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We'll Meet Again (Don't Know When)

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Tony Stark needed coffee. Very badly. Which is why he’s now standing in the communal kitchen in front of the state of the art coffee brewer.

Looking handsome (at least, he thought so) in his favorite 3-piece suit, he impatiently drummed his fingers on the marble counter as he thumbed through his Starkpad. His eyes flickering to the agonizingly slow trickle of coffee every few seconds.

He’d been up all night working on a new feature for the armor when Jarvis reminded him of his meeting with Strange.

Sorcerer Supreme, Master Doctor Stephen Strange. That was a mouthful, so Tony just called him Strange, which was perfect because that man was odd. And kind of a dick which was ironic coming from Tony.

So Tony had put down his soldering iron, went up to his penthouse, showered and dressed to impress. Though his clothes may not be magical like what Strange wore (stupid magic cloak, it’s really not that impressive), a custom made fine Italian suit that not only accentuated his shoulder-waist ratio but also greatly flattered his ass, was well worth several thousand dollars. Tony was self-aware enough to admit he was a little vain.

Also see narcissistic, self-destructive and hedonistic. He’s working on that though.

Pepper had once told him that he also craved approval or whatever, but he tried not to look at that too closely. It wasn’t healthy for someone like him to want that from others.

He’d learned long ago that people always inevitably find him wanting.

Never quite good enough as a son, then once he’d grown, as a person.

As an inventor? Sure.

As an investor? Yes, please!

As a philanthropist, stock holder, futurist and superhero, Tony was very well received.

But Tony Stark as a human being was deeply flawed and emotionally stunted. Tony Stark shouldn’t even be an Avenger, they just needed Iron Man.

Tony had learned as a child that his best was never good enough. His own parents had never wanted him around so what could he hope to give someone else? He had learned what was expected of him, and what would be accepted from him. People wanted money, fame by association, expensive gifts, orgasms…but they never wanted Tony. So he’d learned to act like he gave no fucks.

The coffee machine beeped, and Tony blinked out of his internal musings. Mentally cursing that he allowed himself to angst all over the kitchen counter, he poured the rich, black liquid into his Power Puff Girls coffee mug (Thor’s a huge fan). He hums with the first sip. Delicious. Like an addict getting his fix, he relaxes. A small smile quirks on his lips.

“Morning, Tony!” a deep voice rings out, breaking the quiet of the kitchen.

Tony slowly opens his eyes, coming down from his coffee high and sets his sights on the source of the interruption. Captain Steven Grant Rogers. National Icon. The First Superhero and Tony’s childhood hero, Captain Fucking America was entering the kitchen. He wasn’t alone. Behind him stood their other resident super-soldier, former POW and brainwashed assassin, Steve’s oldest and bestest buddy, Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes.

Steve calls him Bucky. It’s ridiculous. He’s a grown man, an ex-Hydra asset with an adamantium arm and the deadliest assassin in the world. With those credentials they should be calling him Vader. Or Khan. Maybe Darkseid. Not Bucky.

They were both dressed in running shorts. Steve’s were navy blue with a tiny white shirt while James (not Bucky) continued his tradition of a black on black wardrobe which, admittedly, he was pulling off effortlessly. James didn’t say anything in greeting. He rarely said anything at all so this wasn’t surprising, it just made Tony uneasy. In a very manly way, of course.

Tony didn’t blame James for his actions as the Winter Soldier, many of which were gruesome and cold blooded, because it truly wasn’t his fault. Tony had found enough of the leaked information to know what the guy had been through. Subsequently, Tony hadn't eaten for three days after seeing those files.

After Steve had taken down Hydra (again), razed SHEILD to the ground, nearly died (again) then caused a media shitstorm, he’d gone out searching for his former best friend and had actually found him. Dirty, half-starved, paranoid and deeply remorseful James Barnes had needed a lot of time and support to even make it this far.

Rogers had shown up at the tower not long after with Romanoff, Barnes and a handsome man with a charming gap-toothed smile in tow. Tony had tried to graciously offer them a place to stay and provide help for James. He really had tried.

But he’d said something more along the lines of, “About time, Spangles, your floors have been empty for over a year, that’s multi-million dollar wasted space. Bring the terminator to my lab once he’s house broken. Brucie and I will take a look under the hood.” He had been already moving toward the elevator, Jarvis automatically opening the doors for him. “Workshop. Jarvis, show them to their floors.”

To be fair Tony had been up for 53 hours at this point.

When Rogers had finally made his way down to Tony’s workshop with the former assassin on his heels, Tony had been slouched over a workbench, drooling. Rogers’s claim that Tony yelps like a five year old girl upon waking is something Tony will deny until his dying day.

It was a manly groan. Period.

Tony and Bruce had started work not long after, calling in favors from specialists and colleagues around the world while keeping Barnes’s name out of it. It wouldn’t do for the world to learn about him before he was ready to take that on and consciously defend himself. Tony could help there too.

Barnes was damn near untouchable in Tony’s tower. It was a fortress, and Tony was wealthy enough and connected enough to go toe-to-toe with the justice system, pentagon, Department of Defense or any other institution that would inevitably call for Barnes’s head. Tony’s lawyers were always on retainer and earned every cent Tony paid them.

Rogers had known that too when he’d shown up with his scary sidekicks. Romanoff was still the subject of debate in some parts of D.C and Capitol Hill. But Tony had that covered.

As Bruce began a series of potential solutions to Barnes’s neurochemical imbalance, the damage between his synapses, the trigger words he still had and the possible assistance in recalling lost memories, Tony had begun a careful examination and repair of that beautiful metal arm. He had explained how he was working to get the Avengers established as a private group who could be called upon to help save the day, but wasn’t directly under the thumb of an official organization. They would be self-funded and maintained.

Steve was touched and awkwardly humble when Tony admitted he should be their official leader. It made the most sense, Steve’s name would go further than any of theirs in terms of public opinion, but it wasn’t the only reason. Although he was technically the youngest Avenger, Steve had proven time and again that he was a master strategist and could lead the fight in any battle, no matter how hopeless or desperate. Tony was Iron Man, but Steve Rogers had an inner core of steel.

Steel that had blushed at the faith shown in him by Tony, and that was…Well, Tony didn’t know what that was. It certainly wasn’t adorable, and if his stomach fluttered before he looked back down to the gears he was checking below Barnes’s elbow, it was surely because he was hungry. Right?

That had been six months ago. Barton had shown up not long after. Tony suspected Romanoff had something to do with it.

Thor had come soon after that, telling of his adventure in London fighting elves with his girlfriend or something. Asking about Steve’s heroic battle against the Hydra, not fully understanding that it wasn’t an actual multi-headed Greek monster Steve had fought. Then asking about Tony’s brave crusade against the Mandarin.

Which, no, don’t even get Tony started on that one.

Thor had lamented upon hearing that the “Fair Lady Pepper” no longer was “Tony’s to cherish”.

Which, no, don’t get him started with that either.

The breakup was like a wound that refused to fully heal, despite it having been (mostly) mutual. Tony was not an ideal person to share your life with. He knew that.

Thus, the team was assembled. It had been a rocky start. All of them had issues. Some more than others, but they dealt with it. Things were going much better than when they’d first worked together and had been about two minutes away from spilling blood. They worked well together, but everyday interaction was a toss-up sometimes. So many variables.

“Hello, Earth to Tony, anyone there?” Tony flinched when the hand waved in front of his face.

“Jeez, Rogers, personal space!” Tony balked.

Steve, that bastard, just rolled his eyes and smirked, “Trust me. When I get in your space, you’ll know.”

That had been a surprise early on when Tony realized what a sassy shit Steve Rogers really is. It wasn’t endearing, really it wasn’t. Nope.

He watched as Steve moved to the refrigerator and pulled out the carton of orange juice. He set it on the counter before grabbing two glasses from a cabinet. Tony sipped his coffee and did not watch the way Steve’s running shorts hung low on his hips. The material clinging to that sculpted ass, the fabric a deep contrast to the brilliant white of that tiny fucking shirt…

Did they even explain clothing sizes to Steve when he came out of the ice? And it looks like he went and taught Barnes all of his bad habits. Tiny T-shirts everywhere, every day. It was distracting is what it was.

“You’re pretty cocky for a guy who thought Led Zeppelin was a failed military experiment,” Tony sassed back. He had really enjoyed being the one to introduce Steve to the awesomeness that is classic Led Zeppelin. It doesn’t mean he still won’t tease the super-soldier about it.

“Fair enough, but you have to admit that it sounds like something Justin Hammer would build. I mean, after Rhodes and that whole “ex-wife” missile. It definitely sounded like HammerTech to me.”

See? Steve was smart enough to recognize what an idiot Justin Hammer is! Tony chuckled. Stupid Justin Hammer. The “ex-wife” story was always brought up within the team for a good laugh when Rhodey came to visit. The first time he heard it, Steve had laughed until he had tears in his eyes. He had a nice laugh.

Steve continued as he poured the juice between the glasses. “Thanks for telling me about them. I liked that heaven song.”

Stairway to Heaven? Yeah, it’s like one of THE Zeppelin songs.” Tony was surprised. He hadn’t pegged Steve for a classic rock fan. Curious, he continued, “Did you look into any other songs of theirs?”

Steve nodded as he handed Barnes the second glass of juice. Both silently emptied their glasses before he continued. “I really liked Ramble On and When the Levee Breaks. Immigrant Song makes me think of Thor for some reason, but I liked it.”

“Good choices, all. And I totally get that now that I know Thor. It could be his theme song. I should play it while he fights. It would go well with the lightening.” Tony mused. He turned to their silent companion and asked, “What about you, Robocop?”

Barnes stared at him. For like, a little too long. Tony was beginning to regret involving him in the conversation when he finally answered, “I like Steve’s choices, but I also liked Kashmir, Black Dog and Dazed and Confused.”

Silent again as he set the now empty glass into the sink knowing Steve would wash it for him. Six months and Tony had never seen the man clean one dish. Not even a fork.

“Equally good choices. Remind me to introduce you both to AC/DC and Black Sabbath. There’s a chance you might not be hopeless after all.” Tony said taking another large gulp of coffee. He needed to fully wake up. Besides having to deal with Strange soon, he needed his wits about him to deal with the two 95 year-olds who put underwear models to shame. Not that he was looking.

It was just so damn distracting. Tony had always appreciated beauty in all forms, and these two certainly fit that bill. Standing in this kitchen, flushed and still a little sweaty from their run, the image these two presented in Tony’s mind made him realize that it had been way too long since he’d had sex. Like, waaaayyy too long.

That’s what this was. He was just horny, so any good looking person would do. Tony was shallow. It’s not like Tony was actually attracted to either of them. That would be bad.

First, and most important, Tony is a man. There is no way Captain America was anything but straight. And everyone had heard the stories about what a ladies man Barnes had been. Howard had always gone on about the Captain, but he’d sometimes reminisce with a few lewd stories about Barnes and his prowess with the ladies while on leave from the front.

In a way he’d also been a hero to Tony. The things that guy could talk a woman into doing.

Second, if either or both of them weren’t certified hetero, Tony would bet the farm that they’d be sex-ing each other up. He actually did sometimes wonder about those two. Just how deep was their bond? (and who tops? Oh, mental picture) But Tony never noticed any evidence of a romantic or physical relationship. He usually tried his best not to picture it because that’s sexy disrespectful and insensitive, and Tony hadn’t gotten laid in forever was their teammate.

Third, even if they were gayer than a glitter covered dance team at a pride parade, neither would ever be interested in Tony. The two soldiers were heroes, even off the battlefield. They had old fashioned moral compasses and possessed the courage of their convictions. They were loyal and honest and spent time volunteering at shelters, assisted living facilities and the local VA.

Tony was a thirty-nine year old borderline alcoholic with PTSD, health issues, and an endless list of character defects. Not to mention the scars that ran across his body thanks to being Iron Man. He supposed that most of them weren’t too bad. Some people thought battle scars could be sexy, right?

But his chest, that was a horror show. That shrapnel had made the first marks across his ribs and upper torso. Then, the makeshift magnet Yinsen had implanted to save him. Yeah, having your ribs and sternum cut away without anesthetic sucked. It also left a roadmap across his pecs. After the fiasco with the fake Mandarin and Killian, Tony had had the reactor removed, and though he didn’t regret it, he sometimes missed the soothing glow that had been a part of him. Unfortunately, the surgery had been extensive, leaving Tony’s chest…ugly. Like an autopsy of someone that was hit by a car, incision marks and webbed scarring started from just below his collarbone to a few inches above his naval.

Even with his resources, they couldn’t do better at the moment. The surgery had been dangerous enough, and the area where they implanted the prosthetic to fill the void where the reactor had been needed to fully heal before the plastic surgeons would touch him. Still, he had heard some promising things about a brilliant scientist named Helen Cho who was building a machine that could regrow skin and damaged tissue. Tony was currently looking into funding her work.

So, yeah, not a catch. Hell, he wasn’t even a consolation prize. The two soldiers would probably laugh at the idea, and they would be right to.

“Tony!” He jumped. Had Steve been talking to him?

Steve was looking at him, his eyebrows pinched in concern. “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I think you need more coffee. You’re really out of it this morning.”

Tony shook himself and agreed with the Cap so he refilled his lurid ‘Buttercup with bedhead’ coffee mug (Seriously Thor?) and took a long drink.

“Sorry. Pulled a marathon in the lab. Almost forgot I had an appointment with Strange this morning.”

“Strange?” This time it was James that spoke. Twice in one morning. He was quite the chatty Cathy today.

“Sorcerer Supreme Mugwump of the Wizengamot for assholes. He was a doctor, but he had to quit when his head got too big to fit in the operating room.” Tony explained.

James frowned. “Wizengamot, like in Harry Potter?”

Tony looked at him, stunned. “You read Harry Potter?” What the hell was in this coffee?

James just shrugged. “It was on Steve’s list. I liked Dobby and Luna. Umbridge was hard to read through, that bitch deserved to die. The movies were pretty good, but I don’t like how they changed the final battle between Harry and Voldemort, that they were alone. I liked Harry’s monologue in the great hall being heard by everyone who had fought…”

“Oh, God, Buck!” Steve groaned, “Don’t start that again. The ending was fine!”

“Yeah, it was fine,” James conceded. Tony actually thought he sounded bratty. “But Rowling’s ending was perfect! Why mess with it? Did the script writers just need something to do?”

Steve pinched the bridge of his nose. “I am not having this conversation again. I’m ninety-six years old. I will not argue Harry Potter with you.”

James just rolled his eyes and muttered something that sounded like, “You should have been placed in Slytherin. I can’t believe the computer said you were something cool like Gryffindor.”

Seriously!! What was in this damn coffee?

Was Tony hallucinating? Had Jarvis ordered coffee beans laced with drugs?

He’d never heard James talk so much, which he now thought was a shame because the guy was kinda funny, and that voice...

Steve ignored James’s comment. “What does Strange want?”

Tony shrugged. “He didn’t say much at all, really. You know him. It was mostly ‘Blah, blah, powerful threat, blah, blah, may concern you, I’m too busy to stop so you need to come to me, blah.’ As if I’m not busy?” He asked, affronted.

“Do you trust this guy?” James asked.

That made Tony pause for a second. James was asking Tony if he trusted Strange, not Steve. Which meant that James trusted Tony’s judgement. Well, how about that?

“Like him? Ehh…” Tony wobbled his hand back and forth, “But yeah, I trust him. He’s saved the world a couple times. He’s earned it.”

James nodded, though he was still wearing that signature scowl. Tony had seen pictures from the war. He knew the man before him used to smile so easy. He’d been dashing, and it had shone through grainy black and white photos and newsreels. Tony wondered if he ever smiled anymore. Tony hoped he could see that one day.

“Sir,” Jarvis interrupted, “if you wish to make your appointment, I suggest you leave within the next five minutes. Traffic reports show congestion on your travel route.”

Tony sighed, “Thanks, J.” He looked at Steve and James. “Well, I’m off. No rest for the wicked.”

At that moment Clint walked into the kitchen looking like he had spent all night in the ventilation system, which he probably had, and headed for the coffee pot when he stopped. “Dammit, Stark! ‘Bedhead Buttercup’ is my mug! Where’s your ‘Professor Utonium’s Blend’ mug?”

“Dum-E broke it, and chill the fuck out Barton, it’s just a coffee mug! Here, use the ‘Mojo Jojo Java’ mug.” Tony said, squinting at the coffee mug tree on the counter that was filled with novelty mugs.

“I can’t.” He pouted, “Thor said he’d electrocute anyone who touched his ‘mischievous monkey’ mug. Nat said only a badass redhead could use the ‘Breakfast with Blossom’ mug. Bruce claimed the ‘Gang Green Gang Good Morning’ mug, and I’m not about to make him angry.

“Steve’s called the ‘Rowdy Rough Morning Boys’ mug, and I’m pretty sure if I steal from Captain America it makes me a communist. Barnes uses the ‘HIM so Sleepy’ mug, which works because that character is creepy as hell. No offense, Barnes”

James shrugs.

“I’m leaving anyway,” Tony said, trying to stop Clint’s rambling and handed him his precious coffee mug. “Here's your precious mug, just clean it.”

Clint whined. “I can’t drink outta this, your cooties are too fresh!” Seriously, sometimes the archer acted like he was ten.

“Fuck you, Barton, I don’t have cooties, and if you can stick your tongue in Wilson’s ass, you can drink out of a recently used novelty mug.”

Clint squawked, and Tony saw Steve and Bucky go wide eyed with shock. He was going to give Captain America an aneurism. They’d probably kick him out of the country for that.

“I…how…” Clint stuttered.

“Next time you two birdbrains go for some afternoon delight, don’t do it in a supply closet I happen to be walking past. Though with the sounds Sam was making, I gotta admit I’m impressed. At least your mouth is good for something other than being annoying.”

Tony gave the three a smirk with a lazy salute, turned and sauntered out of the kitchen. Yes, Tony was an asshole, but he was in good company.

*****

Traffic was, as Jarvis had said, pretty damn slow. Tony checked his watch as he sat behind the wheel of his newly acquired 1964 Pontiac GTO. He’d restored it himself and added a few upgrades under the hood. It was a beast. Though not Tony’s usual style, the black and chrome muscle car was something he’d always toyed with the idea of having.

Most of his vehicles were sleek and new. This thing roared with power, not inherently flashy but still demanding attention. Well, if he had to sit in traffic, he may as well look cool doing it. Pepper said he was having a midlife crisis. Tony hoped that wasn’t true because that would be his fourth one according to her.

As Tony inched his way toward Greenwich Village to visit Strange, the sudden blasting of Crazy Train from Tony’s phone let him know Pepper was calling. She had not been amused by her personalized ringtone, but he refused to change it.

“Pepper, my darling, my jewel, my…”

“Don’t darling jewel me, Tony!” Pepper sounded like she was ready to reach through the phone and kill him.

“You sound angry, my Queen.”

“That’s because I am, Tony! You don’t have to be a genius to figure that out. Just like you don’t have to be a genius to sign those patent applications I gave you. You promised to have them to me by this morning.”

Crap. Tony hated paperwork. “In all fairness I did sign them. I just got a little distracted and forgot to send them over to you.”

“Of course you got distracted, Tony, it’s what you do.” She sighed, “I’m killing myself trying to run your company. I don’t think having to sign a few papers every week or so is too much to ask of you.”

“You’re absolutely right, Pep. Of course you are, but my lab is on lockdown at the moment. As soon as I get back to the tower, I’ll grab those applications and bring them right over.” Tony said, hoping to appease his angry CEO and praying that there wasn’t coffee or motor oil stains on them.

“Get back? Where are you?”

“On my way to Bleeker Street in the Village. Want me to pick you up some those chocolate cranberry muffins you like?”

“I don’t need muffins Tony. Just get me those applications by three o’clock.”

“Of course.” But she had already hung up. Tony sighed.

How Pepper had stuck with him throughout these years was a mystery. Tony was certain she must dye her hair that lovely shade of red because he knew he’d probably turned it gray with stress years ago. He was lucky she’d given him a chance at love, the first real taste of love he’d ever known. Even though he’d ruined things between them pretty spectacularly, he’d still always be grateful for their time together.

When Tony finally pulled up to the infamous Sanctum Sanctorum, he repressed a shiver. Tony hated magic. A lot. And this was a place of nothing but magic. He could actually smell it in the air and feel it on his skin. Eww.

Gathering himself, Tony put on his business face. Cool and confident he walked to the arch of the front doors, lifted his hand and knocked. The sound was heavy and seemed to echo through his bones. Nothing happened. Tony knocked again and waited…and waited. Tony grabbed the knob and turned it over. The door swung open silently.

Tony wanted to believe that Strange was just rude enough to ignore a knock on the door when he was expecting company, but he knew that probably wasn’t true.

“Hello?” Tony called as he stepped into the foyer.

A great staircase stood before him leading up to the next floor where he knew Strange’s private library was located. Tony began to walk towards it, but every step he took set his instincts to screaming. Wrong, wrong, wrong…Get out now!

Tony activated the gauntlet in his watch while feeling like he should summon the whole suit. Before he could do that, however, a voice broke the silence. A woman’s voice. “Anthony Stark.”

Tony turned to see a figure emerge to his left. A figure he soon recognized. “Umar, you are looking lovely as ever.”

Shit! The sorceress and wannabe ruler of the Dark Dimension was slowly walking towards him, her hips swaying seductively in that BDSM dress she always wore. An amused smirk on her full lips spelled out trouble. So much trouble.

She was scary powerful, and Tony would readily admit he was outmatched with only his gauntlet against her. He wasn’t stupid enough to think he could best a higher-dimensional being who had once literally fucked the Hulk into submission. Bruce still had issues over it.

“You’re always such a charmer, Anthony,” she murmured dangerously. “I’ve heard of your silver tongue. If you wish to keep it, tell me where my daughter and her fool husband are.”

Strange’s wife was Umar’s daughter?! Was he still high from the coffee? Should he already know this or was it a secret?

“Well, now I know where Clea gets her looks from, but I honestly don’t know where she and the fool are at the moment. Ironically, I was supposed to have a meeting with him this morning, but I guess he must have left his day-planner in that mirror dimension he loves so much.”

Talking was something Tony was good at. He could usually talk circles around anyone, but as he stood in front of her, Tony measured every word spoken.

“That was not wise of him to involve you, mortal.” Her eyes narrowed as she sneered, “If Clea’s husband believed you could aid him, he is a bigger fool than I imagined.”

“I believe he was going to offer me aid, or information or whatever. He mentioned something about a threat.” Tony tried to pacify her through his indignation of being thought of as useless.

“There will be no threat when I have accomplished my goal.” Pride, thy name is Umar. “Your presence is not required, Anthony Stark. Return to your drabble of heroes. Surely, they are lost without their precious Iron Man.”

At her words Tony’s mind flashed to the other Avengers. All of them so much more than he would ever be. Amazing heroes, even Clint. The cut of her words brought the pain she’d intended. Because he knew they would be fine without him, would probably be better without him. He wasn’t that close to any of them and had never tried to be. Even though he’d wanted to.

There were two in particular he would have loved being closer to, but, seriously, how would that have gone? If Steve and Bucky knew the real him…No. They tolerated him now. Maybe even had come to respect him a little. Tony wouldn’t jeopardize that. He was better off being the team’s bankroll and technician. It made him useful.

Umar chuckled. “I didn’t realize that heroes had heroes. So much doubt and longing inside your mind.”

Damn telepathy.

“It’s quite amusing,” she continued. “What you wish is easily achieved, Anthony. Do you truly long to know your Captain and his Sergeant?”

An alarm in Tony’s brain began to wail out a warning. The sweetness in her voice made his balls tighten like they were trying to climb up into him and hide. Tony tried at charming nonchalance.

“Oh, I wouldn’t presume to trouble you. We all have little ‘what if’ scenarios we play in our minds, right? Besides, we had a good dose of bonding this morning over Led Zeppelin and Harry Potter. I’m sure we’ll be best bros soon enough.”

Her smile only widened. She could see through his bullshit. It helped when you could read minds.

“It’s no trouble at all, Anthony,” she crooned. God, he hated when people used his full name, which was probably why she did it. “In fact, I believe it would be very entertaining while I wait for my wayward daughter and the arrogant oaf.”

She took a step closer, and Tony reflexively raised the gauntlet higher.

“Besides, I hate to think that you came all this way for nothing,” she continued, seeming to pause for effect. “Think of this as your consolation prize.”

Several things happened at once.

Tony’s phone rang. Ozzy Osbourne’s voice filled the space.

A flash of light pulsed from Umar.

Tony felt it hit his body as his arm swung up and sent a repulsor blast through the ceiling.

Flying backwards Tony felt like his body was being covered by a warm, wet blanket.

…I’m goin’ off the rails on a crazy train!...

Tony’s last thought was how much he hated magic, before he blacked out.

He fucking hated magic.