Billy landed in a throne room.
He cast around a bleary glance, disoriented and dizzy, and managed with some effort not to puke. There were people kowtowing before a dais, dressed in clothes that looked like they came from Flash Gordon. And before them, seated on a hovering golden throne, was Kang. He looked regal, imperious.
"Um. Hey," said Billy, swaying slightly. "I need to talk to you. It's an end-of-reality kind of deal."
Kang gave him a look that could only be described as pissy, but still dismissed all of his underlings with his typical haughty flare.
When they were alone, he boomed: "What do you want of Kang, Avenger?"
Billy's stomach clenched; his eyes burned. It was probably a mistake to come here. "For fuck's sake, Nate. Can you drop the self-important dictator act and try to be a person for a minute? I promise I won't stay long."
Kang stood, crossed his arms over his armored chest. "You aren't here to fight. Why did you come?"
"Teddy's dead," he said, dizzy with the thought. "And I'm trying really hard not to remake reality to undo it. I need you to, I dunno - talk me down? Remind me of all the reasons why it's stupid and selfish and how it isn't what Teddy would've wanted?" He licked his lips. "I mean, you must've stopped trying to save Cassie at some point. And decided to go along with the whole Kang thing. So, you're an example to follow."
He knew that this Kang remembered being Iron Lad. It was all built into the spell that had brought Billy there. And Kang, to his credit, didn't bother to pretend otherwise. "I could just kill you," Kang pointed out.
"I already thought of that," said Billy. "But I don't think it'll work. I'd fight you unconsciously, and that just might end up triggering the reality warping that I'm trying to avoid."
Kang descended from the dais, coming to a stop a few feet from Billy. "Becoming Kang wasn't the burden I thought it would be," he said. "It was foolish of me to fight so hard against my nature."
Billy frowned. "So...I should just go ahead and bend reality to my whims? Is that what you're saying?"
The mask and helmet covering Kang melted away, revealing Nate's all-too-familiar face. Older, but not nearly as old as Billy'd expected. Clean-shaven, handsome, his hazel eyes guarded - but not cold. "No, Billy. That's not what I'm saying."
"Then I'm at a loss," Billy said, swaying. "Shit. I think I need to sit down."
He lost his footing, somehow, just as the words left his mouth. But he was caught in strong arms, held against a warm chest. It was so strange, how human Nate felt in spite of the armor. 30th century tech was really something else.
"Thanks," he murmured. "Fainting in front of Kang the Conqueror would be hard to live down."
"But being caught mid-faint by Kang the Conqueror isn't a problem?"
He didn't answer, sliding his arms around the other man and clinging onto him for dear life. And Nate, miracle of miracles, hugged him back, solid and reassuring. "...I'm not making you do this, right?" he asked, remembering Loki's poisonous words from what seemed like a lifetime ago.
"Even your formidable powers are not enough to compel Kang," said Nate.
"Cool," said Billy, scrunching his eyes shut. "Just checking. I wonder, sometimes. I don't know how you can handle all these people bowing and scraping just because they're afraid of you."
"None of them matter," said Nate, as his hold grew tighter.
Billy sobbed out a laugh. "If they don't matter, then what can you possibly get out of any of this?"
Nate took a moment to respond. Billy could feel his heartbeat. "It's difficult to explain," he admitted. "But let's just say that we'd all be doomed If you ever came to understand the appeal."
"I know how dangerous I am," he said. "That's why I'm here. Just...tell me what to do. Please."
"I'm going to help you," said Nate, gently. "We'll save Teddy together."
Billy pulled back, staring into Nate's eyes. "But won't that screw up the timeline?"
"Without a doubt." Nate's eyes softened, fond and sad. It was so weird to think that he'd been subjugating people just minutes ago. "But whatever's left of reality when you're done with it is sure to be even messier."
Billy tasted salt. "I'm such a hypocrite, Nate. After what happened with Cassie, I don't-" He buried his face into the other man's chest again, hiding his tears. "Maybe- it might be better if you did just kill me. Do you have a sedative that I can take?"
"I think you'll be more dangerous if you're sedated. Less mental fortitude." Nate sighed, a little shakily. "I was bluffing, anyway. I...don't want you to die."
"It wasn't so long ago that you almost erased me from existence," Billy pointed out. "I mean - you made it that my mother was never born."
"That hasn't happened for me yet." He definitely didn't sound thrilled, though. "But my future self must have been pretty desperate if he was willing to settle for such an outcome."
"Future selves," said Billy, feeling an absurd little spark of warmth. "Time travel is the worst."
"Yet here you are," said Nate.
"...Yeah." Shame clawed up the back of his throat, making it suddenly difficult to speak. He took a step back from that comforting warmth.
There was a touch on his cheek: a warm, rough hand, brushing away tears that he hadn't realized were falling again. "Everything will be alright," said Nate. And somehow, Billy believed him.
"Thank you," Billy said, opening his eyes to find that Nate had shifted his armor into that of Iron Lad. More tears fell down his cheeks at the sight.
"Shall we go?" Nate asked, holding out his hand.
With a wordless nod, Billy reached out to grasp it.