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Death takes a Stroll
June: 19th Open
All-All

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#1
Smiling.

The feel of wind on her cheeks.

Sharp almost biting cold against her aspects teeth.

Humanity was a skin she rarely wore, yet here and now it was welcome.

Death walked in sunshine and smiled.

There was no where she needed to be, no soul to gather, no fate to embody, no destiny to facilitate, she was simply what she appeared to be for once; a woman taking a walk, stepping out of a district currently in winter Death let the sunshine of the next melt the snow from her shoulders, unbuttoning the carmel colored cashmere overcoat before putting her hands into her pockets, letting it swing open jauntily.

Deaths outfit matched the New York she had just left, one that could fit any number of decades and still be in style in many worlds, and completely ridiculous in a thousand others. How amusing it was to see mortal’s reactions to simple wardrobe choices completely changing their opinion of a person based on their own cultural expectations.

A bird flew into the window next to her head and Death flinched back; a real bird, one brought from a world shifted away had died in Hub.

“Not your time little one.” a slim finger reached out, the bronze color of her nail blending with the birds feathers. “Not here.” the creature shook itself hoping to its feet.

And here she had thought there was no work for her today.

And yet even Brids exercised Free Will to keep her on her toes.
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#2
Tony was taking a walk. Not something he normally did at home, at least not alone. It had been exhausting enough as an Avenger and a celebrity, with one of the world's most recognizable faces-- not that he minded giving autographs to excitable New Yorkers and even more excitable tourists, but it had always made for a less than relaxing time. And since the civil war... since Cap's death... well, crowds tended to be hit and miss in terms of whether they wanted an autograph or to see him prison. Not to mention being Director of SHIELD made the whole thing a security nightmare, nor did he particularly relish the prospect of being alone with his thoughts as a general rule. It was better to stay busy, and at SHIELD there had been plenty to do.

Not so much here. Being in the Tower felt stifling with another version of himself and another Steve Rogers. He found the other Tony grating (not that he particularly liked the version he saw in the mirror every morning, either), and he couldn't look at Steve--the new Steve--without experiencing a painful tug of loss. Even his "garage" was nothing like the sanctuary it was at home, since the other Tony had apparently set up shop there as well. And as much as he'd rather go flying than walking, he was smart enough to realize that doing so in a world of shifting realities and portals it was probably a bad idea. Too much chance of slipping through some crack and ending up somewhere he wanted to be even less.

So, walking it was.

He'd been walking aimlessly for maybe twenty minutes, his head down, glad that the streets were mostly empty. He was still in the armor--no way was he leaving it lying around for the other Tony to start poking at--but he'd left the faceplate open, and no one had bothered him so far.

He glanced up to see a young woman in a camel-colored coat, an attractive one that that, focused on something in a windowsill. He shifted to the side, fully intending to pass by her, when a flutter of gray under the skin of her face made him stop short. A skull. He'd seen a skull.

Tony took a deep breath. Usually the grotesque visions only came when he was sleeping, through occasionally they slipped through in the waking hours as well. Too much stress and not enough sleep. Hardly a mystery. Still, it was unusual that he saw anything in the face of a stranger, and he slowed as he approached the woman. The skull was still there, under the skin, glimmering gently when he looked at her out of the corner of his eye. Well, that was something.

"Hi," he said, leaning against the wall of the building and crossing his arms, curiosity overwhelming even his desire to be alone. The woman had something in her hand, something that was drawing her attention, and Tony nodded casually toward it. "Mind if I ask-- what've you got there?"
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#3
In Some forms she was aware of everything, each atom as it floated across the universe, in this moment..Death had dampened down her detailed attention to closer to what a the mere human would detect.

“Percilious Robin.” Her hands opened to reveal the iridescent bronze creature, think sparks of illuminessence shifted beneath its flipping feathers as it prepared to take off. “It's home has a methane atmosphere, denser air. Not use to flying her yet.” The bird hopped off her hands flying into the sky with renewed vigor.

Death turned to Tony Stark wearing the face of woman who in many universes like his was named Wanda Maximoff.

(Ooc: I picked the same face for 616 near Wanda :) )
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#4
"Uh... percilious what?" Tony said, his mouth moving though he felt frozen to the spot. "No, hang on, 'robin' was not the part of all that that made no sense."

It was Wanda. He hadn't seen it when she was turned in profile, because between the angle and the skull showing through her skin (harder to see now that he was looking straight at her) he'd been a little distracted. There was no failing to recognize her now, though. Wanda, who he hadn't seen since the destruction of the Avengers Mansion. The destruction of the Avengers.

Seeing Cap had been jarring enough. And yet here was another person he'd been convinced he'd never see in the flesh again. He wondered distantly perhaps Wanda had also died, and maybe he'd been wrong all along about the whole afterlife thing. But then, his being here didn't make a whole lot of sense either if that were the case, and neither did the other Steve's discordant memories. No, that was stupid.

Tony took a step forward, then another, but raised his hands in a gesture of surrender, because who knew how stable this version of Wanda was?

"What are you doing here?" he asked. "Are you-- are you mine? From my world, I mean. What's the last thing you remember?"
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#5
“There are more wonders on this heaven than are framed by your mad flights horatio.” It was not the quote from
His world but one that fit better.

A slow sadly knowing smile touched her lips, “be at ease Tony Stark. I am not the girl you think.” Death rose to her feet, reaching to place her hand on his shoulder. “I am no more the witch than you are Henri Lebeau in another world.”

The incarnation of immorality smiled at him, openly and filled with the knowledge of ages and infinite understanding, Death did not judge, she loved the living equally for their successes and faults.

“Would you like a cup a tea? My shop is quite close and you are weary.” So very weary, she could feel the desire held in abeyance by iron will to come to her embrace.

Death held out her hand for Tony Stark, ever patient for him to join her, never rushed, in what even end came to him she would take his last breath as a lover and until that time she was in no hurry to give him that final peaceful kiss.
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#6
Wanda-- Not Wanda-- was speaking in riddles again. Her hand rested gently on Tony's shoulder, sending an eerie chill through him. He resisted the urge to shudder. The shadow of a skull was still visible behind her face.

"If you're not Wanda, why are you wearing her face?" Tony asked. He'd seen enough shape-shifters and copies and doppelgangers in his life, but none that filled him with such a sense of unease. He believed her, certainly, that she wasn't Wanda, not even the Wanda of other Tony or other Steve's world. But what she was...

Her hand was extended to him now, and he regarded it curiously. Usually when an attractive woman was beckoning him to come with her, "tea in my shop" was a euphemism for, well, other things. Somehow he had the feeling the Not Wanda wasn't after that, though. It occurred to him that, as strange as this universes-melded-together world was, maybe this creepy facsimile of Wanda might have held some of the answers. She was the first person he'd seen so far who seemed fully comfortable here, if nothing else.

He shrugged. Taking her up on her offer, the worst the could happen... well, there were plenty of worsts, but Tony had long since passed the point of being overly concerned with what happened to him. Answers, on the other hand, he was plenty concerned with.

"Sure," he decided, flashing Not Wanda a quick smile. "Tea. Why not."
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#7
Death chuckled, “One could argue she wears mine.” Death slipped easily to her feet, a gentle hand clasped around his, tucked into the crook of her arm. “Today was going to be my day off.” She commented casually, “Ahh free will...a delightful surprise as always.” Death grinned at him, the fingers patting his hand feeling far more thin and skeletal than flesh.

Because of how Hub shifted to accommodate her shop was suddenly only a few doors away the sign reading ‘Grim Realty’ cheerfully proclaiming that she sold and rented properties in the unchanging core of Hub.

“Better tea than something else don't you think Tony?” Death left him at a comfortable overstuffed armchair part of a set crowded around a table covered in knick knacks. In fact the whole shop gave off more of a fussy curio vibe than anything else, an oddity being the stacked bookcases filled with paper scrolls.

“Now-” Death settled across from him, a tea pot that might or might not have been there when they entered in hand. “I could use another face if this one upsets you-” her features shifted into an Asian man, a half sardonic smirk curling at his lips to replace the small softly understanding smile her other form had.

“Tea?” He glanced at the cup infront of Tony rolling his eyes; the white suited aspect held a more sarcastic version of Deaths persona. “Well better than temptation eh? That's someone else's job.” He quipped pouring them both a cup. “So Stark. Dazed and confused? Or just tired?”
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#8
"Grim Realty," Tony muttered under his breath as they passed under the sign. "Cute."

And another sign that this woman, Not Wanda, might have some idea what this place was. He let her lead him to an overly-puffy armchair that under normal circumstances he would have avoided at all costs, and settled (too deeply) into its cushions. It gave him the uncomfortable sense of being trapped.

Not Wanda set about making tea. Tony briefly considered telling her that he much preferred coffee, but it probably wasn't worth it. He was glancing at the knickknacks on the table when Not Wanda said, "I could use another face--" and promptly transformed into a man, who was... Definitely Not Wanda. Tony's breath caught but otherwise he hid his surprise. Really, this was no stranger than an amalgam universe where another Steve Rogers was still alive, though it did raise some new questions.

Definitely Not Wanda kept talking as if this were an everyday occurrence, and handed Tony a cup of tea. Tony took it and immediately set it down on the table amidst all the knickknacks, leaning forward slightly so he didn't feel quite so trapped in the depths of the chair.

"Well better than temptation, eh? That's someone else's job" Definitely Not Wanda said in a devilish tone. "So Stark. Dazed and confused? Or just tired?"

Tony let out a short bark of a laugh at the words, because it was hard to imagine anyone summing up his feelings better at the moment. "Try all three," he said. "What is this place really? Who are you?" He frowned, the rest of Definitely Not Wanda's words sinking in. "And what do you mean, that's someone else's job?"
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#9
The nicnacks spread around shifted as her form did, where with her female aspect they seemed harmless objects, mostly crystal figures and tiny vases, when the male version came forward they shifted with him, more books appeared, weapons dotted the room, the air lost the subtle scent of cardamom replaced with willow from the blooming tree now placed prominently in the back of the store.

“Here? Or out there?” Death smirked around the rim of his cup, “This is just a mild mannered real estate office. I rent out properties to the people that either don't create their own spaces or don't want the reminders of home.” Death smiled at Tony, “Quite a few who come here accidentally stay, life can be a burden and in Hub you have the chance for a fresh start.”

Death shook his head sympathetically at Tony, “the whole of the multiverse at your finger tips, worlds where the technology is so advanced that no one dies before they desire it. Worlds where what they call magic create gleaming cities where angels walk among men. Worlds where time travel has become so standardized that it's a form of tourism.” Death spread his hands leaning back. “Who wouldn't want to stay and explore.” Ok so maybe in this aspect he was just a touch closer to temptation. Death came in many forms and in so very many he played games after all.
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#10
"You rent out properties here. Of course you do," Tony said, only half sarcastically. The bit about a new start, though...

It was tempting. He hated being Director of SHIELD, a job he was neither qualified for nor interested in. Every day was a never-ending grind of problems, big and small, all somehow requiring his direct attention. No one at SHIELD wanted him there, and no one outside of SHIELD did either. And outside of that... well, there wasn't much. Insomnia and loneliness and regret and throwing himself back into the work he hated because if he didn't, he'd fall apart entirely.

Life could be a burden, all right.

The idea of staying and exploring myriad worlds, the "multiverse at his fingertips," with none of the weight of responsibility he carried now... it was more than tempting. It was tantalizing. Pulling at him like that glass of scotch had earlier.

And he knew, in much the same way, that he couldn't possible take Definitely Not Wanda up on the offer. He'd agreed to take over SHIELD because he knew that no one else could be trusted to implement the SHRA, not after everything Hill and the rest of them had pulled during the war. And if he left now, everything he was working so hard to do would crumble. People would suffer for it. It wasn't like he hadn't thought about finding a way out before.

"Uh, no," he answered. "Can't stay. As a matter of fact, I have a strategy meeting in--" he consulted Extremis, or what was left functioning of it at the moment-- "about an hour. And I'm getting the feeling that you can tell me how to get home."
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#11
“Seems like a logical progression of things.” He agreed amicably shrugging at Starks non question. It amused him to ‘keep an eye’ on the inhabitants of the unchanging core of what was known as the Hub.


Death grinned spreading his hands, “Well I can’t really help you there. If you know where you came in from, should be a portal..if there isn’t.” Death shrugged good naturedly, “Than you are probably going to miss that meeting. Good news though.” death took a deep breath of the steam from his cup. “Lots to see and learn!” There was nothing malicious about his sardonic smirk, he was eternal, he would see had seen everything and everyone would forever greet him at least once in their lives. Free will meant he still had the capacity to be surprised but the events were few and far between, he did enjoy them for the most part when it happened though.

Death gestured bringing a chess set into existence, “Would you like to play?” He offered a half smirk curling his lips.
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#12
"Guess I might miss it, then," Tony murmured, trying to ignore the sense of relief that came along with it. Maybe he could find the portal in his office again. But maybe not. How bad would it be, really, to stay here? Maybe it was just ego that made him think he was indispensable. To SHIELD, to Stark Enterprises, to the implementation of the SHRA, to any of it. To instead spend all his time exploring worlds he hadn't believed possible... he frowned slightly. As wonderful as a lifelong vacation through interdimensional space sounded, Tony had never loved discovery just for the sake of discovery. Sharing what he discovered, what he invented--whether with his friends, though his company, or simply by using it for good--was what made it all worthwhile.

The chess set that appeared in front of him, all pieces in place and ready to go, made Tony raise an eyebrow. Partly because it was a show of power he hadn't seen before, and partly because...chess? Really? Not that he didn't enjoy the occasional game, but something about an attractive, mysterious sex-changing stranger with a skull behind their face who spoke in riddles and could manipulate matter and still for some reason chose to surround themselves with grandmother levels of kitsch and armchairs that could swallow you whole, well, it just screamed "let me conjure up a game of chess."

"Sure, why not," Tony said. The white side was facing toward him so he made the first move, pushing a pawn two spaces out. "But if we're going to elevate our relationship to the level of board game buddies, I want a few answers. Who are you, really? What are you? Why the, uh," he gestured vaguely at Definitely Not Wanda's face, "why the switch? Not that I mind, considering..." he broke off, because he wasn't sure how much his companion actually knew about the real Wanda, despite having borrowed her face. He hid his discomfort behind a leer and finished instead, "...considering you're plenty attractive to me either way."
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#13
“You seemed to be distressed by that face. And I am not here to upset you.” There was an implied ‘at this time’ hovering unspoken.

Attractive? Death laughed. A rich chuckle that still seemed oddly hollow as though from the bottom of a well. “You would not be the first to court me. You are beautiful to me as well Tony Stark. You have been since I first met you.”

Death shook his head, a chastising little smirk curling his lips. “You ask me that every time we meet Anthony Edward Stark.” Two Elegant fingers slid his kings pawn into the traditional opposing gambit.

“The first time you greeted me with fear in a cave in Afghanistan.” Death contemplated the board, gazing almost absently down at the carved lifelike pieces. “The last time we met I you greeted me as a lover, I held you in my arms for 37 minutes, holding you away from the pain.” Death smiled almost sadly at Tony. “Who am I Tony Stark?” He turned the question back at the inventor.
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#14
Tony felt his eyebrows going up going up again. He hadn't exactly expected Definitely Not Wanda to respond at all to his impromptu (if not disingenuous) flirting. He'd expected the rest even less.

He studied the board, or seemed to, though his mind was busy working through what his companion had said. The riddle itself wasn't hard to figure out-- he'd almost died in Afghanistan and he'd been terrified. He'd almost, well, not almost, died stopping his armor from squeezing the life out of Steve months earlier and when he'd come to the doctors had told him he'd been out for 37 minutes. No, it was pretty obvious. (Not to mention, Grim Realty? While he might have supposed Death had a sense of humor, he wouldn't have expected it to extend to puns.)

The hard part was believing it. He'd never believed in an afterlife. He'd certainly never believed in a literal grim reaper.

"If you are who you say you are," Tony said carefully, shifting a bishop onto the board, "does that mean I'm dead? Or dying? Is that what this place really is?" He sat back again and folded his arms over his chest, putting more pieces together. "Or how about this. There was never a portal. My heart finally gave out, or Extremis did, and I'm slumped over the desk in my office, hallucinating all this."
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#15
Death loved every soul, no matter how stained. They all came to him, in death all were equal. While his function did include occasionally metting out some punishment, Death did not judge. All were loved and some very few became beloved. Not by all of him, there was too much of him split and spread across eternity for ALL of the incarnation’s heart to belong to anyone creature.

Always the thinker. Deaths expression held more than a hint of pride; Tony Stark answered his riddle with questions, no fear in him. At least none yet. “That is indeed possible. For some this is their afterlife.” He agreed leap frogging a knight out to eventually threaten the white bishop.

“That would be a kindness wouldn't it? To rest, lay down your burdens, take the life offered to learn. And to at last-” Death’s lightly callused hand touched Tony’s “Find him.” Death’s thumb brushed over Tony’s knuckles, “The man you killed your self for...more than once.”
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#16
Tony nodded slightly, finding himself oddly nonplussed at the idea that he was already dead or dying. He didn't feel scared, like he once had. Nor did he feel particularly relieved, as he'd imagined he might. Maybe it was the whole still-feeling-alive part.

“That would be a kindness wouldn't it? To rest, lay down your burdens, take the life offered to learn.”

Tony froze as Death's hand settled over his, his long fingers brushing over Tony's knuckles. The light touch sent something like a current through him. It had been a long time since anyone had touched him like that, let alone another man. He could almost feel the fine hairs on the back of his neck standing up. Who knew--maybe there was a current.

“And to at last--find him. The man you killed yourself for...more than once.”

Tony swallowed. He felt suddenly numb, or perhaps distant, as though the chess board in front of him were a real battlefield he was seeing from a hundred miles away. It was impossible, what Death was saying. Unless it wasn't.

He tugged his hand away and moved another pawn, not quite trusting himself to speak until it was settled back down on the board. "What do you know about that?" he said in a low voice, forcing composure into his voice even as his heart thundered in his chest. "What do you mean--find him?"
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#17
Death watched him through lowered lashes; the thoughts flashing behind brilliant blue no amount of exhaustion could truly dull, eternity had given him the experience, knowledge to read them...some mortals still surprised him, but it was rare. “Some souls cannot feel the true release of my kiss, too much holds them to the living world.” His voice was soft, intimate, as soft as velvet, a harvest nights wind breathed out.

“Until they allow themselves to forget and come new again.” Death allowed him to pull away, curling his fingers to warm on his tea cup. “For I am light as a feather and yet the mountain remains.” Duty vs Death, every soldier, every mother going before her child, a thousand stories told every minute where they begged to be taken from the pain...but duty held them back.

“There are untold universes, but where you are, he is, where he is you are. Some one or both die, some you live happily as comrades, some you become more, some the end comes at each other's hand, and some you hold the other softly old and grey with time well lived.”

Deaths knight captured the white pawn, “but in every world you are connected.” Death opened his palm, the pawn transformed into a monochrome miniature of Steve Rogers; smiling, soft, relaxed.

The pawn was placed on his side, captured; “in yours you have lived beyond him. But there a thousand others where he grieves you instead.”

Death smiled sadly at Tony, “I am not Fate. I do not weave your lives, but perhaps you have come here to complete the set.” The chess board vanished beyond the black knight now sporting Tony’s trademark features...and the white pawn laying on its side.
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#18
"Enough with the riddles," Tony snapped roughly, his heart pounding like it might judder out of his chest. He had pushed the overly cushy chair back and shot to his feet before he could think to stop himself, and he stared down at Death, and the little figurines that had replaced the chess board. There was probably something wrong with him that the thought he couldn't get out of his mind was just how happy the little Steve looked. Contented.

Tony knew there were other universes. Knew there were other Steves, even, had met one of them today. But the rest of Death's speech, what it really meant, made his fists clench with long pent-up anger and frustration. He wanted to hit something, preferably something that would hit back hard enough that he could forget all of this. Because if what Death said were true, that he and Steve were cosmically connected--hard as that was to believe--then Tony had squandered so much more than just Steve's friendship before getting him killed. It meant that things could have gone so many other ways, every single one of them preferable to what actually happened.

Friends or enemies? They'd been both, and he'd already give anything to return to those days, even the worst of them. Tony dead, and Steve grieving? Wasn't like he'd expected to outlive him anyway. Even death at each other's hands-- still better, because at least Tony wouldn't have had to live with the knowledge that he'd killed him.

And the other thing... the fantasy Tony had harbored silently for so many years, knowing it was pointless but unable, unwilling perhaps, to try to quash those feelings... a fantasy he'd never shared with anyone, that he'd planned to take to his own grave... it was too much to believe that it might have come true. That across a multiverse, in countless different forms, it had. ...and some you hold the other softly old and grey with time well lived...

"Enough," he said again, tearing his eyes away from the little figurines to meet Death's gaze again. "Tell me what you're really offering."
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#19
Above where they had been playing chess a glimmer of light expanded showing a version of Tony and Steve were having dinner, a small humble kitchen nook- Tony beardless and younger and looking less like the man in the room and more like the counterpart he'd met here in Hub and Steve somehow older yet more carefree was nudging Tony with a playful grin, making an exaggeratedly disgusted face poking his mashed potatoes while Tony spooned broccoli onto their plates.

“Here you are called Chris and he Robert. But you are the same.”

Another scene a blonde woman rested her head on the Tony whose face he saw in the mirror each morning sans beard, an infant girl nestled between them. Hands intertwined as they brushed feather light touches to her head. “Henri and Merci.”

Iron man and Captain America fought while the world around them burned, a Skrull ship crushing them both before it was clear who would win as the earth exploded moments later.

Steve old and bent, resting his shoulder on Tony’s as the pair watched a new Ironman and Captain America spar. Hands intertwined out of sight. A pair of matching bands marking them.

“I can't offer you anything Anthony.” Death rose to his feet, eyes sad “all I can do is show you truth.” He dropped his hand to the other man's shoulder. “My truth has forever been harsh. I am sorry for that.” His other hand came up to stroke a thumb over Tony’s cheek. “I prefer when I am a mercy.” Death gazed at Tony Stark and asked a question he knew the answer too. “What do you wish I offered you?”
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#20
Tony watched each scene unfolding with the distinct feeling that someone had punched a hole in his gut and was methodically ripping out his intestines. Any of them. Any of them would have been better than how it had ended for him. Was it worth it? Tell me! Well, you're a sore loser, Captain America. And then Steve's cold, still body laid out until his blood spattered shield.

At the last one, he lost the battle he'd been fighting since he'd gotten to this place, and his eyes filled with tears he couldn't control. He wished for his helmet because he didn't want Death in all his dapper composure to see this, but they were running down his face and he couldn't stop them. As the old Tony's fingers entwined with his Steve's in the hovering image, Tony clenched his own fist until his knuckles went white. He barely reacted at all as Death's slender hand settled onto his shoulder.

"What do I want?" Tony said in a low, shuttered voice. "I want you to bring him back. Take me if you have to, just bring him back."
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