Iron Man snaps, and the deathly brilliance of the universe and all its versions tore through him. He saw Pepper,
he saw Peter, both so wonderfully alive, and he went. The universe still rushing him along, chaotic and endless, twisting and branching.
“Daaaaady!” He opens his eyes.
It isn’t quite right, this bed he wakes up in. The pillows aren’t the color he remembers- did Pepper buy new ones? Why is Morgan’s hair blonde like her mom’s? Tony remembers a moment when it was brown like his. Was that yesterday? He shakes himself awake- his little girl has launched herself on his chest as he lays in bed, a gently snoring Pepper beside him.
“Where did you come from baby girl?” He is gripped by a sudden fear of her answer. Morgan just giggles “from you and mommy!” Pepper opens her eyes, takes in a sharp breath. Tony doesn’t like the look in her eyes, and especially doesn’t like the image of his eyes reflecting in hers, the gorgeous blue he can get lost in. His eyes are purple, shot through with specks that look like stars. “You aren’t my Tony.” His blood runs, not cold, but bright white, scorching hot. “Sorry, the parts for your make and model were discontinued. Would you like to make a return? Warranty may be expired.” Pepper taps her chin, eyes dancing over Morgan on his chest, cuddling close with her eyes fluttering closed. “I think I’ll keep you for a little while.”
They can tell the second they see him. The wariness in Natasha’s eyes, the confusion in Bruce’s, the quietly bridled rage in Steve’s. Where are Bruce’s glasses? Did Nat always have straight hair? And what’s with Cap’s beard? Tony can’t quite remember. “Who are you?” Nat whispers. Tony shakes his head. “You know who I am.” Steve’s eyes narrow. Thor’s hand twitches, summoning his hammer. “No. We don’t. You may look like Tony, but you sure aren’t.” Steve growls. Tony sighs, puts his hands up. “Don’t shoot, cowboy. I don’t know who you think I could possibly be. But I think I can tell you how I got here. It started when I got the gauntlet...”
Whoever Dr. Stephen Strange was to Tony before the second snap, he wasn’t to him now. The Strange he remembers wasn’t so...gentle? He can’t think of another word for it. Strange peers into his eyes with what looks like optometry lenses. “Didn’t think you were this kind of doctor,” Tony jokes. “And I didn’t think you were capable of holding still.” Strange snarks. Ah ha, now there’s the wizard Tony knows and doesn’t particularly love.
Even though Tony can’t shake the feeling that the Earth is moving under him, moving too fast for him to stand up and get his balance, maybe he is in the right place after all.
In another world, Pepper Potts and Peter Parker crumble next to the Iron Man armor, now empty and steaming, Tony Stark’s body and soul absorbed by the great and terrible mouth of the cosmos. The earth shakes with Thor’s cries of mourning. The remainder of Steve’s shield cracks in his hand, blood watering the ground by his feet. Bruce silently thanks whatever good is left in this universe that Nat isn’t here to see this, this horrible injustice of a galaxy torn apart. Their galaxy torn apart. Maybe in another life, Pepper thinks- almost as a prayer- Tony could have survived to live in the world he saved. Strange catches her eye across the battlefield, and holds up two fingers.