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Title: Thought it felt right (but that right was wrong) (Also on AO3)
Author: enmuse
Fandom: MCU
Characters: Tony Stark, Vision, Steve Rogers, Nick Fury, Clint Barton, Natasha Romanov, Thor, Wanda Maximoff
Rating: Teen
Words: ~2400
SPOILERS for AGE OF ULTRON
Warnings: Character death, angst
Summary: Alternate end to AoU. (Title from Linkin Park's "Waiting for the End")
Notes: This was born out of my reactions post and subsequent idea/scene that wouldn't leave my head. This film gave me so damn many feels.

Fic contains a faint potential of (missed opportunity) Steve/Tony if you're inclined to see it.




Everything hurts. Not an entirely new sensation, but it's a been a while since things got this bad. Tony tries to move a hand, but a shift in his chest and the resulting sharp, stabbing pain end that idea. His gasp of pain is accompanied by a gurgling sound. He chokes on rising panic.

He calls out for JARVIS, realizing as the name leaves his lips that it's wrong. He swallows the sorrow and blood before croaking out a request for F.R.I.D.A.Y.. A hazy series of lights pop up before his eyes, then abruptly die. Static crackles in his ears.

Tony closes his eyes and just tries to breathe. He hears water dripping, but he's not sure if that's reality or a waking nightmare as his own blood works to drown him.

"Are you alright?"

Tony wants to laugh but settles for saying, "What d'you think, J?" His breath still hitches like he's going to chuckle and the pain causes him to release a high-pitched whimper.

"Tony."

He smiles at that and tilts his head in the direction of JARVIS' voice. His suit is damaged, he remembers, rationalizing why the voice isn't echoing from all sides as it usually does.

He must drift off because where there was darkness, there is suddenly light. He feels wind on his face. Helmet's off. Huh. He tries opening his eyes but can't really focus. The colors hovering over him don't make sense.

"Who...?" Tony trails off. For a moment the face above him clarifies, and Tony feels his heart clench like it sometimes did when the palladium was failing.

"I'm sorry, Tony." The voice is so close to the AI who had evolved over the decades and become the one thing — the one person — Tony could rely on.

Tony closes his eyes and lets his head fall to the side. "He's gone, isn't he. I got him killed."

"JARVIS is..." The being, the Vision, trails off on a thoughtful note. "I am not he," Vision eventually finishes.

Tony feels a cool hand on his forehead. Vision pushes back strands of Tony's sweat-drenched hair.

"I'm dying," Tony rasps.

"Yes."

Tony chokes on a laugh. "Don't pull your punches."

"I need not lie to you when you know the truth of it," Vision responds. His voice is not without emotion, but even when pain isn't clouding his thoughts, Tony sucks at identifying feelings.

"Then tell me, is there time enough to get help?" Tony opens his eyes, but he's back to seeing only fuzzy, colored shapes.

"The odds are not in your favor." Despite his reply, Vision shifts position and seems to be readying to carry Tony.

"Wait!" Tony nearly screams as he makes a lunge to capture Vision's wrist. It takes long moments for him to be able to speak again. He hears the gurgle of blood in his words. "What I saw. It was warped but true, wasn't it?" He peers blearily up at the red face. He's dying but somehow the pain of realization is worse. "It wasn't me not doing enough. It's me making bad calls, doing too much — reckless, alone."

He laughs.

Always trying to fix things and doing more damage in the process.

He's drowning.

Cool hands cup his cheeks in a firm grip. "Tony Stark, you did not waste your life."

The words, so similar to those gasped by a dying man (words he's shared only with JARVIS), quiets Tony's hysterical laughter. It's still hard to breathe, but he's no longer drowning in despair. He wonders what expression the red blob is wearing. The hands on his cheeks are firm but gentle.

"Your fear—"

"Protect them?" Tony barely recognizes his own voice. He feels more vulnerable than he has since Obadiah stood over him with the extracted reactor. "They'll protect the world." But then the Avengers still need something or someone to protect them.

"I will be at the Avengers' side," Vision says solemnly.

Tony closes his eyes with a nod. He feels fingertips brush against his face.

There's movement and then pain so brilliant he doesn't expect to emerge from the other side of darkness.

Wind blows in his face and he's vaguely aware that he's flying, yet not on his own. His head is against someone's shoulder. He tries to mumble an apology, he's sure that he's supposed to be the one doing the carrying.

"It is alright, Sir."

Tony feels his lips twitch in attempt of a smile. JARVIS has him — always has.

"'Til the end," he mumbles, knowing that even though the words are garbled to his ears, J will understand.

As the wind seems to fade and the taste of copper fills his mouth, he hears, "I am with you."

~ * ~

"This is one hell of a mess."

Steve briefly glances at Fury before focusing again at the burning remnants of a city below the Helicarrier.

"Planning to help clean up?" Steve asks.

Fury leans a hand on the railing, the only thing separating them from a very long drop. "Arrangements are being made for the civilians as we speak." After a long moment of silence, Fury says, "Not much I can do about your team."

Steve huffs a laugh, brittle and weary. He finally steps away from the railing, turning away from his search of the skies. "Think we're too broken to fix, sir?" he asks with a hard edge in his voice.

Fury arches an eyebrow and crosses his arms. "Might be a better question to ask yourself," he returns. His gaze catches on something behind Steve. "Heads up."

Steve turns and sees Clint and Natasha standing a few meters away, heads bent close together. There's tension in Clint's shoulders and Natasha's body language is unusually beaten. However, they're not who Fury indicated, Steve realizes when he sees War Machine moving his way.

The faceplate lifts and Rhodes' expression is wary. "Captain," he greets. He nods at Fury. His gaze roams between them for a silent moment before he asks, "Status?"

"It'll be a while before we have clear reports," Fury says. "Heard about Banner?"

Steve's head turns at that even as Rhodes nods. A spike of adrenaline forces its way through Steve's exhausted body. "What happened?"

"Off grid," Rhodes replies, expression grim.

Steve resists the urge to close his eyes, it won't ease the ache in his chest.

"I saw Thor keeping an eye on the descent," Rhodes says. "Haven't seen your new guy since he dropped off the girl, though." Steve frowns at that and looks to the sky again, wondering where the strange new being is.

"No word on Stark," Fury says, both a question and statement.

Rhodes shakes his head sharply as Steve's attention returns to him. The man's lips tighten and Steve can see the signs of rising panic. The reaction unfortunately feeds his own sense of growing unease.

"Hill, updates?" Fury has turned away slightly. A beat later, he adds, "Avengers frequency."

Steve sees Clint nd Natasha making their way over.

"We're looking at a half dozen D.O.A., " Hill reports. "Likely to lose fifteen more without full medical facilities within the hour."

"Can we get them somewhere?" Steve asks.

Fury gives a careful shrug. "Debatable. We'll do our best, Cap. If we still had the Quinjet—"

"Eyes on Thor, sir," Hill cuts in.

Natasha nods at the shadow coming in port-side. "Must've damaged his comm."

Gaze focused in the opposite direction, Clint says, "Incoming." He calls it a beat before Hill announces Vision.

There's a heavy weight in Steve's stomach as his gaze locks on the sunlight glinting off of gold and red metal. The Avengers move as one across the deck. Rhodes pulls ahead of the group, War Machine's boot thrusters carrying him to meet where Vision touches down. The gray metal suit goes still as Vision's cloak settles, one edge draping over Iron Man's boot.

Steve reaches them just as Rhodes takes a step back; then another. The Vision meets Steve's gaze with a surprising amount of compassion. He finds no comfort in it as he finally brings himself to look at Tony's face. The team closes in around him.

"Why didn't you call someone in?" Clint demands in a low voice. His fingers twitch as if he'll reach for a weapon.

Steve stares at the blood — wet, still fresh — stained over Tony's pale lips and chin.

Vision stares at Clint for a moment, then silently kneels to lower Tony's body to the deck. Steve doesn't think about it, is simply there to catch and cradle Tony's head as Vision releases his hold.

"His injuries were extensive," Vision states as he stands. Steve can only stare down at the too pale, too lax face in his hand. "He knew he was dying."

There's movement and Steve knows he should interfere as Clint's voice raises, but he can't. The words above him don't actually filter through. He's hearing a band again, the sounds of a long-forgotten dance hall. Peggy starts to say something—

Her words are drowned out by Vision simply stating, "I believe he thought it better this way."

Steve's head snaps up in time to see Clint fisting his hands in Vision's cloak and trying to yank him forward. Thor looms at his side, expression shuttered as he glares at Vision.

"Don't you fucking dare," Clint hisses. He yanks at the cloak but Vision barely sways. "How the hell is any of this better?"

"I have seen your fears," Vision says quietly, tone almost gentle. "He understood his."

"And he, what?" Steve cuts in, the bitterness in his voice catching him off-guard; "Decided the solution was to give up?" He struggles against the anger welling up inside him. The anger's easier than the guilt and despair.

"Perhaps that is your view of it." Vision glances down at Steve with an unreadable expression.

Clint pushes away form Vision with a huff of disgust. He steps closer to Steve, knee brushing Steve's arm.

"He dreamt the end of things." Wanda's voice comes unexpectedly. Steve can feel everyone's attention turning to her as she walks past Fury standing at the edge of their group. She stares down at Tony's body with eyes that look half-dead. "He saw your deaths and knew the truth." Her lips thin and her dark eyes alight with a flare of red. Steve feels the hair on his nape stand on end as red light sparks over her fingertips. "He is Merchant of Death."

"Miss Maximoff, let's take a walk." Fury's hand lands firmly on the girl's shoulder. She doesn't look at the others around her, the Avengers tense and barely holding back their anger at her insult. The red light disappears and Wanda turns away, allowing Fury's hand to remain as he steers her away.

"Fuck." Clint hisses something more under his breath, but Steve doesn't try to catch it.

"Is that what you meant?" Rhodes' voice is low, dangerous, as he speaks up from somewhere behind Steve.

Vision's stare seems to look beyond Tony's bloodied face, and Steve wonders if there is something more than the broken shell of Tony Stark in his hands. Before that thought can go very far, Vision speaks. "It is my impression that it is what he believed."

"Damn it, Stark," Natasha mutters.

"It is the nature of humans to strive for a purpose. It is also in your nature to make mistakes." Vision's stare lifts and Steve guesses he's meeting Rhodes' gaze. "My analysis of Mr. Stark's history suggests that he would accept death if his calculations yielded an unfavorable result of your safety or deaths with his continued existence."

Thor studies Vision with an unreadable expression. "And what do you think?"

Vision glances at Thor, but when he responds, he meets Steve's eyes. "I think he made a mistake in his calculations."

Steve senses someone leaning in over his shoulder and he turns his head slightly. "Told you, no way we all got through this," Tony's voice murmurs in his ear. Steve freezes, heart in his throat as the sound of the band's music swells to life again. Peggy's across the room, head tipped back in laughter. Howard grins into the glass he raises to his lips. Tony slaps Steve's shoulder as he circles around to block Steve's vision of the rest of the room. "What can I say?" Tony shrugs as he sticks his hands in his pockets. He looks odd here, dressed in a period-appropriate suit except for the band tee showing beneath the suit jacket. His head tips to indicate Howard as he gives a self-deprecating smirk. "Gotta follow in ol' Dad's footsteps. Gotta upstage the previous ultimate peace-keeping weapon. Oxymoron, I know, let's not get into that again, Cap."

"Tony..."

Tony frees a hand to pat Steve's cheek. "We can't all fight the good fight with a shield, Capsicle. I may be brilliant at self-delusion but give me enough time and it makes it through even my think skull that what I'm good for is weaponizing. I've seen enough of what that gets us." His gaze is distant as he brushes his hand over his chest. His smile struggles to stay in place and Steve hates how familiar this is — the haunted eyes, the bravado and self-deprecation in that struggling grin. "I really did think it was right. That's the kicker, Spangles, I keep thinking I've got the solution. Thought I had it all figured out, how to fix the system, didn't account for the fact that, hey, there's a faulty element right off the bat." His grin is sharp, painful to look at. Tony spreads his arms out and stares Steve straight in the eye. "Me."

"No, you're not—"

"Steve?"

Steve jerks away from the fingers digging into his shoulders.

"Easy, Steve." Natasha's hands rub gently down Steve's arms.

"It's— I can't..."

Clint crouches next to him, the archer's arms propped on his knees as he stares blankly at the Iron Man suit. Thor comes into view on Tony's other side and Steve watches numbly as Thor leans over and gently crosses Tony's arms over his chest. Natasha's fingers curl around Steve's wrists but she doesn't try to pull him away from Tony's body.

"I am sorry for your loss," Vision says.

"It's gotta be a federal crime, making a national icon cry."

And whose fault is that, Tony?

"Yeah," Steve murmurs. "Yeah... me, too."

~ * ~