“I am inevitable.”
Thor watched Thanos lift his hand to this time snap all of the universe out of existence and for once he was in the right place at the right time and he saw.
The stones were missing from Thanos’ gauntlet.
He had never claimed to be as clever as his brother but in that moment, he saw and he knew and he understood what it meant and in the next heartbeat, he remembered a tale told to him by the tree on the way to Nidavellir.
“Rabbit!” he bellowed. “Your defeat of Ronan with the Power Stone.”
For one terrifying moment, Rocket’s face was blank with incomprehension then he saw the moment Rocket understood.
“Quill!” Rocket yelled, even as he and Groot raced towards Stark. “Like Xandar.”
As he raced towards Stark, Thor saw Quill understand as well and in a flash, a wave, the word went out across the battlefield and everyone started to converge on Stark. The Guardians and Thor reached him first and none of them hesitated for an instant. Thor clapped one hand on Stark’s shoulder and Quill reached for the other just as the stones aligned in the gauntlet Stark had created.
Rocket leapt onto Thor’s shoulder and Groot wrapped a tendril around Stark’s waist. Drax took hold of Quill’s shoulder and Nebula gripped tight to Drax’s arm. Gamora had followed her sister, confused about what was happening, but she didn’t hesitate to follow Nebula’s lead, clinging tight to her sister’s shoulder.
The others followed. Pepper threw herself at Tony and plastered herself at his back, her arms wrapped around his chest. Rhodes held onto one of her shoulders, Spider-Man the other. More people arrived, joining hands, clutching shoulders and arms as long chains grew from those who had arrived first.
Stark then raised his own hand and looked Thanos in the eyes.
“I am Iron Man.”
He got ready to make his own snap.
“And we are the Avengers.”
As the power of the stones was activated, it lashed through them all, making them cry out with pain. But none of them loosened their grips, none of them shirked the issue, and the power spread itself through them all, balancing itself, almost too much but at the same time, not too much for any one of them to bear, with Stark as its focal point, its control. And through the power, they could all feel Stark’s determination, his passion, his acceptance of what was to come as he willed Thanos and all his followers, all that was his, out of existence.
The power flared through them all and all around them, Thanos’ children, then his ships, his favoured and finally Thanos himself turned to dust and disappeared. Of those who had numbered on Thanos’ side, only Nebula and Gamora remained, proving that whatever they may once have been, they were no longer His.
As abruptly as it had risen, the power faded and they all let go and staggered as they were released by the stones. Many collapsed to the ground but Thor raised his head and straightened, turning to find Stark.
He was there, in a tight huddle that consisted of Pepper, Rhodes and Spider-Man, staring at the now-quiescent gauntlet on his hand. He looked drawn and exhausted, drained and suddenly, shockingly, abruptly thin, almost as bad as he had when he’d returned to Earth, but he was alive and intact.
Dr Strange walked up to him, his cloak billowing dramatically around him, and pulled an intricately carved chest out of some unknown dimension. He opened it and held it out in front of Stark.
“Trust you,” Strange said with a laugh. “Trust you to find a way not even I could see.”
Stark shook his head as he guided the nanotech of his armour to deposit the stones in the chest. He looked over at Thor. “Not me,” he said hoarsely. “It was Thor.”
Everyone turned to Thor but he just chuckled and shook his head. “Nay. It was the tree who told me the tale of the Guardians’ mighty defeat of Ronan.”
Groot grinned and waved his arms over his head triumphantly. “I am Groot!”
People laughed and smiled, whether it was because they understood what he said or just because his joy was infectious, it didn’t matter. They were alive, Thanos was dead, never to return, and Stark had saved them all.