[x] (2012) The Avengers
[x] (2013) Iron Man 3
[x] (2013) Thor: The Dark World
[ ] (2014) Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Guardians of the Galaxy; Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
[ ] (2015) Avengers: Age of Ultron; Ant-Man
[ ] (2016) Captain America: Civil War; Spider-Man: Homecoming
[ ] (2017) Doctor Strange; Black Panther; Thor: Ragnarok
[ ] (2018) Avengers: Infinity War
Hari's so small in his arms. Her breaths are deep, even, eyes closed and lashes fluttering against her cheeks. Tony can't help but stare, desperate to see the proof that she's alive and breathing. Every time he closes his eyes, he sees that awful green light hit her.
Hari survived it, obviously, but the memory of it haunts him. It lingers in the back of his mind, never far from his thoughts, and he tightens his arms around her. She makes a small noise in her sleep but otherwise doesn't wake up. Tony doesn't blame her; she'd cried herself to sleep in his arms, exhausted, and he wonders how he'd feel reliving some of his most private memories.
A shudder rips through him.
He needs to get stronger. This little visit to Asgard only proves how weak he is. Just about everything that's been accomplished was done so by Hari, and he loves how capable she is, wouldn't have it any other way, but that doesn't change the fact that he's… useless. He'd created the suitcase suit to take with him whenever he was on-the-go, but the activation time is simply too high. Worse yet, this latest suit was supposed to be the answer to his problems.
There's not much that can leave Tony stumped. He's a genius and his mind whirls in a million different directions before the average Joe can fumble through one. And yet, ever since becoming Iron Man, there's been situation after situation that's left him scrambling for answers, solutions, anything to fix the problem.
The last time Tony had been this frustrated with his inability to think of a solution had been when faced with his own demise. Palladium poisoning is a rough way to go; if he could give it zero stars on Yelp, he would. He pulled that victory out of his ass; a deus ex machina that even he hadn't seen coming.
And that's the crux of the issue, isn't it? So long as Thanos is out there, the problems are going to keep coming. They're going to be volatile, unpredictable, and there are people out there that are going to look to the Avengers, to Iron Man, to be their deus ex machina. But as advanced as his technology is, as state of the art as the suit is, Tony himself is human. And that's not something likely to change.
Tony goes very still. Hari snuggles deeper into his arms, face smooth and even and carefree, but Tony can't even really enjoy it right now because his mind is a million lightyears away. His own personal history says he should derail this particular train of thought before it arrives at its destination, before he gets too invested, before it's too late to turn back.
The image of Pepper falling to her death is forever seared in his mind; skin glowing orange, fear on her face, hand reaching out as if he could still save her. There had been just the barest hint of calm the moment they both realized that he couldn't. Her walking away after that seemed almost a given.
And Tony's spent these past few months just trying to pick himself back up, trying to hide his heart behind a suit of gold-titanium alloy, that he honestly put aside any thoughts of Extremis. Both the arc reactor and the shards inching their way towards his heart had been removed with modern technology, so it's not like he'd ever had a true need for it.
There's so many reasons why he shouldn't. Tony is in no way, shape, or form religious, but something about using Extremis in this way leaves him unsettled. It's one thing to use technology to better the quality of life, but it's quite another to enhance himself when there's relatively nothing wrong. And yet, desperate times call for desperate measures. He can understand the desperation that led to Dr. Erskine's prized super soldier serum. Hell, he can even understand Steve's desperation that led to him volunteering for something so experimental. So why does using Extremis seem so ethically questionable when Thanos is as big a problem as, if not greater than, Red Skull?
There's also the very real risk that doing this would lead to him having a situation similar to Bruce. Not that there's anything wrong with that; he's been telling his favorite scientist to cut loose and let the jolly green giant out to play and he meant it. The Hulk saved Bruce's life whether Bruce wants to acknowledge that or not. But wouldn't having his own personal rage monster give Tony an even greater responsibility to keep himself in check? He's never been very good at that.
The weight of Iron Man is already so heavy; can he live with himself if he goes through with this and does more harm than good?
Can he live with himself if this is the answer and scorning it costs them victory against Thanos?
There's too many questions with not enough answers, and not for the first time since they arrived on Asgard, Tony wishes desperately that he had JARVIS with him. For all that his AI isn't human, his counsel has always held a degree of humanity and empathy that Tony himself oftentimes struggles with.
"You look like you're thinking too hard."
Tony flinches as the raspy voice suddenly breaks the silence. He glances down and sees Hari staring blearily at him, her brow creased in worry. "I am," he admits, but then he bites down on his tongue. He wants desperately to confide in Hari, see what she thinks he should do, but he can't. She's already had the fate of the world on her shoulders. The very least he can do is shoulder the burden this time.
"I'm here to talk if you want to," she reminds him, her breath a gentle caress against his neck that has him shivering. "And if you don't, that's okay. We can stay like this a while longer."
Fuck, that's tempting. He'd love nothing more than to stay here and forget about everything but the scent of her skin, the beat of her heart, the warmth of her touch. He could get lost in her for hours and maybe find himself along the way. So very tempting.
"How do you feel?" He slips his hand underneath her shirt to run his fingers along her spine, enjoying the way her skin pimples into gooseflesh.
"Exhausted," she admits. "Drained. I feel… I feel like I did just after the war. Like I'm too little butter spread over too much bread." She offers him a weak smile. "When I have more energy, I can reconstruct my shields. Until then, I'm going to be a little raw for a while."
Tony leans forward to press a long, soft kiss against her forehead. "Talking is my least favorite thing in the world," he says. "I don't know if it's because of some leftover toxic masculinity I've internalized or if I'm just that emotionally inept, but I'd rather get a root canal without anesthesia."
To his pleasure, Hari lets out a soft bark of laughter, and it eases the tension in her shoulders just a bit. "Honestly, me too. Talking never solved anything, you know? The…" She sucks in a shaky breath and clears her throat. "The Dursleys always told me freaks were to be neither seen nor heard. Teachers at my primary school were never interested in what I had to say and the professors at Hogwarts were honestly no better, so what was the point?"
His heart clenches painfully at the reminder of Hari's abusive childhood. It was one thing to suspect what she went through, to piece together the miniscule hints she blandly offered, and it was quite another to actually witness it. The worst part is Tony knows they'd only barely scratched the surface.
"They were wrong," he says firmly. "They were awful people that did their best to make you into their warped vision of what a person should be, but they failed. You are so kind, so brave, and you deserved so much more than what they put you through." She stares at him with too-wide eyes, hope and pain and something fragile written on her face. He cups her cheek, thumbs away a tear. "You deserve the world and I want to be the one to give it to you. And I'm terrified because I fuck things up as easily as breathing, and it's only a matter of time before I fuck us up, and I can't—"
Hari's lips crash into his before he can finish talking, and there's a sudden, burning need to feel her pressed against him, to draw her in as close as humanly possible, to exist with her. Their clothes are shed with a fervor he's never felt, and then he's sitting against the headboard, gasping as Hari settles into his lap. Her mouth drops open, a soft, ragged moan escaping her.
Tony drops his head against her sternum and just breathes as her hands reach up to play with his hair. Sex has always been movement and lust and short-lived connections that fizzle out before sunup. Pepper was the first person to show him how meaningful it could be, but even that's different than this moment here, where Hari hasn't said a word and he can still understand her, where he's not sure where he ends and she begins.
Tony doesn't know how this lovely woman can see the broken mess he is and still want him. With all the shit that he's done, he doesn't know if he's even worthy of such a thing, but Tony's always been a little selfish, so he doesn't plan on giving her up. He presses open-mouthed kisses on her collarbone before settling above her heart, feeling the insistent beat against his lips, shuddering as she clenches around him.
"Can I build you a suit?" The words are out before he can bite them back.
Hari's eyes widen and her mouth drops a little. "A suit?" she chokes out, surprise plain on her face.
Not that it isn't warranted. Besides Rhodey, he's never made a suit for anyone else. He'd been toying with schematics for something Pepper could use, but that was always a pipe dream more than anything else. She detests Iron Man, after all, so why would she accept something specifically tailored to her? For all that she was once the center of his universe, he has no doubt she would have mistaken the gesture for something with hidden motivations or strings attached rather than what it was intended to be.
Hands reaching out, trying desperately to grab hold of her…
Their fingertips aren't even close to touching when she falls, here one breath and gone the next.
A suit of armor to save her when he can't.
"A suit," Tony croaks. "I know you're an accomplished witch. I know you've literally saved the world before. I know you can protect yourself." He brushes a strand of hair away from her sweaty face. "But a little extra protection never hurt anyone."
He can't watch someone else he cares about die. Not again.
Hari chews on her lip. "I'm not saying no," she says slowly, "but it might be wasted on me. You haven't experienced the ugly side affects of magic and technology clashing yet and the last thing I want is my magic blowing up a suit."
He tilts his head, considering it. "We could test it out. If there are serious complications, I'll need to know to update my own suit if we'll be fighting alongside each other."
She stares at him, searching, and then gives a short nod. "You'll have to teach me how to use it," she says with a small grin. "I'm bollocks at technology. Everyday appliances seem to be the only thing I'm able to operate."
Relief courses through his veins. It isn't much, not by far, but if she had another layer of protection, a suit with her own AI to watch her six, then he can breathe a little easier.
He lets out a surprised yelp when she pushes him off her and stands up. She gathers some clothes to throw on. Tony leans up on his elbows. "What are you doing?"
Hari offers him a muted smile. "I don't have enough energy to bring my shields back up, especially not after that wonderful bit of exercise we just did, but I can at least meditate and look at the state of them. They shouldn't be too bad since I willingly brought them down, but those memories were… traumatic, to say the least, and something could have fractured."
Tony tries not to frown. "Loki's a dick," he says blandly.
"They are," Hari agrees. "But you know what I've learned in all my years of living?" At his questioning look, she says, "Hurt people hurt people whether they mean to or not."
Tony sighs heavily. He knows that, of course. He's seen it first-hand; with his father, who drowned himself in alcohol until he ripped Tony's mother away from his life; with himself, every time he's pushed Rhodey and Pepper and Happy away, trying to force them to leave before they can decide to all on their own. "That doesn't make it right."
"Of course not." She sits at the edge of the bed and shakes her head. "Maybe it's because it feels like the war happened only yesterday for me, but I just… I think about Loki and what they've been through and it reminds me how I could've followed the same path. If Ron and Hermione had ditched me when I was too angry and hurt to be a better friend, how would I have turned out?"
He doesn't have an answer for her, so he just sits up and scoots to the edge of the bed. "You're a kinder person than me."
"You're plenty kind yourself." She smiles and it's utterly girlish, all pink cheeks and bright eyes, and she leans in to kiss him. "Do you want to join me for some food?"
"I think I'm going to stay here a bit longer." He gestures at the suitcase suit leaning against the far wall with his foot. "I'm almost tempted to reduce it to parts so I can build something to make contact with JARVIS."
"Or," Hari says with a raised eyebrow, "you can ask Thor if they have any spare parts to make your little space radio. You might need your suit later."
That's… actually not a bad idea. "I highly doubt it. For all that the suit was good on Earth, it seems to be a little useless here," he says bitterly. "The activation time is just too long when a few seconds can mean life or death."
Hari offers him a contemplative hum. "I can see how that would be a problem," she admits. "It's too bad you can't just think of it and have it appear." She stands up and stretches. "Regardless, I'm sure your genius brain will figure something out."
Tony stares at her as she leaves, frozen in place. A suit that can appear instantaneously at a thought.
What a… ridiculous… concept…
A/N: Sorry this took so long. Life has been busy, to say the very least. A decent chunk of this chapter was edited out. Full version on AO3.