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Lemon Boy

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But what if I run out of fertilizer
What if the clouds run out of rain

~~

It was over. They’d lost.

Thanos had come, the horrible nightmare that had lived in the back of his mind for years had really come true and Tony was... alone.

Well, not entirely, but Nebula wasn’t much for company. She’d helped to stave off some of the horrible loneliness, the defeat, the despair, but there was only so much someone could do to liven up the joint when half of the universe had been wiped out in front of your eyes.

He didn’t know what had happened to anyone on Earth. He didn’t know if-

He’d been in New York for business – for the first quick trip back since he’d been to New Asgard, it was supposed to be quick - when the spaceship had shown up. He’d brought Bruce along with him, figuring he could help catch everyone up on what they’d missed during his extended space vacation. Loki and Thor had stayed in New Asgard, still wrapped up in its establishment. He hadn’t said as much, but Tony was also pretty sure Loki had no desire to return to the place he’d made ground zero for his attack all those years ago.

At the time Tony hadn’t made much fuss, but now, with Bruce still on Earth and Strange gone and Peter disappearing in his hands like ash-

Tony swallowed thickly. He needed to know they were okay. Pepper, and Bruce, and Thor, and yes, god damn it, even Loki. Especially, he admitted to himself, in the way he could only do when he was drifting through the cold expanse of space with no hope of rescue, especially Loki.

He was so royally screwed. And ironically, that was the least of his problems right now.

~~

What if Lemon Boy won't grow no longer
What if beaches dry of sugar cane

~~

Tony should have felt relieved when the glowing space lady had set their ship down back on Earth. In some sense, he absolutely was – now that the certainly of his own death wasn’t hanging over his every breath, it was a lot easier to muster words for Natasha and Rhodey and even Steve, clipped as those words were.

His relief lasted about as long as it took to catch a glimpse of Thor. Because when he saw the look on Thor’s face, a part of him knew.

Thor dragged his gaze up from the ground to meet Tony’s eyes, looking anguished and guilt-ridden, and that small part inside him wailed where Tony had repressed it. “Tony,” Thor started, his voice shaking and uncertain, his throat raw. “Tony, he-”

“What happened?” Tony’s own voice was a barely there breath, dampened by days of hunger and thirst and loss and a horrible knowledge he did not want to know. “What happened?

“He’s gone.” Tony gritted his teeth at the words, wrapping his fist in the material of Thor’s shirt and tugging desperately. The movement jostled Thor’s own clenched fist, which loosened just a fraction, just enough that stray grains of dust spilled between his knuckles. Tony watched them fall, then get caught in the wind, and felt distantly sick.

~~

The whales start to beach themselves
Tortoise shells tear away from their spines
It happens all the time, it happens all the time

~~

Tony couldn’t find the energy to do much of anything for those first few months after the snap. He’d spent most of them recovering in bed, on a strict IV and bedrest regimen and finding it hard to open his eyes for most of it. When he was really out of it, it was easy to pretend it had all been just another fucked up dream. But reality came crashing in soon enough.

When he’d finally felt well enough to shuffle out of bed, he’d gotten clearance to head to Queens. That was… not a conversation he liked to dwell on for long. It was about three weeks too late anyway, though he couldn’t have lived with himself if he hadn’t gone.

After that, he’d done what he could to… to move on. He and Pepper tried the whole relationship thing again, but it just felt hollow after everything. She was ready to let the past go, as much as it pained her, while Tony found it impossible to let his past go, never quite able to get certain memories to fade entirely.

Pepper had done her own moving on after they split for good. She had a kid now, a real sweet girl, and whenever he was able Tony would visit. Seeing her, watching a baby grow into an amazing, strong, and smart little girl just like her mother felt like a desperate scrap of hope in the world. It felt like moving on, even if his heart was stuck in the past.

Maybe that was why it had been so hard to let himself buy into the whole time heist plan at first. It was selfish, but he didn’t want to rewind the clock, not on this. Much as he loved the little girl, Pepper’s kid was never his, could never be his – but how could he take that from her? How could he look in the eyes of a five year old he’d practically helped to raise and know that he held the power to unwrite her entire existence?

So he’d refused and bristled and pushed his friends away, much as he wanted them to stay, much as he wanted to give in to the looks in their eyes that screamed don’t you want to bring them back? Don’t you want to brink Loki back? That was, until he’d cracked it.

A trip into the past. A chance to grab the stones before they’d ever made it into Thanos’ hands, and undo the snap without undoing everything that had happened in those five years. A chance to bring everyone back, and fix what they’d broken. A chance to avenge Earth, one last time.

~
Everything had gone smoothly – well, about as smoothly as a time heist could reasonably go - until they’d reached the top of the Stark Tower. Tony took one look at the Loki of the past and froze. He was whole, and alive, and his heart stopped a little when dust shook loose from Loki’s coat but it was just the plaster of the stairs and he took a gulping breath in his relief.

He could go out there right now and feel him, alive again. He could put a hand on his shoulder and see the same begrudgingly soft eyes looking back at him that he remembered, the same amused tilt of the lips he got whenever Tony had made a fool of himself in an especially endearing way, the same-

“-Tony. Tony, can you hear me?” Tony blinked. Cap’s voice crackled through his suit speakers, and he turned to seek him out across the room. Steve met his gaze sympathetically, but solemnly, and not for the first time Tony wondered exactly who had told Steve about any of his personal business. “He’s not your Loki, Tony. Not yet.”

And goddamn it, it was true. If he went out there now, he was much more likely to see eyes narrowed in confusion and anger, pain, hurt, nothing Loki was equipped to deal with within himself yet. He wouldn’t see a smile buried underneath the metal casing over his mouth.

But if he got the stones back, if they pulled this off, then maybe he’d get to see all that again.