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If You Had This Time Again

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"This is a story I heard from my mother, who heard it from her mother, who heard it from her father, who heard it from his uncle, who heard it from..." The woman continued, recounting generations of her ancestry as a precursor to her tale and evidence of its veracity.

"I feel old." Tony whined.

Loki wrapped his arms around Tony's torso and tucked his face into the bend of Tony's neck to hide the chuckle that would probably get them thrown out of the crowded inn, if not arrested for disrespecting the sacred art of storytelling.

The planet they were visiting was small but robust with history not only of their own culture but also those across the Nine Realms. A treasure trove for all who studied the past and hoped to learn from it.

Or, a delightful respite for those weary from their own adventures and wanting to listen to those of others.

Or, a bittersweet remembrance for the few who had known loss too well and found comfort in their loved ones living on in memories other than their own.

"A long, long time ago, on the planet Terra, there was a man who wasn't a quite a man."

Tony frowned. "I was, too."

Loki shushed him gently. After centuries, the feel of his breath still sent a shiver down Tony's spine.

"His skin was covered by iron, his heart was made of a star, and his veins were filled with fire. When he raised his voice, the world kneeled to hear him speak. When he kicked his feet, the winds carried him to the skies. When he opened his palms, new life burst forth and flourished. Children gathered around him, hoping to learn from his wisdom and emulate his greatness."

Team Iron Man had produced some of the finest scientists of Earth.

JARVIS had sent him an article theorizing that the program had been what pushed the next generations out into the galaxy, reframing the future as Tony had once asked of them.

"Creatures flocked to him, a red-scaled dragon and a green-skinned beast and a monstrous amalgamation so fearsome that its name had been lost for most dared not speak it."

Rhodey would either be shaking his head at being remembered by an offhanded nickname or laughing at the ridiculousness of a platypus being the source of such terror.

Today, Tony decided that it would be the latter. He closed his eyes and heard Rhodey's bright laughter intermixed with the high-pitched snorts that Rhodey had always denied making.

"Gods sought his counsel and company, one in particular was so enamored that he claimed exclusivity and offered immortality as a sign of his undying devotion."

Tony settled back against Loki, fitting together seamlessly the way they had since the first embrace, and listened.

The details might change and the names might shift, told by the voices of strangers or written in alien languages, but his story - their story - had left its marks on history, dotting across the galaxy and scattered over the Nine Realms.

An endless constellation that always guided him back to the beginning.

"It all started with a drink..."