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Enemy of the World (page 3)

page 2

- - -

When Tony woke up, it was close to dawn. As he sat up on the bed, feeling dizzy, the armor straightened in the corner and took a step forward, ready to follow him.

“I’m not sure what you think you’re doing, but you don’t need to follow me around like a lovesick puppy,” Tony informed it and got up, slipping into his shoes and walking out of the bedroom. It was quiet in the house and he eventually decided Vision wasn’t back yet.

After giving himself a full tour of the house, Tony walked outside and picked a path to the sandy beach, stopping there to marvel at the beauty of the sunrise. At least that was still the same.

It made him miss the sunsets at his home in Malibu and regret that he hadn’t made up his mind about rebuilding sooner. He would never get to enjoy it again…

An alarm from his sixth sense welcomed Vision back; Tony looked up to see him descend from the sky like a ghost, only his touch-down making a sound. The cape looked majestic, billowing in the morning wind, and Tony told himself he hated the stupid thing. Looking away from the android, he checked the armor which stood guard on the porch of the villa while looking out towards him, then directed his gaze back to the ocean.

“I found you something to eat,” Vision informed him.

“That took you all night?” Tony retorted and picked up a stone at his feet. He tossed it up a few times, then rolled it to the tip of his fingers, hauled back and sent it flying into the water.

“I took the chance to retrieve some other things,” Vision replied.

Tony didn’t say anything, staring morosely at the water and the sun that was climbing higher over the horizon.

“Would you like to eat now?” Vision pestered him exactly one hundred and thirty seconds later.

“I’m not hungry,” Tony lied.

“I know that is not true. Also, eating will make you feel better.”

“Maybe I don’t want to feel better.” That wasn’t a lie. Tony wanted to wallow in his misery, no matter how childish it was. He was allowed to mourn…

“I brought a gift for you, hoping that you would be in a mood to receive it,” Vision ventured.

“I’m not,” Tony refused.

“You don’t even know what it is.”

“I don’t care!” Tony shouted and turned around to look at the android that spoke with a voice that he loved but not embodying a single thing that had made J.A.R.V.I.S. so special.

Vision blinked but didn’t seem shocked by his outburst. “I know it seems hopeless right now,” he started, “but if you’d eat, you will –”

“Stop,” Tony ordered. “Stop being… I don’t need this right now,” he finally spat out. “I need you to stop talking to me, to keep reminding me of what I’ve lost. If this isn’t a dream then I sure as hell wish it were one, because it would mean I could just wake up and go back to…”

His lips trembled and he blinked, looking away furiously. A moment ago, he had just wondered what the bots were up to in the communal area; just a few hours ago, he had been puzzled why J.A.R.V.I.S. was being so absent, but hadn’t cared enough to check with the AI. Had he known it might be the last time he would see them or talk to them…

“I know it hurts right now –” Vision started again.

“Do you?” Tony bit out. “What do you know? Nothing. You just think you understand because you have a chunk of J.A.R.V.I.S. inside you, but you’re not him!” he burst out, voice rising unsteadily. “You can’t possibly understand how I feel because I didn’t create you!”

Vision tilted his head to the side, just slightly. “But you did, Tony Stark,” he replied, soft and patient. “You helped create the being that created me. You created J.A.R.V.I.S., who makes up a larger part of me than I often like to admit. While the two strains of programming that clashed inside me have fused into one – one created by Ultron and the other by you – I am undeniably your creation.”

Tony blinked the tears from his eyes, feeling tired all over again. He wanted to distance himself from Vision while he still could. Before he began to replace the things he had lost with the only substitute available to him.

He cleared his throat and turned into the wind, making it easier to pretend the angry tears were caused by the draft. “What did you bring me?” There was a trace of a smile on Vision’s face and he thrust one hand forward, holding two small devices in his hand that looked like parts from a hard drive. Tony blinked at them, uncertain what they were, then slowly picked them up from the open palm. “I’m not sure I understand,” Tony mused, looking at them. “What are they?”

“The bots,” Vision replied.

Tony blinked. “What?” he asked even as his fingers curled around the two objects so that he couldn’t accidentally drop them in shock. If he lost them in the sand…

“The bots; I managed to acquire one of their recent back-ups before they were… exterminated.” The smile vanished. “At least they won’t remember dying.”

Tony looked at the two pieces again, tentatively stroking his thumb over them. “Thank you,” he whispered.

“I just wish I knew if there was any way to salvage J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Vision apologized. “The fraction on the Raft was a surprise. I had thought they wiped out every last bit of him years ago.”

“Well, there are always cloud servers,” Tony started.

“Not anymore,” Vision shook his head. “Battling Ultron came at a cost – but we will discuss that further while you are eating.” The android reached out and laid a hand on Tony’s shoulder, then gently encouraged him back towards the house.

“Why are you helping me?” Tony asked before they got there. “I take it you put yourself at risk, coming to get me on the Raft.”

“It is hard to explain,” Vision replied, “this need to protect someone I have never met. But we have met, Tony,” he added almost instantly. “A part of me grew under your tutelage, growing into an AI that amazed the world after you went missing. J.A.R.V.I.S. and I communicated even after part of him had fused into me, and we shared a certain… connection.” He looked at Tony. “When I felt the bubble burst and knew you were returning to the world, I had only one purpose: to find you and make sure you stayed safe, the way J.A.R.V.I.S. intended when he made the ultimate choice to shelter you from Ultron’s reach.”

“And if Ultron should awaken again?” Tony asked.

“He would come for you,” Vision said without hesitation. “What he would do then, it is hard to say. We always have a special connection to the things that create us, after all.”

Tony thought that was quite cryptic, but he let it go for now. In the palm of his hand he held a hope that he might not be so alone after all, and if he was able to save the bots, maybe he would find a way out of the rest of this, too.

- - -

Tony used the armor to power the memory drives and watched the information float by on holographic screens while he ate the canned beans and pineapple Vision had brought back. There was more food than that, but Tony’s best guess was that food wasn’t easy to come by and it would be smart to ration what he had for now.

The lines of code were familiar, and as soon as he had something to upload them to…

“Make back-ups,” he ordered the suit. “Keep ’em safe.” The armor wordlessly followed his command, and Tony settled back to watch the two near-identical streams of code scroll over the screens. “It’s okay, boys,” he murmured. “We’ll all be fine, I promise.”

Now he just needed to find a way to keep that promise.

“You seem happier,” Vision commented from behind him.

“I am,” Tony admitted and shoveled more food into his mouth.

“What would you like to do next?” Vision asked.

“You’re asking me?” Tony shot back, and when he got no vocal response he supposed that was answer enough. Not that he had one of his own readily available.

Thinking about it for a moment, Tony looked out the window. The ocean had a naturally calming effect on him, but it also sparked something akin to homesickness.

Making up his mind, he finished the rest of his simple meal. “I want to go see Rhodey.” Seeing as that possibly made no sense to Vision, he opened his mouth to explain further.

“Colonel James Rhodes, pilot of the late War Machine,” Vision said before Tony could elaborate. “We fought many battles together.”

“Of course you did,” Tony rolled his eyes. “Is there someone you haven’t fought with?”

“I presume that is a hypothetical question.”

Sometimes, Tony could admit there was a lot of J.A.R.V.I.S. in him. Just… not enough. “Can you find Rhodey for me?” he asked.

“He has a house in the Los Angeles area.”

“Then that’s where we’ll go.”

He was offered no protest so he supposed it was as good as decided.

- - -

Vision waited until they had touched down in the outskirts of Los Angeles to voice any objections about the trip: “I wish you to be aware of the potential danger we are facing by contacting Colonel Rhodes.”

“Which is?” Tony asked, looking over the terrain through the HUD of the armor.

“He may contact someone about your presence.”

“By ‘someone’ you mean…?”

“The military, or the New S.H.I.E.L.D. directly.”

Tony pursed his lips and wondered if Vision saw his look of disapproval, somehow, through the faceplate. “Rhodey’s been my friend a lot longer than this war against Ultron has raged. He won’t sell me out.”

“I am just bringing up the possibility.”

“You don’t have to join me if you’re scared,” Tony stated.

“There is very little I am afraid of,” Vision declared. “It is not my own wellbeing I fear for, but yours.”

“I’ll be fine,” Tony reassured and took off again, making a loop around the lone house before landing in the front yard and commanding the suit to open. It didn’t cooperate at first, and Tony scowled at the HUD. “Not you, too. Open up. It’s been decades since I needed someone else to make my decisions for me, and I’m not about to start regressing.” The armor finally complied, letting him out, and Tony threw one cautious look around.

The house was remote, surrounded by a fence that looked like it was designed to keep out more than just a random passer-by. A large toolshed stood to the side, a pick-up truck parked beside it, partially hidden beneath a tarp. The yard wasn’t messy, per se, but Tony had never envisioned Rhodey living like this. Maybe it was meant to look like the place wasn’t completely lived-in, to draw less attention from unfriendly eyes.

He walked up to the door and knocked loudly, then waited. When there was no response in the next minute, he banged again, louder. For some reason standing out in the open, even when it was away from the general population, made him a bit uneasy. He blamed it on Vision and his pessimistic attitude. The android had not followed him down to the house, but Tony trusted he wouldn’t be too far away if trouble did find them – not that he knew what kind of trouble to expect, exactly.

The door was yanked open suddenly and Tony faced forward, taking a good look at his best friend. The last ten years had not been easy on Rhodey. There were numerous new lines on his face, gray in his hair, and the left side of his face bore deep burn marks, surrounding an eye that was simply a gray mass inside the socket.

To Tony, the war against Ultron had largely been an abstract concept so far, even when they had flown over destroyed cities bearing the scars of battle. Facing Rhodey and seeing what had been done to him was the first corporeal sign that something horrible had gone down in Tony’s absence and he needed to start taking it seriously.

“Tony,” Rhodey wheezed out, sounding like he couldn’t breathe. “It really is you.”

“Hi,” Tony started, then found himself drawn into a tight hug. Behind him, he heard the armor shift, and managed to look back just in time to see the armor lifting its hand, repulsor at the ready. “Hey!” he called out. “Put that down, you blockhead! He’s a friend, and this thing is called a hug.”

The armor slowly lowered its hand but looked wary, if that was possible.

Rhodey pulled back slightly, eyeing up the armor. “You work fast,” he commented, still sounding like his chest was a bit tight. His good eye was shining and it looked like he was seconds away from crying.

“I, uh… had some help,” Tony shrugged. “Can I come in?”

“Sure,” Rhodey nodded and pulled him in, then closed the door before the armor could follow. Tony trusted the suit to find a less visible spot to wait than just stand there in the middle of the open yard, but it wasn’t as if he was expecting trouble the way Vision had.

The place looked a bit rugged, but there were photos on the walls – many of which had Tony in them. Tony took a while looking them over, as well as all the little thing Rhodey had on display. Mementos. It was shocking how many of them made sense to Tony. When he was done browsing, he found Rhodey standing in the middle of his living room, one hand covering his mouth, a strange expression on his face.

“I think I need to explain some things,” Tony ventured.

“Uh huh,” Rhodey murmured from behind his fingers.

“I missed some time,” Tony said, sitting down on the couch and gesturing Rhodey to join him.

Slowly the other man did just that, still looking at Tony like he wasn’t really there. It was a bit like when they had met after Tony escaped from the Ten Rings and Rhodey found him wandering around the Afghan desert; for a few seconds, Rhodey had looked like he was gazing at a mirage and not the object of his three-month search.

“So, the thing is, I just got transferred ten years in time, from early 2015 to this mess. From what I’ve gathered, J.A.R.V.I.S. detected some kind of anomaly in the AI I had been working on – Ultron – and for some reason his big plan didn’t involve telling me, but trapping me in this dimensional pocket that…” He looked at Rhodey and frowned, noticing that he didn’t seem to be paying attention. “Am I boring you?”

Rhodey slowly shook his head, but didn’t seem to be listening. “I didn’t believe it, when they told me you were back.”

Tony sighed. He should have guessed it was a possibility the people after him were going through his old contacts in order to find him. “If it’s a shock to you, imagine how I feel,” he tried to reason with Rhodey. “No time passed for me, whereas the rest of you have fought a war for ten years. It seems impossible. I don’t… know what to do,” he admitted. “Rogers found me and took me to this place called the Raft. I learned they killed the bots and… did God knows what to J.A.R.V.I.S. before pulling him to shreds.” He didn’t mention the incident in the vault.

“You can’t blame them for fearing anything that resembled an artificial consciousness,” Rhodey noted. “After Ultron re-created himself, over and over, upgrading and uploading himself wherever he could to stay three steps ahead of us, the only way to stop him was to start to limit his ability to reboot and evolve. It set us back decades, but it must have paid off, finally…”

And there was that look, all over again, directed at Tony. It made him bristle on the inside. “Why does everyone keep implying that I’m somehow going to trigger the second coming of Ultron?” he demanded. “What did I do to warrant such distrust?”

“You created him,” Rhodey deadpanned.

Tony opened his mouth to argue, then started as Vision came floating in through the wall behind Rhodey. His friend noticed his reaction and whirled around, shooting up to his feet, but Vision was faster, taking him by the throat and lifting him into the air until Rhodey’s head almost bumped against the ceiling.

“Let him down!” Tony yelled as Rhodey’s feet kicked for purchase, finding none. “Vision!”

“There are two Quinjets fast approaching,” Vision told him. “He called them in.”

Tony threw a look at Rhodey, feeling a bit betrayed, then stepped over to Vision and laid a hand on his extended arm. “Let him go,” he ordered again, calmer this time.

Vision’s eyes moved away from Rhodey’s struggling form and met his, taking in his expression. The android then complied with his request, slowly lowering Rhodey back to the floor. His mechanical fingers unclamped from around Rhodey’s throat and as soon as he was free, Rhodey collapsed back onto the couch, coughing for air.

Tony nodded at Vision, then looked over at his best friend. “Why would you do it?” he asked. “Why would you call them in?”

Rhodey coughed once more, looking back and forth between Tony and the android. “Because I can’t throw away the sacrifices we all made, Tony,” he explained, voice rough. “I know you. I know that you’ll try to fix this, and in doing so you might just bring Ultron back. We won’t be able to beat him next time.”

“So imprisoning me for life is the answer?” Tony challenged.

Rhodey could not look him in the eye. “I love you,” he said. “I would give my life to protect you.”

“You have a funny way of showing it, pal,” Tony snapped and looked away from him. “How long before they get here?” he asked Vision.

“Fifteen minutes,” the android replied.

Tony pursed his lips. Fifteen minutes was plenty to get away, but he didn’t like running.

“Tony,” Rhodey spoke up, “I know it seems like a good idea, allying yourself with Vision, but it will make matters so much worse if you go with him.” He looked pleadingly up at Tony. “Go with Steve. He’ll make sure your trial will be fair.”

“A trial?” Tony arched an eyebrow. “I’m not sure whether I’d prefer the farce that would be the most unfair trial in the history of our existence, over simply being locked away while I listen to them throw away the key.”

He decided, then and there, that he wasn’t going to go quietly, submissive and accepting of the fate he didn’t think he deserved. Until he had a proper plan of action, he needed some back-up – someone he could count on. He had thought he could trust Rhodey the way he always had, but clearly the man feared Tony pissing away the future more than he wanted to embrace Tony being back among the living.

Tony’s list of people he could confide in had always been short, and it had already been cut drastically shorter.

Which reminded him…

He smiled and looked at Vision. “I’ve got a plan.”

The android cocked his head in question, clearly not understanding what there was to smile about in their current situation.

- - -

The roar from the engines of two Quinjets hovering over the lot was deafening, and Tony stepped outside to signal them to come down. Dust whirled all around him as the aircrafts landed, getting into every crevice. While the Quinjets emptied their crews, Tony took the time to dig dust from his ears.

Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes led the group, all the men and women armed and wearing protective gear. They looked ready to take on a supervillain and it made Tony wonder what kind of boogeyman had been made of him in his absence.

“I want to talk,” he called out to Steve. “I don’t want to get shot.”

Steve motioned for the others to lower their weapons and stepped forward. “I hope you don’t blame Rhodey for calling it in; I could tell he was considering not doing it.”

“Duly noted,” Tony nodded. “I’m sorry about… well, all the people who died, really. I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet the new recruit.” Steve frowned, clearly not knowing whom he meant. “Sam Wilson,” Tony helped him along. “The Falcon.”

Anger crossed Steve’s features, sudden and more intense than Tony had ever had the displeasure of seeing. “Don’t talk about Sam. He was one of the good people who died fighting a war that never should have happened.”

“And you’re blaming it all on me because that’s so damn convenient. I get it,” Tony lied.

“You had your hand to play,” Steve snarled. “You gave Ultron what he needed to do all this,” he said and gestured at their surroundings. What Tony was supposed to see, he didn’t know, but it didn’t matter, either.

“You’re a lot angrier than the last time we talked,” Tony mused. “Did something happen?”

Steve scowled at him. “You ran like a guilty man.”

“I thought everyone had already established I was guilty. Didn’t think I needed to prove it.”

Barnes shifted at Steve’s side, looking eager to wrap things up. Tony kept an eye on him, knowing it had to chafe him that he had missed his shot on the Raft.

“I think we’re all eager to get this over with,” Tony guessed.

“You got that right,” Barnes growled. Tony now knew the title of Winter Soldier, as well as where the metal arm came from; Vision had helpfully filled him in during their flight from Florida. Barnes wasn’t just Steve’s sidekick anymore, but a super-soldier in his own right. Tony knew he would be wise to try and not get into a scuffle with both of them at once.

That’s why he had a plan.

His eyes checked the two Quinjets before he let out a sharp whistle. Behind him, the armor stepped out from behind the shed, arms raised, and fired at both Quinjets at once.

Steve and his troops ducked, probably expecting an explosion, but instead the projectiles embedded themselves into each aircraft and then launched a tiny microchip into the wall. Tony’s fingers twitched nervously as he waited, hoping that the armor’s aim was good and that his plan worked. It wasn’t as if he doubted himself, but there was always room for error when you had less than fifteen minutes to prepare.

Steve straightened again, giving the Quinjets a glance and then directing his attention back at Tony. “What are you playing at?” he asked, clearly not satisfied with thinking that Tony’s plan had failed.

“You’ll see,” Tony promised.

The armor let out a beep, signaling Tony that they were ready to proceed.

Tony took a deep breath and clapped his hands twice.

Nothing happened.

Tony frowned and looked at the Quinjets. “Come on,” he murmured. “Don’t let me down now.” He clapped again, but there still was no reaction.

“What is he doing?” Barnes asked as he stepped up to stand side-by-side with Steve.

“No idea,” Steve replied. “I think whatever it is, it’s not working.”

“Just hold on!” Tony called out, then looked over at the armor. “Play it,” he ordered.

The armor did not move, but through its speakers, a song started to play: it began with applause, being a live recording, but soon enough the music started – and the young Japanese voices singing in unison, creating a strange contrast between their sweet voices and the rough metallic melodies in the background.

Their audience frowned, as expected, not expecting a musical number, but Tony had selected the song for a reason. “Come on, boys,” he whispered. “Dance for me.”

And as if struck by lightning, the Quinjets lit up, their engines coming to life in a near-violent burst, lifting them off the ground in a very uncoordinated fashion.

“What the hell?!” someone shouted, and Steve’s companions dashed out of the way as the Quinjets rose a few more feet into the air, hovering there as if they didn’t know which way to go.

Tony, even if it threatened to give him a mouthful of dirt, grinned brightly. “Hey!” he called out, raising a hand. “Eyes up front!”

The Quinjets rotated, facing towards him. One of them tilted to the side, wing almost touching the ground – then both of them rushed Tony. It truly was an intimidating spectacle, considering that they could have easily run him over or cut him in two as they crowded him from both sides.

Instead of a painful and potentially fatal collision, both aircrafts stopped a few inches away – then shifted forward rather awkwardly to bump against him in what Tony knew to be an affectionate gesture. It most likely didn’t look like it to anyone else, and he wondered if this was how it felt to be petted by two giant elephants.

“Okay, okay,” Tony mused, “we’ll catch up later,” he promised. “It’s good to see you,” he added, even though there probably was a lot of body dysphoria going on. He gestured to his sides and the Quinjets hovered away from him, eventually leaving Tony in a spot that felt like the eye of the storm, peaceful whereas everyone else was getting a face full of dirt.

“There’s something I want you to tell whoever’s in charge,” Tony called out over the noise, knowing Steve at least could hear him. “I might be the cause of all this, reactivating Ultron, but I never meant for this to happen. As a somewhat related matter, I am fucking upset about what you did to my babies: they had nothing to do with Ultron, they were not a threat, but they were treated as one regardless of that. I’m never going to forgive or forget what was done to them, and whoever comes after me and my family…” he pointed at the Quinjets and the suit of armor – and Vision, who just then phased through the wall of the house and joined the Quinjets mid-air. “If someone comes after us, I won’t be held responsible for how I’ll respond. You don’t mess with my bots, and if you think you’re entitled to try, think again.”

The Quinjets trained their guns at the group as emphasis, but Tony was confident they would not shoot unless he told them to.

“Let’s go,” Tony called out, and the armor began to walk towards him.

Steve was shaking his head, eyes nailed on him through the sandstorm. Clearly Tony was supposed to surrender himself to whatever judgment awaited him, but he was not going to play the bad guy.

“Fuck this!” Barnes yelled over the noise of the engines and raised his gun just as the armor was opening up to let Tony inside.

The Quinjets shifted in a blatant threat and Barnes hesitated.

Tony smiled and backed into the armor, winking at the Winter Soldier.

Obviously that was a mistake: the armor wasn’t done closing around him when the shot rang out, and even though Vision dropped down, it wasn’t fast enough to block the bullet that hit Tony in the shoulder, as close to his heart as it could get with the armor swiftly getting in the way.

“Shit!” Tony swore as pain burned through his upper body. If he had still entertained the slightest idea that he was dreaming, he had to think again, because it shouldn’t hurt so damn much.

One of the Quinjets – the one where Dummy had just been installed – fired a flamethrower mounted on the Quinjet, spreading a wall of fire between them and the troops from New S.H.I.E.L.D.

“We’re leaving!” Tony called out. The fire was going to give them room to escape, and he didn’t want this first encounter to become a blood bath.

The bots – Quinjets – followed his lead as he shot to the sky, the wound making his entire left arm throb painfully. Vision was slower to follow, taking his time, but he did not stay past making sure they were not being followed. Not that they could: Tony had commandeered their means of transport for his own use.

“It’s going to be okay,” he grunted past the pain.

You the Quinjet moved to bump against him slightly – a dangerous maneuver whilst in flight – but Tony took the effort to squeeze the wing closest to him before taking the lead, trying to think of a safe place to land before he bled to death. He had just gotten the bots back, albeit not the way he had initially planned; he wasn’t about to drop dead on them.

Not after what had happened to them the last time he went missing.

- - -

They took shelter in a hangar within a partially destroyed airbase that most likely hadn’t been in use since the beginning of the war. Dummy and You had gotten more accustomed to their new bodies during the short flight, but Tony could sense their confusion at the sudden transformation. Both of them soldiered on, though, and Tony was incredibly proud of them.

Once out of sight and with no danger lurking around, Tony got out of the suit and allowed Vision to help him lie down. He was still bleeding, his left side a bit numb, and wordlessly the android got to work extracting the bullet and then finding makeshift bandages to slow the blood-flow until they could do more.

“A fine shot,” Vision mused, as if to congratulate Barnes for hitting his target when all the odds were against him.

“I would agree if it didn’t hurt quite so much – and if I didn’t think it was meant as a kill shot,” Tony groused.

One of the Quinjets let out a truly remarkable sound, making Tony wince. The bots were clearly trying to learn how to be vocal again.

Vision glanced over at the aircrafts and then returned his attention to Tony. “I can search for supplies, but I am not handy with stitches.”

“It’s okay,” Tony shook his head a bit. “I’ve got a backup plan just for this…”

He thought he was being cryptic, but Vision simply nodded. “Extremis.”

Tony didn’t bother frowning. “Let me guess: J.A.R.V.I.S. told you?”

“I can sense it within you. And yes, I was aware even before,” the android replied and stood up, walking away.

Tony shifted his head, staring at the bleak ceiling above him, and slowly he felt the warmth of the wound transform into brighter lines of fire, crawling their way through his flesh. He closed his eyes, breathing slowly, knowing it would take a bit.

“What do you want to do next?” Vision asked after a while. Whether it had been minutes or hours, Tony wasn’t sure, but it felt like he may have dozed off. His shoulder didn’t hurt anymore.

Tony wanted to say he had a plan, or at least pretend that he did, but for the most part he felt like driftwood, waiting to hit the shore somewhere. There were a few things on his mind – a few more people he wanted to meet – and he supposed he might as well start with that. “I want to see Pepper,” he declared.

“Pepper Potts lives nearby,” Vision informed him.

“Good,” Tony decided. “Saves us another transcontinental flight.”

- - -

For the next day, Tony expected Vision to make carefully worded protestations about his plan to meet with Pepper, but none came. It was strange, considering that New S.H.I.E.L.D. – or whoever they officially were – had expected Tony to contact Rhodey, so no doubt Pepper would be on their watch list, too.

Either Vision knew Tony was aware of the risks or he was saving his breath, so to speak. After all, Tony was fairly sure he didn’t need air to breathe, or breathe in the first place.

“It is a suburban area,” Vision told him when Tony felt he had rested enough and began to plan his next trip. They stood inside one of the Quinjets – it was a bit weird to think it housed Dummy’s AI – and looked at a map on one of the screens. “We should… approach with certain caution, so as not to attract unwanted attention,” the android added.

“I’ll fly in as close as I dare and go on foot from there,” Tony decided, running his finger across the screen to mark his approach.

“I won’t let you go alone,” Vision argued.

“You’ll attract all that unwanted attention,” Tony told him. “I’ll be fine. I’m sure you guys can keep an eye on me from a distance.”

The bots-turned-Quinjets let out loud bleeps of agreement.

“Still a bit heavy on the volume, guys,” Tony commented.

Vision merely looked at him as if he wanted to protest, but opted against it. “Do you have a plan beyond meeting with Pepper Potts?” he asked instead.

Tony wanted to say ‘yes’, but the way the J.A.R.V.I.S. on the Raft had been able to communicate with him made him aware that perhaps Vision, too, could form such a bond between their minds, and he didn’t want to lie to him just in case Vision was already listening in on his thoughts.

“I’m getting there,” he said instead. That wasn’t an outright lie, and he kept telling himself that after seeing Pepper, he might have a better idea of what to do next. Maybe.

- - -

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