It had been almost two years since Tony Stark disappeared.
Not much had changed in the intervening years. The remaining Avengers still lived in the tower; Steve, Natasha, Clint, Bruce, and Thor. Loki did not. Loki had vanished shortly after Tony, and they had yet to find him again. Bruce had Jarvis scan every day, but Jarvis never found any trace of him. Neither did SHIELD.
They still fought battles, when battles needed fighting. But it was a kind of stasis, a routine. For the most part, things didn't change.
It had been almost two years since Tony Stark disappeared, when the wormholes started appearing.
They were small, the size of a hand. Nothing ever came out of them. They would appear, at some random place anywhere in the world, hanging in midair. They would last for ten minutes, and then go away again. At first, the Avengers went to investigate every one. But the wormholes lasted so breifly that they never got there in time. And after a while, when it became apparent that the wormholes weren't doing anything, weren't hurting anyone, just kind of hung there, the Avengers stopped going to see them.
There were pictures and videos floating around the internet, and Bruce checked them every so often. Scientists were baffled. For a few months, reporters thought it was the most exciting thing ever to happen, but after a while, they stopped reporting on it. It became ordinary. Strange, but nonthreatening. Not as important as wars and the economy and every other thing in the world.
You couldn't see through the wormholes. They had a cloudy blackness obscuring whatever was on the other side. They exuded strong heat, like an open flame.
And that was that. The wormholes.
It had been almost three years since Tony Stark disappeared.
And finally, the wormholes did something. One of them came up in the middle of Central Park, and hung there. Past ten minutes. Past twenty. Half an hour passed, and it just hung there.
The news networks took notice. Scientists began to converge on it. Readings were taken, excited theories were hissed. People started paying attention again. Two hours passed. It suddenly got bigger. Three hours passed. Bigger again. Big enough for a man to step through.
And then a man did.
A wave of force pulsed out from the wormhole, knocking back all the scientists trying to study it. The crowd moved away, and watched, tense, as a man stumbled out of the wormhole. He was wearing a welder's mask and a leather chestplate, but there was no sign that he was anything other than human.
"Now!" He shouted back at the wormhole. It shrunk back to the size of a hand, then vanished into thin air.
The man turned in a circle, looking at the crowd.
"Huh." He said. His voice was hoarse. "It worked. I can't believe that actually worked."
"Who are you?" A reporter asked, edging closer with her microphone.
The man flipped his welding mask up, and gasps ran through the crowd. The reporter stared, trying to maintain composure.
"Is that thing on?" Tony Stark asked, gesturing to the camera.
The reporter nodded, dumbstruck.
He turned to the camera. "So, the afterlife is real." He said. "I dunno about you, but I found that super interesting."
He swayed on the spot, and grabbed hold of the reporter for stability.
"Like, a literal place." He continued. "Where you literally go. When you die. Afterlife. Right? I need coffee. I really, really need coffee. Whoever gets me coffee can have an interview."