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The Sands of Time

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Time travel is a tricky bitch.

No two ways about it. And no matter how hard Tony stared at the Quantum capsules and Scott’s van—which they’d had imported to the Compound—nothing was going to suddenly make time travel make sense.

It had been just short of five years since the prune-faced asshole destroyed half of all life. Which meant just under five years since they’d found the bastard again and Thor finally aimed for the head.

Just under five years was how long the whole universe had been struggling, trying to repair things after the massive shit-storm that had hit. And still, even now when people had started putting their lives back together, it was still painfully obvious that things were not right. People were suffering; economies were collapsing. In many ways, everything had changed and yet, perhaps in even more ways, nothing had changed at all.

“Five years,” Tony muttered to himself, dropping a tool he’d been absently fiddling with for several minutes. He stood and ran a hand over his face, looking up with his eyes closed and feeling the kind of exhaustion that simply comes with the passage of time. In a sudden burst of frustration, he kicked the chair he’d been sitting on, sending it skittering across the workshop.

“Whoa,” a calm voice said. Tony turned and let out an exasperated huff, forcing a smile, as Carol righted the chair and approached, dragging the stool along with her. “Maybe ease up on the ‘roids?”

Tony rolled his eyes. He opened his mouth but then sighed. Throwing his arms out to the side, he said, “I don’t even have anything for that.”

The woman looked genuinely taken aback. “Nothing?” Carol asked him incredulously.

“Nope,” he told her, dropping back onto the stool unceremoniously. “This is what all this Quantum shit has done to me. I can’t even come up with a comeback for banter.” As Carol leaned back against the desk, folding her arms over her chest, Tony pouted. “I’m all bantered out.”

“That,” Carol pointed at him, “is a true tragedy.”

Tony chuckled. “I thought you were in space?” he asked, suddenly realizing that he wasn’t expecting her.

“Um, yeah, I was,” the Captain replied. She turned around, inspecting pieces of a particle accelerator that Tony had taken apart because why-the-hell-not. “But, I did mention in our last meeting,” Carol continued as she held up the piece of metal, “that I would be back in a few days.”

Tony frowned. “Yeah, a few days,” he repeated. He looked at the back of the blonde’s head for a moment, waiting for her response. Then realization dawned on him. “It’s. . . it’s been a few days, hasn’t it?”

Carol set the metal down and spun around, biting her lip. “Yeah,” she hissed out cautiously. “Yep, it has.”

“Fuck.” Tony ruffled his hair. “Okay, and nobody came to get me, so I’m assuming that either. . .” he paused, running through options in his head. “Either nobody else has come up with any ideas, yet; or they did, but went on with their plan without me because they realized they obviously don’t need me.”

Carol tutted softly, patting Tony on the shoulder. “The world will always need you, Tony Stark.”

With a harrumph, Tony slouched, crossed his arms, and glanced down. “Not the whole world, it seems.”

“Pepper is one person,” Carol told him, moving her hand from his shoulder to his chin and forcing him to look at her. “And she’s a lovely person, but not your person. And that’s okay.”

Tony narrowed his eyes, wanting to be angry, because that had become his modus operandi for the last five years; that, along with bitter, resentful, and basically just being a huge disappointment – all things he was very skilled at; first, with Howard and then, apparently, with Pepper.

“She broke off the engagement, Tony,” Carol stated, interrupting the man’s thoughts. “You’ve gotta stop being mad at yourself eventually.” Finally, the woman leaned back, resting her palms behind her on the desk. “Besides, it’s been five years—"

Tony cut her off, “Yup, I know. Five fucking years.” And there was the anger he’d been looking for. The inventor let out a dark laugh. “Five years since Pepper and I ended, which I guess is fitting since that’s when the world ended.”

“Except the world didn’t end, Tony,” Carol interjected. She gave him a determined look, but it only fueled Tony’s frustration.

“It might as well have, Danvers!” Now, Tony was on his feet, pacing around the work-space and flailing his arms just for something to do. “Because you know what? We failed. We fucking failed. We couldn’t stop Thanos, and half the universe paid for it with their lives. And the rest? Well, they’re all just left behind to mourn and waste away and fight each other for scraps. Because we’ve all just been down here in the shit for the last five years. And now when we finally have an idea – finally, after not being able to do a damn thing – we can’t pull our heads out of our asses enough to figure out how to make it work!”

Carol stared at Tony, who was now standing still and panting in the middle of the room. Just as the pilot looked like she was about to say something, Tony let out a shaky breath. “And the worst part,” he said softly, “is that I actually let myself hope that maybe we could fix this. That maybe I could save them, could get them all back – could get the kid back.” With that, Tony dropped to his knees.

In an instant, Carol was kneeling beside him. She pulled him into a hug, which was what he really needed at the moment – someone to hold him tight enough that maybe all his broken pieces would come back together; Carol’s hug wasn’t quite that tight, but it would work for the moment, at least.

“Tony, you’ve done the hardest part.” Carol’s hand circled Tony’s back as she whispered in his ear. “You got the band back together.”

Tony let out a hiccupping laugh at that. He could feel Carol smile against his cheek.

“And you came up with the basics.” She pulled away and nodded her head towards the vehicle in the space. “Scott provided us with the wheels. So, what are we really missing here?”

Tony let out a sigh. “A plan. And the juice to make it happen.”

Carol nodded and stood, pulling Tony to his feet in one swift motion. He grunted and glared at her. “I told you to stop doing that.”

“Then stop kneeling every time you see me,” Carol quipped back with a wink.

Tony rolled his eyes exaggeratedly. “Trust me, when I get on my knees for someone, there’s only one reason I’m down there.” Leaning forward, Tony surreptitiously whispered, “And you’ve got the wrong equipment for that, Sweetheart.”

“You’re disgusting,” Carol told him with a playful shove. In response, Tony merely wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. “C’mon!” Carol grabbed him by the hand and started dragging him toward the door. “We’ve got a plan to come up with!”

Tony followed her, chuckling as he did. Moments later, when they arrived in the meeting room, everyone else was already there.

“Look who decided to join us,” Natasha greeted in a deadpan tone from her seat at the front of the room. She leaned back in her chair and gave a friendly smirk. “Thanks for dragging him out of his laboratory, Carol.”

Tony sat down next to Carol, grinning at Natasha. “Can you say ‘laboratory’ in, like, a Russian accent? Or maybe British, and do the Dr. Evil pinky thing? I don’t know why, but I feel like it would be cathartic for me or some shit.”

Natasha rolled her eyes and stood, putting her hands on her hips in that authoritative way that she had. “Okay, so, we’re all here to try and fix what happened. I think we’re all in agreement about the Time Stones being the key to that, yeah?”

“Not all of us,” a low voice grumbled from behind Tony. He spun around in his chair and looked into Thor’s dual-toned eyes.

Tony hesitated for a split second, feeling goosebumps across his skin at the odd thought that something about Thor wasn’t quite. . . right. But then he decided he’d probably just been locked up in his workshop for too long. “Wanna share with the rest of the class, Lebowski?”

Thor glared at him. Interestingly, it was Natasha who answered: “Thor has already told all of us how he thinks he has a better plan.”

“Which you would know if you’d been coming to any of the status updates over the last couple days,” Steve added.

“Whatever would we do without that tone of righteous indignation of yours, Spangles?” Tony snarked, glancing briefly to the soldier. Then, he looked back at Thor. “So, you think you have a better plan? You, the – and I say this with all due respect, Bud – the Space Viking who has been struggling to bring an alien culture into the 20th, let alone 21st, century on the cliffs of Norway for the last five years?”

Thor’s gaze lingered, challengingly, for a moment, before he finally looked down. A dejected expression flitted across the King’s face and it caused something in Tony to ache. Before he could say anything else, though, Thor pushed himself out of his chair and exited the room in a flourish, his stupid red cape billowing along behind him.

Tony spun around and looked at the other people – and animal, and android – in the room. “Was it something I said?” he asked, trying to sound teasing but even he could tell his voice missed the mark.

Bruce rubbed at the back of his neck. He took his glasses off and looked up at the ceiling. “Thor’s disagreement has been a bit of a sore spot. He, uh, he has some different ideas about time travel.”

“Well, no shit. We all have different ideas about it.” Tony let out a laugh, but it was quickly cut short. “Wait,” he scrambled forward, resting his hands on the table. “None of us can actually say that we understand time travel, right?”

Scott tentatively raised a hand. “For the record, I totally thought I understood time travel. Before I got here. But all that has been kind of tossed out the window.”

Suddenly, Tony’s mind drew him back to years earlier. To his Penthouse; an offer of a drink; a window that would soon be shattered by him being thrown bodily through it. And glistening seafoam eyes on a face so full of pain that it hurt to look at, especially since that pain seemed so wrong in contrast to the beauty of the face it was on. . .

Shaking his head, trying to clear a fog that seemed overpowering, Tony lurched to his feet. “What did you just say?” Tony asked, wheeling around to face Scott completely. The Ant-Man merely blinked at him, looking more confused than usual. Tony felt Carol’s hand on his arm and he sat back down. “Sorry,” he mumbled. He rubbed his eyes, trying to quell the tugging in his chest, which had been there since he’d seen that pained look on Thor’s face and had gotten stronger at Scott’s words. Surely, it had to have just been the words – poor phrasing on Scott’s part, bringing up memories of Tony’s past.

“Time travel, for all intents and purposes, is incorrectly named.” Bruce was speaking, but his voice sounded far away. “Time is linear,” Bruce insisted, just as he had days before. “If you travel to the past, it’s not the actual past, so-to-speak. It’s you in the present visiting the past which now also is part of your present, because the past has already happened. So you can’t go back and affect now; you can only be here and affect the future.”

Rocket waved a paw in the air. “Stop, Doc. You’re makin’ my head hurt. Again.”

Suddenly, Tony felt the need to move. He jumped up and left the room, ignoring the protests from his companions. He maneuvered through the hallways of the Compound, trying to shake the feeling that he was being held underwater. He’d been there before – didn’t like it, thank you very much.

Maybe he was having a migraine.

Maybe this was the start of a really bad panic attack.

Maybe—

Tony’s thoughts came to a slamming halt when he crashed into a broad, muscular, Asgardian chest.

“Are you all right?” Thor asked. Tony squinted at him – he was muffled, too, and blurry. Everything was too bright. “Come with me,” Thor said, in a tone softer than any Tony had ever heard from the brash god. And then, Tony most likely passed out.

*

*          *

*

Tony opened his eyes and found Thor hovering over him. “Well, that’s terrifying,” the engineer muttered as he sat up.

“You fainted,” Thor told him, offering a glass of water.

“Excuse me, I am a very manly man,” Tony told him. His throat felt tight and dry, so he took a large swallow of the water. “I may have blacked out, but I didn’t faint.”

Thor raised an eyebrow. “No, you definitely fainted. It’s a good thing I caught you, too, or you would have hit your head when you collapsed—”

Tony held up a hand. “Okay, okay, enough. Seriously, stop. My masculinity can’t take any more hits.” He looked around. “Uh, am I in your bedroom, Point Break?”

“It was closest.” Thor looked down, almost sheepishly. “And I thought perhaps we needed to talk?”

There was a moment of silence before Tony’s head started pounding and his chest started to ache again. He let out a pained groan, clutching for his Reactor. “What the hell is that?” he hissed.

“I knew it!” Thor exclaimed, standing up and looking way too proud of himself.

“What, did you poison me?” Tony asked, only somewhat jokingly as he eyed the water he’d been drinking.

Thor sat down as suddenly as he’d stood, making the room spin for Tony. “The Norns are trying to tell us something, Stark.”

“The what?” Tony asked, arching a brow.

“The Norns, the weavers of Fate,” Thor stated plainly, by way of explanation.

“Oh, of course.”

“Tony.” Thor grabbed Tony by the shoulders, staring at him with a wild desperation in his eyes. “I don’t—” he paused, looking conflicted.

“Spit it out,” Tony told him, even as concern grew in his belly.

Thor sighed. “I don’t have much time,” he finally admitted.

“Okay?”

Thor leaned back, running a hand over his face. “I’m not your Thor,” the god finally answered.

Tony stared at him before scoffing. He shook his head. “What the fuck, man?”

“Your Thor is still in New Asgard, with Valkyrie. I intercepted your message about assembling here.”

At that, Tony jumped to his feet. “What. The. Actual. Fuck?”

“Please, I need you to listen to me—"

“You better start explaining then, and fast. And it better be good!” Tony pointed a finger at his friend – or, not-friend? “Start with this ‘my Thor’ nonsense.”

“It’s not nonsense!” Thor-not-Thor bellowed. He took a deep breath. “Apologies.” He sighed, looking frustrated. “I’m here to offer you a plan.”

“I am perfectly capable of coming up with a plan—”

“You would’ve died,” Thor blurted. Tony stumbled backwards and braced himself against the wall. His chest was tightening. Thor carried on. “The plan that you would’ve come up with, it wouldn’t have worked. Either you would not have defeated Thanos, or you would have died in the process.”

“Well, that sucks,” Tony finally managed to say.

“It doesn’t have to happen that way, my friend,” Thor told him gently. When Tony looked at him again, there was a kindness in his eyes. “There are many different versions of this life, Tony Stark. After gazing through several windows of time and across the Multiverse, I don’t think I could save you in all of them. But the way things are here, now? I can help with that.”

Thor’s words left the engineer with many questions and he had no clue where to start. Tony shook his head. “What are you talking about?”

“I was sent here—”

“Sent?” Tony’s head snapped up and he glared at Thor. “Who sent you?”

Thor bit his lip. He lifted his hands in a placating gesture. “Tony, please—”

“Who the hell sent you, Thor?”

Finally, Thor dropped his hands and exhaled. “Loki.”

Tony felt like he’d been hit by a truck. He slid down the wall, and briefly considered throwing up. He closed his eyes but that only made things worse, because then he saw Loki’s face. But there was something. . . different. Suddenly, seeing Loki in his mind didn’t evoke the same hatred and sense of ‘you’re a hero, he’s a villain’ that it had always brought before. Tony couldn’t quite put his finger on it. With a groan, he forced his eyes open, blinking and telling himself that he could ignore the fact that he saw Loki, that his mind searched for Loki, of all people, every time his eyelids fluttered closed.

After he’d forced himself to not hyperventilate, he looked up. Thor was kneeling in front of him. “I don’t want anything to do with anything orchestrated by that asshat of a brother of yours.”

Surprisingly, Thor laughed. Quietly, almost to himself, he said, “Pretty close on the wording, actually.”

“What’s that? What are you mumbling about?” Tony waved his hands in a vague gesture toward the Asgardian.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Thor replied, still chuckling softly.

Tony narrowed his eyes. “What’s really going on here? And if Loki sent you, then why? And where the hell did you come from? You still haven’t explained about this other-Thor shit.”

“The best I can do is this: I’m from next year.”

Tony stared, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. “Run that by me again, Tangled?”

“My brother sent me through time, to visit you here, so that I could tell you the right way to do things. Because you won’t figure it out on your own.”

“Hey!”

Thor held his hands up again, in surrender. “Not that you can’t. You just. . . won’t.”

Tony cocked an eyebrow. “Why not? If there are other viable options, I’m sure I can come up with ‘em.”

“It’s a plan you won’t allow yourself to consider,” Thor told him. That gave Tony pause. He thought he had considered all options – what other choice might he be neglecting? His chest ached again and this time, he realized it wasn’t just his chest in general; it was his heart. Then, Thor added, “Besides, another plan isn’t an option now. The others are set on their plan with the Stones.”

“Right. Collecting the Stones before Thanos does,” Tony said, nodding.

“But that’s what gets you killed,” Thor stated firmly. “And, there’s a better choice.”

Tony stood, finally. He tilted his chin up and looked at Thor inquisitively. “Okay, what’s this better choice, then?”

“Thanos might be the leader in all of this, but he has never acted alone. He has players – all of whom were key in ensuring that his plan worked. If any one of those players was to be taken out of the equation, Thanos’s entire plot would fall apart.” Thor stared at Tony hopefully.

“So, we don’t need to stop Thanos directly,” Tony said, piecing things together. He tried to get his mouth to keep up with his rapid-fire brain. “We just need to take out one of his key players.”

Thor laughed and fist-pumped the air triumphantly. “Yes!”

“Wait.” Tony scratched at his temple. “How do we do that?”

“You, Tony,” Thor told him, his voice dipping into a low and almost ominous tone. “You must travel to a different point in time, and stop Thanos’s most important pawn of all.”

Tony blinked.

“Really?” Thor asked, frowning. “You, you really don’t know?”

With a shrug, Tony let out a puff of air. “I got nothin’, man.”

Under his breath, Thor grumbled, “Wow, you’re even worse than you said you’d be.”

Tony’s ears burned. “Wait, what?”

Thor’s eyes went wide. “Nothing!” he exclaimed, too quickly.

“Did. . . did I send you, from the future?”

“No, I told you, Loki did,” Thor replied obstinately.

“But I was there, wasn’t I?” Tony queried, leaning forward to poke Thor in the chest excitedly.

The Asgardian grabbed Tony’s finger and pushed his hand away. “Maybe!” He groaned. “I don’t know if I’m allowed to tell you that, so just forget it. The point is, I know exactly where to send you.”

“What do you mean?” Tony furrowed his brow in confusion. “How are you sending me somewhere?”

“Stark!” Thor cried, exasperated.

“Wait a sec,” Tony told him. He paused, trying to finally catch up to all the thoughts running rampant. “This is not how time travel works. Bruce said—”

“Bruce was wrong, Tony.”

That statement did not sit well with Tony. Bruce was a genius, like him, and they were Science Bros. “Listen, Thor, or not-Thor, or different-Thor, or whatever the hell.” Tony waved a hand dismissively. “Nobody insults my Bro. Bruce isn’t just wrong about shit.”

“He’s wrong about this, Stark.” Thor’s voice was firm. Kingly, if Tony had to really give it a quality. It was a very my-word-is-law kinda tone. “Time is constant, Tony,” Thor continued, his expression and voice both softening a bit. “It is not a straight line, but a circle. It is all around us and in us and everywhere, and everything. Always.”

Tony stared at the larger man, blinking and considering how very Whovian this all sounded. If he was being honest, Quantum theory and physics had never really been his forte. So when Bruce seemed so certain about how time worked, Tony didn’t even think to question it. But the way Thor talked about time – and knowing that Thor was literally from a different Realm where time probably moved a little differently, coupled with the fact that the Asgardians had been around for thousands of years – Tony was a little inclined to think that maybe, just maybe Thor actually knew what the hell he was talking about. Or, and Tony couldn’t believe he was thinking it but – Loki knew, and had explained it to Thor so that Thor could come and tell Tony. That actually seemed more likely. Finally, Tony sighed. “So, you’re saying, we can change the past?”

“Yes, which would in turn change the present as you know it. Meaning—”

“We can create a whole new future,” Tony finished for him. His mind was already racing with the idea. “We could stop Thanos before he even starts. We don’t have to bring people back if we never lose them!”

Thor smiled and nodded fervently, clapping a hand on Tony’s shoulder. But then, Tony’s bubble burst. He frowned. “No,” he said softly, causing Thor’s smile to fall away, too. “It can’t possibly be that easy.”

“No one said it would be easy, Friend,” Thor told him in a quiet voice.

“Thor, we can’t just go back far enough and stop it before it starts,” Tony insisted. “People have theorized that before. It’s the whole ‘kill baby Hitler’ concept. If you stop him before he ever gets started then someone else will just fill in the role.” He let out a breathy laugh. “I feel like I should finish that up with a ‘Hail, HYDRA,’ because it’s all very ‘cut off one head, another takes its place.’”

Despite Tony’s excitement being completely gone, Thor’s seemed to actually return. He offered a kind smile. “Tony, it’s not about going back far enough. It’s about making sure the time you return to is significant enough.”

Tony dared to meet the god’s eyes again. “That’s the pawn you mentioned? You really believe there’s someone so important to Thanos that if we stop him, we stop the whole game?”

Thor nodded, still looking enthusiastic, but with a glint of resignation flickering across his face.

“Thor,” Tony prodded. “Where—or when—do you think I need to go?”

“Before we met,” Thor told him with a longing gaze. “You must go to Asgard-That-Was.”

“Shit, balls—“ Tony breathed out, dropping back onto Thor’s bed. “You want me to go to Asgard?”

“I would have loved for you to have seen it, Tony,” Thor admitted. “But right now, I’m afraid it’s a matter of necessity.” He sat down on the chair next to the bed, leaning forward and looking at Tony intently. “You remember how we met, yes?”

“Pfft.” Tony rolled his eyes. “How could I forget?”

“Who brought us together, Tony?” Thor asked seriously.

“Loki,” the word escaped before Tony even had a chance to think about it.

“And we know now that he was there at Thanos’s behest,” Thor continued. He paused and stared, obviously wanting Tony to supply some kind of answer.

It, too, came without thinking. “He was a pawn,” Tony breathed out. “You want me to go back and stop Loki?”

A nod. “We want you to prevent Loki from falling into Thanos’s clutches.” Thor gave a sad little smile. “If that doesn’t happen?” He gestured around. “None of this happens.”

Tony knew what he meant. And he understood the stakes. But he still had questions. “I still find this a little hard to believe, man.”

“I know,” Thor answered with a soft chuckle. “But as I stated, I don’t have much time. So I’m afraid that to do this, you must go now.” With that, Thor stood, sounding conclusive about the whole thing. Tony hurried to gain his footing as well.

“What, by myself?” Tony asked, disbelievingly.

“I have already risked much by coming here,” Thor replied, his face turning grave. “I cannot go to Asgard and risk running into my former self.”

“So I just go to Asgard in the past and, and, and I what? I tell your psycho brother, ‘Hey, let’s talk stranger danger. Especially when it comes to some massive purple dude who wants you to take over my planet.’”

Thor laughed heartily. Which was a little disconcerting, considering the gravity of things. “I’m sure you’ll find the right words, my friend. Besides, I think you’ll find the Loki of that time to be a bit. . .” he paused, smiling before he finally said, “different from when you met him.”

Tony groaned and ran his hand over his face. “Great, thanks, that’s really fucking helpful.”

With urgency and more force than Tony thought was necessary, Thor grabbed Tony by the shoulders. “Your suit, it’s built in, yes?”

“Uh,” Tony paused, glancing down to the nanoparticle housing unit. “Yes?”

“Excellent!” Thor kept one hand on Tony’s shoulder and with the other, reached into a pouch at his belt. He produced a pendant – a small jewel-looking stone on a leather cord – and held it in front of Tony’s face. “I admit, I do not understand this.”

“That’s comforting,” Tony deadpanned.

“Loki spelled this for you.” They locked eyes and it was as if Thor was waiting for Tony to give permission. Which probably made sense, since he was asking him to trust him with something that his nut-bag brother created and even Thor wasn’t sure how it worked. Finally, Tony gave a small, hesitant nod. Thor dropped the cord over Tony’s head, so it hung comfortably around his neck. “It will take you to the time and place you need to be, and when you’re ready to come back, it will bring you home.”

Tony gulped and nodded again. Thor continued: “All you have to do is close your eyes, squeeze the stone in your hand, and will it to do its duty. It will transport you. It will also help you blend in, so it must stay around your neck; Midgardians are not usually allowed in Asgard, and there wouldn’t be a good explanation for you to be there, since you and I will not have met yet.”

At that, Tony’s eyes widened. “So I won’t even have past-you to help me?”

Thor wrinkled his face up. “I have a feeling that the version of me you’ll be meeting wouldn’t be much help.” Then he gave that sad smile again. “Besides, Loki is the one you need to focus on. You have to stop him from falling to Thanos.”

“And if I can’t?” Tony asked, hating himself for already thinking of failing but he had to consider all possibilities. And even if this was a completely insane situation and maybe not even real, he still had to ask.

“You won’t fail, Tony.” Thor sounded way too confident.

“How do you know?”

“Because,” Thor told him with a wink, “you’ve already succeeded.”

That made Tony pause. “So, you can just tell me how I did it? And I’ll do the exact same thing.”

The Thunderer shook his head. “Doesn’t work like that. Besides, I don’t know what you did.”

“I didn’t tell you?” Tony inquired, arching a brow.

Thor looked hesitant. “There is a hint I could give you, and a message from Loki.”

“Okay.” Tony held a hand out and wiggled his fingers in a ‘gimme’ kind of motion. “Lay it on me,” he said, looking expectantly at his friend.

“If it comes to it,” Thor began, “don’t let go.”

Tony frowned. Then, Thor’s face immediately flushed. “And for Loki’s message – well, I don’t think it’s going to translate well, coming from me.”

But Tony just stared at him in anticipation, folding his arms over his chest. Finally, with a deep blush, Thor sighed. He leaned forward and—

Tony froze.

Because Thor had his lips pressed to Tony’s.

It was a closed-lipped, completely chaste, Grandma kind of kiss. But Tony’s mind was racing. He had never thought of Thor as anything other than a friend, a teammate, a bro. So even the most innocent of lip-locks still made him feel like he needed to take a cold shower.

“What.” He blinked. “What, uh, was that?”

Thor refused to make eye contact. “Loki said to tell you it’s incentive.”

All that did was make Tony even more confused, especially since the headache and heartache both came rushing back with a vengeance. The implications of that statement with the accompanying action. . . well, it threw a lot out of alignment. Before Tony could say anything, Thor’s hands were on his shoulders again.

“You’re going to arrive in Asgard a few days before my first—failed—coronation. Find Loki. Try to get him to stop his plans. The earlier you can get him to give up on whatever plans he has, the better. But if all else fails, remember what I told you—”

“Yeah, yeah – ‘don’t let go.’ Super helpful, Kemosabe.” Tony rolled his eyes. “This isn’t real, right?” he finally asked. “I mean, I’m still unconscious in the hallway and I’m gonna wake up and none of this happened?”

Thor didn’t answer. He only smiled and then nodded toward the pendant now hanging around Tony’s neck. “Yeah, right,” Tony mumbled. He took the green stone in his hand – of course, it would be fucking green.

He held the stone and closed his eyes. How was he supposed to will a stone to do something? What did that even mean? He waited a few more seconds. Finally, he sighed. With his eyes still squeezed shut, he asked, “Am I supposed to click my heels three times or something?”

There was no answer. “Thor?” Tony asked quietly. When he dared to open one eye, he let out a heavy breath. “Holy shit.”