(If you are reading this on any PAY site this is a STOLEN WORK, the author has NOT Given Permission for it to be here. If you're paying to read it, you're being cheated too because you can read it on Archiveofourown for FREE.)
"Do you know them?" Tony asked after Nebula stared silently at the ship they could see on the viewscreen of their battered ship. Tony wasn't accustomed to spaceships, but he knew weapons when he saw them. "It's too much to hope that's a holiday yacht, isn't it? Someone out for a Sunday stroll?"
"Ravagers," Nebula said tersely as she led Tony over to the airlock. She stood in front of him. "They steal from the weak, and kill for profit."
Space was full of refugees. Tony shouldn't have been surprised there were people trying to take advantage. But somehow, you know, he just hadn't expected pirates in space.
"What's the plan here?" Tony's nanites were sadly depleted, and the rest of him wasn't fighting fit, but he had a repulsor working.
"Kill them. Take their ship. Then we use it to find and kill Thanos."
"Optimism. I can go with that." What the hell, if Tony died now, he could imagine that Pepper and Rhodey were alive on Earth, taking charge, and organizing the planet. Look on the bright side.
There was a heavy "clunk". The deck shuddered. Tony and Nebula tensed.
The airlock opened.
There was no one there.
From the opening came a male voice, tentative and squeaky, "Hey. You in there. Do you know where everyone went? Because... if you do... and you don't tell us, we'll... we'll..."
"Rip off your arms and legs, if you have arms and legs, that is," came another voice, deeper, but still not sounding confident.
"Yeah," said the first voice," and then you won't have them any longer!"
Tony glanced at Nebula. She shrugged.
"Thanos turned half the galaxy to ash," Nebula said.
There was a short silence, then the second voice said, "Crap." The two voices muttered softly.
"Are you going to try to kill us or not?" Nebula said, irritably.
"Not, I guess." Two men moved slowly into view. They were... scruffy... was the best description. One was short and scruffy and had eyes that wobbled independently. The other was tall and scruffy, and had crooked yellow fangs that stuck out over his lips. "We need crew."
Nebula glanced at Tony. "We're going to kill Thanos. We need a ship." Nebula then looked the Ravagers over. "I'm not sure we need you."
"Hey!" Tony interrupted the mutual glaring match before anyone lost any limbs. He made a T-shape with his hands. "Time out. You guys need crew. We need a ship. We also need resources to go after Thanos."
"Everyone's broke," the wobble-eyed guy said.
"I'm rich," Tony replied. "One of the wealthiest people on my world. I made my fortune designing weapons." Tony waited a beat for that to sink in and the light of greed to appear in their eyes. "And yeah, kidnapping me for ransom? Really hasn't worked out well for everyone who's tried it." He grinned, but kept his repulsor ready. "So?"
Taller scruffy guy shrugged. "We're screwed, stewed and tattooed anyway. What the hell."
"Sure," shorter scruffy agreed, with a nod. "At least we could die rich?"
Earth was a mess. Tony knew it would be, intellectually, but it was... he just kept thinking of localized disasters, he'd seen enough of them, battlefields, even, but this... there was no place that was remotely handling the situation well. The death toll was a hell of a lot higher than half, and the 'survivors' were faced with total chaos. You can't chop half the pieces out of a system and expect it to function. Even the living were lost souls.
Rhodey was alive.
Tony pushed his grief aside. Pepper. Peter. He couldn't think about them. There was the mission. Only the mission.
Tony scrambled to assemble the best scientific minds still alive. They had to locate Thanos, hopefully before he'd fully recovered.
Bruce was alive. Jane Foster was alive. So were Hank Pym and Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom. Hank had glared at Tony. Victor had glared at Reed. And then they all turned to work, side by side. They'd all lost too much to care about long-standing feuds. There was also a technologically enhanced raccoon named Rocket, a foul-mouthed, bitter, scarred, genius who was drunk when Nebula introduced him to Tony. Tony rather liked Rocket.
Rogers was alive.
Tony wouldn't have known that, except for Rhodey mentioning that Rogers and Romanoff were organizing teams to help stop looters, and give people hope. "Uh huh," Tony had said. For a moment he wondered if he'd been right not to tell Rhodey what had really happened in Siberia, but it wasn't important now. He returned to Foster's nearly completed Einstein-Rosen Bridge. Richards had some cockamamie hypothesis that Thanos was such a special whatever that he had a unique 'signature' that could be tracked. Richards went to Wakanda to find traces and develop a device attuned to that 'signature'. Thor had gone with him, toting along Thor's war-ax, Stormbreaker, which apparently was a sort of funnel of extra- Thorishness.
Bruce had ideas about 'radiation' extending on a universal sub-level, unaffected by distance... something he picked up subconsciously in between Hulk-gladiatoring on a weird-ass planet for several years and then traveling through something called 'the devil's anus', which... Tony wanted to hear that story, later.
Tony and Von Doom melted down Howard's vibranium alloy shield to make a human size glove that should withstand the Infinity Stones. Queen Shuri left her country in the hands of Okoye, M'Baku, and the remaining members of Wakanda's council in order to work with Tony and the others as she was the last surviving expert in vibranium.
She didn't talk about it, but Rhodey told Tony what had happened in Wakanda. It didn't make sense. Not that they were likely to have won against Thanos, but keeping their two strongest fighters, Vision and Wanda, off the field guaranteed they'd lose.
Tony didn't dwell on it. Past failures were past. Learn from them and move on.
Nanites were already small, but adding Pym Particles to the mix-- well, Tony's newest suit wasn't going to run out of armor no matter what Thanos did. Rocket had his paws in everything, bitching and complaining while he worked miracles with 'sub-standard Humie trash'.
Nebula spent her time discussing everything she knew about Thanos. How he thought, how he fought, what his weaknesses were. Besides being insane, that is.
Between them, Bruce, Richards, Thor and Rocket managed to get the Thanos' extra-dimensional detector working. The Ravagers' ship wasn't very large, so not everyone who wanted to go could fit on board and they needed to decide who was best. There was some argument that under the suit, Tony was just a squishy human, but Tony countered by saying that Dr. Strange had given up the Time Stone to save him, he must have had a reason. Out of the millions of possible futures, Strange had decided keeping Tony alive was that important.
Wong had been portaling in at random moments, mostly not saying anything, as he was run ragged protecting the New York Sanctum from forces stirred up by Thanos' havoc across the spiritual realms- you couldn't dump half the souls in the universe into non-existence without upsetting unseen balances. He had listened to Tony and nodded. "Stephen has died before. He had a plan then, and I believe he had a plan this time." Wong nodded again and portaled away.
In the end, Rocket, Nebula, Thor, Scott Lang and Tony boarded the Ravagers's ship. Lang was a last minute addition. Tony was dubious, but Lang had Pym's suit, and a steady look in his eyes that Tony recognized. He'd had his 'Afghanistan moment' somewhere along the way and matured.
Bruce had volunteered, but he sounded reluctant, and Tony remembered that Hulk had been useless. They didn't need to worry about protecting Bruce, too.
There wasn't room on the ship to spar or to do much of anything beyond talk. They discussed plans of action, what their roles could be, and Rocket and Tony tweaked everything they could on the ship. It still left a lot of time. So much time, and nothing else to do, that they started talking about the people they'd lost.
The conversation would turn sad, but then Rocket would talk about various disgusting ways of killing Thanos, with Nebula solemnly querying him as to the feasibility- could you really rip out a person's heart through their asshole-- and while she could see that smashing the bones of his nose into the brain would work, Rocket would probably be crushed by his corpse.
Good, clean fun. Thor roused from his endless polishing of Stormbreaker to add examples of the sort of mayhem Asgardians used to get up to on the battlefield, and while Lang didn't offer any commentary, neither did he look squeamish. Tony didn't expect the Ravagers to be much use, beyond transportation, but they had promised to hang around long enough to give Tony's bunch Ravager last rites.
Tony had no idea what that was, and he really didn't care.
Thanos didn't have an army with him this time. Rocket blasted Thanos with an energy bazooka, knocking him off balance long enough for Nebula to get in a few strikes with a vibranium sword that didn't get through his skin. He threw Nebula aside, and then Thor was there with Stormbreaker whirling and aiming at Thanos' neck. Tony's nanite suit grew spikes all all over and he threw himself at Thanos.
Thanos laughed. "Is this the best you can do?"
"Yes," Tony replied, closing his eyes, because he knew what would come next and really didn't want to see it.
Thanos screamed as the Infinity Gauntlet exploded. The stones were indestructible, but not the gauntlet. Scott had crawled in, ant size, and then expanded, sacrificing himself to disarm Thanos. There was blood and... it was... quick at least....
The shards of the gauntlet mangled Thanos' hand. He bellowed in rage and tried to grasp the Infinity stones with his remaining hand.
Tony morphed his nanite suit away from his hand, revealing his Infinity Gauntlet, with empty settings for the stones. He grabbed the nearest stone with his other hand, the vibranium/nanites withstanding the force for the moment it took to set it in the gauntlet. Once he had the one, he willed the others to join it.
Thanos reached for Tony. Thor and the others clung to him, holding him back. "I have saved the universe!" Thanos shouted. "I have restored the balance! You should be grateful to me!" He seemed to swell up in his rage. "I only did what was best, like a loving father!"
"Wow," Tony said. "I wonder what your own father would have thought of you?"
Thanos reared up, impossibly growing taller and broader. He flung the others from him. "He was a fool!"
"Huh," Tony said. "Was he? Let's see."
Tony arrived on Titan, in the middle of a bustling city, barely recognizable as the original of the ruins where Thanos had stabbed him. The time and space stones had done their job, placing him right where and when he needed to be. Standing in front of him were two people obviously of Thanos' species. Big. Purple. Strong. Male and female. They were embracing when Tony arrived. The woman gasped and shrank back. The man glared at Tony, stepping in front of her.
"What are you? What do you want?" he demanded.
Tony waved his hand, showing off the Infinity Stones, and then retracted his helmet. "I've come to talk to you about population control. Ecology. Pollution.That sort of thing."
"Are you from Zandar?" the woman asked. "He looks like a Zandarian. They're tiny."
Tony smiled. "No, I'm from a little place you've never heard of. We call it Earth."
The man huffed, "You named your planet Dirt?"
"Exactly," Tony said. "It's the most valuable substance in the universe."
The man said, "Look, if you want a donation for your cause..."
"No, I'm good," Tony replied. "We're ecological engineers, and we have suggestions Titan might like to consider implementing." Tony put up a hologram wireframe of Titan. "As you can see, non-sustainable practices are eroding your soil, contaminating your watershed, and reducing the fertility of the land. Key species have been reduced and are approaching the danger point." Tony had learned the art of selling the sizzle and not the steak. Talk fast and bright.
The man rolled his eyes. "Everyone's heard these stories. Our president says it's all fear-mongering, to help the dissident elements among us."
"I don't know anything about politics, but what I can do is offer you technology..." Tony waved the gauntlet. "A new type of energy, cheap, inexhaustible, non-polluting."
"Hmm," the man said.
"Dear." The woman pulled at the man's arm. "My cycle. If we don't start now, we'll have to wait a year to try for a baby."
The man looked at her, obviously torn. Then he looked at Tony. "We can discuss this later."
"Sorry, no can do," Tony said. "If you don't have time for me... perhaps these dissidents would better appreciate what I have to offer. Energy is power, after all."
The man turned to the woman. "Darling, a year from now might be better. You know your parents think we're not settled enough to provide for a child."
The woman huffed. "Fine. See if I care." She turned her back on him and walked away.
The man sighed. "Oh, well... plenty of fish in the ocean. Now, about this energy..."
Tony looked out of his, their, tower at New York. In this timeline, no one had ever heard of Thanos, or the Avengers.
Titan was Earth's ally. Asgard was an interesting vacation spot for people who liked to rough it. Thor led bilgesnipe hunting parties. Loki had a ski resort on Jotunheim, partly funded by Tony. Stark Industries hired only the brightest and best across the galaxy. He'd teamed Gamora and Nebula up in sales and recruitment, ferried around by Quill. Rocket and Groot ran a nursery on Earth's moon. Rhodey was in the Air Force Space Division, currently training troops on Zandar.
Peter Parker was actually an intern, in the division headed by Bruce and Betty Banner. Tony had hired Lang right out of jail and had Jarvis watching him, but so far he hadn't tried to steal anything, apparently he was glad to have a steady job and rights to visit his daughter. Pym still hated Tony for whatever he thought Howard had done, but eh, Pym's daughter was really the one in charge of his company these days.
Tony had kept track of everyone he knew from the other timeline. They'd had ups and downs, but nothing like their other lives. Dr. Strange was in Kathmandu, studying with someone called the Ancient One. It had taken some searching, but Tony found that Natasha had escaped from the Red Room with Barnes' help, taking all the little girls with them and blowing up the place. The last he heard they were married with three children of their own, and running an orphanage in Russia.
Tony's parents were theoretically retired, but even in their nineties, they still managed to make the news.
Tony held Morgan up to the window so she could watch the Valkryie acrobatics team fly past on their matched pegasus.
Pepper walked in and kissed him on the cheek before taking Morgan from him. "I heard that Nick found and revived Captain America. Coulson was in raptures."
"Yeah, I heard," Tony replied. "Think he's been hired to do school health announcements."
Pepper frowned. "Seems a waste. Wasn't he a war hero?"
"Yep. My old man never shut up about him." Tony turned and blew a raspberry into Morgan's belly. "I'm glad we don't have a war for him to fight in." He smiled at Pepper. "Remember the ancient curse 'may you live in interesting times'? I'm happy with times as they are. I don't need them any more interesting."
Pepper tapped on the multicolored glow coming from Tony's chest. "I agree."
Tony put his arm around Pepper.