This takes place approximately one year after the events of the Avengers. However, Stark Tower remains a business center, and the Avengers have their own HQ in New York.
New York. Where it starts and where it ends.
When Tony fell to earth, when he made the split-second decision to fly the nuke into space, he knew he wasn't going to come back. A one-way trip, Steve said. He was a dead man the second he passed through the portal.
People fear heights because they don't want to fall. Don't want to crash and burn.
Tony never feared them. Maybe because he's reckless, maybe because he never stopped to think about it. Maybe he liked the risk. Or maybe he'd trade the terror in for a chance to fly.
But when Tony fell from the portal, when he spun and plummeted towards the earth, the only emotion he felt was fear.
"Shubft ufp," Tony groans, his voice muffled by the pillow under his face.
"Mr. Stark, I'm afraid I must insist. Mr. Odinson is looking for you."
Tony rolls over and blinks the crust out of his eyes. He briefly considers going back to sleep, but since it's Thor calling, he knows that he'd end up very much awake anyways, and through not-so-pleasant means. So that means getting out of bed. Fuck.
"I'm going, Jesus," Tony grumbles, swinging out of bed. The air is cold on his exposed shoulders. "Jarvis, turn it up a couple degrees in here, I'm freezing my ass off."
He scoops some clean-ish smelling clothes off the floor, the air warming against his skin as Jarvis complies with his request, and tugs them on. The floor has chosen some sweats and a t-shirt with a mysterious splotch for him, but he doesn't want to deal with his monster of a closet this morning. There are probably only dusty suits in there anyway. Yawning, he heads into the bathroom to take a piss.
After he's relieved himself, he glances despondently at the noticeable bags under his eyes and runs a hand through his unruly hair before mentally declaring it a lost cause.
There's a muffled "TONY" from down the hall, and really, he should get going.
"Sir, it would be in your best interests to—"
"Don't be a nag, Jarv," Tony cuts him off, scowling. He goes anyway, though, which should show how awesome Jarvis is.
"I wouldn't dare, sir, not with you around," Jarvis replies, and he takes back what he said about Jarvis being awesome. Snarky bastard. "Mr. Odinson is waiting for you in the common room."
He takes the stairs down to the common floor to get to the kitchen because the elevator is set for "emergencies only" by the good captain. (It'd taken them a while to get over their initial expectations of each other, but they're working on it. Tony calls him Steve.) When he steps into the kitchen, Thor is waiting for him in full uniform, looking uncharacteristically tentative.
"Tony," he begins, "I fear—"
Tony holds up a hand. "Hold it, big man. Coffee first."
When he reaches the coffee maker, it's powered up and in the process of brewing a fresh cup. He waits impatiently while Thor stands confusedly behind him. The coffee maker spits out his beverage and he pounces on it, inhaling half of it and groaning.
"Jarvis, I could kiss you right now," he says, and takes another gulp of heaven.
"Duly noted, sir," Jarvis says amusedly. "Though as I lack a corporeal body—"
"Stop killing my caffeine buzz."
Jarvis falls silent, though there's a feeling of amusement filling the air.
Tony turns back to Thor. "Alright, what's going on?"
Their resident thunder god still looks a bit uncertain at the turn of events, but he shakes his head furiously, like a dog, and reorganizes his thoughts.
"I have been called back to Asgard," he says lowly, and yeah, something's going on here.
Tony peers over the rim of his coffee cup, seemingly unconcerned. "So?" he asks. "It's not the first time."
"Something is different," Thor insists. "My summoning was… muddled. I fear something dark is coming."
Tony narrows his eyes. "But you don't know what it is." He's trying to do that thing Natasha does where she makes you tell her what she wants to know without of asking. SHIELD handbook 101, page 332, how to get information from enemies. Well. Probably.
Thor shoots him a look that conveys he knows exactly what Tony is doing. It's too early to be subtle; Thor can't judge him. "No," he admits.
"You have to go," Tony says. It's not a question, but Thor replies to it anyway.
Tony takes a sip of coffee and then exhales, watching the steam dissipate. "Did you tell the others?"
"I have alerted Steve and Natasha," Thor says, "But I have been unable to reach Bruce and Clint."
"What? They're supposed to have their comms on at all times in case of emergencies," Tony mutters, running over possible situations in his head. Bruce had gone to a gamma radiation conference in England or something and Fury had ordered a SHIELD minion to go with him. Bruce had started looking dangerously green at that, though, and so Clint went with him instead.
Tony snaps back to the situation at hand when Thor clears his throat.
"Right," he says. "Jarvis, can you try to reach our resident rage monster and his avian partner?"
"Calling now, sir."
"…Where are Steve and Natasha?"
"They have arrived at the Helicarrier to alert Director Fury and discuss a few publicity matters with him," Jarvis said smoothly.
Tony wrinkles his nose in disgust. "He sticks his nose into everything, doesn't he? Looming over us like a giant ugly vulture."
"I will be leaving tomorrow," Thor rumbles, bringing Tony's attention back to him. His face is still set in worried lines.
"Alright, Blondie, alright," Tony sighs through his nose and runs a hand through his disheveled hair. "It's too early in the morning to deal with this… stuff." He waves a hand vaguely to get his point across. "I'll be down in the workshop if you need me."
Thor nods, his grip tightening slightly on his hammer. "I must visit Jane before I depart. She will want to know ahead of time."
His voice softens slightly when he says Jane's name. Oh god. He's a giant puppy. With muscles. Probably a golden retriever or something, like—
Tony shakes his head. "Right, so she can map the energy release. Okay," he starts heading towards the stairs down to the workshop, coffee cup in hand. "Call if you need any heavily armored flying backup!"
"I will," Thor says gravely, and starts to swing Mjolnir, static electricity pressing down on the room.
"No!" Tony yells, turning around from the top of the stairs.
Thor looks confused. "I do not—"
"No," Tony says again firmly. "You are not busting another one of my windows. Use the door."
"Look alive, everyone, Daddy's here."
Tony snaps his fingers and the workshop comes alive with power. Dummy, You and Butterfingers all give chirps of welcome and the designs of the repulsor stabilizers he was working on last night glow blue and expand.
He sprawls in his chair and sets down his cooling mug of coffee.
"Jarvis, how are we on reaching Clint and Bruce?"
"I cannot seem to connect to their communicators. I have, however, pinpointed their location. The files will be brought up for you."
A blue holoscreen pops up in front of him, a blinking red dot located in London, England.
Tony frowns. "I thought they weren't going to London," he says. "Didn't Bruce think it was too high of a risk for him? Pepper even moved the conference for him."
"You are correct, sir. The conference was not supposed to be held in London. You and Ms. Potts used your considerable influence to change the conference's time and location."
Tony remembers that. Bruce had acted like they'd given him the moon, though he was still nervous about going to a more highly populated area. Whatever. Bruce deserved a vacation.
"So Bruce and Clint are in London for no discernible reason whatsoever. Wonderful. Jarvis, can you pull up any CCTV footage of their location?"
"Pulling up live footage now, sir."
"Shit," he mutters, because honestly, what the hell is that? It looks like a clear, shapeless mass (did he mention it's floating?) with whirling black smoke trapped inside it. Every so often, the black smoke will tear a gaping hole through the clear stuff and launch itself in what looks like a storm of dark knives at Clint and the Hulk, who are fighting with varying degrees of success on the ground below.
"Jarvis, status report," he barks.
"The creature is not within our databases. Species: Unknown. Material: Unknown. Origin: Unknown. Time of arrival: Approximately 16.8 hours ago. Agent Barton—"
"What?!" Tony yelps. "They've been fighting that thing for 16 hours?"
"It appears that they only encountered the creature 2.7 hours ago. However, there was a significant energy surge approximately 16.8 hours ago in the general vicinity and vague sightings of it since then," Jarvis says, pulling up rough scans of the weirdo blob thing.
"Agent Barton has done no damage to the creature so far. In fact, shooting holes in the creature has only released more of the substance contained inside it. The Hulk has done no lasting damage, although he has managed to dent the creature multiple times."
Tony huffs in exasperation. Thor is gone, Clint and the Hulk have already been fighting for roughly three hours, and he has no idea what Steve and Natasha are doing. Dummy butts against his leg, chirping in sympathy.
"Jarvis, how fast can I get to London?"
"At maximum speed, approximately 3.2 hours. However, you might want to save some of the suit's energy for the battle currently ongoing in London."
Tony grunts in dissatisfied acknowledgment, busy charting the flight plan on the StarkPad in his hand. Grudgingly, he looks up. "Okay, Jarvis, get me there at 90% of maximum flight speed."
"Of course, sir. The suit is ready for you now."
Tony changes quickly into the under armor that he uses with the suit. He developed it not long after the fiasco in New York, figuring that if it offered extra protection it was worth it. He can still wear civilian clothes in the suit, of course, but they don't do much to stop an injury. The flexible, reinforced fibers of the under armor do—he knows from experience—and can help regulate his body temperature if he ever gets caught outside of the suit.
Once the sleek black under armor has been successfully wriggled into, he steps onto the black pad in the center of the workshop, holding his arms straight out for the suit to clamp around. The pad underneath him splits around his feet and the boots and leg pieces shoot up to his thighs. The helmet goes on last, because he has a flare for dramatics. It's a well-known fact, just ask the tabloids.
Once the helmet clamps on, the inside lights up with holographic chartings. All stats look good, and Jarvis would have told him if there was anything off. Tony checks anyway though, because he's not afraid to admit that he is slightly paranoid, and while he trusts Jarvis with his life, double-checking is something that's too often underestimated considering the amount of lives it could save.
Tony finishes his double-checking ritual and a large pane of glass that serves as a door splits in half smoothly to vanish into the wall.
"Thanks, Jarv," Tony says, and fires up his repulsors. The arc reactor hums in his chest, and the last pieces of the suit click into place for flight.
Blue fire erupts from his hands and feet, and he bursts into the crisp autumn morning.
He makes his way out of New York with no trouble, soaring above the clouds, his belly parallel with the Atlantic Ocean. A blinking dot alerts him of a commercial jet approaching and he adjusts his flight path.
He's cruising at a steady pace, the wind only providing mild resistance against him. He doesn't have anything to do for a couple hours while he makes his way to London, so he alternates between trying to distract himself and anxiously checking up on Clint and Bruce.
He's reading up on the current news when he remembers the two Avengers probably still calming Fury. (The Director is a control freak. Like, an enormous control freak. Not as bad as the Council, though, and that's a whole other can of worms he really doesn't want to open.)
"Jarvis, can you try to reach Steve and Natasha?"
"Connecting the call now, sir." Faithful Jarvis.
"Tony!" Steve yells.
"Calm down, Cap, no need to shout," Tony says, wincing.
"No, Tony, this is serious." Steve insists, and he's panting.
"Get down!" Natasha barks, her voice muffled. There's the sound of an explosion and something cracking before screams start up in the distance.
"Hey—hey! Steve! What's going on?" Tony yells. He pulls up short on his flight path, hovering over the ocean. He adds in an undertone, "Jarvis, I need their location, now."
"Look, Tony, there's something going on here," Steve says, and something crashes in the background. "It's like—it's not real. It keeps on—"
Static crackles and Steve's voice fuzzes out. Why is there static? He designed these comms specifically for the Avengers; they're the best out there. Jarvis silently pulls up Steve and Natasha's location—New York. Back at HQ. What is going on?
"Steve? What's not real? Hey—" Tony says urgently.
"Tony, can you just get here? There's—we can't—"
Someone screams and a distant siren blares. The communicator cuts out to dead silence.
"Jarvis?" Tony yells. There are red lights blinking in warning on the screen, because they never lose a call, not after fucking space in New York. "Get him back on! What the hell is happening?"
"Trying, sir. It appears that the communicator is either damaged or something is blocking the signal."
"Fuck," Tony mutters, and now he's stuck in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with shit on both sides. He doesn't know where to go and there's not enough data and what the hell is he supposed to do?
"Sir—breathe, sir," Jarvis says, and Tony realizes he's close to a full-blown panic attack. He pushes down the stress that's crawling into his throat and breathes.
Time to weigh the options. Tony can do this, can calculate odds and ratios and pretend there are no lives on the line. Compartmentalizing. He tries to pull up security camera footage of London and New York, but each time his system fails. There's something wrong with all of this.
The static starts up again, but his call screen is dark.
A deep crackling voice starts up in his ear. It sounds like a thousand different noises combined into one: fire and electricity and breaking bones. It hisses, a wordless snarl that just barely sounds like words.
"What do you want from me?" Tony snarls, willing his voice to stay steady.
There's a moment of pause, as if in surprise, before the static increases.
"I'm not here for you," it purrs, a whisper of crackling electricity. "But you do seem… interesting."
"Interesting? That's all I get?" he snarks. Never let it be said that Tony Stark doesn't irritate his enemies before they attempt to kill him. "You could at least—"
"Time's up," the voice interrupts silkily. With a low hissing sound, his holoscreens start shutting down one by one. Power levels, weapons scans, tracking devices. His HUD goes black last, and now he's flying blind.
The Iron Man suit, no longer hovering effortlessly, is a titanium-alloy cage around him as he drops towards the ocean like a stone.