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).
Art by Imaan (insteadofdeath)
The first time he saw himself, Tony no longer recognized some parts of his body. His hair had been shaved in places so he cut the rest of it short to match the new growth. He shaved his face, too, healing cuts and over-growth messing up the usual design of his facial hair. Both of those things, however, were superficial. It was the last of his vanity showing through, weak but persistent.
What actually made him stand there and stare, naked, was his back.
Thickest at the very base of his skull and reaching down all the way along his spine was something that hadn’t been there before. Under his fingers it was hard yet not as cold as metal would be; it was alive, a part of his body; rigged directly into his nervous system. It was dark grayish brown in color, the surface smooth and perfectly attached to skin and bone, not leaving anything exposed.
The first time he saw it, Tony stood, paralyzed, then tried to pull at it, to get it off, then just sank down and cried like a frightened child.
His emotional breakdown didn’t last long; The Engineer came in, caressed the strange object and re-directed his mind away from the horror of what had been done to his body.
It didn’t end at the harness, as he called it later; the biological device on his back made many things possible, including understanding the Chitauri and enabling a few of them to access his mind. Tony called it a harness because he had no illusions that they couldn’t also use it to incapacitate him – and control him to a degree. Whenever he felt like he was losing it, they did exactly that. It felt like a reboot, the slate being cleaned, his inner calm restored.
The Other’s visits were frequent in the beginning, whenever he struggled. The poisonous words were deflected at first when Tony stubbornly tried to hang onto his own beliefs, yet soon he realized they were but childish wishes for something that had never existed. Pretense. The others had left him behind, gladly, and the true worth of Tony Stark had never been the man but what the man could do and provide. The world, the people… none of them had actually cared more than briefly, and all of them had turned away eventually.
They had used him and discarded him, although Tony had liked to pretend he was in control of it, that he didn’t need them or want them.
He had just buried the truth and lived in his own little version of the world.
The real world was inheritably imperfect and at war with itself. The human race had long ago proved that it sought its own destruction while claiming no such intentions. He had helped that cause, then tried to slow it down, but one could not change their true nature. Everyone was expendable, yet Tony had been the gangrenous limb they cut off first.
“They wronged you,” The Other said, “yet expected you to just curl up and die. To make you believe you deserved to be used and then left behind when they could no longer exploit your knowledge. They saw you as a threat; your vision, your ideas. You would have changed the world in a way they never wanted it to be changed – would have taken the world in a direction they never desired. You were the enemy, but as long as they needed you, they pretended to be your friends. To be thankful for your efforts to safeguard them.”
All the lies and hidden agendas… Tony was glad he had never trusted anyone, not really. They had all wanted something, a piece of him, and not for the reasons he preferred.
Doubt turned to bitterness.
Bitterness turned to anger.
Anger, as so often with him, turned to resolve.
He had prevailed, and would continue to do so – on his own terms.
He began by upgrading the harness. It was, essentially, technology. The Engineer’s mind was alien yet Tony learned to understand it. He increased his mind’s connection to it, finding new uses for it. Just like with the arc reactor, he had to make sure no one could just copy the process – or hurt it – which meant protecting the harness which was directly connected to his spine and brain and thus to the functions of his entire body.
The next step was to learn his surroundings, the materials, and the technology. His ability to understand the Chitauri opened up countless new possibilities to him, yet sometimes going with something familiar was more effective. However, nothing less than perfect would do, so he would take the best of both worlds.
It was early on that he understood where they were headed, and what he was supposed to do. He was aware that he should have been troubled by it, but the thought of going back, to continue being exploited before being cast aside…
Tony had been on his own for so long and just hadn’t realized it. The world had been rotting away around him and no one could save it. A quicker way to eradicate everything and start over was by burning it all to the ground. Fire, after all, was nature’s own remedy for removing infection and ensuring fertile ground to provide a new generation of life.
Tony had been making weapons since he was a child. In his father’s lab he had watched the maestro at work and when he was on holiday from school, he partook in his father’s projects or made his own. It wasn’t something you would build for a school’s science project but Howard sometimes saw things he liked and adopted Tony’s designs.
Howard never thanked him but Tony felt like he had been needed. Story of his life until now. He was determined to change the rules, finally.
With new materials at his disposal, he was free to create something he couldn’t have dreamt of before. His sleep was invaded by visions and plans which eventually bred the idea of the perfect predator. Tony was free to create his own rules of anatomy, yet he didn’t stray too far away from what felt natural. Perhaps his mind was still restricted, his creativity barred by what his brain had been taught over the years, but that didn’t stop him. It never had. He could make it work in any shape or form – but it would be the shape and form he chose.
The first one was beautiful. He also knew it represented too much of himself, of his broken dreams and past designs. It was a good platform to build upon, however. He knew what he wanted, he knew where he was headed, and the others that followed were perfect in every way he could think of. His math had always been right, after all.
The first remained his sounding board, his go-to source for trial and error – and, eventually, became his masterpiece. The others were produced, more or less, by hands that weren’t his. They lacked some of the qualities the first one had – qualities that hadn’t been needed in the end. That was why, when he told the Chitauri the first one was flawed and unusable, they didn’t question him. It wasn’t an outright lie and thus undetectable.
Tony wasn’t certain why he kept the secret. A failsafe, he told himself. A contingency plan, perhaps. Not that he needed one, and it truly wasn’t that, either, but there were reasons. He settled with ‘personal’. It was the same reason he never would have given Dummy away either, no matter his flaws or infuriating habits.
Since the size of his project grew exponentially, he was given a large space to work in which swiftly became his own world. He knew it was a space ship, of the same origin as the one he destroyed in what felt like a lifetime ago. He grew familiar with its technology and interface, using it for production of parts and materials he needed. He even reprogrammed it at his leisure to better suit his needs. After all, when it became time to work on the intelligence of his newest creations, he needed all the help he could get and no speed bumps to keep him distracted from his actual goal.
It wasn’t the first time, obviously, that he had worked on an artificial intelligence, which made it faster. Also, he hadn’t previously been allowed such access to his brain – or access by his brain. The modifications The Engineer had provided Tony put to good use. His memories, his reactions, his knowledge… they all became part of a shared and split consciousness his creations received. The human mind, however, was fickle, so he ensured a cold, calculating side: the lizard brain, which was fitting considering some of the physical aspects of his designs. Well, lizards had existed on Earth for so long one had to admire their capabilities to survive and adapt.
Once they neared completion, The Engineer came to observe the progress. Tony walked with him into a giant, round hall, its edges divided into what he called ‘nests’. In each stood one of his creations, glowing eyes vigilant at his approach. Each of their minds briefly caressed Tony’s in greeting, to ask him whether the one in his presence was a threat.
Whether they should protect him.
The Engineer looked around. Tony felt the Chitauri’s astonishment, its pride. “What do you call them?” it asked.
Tony could see the two of them in his mind’s eye, standing in the middle of the open space; through the eyes of his creations. Their vision and presence felt almost like home. “Children,” Tony replied easily. It was not pleasure or love that coursed through him; he had yet to teach them the concept, but it was as if they were learning it on their own, skirting the edges of his mind as they strove to increase their knowledge.
The Engineer looked at him for the longest time then nodded. “If they work –”
“They will,” Tony shot him a disapproving look.
One of them twitched, slightly larger than the rest. That one he had completed last. It and the first stood side by side, their nests next to each other. A full circle.
The Engineer nodded again and left.
Tony watched the maimed Chitauri go. He knew what the other had been thinking briefly; they needed Tony’s mind to control his creations, his perfect weapons of destruction and deliverance. Without him, they would not operate. The Chitauri still had control through the harness but Tony had just ensured he would not be cast aside again.
A small movement caught his eye and a smaller shape emerged from the feet of his latest creation. He smiled. “We will have our chance.” A memory of pain crossed his mind; he had not forgotten. His suffering was over but the reminder would forever float within their shared minds, and should he ever forget… his children would promptly remind him.
It wasn’t the time, however. Not yet.
Not before Earth burned as it deserved.
They had stopped, the ships clustered together. Outside the window Tony could see Neptune’s immense blue surface. It sucked in the reflection of the arc reactor.
Behind him, The Other approached. He could see the alien’s shadow and felt its presence.
“The time of your vengeance grows near,” he was told.
Tony’s jaw hardened. His resolve…
“You have the means to bring your wretched planet to it knees,” The Other went on, stepping to the side, pacing behind him as if a circling shark. “Those who abandoned you will be destroyed. They don’t deserve to live in glory while you suffered for them.”
“A suffering you inflicted,” Tony reminded The Other.
A hand shot out, to the back of his neck. The pain was instantaneous and brought Tony to his knees. His mind stilled, flooded, falling to pieces only to be brought together at the command of another. “We saved you while they left you to die,” The Other reminded him, voice smooth and silky. “We cared for you when they did not. Do not forget to whom your allegiance belongs. Who deserve it. Who will reward you for it when they would simply take all you have done and cast you out!”
The hand was removed and Tony took a deep breath. He nodded. “I cannot forget.”
“Your children will plunge Earth into a new beginning,” The Other said, coming to stand beside Tony’s still-kneeling form. “Are they ready?”
“Do as I told you, and they will be,” Tony replied then slowly picked himself up. The ship they were in had rotated slightly, now revealing two circular space ships, immense in size, currently locked to each other. The others ships hovered near, preparing to receive one of his children each, to speed up their plan once they approached Earth.
The Other nodded, its pleasure flooding Tony’s mind briefly before he was left alone to return to his main ship. He had two now, which was essential should Earth’s response take them by surprise. He entered one of them, the Chitauri that were milling around backing away from him. The insides of the ship echoed as mighty footsteps approached and Tony looked up while walking, seeing the immense body of one of his creations pass above him, stepping over him carefully after following the Chitauri to one of the other ships. Their minds grazed each other, a passing affirmation, then all was quiet again.
It was never truly silent in Tony’s head anymore, and he liked the sense of unity. He finally belonged somewhere, even if he had been forced to create that world himself.
Seeing Earth again filled him with emotion he could have hardly guarded himself again. It was like coming home. Looking at the planet, spreading out beneath him as the ship slowly circled it in space, in the blindspot of the satellites, Tony looked at its beauty and could not help a tear sliding down his cheek.
“The time has come,” The Engineer told him.
Tony was annoyed he had not been allowed to be alone at this moment, but he supposed it was nothing less than what he should have expected.
He nodded, opening a screen next to him. It was time to teach his children all about Earth. The main part of the fleet had finished their approach of the planet and had been noticed, he knew that, but his two ships would remain unseen by human eyes for as long as he chose; he knew the technology they wielded and how to bypass it. What they would see in the coming weeks and months was what Tony gave them. Humanity’s dependency on their limited technology would enable him to sweep them aside at the moment of his choosing.
Closing his eyes, he focused. His own mind could not receive all the information he wanted to give his creations, but theirs were not stopped by human frailties. They would upload all the necessary data, and once released… they would know exactly where to strike. Well, Tony had already taught them that, but soon they would be carrying all the necessary data to absorb and deflect any human interference and attacks.
His only concern, truly, was those who didn’t depend on weapons to do battle, but he had told his children all he could of the Avengers and they were prepared. If the champions of Earth still stood, enjoying the spoils of victory Tony had given them, they would fall hard.
He would enjoy every moment of it.
Everything moved in cycles. The first move was his, quick and precise, throwing their enemies off balance and turning the battlefield into a gaping wound.
His mind was with the unit that first encountered the Avengers and he followed the action with dry amusement as it deflected their attacks. His children had learned well, adapting and not needing his help to give his former allies their first taste of defeat.
He continued his systematic crippling of the human race, leaving the door wide open for the Chitauri when they finally attacked. Tony felt tempted to withdraw then but he didn’t want to drag this out unnecessarily so his children moved to the cities, driving the people from their homes like frightened ants only to be stepped on.
By then he had secured his two ships; one was well hidden as a necessary back-up while the other one he parked quite visibly just outside his old home in Malibu. Call him home-sick, he just wanted a little taste of it – of whatever was left. He was the one controlling the chaos so ensuring a safe basis of operation in Malibu was ludicrously easy.
Tony also looked at the grand scale, however. He was one step ahead and when the Asgardians finally arrived, led by Thor who was ever so proud and confident, he knew it was time to up the ante. Crippling S.H.I.E.L.D. had been postponed long enough by then; Tony had enjoyed toying with them, tracking their efforts and messages, feeding their growing desperation. They thought they were hidden in the skies, protected by their own network of satellites, but Tony had broken into their files once and this time he had no misgivings about doing so.
The killing blow was precise and J.A.R.V.I.S. performed just as perfectly as before, in complete synch with his newest creations. It was over before they knew what hit them – no doubt mimicking exactly how many of their victims had felt over the years, falling for the causes of the shady organization.
A small trip to New York City was necessary, however, to gather data that had been cut off by the initial attacks. It wasn’t a setback or a delay, giving him an actual chance to test the Concordia unit, and, as it happened, gave him a chance to see how far he had actually been able to advance himself when Thor so very conveniently appeared there.
The small unit inside Concordia worked perfectly, just as agile and strong as Tony had meant it to be, taking the brunt of Thor’s weapon where his Iron Man suit may have buckled before. He could have dealt the killing blow but bleeding the demigod was enough this time, seeing as they had actually captured someone The Other desired very much: Loki.
Beheading Thor could wait until another time.
Once Tony had delivered Loki to his allies he headed back to Malibu, willing to give himself a little time off the battlefield. Some of the units needed more repairs and he could enjoy the simple pleasures – such as a shower and the feel of human-made clothing on his skin.
For a few days he could actually pretend it was like before, although J.A.R.V.I.S. kept voicing his concerns and units hovered by the house, guarding him. Concordia kept watch directly above the house or by circling around, and Tony’s mind was constantly focused on what the other units were doing around the world, extinguishing feeble attacks against them.
Crushing the human resistance was near, he could taste it.
It had the flavor of blood, and he had never liked the taste of it on his tongue quite so much.
to be continued…