Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers (MCU)
Era: Post-Avengers movie
Genre: Action, drama
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Jane Foster, Nick Fury, Happy Hogan, J.A.R.V.I.S., Loki, Pepper Potts, James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Lady Sif and the Warriors Three (Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor
(Brief/smaller appearances: Odin, Maria Hill, Darcy Lewis, The Other, Benjamin “Benny” Pollack, Erik Selvig, Jasper Sitwell, Claire Wise.)
Pairings: Happy/Pepper, Jane/Thor. Mentions of: Benny/Claire, Pepper/Tony
Summary: Iron Man never fell back through the portal. The Avengers must deal with the loss of their comrade and move on – until Earth once again comes under an attack from the Chitauri and their new-found weapons that decimate everything in their path with unmatched power and intellect. As cities and nations collapse around their decreasing resistance, the heroes of Earth must find a way to defeat their enemy before there is nothing left to avenge.
Work in progress.
Written for: Apocalypse Big Bang, Round One (apocalypsebang at LiveJournal)
Art: Imaan (insteadofdeath at dA/DW/LJ)
Warnings: Graphic description of torture, major character death, apocalypse & invasion themes (including but not limited to: mass destruction, terrorism, holocaust, death, violence and gore), brain-washing & mind-control, language (including some remarks that could be seen as racist). Serious spoilers for the ending of The Avengers (and other random spoilers for the rest of the movies in the Avengers cinematic universe).
It wasn’t the way Tony had thought he would go out. Sure, it was fast just like the way he had imagined – the speed, not the actual dying. Also, riding a nuke into space wasn’t something ordinary people got to do.
Everything had happened so fast; one moment he was looking up at the portal and the next he was in the midst of darkness, the suit’s alarms reacting a fraction too slow, confused by the sudden change in environment. The suit’s power, already depleted in the aftermath of the prolonged battle, trickled out and Tony gasped, forcing himself to let go while he still could.
The call was disconnected.
J.A.R.V.I.S.’s voice distorted into nothingness.
The HUD shut down.
He was alone and all he could do, frankly, was look on as the payload was delivered right onto their enemies’ doorstep; the nuke continued its course, steady and unwavering – something Tony envied right now. He wished he had the same momentum to do what he was supposed to, but this had been the plan and it ended right here, with flashing inferno and a big bang.
Tony closed his eyes as the alien mothership succumbed to the explosion. He felt a slight pressure and imagined it might push him back but would it be enough to take him through the portal? Maybe if he came up with something, he could get the suit’s power back on…
He was so tired, battered and bruised from the fight and the events before that. The mere idea of moving was becoming harder to grasp; floating was so much easier; breathing the warm, thin air as his mind began to drift. Tony guessed that if he fell asleep, he wouldn’t have to stay awake as he suffocated and froze. It was a minimal comfort in his current situation but he guessed he had earned it, securing the Avengers’ victory and all.
One thought away from just admitting he was giving up…
It made him stir.
A scraping sound, his brain recognized.
Coming from close by, echoing, traveling up…
Tony forced his eyes open. They felt dry, burning and aching. His skull felt too tight around his brain. He tried to breathe and found his lungs constricting around nothing – or that’s what it felt like. His entire body jerked, seizing, wanting air, needing it, and there wasn’t nearly enough.
The scraping continued.
Tony tried to move, to fight off the darkness around him. His eyes searched for anything and briefly caught something like a flash of light. Where was he? He felt trapped, caught, pressed inward from all sides and he could smell –
The suit. He was still in the suit. Trapped inside it.
“J.A.R.V.I.S.?” he called out.
Nothing happened. No one responded – not before the scraping grew more insistent.
Tears slid freely from the corners of his eyes as he struggled to breathe, to draw in whatever air remained. It wasn’t enough. It wouldn’t be enough. If someone was out there, they were being too slow. Tony was about to tell them that, loud and ungratefully, but he didn’t think he could get more than a pained sigh out of his throat.
He felt something yank on his head, forcing it backwards. Someone was trying to take the helmet off by force. He wanted to fight – or to help – but he couldn’t move a muscle and he would instantly trade some of the clarity in his mind for the ability to do something about his current situation.
The darkness in front of him moved, making him blink, then suddenly the dark was gone and there were shapes, cool air hitting his face. He opened his mouth to breathe, to fill his lungs – only to find there wasn’t enough air, that he still felt like he was suffocating, breathing vapor although his eyes could see none.
A growl met his ears and he shifted his eyes, wide with the continuing panic. Was there something wrong with his lungs? Why couldn’t he breathe?
His eyes landed on a gray face that looked like a lizard with half its features chewed off. He hadn’t actually gotten this close and personal with the aliens before but he had gotten pretty good close-ups at the Chitauri to know he was looking at one – and it wasn’t wearing its usual mask.
Whatever he wanted to do, he couldn’t, because there just wasn’t enough air and his brain was beginning to suffocate with the rest of his body, unable to maintain the necessary oxygen levels in his blood.
Tony’s ears still registered sounds and the tugging on his body grew stronger. His eyes moved down, his vision blurred but seeing more of them – half a dozen Chitauri – crouched over him, foreign tools in hand.
Part of him wanted to somehow seal himself inside the suit and die alone in the dark.
Another part wished they would cut an artery as they tried to get the armor apart and give him a somewhat blissful exit from this world since one clearly hadn’t been provided for him yet. He recalled thinking of dying before, as he watched the Chitauri be destroyed, but clearly he had missed a spot…
Clearly something, somewhere, had gone terribly wrong.
His body jerked again, his jaw working, nostrils flaring as he fought to inhale any available air there was. He tasted something horribly poisonous in the back of his throat, his tongue felt swollen and something kept tugging at him. There was no pain, no blood – just strange screeching noises between the Chitauri and he wondered if they even understood he was dying.
Most likely they didn’t care.
One of them stepped forward, hovering over him. This one looked different, even Tony’s air-deprived brain could tell that. Something had happened to its skin, to its body, as if it had been cut, pieces removed and then sewn together with several different materials. One of its eyes also looked like it didn’t belong to its alien skull, regarding him as it knelt on his armored chest. Tony couldn’t feel the pressure but he smelled the creature as it leaned over his face.
One hand grabbed Tony’s jaw, squeezing hard. What felt like fingers pressed into his cheeks, forcing his panting mouth to open further, uncomfortably wide, and he would have been crying from pain had there not already been wetness in his eyes from the continued feeling of suffocation.
The pressure increased. Tony wanted to scream – tried to scream – but as he had predicted the sound he produced was far from the desired effect. He felt something snap, or crack – a sickening crunch just below his ears and his jaw exploded with pain. He couldn’t move it, not even if he wanted to, and the maimed Chitauri’s hand reached forward. Tony’s eyes briefly saw something in the inhuman grasp and then it disappeared past his line of sight.
He felt it, though, in his mouth, then his throat, pushing deep, too deep. His eyes squeezed shut as the alien pushed past his attempts to gag, to throw up, to swallow. He couldn’t draw breath and then the pain in his jaw became secondary to the stab of agony deep in his throat. The Chitauri above him grunted, shifting its hand currently stuck painfully deep in Tony’s throat, then moved the other one from his jaw to his throat and punched his windpipe.
Tony did scream this time, his entire body jerking in response to the mind-altering torture that very much rivaled the experience of being semi-conscious while his chest was being carved open. The hand was withdrawn but his jaw remained locked into place, possibly broken or dislocated at the very least. Tony blinked past the tears, gasping, then found he could actually breathe now. He tasted blood, felt it trickle down his throat, lower than from a bleeding in his mouth. Part of it burned like it was trickling down to his lungs, making his chest ache as he filled his lungs again, feeling a sort of euphoria take over him as the most extreme breath play of his life finally ended.
The air tasted wrong, though. He couldn’t put a finger on it but it was the same as when he put the new arc reactor in his chest and tasted coconut and metal; it was there, he was sure of it, although its origin wasn’t entirely clear to him. However, he was content to just let oxygen into his body and worry about the rest later.
His eyes closed and he needed to sleep, so very badly. His body felt even more sluggish with its renewed capacity for life, if that was even possible.
The tranquility didn’t last for long; the tugging, scraping and snarling continued and the Chitauri on his chest moved away, gesturing at the others, letting out a series of strange sounds that made no sense but one of them handed the maimed one a tool of some kind and it lit up with a strange red light. If Tony had to take a wild guess at its purpose, it was an alien blow torch, the red end looking almost like a concentrated flame of some sort. Also, it was warm when it was brought closer and Tony tried to move, to inch away, but his body was still worn out from the shock and the armor was heavy without power.
The other Chitauri gathered close, some of them holding him down while two of them held up his right arm. The maimed one brought the torch closer and made contact with the armor. At first Tony felt nothing, then distant heat, then he roared with pain as it seared into his skin. The slight attempt for motion made his jaw ache all over again but didn’t diminish the pain in his arm.
Seeing what it had done, the Chitauri who appeared to be in charge withdrew the tool, peered at him, seemed to re-examine the armor and then changed the spot. This time it stopped just night of burning another area of his skin and kept moving, kept looking for something and Tony prayed each time it paused that the heat wouldn’t turn into a burn.
Sometimes it didn’t.
Sometimes he wasn’t so lucky.
Piece by piece the Chitauri managed to do what it wanted, which was undoing his armor. Tony, fortunately, began to space out at some point, from the pain and from hyperventilating, which whatever the mad scientist equivalent of the Chitauri was had done that his windpipe apparently couldn’t accommodate.
Finally he lay there, wherever ‘there’ was, out of the armor and soaked in piss. Tony was fairly certain he had emptied his bladder somewhere between almost suffocating and having his jaw broken then getting something jammed down his throat that apparently restored his ability to breathe. He felt naked, he was cold, and he could smell burnt human skin. His own burnt skin, and it was more than a little accident at the lab.
The head Chitauri moved forward again, traveling twisted, crooked fingers over his body, stopping at the low shine of the arc reactor through the undersuit. As it continued upwards, thankfully, over his sore throat, throbbing jaw and wet face, the fingers almost petted his hair and Tony considered this a good time to pass out.
For once, his body promptly accepted the command it was given.
When Tony came to, he recalled why fainting in the hands of your enemy wasn’t a good idea: it left you vulnerable.
Not that he honestly had any way of fighting back in his current state but he could have at least given the impression he was every inch the superhero he claimed to be.
He found himself lying naked on his stomach, hands laid out along his body. Everything from his bruised, swollen jaw down to his feet was pressed against the surface that after a small amount of scrutiny looked like a mess of tangled metal and wires trapping his body in a loose cocoon.
Since he wasn’t actually tied down, Tony guessed he could try and move, perhaps see if he might get free, but simply attempting to move his tongue to lick his lips made him groan with pain; someone had snapped his mouth shut but that hadn’t reset the jaw. Not entirely, anyway. Once he was aware of that, the pain started all over again and he tried to wriggle his arms up to at least touch the injury, but his prison was too tight for him to even properly wriggle.
His skin ached in several places, slowly registering in his brain. Burns; he recognized the sting. Some of them pressed painfully against the hard surface, probably bleeding. The air still tasted funny and it fucked up his sense of smell.
A shadow moved in the corner of his eye and he risked trying to move his head to see the source of it. Something immediately pressed at his cheek, unyielding and renewing the sensation of his jaw being forcibly pulled from its proper place. With tears in his eyes and something that could very well be blood clogging up his nose, he decided moving could wait till later. Much later. As far as his eyes could see, he was being held in place and no doubt whatever was framing his face was designed to keep him still.
Still for what?
He felt a hand touch him, strange texture against his skin. He felt fingers but they weren’t human.
They weren’t unfamiliar either.
The Chitauri from before was back, he knew it. Tony didn’t need to see its mauled, strange features to know it, to know its touch. Well, none of the others had really touched him so it wasn’t really a stretch. The fingers jumped, from his calf to his upper thigh. For a moment he wondered if this was going to end like one of those stories fueled by unresolved sexual desires but the fingers passed his ass, tracing the small of his back, moving up to his spine and dragging more slowly as if trying to savor every bump.
For whatever reason Tony was more afraid of that than the fingers actually stopping on his ass would have made him.
He wanted to whimper but held the sound back, both because of the soreness in his throat and the fact that he was still Iron Man, an Avenger, a champion of Earth. Even if he was going to be dissected alive he should at least go out with honor. With dignity. He should be brave.
The fingers traveled up to his neck and the hands gripped harder, adjusting something and Tony found his head being moved forward until his chin almost rested against his chest. The pain in his jaw wasn’t as bad as he had thought it might be – mostly because whatever had been jammed in his throat felt like it was tearing through the walls of his esophagus and larynx both, at the same time, cutting off the air.
As if to soothe him, the fingers threaded through the back of his hair, their effect going unnoticed by him. The body in his peripheral vision moved slightly then he felt something sharp at the base of his skull. He tensed, trying to struggle again. The hand in his hair moved higher, tugging and then holding, making his scalp ache in a too-strong hold that threatened to tear the strands free of his skin. The sharp edge moved over his skin and for a moment he had a vision of being scalped, his hair and bloody skin being displayed as some kind of trophy by his enemies.
Instead he thought he saw a few of the dark strands falling down past his face and soon it was all over.
Tony felt like laughing. Were they giving him a haircut? Had he felt any gutsier he might have commented on the poor quality of customer service but refrained from doing that because he honestly didn’t think he could actually open his mouth to speak.
The body of the Chitauri shifted, perhaps to leave him alone, allowing Tony to let out a sigh of relief – a sigh that hurt but he was willing to ignore that because he hadn’t just lost the skin from around his skull.
He heard footsteps, something being moved, then saw the shape of the Chitauri return. Tony couldn’t help the tension in his body, the dread, then felt something tighten around the back of his skull, as if the entire frame his head was being trapped in was shrinking. It stopped at something that was highly uncomfortable and gave him a sense of claustrophobia, mostly because he couldn’t see anything, couldn’t move, couldn’t fight. He tried moving his hands, but merely grasped at the wires and bars holding him with his fingers. There was nothing else. His legs were equally useless.
The Chitauri shifted around and Tony heard something being moved, like medical instruments on a metal tray but he told himself he was imagining it, that he was just trying to match the sound with something he was familiar with.
What he hoped he would never get familiar with was the sensation of something sharp thrusting against the back of his skull. The burn went on and on and Tony screamed through it, regardless of how his jaw didn’t cooperate and how much it hurt in his current position, because none of it compared to the sensation of something being pushed into his brain alongside his spine.
When it stopped he thought he had passed out, hoped he had died and prayed it was over.
Instead he felt a sharp twinge at the back of his neck and he knew his skin was being parted, cut open, all the way down to the bone. His screams had turned into sobs and his body shivered from pain and possibly from the trauma to his brain. He had no idea how he was still awake, nor did he want to be for whatever came next.
Something was being moved again, somewhere outside his line of vision and his neck burned all over as something else was pushed in, into a vertebra or beside one, he didn’t even know. That was, however, when all the pain stopped, his body rendered numb and his mind followed soon after.
It wasn’t the first time Tony hoped he would never wake up but this was the only time he actually meant it.
Tony woke up only briefly the next time.
He was lying on a table. Well, he rather called it a surface because he had no idea if the Chitauri even understood the concept of a table. His hand and legs were spread out and either bound or he just couldn’t feel them. Whatever the truth, the result was the same. His head, which was turned sideways, felt stuffed and drugged. He was thankful for that.
A shape moved across his field of vision; the same Chitauri with its strange skin applications and eye that still didn’t fit. Tony saw something like a blade in its hand and wished he would just black out again, to that blissful place where the pain couldn’t follow.
His upper neck and skull were on fire. Actually, his brain was on fire, and it wasn’t a good feeling. It was terrifying because that sort of feeling meant something was seriously wrong, no matter how limited your knowledge of health and physiology. The fear was animal, a need to protect oneself from further harm, to hide and lick one’s wounds.
Tony could neither hide nor tend to his injuries – not when his body felt disconnected – and he still felt the blade cutting into his skin, slicing deep, traveling down his spine, down and down and down from the place it had stopped last time, all the way to his tailbone.
Maybe they were going to skin him alive after all.
The Chitauri moved in front of him, dropping the bloody blade onto another flat surface in line with Tony’s eyes. The creature crouched down, meeting Tony’s gaze. It was impossible to discern even one emotion in those miss-matched eyes. They weren’t human. There was nothing human about the Chitauri, unless perhaps that they had four limbs and a human-like body if you squinted.
A hand reached out for his face, forcing his jaw open – forcing it wide. There was no crunch this time but only a small pop and Tony closed his eyes, wanting to disappear, to be gone, to just fucking die already.
He heard a whir and had to open his eyes. If he didn’t know better, the mechanical object in the Chitauri’s hand was a drill. When he could no longer see it but felt it touch the back of his throat, it was the first time in his life he passed out from pure shock.
Waking up was the last thing he wanted to do and if that was the first thought he had when regaining consciousness, Tony knew it was bad.
He felt like Frankenstein’s date rape, taken apart and not actually put back together again. He was lying on his back this time, feeling squeezed between two layers; another myriad of bent metal effectively trapping him in a fashion that would have made the creators of Saw weep with envy should they understand the horror of such a simple device.
Tony tried moving his hand and actually managed to wriggle around his right one, slowly inching it up. Poorly healed burns still ached and stung but he didn’t care. If he got far enough, high up on his chest, he could finish this. He could unscrew the arc reactor and it would all end.
He had managed to inch his fingers half-way past his ribs when he sensed a presence – more keenly than he had sensed anything before – and a hand landed on his chest, on the arc reactor. “No,” a voice said, a slight roughness in it yet filled with certainty. “You will not end your life.”
Tony whimpered and wanted to fight, to resist, but his hand fell down, as far as it would go in its current position he had managed to wedge it into between his body and the metal binding him.
The hand moved and he saw the figure it belonged to, robed and wearing some kind of metal muzzle that elaborately covered its face. A face much like the Chitauri, yet different. It was different. The Other was different.
“It works,” The Other stated, not to Tony but to someone else. He knew that. Somehow he knew that.
“Yes,” a voice with a distinctive hiss in it responded and another figure emerged – the Chitauri who had been playing a poor round of Operation on his body lately. “I am not finished yet,” it added and filled Tony with dread, making him whimper again – would have made him piss himself again but he couldn’t feel his bladder.
“The Engineer frightens you,” The Other said. “His genius should appeal to your own. He saved your life when you could not survive in our atmosphere. He gave you the ability to understand us. Soon… he will evolve you past human limitations so that you can truly exist.”
Tony didn’t want to evolve past anything he already wasn’t but he knew it didn’t matter what he wanted. The Other smiled, a horrible expression even in the shadows of its hood and then it drew away, leaving, and it was like something left Tony’s mind, leaving him cold and restricted.
“Soon, you will open your mind to us,” The Engineer purred, touching his face. It was a gesture Tony hadn’t understood before, but he did now; he was a prized experiment. He had survived so far and that made him special. Also, he was a specimen of a race The Engineer knew very little of, and its curiosity made Tony’s skin crawl.
Something was lowered from above to rest around his head, like a frame. He briefly spied six slender spikes protruding from its inside and too intimately felt two of them as they touched his ears then pushed into the canal, narrow enough to fit, sharp enough to breach his eardrums once they came into contact.
His throat seized and almost didn’t let the scream out, but he did when the spikes pushed further inwards. His body convulsed then eased down as if someone had released a flow of wonderful morphine into his system. His consciousness hung there, lazy and drifting, barely registering the remaining four spikes in front of his face, aligning, two directly at his eyes and two below them.
Tony’s mind slipped away before he felt the last four spikes take their positions and push forward.
He was upright. Seated. Arms behind him, bent backwards and over the backrest, secured in place. His body was on fire, inside and out, covered in sweat yet he was shivering.
Tony remembered wanting to be dead, but the details about why were lost to him. It was like remembering a snippet of something that wasn’t necessarily from his life and bringing it to full detail was impossible. Why he had wanted to die wasn’t important. He didn’t need to remember it.
Yet the thought persisted.
“You don’t want to die,” a voice told him. A touch slid across his scalp, from the back to front, the sensation strange as if his skin didn’t know how to handle it suddenly. “You don’t want to die, Tony Stark,” the voice went on and the mismatched eyes appeared in front of him, the bulging one fixed on his. “You want to live.”
The car battery lying next to him on the cot.
He has to move carefully to not disconnect the wires going to his chest, yet in the midst of it all – even in the midst of all the pain – he doesn’t want to die, even if he perhaps must.
Tony gasped. The memory was firm and the strange mouth of The Engineer pulled into something that wasn’t a smile yet Tony’s brain knew it was the Chitauri equivalent of one. He knew so many things… and now The Engineer knew them, too.
“You’re smart,” the mauled face told him. The lips barely moved, not speaking the words, yet Tony understood. His brain understood.
His breathing picked up. Fear sprang forward from its thick infestation in the back of his mind.
A hand grasped his jaw, tight. Inhuman fingers, an alien touch, the eyes searching his, as if that would unlock his mind to the other. Perhaps it did.
“You fight,” The Engineer told him. “You survive. You will continue to survive. You will ensure it. You built Iron Man; a shield and a weapon.”
“I am Iron Man,” Tony said, past the grip on his jaw, determination flaring inside him.
Another non-smile, a tightening of fingers. “We understand each other. We are the same. After I open your mind, all that you are is mine to mold, to uplift. You will be born again. Your life will not be wasted.”
Yinsen is on the ground, bleeding. Dying. He bought them time but his still ran out.
“Don’t waste your life.”
Tony blinked, the shivering getting worse. The fear was still there but his body was disconnected. The fear flooded his system yet his mind stayed still, locked in the grip of The Engineer.
“You can feel it,” the Chitauri told him, nodding, approving. “They said a human mind would be fragile, that it would break and vanish. So I took your body first. Once I could control the body, I could keep the mind in place.”
“But you can control it.”
“Because I learned how.”
Tony wanted to close his eyes but he didn’t know how; it didn’t work the way it should, lids moving on command. They remained open, wide open, as if they didn’t exist. As if it wasn’t his body. The touch on his chin was vanishing; he could see the hand but his skin could no longer sense it.
“Yes,” The Engineer smiled. “We don’t need your body right now.” He saw another hand move, a slight touch on the back of his neck, then the sharp sensation of something pushing into his spine, through it. The burn vanished. Everything vanished; he could no longer see. “Show me,” The Engineer said.
Tony showed it everything.
He was still sitting there when he returned to his body – or his body returned to him. It didn’t hurt, which was a relief. This time he was cold, but no longer shivering.
Tony blinked slowly. He felt lonely. As in, he felt alone, although it hadn’t been different a moment ago. Or had it? He thought about it, all of it, all over again. Of his home, his dad, Dummy, school, Pepper and Rhodey, weapons, J.A.R.V.I.S., creation and innovation, Obadiah, Afghanistan, Yinsen, Iron Man, Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers… It was as if he had been over it mere moments ago, like a boring re-watch of a movie he had just seen.
They were his memories, though, so they could hardly be called boring. It was just that… they would have been better viewed with someone else; being shared. But they were his memories, in his head, so that meant no one else could see them.
He heard them approach and suddenly no longer felt alone. The sensation was instantaneous, inexplicable as if his brain had just learned something it hadn’t previously known.
“He lives,” a voice spoke – The Other, Tony knew.
“Yes,” The Engineer responded. “He calls it ‘shock’, the mind and body attempting to adjust, to cope and survive. When it wears off, you may begin.”
The robed figure appeared before him. Tony looked at it, feeling its presence next to him and in him. In his head. In his mind.
His brain didn’t know how to properly handle it and neither did the rest of his body.
The lips curled, an expression closer to a human smile. Tony felt an echo of feelings, their meaning; The Other was pleased. The base of Tony’s skull ached, filling him with discomfort.
“He will be ready for you soon,” The Engineer stated. Tony’s eyes moved over to it, taking in the scars and implants – improvements – the marks of self-experimentation. He didn’t know their stories but he knew why they were there now. It was like his arc reactor; a horrible injury had become his next step on the evolutionary ladder. He had raised himself up as he coped and survived.
“Good,” The Other remarked and they both left.
Tony was alone again.
So very alone.
The Other came back later, circling him, closing in.
Tony’s mind felt more like his own again, yet he could feel the other pressing in, skirting the edges of his mind, relentless in his advances. He couldn’t fight it, not really. He didn’t know how. Maybe there was no way. It was like trying to stop a leak with just one finger, the water trickling out just the same.
“The Engineer has looked into your mind,” The Other stated. “He finds you intelligent. He finds you… worthy of keeping alive.”
Tony followed The Other with his eyes as it passed him again. He was still sitting, still tied, body aching yet he knew not if it was from not moving or whatever had been done to him. Both, probably.
“Your friends…” The Other went on, stopping, waiting.
Tony waited as well.
“They will not come for you,” it went on then, circling closer, a brush against Tony’s shoulder, leaning in over his other side. A hand on his cheek, strange skin on his, cooler yet alive. “They shut the portal. You saved them all and fulfilled your purpose, your only reason for being. They never wanted you, never trusted you, but they needed the things you could give them. You were never one of them, an Avenger – nor would you have been, afterwards.”
Tony felt like shaking his head, denying it, but the heated words vanished as coolness trickled into his mind, as if he were being sunk head-first into cold water. He could see them, all of them, looking at him with distrust and dislike. Some thought they were better than him. Some probably were. And the fact that he hadn’t been chosen, but he was the only option they had…
“They left you to die,” The Other whispered. “They didn’t even try to find you, to save you. None of them cared. No one ever cared.”
Tony tried to think of others, of someone who had meant something to him. Someone like Pepper.
The Other was one step ahead of him: “You think she misses you? Such grief you gave her, bringing her down, slowing her progress, constricting and ruining her plans. She was ever walking in your shadow, smothered by you, and she never would have loved you. The life you led wasn’t what she wanted, but she had been there for so long she forgot what she truly desired. She would have remembered, eventually, but when you were gone – when she realized what she could become without you – she was truly happy.”
He didn’t want to admit that it was true. Of course it was true. Pepper had done so much for him, but it was just a job. For so long, Tony had lulled himself into thinking she was happy to do what she did, that she might be happy with him.
“She was relieved to see you go,” The Other hissed. “All of them were. Free of your agitating presence.” He moved again, circling, dark thoughts filling his head. “She and the rest of them – the world… You tried to save them, to protect them, to give them hope – a hero. They spat at you, wanting your creation as their own, to modify and to change. They wanted the weapon, not the man. They wanted the means, not the ideology. They didn’t understand everything you gave up for them, your sacrifices unimportant. They cheered you when it was convenient – then turned their backs when you needed them.”
The Other turned towards him, walking over, taking his face, turning it up towards the eyes in the shadows of the hood.
Tony felt the mind, not his own, pressing in, deeper and deeper, winding him tight and while it didn’t hurt, it was so much worse than anything else. He imagined that’s what rape felt like, unwanted and violating, going where none should go without permission or consent. The digits pressed relentlessly at his skin and he wanted to shout, to scream, to die.
“None of them loved you, or cared about you,” The Other whispered. “You gave them all you had and it wasn’t enough. It would have never been enough. You knew the world was rotten, you saw the problems and tried to fix them, but the world doesn’t want to be fixed. It will thrive in its own depravity and consume the ones who try to alter its being. They would have eradicated you, eventually, because you were not what they wanted. Not when you had served your purpose.
“Tell me, Tony,” the voice crooned in and out of his head, “did anyone ever want you for who you really are?”
Screaming would have been… easy. It would have been a lie, however, like most of his life had been. A charade to pretend he was happy, that his life had been all he wanted.
Instead he cried.
to be continued…