Disclaimer – Anything you see and recognise does not belong to me. Harry Potter is JK Rowling's; The Avengers and other related characters belong to Marvel. I'm simply playing in their sandboxes.
Chapter 128 – Where To From Here?
The battlefield was a mess, as any place that had seen two armies clash was wont to be.
At the far end, the crashed remains of the Sanctuary II lay, great plumes of dark grey smoke still pouring out of it hours after the battle had ended. But it wasn't the only piece of alien tech lying about. Hundreds of pieces of Chitauri chariots had crashed throughout the battle. Many, most even, were still mostly whole. The rest, though, were charred remnants of what they'd once been.
There were Chitauri weapons lying everywhere, along with hundreds of bodies, both Chitauri and Outrider. Slowly, those bodies were being gathered together into huge piles for later decisions. At least with this being Antarctica, the temperature meant that the bodies wouldn't decompose very quickly.
Of course, not all of the enemy had been killed, although more of them than should have been had had to be put down. Even with the capture of Thanos, the aliens had fought on, most with even more savagery than they originally had been.
In the end. T'Challa and Okoye had called for the Wakandan air fleet to come through an extra large portal courtesy of Wong. The Wakandan army had boxed the aliens in, using the strange, invisible force field to help herd them into the right area.
And then, reluctantly, T'Challa had given the order. His fleet had decimated the remains of the aliens until only a few dozen remained. Those last few, finally, surrendered.
It wasn't just the aliens that had suffered though.
The Wakandan army had suffered the most both in terms of deaths and injuries. Thankfully, though, the numbers killed weren't as high as they could have been, a fact that was mostly attributed to the procedure that had been adopted by them, an idea that had originated with Daphne and Harry.
Any injury that was deemed to be life-threatening instantly caused the person to be portkeyed home to Wakanda where not only the magical healers stood ready to go to work but also the top doctors in the country.
Once the battle was over, dozens more – both Wakandan and members of the various hero teams – had then also been sent to get their injuries seen to. Dozens of bones had been broken; hundreds of cuts had been obtained; bodies were already turning black and blue from bruises; and exhaustion had set in. Pepper Up potions had been liberally drunk in preparation for the battle but that sort of magical concoction came at a price – the body would eventually collapse hard and only real sleep would fix it.
A small group still remained on the battle field to discuss what to do next. All of them were exhausted, sore and hurting but none were going to show it.
"How?" Thanos asked, not for the first time, his eyes never leaving Harry.
Harry smirked at the Titan, bound as he was with not only thick wire wrapped up and down his legs and body, his arms strapped to his side but also with as strong a body bind as Harry could cast and having used the Elder wand to cast it, he knew that no one was going to break out of that any time soon.
"I saw you destroyed, consumed by the Power Stone. None could survive that. Very few could even hold the Stone," Thanos continued.
"Bitch, please," Peter Quill said, stepping into view. "I once held the thing."
"You're part Celestial, Peter," Gamora reminded him.
Peter shrugged. "Don't bring my genes into this. I'm nothing like my father."
"What does the pants you are wearing have to do with your father?" Drax asked.
"Are they always like this?" Nat asked Gamora.
"More often than not," Gamora sighed and received a reassuring pat on the back from Nat.
"I DEMAND AN ANSWER!" Thanos bellowed.
"You don't get to demand anything!" Thor retorted. "Not after what you have done to so many."
"It's alright, Thor, I'll answer him," Harry stated.
Harry walked forward and stopped barely a metre away, his hands crossed over his chest as he contemplated how to answer.
"There are two things which you need to know," Harry replied. "Firstly, when you blasted me with the Power Stone, I was wearing the Soul Stone around my neck!"
Seeing Thanos' eyes widen, told Harry that Thanos understood exactly what he'd almost done. The Mad Titan's aim was always to collect all six Infinity Stones. That could never happen if he'd just destroyed one of them.
"Secondly, that wasn't the first time that I've been killed," Harry smirked.
"Who are you?" Thanos asked.
There were a number of ways that Harry knew that he could answer that question. In the end, he went with a title that he'd never really been all that comfortable with. Until now.
"I'm the Boy-Who-Lived," he shrugged. "Now, shush, the grown ups are talking."
With that, he sent an overpowered silencing spell at the Titan and turned away.
"We really need to decide what to do with him. I don't like the idea of keeping him here on Earth. He's too strong, even for my magic," Harry said.
"He deserves to die," Thor stated. "He destroyed Asgard and killed thousands there alone."
"Xandar, too," Peter stated. "And there, it was millions."
"He's been killing millions on dozens of planets for years," Gamora added.
"Do we really have the right to execute him?" Steve asked, speaking up for the first time in a while.
"If we don't, then who does?" Nat asked. "There's no doubt in any of our minds that he deserves to be punished. There's no need to put him before a judge, his crimes against the galaxy are far too well known and far too many for any other verdict than 'guilty'."
"I'm still not comfortable with killing him in cold blood," Steve stated. "In battle is one thing, like this …"
"Then I'll do it," Thor stated grimly. "I am the King of Asgard now. It is within my role as King to deliver punishment to those who have committed crimes against my people."
"Are you sure you can do that?" Steve asked.
"Easily," Thor replied, shifting Stormbreaker slightly.
"We can take him … afterwards if you want," Peter offered.
"Where?" Gamora asked. "Where would you take him? The Nova Corps is gone, remember?"
"I remember," Peter near-growled. "And believe me, if Thor wasn't going to do the deed, then I'd do it. For Dey. For all of them."
"As would I. For my wife, my daughter," Drax agreed.
"Look, Gamora, we all know that he raised you like a daughter. That means that you know him best. Where would you say we should take him?" Peter asked gently.
Gamora turned to look at Thanos, bound and now silenced lying on the ground, staring at her.
"Home. We'll take his body home. To Titan. It can rest there," she eventually said.
"Alright, then. That's what we'll do," Peter agreed.
With a nod to them, Thor strode forward, Stormbreaker at the ready, while the rest of them watched, witnesses to the justice that needed to happen for all of the countless fallen.
Gert raced into the hospital wing. Or at least, she tried to. Just as she rounded the last corner, a house elf appeared directly in her path, his land out in a classic. 'stop' gesture. She slid to a stop, nearly tipping over in the process but luckily managed to retain her footing.
"There be no running in hospital," the house elf instructed with a serious look on his face. "Please to keep voice down. Many sick, need rest."
"Okay, sorry," Gert nodded hurriedly. "Just I heard that my friend is in there. He was hurt in the battle."
"Many many hurt in battle," the house elf replied solemnly. "Youse may enter. Quietly."
"Thank you," Gert replied and not running, but certainly not walking either, she rushed on and through the double doors.
The ward was completely filled, almost to overflowing with every bed occupied and a whole host of extra people visiting as well, either sitting on the bed, on a chair or standing nearby.
Instantly, though, Gert's eyes picked out her friends, all clustered around a single bed and she made a swift beeline for them.
As she hurried along, she couldn't help noticing who occupied some of the beds.
Jessica, one entire leg and arm encased in a strange brownish gel that reminded Gert of a cast. Danny, shirtless but with his ribs bound in bandages and a large white patch over his shoulder. Bobbi and Bucky, both unconscious. Matt, of course, most of his body still heavily bandaged and what could be seen of his skin looking all purple and bruised. He, Gert knew, hadn't participated in the battle at all and, as far as she knew, still hadn't woken from having his building dropped on his head in New York. There were others, but with her focus so on one particular bed, she didn't bother checking in on them right then.
Finally, she reached them.
Pushing herself in between Nico and Karolina, Gert dropped onto the bed. The fact Chase's eyes were open was enough to make any hesitation vanish and she crashed onto his chest, hugging him as tightly as she could.
"Hey, Gert, finally here, huh?" Chase half-laughed.
"I got here as soon as I could," she replied, sitting up to look him over.
His head was bandaged and he had a few other small patches on his arms but otherwise he seemed fine.
"You're okay?" she asked.
"I'm okay," he smiled. "You should see the other guy."
"What other guy?" Nico snorted. "You were caught on the edge of an explosion. Mild concussion and some cuts and bruises. Daphne says he'll be fine and out of here in a few hours, she just wants to make sure her medicine's doing its job."
"Good," Gert said before leaning forward and giving Chase a hard, passionate kiss. "Don't do that again. I can't lose you. I can't lose any of you."
This last was said to Nico, Karolina and Molly.
"We're fine, Gert, not a scratch," Molly told her.
"Yeah, we were lucky," Nico stated. "I can see now why the rest of them kept saying that we weren't ready. We need more training. A lot more training."
"Doesn't matter how much training you have, you can still get seriously hurt," Karolina said miserably and Gert noticed her eyes going to the screen on the other side of the bed.
"Oh no! Who?" Gert asked.
"Clint," Chase replied. "We were together when that explosion happened. He caught the worst of it."
"Shh!" Molly suddenly insisted.
Gert's eyes widened as she saw what Molly had already noticed – Daphne coming down the aisle alongside Laura, Clint's wife. The two women passed them and entered a gap in the screens.
As much as she didn't want to, Gert couldn't help but listen in on the conversation happening where Clint Barton lay.
"Oh, Clint! Clint!" Laura was saying and they heard the bed over there squeak. "You're alive! You're alive! Daphne, please tell me he's going to be alright!"
"He will be, in time," the Healer replied. "Clint came in with a lot of injuries. Even with magical healing, it takes time and there's some things that even we can't fix."
"Tell me," Laura insisted.
"Clint came in with third-degree burns to a large portion of his body. His left arm, thirty percent of his torso, his neck and a portion of his face and head. Most of that damage has been healed but there will be significant scarring. Both his legs were broken, as were three ribs. I gave Clint skele-grow to repair those and they should all be healed by tomorrow morning."
"There's more, isn't there?" Laura asked, fear clear in her voice.
"There is," Daphne replied. "Clint woke up briefly not long after he arrived. He couldn't hear, Laura. He has extreme damage to both ear drums, most likely from being so close the explosion when it occurred. I've done what I can but magical healing in this area is almost non-existent. We may not know for some time, even after he wakes, if his hearing loss is temporary, partial or permanent."
The sound of Laura's heart-rending sobbing caused not only Gert but all of the teens to look away not only from the screens but also each other.
He's alive, though, he's alive, Gert kept reminding herself. Deaf or not, Clint, Hawkeye, was still alive and that was something for them to hold onto.
Tony was holding Morgan, Pepper wrapped around him when the alert went off on the door telling him that they had a visitor. A single look down confirmed that Morgan had remained asleep against his chest even with the noise.
"Pep," he said gently, "the door."
Her tear-streaked face moved to look up at him and he smiled down at her. Even looking like this, he knew that she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
"What?" she asked.
"The door," he repeated.
Suddenly, she came to herself.
"I can't answer the door looking like this!" she exclaimed.
Instantly, she untangled herself from around him and rushed off to the bathroom.
"I guess I'll get the door then?" he called after her.
"Would you? That'd be great," she replied from the other room.
Carefully so as not to wake Morgan, Tony levered himself from the couch and went to the door.
"Sparrowhawk! Daisy!" Tony grinned. "Come on in. Pepper's just washing her face. Give me a minute to put this little one down and I'll be right with you."
He didn't wait to see them in but did note the sound of the door being closed behind them.
Ducking into Morgan's room, he shifted the sleeping girl in his arms and very gently laid her in her cot. He couldn't help himself but to stand there and watch her for a moment. He still wasn't sure what had happened but ever since he'd come back from Antarctica, he hadn't wanted to let either of his girls out of his sight.
"I love you three thousand," he whispered before leaning down and giving her a soft kiss on the top of her head.
Quietly, he left her room, having turned on the baby monitor, just in case she woke.
"You're looking good, Tony," Harry greeted him from the couch that he sat on beside his wife.
"Well, you know me. I always look good," he quipped.
"Ain't that the truth," Pepper said as she joined them. "But I might be biased."
"You think?" Daisy laughed.
"I'm assuming that you're here for a particular reason? That this isn't just a social call?" Tony asked.
Pepper frowned. "After everything that's happened, I think some 'social calls' as you put it are in order."
"You're probably right, there, Pepper, but so's Tony," Harry replied. "I am here with a particular reason in mind."
"Shoot!" Tony replied, causing all three of the others to wince.
Tony simply chose to ignore their reactions, sitting back and draping his arm around his wife. His eyebrow did rise, though, when Harry leant forward, his green eyes piercing Tony.
"How much do you remember after portkeying back to New York after the big meeting that we had here?" Harry asked intensely.
Tony blinked. He hadn't been expecting that question. Not that it really surprised him, after all, he'd been thinking about it too. A lot.
"I remember arriving in the Tower," he replied slowly. "I found Pepper and got her and Morgan and the bags together and watched them portkey back here to the island. I remember Happy. Still no word on him?"
Pepper shook her head and buried her face in his shoulder. Another good man, a great friend, lost.
"I remember that I was the last one still in the lounge," Tony continued. "Then I flew out. The plan was for me to go to Xavier, get the X-men ready for the fight. I'd only gone a couple of hundred metres when Friday told me there was incoming. There were missiles, dozens of them, all headed for New York …"
Tony trailed off, frowning. There was something else, something that he was missing, he was sure of it. Actually, there had to be, considering the next thing that he remembered.
"Tony?" Harry prompted. "What's the next thing you remember after seeing the missiles?"
"Flying and seeing Thanos' arm dropping the Stone and knowing that I had to catch it," Tony replied. "Which is all kinds of wrong. How'd I get form New York to Antarctica of all places? And I definitely lost time. Hours of it. Plus, I was wearing the Mark XLV in New York and the Mark XXXII in Antarctica."
"Nothing about what you told me," Daisy commented.
Tony looked between the two, his eyes narrowed.
"You know what happened," he stated. "Right. Spill."
At first, he didn't think Harry was going to reply. Instead, the wizard stared down at his hand, his fingers interwoven with Daisy's.
"Are you sure that you want to know, Tony?" Harry asked and rushed on straight over the top of Tony's answer. "I mean, really really sure, Tony. What I know, it's not something to be taken lightly. And definitely not something that can ever leave this room. Daisy knows, of course, but no one else. Not Steve or Thor or Nat or even Ted. No one. There's only one other that I might tell, but I haven't quite decided on that yet."
Tony stared at him. It was that secret? Now he wanted to know even more than he had a few seconds before. But not being able to tell anyone? That'd bite. At least he had Pepper and Gandalf and Vibrator there.
"Tell me," he said. "No, tell us."
Pepper squeezing his hand told him that he'd got it right.
Once again, Harry stared him in his eyes and Tony wasn't sure what to make of the intensity of those green orbs.
"You remember that I had the Soul Stone?" Harry asked and didn't even wait for him to nod before continuing. "Do you also remember that the Soul Stone was 'hidden' inside a casing of black stone when I first retrieved it from where I'd left it years ago? Well, in magical lore, that Stone was known as the Resurrection Stone, one part of a set of three that were given to three brothers, supposedly by Death himself. One of those brothers was my ancestor and from whom my Invisibility Cloak was handed down from father to son all the way to me. The last part of that set was a special wand, a wand that I was also the Master of, even though I had thought that its power had been broken and that it was left in a safe place.
"When I retrieved the Soul Stone, I became the Master of all three objects, of the Three Deathly Hallows, which in some magical circles gave me the title of 'Master of Death'. To me, I thought that it was all … as you would say, 'hocus pocus'. It wasn't though. I did have certain extra, shall we say, powers?
"In any case, what you heard from the others, about Thanos zapping me with the power of the Power Stone and vaporising me? That was true."
"Wait! I thought that you just vanished because you put your invisibility cloak on?" Pepper asked.
Harry shook his head. "That's just what I allowed everyone else to believe. I was killed."
"Clearly, it didn't stick," Tony deadpanned. "How?"
"Because I'm the Master of Death," Harry replied. "At least, at the moment. With the power of all three Hallows, I entered Death's realm with my will to move about freely still intact. Everyone else there was … confined? That's not the best word, but it'll do. Confined by the afterlife, to live it however it would make them happiest."
"Harry saw his parents and a lot of other people there that he knew that had already died," Daisy said quietly.
"You did? Aw, man, that's rough," Tony said sympathetically.
"That wasn't all that I saw there. Or rather, who," Harry stated grimly.
And then the pieces fell into place and Tony slumped backwards against the couch.
"Me," he whispered.
"Yes, Tony, I found you there," Harry nodded. "Still trying to get home to Pepper and Morgan. And, to cut a long story short, I was able to use my abilities there to bring you back with me."
"Why don't I remember it?" Tony asked.
"My guess is that the human mind couldn't process it," Harry replied. "Even when we first returned, it took you a minute to come back around. Thankfully in that time, I was able to get Friday to send a suit for you and to get you moving in the right direction."
"You brought Tony back from the dead?" Pepper asked, tears streaming down her face.
When Harry nodded, Tony gently moved Pepper aside and stood. Thankfully, the other man realised what he wanted and also stood, allowing Tony to give him the biggest hug that he'd ever given anyone. Apart from Pepper, of course.
"Thank you, Harry. You ever need anything, it's yours," Tony promised.
"You called me 'Harry'," the man in question stated, clearly startled.
"Don't let it go to your head," Tony quipped.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Pepper simply kept repeating even as she now stood, pushing Tony aside and hugging Harry for all he was worth, adding a kiss on the cheek for good measure.
"You understand why we don't want anyone else knowing this, right?" Daisy asked.
"We do," Tony assured her. "And you can be sure that no one will ever hear anything from us. Who'd believe us anyway? Harry? The Master of Death? Able to bring people back from the dead. Sounds way too far-fetched, even for me."
"Thanks, Tony," Harry replied.
The number of people attending the meeting was a lot smaller than the last one, even if there still were a great many in attendance. That smaller number, however, allowed them to hold it in the conference room, making it easier for Harry to place a whole host of security charms on the room.
"I didn't think we had secrets from anyone on this island?" Bruce asked.
"I asked Harry to put them up," Steve replied. "Ordinarily, it'd be fine but there are one or two topics that we're going to be discussing today that, the less people who know, the better."
There was a little shifting in seats at that pronouncement. All there knew the important nature of what was on the agenda, but they hadn't realised that it was that top-level secret.
As expected, Steve took control of the meeting.
"Thank you all for coming," he said. "Let's begin with some reports before we get into the questions that are going to need some difficult answers. T'Challa, how are your people?
"We Wakandas are a resilient people," T'Challa replied. "Even though we lost many, the casualty list wasn't as high as I thought it was going to be. Despite that, my people have been celebrating our great victory. They knew the cost of failure and what we faced. The fact we won has caused much dancing and feasts. Those who were injured will be mostly out of our hospitals within the next few days."
"What my brother has failed to mention is that word has leaked that Wakandan tribes were involved in the battle," Shuri stated. "The world is most curious how a third-world, third-rate country could have had any impact on such a battle."
"I was going to ask about that," Nat said. "I've heard the same chatter. Do you have a response in mind?"
"Whatever you choose, know that you have our backing," Steve added.
"I think that it's time to come out of the shadows completely," T'Challa replied slowly. "We have begun working with more and more health organisations over last couple of years and we've even opened up a centre in America to help African-Americans. But we can do so much more with what we have."
"However you want to play it, the Avengers will be standing by your side, T'Challa, just as you have stood beside ours," Steve reiterated.
"Thank you, Captain," T'Challa replied, giving a small nod of his head.
"Doctor Strange. What's the status of the battle field?" Steve asked, shifting his focus to the opposite side of the table.
"There's pieces of alien technology all over the area that we fought in, not to mention the piles of alien bodies and the crashed spaceship itself," Doctor Strange said. "All of it is prime material for the Black Market – I remember that from the Battle of New York. Even in Antarctica which is fairly remote, it's going to be too big a temptation for all the wrong people."
"And some of the people who think they're in the right," Scott muttered.
"Exactly," Doctor Strange agreed. "With that in mind, Wong and I simply displaced the entire area."
"Displaced? What does that mean?" Tony asked,
Doctor Strange shrugged. "We moved it all to a separate dimension."
"You can do that?" Nat asked incredulously.
"It's not easy, but yes. The Sorcerers of Kamar-Taj have always been the guardians of Earth from extra-dimensional attacks; we would have been rather poor guardians if we couldn't recognise those other dimensions. And once recognised, we found the means to move things from one dimension to another."
"I'm impressed," Harry replied. "The best wizards can do is create pocket dimensions, which is where we … place some of our enclaves. And shopping districts."
"It's not dissimilar," Doctor Strange replied. "I'll give you a few pointers some time."
Harry nodded his thanks.
"Our thanks, Doctor, Wong. That's not an answer any of us could have come up with but it sounds highly affective," Steve replied.
"There was one problem," Doctor Strange added. "The invisible shield. Whatever it is, we had to work around it, our magic didn't quite work right on it."
"If it is anything like our Wakandan shields, which my readings suggest it is, then I'm not surprised," Shuri replied. "Our magicians have always had some trouble around vibranium as well."
"Whatever that shield is and whatever it contains is definitely something that we'll want to examine once everything settles down," Nat commented.
"Agreed," Steve nodded.
He looked down at the pad in front of him and checked off another item on his list.
"Next," he said. "Our prisoners."
"That's us!" Scott said, indicating himself and Hope seated beside him.
"In the end, there were eighteen Outriders and nine Chitauri that surrendered to us," Hope stated.
"Not to mention the alien woman, Proxima Midnight," Scott added.
"Containing them wasn't easy," Hope said, taking back over. "In the end, we used a method my dad developed back in his S.H.I.E.L.D. days."
After reaching down between the two of them, Hope placed a metal box on the table. It was about a handbreadth wide and tall and double that long. Beside it, she placed a disc with a blue centre.
"Back in the day, it was called The Big House," Hope explained. "A prison that had been built on a normal scale and then shrunk. The prisoners are inside this. Using the blue disc will re-enlarge it to its original size. Just make sure that you stand well back and throw the disc at it."
"The prisoners are all in there?" Peter Quill asked, sounding delighted. "So, if I pick it up and shake it, they'll get all rattled around and go bouncing off the walls?"
"We're not inhumane," Steve frowned.
"I'd never actually do it," Peter retorted quickly.
"I'll make sure he doesn't," Gamora stated. "Do you have a preference for what we do with them?"
"I was hoping that you'd have some ideas," Steve confessed.
Peter and Gamora shared a look.
"We've been talking about that," Peter confessed. "We were thinking of handing them over to the Kree."
"I like that idea!" a delighted-sounding Thor exclaimed.
Steve frowned but decided that he didn't want to know.
"Thank you, we appreciate it," he simply said with a nod. "That just leaves us with the problem of the Infinity Stones themselves."
At his gesture, Harry waved his hand making the side table that had been hidden there come into view. The fact that that table also contained a Gauntlet standing in such a way as to show the red Reality Stone and the blue Space Stone, as well as a silver orb that everyone there knew contained the Power Stone was no surprise to anyone there.
"As far as we know, Thanos came closer than any other being in the history of the universe to uniting all six Stones," Steve stated.
"I don't think that you can say that anymore," Bruce snorted. "We have all six of them right here in this room right now. We hold that 'honour'."
"He's not wrong," Tony pointed out. "We, us, the Avengers, we have here the most powerful items in the galaxy at our fingertips to do with as we want."
"That's exactly what I'm afraid of," Steve stated. "The most powerful items in the galaxy. I don't know about you but just having them all gathered here in the one place scares me. While I trust each and every one of you, I do not believe that having that temptation here is a good thing."
"Not to mention that word'll get out if they're all here in the one place," Gamora stated. "You'll have every bounty hunter and fleet and scumbag in the galaxy headed right here."
"The fact that we just beat Thanos and his entire army should sway a few of them away," Scott added. "Shouldn't it?"
"Or invite challenges," Vision replied. "We have just shown that we are a force to be reckoned with. There are likely to be more and more who want to prove that they are just as big, just as tough, just as dangerous and the quickest and easiest way to do so is to challenge us. This time, we were able to limit the battle to an unpopulated area but only after New York City had suffered the consequences. How many more innocents will pay the price if the Infinity Stones are kept here together?"
"While I agree with everything that you just said, Vision, I think there's something that you overlooked," Bruce began.
"That I have one embedded in my forehead," Vision finished for him, touching the Gem. "I had not forgotten."
"What do you propose?" Steve asked.
"I propose that we separate the Stones at the very least. Hide them away from each other and the rest of the galaxy."
"You said 'at the very least'," Nat pointed out. "You have another idea, don't you?"
"Indeed," he said, inclining his head in acknowledgement. "We destroy them."
"No, Vis!" Wanda exclaimed. "The Mind Stone is a part of you. Destroying it would destroy you."
"Not that we know how to destroy an Infinity Stone anyway," Thor said. "And believe me, I've tried. The Reality Stone endured everything that I could think of in my attempts to destroy it."
"We may not know how to destroy one, although I suspect that if any of us could, it would be you, Wanda. Your chaotic magic might have the ability that normal methods would not," Vision said, "but the question in my case is moot while it remains in my head. However, I do not believe that it needs to remain there."
"It's a part of you, Vision," Tony stated. "When Bruce and I put it in you we knew that it was going to bind itself to you and your matrix."
"But this Stone is not the extent of me," Vision stated, touching it lightly. "I have had these thoughts for some time now. I was created by mixing Jarvis, Ultron, the Stone and even you, Tony and you Bruce. But since that time, I have grown, evolved. The Stone, I believe, has become but a small part of who I am overall. It should be possible to remove it and still remain me."
"You're talking disconnecting trillions of pathways between you and the Stone," Bruce said. "I don't even know if that's possible."
"It might be," Shuri mused. "I would need to get you to my lab and run some tests but there could be a way."
Tony and Bruce shared incredulous looks.
"I'd need the both of you as well," Shuri continued. "But between the three of us – four if you include, Vision – it might be possible."
"My thanks. Even the possibility was more than I was willing to entertain," Vision said.
"Even getting the Mind Stone out of your head, Vision, still leaves us with the problem of what to do with the Stones," Steve stated.
"I don't think we should get rid of all of them," Tony said. "The Doc there has used his in defence of the planet once already."
"The Time Stone has been in the care of the Sorcerer Supreme for untold centuries," Wong stated.
"And Gandalf there should keep the Soul Stone as well," Tony continued.
"Are you sure, Tony?" Harry asked. "You know my feelings on it."
"I trust you, you know that," Tony replied.
Steve raised his eyebrows. That was almost unlike Tony. There was definitely something going on, he could feel it. He knew that Nat felt it too, after all, they'd discussed it just the night before. Whatever it was, he knew that he could trust his friends.
"And the rest of them?" he asked. "The Reality, Power and Space Stones?"
"They can't be destroyed? By anything?" Tony asked.
"Not to my knowledge," Thor replied.
"Then drop them into the middle of three different stars," Tony shrugged. "Nothing would ever be able to retrieve them from there."
There was total silence around the table as everyone contemplated the idea.
"That could work," T'Challa said slowly. "Which stars, though?"
"Asgard," Thor said instantly. "The planet is now no more and it would be fitting that, even in death, she watches over a treasure, just as she always has."
"Xandar," Peter said quietly. "For Dey."
"Titan," Gamora shrugged. "We're going there anyway."
"We can choose a star for the Mind Stone after it has successfully been removed," Vision added.
"That would eliminate half of the Stones," Steve nodded, "and should be enough to stop anyone from gathering them all ever again. And if the need ever arose, we can hide the Time and Soul Stones the same way. Is everyone in agreement?"
Nods all around sealed the deal.
"I've got a couple more orbs back on the Benatar," Peter stated. "I'll grab them and we'll get those Stones off the Gauntlet then we'll take all three and the prison and old Purple's body and get them somewhere safe."
"Just don't let Rocket anywhere near them," Gamora warned.
"Who do you think I am?" Peter retorted. "Rocket's never going to know what's in those orbs at all."
"Thank you, everyone," Steve interjected before the pair could really get up a head of steam. "We have a plan, now let's put it into action."
Tony flew low over what was left of New York City. It was a disaster. There was no other word for it Almost the entire island of Manhattan was nothing but one big broken pile of concrete and bricks and steel. It made complete sense what happened to him now. And that was not something that he wanted to think about.
"Heat signature detected, Boss," Friday said, breaking into his morbid thoughts.
Zeroing in on the site, Iron Man landed in a crouch and scanned the mess. There. Three bodies trapped. Moving the concrete and steel beams or even the car that propped up one end would only bring the rest down, most likely killing whoever was still trapped under there.
But if he …
Activating the laser in his wrist, Iron Man made a pair of cuts straight through one beam. Then, stepping forward, he grabbed hold of the section and yanked it free. A bit of dust fell but otherwise it held. Next, he crouched down and looked into the hole. Three kids, not even teenagers yet by the look of them, blinked back at him.
Quickly, he retracted his face mask and smiled at them.
"Come on, it's safe, it'll hold," he told them.
One by one, the kids – two girls and a boy – crawled through the space. They seemed alright, apart from a couple of small cuts and bruises and the fact that they were covered in dust and dirt.
Three of his other suits, not that he had many left after the battle, landed and he gestured to them.
"How would you three kids like a ride with Iron Man?" he asked.
The boy nodded shyly; the girls simply stared. It took a little coaxing but eventually, he got all three in the arms of a suit and watched them shoot off into the sky toward the nearest medical camp that had been set up.
Three more saved and still so much of the city to search. Time, he knew was rapidly dwindling if they had any chance of finding anyone else alive. Every Avenger, every hero that was available was here, scouring the city, doing what they could to help. As was the military, police, fire brigade, paramedics from not just all around the country but from dozens of other nations as well. Not to mention the witches and wizards and even the Inhumans from Attilan.
The sound of an approaching helicopter had Tony looking up, his face mask snapping back into place and his HUD activating so that he could scan it more clearly. US Army and it looked like some brass wanted to have a talk, the way it was now hovering just above the once-was street, close enough to whip up wind, dust and small loose debris lying about his feet.
"Ross," Tony sighed to himself, seeing the Secretary of Defence step out. "Great."
The man brought nothing but trouble. He'd hunted Bruce for years, been instrumental in the Sokovia Accords and Tony'd even heard that he'd wanted to create a team out of the bad guys that they'd locked away in the Raft. The man was an idiot.
"I've got this area covered," Tony told him. "I've heard that Brooklyn needs some extra help."
"I'm here to talk to you, Stark," Ross replied.
"You didn't have to come all the way out here. A simple phone call would have sufficed," Tony stated.
"You don't answer your calls," Ross retorted.
"Yeah, well, I've been a little busy," Tony said, gesturing to the devastation around him.
"Which is what I want to talk to you about," Ross said. "You and the rest of the Avengers caused all this …"
"No! You stop right there with that BS!" Tony ordered. "We had nothing to do with this. We even had people in this when the city was hit. We lost a lot of good people, good friends, some of us, family! You know better than anyone that we've only ever worked to protect people."
"But they pay the price anyway," Ross retorted. "I know what went down here. Some aliens arrived in Greenwich, you lot forced them to retreat and then they retaliated. It might not be completely your fault, but you were the cause."
It took everything in Tony not to just light up his repulsors and blast the man right where he stood.
"Are you here to try to arrest me?" Tony asked. "And I do say try because, believe me, you won't succeed."
"No, even if I wanted to, there's no charge that I could make stick," Ross spat.
"Then why are you here, Mister Secretary," Tony asked.
"I know that there was a huge battle down in Antarctica. I know that there were aliens involved, a lot of them judging by the size of the spaceship that we detected entering the atmosphere. The fact that you're standing here and the rest of your people are all over what's left of New York City tells me that you won," Ross said. "What I find intriguing is that I can't find any evidence of the battle at all, despite knowing where it happened."
"Your point is …?" Tony asked.
"The alien tech. Where is it?" Ross asked, his eyes boring into Tony but somehow, after experiencing Harry's intensity recently, it just didn't compare.
"No idea," Tony replied truthfully.
"I don't believe you," Ross retorted. "Did you give it to that other alien ship that left Earth a couple of hours ago?"
Tony blinked. Other alien ship? An then it clicked.
"You mean the Benatar?" he laughed. "Use your head, Ross. Compare the size of the two ships, the one that came in and the one that left. Do you really think that the bigger one could have fit inside the smaller one?"
"Easily with Pym's shrinking tech," Ross replied quickly.
Tony blinked at him. He hadn't thought of that and he really should have. He obviously needed to scale back slightly or focus more or something if Ross could think of something that he'd missed.
"Hate to burst your bubble, but nope, the Guardians didn't take it with them," Tony replied, refusing to reveal exactly what they did have on board.
"Guardians? Who are they?"
"The Guardians of the Galaxy. They're allies," Tony waved the question away.
"Now, is there anything else that you wanted? Just this little chat seems pointless and I have much more important things to be doing. Like trying to save lives," Tony stated.
Ross opened his mouth and then closed it in a scowl. Tony, though, decided that he'd had enough of this man.
"Listen, Ross and listen good. The people out there," he said and stabbed a finger out over the devastated city. "Every single one of them working their asses off to try to save lives? They're all heroes. It doesn't matter whether they have powers or special suits or wave a stick to make magic or wear a uniform or is simply an everyday ordinary person trying to do what's right. Every one of them is a hero and they deserve our help and our applause and our thanks. Are you going to be a part of that or are you going to keep going with your crusade against us? Either get on board or get out of our way."
Without waiting for a reply, Tony activated his repulsors and rocketed up and away.
The image of a man that he hadn't really thought about in quite a while popped into his head. He hadn't known him long and even then, it was only because they'd shared a cave together.
"Don't waste your life, Stark," Yinsen had said.
Tony'd like to think that he hadn't, that he'd made something of himself. He'd created the armour, done a whole lot of good, married Pepper and now even had the most beautiful little girl in the entire universe.
His work was far from being done.
There were lives to save, people to protect.
After all, he was Iron Man.
The stalking, angry-looking witch glaring at him as she advanced had Harry in half a mind to apparate away. But, he knew, she'd just find him again. She always could, even all the way back when they were eleven years old, she always always knew where he could be found.
"Hi, Hermione!" he called cheerfully, deciding that taking the initiative might be the best approach. "I didn't know that you were in America. It's so good to see you."
"Don't you give me that, Harry James Potter," she retorted. "You can't fool me. I know that you were in another life and death battle."
Harry blanched. His full name. And she was much closer to the truth than even she probably realised.
"Well, I'm an Avenger, it happens," he shrugged.
Hermione reached out and around him and smacked him on the back of the head before enveloping him in a tight hug.
"You do know that he only lets two people get away with that, don't you?" an amused-sounding Daisy asked.
"Get away with what?" Hermione asked, letting him go.
"The full name, the smack and then the hug," Daisy replied. "I've done it a few times as well since we've been married.
"You don't hit as hard as Hermione does, though," Harry told her, slipping an arm around his wife's waist.
"Were you here when it … happened?" Hermione asked, her eyes drifting over the city.
"No, we were both on the Island," Harry reassured her.
"That's something," she replied. "But you were in that battle in Antarctica, right?"
"We were," Daisy said.
"Every hero we could get was there," Harry added.
"But no witches or wizards, apart from you and Ted," Hermione frowned. "You know that I would have come. Merlin, the old DA would have come, not to mention half the world's aurors."
"Maybe so, but you're all here now and that's just as important. Maybe even more so," Harry replied.
"How is that going?" Daisy asked. "I know that what all the witches and wizards are doing here is amazing. From what I've heard, you've been rescuing a lot of people, saving a lot of lives."
"Actually, it's been going better than expected," Hermione replied. "I think that there's a few hundred witches and wizards here in New York, doing what they can. And I haven't heard one instance of anyone being afraid of us or yelling at us or trying to do something stupid. Every one just seems to accept us. You know that you're probably responsible for that, don't you?"
"Me?" a startled Harry asked. "What'd I do?"
"You've been an Avenger, using magic in front of these people for years now. They've watched you and they've seen what I've always known. You're a good man, Harry Potter. People know that they can trust you to do what's right and that's rubbed off for the rest of us," Hermione said.
Harry wasn't sure what to say to that. Thankfully, Daisy stepped in for him.
"You're not the only one to know that," she said. "Why else do you think I grabbed him when I did? Seriously, though, the secret's out now about the magical community. What's the magical response going to be?"
"I think the ICW is in session now," Hermione said. "My gut says that we'll come out into the open and truly become a part of the world."
"That plan has been in the works for a while now," Harry said. "Ever since the Accords were first floated. This'll simply push the timetable up slightly. I think the world's ready. It'll be the magicals that are the most cautious, with reason, but I suspect for the most part that they'll be pleasantly surprised."
"It's not all going to be smooth sailing," Daisy warned.
"Of course not," Harry nodded. "No matter what abilities people have or don't have, they're all still people, good and bad and a mixture somewhere in between."
"Exactly when did you get so wise?" Hermione laughed.
Harry simply grinned at her.
"And what about you?" Hermione asked. "I heard that it wasn't just here that was attacked. The Compound was destroyed as well?"
"It was," Daisy scowled. "We lost a lot of good friends there, a lot of good S.H.I.E.L.D. agents."
"We still have the Island and Aeros City," Harry added. "The Avengers still have places to live, it'll just be different now. But that won't stop us, we'll still keep doing our jobs, making sure that the world is a safe place for everyone, no matter who they are."
"And you, Harry? The Den, it's … it's gone. I know how much it meant to you. You lost your home," Hermione said.
Harry looked away, out over the ruins of the city towards where he knew that, up until a few days ago, his building, his apartment, his Marauder's Den, his home had been. Except, he suddenly realised, it wasn't. Not anymore.
"I'm going to miss the Den," he admitted. "And maybe someday I'll even rebuild it. But it doesn't matter when or where or even if I do. It's not home anymore; I don't think it has been for a while. I've finally found my home. It's not a place – although the Island does come pretty close – no, home is the family that I've built, the one that I've made. With my friends, with the Avengers and, more than anything, with Daisy. I am home."
And it was true. Harry knew that no matter what the future held, no matter where life took him, what adventures awaited, he had his family, he had his home. He was home and that was enough.
A/N – And that brings us to the end of 'Heroes Assemble!' I would like to thank each and every one of you who came with me on this three-year journey, whether you've been there the entire time or are just brand new. It's been a wild ride and not one that I envisioned when I started it. 'Heroes' definitely grew far larger and more complex than anything I dreamed it could be but it's definitely something that I'm extremely proud of. 600,000 words, 9,500 reviews, 7 million views, 12,500 Favourites and 15,000 Follows. Every single one of those stats blows my mind and I can't thank you all enough.
Will there be more? After all, there's still quite a number of loose ends – Corpsman Rider rescued from Xandar by the Guardians; the strange shielded area in Antarctica; Clint and Matt's injuries; the Mind Stone still in Vision's head; the magical world having been exposed to the rest of the world, just to name a few. And there are quite a number of other scenarios, characters and situations still in my notes that were never explored – Namor and Atlantis; the Thunderbolts; a mercenary in Egypt; a World Eater; S.W.O.R.D.; the Punisher; and the list continues. So, yes, there will be a 'Heroes Assemble! Vol 2', just give me a few months to get it underway.
Until then, I love you all three thousand!