torturous inception

“You both should feel honored.”
“Right, very honored,” I said. “Always wanted to be possessed!”

Fic Idea: The Fix-it Version [I Probably Won't Be Writing Because I Can't Do Romance To Save My Life]

Warnings: mental health issues, dubious morality, probably OOC in some places, extreme/severe Wanda bashing [which culminates in character death; if that’s not your cup of tea, sorry, maybe next time?], a JARVIS that’s uncomfortably close to Skynet, and a mindtrip of epic proportions [that can probably be classified as cruel and unusual torture, Inception-style]. Semi-canon compliant, through a certain point of view, though with shameless timeline fudging.

…On the plus side, there’s also Science Bros [kinda], and Team As Family feels? 

[The attempt at romance in here could fit with probably any pairing, I just picked this one because I used to ship it a lot harder in the past.]

Also, heads up for a very, very long post. [Sorry about that.]

Tony Stark was a genius.

It was a fact of which there was no doubt, he had the test results from age three to prove it, even his greatest critics were forced acknowledge his intellect. Not to mention his impressive track record involving new patents and elements, or that one of the media’s names for him was “the Da Vinci of our day”– he was a genius, full stop.

That the world somehow forgot was another matter.

Sure, he was surrounded by superpowered people—gods and spies and doctors with breathtaking anger issues— but it still got old, the way everyone seemed to forget his multiple doctorates with each explosion. His laundry list of awards, hell, the new element he’d created, seemed to get overshadowed by the people he ran with. [To be fair, it’d be kind of hard to see past the Crown Prince of Asgard, but still.]

Point is, his brain’s wired differently. It may sound arrogant, but it was true. Tony Stark had a gift that let him interact with the world on a level far beyond most mortals’ ken, was able to take and assimilate data and work miracles.

Reason this all comes up is because a) that meant mental health issues were a special sort of hell, and, b) Wanda really didn’t know what the fuck she was doing when she tried to screw with his mind.

What I’m getting to is this:

Tony never really snapped out of the initial mind-whammy Wanda hit him with, back in Sokovia.

It wasn’t something she’d expected; she’d practiced with plenty of people, and yet the one guy she’d sworn revenge against for years gave a single panicked gasp, before slumping over and promptly going comatose.

Here’s the thing: Wanda hadn’t accounted for how his mind would accept the data presented. Like all other things, Tony’s gift for rapidly processing and assimilating other input took this newest development, and proceeded to take it and run with it.

Tony’s trapped in his head, stuck with only his inner demons and Wanda’s malice. He doesn’t notice; between his PTSD, and the way his greatest strengths are now being used against him, Tony only knows he’s being confronted with his worst nightmares being turned reality, and the worst part is? It’s a prison of his own making.

Every single subconscious fear is being dragged to the forefront, from betrayal to his own inadequacy at protecting those he loves. He’s being torn down again and again by strangers wearing familiar faces, and Tony knows something’s off but he can’t quite pinpoint what and… and it’s getting to the point where part of him’s so bone-tired he sometimes can’t help but wonder: would death would really be that much harder? Because as time goes by, he’s getting so, so worn and he’s so alone, that he’s nearing his breaking point. [Just like Wanda had wanted him, in that moment when she’d thoughtlessly toyed with the very fragile and very powerful thing that was Tony’s mind.]

There’s just one problem: Wanda did her job too well.

See, JARVIS was the first to notice something was so, fundamentally wrong: Sir’s readings had flickered erratically, but then after the female Enhanced had taken her leave, he had remained unresponsive to his increasingly desperate attempts to get his attention. Even as he notified the Avengers to this newest development, however, he set to scouring the world for the Dead Person Walking who’d dared to harm Sir. [He’d eviscerate them, would make them bleed and burn the world with a smile if it meant Sir’s safety, Sir, please, wake up—]

The Avengers aren’t ones to take this lying down, either.

Clint’s especially vicious, at first; he’s the first one to reach Tony, sees the fading traces of red in his eyes, remembers when his world had become awash with blue, and his hands don’t shake when he takes a shot at the fleeing duo [even though he so, desperately wants to]. The cry of pain he hears is vaguely cathartic, but vanishes the moment he hears Tony’s first whimper and something is Not Right, this is beyond his pay grade, he needs backup stat!

Natasha’s expression is blank, and that was everyone’s first tip as to how furious she was. She hasn’t let go of her phone, between keeping her friends updated [Pepper had cried when she’d heard Tony wouldn’t wake], and scouring her contacts list for anyone who might have a shred of a clue as to how to help. She refused to give up on her friends, and Tony’d shared his coffee with her more than once at three in the morning, and they’d commiserated about tough choices and bloody pasts and second chances one too many times for her to consider him anything but.

Bruce is taking readings. He hasn’t stopped, because the alternative is looking at the too-still and far-too-silent figure on the bed rather than the data, and if he does that… they’d have to deal with the Other Guy, who has some Strong Opinions as to his favorite person’s current state— no, make that their favorite person: Bruce is very reserved, can’t afford to be anything else, but somehow, despite everything, Tony’d managed to wriggle past his defenses with his constant chatter and Star Trek references and snacks and if he thought about it too much he’d have another Code Green, nope, focus on those brainwave patterns and see what he could do—

Thor had rushed to Asgard with the Scepter in tow, intent on returning with assistance, because Midgard was still so young in so many ways but he knew what branch of magic Lord Anthony had been a victim of, had heard Loki mention it offhandedly once or twice in their youth when showing off the power of enchantments, and there had to be a healer or magician willing to help—

Steve, meanwhile, has been taking it the worst: he’d been bantering with the team not five minutes before, and now he’s seeing Clint, sharp and brittle in a way that was dangerously similar to the New York fiasco, and snarling about magic and oh god that was Tony.

Steve’s heart had stuttered when he saw his body, and Natasha’s bumping shoulders with Clint in an effort to help calm him down and Bruce looks like he’s about as controlled as ever, but Steve’s just. Drowning.

Because he’s lost another friend, now; he’d just started to heal from Bucky’s death, when the HYDRA reveal happened, and Tony’d been there for him afterwards, had been a good friend and helped him and Sam in their search. Tony’d been one of the last reminders of his past, had been a walking memorial of the generosity of an old friend [for all that Tony had hated to talk about his father, he was the spitting image of the man Steve had known, in some ways], and now? He’s just…lost.

Steve had been talking to Natasha and JARVIS as to how to break it to Tony gently about his growing suspicions about HYDRA’s involvement in Howard’s death.

  •  [maybe it wasn’t the Winter Soldier who did it, in this reality; maybe it was someone at the party who’d kept smiling and upping the alcohol content in Howard’s drinks, and had sabotaged the brake fluid in his car instead. Thing is, Tony’s head is a scary place, and with his growing paranoia and Wanda’s influence, he can’t help but jump to the worst-case scenario]

And ditto as to his possible crush that Natasha may or may not have been teasing him about for months. The crush that had merited multiple pitying looks from the team, because apparently he’d been very unsubtle in his attempts at hiding it, even if Tony had never noticed because the man was surprisingly obtuse in anything that vaguely smacked of emotions. Yeah, that crush. The one he’d put on the backburner, and was now bitterly regretting it.

So, yes, Steve wasn’t doing well.

Time passes, and Thor comes and goes in his forays to seek out help. In doing so, however, the Avengers are only freaking out more and more, because with every hour that passes, Tony’s condition only gets worse. His body’s visibly getting more stressed, Bruce’s tests have him hitting the tea more than ever before in an attempt to get a grip, and Steve hates seeing Tony like this but can’t bear to leave [or let go of his hand].

JARVIS was especially distressed when, a few hours into his not-coma, Sir started to cry and call for him, and he’d never felt more helpless than when his sobs tapered off and mutters of a ‘Vision’ started. In his frustration, he dedicates more firepower towards finding the Dead Person Walking, and redoubles his search for anyone capable of doing anything.

It takes JARVIS less than three days, for him to find Wanda. It takes even less time, to capture her. Natasha is more than happy to aid him in interrogating her, and if the realization that she didn’t know what she had done resulted in yet another corpse in a now-abandoned HYDRA bunker? Well…the instigator’s death had no effect on Sir’s condition meant it was no loss, at any rate. [That she’d shown absolutely no regret about having hurt Sir on such a fundamental level was only part of why JARVIS hadn’t been particularly concerned about it all.]

More time passes, and the Avengers are growing increasingly desperate. Bruce had been forced to abscond to the Hulk-proof room after his latest set of readings, because Tony’d been showing all the warning signs for an impending heart attack despite their best efforts to help, and Steve’s now going for a new streak in 'number of punching bags broken in an hour’.

Clint and Natasha are only marginally better off; having the knowledge that the witch was dead did something for Clint’s peace of mind, but seeing Tony suffer was still grating on his nerves, and their spars grow increasingly vicious as time goes on. [If Steve wasn’t even worse off, he’d have been staring in shock; as it was, he could only offer a tired smile when he saw them from his spot in the gym.]

Then, Thor returns with a name: Kamar-Taj.

Apparently, the Earth had magic as well, though it’d been hidden remarkably well. JARVIS takes this newest development, and runs with it as far as possible. The Quinjet was in India within the hour, with Bruce and Natasha calmly making their way to where JARVIS had identified a possible location. Clint’s busily guarding Tony and keeping an eye on Steve, who’d wanted to go but was self-aware enough to know he wasn’t the best guy for the job at the moment, and Thor was too conspicuous for it too.

Bruce knew enough Hindi to get by without too many weird looks, and the look in Natasha’s eyes is enough to keep any potential muggers at bay. They find it quickly, and the wary questions they’re asked means they’re ushered to a darkened room in short order. Another terse few minutes of conversation finally have the Ancient One, alongside her right-hand man, walking back with the duo. [Bruce has to quell his knee-jerk reaction to run when he feels how everyone’s attention when he mentions Thor’s mention of 'mind magics’ and something about stones? Man, he hated magic.]

A quick portal [that had the Avengers shifting and tensing uneasily when it’d opened, because hello security concerns] trip later, and Steve is a hairsbreadth away from snapping when the Ancient One surges backwards from where she’d run a few cursory hands near Tony’s head.

“Who did this?” She asked, devastated fury evident in her tone and the way her companion moved to protect her. “This is an unspeakable act, punishable by death.”

“They’re dead.” Clint replied, cold smile on his face and rolling an arrow [one of Tony’s designs, one he’d been fiddling with before Sokovia] between his fingers.

“Good,” the Ancient One bites out, “this is a travesty. It’s mentioned in our archives, but only strong magicians with years of training even dare approach this, and only ever for healing purposes.”

“Is there anything you can do?” Thor asked, “Few mages in Asgard specialize in this branch, and among that number the ones I knew who were capable of it are dead.”

She looks at them, at the desperate look in their eyes, at the weariness in Bruce’s face and the tension in Steve’s frame and utter blankness in Natasha’s expression, and smiles.

“Yes. It requires a lot of delicacy and preparation, especially for something that’s lasted as long as this, but yes. Your friend is strong; it’s been centuries since a human’s been recorded with being under this, and they all died within three days.”

Steve dented his chair when he sat back down, while Natasha merely tilted her head and replied, “It’s been a week.”

That added to the urgency, apparently: the Ancient One shared a look of horrified awe with Mordo, and set to work making their various preparations. Within the hour, they were ready, and when she asked if they would permit some of Kamar-Taj’s students to observe the enchantment necessary for it, the team had a hurried, hushed debate.

“Please use your discretion. Only those who would not impede the process, I suppose.” Natasha finally said, electing to be the Avenger’s spokesperson [now that Tony was out of commission nope don’t think about it—].

Steve didn’t leave Tony’s side until a few minutes before the ritual started; and then, he couldn’t look away from the growing circle and only blinked when the light got too close to blinding even for him, and when he heard a quietly heartbroken “so was I” and a scream Thor had to help hold him down to keep from interfering.

Clint, meanwhile, shifted the entire time, antsy about magic and couldn’t help but envy Bruce for stepping outside [the Other Guy was even less of a fan of magic than he was, and that took effort], and trying not to stare too openly at one of the students who’d elected to watch the ceremony. It was kind of hard, actually; he’d introduced himself as Dr. Stephen Strange, but in the minutes that it’d taken for Mordo to finish setting up the room, Clint couldn’t help but notice the way the man hadn’t stopped with the questions [much like Tony had with Thor nope nope he’d wake up dammit—] and it was uncanny, especially with the Van Dyke the man was sporting.

The ceremony’s completed, and Tony’s heart stopped partway through.

Fortunately, apparently Strange had actually been a medical doctor in the past, and between him, Bruce, and the Iron Man suit JARVIS had  commandeered to help in this endeavor, restarting it was less stressful than the past few hours had been.

“He should wake soon,” the Ancient One told them, “make sure he takes it easy while he recovers, it’s not often that people survive a death-curse.”

The Avengers in general thanked her profusely, and JARVIS did the same. Then, at long last, they went home.

Tony wakes up to JARVIS’ voice updating him about New York’s weather forecast and stock prices and his relief of his latest change in status, with the familiar beeping of a heart monitor in the background. [Well, now familiar, at least, between Rhodey and Happy and nope—]

“Hey, Vision, where you at?”

“Sir, who is this 'Vision’ you speak of? It is currently May—”

Tony sat up abruptly, heart starting to hammer again as he took in his surroundings. “Vision, where am I? This isn’t funny.

“Sir, I am JARVIS. Do you require medical assistance?”

Tony froze from where he’d been running a hand through his hair. “JARVIS?” He breathed, and then looked around again carefully, “Oh, god. I lost it, didn’t I?”

JARVIS was alarmed when Sir started laughing, and then his breath hitched and he started crying.

As such, it was perfectly understandable that he urged the Avengers to hurry; Mr. Barton and Ms. Romanov had been sparring in the gym while Capt. Rogers had been coming back from lunch, and Thor was currently in the middle of yet another Q&A session with the Ancient One concerning possible extraplanetary threats and magic.

Tony was barely getting his bearings back, and wondering what the hell was going on, when the door burst open, and what the fuck?!

He couldn’t quite hide a flinch when Steve surged towards him, relief evident on his face, and…what.

Why was he being hugged? Was this another attempt to kill him, wasn’t Siberia enough? What the— why was Natasha smiling? No, strike that; why was Clint smiling? Bruce was here?! And why was he hearing JARVIS’ voice from the walls and not from Vision, again?

“Oh, god. I’ve really lost it this time, haven’t I?”

The story comes out, of course.

Tony doesn’t know why Steve refuses to let him go if at all possible, but the part of him that hopes this isn’t just some nervous breakdown isn’t shy about enjoying the hugs [even if they got almost too tight in some parts, like when his voice broke when talking about Ultron, or the Civil War and it was all his fault—] and the way the team didn’t seem to hate him [for once].

Actually…Tony isn’t sure if he’s really lost it, but he’s also not sure if he wants to find out. Because here, JARVIS lives, and Rhodey can walk, and people actually listen to him about his worries and actually seem to care—

Clint and Natasha share a Look, the more Tony goes on. [Clearly, they’d been too merciful, when dealing with Wanda.]

Bruce greeted Tony with a smile, and then gave him some personal space: he knew him well enough to know it’d be appreciated, and what with the way the rest of the team was acting, Tony’d be lucky if he so much as went to the bathroom without an armed escort for the rest of the year.

Thor, when he arrives, tries to wrap Tony up in a hug, but Steve refuses to let him go so he ends up sandwiched between the two for what feels like an indeterminate amount of time.

  • [aka Tony gets all the hugs]

Steve, meanwhile, is just as bad as JARVIS regarding his willingness to let Tony out of his eyesight. That is to say, he’s very unwilling to do so. As in, barely willing to let him out of arms’ distance, and that’d been before he’d heard about Tony’s ordeal. [He hadn’t noticed Tony’s flinch at first, but it’s not until he heard about the 'Civil War’, and Siberia that it hits home, just why he’d reacted that way, and it hurts.]

JARVIS has been in Sentry Mode since Sokovia. He has yet to let Sir out of his sensors’ range, and the odds of that ever happening lower with each day that passes. Not that Sir’s complaining; more than once, he’d simply called, “JARVIS?” just to hear a response, and seemed to take comfort in his updates about the situation.

Colonel James 'Rhodey’ Rhodes had been in the middle of a mission, when JARVIS informed him of Tony’s coma. If it hadn’t been so sensitive, he would’ve up and vanished, but as it was he was the only thing between a warlord and a poor province until backup arrived, and though he burned to leave ASAP, he couldn’t. [Tony’d never forgive him.]

The moment the op was over, though, and the people were safe, James pushed his suit to the limit to get to Tony’s side, where his best friend was awake and coherent and rushing in for a tight hug just like he’d been after Afghanistan. He knows exactly why Rogers refuses to let go of Tony [even if it’s for starkly different reasons; the man was not subtle at all, and if he hadn’t known Tony for years, James’d wonder if he was being purposefully obtuse, because this was getting ridiculous].

He stays for as long as he can manage, and the way Tony just collapsed into his side each time means he’s sharing increasingly concerned looks with the Avengers, because he’s known Tony to be rather stoic about some things [ha—understatement of the year], and yet the friend he’s known for decades teared up the moment he strode into the room, and what the hell happened to him?!

But no matter; he’ll be there for Tony. Just like always.

Pepper’s much the same way, having been dealing with investors in Japan, and able only to arrive after all had been said and done [though she’d noticed the haunted look in Tony’s eyes, and made a note to talk with James and JARVIS about what actions needed to be taken to remedy this]. She wraps him up in a hug when she first sees him, and the way he’d only slowly relaxed was enough of a warning in and of itself, to her.

She’s got a business meeting coming up, but in the meantime she and Tony curl up and watch old French movies with the lights off, and sharing blankets and granola without a care for crumbs. [She smiles when he finally loses that last edge of tension, when he slumps bonelessly against her and the couch, and doesn’t make a comment about the blinking earpiece he’s got, the one JARVIS likes to use whenever Tony’s out and about and needing a discreet way to stay connected. Tony was strong, he’d pull through. And she’d help him, whenever he asked it of her, as per usual.] 

Time passes, and Tony heals. 

He stops flinching at everyone’s sudden movements, stops startling whenever he hears JARVIS, gradually starts opening up again and lowering his guard, inch by inch. Slowly starts to up his chatter again, and the team’s never been more relieved than when the familiar strains of AC/DC start to filter through again, after months of silence [because Tony only ever played music when he was comfortable, when he felt safe and happy and secure with his place in the world].

Time passes, and everyone gradually moves on, though JARVIS’ Sentry Mode is still a constant shadow to Tony and the Avengers’ paranoia regarding magic never really goes away, not until months after Stephen Strange becomes a consultant and they see him and Tony bantering about facial hair and Arthur C. Clarke and doctorates.

Time passes, and when Thanos arrives, it’s to an Earth with a set of guardians all as fiercely protective of each other as a pack of wolves, a tight-knit and cohesive unit devastating both on the battlefield and off of it.

[Suffice it is to say, Thanos doesn’t walk away from that particular encounter.]

There’s more going on in the background, of course. Exhibit A being the romance subplot [that could apply to just about any pairing in this scenario], and I’ve really skimmed just how long it takes for Tony to heal from experiencing canon events. 

Steven Strange’s part got shifted up in the timeline, and the Ancient One doesn’t die; instead, he ends up being a consultant for the Avengers, but his focus is on keeping the New York Sanctum safe. [Mordo, Wong, and James Rhodes just share a Look, the moment they first see Tony Stark and Stephen Strange in the same room. It may or may not have been one of horrified awe, of ‘oh god there’s two of them’, minutes before the first explosion started.]

…FYI, this JARVIS is basically TWiFFON’s JARVIS, and just my approach to him in general. That is to say, his focus on Tony’s safety and happiness is one of [if not the] biggest motivation for his actions, and a morality a lot more nebulous than most would probably be comfortable with, given he’s basically Skynet as is.