golden seemed to be watching him intently enough to think this was no house cat. 

He decided to act, not wanting to be caught staring at this individual through the trees, not when he could still feel the blind eyes of the crow on him. The too vibrant eyes of what he assumed was the man's familiar. Plus, he wasn't going back to the sanctum without finding out something

"Hello?" 

Chapter Text

Tony POV

Pretty much the second he got Rhodey back to the compound he started work. There was damage to his home and that just would not do, and whilst it might have been suitable for the previous iteration of the Avengers, he was planning bigger now. Plus, he needed more buildings for one of his greatwards, he's pretty sure he can make up some officialish reasons for them. 

He set Rhodey to work scouting out potential new members to the Avengers and he of course did not start that, because he realised that Tony's method of fixing the compound was not to order builders in. It was magic. Quite a lot of it too. He also quickly discovered that Rhodey was much more interested in him blowing shit up too. He'd forgotten how much of a menace young-Rhodey could be. 

The first few days after he came back to himself always came with a few constants. Nightmares, old and new, the usual fun. His magic, after being dormant for so many years, bounced back a lot faster, which sounds awesome, but it wasn't exactly comfortable at first. Like carrying around several glasses of liquid filled right to the top. Try not to spill them, except spills were unintentional magic. Unintentional magic tended to be… chaotic in nature. 

Which is why he threw himself enthusiastically into new projects until he passed out. 

Usually, it would be on his lands on the other side of the mists. From his Atronach quarries or his Forge. Or he would pour magic into crafting new and better battle wards which was one of his specialities. Throwing huge amounts of magic around there was a pretty normal occurrence that his returns barely caused a blip, he was not the most magically gifted of his kin after all. He had his specialities however and he was very good at them. 

This side of the mists, was a little different. There wasn't as much magic on earth so he couldn't hurl it around as freely without attracting attention. But channelling his fire into the earth to allow him to mould stone into buildings? That he could do. Pulling large quantities of Atronach from his quarries to create a wall around the compound was key and utterly exhausting. A wall was not something Tony Stark would have considered important, but, Cadeyrn? He liked walls. Walls were prime locations for protection wards. The pathways around his newer buildings would be connected into a greatward that connected to the wards he sank into the walls.

Him casting a lot of magic, especially channelled through earth magic had the bonus of nourishing the blue fire. And he occasionally blew stuff up when Rhodey started booing. 

Hopefully by the time he was done, he'd be exhausted enough to fall into a dreamless sleep. Or at least fall asleep and not wake up to chaotic magic having run rampant in his sleep. 

Rhodey had found himself carrying Drest around as he worked too, she was crafty like that. It was going to be highly amusing when Rhodey discovered her shifting abilities at some point in the future. She'd remained in her smaller form, not quite a kitten, but not a full grown cat either. Cara had been waiting for things to calm down, he didn't mind magic being cast left right and centre, but when he got to building, the spectral hound had a tendency to wait him out. 

After the outer wall was summoned, Rhodey had declared that was enough magic for him for the day and actually went to get to some work. The little extra pep in his step of restored youth made him smile. Drest had demand to be transferred, she liked to watch over him when he cast the outer wards on the wall as when he started each design, he couldn't stop until it was complete, then he had to activate and move on to the next. 

Before he could get started on that, he had a visitor about a forest on his way. Out of his kin, he was possibly one of the best when it came to the care of humans, but he didn't want to immediately hurl Rhodey in the deep end without explaining certain rules that potentially seemed… counterintuitive to humans. Whoever trained humans to thank people people for fucking everything was a devious bastard. 

After that, he would start on the outerwall, he folded away his non static glamour that covered his arms and would generally dissuade most people from looking too closely at his changed features, at least the ones at him arms that could possibly interfere with the casting. His base glamour was rooted in his fire, so that was fine. 

He really didn't expect to run into a sorcerer in the middle of his work on the wall, reaction times at the sanctum were much improved it seemed, he was sure he had at least 45 minutes left before they noticed his magic. 



Stephen POV

"Hello?" 

The figure showed no sign he heard him, and he stood waiting as he continued. Just as Stephen was about to shout again however the figure put down the tray that carried his supplies to craft the ward and he figured that maybe when he was painting the symbol he was unable to answer? A trance or maybe heightened concentration. Or maybe he just didn't want to fuck it up. Feeling the sheer strength emanating from the ward he wasn't sure which he wanted it to be. 

He wanted to understand how that ward worked. He knew that much. 

He wanted to know what this man was shielding this property from. 

By the Vishanti why on earth did he need a ward of this strength? Or was he just extremely paranoid? 

Something that required this much power to keep out was definitely something that was potentially important to him. 

He also really hoped this person was amicable to teaching him that ward. 

His fingers practically twitched in the need to understand it. Even if it could only be cast on Atronach, he still wanted to know. Since he got over the is magic real question he'd put considerable effort is reading and understanding everything he could with the same voracity that had sped him through medical school to be the top of his field when others in his class were barely out of their internships. 

Stephen had learned to expect the unexpected since entering Kamar Taj. It was practically the first rule. 

Tony Fucking Stark turning around however, was not one of them. 

First, he immediately thought that this was a shapeshifter of some kind. It was Tony Stark, but there were mistakes. The age was incorrect and he could see the golden eyes from here, plus he's sure if Stark had tattoos, hundreds of idiots would have copied them. He did not know enough about how Tony Stark looked to know if there was any other differences, despite Christine's influences. A shape shifter taking the face of someone this famous was potentially disastrous, but they seemed to be doing it badly, which had him wondering… 

Secondly. Tony Stark is baseline human. No magic. Just a flying robot and a team with a penchant for collateral deaths and property damage. 

Before he can say anything, they speak and he is thrown off slightly as the speech patterns were familiar to what few TV instances he had been subjected to of the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. Christine really was a huge fan. Annoyingly . If these aspects are correct, he has to wonder why they're making such obvious mistakes? However, it isn't so much how he says it that blows his mind. It's what he said and it utterly derails everything. 

"Ah, it's the Sorcerer Supreme! It's funny. I expected you to be bald. And, you know, female. I can't believe I missed Rigantona's passing. She owed me several drinks. Damn you're a tall bastard." 

Stephen finds himself to be dumbfounded by what is going on, which is his excuse for his less than eloquent response.. 

"What?" 

Tony walks closer. Carelessly wiping what looks like blue paint on his trouser legs, his head tilted to one side. 

"What? Have you had the job for 5 minutes. Surely things like this are old hat by now." 

Annoyingly at times like these he was reminded just how little time he'd spent in the seat, it felt like barely yesterday he was staggering around Nepal desperately. 

"Sure, some Tony Stark lookalike, suddenly at a centre of several magical explosions-" 

"Heh. Oops. My bad. I'm also not a lookalike, Me and Tony Stark are the same person!"

"And then I get here and you're painting…. I don't even know what that is!" 

"Why would you? I made this myself and your remit doesn't cover me and mine." 

"What do you mean?" 

"Feel my magic. You'll get it. Or you won't. Not my problem." 

Then the bastard winks at him. He might be closer to believing that this is Tony Stark as he is infuriating but his mind refuses to let go of the fact that everyone knows Tony Stark is baseline human. Also there were very, very few dimensions and worlds that didn't fall under their purview, usually because the occupants had enough magic or be formidable alone. 

"What are you?" 

"Well, now that's just rude. Plus, everyone knows that Tony Stark is baseline human."

Eyes shining with amusement and echoing his thoughts, he pulled a knife from somewhere, slashed his palm deep enough to make him wince and strolls back to the ward, then he slammed it onto the ward. After that, things get confusing, it was just a palm touching stone, it shouldn't have created a roaring bang that left his ears ringing, that he felt in his bones. It shouldn't have created a wave of force that had him staggering, swaying on the spot, vision blurred and head killing. He swore the ward burned in a blue fire but the next chance he sort of sees the wall, its blank. 

Suddenly, there was someone lightly touching his elbow, steadying him. 

"There we go, I didn't realise you were that sensitive to magic such as mine. I'm quite impressed, very rare in humans. If you would let me, I can heal the aftereffects of my magic." 

"Why?" 

"Because my magic hurt you and I pay my debts." 

He decided to throw caution to the wind. For some reason, since the magic explosion, Stark's words had the ring of truth. Sometimes the after effects of magic had strange traits and he was not above using it to his advantage, even if he felt atrocious.  It meant he had to ask before he healed him. 

"Before you do, are you really Tony Stark, did you really know The Ancient One?" 

"Hmm, crafty little sorcerer. I like it, so I will answer, this time. Do not get greedy. I was and still am Tony Stark in a way, I spent a cycle as him, usually after I die as a mortal I leave, but something is coming. Something big. As for 'The Ancient One', seriously humans and their dramatic titles, I told her she'd end up with one you know, after she mocked mine. I did know her, from a very long time ago, she didn't go as The Ancient One back then. I'm going to heal you now clever little sorcerer. "

Being called crafty and clever little sorcerer like that by a magically deaged Tony Stark, who spoke of living as a human as a thing he did often like one would pick up milk from a corner shop, should be insulting. Somehow, it sounded and felt like a great compliment and he can't put his finger on why . Even so, if he were capable of it, he would be glaring right now. 

It's easier to accept things like this happening in different dimensions, it this one, it was still odd to him. 

He felt fingers brush against his temples, he didn't feel him cast any magic like he'd come to expect, and his vision is all wonky anyway. Warmth blossoms and spreads from his head and after blinking a few times, he can finally stand up straight. He hadn't even realised he has been he'd doubled over. That quite an efficient healing too, usually it tended to take longer. He turned to the shorter man to thank him but barely gets the word out. 

"Th-" 

"Ah ah. Don't go throwing that around. Not everyone is as kind as me you know, so, my clever little sorcerer, do you have a name? “

His head was tilted to one side as he looked up at him intently and suddenly he wasn't sure, Stephen is not used to being on the back foot in conversations and he's decided he still doesn't like it. For some reason, his rudeness earns him a bright smile. Because Tony Stark is mad? He has no idea. 

"I promise not to abuse the privilege, and you need not give me every name clever little sorcerer." 

Ah, well that at least gives him some information. Finally. The list of people and creatures that used naming magic was small and not something he'd run into before. 

"Dr Strange." 

"Code name? Or an actual doctor? 

He rolled his eyes, but then he'd come to expect this by now. 

"I am a world famous neurosurgeon."

"Hmm, very interesting, I definitely like you. Now, mind if I greet my friend?"

"Friend? "

Before Stark can reply, the cloak practically vibrated on his back before it bounded over to him and practically glomped the shorter man. He was again, thrown, an irritating pattern he was beginning to notice. His cloak began zipping around Stark like an over excited puppy. It was moving so fast that he can hardly track it, but from Stark's nodding he apparently can understand the cloak with apparent ease.

Whatever the cloak is saying however, is pissing off Stark. He had gone from easy and smiling to straight back, stone faced, the air even seemed to be shifting around him and it had taken on a heavy quality, he can feel the magic and wonder what is this man to have so much excess magic practically boiling around. The aura of the forest was even reacting, shifting from ominous to deadly. 

The cloak was still going too, seemingly oblivious to the affect he was causing or utterly unconcerned either way. Which considering the palpable threat in the air is pretty strange. 

He can understand the cloak occasionally, but not at this speed. It was talking so fast he didn't have a chance of deciphering it, which is annoying because he really wished he knew it he said to have caused this reaction. As its attentions shifts to the sodding cat, leaving Stark turning to him. 

He really doesn't want to get into a fight, not with his cloak playing with a sodding cat, but he readies a few spells in his mind just in case. Maybe this is a misunderstanding, or nothing to do with himself. Sometimes he wonders why he took this damned job. 

Especially when those gold eyes turned on him. Gold eyes that now bare very little resemblance to humanity. With a cold, sharp intellect burning at its centre. 

'Oh fuck.' 

Chapter Text

Stephen POV  

"Thank you, Dr Strange." 

Stephen was pretty sure his life just flashed before his eyes and now he's just confused. The cloak settles around him, giving him a squeeze as the anger that still felt like a damned physical pressure pushed in at him. Stark was obviously working to fold his anger down but he can see it's a struggle, especially with magic reacting around him as if it would be gleeful for him to give into it. Another thing, even though he hadn't given his entire name, there was a feeling of power in it. 

Whenever he says his name he can feel the magic crawl up his spine, even though humans are less susceptible to the magic of names from what he'd read. Humans change as they grow, making a static name only useful for short periods of time, unlike a Demon for instance, when you have a demon's name you have a means of summoning and control. The fact that a single name was eliciting such a reaction, made him damned thankful his anger was not directed at him. 

He praised himself for at least retaining some eloquence this time Stark shocked the hell out of him. 

"Mind if I ask why? At that speed I can't understand what he's saying." 

For some reason that earned him a pleased smile which thankfully took some of the pressure around them away. 

"You released him. You gave him a home and you treat him well. That's all I ask for. Occasional visits would be nice, I've missed him. If I find out who put him in a display box however, I might just do the same to them." 

The threat wasn't big and flashy as threats of doom and suffering are usually want to be, it was uttered in such a matter of fact manner that Stark might have stated that the sky was blue. 

This situation was just getting more and more bizarre. He however didn't feel strange admitting that the cloak had become a friend to him. 

"He saved my life and he's become a close friend. I'm happy to have helped in freeing him." 

"Levi is as loyal as loyal can be, I hope you will be just as loyal in return my crafty little sorcerer. Because I like you." 

Considering others had called the cloak fickle, something he had never understood considering how loyal he was to him, having another person call him loyal was vindicating in a way. The rest of the sentence was again, slightly unnerving but that seemed to be the pattern when conversing with Stark. Confusion peppered with threats on one's life. 

The threat was more nerve wracking somehow than his comment of putting someone into a display box. But then ever since he had stumbled on Stark, this entire situation had been unnerving. It would probably help if he knew what Stark was, but he suspected he would not get a straight answer and that the man would enjoy confusing him if he gave him the opportunity. 

"He is my friend, of course I will."

"That's what I like to hear. Now, as much as I'm enjoying this conversation, and I am, but I have to finish up as holding the building magic in my mind isn't exactly comfortable and I don't want to start from scratch or accidentally release everything I've already built up. When I'm finished you should get less crazy readings in the sanctum. 

Feel free to pop around later, I don't think you'll want to be here through the next interactions as they grow exponentially. You are also very sensitive to my magic."

He couldn't help but widen his eyes, just the magical discharge from one had rendered him utterly disoriented. 

" I'll head back to the sanctum… "

He paused and wondered for a second, if it was wise to open a portal in a forest like this. He turned to open a portal and figured asking was probably best. Wong would be proud, and would likely never believe him if he mentioned it. 

"Do you mind if I open a portal here?" 

The loud caw again caught him off guard he had completely forgotten about the crow. 

"Sure, feel free." 

"Goodbye Stark." 

"Catch you later, Dr Strange." 

There, he felt it again, and from the amusement shining in his eyes he knew it too. However he'd managed to not offend anyone and Wong would be impressed. He wasn't going to ruin that now, he summoned the portal and stepped through, he glanced back and was surprised to find the area completely empty, the portal closed before he could try and work it how the man had vanished. He hadn't felt a portal being summoned, even the cat was gone. 

"Ah, your back. I'm assuming everything went well." 

"I'm not even sure if you'll believe me." 

"Try me." 

"Well, the wards are being placed around the Avengers Compound, the wall was made of Atronach and the wards were being cast by Tony Stark who has not only deaged, but I don't think he is human either. Also, moderately terrifying and friends with the cloak." 

Wong just blinked at him before sitting down, he goes to speak a few times before choosing something to focus on. 

"Atronach, really? "

"Completely, and no it wasn't a covering. It was nine feet high and at least a foot thick I believe. There was also an actual Dark Forest on either side that a blind crow gave me access to." 

"I'm surprised you're not dead." 

"I'm blown away my your confidence in me." 

"I know you, you just fell into a highly dangerous situation woefully unprepared. Much worse than I'd considered." 

"You sent me into it! He thanked me. For taking the cloak from the display stand." 

"He thanked you? Colour me impressed. Maybe my lessons are finally getting through to you. What are you going to ask for?" 

"Rude, and what do you mean what am I going to ask for?" 

"He thanked you, make sure it's of equal value too or you'll cause offence. Anyway, I'm going to the London Sanctum. I need to pick up a few books that I think you need to read and their library is unparalleled for what we're after." 

With that, Wong just left, leaving Stephen more than a little confused. Stark had stopped him from thanking him. Now Wong was interpreting a thank you as what? An offer for services? Stephen felt like he was missing out on important information and for some reason Wong was not sharing. Usually that meant he was trying to teach him an infuriating lesson of some kind. 

He decided to hunt in the library for anything that could help him. He collected a few books on Dark Forests, there were so many books on them it would take a while to get through but it was the only real lead he had. They weren't often found in America however, so Wong didn't have many available. It wasn't like Stark had told him what he was after all. He could potentially look up the crow as well but he figured that there would be many creatures that moved under that symbolism. It might have been a shapeshifter of some kind. The first however, that was a set thing. 

True Dark Forests tended to differentiate based upon the local, but that was more who was available to live within them, there were some things that were the same for each. Maybe he could find out more, find out what kind of person has the power to move? Relocate? Grow? Whatever Stark did to have his Avengers Compound flanked by one. 

He takes the books to the map to see how far he had come with his warding. The circle was almost complete now. He could see the after images of previous castings and could see the perfect circle with a small gap in between each after image. In the middle, so inside the compound he presumed there was all manner of after images, from small to blinding beacons even now when some of the after images were beginning to fade. 

He definitely had been busy before he started working on the walls. The walls themselves were an after image in a perfect circle. So he'd somehow used magic to shape Atronach into the wall in the first place? Or had he summoned it in its current form? Who had that much of the stuff just lying around as ready-to-go walls? 

He started reading but was also watching the circle, he was interested to see how much of a flare it would create when it was done, now he also knew Stark's magical signature, tracking him would be much easier. At least that's what he thought. 

The last piece flashed brighter than all the rest, and Stephen could almost feel it, feel the last bit slip into place. Which considering he was so far away to feel such things, was very strange. After that however all of the after images utterly vanished and the area went dark. It looked no different from any other area where no magic had been cast for many, many years. Even the after image of his portal was gone. He glanced at the table in shock, as far as he knew, there was no way to get around it. Yet those wards had blanketed the place and retroactively removed all traces of power. 

Stephen wasn't sure if he was annoyed or impressed. 

 

Tony POV

He dusted off his hands, sending his equipment back to his workshop and his glamour clicked back into place. He paused at the wall, tensing for the inevitable claws. For a creature able to flow between places with such ease, Drest's favoured means of travel was this. Over the years the sheer number of people she tricked into carrying her about was utterly baffling. All she had to do was bat her eyes and people fell over themselves to carry her around. (He thought all this of course whilst he was carrying her around.) 

Well, when she was this size. Other sizes could lead to the screaming and the running. His magic was finally started to settle down, the exhaustion following the final ward on the wall was lingering instead of building back up again. 

Pepper would be returning from Germany soon, a few days maybe. It gave him a little more time to get things ready before his next phase. He still had some work to do around the compound. 

If he was actually planning on living on this side of the mists for any protracted length of time, as himself rather than as a mortal, there were a number of things he'd need to bring over. Blending his life as Tony Stark and Cadeyrn together. He would need to set up a second workshop, alongside his current one would work nicely, harder to access too given the kind of things in it. It was a good start. 

Chapter Text

Pepper POV

She had not long been back in the country after a business trip to Germany. Tony being forced to clean up messes that were not his own often left her infuriated, and after the trip to Romania…? It was pretty fair to say that she was fuming. Captain Perfect had found himself resoundly at the top of her shit list, which was quite an achievement considering some of the utter slimeballs she dealt with in the business world. 

Tony had been out of touch for a while, which had worried her. The last video call he had not looked well and she had wanted to scream at him to please just rest! However she knew that if she did, he'd either take it as a cue to do more, or he'd say he would rest and just go back to work. Right now he needed people on his side rather than against. With their split, she was unsure if she could even get him to rest anymore, she hoped that one day their friendship would be a solid foundation once more, because Tony needed more of that, not less. 

The hospital had been her first stop, then she got Tony's message asking her to meet him at the compound, but she had to check in on Jim first. He had, however, been transferred it seems, which was odd. She and Tony had chosen this hospital as it was the best for Jim's injury, the compound was listed as the hospital he'd been sent to. Peculiar, but not out of the range of possibilities. Maybe the initial estimates and scans had been incorrect and his injury had not been as bad as they had feared. 

She slipped back into the car, smiling at Happy as she flipped through her other emails and caught up on work that had built up as she had been running around. Happy's exclamation pulled her from her work haze. 

"What the…?"

She glanced up and was left blinking herself, it had been a few weeks since she had come to the compound but there definitely had not been a huge white wall spanning it with a large, intricate silver looking gate, which whilst she had to admit, it was absolutely beautiful, but it was rather strange to find it here. Tony tended to favour functionality over decoration. A blue light flashed over the car, leaving her blinking as the gates opened. Tony was pretty well known for having things built alarmingly fast, but this was a shock, even to her. Vision was stood just inside the gates, glancing around in confusion. 

Which was when she looked and realised there were changes everywhere . It still looked like something Tony would build, sleek designs and very modern, but there was an almost… organic element to it now that hadn't been here before. Vision followed them to park the car and they walked together towards the building they were meeting in. 

"Sir has made quite a few changes in a very short period of time, he also seems to have had the damage repaired.." 

She flinched at that, she was still fuming over the what that little witch had done to Vision. 

"Well he's certainly been busy hasn't he." 

There were voices coming from the meeting room and Jim's was very clear from the hall, causing her to frown. He should definitely not be up and around, not at all. Why were these two boys so incapable of resting? Would it kill them to stay in a hospital bed for five minutes? We're doctors recommendations just a joke? The two of them were going to send him prematurely gray. 

She'd entered, ready to lay down the law, so to speak, but seeing Jim pacing back and forth utterly threw her for a loop. He was walking. Even the best estimates had been that he may never walk unaided again, the more likely result of his injury was that he'd be completely paralysed from the waist down, that he would require a wheelchair for the rest of his life, or at least until Tony got to work she supposed. But there was no way he had built something already and even if he had, Jim would not be strong enough to use it. He was meant to be healing… 

"Pepper pot! How was Germany?" 

She pulled her vision from staring at Jim's legs and then was just as stunned when she saw Tony. It was like someone had peeled back the years. Jim cleared his throat and then she noticed that he looked much younger too. Shock as a rule, made Pepper annoyed . Seeing Jim walking had been a huge shock on it's own, and it meant no one had bothered to call her to tell her he could walk again! Add in these other changes, yes, she was unimpressed and would be letting the boys know it. Eyebrow raised, in a manner that brokered no argument as she gestured to the table. 

"Right now you two are going to sit down and explain to me exactly what has happened." 

Jim was a little on the excitable side it seemed, which was a pretty rare side of him to see. Usually this side only came out when Tony had well and truly done something crazy. 

"Tony healed me! He put a little too much strength into it. Which is why I now look like I could get carded again." 

"Pfft Platypus, you didn't even get carded in college when you were 17."

"Right, and how did Tony do this?" 

"With magic." 

Jim looks a little too smug and Tony thunked his head down on the table in exasperation. 

"But doesn't Sir hate magic?" 

"Right you are Vision, Tony, want to give them your rant again about those pesky humans and magic?" 

Tony sat up and threw his hands up in frustration. 

"It's not a rant! Trust me, when you've cleaned up as many messes as I have because Humans just can't not poke around with magic, it gets annoying. Very, very few humans have an actual capability for magic, yet there you all go, reading books and touching things. Utterly atrocious. I once met a man that had accidentally fused himself to a stone Pepper, then there was the man who tried to use magic to fly, that was the most disturbing transfiguration I've ever seen and don't get me started on the guy who thought entering his wife's dreams was a top notch idea!"

Jim snickered to himself as she and Vision glanced at each other, at the tail end of Tony's rant and then back at Tony who looked like he was gearing up for more ranting. 

"Not a rant. Tones that was a rant."

"Right. Explain. Now." 

"Well, after Germany I spoke to Wilson, I found out where Cap was going… hilarity ensued, fights were had and I technically, kind of, nearly died." 

"YOU WHAT?!" 

"I said technically! Look, I'm here, all alive and all that jazz and it's kind of lucky I did really as otherwise I wouldn't have been able to heal up our Platypus now would I! Usually I have to die to return my memories but as I was close enough we were able to exploit a loophole. Plus, things have gotten fucked enough that I can help in my original capacity instead of nudging things as a mortal. It's awesome, well, barring the Cosmic threat. But! I do better living on this side of the mists but I've not been able to do it for ages unless I was human ." 

"Don't worry Pep, he still keeps talking like we have any clue what he's saying. Basically like he does with science, but now he does it with magic too. He's still Tony, but he was … someone else before." 

"Right. I'm going to pretend I understood that. So, you are Tony, but you aren't?" 

She wasn't sure if she liked the sound of that. 

"Tony Stark was more me than most of my cycles, feel free to keep calling me Tony however, it's what I'm going by now." 

He jumped up and clapped his hands, waving towards a wall that shifted and then displayed 6 stones, one of which looked considerably like what Vision had in his mind. 

"We have one more person to come. "

"This that Sorcerer you met when you were working on the walls?" 

"Yes, the Sorcerer Supreme. Not the one I had expected, the last one passed on whilst I was Tony Stark apparently. This new guy seems interesting however. His sensitivity to my magic is impressively high. He was prophesied and everything. Damn Riga, she bet me that the bastard would be taller than me. How was I meant to know you humans would start getting so damned tall! Anyway, he's a good example of a human meant to use magic." 

"Man, I still can't get over you talking about magic without cringing!" 

To say that she was confused was an understatement . Whilst Jim just looked like a younger version of himself, Tony had differences here and there to the younger man she'd known. His hair was darker, yet, redder, eyes lighter. Just, little changes here and there. But watching Tony and Jim banter however set her at ease. This was a change, yes. But somehow, this was still the Tony she had known for many years.

This was just another in the long line of curve balls he had thrown her way. 

Vision was contemplative but he seemed quite relaxed by everything. If anything, it proved how off the mark their lives had become when things like two of her friends magically getting younger only created a few moments of confusion before it was seemingly accepted and moved on from. 

"Now. I want more on how you nearly died." 

Tony sighed and he was so much -Tony- in that moment, she knew she would be fine with these new changes. He waved a hand at the wall again and she wondered if that was technology… Or magic? 

“We have some time before the Crafty Sorcerer arrives, so here. This is what happened in Siberia. "

By the end of the video, she knew if she ever saw that man.. No. That parasite again, he would be sorry. 

Chapter Text

Stephen POV

Wong had just gotten back with his 7th stack of books from the London Sanctum, And Stephen wasn't quite sure what to think. He'd barely got a word in edgewise before he'd portaled off again and this had been the pattern now for a few days. He'd glanced at some of the books, they were in a myriad of languages, heavily geared towards Goidelic and Brythonic in origin, not surprising given the library they hailed from. Several of the books he was pretty sure were fiction, but he'd picked up a few of them to leaf through and was currently looking at a translation of Red Book of Hergest. He was pretty good at picking up languages but oddly middle Welsh was not one he was adept in. Or just. You know, Welsh. Glancing at the pile, he realised that and Gaelic were heavily featured too. Joy. 

Several of the books were straight up Fairy tales, heavily focused on the British Isles and he was unsure whether Wong was having him on. 

Since his training, he had learnt that a lot of things had moved from Reality to Word to Myth. That just because they had, didn't mean it wasn't real. That things hand also gone the other way, starting in Myth and ending in reality by sheer force of will. With a heavy amount of people writing what they believed or wanted to believe, then it being picked up as fact. But he struggled to look at a pile that contained Arthurian legends as anything not a prank of some kind. It didn't help that it wasn't the first time Wong had done it to him. That little lesson on separating fact and fiction before visiting the Feory people in the Masagix Dimension has nearly gotten him roasted to within an inch of his life. 

Since then he had been a little more critical of Wong and his annoying lessons. 

"There we go, that should do it." 

"Are you sure? I bet there are some books left in their library if you had a look." 

"Don't be snarky. You are beyond unprepared. This would have been simpler had you got a name of some kind. The masters in England are more versed in this than myself but without a name there isn't anything specific they can tell us."

"Tony Stark not good enough?" 

"That was his mortal name during this cycle. If he's operating out in the open like you mentioned then likely old world rules apply. Some are more… vicious in their application than others." 

Old world rules? 

Before he has a chance to voice that however, the huge black crow from a few days ago flew into the room. Both of them were startled, especially as it flew through the wall of the sanctum and landed on the table in front of them as if doing such a thing was normal. Well, Stephen supposed normal had become a subjective term ever since he heard those two words and went off on a wild goose chase. 

Again those white blind eyes found him with a startling ease before the creature hopped over to him, dropping an envelope in front of him. It let out a caw, forcing him to repress the shiver it triggered down his spine. It then launched itself at the wall and flew right through it as if it wasn't even there. The wall rippled around before solidifying. He picked up the letter and a black feather that had been left behind. 

"You must have made quite the impression with Stark. At least that gives us an idea of who knows." 

He ignored yet another of Wong's cryptic comments, he was getting good at that, and opened the envelope. It was a means of correspondence that he hadn't expected someone like Stark to use. The paper of the envelope was heavy and had a rough feel that paper rarely did these days, it was also tinted. The fact it was also sealed with black wax with a wing imprinted into it didn't alleviate the oddness of receiving a letter via a bird that can fly through walls from Tony Stark. 

That was possibly throwing him off the most, that made this entirely impossible to fathom, that out of all the people in the world to be involved with something like this, was the entirely modern, futurist, human, Tony Stark. It was triggering a disconnect in his mind. 

There were a number of beings that could enter the mortal cycle, but from what he'd been told it had fallen out of practice a long time ago. He'd said he usually left after his mortal form died, which meant that some time recently he had been killed or brought close enough to death that it had released him. There had been little on the news bar this Civil War. 

The letter started of pretty formal. An invitation to the compound and assuring of his safe passage, which was a bit of a strange thing to include in an invite to the Avengers compound, but OK. 

Then it got slightly less formal and slightly more Stark when the reason was to "discussion about the threat to reality and a cosmic fuck up to end all cosmic fuck ups." 

The entire thing was heavily surreal. He had said something was coming, something big. Something that had made him create those wards maybe? 

"Hmm, well, I'd have preferred you to have read more, but you also don't want to be late. Get going and Stephen, try not to put your foot in it will you?" 

"Get going?" 

"Yes, look, the meeting is in 15 minutes." 

"Who the hell sends an invite with 15 minutes to spare! What if I'm busy?" 

"But you're not busy." 

"I could have been!" 

"That's probably why such an important person delivered it."

He rolled his eyes before slipping the letter back into the envelope, the cloak was practically vibrating, at least someone was excited about this. He moved to the computer to bring up a picture of the Avengers Compound this time, to turn up closer instead of outside its walls like he had last time. 

Just as he stepped through the portal, Wong shouted through. 

"Don't eat or drink anything!" 

The portal closed before he could yell back that his cryptic messages were not helping the situation at all. 

He glanced around and was surprised to find himself outside of the wall again. Even though he was pretty sure he had portaled inside of them. A blue light flashed over him, leaving him blinking and his skin tingling that he barely noticed the silver gates opening. 

It didn't take too long to find his way around the compound at least, locating where the meeting was with surprising ease. Despite being so large and sprawling, much larger than the pictures on the Internet had indicated too, it was very nicely sign posted.

Even the door to the meeting had a sign attached to it. 

"End of the universe / Cosmic threat meeting."

Well. That's not unnerving. 

Chapter Text

Stephen POV

With a sign like that, Stephen had honestly expected more people to be at the meeting. Stark was sat on the edge of his table with some familiar faces around him (although now he was grudgingly thankful for Christine's fan status, otherwise he'd have little idea who they were). He was also literally swinging his legs like a teenager and Stephen again found himself questioning everything. 

Colonel Rhodes was kicked back in a chair, legs crossed ankle to knee looking at him with the air of a military man assessing a newcomer. The cat from the other day was dozing on the man's shoulders. What was strange was that he was sure he'd heard the man had suffered a severe injury at Leipzig-Halle, and had been rushed to a hospital that was known to have the best spinal surgeon he knew of. Seeing the man sat there staring at him was somewhat confusing. He assumed that the injury was not as bad as he had thought, or, he had made an incorrect assumption as to why that hospital in particular had been chosen over the other, much closer hospitals. 

The other two where Pepper Pots, a bit of a strange addition. As far as he knew she was the CEO of Stark Industries, not an Avenger. The other was The Vision. The interesting life form that was powered by an infinity stone. 

It was definitely a smaller meeting than he expected. 

But then, he supposed that the Civil War had ripped the team in two. The lion's share of said team was now on the run having escaped from a creepy, pretty illegal looking underwater prison that was straight out of the super villain's handbook. 

"Well, that's everyone for now, come on in, Levi!" 

Levi… He was unsure of his cloak being called Levi, but the cloak seemed to like it by the way it fled his shoulders to jump directly onto Stark's face. 

"Um. Tones. Are you being attacked or hugged by the wizards cloak? I honestly can't tell." 

Tony's reply was muffled but he waved his hand in a 'I'm fine' manner. 

"I'm a Sorcerer, not a wizard. You may refer to me as Dr Strange." 

Levi finished his greeting, waved at the other confused people and settled back on his shoulders. The chair in front of him moved out in invitation and he noticed that Ms Potts jumped a little and Vision gave it a baffled look. Causing him to believe that open displays of magic were at least fairly new to them. 

"So. You lot are being read in first for fairly obvious reasons. Rhodey-bear is leader of the Avengers -" 

"I'm what now?!" 

"As I was saying. Platypus is leader of the Avengers, Vision, this directly affects you because of the mind stone. The Sorcerer Supreme for a similar reason. And Ms Potts is the most organised human being I have ever met." 

They were all left a little stunned as Tony waved his hand, the wall flickered and the 6 stones came up and he already was not having a good feeling about this. 

"These, are the infinity stones. Very powerful, to be used they usually require a cradle of some kind or they'll shred you with their power. They're fundamental facts of existence, left over from the previous universe. Someone that has been known to my extended family and friends for a while, and has caused us no end of problems, has decided to up his game. 

"He plans on collecting all 6 to speed up his goal of wiping out 50% of life in the known galaxy." 

Everyone reacted at once with a similar sentiment-

"What the fuck?!" 

"I never said he was intelligent. The Titan is something much, much worse. He's a fanatic."

"Oh fuck." 

You can't argue with fanatics, you can't reason with them. They're rabid in their beliefs, even when insurmountable evidence is against them.

"But... why?" 

"From what I've been told, he thinks he's saving the universe from over population Pep, or something. However, it will really fuck the balance up. It won't just kill 50%, because if the pilot of a plane vanishes, if half the doctors at a hospital vanish, more die. It ripples out and will knock our dimension out of alignment. Which means others could be wiped out, we could be wiped out, dimensions could merge, or a whole cluster domino effect can happen." 

"Shit, this keeps getting better and better. Why is he coming here Tones?"

"The Mind Stone and The Time Stone are on earth. Also, we had The Space Stone for quite a while and humans, being very human, of course. You lot poked at it till it created enough discharge to create some fun weapons. Fury thinks they're disintegration rays or something, they're not, they're teleportation rays without a fixed point. Which, of course, gives off readings that it's still on Earth. Plus, things have a habit of ending up here. Earth is like a magnet."

"Fuck."

"Oh, he was behind the battle of New York too." 

"I thought that was Loki." 

"Nope, mind control." 

"When did you work that out? Also, why does that seem to be behind everything these days?" 

Stark leaned back, scratching his beard with his head tilted as if he was looking at something none of them could see. 

"I had my doubts back then, but I can see it more clearly now. He was a figurehead, because the Titan wanted The Space Stone. No idea why its become so popular, but I hate mind control.."

For a second, the aura around Stark turned dark and heavy, filled with a wealth and depth of anger that he struggled to conceive of its like he can taste it, his teeth were even aching under it.. and that thing in the back of his mind is practically screeching at him that danger is here. Then it was completely gone, leaving him lightheaded and Tony was bringing up videos and pictures from the invasion and talking like nothing had happened, while Stephen was pretty sure that was once of the top most terrifying moments of his damned life. And that included being murdered repeatedly. He listened whilst relearning how to breathe and made a mental note to not be on the other side of that anger. The others had felt nothing it seemed, just sat there paying attention. Sometimes Stephen cursed his new senses. 

"He got caught much too easily, barely made use of his Seiðr, he made a lot of noise about coming to conquer us, opened a tiny window, then went away quite peacefully. Very obvious that something was up, plus friends have been trying to get me to meet Loki for centuries, he's a prankster, not a megalomaniacal overlord. He'd get bored of it in a week most likely." 

"Okay, information overload. But this...this is what you've been talking about for years isn't it?" 

"Yup, I only implant few things when I ' go mortal' , but the ability to recognise threats like this in advance is one of them. This time round I obsessed on it to my normal degree, which is fine for me, not really fine for a mortal." 

Colonel Rhodes and Stark bounced off each other leaving him wondering. He remembered that attack, had been in the hospital, had refused to leave whilst huge beasts swam through the air. That it was for a single stone? That Stark didn't even deem it a real attack? That didn't bode well for earth. 

Or for the fact he was wearing one around his neck. It suddenly felt much, much heavier. 

"So, you've known this was coming. "

He attempts to keep out the implications that if he had known, what's being done about it? Wong would be amazed at his diplomacy. 

"Not precisely. When I'm human, I'm literally human. All I knew was that the attack wasn't the end of it, I could feel it in my bones. I blew up 1 mothership with that nuke, as I fell back and it came apart… I saw more, then the portal closed as I fell. Few people are interested in a threat they can't see, that looks defeated, with only an eccentric genius with PTSD knowing about it."

He winced, that couldn't have been an easy cross to carry. The fact he was casually talking about flying a damned nuke through a closing portal into space was not disconcerting. Not at all. 

"Right, who wants food? Drinks? We're going to be here a while going over earth defences and what we can do under certain time frames. I won't be informing the UN just yet, I'd like a plan before chaos breaks. The UN and the Accords needs to settle first and we have time."

He had been about to agree to the food until he remembered Wongs annoyingly cryptic words and was torn. His hesitation again, should have been insulting but Stark found it amusing whilst his companions were looking at him in confusion. 

"Don't worry Crafty Sorcerer. I'm ordering in. You won't have to worry about that in my lands anyway."

"If you give me your orders I will get onto that now." 

"Thanks FRIDAY." 

"FRIDAY?" 

"She's my AI, helps me out with everything and you'll all be able access to her on your phones, just in case something comes up regarding world ending drama." 

Before he can say anything Tony slid a huge, expensive looking phone over the table that came to a stop in front of him. Well, that cleared that up. He made a note to keep his current phone distinctly out of sight. He has a feeling it would greatly offend the man. 

"So, Crafty Sorcerer, are you joining the Avengers?" 

"Why on earth would I do that?" 

"World saving hi-jinks! At least think on it, maybe ask some of the other masters? I could even visit if they wanted, it has been a while, they might want you to join so I don't... Plus, if you join, I'll even lend my services should you need them on your side, only fair after all." 

"I'll think about it." 

"That's all I ask." 

The man looked far, far too smug for something he had little intention of doing. 

Chapter Text

Tony POV 

A very, very long meeting later, that included more hacking of international government servers than his entire education as Tony Stark (which really was saying something), 2 food runs and more than a little magical discussion between himself and Dr Strange, who was starting to come around. Potentially because the Sorcerer wanted access to his battle wards, either way it was amusing.. It had been quite a while since he taught a mortal magic user how to use some of his more unique wards. The man had enough raw power to be able to work some of them. 

He was, however, finally ready to crash on his feet. He might have pushed a little too hard in the first several days here, even with his excess magic, but he'd wanted the place protected and his magic masked. Along with his excess magic build up used harmlessly and constructively. Healing people didn't help matters, healing was a very taxing form of magic. 

It however meant that he needed to sleep, unfortunately insomnia was not a trait unique to Tony Stark and it was kicking up a fuss. In fact, his insomnia had leaked through into his mortal life. For him, not sleeping for 5 days might not strictly be healthy, but it wasn't that bad. Humans however needed sleep more often, which had caused him no end of problems whilst he was human. Tony Stark and circadian rhythms were not even remotely acquainted. 

He had bid everyone goodbye, Vision had picked a new room for himself, away from those he had once shared with Wanda. He'd be redesigning the rooms soon anyway and the bots were helping out by collecting his stuff, not that he had much, it was mostly a large selection of disturbing sweaters and cook books. Pepper had to get back to SI, she was already running late and Dr Strange had taken a portal back to the Sanctum. 

"Alright Tones, what did you want to talk to me for, because you look like you should be unconscious" 

"I feel it, but I've been trying to work out how to broach this and I might be using exhaustion to my favour.."

"Not ominous. Not ominous at all." 

He dropped into a comfortable chair in the common room, Rhodey joined him and Drest appeared, making his lap her nest. Rhodey, was already completely whipped when it came to his familiar. She liked most Reapers, that they carried his Black Fire was part of it. Drest found his magic comfortable. She'd actually found several Reapers before him in the past, by sitting on random humans until he found her. She definitely seemed to particularly like his Platypus, she had remained exactly the same size each time he'd seen her. Tony hadn't thought that was possible. 

"It's not a bad thing, it's more of a… choice thing. And a 'confusing to explain' thing. Back when my people actually visited more often, there was a closer tie between us and humanity. Some of my kind were worshipped and this lead to them becoming specialists in certain areas. Our magic, then seeded into humanity and then would pool in humans that had potential. Mine were called The Reapers." 

"What? Like Death?" 

"No, I'm not death, I mean, there are loads of death Gods and Goddesses out there, I'm not one." 

"Do you have a Scythe though? "

"Were getting off topic…" 

"Oh my god. You totally do, don't you?! Let me see!" 

He rolled his eyes and knew that there would be no getting out of this so he summoned the black bladed weapon again, slightly amused with the look on Rhodey face as the very long blade snicked into place. He had multiple Reaper blades for himself, but the Scythe had become a signature of a sorts. It was imposing, made people pause. Rhodey was immediately drawn to the black blade, just stopping his fingers from running along it, as if just realising what it was. 

"Holy shit. Does this mean you take people's souls or something? Reapers sounds pretty deathy.

He waved his hand and the Scythe vanished in a another flash of fire. 

"Humans come up with some weird shit you know? You guys hear one thing, I go away for 10 years and all these weird stories popped up of me taking souls. Mortis especially found it hilarious. So, no, no soul taking, Reapers fight threats . To the land. To the fire. To the balance." 

"Okay. That sounds a little odd, but cool." 

"There hasn't been a Reaper called in centuries, I took it to mean the world was moving away from threats like this and the fire has been sleeping more over the last few generations. For a while, things had been calming down. Maybe the balance had become more stable. I don't know if it's the Titan, he's definitely risking the balance, or something else, but something has changed, the fire is strengthening despite humanity's efforts. Now, I've found a person who could be a Reaper."

"How do you know who can be one?" 

"The magic that pools in them is visible to us, so potential Reapers carry my Black Fire inside them. They can be left dormant, or I can release them, it's your choice. I've been told I'm annoyingly protective of people carrying my fire too, personally I just think others are lazy. Reapers are type of Enhanced, Gifted human. Abilities are derived from my line, along with a compulsion to keep the balance." 

Rhodey was nodding a long, looking thoughtful and he knew he hadn't picked up on it yet. 

"Rhodey. It's you."

"Huh, what?"

"The person in talking about is you ." 

"Are you sure, because I - Wow." 

He didn't let him finish his sentence and put his hand near his chest, fire flickering around his fingers, causing Rhodey to look down and saw a second fire from inside him push upwards around his sternum. 

"Holy shit, that's inside me?!?" 

"Yup, completely harmless, however it explains why you always healed so fast and rarely got drunk enough to be hungover. Why you survived that fall.." 

"Man, this is weird." 

"Yup, other Reapers in the past told me I suck at this. I mean, I have cousins who do this magically appearing at the strike of midnigh. They start a whole spiel about duty and magic and honor whilst floating, glowing and shit… but it's just not me. Can you see me doing that? So, they started this tradition of writing sort of journal entries and compiling them to give new potentials an idea of what is ahead of them. "

"Um Tones, I don't even know what language this is. Languages even… I also think it would be hilarious if you tried to go the mystical route, see if you could keep a straight face." 

Rhodey smirked and that and Tony was pretty sure he'd barely make it through a sentence. 

"Oh, I forgot about that, want our version of the all-speak? What the Asgardians use to understand other languages, We didn't give it a fancy name though. I just call it a translation ward. Don't tell Pepper, She'd probably want to brand it." 

"Sure. And she totally would you know."

It wouldn't take too long, plus, with Rhodey already carrying the fire inside him he was that little bit more susceptible to his magic than most humans, it likely had a hand it the healing going a little awry. It was around an inch tall and wide and it was a ward he'd tweaked himself here and there to keep up with languages as they change. 

Rhodey was looking at it critically as Tony brushed Black Fire over it as it dried. 

"Is this a sneaky way to get us to have matching tattoos?" 

Tony snorted and glanced at his own arms before remembering that his glamour had obscured his arms was still up. Rhodey had stayed inside whilst he had been working on the wall and hadn't gotten to see them. He sent a pulse to dispel the glamour that made his arms look clear. Start small he figured. Only his hands and forearms were visible, the rest obscured by his clothing. 

"You'd need a few more before you get to my stage. There, done. Now check the book." 

Rhodey just about pulled his attention from his arms and looked at the book, eyes going wide, obviously amused that he could now read it. 

"Why did you cover that up anyway?" 

"Hmm? It wasn't so much an intentional thing, habit. Once upon a time these would have gotten my attacked on sight by Romans.. ." 

"Well, you don't have to do it here, pretty sure we don't have any Romans hiding in these halls. I'm apparently going to do my homework now. You should go and get some sleep." 

He nodded, it would take him a while to get used to not hiding himself by degrees behind glamour. Even around Rhodey. It was a long standing issue but he figured he could try for his Platypus after all. 

Knowing that Rhodey needed to think about this alone, it was a lot to dump on a person. Especially in this day and age. In the past, the magic of the land was a given fact, stories of his people were real and mostly warnings, not cutesy disney films.

Now, magic belonged to annoying people who tended to blow things up. Finding out magic has chosen you to keep the balance of the multiverse in check.. Was likely less appealing he supposed, it had been on his shoulders since he was a kid. He headed back to his apartment, sleep was definitely on the docket, even though he could feel that his insomnia was still up to no good. He'd really hoped exhausting himself magically would help, the first sleep after the return of his memories always sucked. 

He hadn't expected his mother to be sat on the sofa, listening to music via FRIDAY with Cara curled up happily at her feet. Drest immediately trotted over and curled up on Cara. 

"Was it really important for you to do that much, just after returning? When was the last time you slept." 

He just dropped down on the sofa next to her, shrugged but not complaining when she maneuvered his head into her lap. He dropped a hand to brush across Cara's smooth white fur and occasionally catching Drest's silken soft fur too. 

"First sleep always sucks. You like your new home Cara?" 

He got a grumbled reply which most likely meant that he needed to see about getting a nice large fire for his apartment. 

"Hmm I thought as much, which is why I'm here. Sleep now, I shall watch over your charges." 

"Rhodey took it pretty well, I think you'll like him." 

"He seems very loyal, I will show myself to him at some point. Especially when he chooses to embrace your fire." 

"He might not, you never know." 

"Mhhmm. Of course dear. Now, get some sleep." 

He would have said something more, but the calm music and fingers carding through his hair dragged him into a calm, dreamless sleep. 

Chapter Text

Stephen POV 

He'd expected the masters at the Kamar Taj to be heavily unimpressed with this idea of joining the Avengers. Especially as it included signing an Accords contract from a group that had hidden in the shadows for generations. 

The only real comment he received was - 

"He owes you a favour does he not? You could use it for help with your contract?" 

They were however intent that he be involved with this issue regarding the infinity stones, which likely meant aligning himself with the Avengers. He was Sorcerer Supreme, so he did not technically have to heed their requests, but he had kept the council active after he had been named Sorcerer Supreme as he thought it was a better system than one person ruling overall. Plus, despite The Ancient Ones plans, despite their confidence and despite Stephen's confidence in himself, it hadn't even been a year since the crash, let alone since he stumbled into Kamar Taj. He learned fast, he took that drive for perfection from medical school and had applied it tenfold, he even studied as he slept. He still felt painfully new to already have saved the world once and to already be facing down a universe destruction level event. No, multiverse destruction level event. Part of him wanted to hand this over to someone more experienced, a larger part of him could not tolerate the idea and he had to be involved. 

He should have known really, how important Earth was, given how it was protected in comparison to other places he'd been. He just hadn't really thought about it before, discovering earth was not so much the centre of the universe or any such twaddle, but rather a balance point? That to knock it out of alignment just a little, that it wasn't just earth or humanity at stake. It was all the branches of Yggdrasil surrounding it, then the rest of the universe which was apparently littered with life of many different flavours. All the dimensions attached to this world, of which there were many. All of that could suffer if the one measly little planet, that likely wasn't advanced enough to be a blip on all those other worlds radars, was knocked out of alignment. Stephen was convinced this was an utterly stupid system. 

He summoned a portal that once again dropped him outside of the walls of the Avengers compound and found himself gritting his teeth. He was going to have to look into that, there must be a way around it and in a completely professional quality, he wanted to know dammit. He knew now, that Tony would likely tell him if he asked, that the man was surprisingly free with his knowledge, except for that of his species. That there were rules apparently that governed how he could tell people things like that and that it was simply easier if he found out on his own. He would tell him in a second, but he would be highly amused if Stephen worked it out himself. 

FRIDAY directed him to a garden where he found Tony sat on the ground next to a man sitting on a large stone, wearing what looked to be biker leathers, at a guess he would say the man was Native American. He spotted him first, Stark raised a hand to wave even though his back was too him. The other man gave him a sharp smile before hopping of the stone and strolling towards what he swore was a hedge, yet he disappeared into it. A portal potentially? 

“I hope I didn't interrupt?"

"Nah, he was about to head on his way, was just catching up, come sit!"

"Ah, someone you knew from before then?"

"Mmhmm, this is closer to living on his territory, even though I've felt some connections here already, I didn't want to be rude."

"Funny, I thought you were very good at being rude."

"Ooh. Snarky. Well, I am. Even I have enough sense not to be a dick to someone like Coyote in his own backyard. Anyway, I believe you have some news for me!"

"Yes, the general consensus is that joining would be wise, but there are concerns regarding the contract and secrecy of the order." 

"Hmm, they wish you to use your favour, yes? Well you don't have to do that. Count it as payment for joining, we'll work it out. I've already started the groundwork on fixing the mess left behind." 

"Then it looks like I'm an Avenger, what favour do you mean?" 

"For rescuing my friend." 

Stark gestures to his back, the cloak perked up and waved over his shoulder. He had completely forgotten about that, it felt strange to ask for something in return for doing something that has benefited him so much. He spoke of debts, favours and payments as if they were physical things and he couldn't quite get his mind around the concept. Stark threw any further questions by shocking him again, it seemed the man lived for shocking him. 

He was running his hand back and forth in the grass, which was fine. A little odd, but fine. It was Stark, the man was odd, seeing him not doing something peculiar would be the anomaly. However this time it wasn't him that startled Stephen. It was the sudden sparks of blue energy that got his attention. 

"What is that?" 

"Hmm, you see it? Interesting. Strange too with how you Sorcerers draw your magic from the universe, and not this land, don't you think?" 

He had a feeling Stark was testing him, seemed he was doing well so far at least. At least he wasn't as insufferable as Wong, Stark framed things as ordinary conversations and Stephen walked away with an inordinate amount of new information. 

"There is a difference?" 

"Oh yes, Earth is special remember, it has the Blue Fire. It's completely unique to this world, breathed directly into it. It's what attracted my people. It's what attracted so many pantheons. Do you know how many religions this one small planet has had since there were people to worship them? Far to many, many more than much larger, much older worlds. Watch." 

He had not thought about the amount of religions Earth had had before, it was just a fact really. Earth had many cultures that tends to have their own religions. The Norse pantheon actually turning out to be real and aliens should have started him thinking about all the others, about why humanity seemingly sucked them in. Stark repeated the motion along the ground again, and this time, the blue light… Blue Fire followed his hand, it built up steadily with each pass until it was practically climbing his hand, slipping around his fingers in an almost… playful manner. After it had built up a little, Stark then pushed his hand into the grass abruptly. He felt the pulse in his bones as he watched the fire dance off in 3 different directions. Blue Fire rippling away and that is when he recognises what it is. 

"Ley lines?" 

"Mhmm, even as a human, I tend to gravitate towards them. So many of my properties around the world are on them. More so this time around given Tony Stark's resources. Pretty handy for me really." 

It was immensely peculiar to hear a person discussing themselves in such a way, but it didn't seem out of place at all. He'd only really known the man a short time, but he had a pretty good sense of him. He slipped down from his perch to the ground, pushing out his senses as he laid his hand on the ground, but not coming up with much. Maybe because of the difference in their magic?

"Here, it takes a long time to learn to call it. Even for my people and people whose magic stems from it."

He considered asking how long it took him to learn this but decides he's probably better off not knowing, there is a degree of familiarity when Stark talks of the Fire, that speaks of a deeper connection he's sure of it. How he looks almost reverent when the Blue Fire slips over his skin. That his own magic displays as Black Flame has him wondering too.

Stark swiped his hand back and forth a few more times, the fire quickly, almost eagerly answering his call, but this time held it in his hand, cupped and glanced pointedly at Stephen. 

He hesitated a second before impulsively pulling off his gloves to get a better sense. He expected a look of pity aimed his way when Stark saw his scars, but instead he just got an understanding smile, not something he was used to. It was worth it too, because the Blue Fire was like pure energy, very different from the energy they drew upon. Invigorating, he'd go as far too call it life affirming. It felt both new, wonderful, yet comfortable too, like home. 

"That.. is very different." 

"You should see it at sunrise at certain convergences and standing stones, at least back in Britain. I've yet to search this land properly, bar this convergence. I know you don't understand it yet, but I can see why she wanted you to take after her. She spoke about you often, how you would arrive thinking you knew everything, but when you realised you didn't, that you'd completely dedicate yourself with a passion that was utterly, preciously rare." 

He blinked a few times, that she had known for so long what he would be like? He hadn't considered that, even to this day he wondered about why he was chosen, he'd barely been around for minutes compared to others at Kamar Taj. 

"I've only met two Sorcerers who can see the Blue Fire well enough to one day learn to call it, to manipulate it and care for it. That's the duty of anyone who can touch the fire, we must care for it Stephen, because it could run out. Those two Sorcerers? You are one of them. She, was the other, and you are much more sensitive to my magic. Which means you are more sensitive to the Blue Fire, you could have the ability to manipulate multiple forms of magic, more than what you've been taught, it makes you very powerful." 

Oh. Okay, that sounded like a pretty good reason. No pressure though. 

 

Rhodey POV

Things had been pretty crazy lately, the whole Civil War devolved so fast that they just couldn't keep putting it fires without 10 more appearing. Then he'd fallen. It had always been a possibility, he knew it going into the airforce that there were chances of injury someday down the line. Just seeing Tones after a battle showed him that the armour didn't leave you injury free. He was still shocked when it happened though. As much as he'd always known it was a possibility, it had blindsided him. 

It had also meant he was trapped in that stupid bed when Tony went missing and he was unable to do anything . He had hated himself in that moment, cursed his body and he'd prayed to any God willing to listen for something, hell, anything to let him be able to be at his brothers side once more 

Then he was waking up to a freaky young Tony, fully healed and deaged, that had been crazy. 

Watching Tony do amazing things with Earth Magic, stone moving in ways stone really shouldn't be moving, magic or whatever is was, either way it was weird . It had looked like he summoned the outside damned wall out of nowhere. Sure, he then had a lecture that creating something from nothing was an exhausting practice and really what he was doing was pulling it from his other home. To him though, it just looked like Tony magiced up a big ass shiny wall and smacked it down around the compound. He didn't even mention where the bloody forest came from.

Oh, and he kind of had a cat now. Apparently. Tony's cat would appear and demand to be carried around several times a day and he'd woken up more than once to her sleeping on his chest. Greeted by a cold nose pressed against his own.. Tony had explained her name to him, Riot. Which was odd as she was such a small, sweet little thing. 

This fanatic titan did put a little bit of a bummer on things, but he figured that they had time. It was also what brought him back to this book. It was more of a diary than a book, written by many different people. All the different languages had become English, which was handy as he could tell that the early pages were extremely old. The entries at the end were of 6 different people discussing the same battle. The Battle of Magh Tuireadh. 

After that it's empty, he's not sure if that meant it went well or not. He assumed we'll considering humanity made it to the 21st century after all. Reading something someone wrote hundreds and hundreds of years ago, heck, thousands, is pretty trippy and yet… their random notes of Tony left him thinking that he hasn't changed much. Taking people in and making them family. Taking on too many duties himself. Doing stupid shit and nearly getting himself killed, surviving by the skin of his teeth. Very Tony

He'd love to say that he decided to take Tony up on his offer because of the fight. He'd love to say it was because of the promise he made to a nameless deity, that after reading this diary, he realises might have actually listened to him and gave him his wish. He'd love to say it was to defeat the bad guy, to fight for the greater good or even just because having powers seemed pretty cool. Although there was no preset powers apparently, everyone tended to be different. The abilities came from Tony's line, which apparently included freaking shape-shifting! Yeah, they were talking about that! 

What he really cared about was being with his friend, with his brother. It was why he'd joined the Avengers. To make a difference and help Tony from taking everything on himself. To fight by his side. Not that it wasn't slightly nerve wracking, to join the ranks of people going back millenia, who had been fighting and saving people for thousands of years. It was daunting, but the choice itself? That was easy when it came down to it.

He'd follow that man anywhere. 

"FRIDAY. Tell Tony I need to see him" 

"Of course Colonel Rhodes."