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The Chances of Survival: 14 million and the time that never happened

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Don't… don't kill him. I'll give you the stone if you spare him."

Stephen had just snapped out of his unconsciousness. The world still blurry and painful. And all he could see was Thanos, the four Infinity Stones he owned glowing, ready to kill. He couldn't allow that. Tony... he had to live. Even though it meant his own death. The death of so so many more. He had vowed to protect the time stone with his own life. He would. Even though the way he did was a bit… weird. They had to lose to be able to win. He had looked through all the possible outcomes of this battle. If he could make sure that the remaining survivors could reach the one tiny chance to win through his own death… who was he to object?

He got up slowly, Thanos' eyes focused on him. He had stopped to approach the person who had to live. At least something.

"No tricks this time, sorcerer?" Thanos asked dangerously. If you trick me, I will kill you all. Wasn't he going to do just that anyway?

"No tricks. Just spare him."

Their enemy, the huge purple titan, turned, faced him and waited. Ready to obliterate him if need be.

But Stephen wouldn't give him a chance. Not this time. He raised his hand, letting the time stone appear from wherever he had hidden it. He could see Thanos taking a step towards him, the other four stones still glowing. The green stone was floating above his hand, spinning around itself lazily. That was how it all ended. That easy. Just by handing a small, spinning stone to their enemy. He changed the spell, which kept the stone floating above his hand. Made it move the stone towards Thanos. He had seen that moment over and over and over. It had always ended the same way.

The stone reached Thanos, he took it and inserted it into the glove. The sheer power of five stones united would flow through them, make them despair, knowing they would never be able to beat that madman. Thanos would keep his word, let them live. Disappear towards earth by using the space stone. And finally, obtain the last. The mind gem in visions head.

This time, however, the 14 millionth and whatever time, exactly that, what he knew would happen, didn't happen. The spell started to move the stone. The stone moved. The stone's spin, however, was different then it should have been. The stone turned slightly, moving around its own axis, and grazed his bare finger.

The last thing he saw before a blinding white light swallowed them all, was a glowing green stone, and his glowing green skin. He felt a huge bolt of energy rush through his very being. He should be dead. The stone should turn him into smoldering ash. But it didn't. And then there was light.

Through the light, he could hear Thanos screaming "Noooooo!".

The next thing he knew, was being, well, thrown was probably the right word, against hard ground. The sheer impact forced every bit of air out of his body, the pain he had felt before intensived for a mere second. Ten-thousand times and then…

… there was nothing. Silence. His own ragged breathing, his thrumming heart, his always hurting hands and nothing. He was laying there for a second, waiting to be killed. Dying some gruesome, terrible death, but nothing happened. There was only silence.

That wasn't right. He had always heard the odd wind on Titan. Felt the rough ground. The steps of Thanos. The…

Opening his eyes, he stared at dark… wooden... parquet?

Slowly, he sat up, looking around. Yes. The wooden floor. The… that was… Stephen Strange blinked confused while eyeing his surroundings. There he sat, on the ground in his own (old) apartment. Shivering, fearful, waiting to be killed, but nothing happened.

He slowly got up, nearly freaking out when he finally heard something. He spun around, seeing a green stone, spinning around itself on his floor. It still glowed. Bright and powerful. With every heartbeat, the glow faded, until it was gone. Just a green gem, laying there.

A moment later, his door opened. Turning around again, he saw Christine entering, casually holding a shopping bag. She looked at him out of sad, calm eyes.

"He won't do it?" she asked, a piece of true sadness in her voice and eyes.

He stared at her for a mere moment, taking a step towards her… mainly to be sure she couldn't see that suspicious green gem on his floor. He still wasn't sure it was even there. He wasn't sure he was even here. Maybe… Thanos… yes… he played around with reality again, didn't he? Because… he hadn't handed him the stone fast enough? That made sense.

"Stephen, you have to stop spending money on it. Especially money you don't have. Your hands can't get any better. You know that." She paused, waging her words carefully to not upset him.

"I know your work is a huge part of your life. But its just that. A part of your life. There are other things that can give it meaning."

He continued to simply stare at her for a second. That… that was… he remembered that sentence. He had freaked out over it. Thrown words at her in his fit he couldn't easily take back. It had needed a while until they grew back together. That… that moment… this moment… it had happened more than two years ago.

Christine came a step closer, watching him carefully. She had expected him to freak out. He would have freaked out. If…

"Stephen… is everything okay?" she asked worried, not being used to him simply being silent.

Well. No. He had fought a huge purple titan who threatened to wipe out half the universe a mere minute ago. He was sure he was going to die a minute ago. He was sure she was going to die a minute ago. He had placed all his hopes on the tiny possibility of victory a minute ago. That was… it just… didn't make any sense. Him here didn't make any…

Slowly, so very slowly, realization trickled into his mind. The time stone. It had been glowing when it touched him. The other four had been glowing. The stones. They had been so very close to each other. Basically, in the same place at the same time.

"Stephen?" the even more worried voice of Christine cut through his thoughts, bringing him back to reality. She had come closer, looking at him with deep worry in her eyes. And he just stood there, unable to say a word. Unable… he closed the little space between them and hugged her. To feel her against him, her warm, breathing, living body… For a moment he closed his eyes, fully embracing the impossibility of holding her, here, in this long gone moment.

Breaking away he looked at her. If this was the past, which was now the present... for a moment he wondered how blind he had been for his entire life. Christine was... but... he couldn't think about that right now. He turned around, his gaze grazing the green gem which still lay innocently on the ground. If the stone was here, the Eye of Agamotto had to be gone. That fact wouldn't go by unnoticed. The past, his... present... it had already changed, then. How far could one alter time to still achieve the same outcome? If he did something different, would he become the same person? Would he simply cease to exist? Would he not be able to help fight against Thanos because he had never been there? Would he...

He sighed softly, looking at his reflection in the window. So many questions. So many liabilities. Unkowns. What ifs.

"Maybe you are right. That there are other things which can give meaning to my life."

First, figuring out who remembered like he did would be a good start.

He turned around again, looking at her sadly. There were so many things he couldn't understand. The present, being one of them. She looked at him, surprised. For a moment, none of them said a word. Finally, Stephen sighed again.

"Could I... hug you again?" He wasn't sure if she would like it, after all, they weren't together in this current moment. Hence, better ask. She shook her head, but embraced him, pulling him close.

"You are a curious man."

Oh, she had no idea.

----

Tony Stark gritted his teeth, trying to not groan in pain. Based on the fact, that he had just been stabbed with his own sword, it was quite a heroic task. Thanos ripped the broken sword out of his side, threw it carelessly behind him. He raised his gloved hand, closing his fingers to a fist. The stones, all the stones, started to glow. That was how he would die? On a strange planet, surrounded by (all except the boy) strange people, far away from his friends and loved ones? Killed by a weapon beyond imagination?

"Don't… don't kill him. I'll give you the stone if you spare him."

Strange's voice cut through the weird silence of the moment. Tony tried to turn his head, get a look at Strange. The sorcerer had been knocked out by Thanos. He, Tony, had tried everything to protect that idiot. Protect the stone. And now he offered it up? For what? And why? Strange had repeatedly said that he would always choose the stone over any of them. Protecting the stone was everything. And now... he just...

"No tricks this time, sorcerer?" Thanos asked back, obviously annoyed with them. To him, they had to be ants. Stopping him from reaching his goal easily.

"No tricks. Just spare him." was Strange's weak answer. His voice sounded broken. Hopeless. There was no hope left anyway.

In horror, he watched, how Strange did what he had said he would. He saw the small green gem appear from its hiding place. It spun around itself, floating over Strange's hand. That... he couldn't... he couldn't mean to hand the time stone to that monster. The only thing which stood between him and Vision. Him and earth. Him and death for half the universe. Pepper... he had wanted to... Closing his eyes he waited for his life to flash by in front of his eyes, after all, he could mark this day as his own death, in a way. They had lost. Everything.

While Tony was annoyed by the fact that his life wouldn't flash by in front of his eyes, another thought entered his mind. What if he survived today. What if Pepper was one of those who disappeared if that monster used the stones? What if... a life without Pepper... he couldn't...

And then, even with his closed eyes, he saw a blinding light. That would be it, wouldn't it? Thanos was going to kill them all at the same time. Wipe the silly ants out. He heard a scream like from far away. Yep. That was it.

The pain he felt, being stabbed and beaten and... grew into madness for a second. Ten-thousand times worse. He felt how his body simply collapsed, hitting ground and...

...nothing. Nothing followed. Was he already dead? Was nothing heaven? Would he even get into heaven? After all, he had been a really annoying person for a time in his life, even he knew that. Hadn't he made up for that by being Iron Man? Saving all those people? Always trying his best? In the end, trying his best simply wasn't enough. He had failed everyone. Every living thing in the universe. Thanos had won.

"Tony?"

Oh, that was nice. His dead head imagined Pepper's voice.

"Tony? Is everything okay?"

Don't stop talking, imagination of Pepper's voice.

Now, he even heard her walking. The sound of her high-heels hitting his floor. She stopped. Oh, come on.

Being touched jolted him upright. He shouldn't be able to be touched. Or was that a thing if one was a ghost? Was she already dead?

No. She had to still be alive. Thanos had killed them only mere seconds ago. His still living friends would defiantly make a last stand to defend Vision. She couldn't... be... dead. Not Pepper. Not now. He stared at her worried and confused expression. She wore her business-dress. As if she just came from work. As if...

He backed away from her, crawling away backward until he hit a solid wall. Through blurry, crazed eyes, he took in his surroundings. Pepper. Pepper, Pepper, Pepper. Pepper in his little working place downstairs. Pepper coming from work. His fingers found his side, the side which just had been stabbed by his own sword. Pulling up his shirt he stared at it. There was nothing. No wound. He touched it. It had to be there! But his fingers only touched warm, unbroken skin. He stared at it in pure disbelief. That wasn't... that couldn't... the second thing his hazy mind registered was, that the container for nanoparticles was missing. There was nothing in his chest. Just... nothing... gone.

That light. Thanos had used that reality thing again, right? He made him imagine things! He got to his feet and grabbed the closest thing he could get his hands on, a coffee cup of his, and threw it against a wall with full force.

"Come on, coward!" He screamed at the top of his lungs "Come and finish it like a man! No need to hide! Just come here and kill me already!" He really didn't want to bleed to death. Ugly and long and painful.

"Where are you, he? Nothing to say anymore?" The next thing he got into his hands were pieces of his armor he had been working on years ago. He threw each piece after another, watching how they bounced off the cement. The coffee cup had at least shattered to a dozen tiny pieces, making noise.

Well... when he finally got his hands on a hand-piece of his armor, he equipped it without much thought and used the one-time blaster to create a new door in one of his walls.

More... everything. More destruction. More screaming.

Until the illusion fell.

He didn't want to die out of his mind. At least that grace should be left for him.