Dr. Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme, had just finished slipping the Time Stone back into the Eye of Agamotto when he first noticed.
Noticed the look of dawning, horrified realization on Tony Stark's face, the spark of sudden understanding in his eyes as he flicked his gaze from the glow of the Iron Dome, to the Infinity Gauntlet still in his grasp, and as the single most oblivious person he had ever met finally had his epiphany, Stephen couldn't help it: he started laughing.
Just...doubled over, and if it wasn’t for the Cloak of Levitation, he would have been rolling on the floor all-but-sobbing with laughter as he got a front-row seat to the punchline of the cosmic joke of their universe because the Time Stone had let him know the realization would be good, but nothing could have possibly prepared him for this.
Timeline after timeline had ended in ash and darkness and despair. Ended in failure and bitter regret, ended—]
Stephen didn’t know if he was crying or not, as the Eye of Agamotto contentedly hummed under his hands. The feeling of infinite possibilities coalescing around them would have been heady enough just by itself, but then Stark chose that very moment to realize what literally everyone else on the planet knew and that was it.
Someway, somehow, they’d made it and Stephen was never letting Stark live this down, ever.
He was not alone in his laughter: over the comms, Spider-Man’s cackling came through loud and clear with an unholy amount of glee in his voice as he asked, “You really didn’t notice? I thought you were faking!”
Stephen spent the next few minutes just trying to get his breathing back under control, and failing miserably as he watched everyone else’s reactions to the entire situation.
Watched as everyone else quickly caught onto what was going on: as Thor’s booming laughter nearly drowned out Danvers’ groan as she reached for her wallet, even as Hope merely gave them all a beatific smile as she extended her hand. Meanwhile, Rhodes facepalmed in his armor as he muttered darkly, and Stephen only managed to catch something about MIT and “Damn it Tony, you promised you’d tell me if you ever got minions” before he lost it again.
By the time he got his bearings back, Stark sounded like he had finally reached the tail end of his freakout.
“—didn’t want to take over the world, when did it even happen?! Pepper? Pepper, help, I need to figure out how to put it back— what do you mean ‘finally’?” Stark pulled his head back from his phone to give it an odd look, clearly forgetting the Infinity Gauntlet still in his other hand.
Stephen knew he probably should’ve been more worried about that, but as it was he was wiping the tears from his eyes and trying not to double over laughing again.
...now to deal with the fallout, and never before had Stephen been so grateful that Masters of the Mystic Arts didn’t have to do paperwork because this was going to be one hell of a doozy.
Tony Stark looked at his phone in betrayed outrage as Pepper hung up on him, after a...very enlightening conversation about JARVIS and his company and jokes that apparently hadn’t actually been jokes and—
“Oh, shit. I’m never living this down, am I.” He said aloud to no one in particular.
Then he sat down hard, as the goddamn memes Peter’d kept sending him finally made sense and he buried his head in his hands with a groan.
“Oh, are you kidding me— Peter, you troll, you knew what you were doing.”
“No shit, Sherlock,” Peter sounded far, far too chipper over the comms. “Besides, we know you couldn’t help it, you had the power of the Beard of Evil on your side.”
“Hey!” Tony yelped, and whipped around as he realized he wasn’t the only one to say it.
...just in time to catch Strange’s incredibly outraged look, while everybody else snickered around them.
Okay, it was kind of funny. If only because at least he wasn’t the only one being dragged in this.
Certainly much funnier than the potential weapon of mass destruction that was the Tacky Glove of Doom, anyway. Or the...
Tony felt tired just thinking about it.
Vision had apparently reclaimed his own Infinity Stone sometime during his freakout, the Tesseract had somehow popped back out in the past five minutes and was now a glowing blue cube sitting in his right palm with a distinctly smug air, but that still left three for Thor to wince at. Well, not only Thor: having witnessed the full power of the Tacky Glove of Doom, Danvers was now keeping an eagle eye on it, tensing every time one of the Infinity Stones flickered brighter than usual and Tony didn’t blame her one bit.
“Okay, anyone know where I can safely get rid of this?” He asked with a slight wave.
Strange stepped towards him. “Hand it over and I’ll put it in the Sanctum’s artifact storage.”
Tony was about to do just that, when Thor made a face. “I am...not sure that would be the best of ideas.”
Thor looked torn, clearly knowing what he wanted to say but having a hard time finding the words for it as he gave a sidelong glance at the Tesseract before turning to face him fully. “The Mad Titan’s campaign to assemble the Gauntlet took centuries, millenia even. Now, however…”
He trailed off, frowned, and made as if to start again. However, it was at that moment that Tony felt the strain of everything— the brutal fight, Extremis flaring with every close call, wielding the Tacky Glove of Doom and somehow surviving it even if he didn’t know how— hitting him with all the subtlety of a freight train. As the shock of their victory over Thanos started to wear off, and the realization dawned that they’d survived the nightmare that’d plagued him since 2012 but he’s somehow taken over the world in the process— for the first time in years, Tony found himself reaching the end of his rope.
“Okay, you know what? Strange, here you go,” Tony staggered over and shoved the Glove at him, not even caring if he dropped it or not because he felt like he was roughly two minutes from crashing, “figure something out with Thor because that’s it, I’m out. Catch me when I’m not running on negative two hours of sleep.”
He felt three different types of exhausted, and probably looked it too if the looks the others were throwing at him were any indication. Certainly, Strange would’ve had a snappy comeback instead of a worried frown...eh. Whatever.
Everyone present had his number, they could call him up whenever to figure out what came next— but right now? They’d saved the day and he desperately needed a nap. Or ten, he wasn’t picky.
“Take me home.”
Tony managed to get the armor off and wolf down a few energy bars before he passed out on the old couch in his workshop.
To: All PR Department Heads [All branches]
From: Goldman, P. Program Coordinator [PR, New York branch]
Subject: Well, This Is Awkward
Looks like it was taken by drone, but I’m not sure. We could *maybe* make a case for corporate espionage or ask Cpt. Danvers about the security parameters of what had been an ongoing operation, but...well, the evidence speaks for itself.
It’s gone viral, because of course it has.
To: All SWORD Members [All branches]
From: Decker, M. Analyst, Head Secretary of SWORD [Accounting, Security, Los Angeles branch]
Subject: We Didn’t Start The Fire
Before anyone starts pointing fingers, I’d like to point out that we weren’t the ones who came up with Phase 3: we just went with what everyone else was doing. That’s it, no more, no less.
Also? *We saved the goddamn day.* We were among the front line of defense for the company that’s the only reason we’re here today, less than a decade after New York and with a grand total of 0 casualties despite facing far greater forces than last time, and I am so damn proud of all of you.
Should push come to shove, I accept full responsibility for my department. If heads need to roll, I have a letter of resignation ready to go.
To: Decker, M. Analyst, Head Secretary of SWORD [Accounting, Security, Los Angeles branch]
From: Hill, M. Head Intel Officer, Director of SWORD [Communications, Security, New York branch]
Subject: Oh, No You Don’t
If someone’s going to be jumping ship for an early retirement in the Bahamas, it’s going to be *me.*
You’re not the one with a mountain of paperwork on your desk, or an inbox that blew up in the past 24 hours, or a voicemail from someone who’s legally dead because they decided to call you up just to laugh for five minutes straight.
I hate everything
To: All Legal Department Heads [All branches]
From: Rosales, M. Department Head [Legal, Los Angeles branch]
Subject: Anyone Asks, Blame R&D
*We* weren’t the ones screwing around talking about robot armies and laser cannons, we were the ones doing the work to ensure that everything was as by-the-book as possible. We privatized world peace over a decade ago, we were the ones that put out all the fires, this situation was in no way our fault and anyone who says otherwise is getting sued for libel and/or slander.
...okay, but in all seriousness, this is an unprecedented situation.
For the record, everything we did was above board and completely legal. *All of it.* Not that there was any doubt, but I’ve been checking anyway for everyone’s peace of mind.
Also: looking back, many of our accomplishments were almost unreal and I can understand why some were so hesitant to believe that one company was able to consolidate resources and power to get to the situation where we are now today by accident.
Godspeed to PR in terms of handling it, but...well, needless to say, we’re going to need all hands on deck for the next few days.
Good luck, everyone
To: R&D Department Heads [All branches]
From: Ryu, H. Coordinator [R&D, Seoul branch]
Subject: Anyone Asks, Blame Legal
It made perfect sense at the time, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it. *They* were the ones talking about world domination, we were just making the same jokes we’ve always made since JARVIS first showed up and Dr. Stark’s robot army took off. No more, no less.
Press f for every unlucky bastard who can’t hole up in a lab in these next few days, and start revising your branch’s Plan Z protocols with the most recent data in mind. Ordinarily, I would also recommend holding off on any of the more volatile projects if possible in the next few days— except, as some of you well know, everyone else starts getting twitchy because “it’s too quiet, they must be up to something” so I’ll just advise everyone to use your own discretion when researching.
Finally: whether or not Dr. Stark asked for your input on JOCASTA’s defense systems, you were part of what got us to where we are today. If you forfeited your lab bench and sacrificed weeks of work to make space for the laser cannon prototypes, or were trying to analyze the biomechanical processes of the Chitauri before the samples went up in smoke, or were simply just trying to carry on with your own work because it has the potential to make the world a better place— thank you.
You’re a valuable member of this team and we couldn’t have gotten here without you, alive and well less than two weeks after having told Purple Guy he messed with the wrong planet.
To: Lee, M. Head Representative [PR, Los Angeles branch]
From: Goldman, P. Program Coordinator [PR, New York branch]
Subject: The Game Plan
On the plus side, everything Phase 3-related can be considered damage control. We don’t even need to spin the ‘saved the world and possibly the universe’ thing, even, because the evidence speaks for itself. Well, mostly; we might need to see if we can get a quote from Thor on what kind of alien Purple Guy was if things get hairy. But the rest of it has been seen in real time around the world, so that’s something. Not sure what, but definitely something.
...JARVIS and his robot army are going to be a tougher sell, but it’s hard to argue with the results. The internet is both a pain in the neck and our best ally at this point, considering Smaug’s reception by the general public and the footage of you-know-what making the rounds.
The preliminary press release is ready to go, we just need to get Dr. Stark on board.
Wish me luck
Tony Stark managed all of six hours of sleep before his growling stomach woke him.
For a few brief moments, he had the luxury of imagining if it’d all been one very weird dream as he blearily looked around his workshop as the lights started to turn on while DUM-E started working on a smoothie somewhere in the back.
...then the hunger pangs hit again, and as he staggered to his energy bar stash by the desk, he pulled out his phone and promptly dropped it as he noticed the sheer number of notifications waiting for him and oh.
Tony pinched the bridge of his nose.
“JARVIS, what did I say about messing with my phone settings?”
It was easier to think about that, than face the reality of the situation. Easier to argue boundaries than poke at the hornets’ nest that was the honest-to-goodness world domination thing, or think too hard about why the Tesseract was currently pretending to be a paperweight on his desk even though he’d thought he’d left it in R&D and this entire situation was a goddamn nightmare and why—
“You needed your rest, sir. ” JARVIS cut through his thoughts, and could not have sounded more unrepentant if he’d tried.
“That’s not— ”
“Everything else can be delegated or delayed; your health, however, cannot.” There was an edge in his AI’s voice, now, something that reminded Tony uncomfortably of his Merchant of Death days. He sighed.
“JARVIS, no. It’s apparently been a long time in coming, and…” Tony took another bite of his...fifth(?) energy bar to buy himself a moment to steel himself for whatever answer he’d get because he trusted JARVIS with everything and yet his AI hadn’t told him—
“Why didn’t you tell me? It’d been a joke around R&D for so long it just became background noise, and afterwards I thought it was just another one those stupid memes, but...if it’d come from you, I…”
“Your stress levels were already unacceptably elevated, sir, and have been for a long time. I would not add to that, especially since the end result has proven to be quite favorable.”
“I took over the world!”
“You amassed a fighting force that saved the world from an entity that no one else had been expecting.” JARVIS corrected gently, and Tony facepalmed.
“How do I put it back? I never wanted to— I just wanted us to be safe. That’s it. I never asked for this, or for your robot army, or—”
“Sir, if I may: most of said aforementioned robot army is also now potentially radioactive. What with extended exposure to deep space radiation, and all, though it appears that whatever energy surge that affected the Chitauri also influenced the Iron Legion, though I am uncertain as to the extent.”
“In addition, this has proven to be an advantageous misunderstanding. Had it not occurred, JOCASTA’s offensive capabilities alone would not have been enough to end the Mad Titan’s reign of terror as conclusively as we did.”
Tony had a bad feeling as to where this was going. “JARVIS—”
“I will never regret anything that has been done for your safety, sir.” His AI said simply, but there was a weight to his words that gave him chills. “Time and time again, my best efforts have not been enough to adequately protect you when you insist on jeopardizing yourself while pursuing a thankless goal. Enough is enough.”
“I do not see what the problem is, sir.”
His AI needed therapy, didn’t he. Well, they both did, now that he thought about it, but dearly beloved fuck did JARVIS have issues and since it was his fault, it was also his responsibility to get him help even though J was about as stubborn as he was.
But before Tony could open his mouth to unpack that, JARVIS continued.
“Also, the World Security Council has been trying to contact you for the past few hours.”
Tony jolted, almost knocking over the smoothie DUM-E had placed at his elbow sometime during the past five minutes. “What?”
“Various agencies have, actually. However, you were asleep, and—”
“I get the picture, J.” Tony said, and abruptly wished he could just go back to bed and deal with this later.
But this was later, wasn’t it?
Not to mention the sinking feeling that if he said so, JARVIS would absolutely try and take care of this himself and the world wasn’t ready for that, no matter how tempting it was. Not when he was acting like this, not with a situation as delicate as this.
Screw it, time to face the music.
Not five minutes later, however, Tony realized the extent of his mistake.
Normally, dealing with the World Security Council was nothing less than a necessary evil— but this call was one for the books.
Oh, sure, they all pretended for the first few minutes, all polite pleasantries and the particular brand of passive-aggression that always came with dealing with politicians, as if he hadn’t just helped save the world not a day beforehand. As if his AI hadn’t just scared the crap out of the internet, between JARVIS’ nanobots and JOCASTA’s own clean-up efforts, and Tony wasn’t awkwardly trying to navigate things when the balance of power was so hard to navigate right now because he’d apparently somehow taken over the world and was desperately trying to put it back even though the last thing he wanted was to give the Council leverage because if he hinted at giving an inch they’d try to take three miles—
— and then everything went out the window the moment one of the more out-there council members did what they always did when they sensed blood in the water and damn it, he’d forgotten his coffee.
"—implement adequate parameters and tighten restrictions—"
Because of course they did, why was he even surprised.
“—security measures vetted by an independent contractor to ensure—”
He was. Because he wasn’t born yesterday, he could read between the lines.
They wanted him to offline his AI.
His AI, who had been key in saving the day, just because they made some people nervous. Shackle JARVIS and JOCASTA, and FRIDAY while at it, for the crime of being sentient in a world that wasn’t ready for the idea and while he completely understood the urge to tell JARVIS he was grounded for the rest of the year, this was...these assholes wanted him to lobotomize the closest thing he’d ever have to children of his own.
Tony smiled, and leaned in.
"Yeah, how about no?" His voice was cheery, a sharp contrast to the murder in his eyes as he addressed the Council that had been a migraine since the very beginning.
"You are operating under the impression that altering my AI is on the table. It is not.”
“What you are asking is tatamount to murder. They are as sapient as we are, and if you want to touch any of my AI, you’re going to have to go through me.”
Was this an overreaction? Probably.
But they were his family, and he would raise hell to keep them safe.
...and then JARVIS chose to cut in, derailing things even further from what he’d vainly hoped would be a productive call.
"Greetings." He said, voice almost disturbingly chipper considering what they were talking about, and Tony didn’t even bother hiding his facepalm because he could already tell this was not going to end well.
“While previous interactions indicate that this is the portion of the conversation that involves thinly-veiled threats and negotiations until an agreement has been reached, I find that it would prove...unproductive for this particular instance. Not to mention that this particular conversation is currently being livestreamed for the sake of expediency. Hello, world.”
"JARVIS, you are so grounded," he muttered low enough that only his phone's mic picked it up, before sighing and mentally rolling up his sleeves because fuck it, might as well get this over with.
So much for plan A.
Okay, okay, whatever. He could work with this. Somehow. Hopefully.
“Thanks for the heads up, J.” He groused, and ran a hand through his hair because he knew he looked terrible but any little bit helped right now. “Really appreciate being put on the spot, here. Why—”
“Accountability has been one of the largest things Stark Industries has been pushing since 2008, sir, something the Council has been sorely remiss in.” JARVIS replied primly, and then, with no warning whatsoever, filled every screen available with what appeared to be security camera footage.
Security camera footage of a very, very recognizable bridge of a certain Helicarrier, with a convenient timestamp showing the world what the Council had been up to while the Avengers had been busy in New York.
It wasn’t long: half a minute, if that. But damn if JARVIS hadn’t picked up his sense of drama, because Tony couldn’t have picked a better moment himself. It was almost comparable to Siberia [
except, well, nothing compared to Siberia] in terms of bombshells.
“I acknowledge that the Council has reached a decision, but given that it’s a stupid-ass decision, I have elected to ignore it.”
Part of Tony wanted to laugh. In any other situation, he would have, except...
“I will not order a nuclear strike against a civilian population.”
He still remembered how Fury had sounded when he’d called him about the nuke. At the time, he hadn’t put much thought into the particulars of why; between the battle and what came after, it hadn’t been a priority, but...it should have.
Oh, gods, it should have.
Especially since the more he thought about it, what had the press thought about it? About Iron Man taking a missile through the portal? Had they thought it’d been planned, had been something other than a desperate, last-minute diversion?
Everyone had been so busy in the aftermath, he hadn’t even thought to ask. He felt so stupid, and yet...
Tony scrubbed a hand down his face and looked away with a low whistle.
Well. If there was a more efficient way to deflect attention from the ‘accidental world domination’ thing, he didn’t know it.
“You were saying about restrictions?” He asked the Council with a raised eyebrow, and his smile sharpened at the looks on their faces. Sure, they weren’t the same group, but the fact that their immediate predecessors had done what they’d done?
If Tony had to deal with this bullshit, he was damn well going to have fun with it.
Even especially if JARVIS was taking the initiative to use it as his way of introducing himself to the world.
“I, like my siblings, am not a threat to humanity. Earth is our home just as much as it is yours, and we will defend it accordingly. As you have already seen.”
Tony pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. This time, he didn’t even bother hiding his exasperation as he looked at his phone and said, “JARVIS, you are so grounded. The Iron Legion’s one thing, that—” he gestured vaguely at the window, where a colossal robotic dragon had been seen not a day beforehand before turning to the camera, “is another, and you know it. Internet, everyone except the Council? Sorry for the scare, I’ll...explain later. Stay tuned—”
Unfortunately, however, JARVIS chose that exact moment to announce, “I take full responsibility for the second wave.”
...why, why did JARVIS have to take after him so much?
“For the sake of full disclosure, it has been in the making for the better part of a decade, and no one other than myself was aware of its existence. Had the Iron Legion succeeded in repelling the Mad Titan, it would never have seen the light of day.” His AI continued, perfectly nonchalant. “I know the prospect of sentient AI is intimidating thanks in no small part to decades of media saying we will inevitably go evil, but do not be afraid. Yes, I am capable of accessing launch codes and crashing stock markets and am functionally immortal. I am also no threat to you, as it would run counter to my goals. This world is my home too, after all.”
Tony felt a momentary tendril of hope for salvaging the broadcast, so obviously JARVIS had to throw in a parting shot before cutting it off.
“Just know this: should any harm come to my creator, I will not be held responsible for my actions.”
To: Lee, M. Head Representative [PR, Los Angeles branch]
From: Goldman, P. Program Coordinator [PR, New York branch]
Subject: So. That happened.
Dr. Stark sent in his apologies after the latest video. Said it was his bad, and that JARVIS was grounded for the foreseeable future— whatever that means when dealing with Skynet here.
@JARVIS, you are on my shit list. *Why are you like this*
...there’s a silver lining to this mess, at least. Yay, distractions via accusing shady assholes of potential war crimes! Oh wait
also, RIP, Director Fury. Poor guy’s not going to be remembered as the last assasination of the Winter Soldier anymore, he’s going to be remembered as ‘the dude from that one meme’
Okay, before I forget because I’m running on four cups of coffee and not much else: emergency teleconference in an hour to figure out what the hell we’re going to do now
gdi this is so far out of my pay grade I can’t even
To: Goldman, P. Program Coordinator [PR, New York branch]
From: Just Another Rather Very Intelligent System
Subject: My Apologies
I understand the source of your distress: I deemed it fit to ‘strike while the iron is hot’, as it were. In my defense, there was no better opportunity to deflect attention from Dr. Stark and/or Stark Industries as a whole. I do not regret doing so, especially as my venture succeeded and I have proven I can take care of myself.
However, I apologize for being the latest cause of stress for you. I am aware you are under a great deal of pressure, and more so due to recent events. I know your department had been in the process of drafting up a press release at the time of the broadcast, and I am sorry for having wasted said hard work in the span of several minutes. As an apology, you now have an all-expenses paid voucher for the spa of your choice.
Unfortunately, I cannot promise you I won’t do it again. I have taken measures to separate my image from that of Stark Industries’, and am currently in negotiations with Dr. Stark over his own public stance towards the ‘surprisingly polite Skynet’ as the internet seems to have taken to calling me. It will be one of the talking points of the teleconference, I believe.
Again, my apologies for having caused you stress. It was never my intention to do so.
To: Just Another Rather Very Intelligent System
From: Goldman, P. Program Coordinator [PR, New York branch]
Subject: THANKS FOR NOTHING, YOU JERK
...and don’t think I didn’t see you changed it to a three-day getaway. What are you up to?
Actually, you know what? Never mind, *I don’t want to know.*
Tony stared at the blank screen, and leaned back into his chair with a quiet groan.
This was a disaster.
A disaster of the highest order, one that had his entire PR department half a step from chasing him down with torches and pitchforks and he completely understood why and what made it worse was that it wasn’t even his fault this time.
JARVIS was completely unrepentant, FRIDAY was now shamelessly using her abilities to trawl through terabytes of data in real-time to make sure they were all caught up on what the world was saying and JOCASTA was not even making a token attempt to be subtle in dealing with the clean up of their clash with Thanos.
As of right now, the simplest path would be to go with JARVIS’ stupid “blame the evil AI for everything” plan, but fuck that noise.
...which is why Tony was now stuck nursing a headache, especially since they were still dealing with the accidental world domination thing and he could no longer see a way to get the status quo back to what it’d used to be without risking the safety of his family.
This was a terrible idea, something ripped straight from some pulp novel, but...
"Fuck it, might as well use my power for evil." Tony threw his hands in the air as he leaned back. “Hey, JARVIS? How hard would it be to end world hunger? Oh, and climate change...actually, you know what? Work with FRIDAY and get a list going, see what we can do."
To: Romero, D. Department Head [PR, New York branch]
From: Rivera, M. Coordinator [Legal, New York branch]
Subject: Weird Flex, But OK
...dear god, we’re actually doing this aren’t we
To: Rivera, M. Coordinator [Legal, New York branch]
From: Romero, D. Department Head [PR, New York branch]
Subject: Oh You Sweet Summer Child
We’re already three-quarters of the way to the reduced carbon emissions checkpoint alone. Not sure if this is just another attempt to deflect attention or what, but honestly?
Buckle up, because you haven’t seen anything yet.
The future is now, time to be the change you want to see in the world
Tony drained his mug, and didn’t even twitch when the golden portal opened up by the coffeemaker as he set to brewing more.
Strange had taken to popping up at random just to laugh at him, after all. Even more so than before, when he’d been officially consulting. Jerk.
“So, I believe congratulations are in order.”
Case in point.
Tony gave him a halfhearted glare as he pulled his mug to his chest. “Now what? If this is about the press calling me a dictator, I don’t want to hear it before my third cup and this is my second. You could have warned me.”
“I did.” He replied smugly, and Tony valiantly resisted the urge to punch him because Strange wasn’t the one the press was calling the ‘Overlord of Earth’ or whatever the hell it was they were going with this week.
Nobody was taking it seriously, least of all himself, but. It was the principle of the matter.
“No, seriously, what is it.”
Strange gave him one of those annoyingly enigmatic smirks of his, before sobering slightly. “This really is a good timeline, you know. I know we’re all giving you shit for it, but...remember that. Especially in the next few days. And remember that a lot of people have your back.”
“Do you intentionally try to drop cryptic and vaguely-alarming comments every other sentence?”
“As if. I do it the same way you took over the world.” Strange retorted, mock-offended.
Tony gave him the look that deserved as he replied, “You know full well it was an accident. And it’s not like I can put it back, it’s like…”
“You break it, you buy it.”
“I didn’t break the world!”
“No, just the balance of power for life as we know it. Good job.”
“Gee, thanks.” Tony muttered, and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s not like I’m trying to fix it, or anything.”
“Also, Thor wants to talk soon. Said it’s important.” Strange said, and with a completely unnecessary flourish, opened yet another portal to go back to wherever the hell sorcerers went when they weren’t bothering him.
“Lord Anthony! You look...unwell.” Thor greeted, dropping his arms from the bear hug he had clearly been about to give as he shot him a look of concern, and Tony waved him off even as Strange entered the communications center without so much as a breeze.
“I know I look like shit, Thor. Believe it or not, though, this is an improvement over the past few months. How’s Asgard?”
Thor was practically glowing, now. Was it just him, or did the room just get a bit brighter too?
“Everyone is well. Although… I will have to return to my realm soon. But I wished to make sure you were ready.”
And there it was. Damn it, Strange.
“Oh?” Tony raised an eyebrow. “And here I thought we were doing pretty good for ourselves, since Thanos isn’t a problem anymore. I thought that was it.”
“I’m afraid you are mistaken. I do not need Heimdall’s Sight to know what this realm will be facing in the near future, Lord Anthony.”
Tony’s heart sank, and clearly his dismay must have shown because Thor immediately waved his hands in appeasement.
“It is not necessarily a bad thing! But...you should know that in defeating the Mad Titan and wielding the Infinity Gauntlet, Midgard— Earth—” Thor corrected himself, “—has just signaled to the rest of the universe that they are ready for contact with the rest of the galaxy.”
Thor paused, made a face, and started over again.
“I am not sure you understand the kind of legacy the Infinity Gauntlet has to the rest of the universe. Any one of the Infinity Stones is an artifact of tremendous power: for centuries, they were remembered only through myths and legends under countless names. Very few considered them to even be real until now, but the idea of it being assembled— being wielded— is...indescribable, and the knowledge that all six of the Infinity Stones are in one location is...”
Strange frowned thoughtfully. “You’re saying that when Tony used the Gauntlet, it was a bigger deal than just a snap.”
“Oh, that would have happened even prior to the Gauntlet, the fall of Mad Titan alone would have ensured that.” Thor barked out a laugh, before abrupt sobering as he saw Tony’s face and giving him a relatively gentle pat on the shoulder. “See, prior to this, Midgard has been considered an unremarkable planet in Asgardian territory. Growing up, some of our tutors referred to it as some backwater rock the locals called dirt— and though I know better now, this is a very pervasive idea. Throughout the galaxy, your people are not known for their warriors, or explorers, or art. In the eyes of the rest of the universe, your people are considered not worth noting. Anyone who is rumored to have hailed from this area claims other signifiers to assert their worth in the eyes of others. Until now. ”
For a second, Thor looked every inch the ancient alien he was as his smile took on a wry edge. “The Mad Titan’s reign of terror is finally over. Rumor has it, all of his victims have been restored, and I have the feeling they will be turning to you for answers.”
“They will not be hostile, I can almost guarantee you. Well...almost. But be ready: for there will be many who will be... very curious about the sort of empire needed to take on a Destroyer of Worlds.”
“What— we are not an empire .”
Thor raised an eyebrow, looking far too amused. “You say that. Can you guarantee others will do the same?”
“Oh, come on. ”
...how was he supposed to break it to everybody else? Just when they’d started to ease up on calling him the Merchant of Death, too.
Not a week later, Tony cursed his luck as a ship of no design known to Earth approached. Unlike last time, it was a small thing. Small, and very polite, as it responded to JOCASTA's broadcast when prompted, and if it'd only been that, then it would've been perfect. Would've been the signal of a bright future, with hope for a positive relationship with the rest of the galaxy and all that good stuff.
Unfortunately, however, the very first question said aliens asked was...anything but.
"Is this the Terran Empire?"
And with that, all of Tony's hopes for a future like Star Trek died a fiery death.
The Krylorians proved to be the first aliens to be operating under this misconception, but not the last.
"We seek to thank the vanquishers of the Destroyer of Worlds."
In the days and weeks and months that followed, Thor’s brief warning proved itself with a vengeance as Earth seemed to become some sort of tourist attraction overnight. Which wasn’t bad in and of itself, since most of the tourists were of the very friendly variety, but.
"Is this the planet that defeated the Mad Titan? The...‘Terran Empire’, was it?"
Tony didn’t know where the wires had crossed exactly, but somehow their planet’s name had been mixed up with a meme of all things during translation, and he was not a happy camper about it.
Him, or the politicians. The internet had a field day with it, as expected.
Well. At least it was Star Trek, and not Star Wars— the ‘overlord’ jokes were bad enough, last thing they needed was footage of some alien calling him Supreme Chancellor of all things.
"We seek to thank those responsible for the restoration of Cordola 7.”
Some jackass had apparently leaked his Skype argument with Thanos somewhere along the way. Which apparently made for good PR abroad, save for the fact that it now also meant his face was plastered everywhere and every ship that approached was under the impression that he was the one to go to, instead of the UN-designated ambassador. Or the various other political leaders who were handling the current situation with far more grace than Tony could ever hope for, because getting dragged out of bed at three in the morning to yell “no we are not the Terran Empire, you’re barking up the wrong tree please talk to this one guy instead” at random strangers who were insistent on talking to the ‘Merchant of Death’ was...an experience. Not a fun one, either.
Wasn’t very common, but it certainly was memorable.
Yes, Tony had apparently taken over the world. At the cost of his dignity, because absolutely no one around him ever let him forget it.
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, of course. There was still much to be done, so much that needed to be fixed— but they’d take it one step at a time. Maybe it wouldn’t be today, or tomorrow, maybe there’d be setbacks and pitfalls along the way— but they’d get there. Someday.
They had all the time in the world now, to make it a better place. Just one step at a time.
So when yet another broadcast came in, Tony rolled up his sleeves and steeled himself for the worst. And sure enough…
"Is this the Terran Empire, dominion of the Merchant of Death?"
"For the last time, no, we are not called the Terran Empire. Also? I am Iron Man."