The battle rages around him, and he can feel them losing.
Marvel is on her back, and Rogers looks one good hit from going down for good. “Where are they?” he asks, and FRIDAY sends him tiny visuals--Peter swinging through the battlefield, and he’s alive, alive, alive--he clenches his eyes closed against the weight of it, the knowledge that he fixed it, they fixed it, the kid was alive.
Pepper is there, incandescently beautiful in her Rescue armor, an avenging angel as she fires into the horde of aliens, and he thinks--she is the strongest person I know.
She is the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Strange is watching him, and he knows.
He thinks, maybe he always knew.
Maybe since that day on Titan, all those years ago, when Strange broke his promise and gave up the Time Stone to save him--he think he knew then.
Five years is a damn good run, he thinks.
Five years is never going to be enough.
He shoves aside the regret and throws himself at Thanos.
Time, he thinks, is a funny thing.
But he stands there, the gauntlet on his hand and the world seems to slow, everything fading out of focus. All he can feel is the heavy weight of gauntlet, the way the stones makes it seem heavier than ever before. He can feel them, the power coursing through him, and the knowledge .
He can end this. He can end this.
Look , the stones whisper, insidious and insistent, and he lets himself, glances away from Pepper and Peter, away from Thanos’ towering fury, and time stretches as he looks.
It is not just the end, and the future to look to, they whisper.
Look, they demand.
He looks, and he almost stumbles under the weight of it.
Not the gauntlet, but the knowledge.
Fix it, futurist, they command, and he closes his eyes.
There is bitter irony here, he thinks.
He looks at Pepper and Peter and thinks, desperately, of Morgan, and he knows what this will cost.
It is the only way , the stones insist.
He doesn’t want to, is the thing.
He wants to go home. He wants Pepper and his baby girl, and Peter and he wants to be happy.
This is how you buy peace in our time, the stones whisper. This is how you protect the ones you love.
Why me, he thinks, furiously, staring at Pepper. She’s back to back with Okoye now, guarding each other and fighting together in a graceful, deadly dance.
The stones shift and he sees it.
Sees the whole future and the whole past and everything in between.
Do it, Futurist. Save them.
Time snaps back into place, noise of the battle, and for a moment, the power recedes--long enough for him to stand straight and his voice doesn’t shake, even though he is terrified.
“I am Ironman,” he says, and it’s for Thanos and it’s for himself, and it’s for everyone on this fucking battlefield that he loves, and his daughter, and the whole goddamn world.
He snaps his fingers, and the world goes white.
“The truth is--?”
Christine Everheart’s voice is impatient and leading, and jarring as hell.
He blinks, and stares at her, in a press conference what feels like a lifetime ago.
Deep in his soul, the stones seethe and shift, and rumble in contentment.
You will save us all.
He smiles at her, tight and let’s his gaze slide away. “The truth is--the Ironman suit was my bodyguard. That’s it. I was on my yacht. Sorry--there isn’t a story here, not one about me.”
The press murmurs and Rhodey shifts, relieved, and Tony thinks about the future, the one he can prevent.
He thinks about everything he’s giving up and he smiles, and it hurts .
Promise me I will go home, he begs as Rhodey takes questions.
The stones are silent and still and he feels more alone than he ever has.
I'm sorry!! I wrote this and it got deleted, and then I got annoyed so this chapter is shorter than I wanted because by the time I rewrote this much, I felt like y'all deserved an update. So the next one will be short as well, and then we'll get to regular sized chapters, I promise!!
The press conference trails into nothing. There are questions, and easy pre-formulated lies. Rhodey steps in and Tony lets him. He can feel the quiet thrum of the Stones, and the disorientating confusion of being here, and not on the battlefield.
And fear too—fear because if he is here—what is happening to them? Who is finishing the fight? He closes his eyes. Forces his breath to stay even and steady, his hands to unclench on the lectern and if they tremble--no one notices.
He can’t help them.
He can’t do anything for them--he can only be here, can only fix now.
How, he thinks, almost hysterically, and the Stones shiver through him.
He shoves it down, aside, locked down deep and focuses on the press conference.
“Will Stark Industries continue making weapons?” someone calls, and it drags Tony back into the present. He frowns.
“We’re going over the same ground, people, c’mon. We went over this. I already shut down the weapons division. That isn’t changing because some asshole attacked my building.”
“And the Ironman? What is he, if not a weapon?” Everheart demands and Tony eyes her, distastefully. He wonders if Rhodey can have her removed.
“I suppose you’d have to ask him,” Tony says, evenly, “Seeing as it’s not something SI created, and it’s not under our purview.”
Rhodey shifts, nudging him aside. He knows Tony--knows this Tony better than anyone in the world, and he can hear the danger and doneness in his tone that Tony isn’t even bothering to keep covered up. Everheart’s expression is pincher and angry, and he doesn’t care, his pulse pounding in the base of his skull as Rhodey ends the conference abruptly. Tony tunes it out, waiting impatiently until Rhodey nudges him toward the door and then he’s moving, moving and Pepper is on the other side of the door, bright eyed and anxious and so beautiful it makes his chest hurt.
“Pep, can I get a minute,” Rhodey murmurs and Tony glances at him. Nods once to Pepper and she smiles, steps away to speak to Coulsen and Tony looks at his best friend.
He’s tired, a pinched look to his eyes that Tony recognizes, knows from every time he’s worried Rhodey with his nonsense and bullshit, but he looks happy too. Relaxed and young, and he stands straight and tall without any braces and it makes his chest ache. He squeezes Rhodey’s arm and his friend frowns at him. “You ok, Tones?” he asks, gently.
“Yeah,” he says. “Just--everything is catching up with me.”
“You gonna stop flying around tryin’ to get ypurself killed now?” he asks, but there’s a hint of humor and resignation to it, like he already knows to hang that up.
Tony grins at him, wide and real and it hurts, hurts, hurts, because Rhodey doesn’t know what’s coming, and gods, he wishes he could tell him.
The stones shift and rumble and he bites it back, bites it down.
“You gonna dance to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s tune?” he asks, careful and low, aware of Coulsen nearby, aware of him listening, and Tony loves him, madly, in that moment, because Rhodey has always been there, always supported him.
He wants to say, thank you.
He wants to say, I never deserved you.
He swallows it and the impulse and the feelings that are choking him and says, a grin light on his lips, “When have I ever danced to anyone else’s tune?”
Rhodey nods, like he expects nothing less, and says, “So what now?”
Tony doesn’t answer--he doesn’t know what the answer is.
He doesn’t go home, after the conference.
He could--he probably should. But there’s this--stones rattling in his skull and chest, and the sense that he does not belong. The house in Malibu isn’t his, not anymore. It’s a wreck on the bottom of the ocean, something he never rebuilt and going back there now--it feels like walking on his own grave, so he doesn’t. He slips into his #car and drives until he hits the water.
It’s been years since he just sat on a beach, no nightmares playing behind his eyes, no little girl begging for a sandcastle, no what if Peter could see this whisper, insidious, in his ear.
He sits in the damp sand, and Happy watches from the car, smoking and concerned, and he wants to scream.
What do you want from me? He asks, desperate and scared.
You are the Futurist, the Stones murmur, a echoing chorus of voice. You are gifted with knowledge.
Changing the past won’t fix our future, he says, because they went over this. You can’t undo something that’s already done.
But is it? If he is here--is it done? Did Thanos win? Was Morgan born and Pepper his wife and--he closes his eyes against a well of grief so deep it threatens to drown him.
I can’t make them listen to me, he says. I tried before.
Ultron, they say, a hum of acknowledgment tinged with excitement. But you knew. And you were dissuaded.
Tony huffs, disbelief and bitter amusement. By a murder bot almost killing everything on earth, yeah. I was ‘dissuaded’.
There is a pulse of disdain, impatience and then, huffily, Don’t be.