And… I… Am… Iron Man.
Tony raised his right hand, pulsing with the power of all the infinity stones. The force might have overwhelmed Thanos or even the strongest Avenger, but not the invincible Iron Man. From living with a poisoned heart to being betrayed by friends, pain had always been an old friend.
He silently apologised to Pepper one last time. As he was about to snap his fingers, someone held his left hand with such unwavering firmness that he knew who it was before looking at them.
“Together,” said Steve Rogers.
Before Tony could recover from the shock or punch Steve in his irritatingly beautiful face, another hand gripped his right arm, sharing the force of the stones.
“I still don’t know how you fit that head into that helmet. You seriously thought I would let you do this alone?” Strange tried a smile through the strain.
In a matter of seconds, without any hesitation, all the other Avengers started forming a human chain, staring Thanos and his army down (except for Peter, who couldn’t believe he was holding hands with the mighty Thor). As if coming out of a long trance, Thanos finally realised what was happening. He ordered his troops to charge and threw an axe, aimed at Tony’s head. However, midway, it was intercepted by a sword. Leaping out from the back like a predator free from their chains, Nebula stood between the Avengers and Thanos. As if on cue, Quill screamed, and all the Guardians charged at Thanos.
Tony knew the moment had arrived. He snapped his fingers. The ancient power of the infinity stones raced through the human chain, and when Tony thought that they were all going to die because of his silly trick, the world shifted back to normal. The stones crumbled, and with them went his right arm. Thanos watched him with disbelief, and before he could do anything, the titan and his army turned into dust.
“We won, Mr Stark!” Peter had crawled his way to Tony; he was battered and moist-eyed but ecstatic that his hero was still with him.
The sky was clear, cloudless, and the air crisp; as people were gathered outside Tony Stark’s lake house dressed in black. The water glistened under the bright sun, the leaves danced, the birds chirped, and the flowers were in full bloom—as though celebrating Natasha Romanoff’s life. Standing along the water was a tall, built man whose bald head reflected the sun. His long coat swayed with the wind while he stood still as a scarecrow. In his hands was a rugged stone the colour of honey. He turned it between his fingers and examined it with his piercing glare as though looking for answers in it. Beside him stood a shorter man with ruffled, spiky hair wearing a tuxedo with one hand in a cast and another holding a glass of champagne.
“She was tough,” said Nick Fury, breaking the loud silence between the two.
“Yeah, that’s Nat for you. Will always be the secretary who kicked my head of security’s butt,” laughed Tony.
Nick snorted. “She’d hate this. The funeral, the gloom, the ‘uncalled attention.’ She’d want us to celebrate our victory and not lament over her. But, something about celebrating just doesn’t feel right.”
Tony stood in silence, gulping down the champagne.
“Hey Nick, how come we never knew about Spacegirl there,” said Tony turning around to look at Captain Marvel, conversing with Thor.
“Well, for starters, I had enough people making my job tough.”
“Hey, we have saved the world on multiple occasions, and oh, don’t give me that excuse, we are the ones who brought you back while you spent five years doing God-knows-what and God-knows-where.”
Nick chortled and said, “Well, exactly. I had you guys here to save the world while she had her own mission to complete. Although, you probably do owe her one for saving you from the ship.”
“Yeah, I probably do. Nick, will we ever find out what happened to that eye of yours?”
Nick swiftly turned his head. Despite the patch, Nick’s beetle black-eyed glare could make you spill your deepest and darkest secrets. “And that’s another reason I kept her away from here.”
Nick turned around and walked back up to the house while Tony stood confused, amused. He stood there for some time, staring into nothing. He heard Clint and Bruce promising Wanda to give Vision the same respectful farewell he deserved. Looking at how grief-stricken and lost the young witch was, Tony made a mental note to check up on her from time to time.
Despite the cacophony, he felt alone, defeated although they had won the war, his arm stung, and he missed Natasha. He was afraid that if it all went well, something could come back to destroy it all and take away everything dear to him. He felt his eyes well up, and his face became hot, and that was when a slender hand wrapped its fingers around his arm and a head laid on his shoulders. Pepper and Tony stood in silence, taking it all in. Neither of them had the time to process it all, but they were grateful—Morgan was safe, their family was intact, and they had each other forever.
“I was scared, Tony.”
“You don’t have to be anymore, Pep. It’s all over.”
She lifted her head to look at him, her tired blue eyes locked into his, her auburn hair haywire. She broke into a smile and said, “I think I won’t throw away your gifts in the garage anymore.” Tony laughed for the first time in what felt like ages. His stitches hurt, but he laughed. Suddenly, he knew that it was all over and that he no longer had to lie to himself, Morgan or Pepper.
“I love you 3000, Tony.”
“I love you. You are somewhere in the low 6 to 900 range.”
So, this is the end of the line, Bucky thought.
Steve had discussed his plan with him earlier. However, as he watched him walk into the time machine, he couldn’t help but get swept away with a wave of emotions. Bucky wanted to strangle Steve for leaving him with a brat in a bird costume. He wished he could go with him, but as promised to Steve, he needed to find his way out of the war on his own someday. He almost smiled, thinking how long it had been since he searched every alley to ensure that bullies were not beating up his little friend.
“Bring him back!” Sam yelled at Bruce, shaking Bucky out of his reverie.
“Sam,” said Bucky softly. Sam followed Bucky’s gaze. An elderly man was sitting near the river, a few steps away from them. Next to him was a circular brown bag. Sam walked up to him, and there Captain America passed on his legacy to the most worthy successor.
“Talk about retiring in style,” said someone in an amused voice. Steve, who had been sitting there even after Sam, Bucky, and Bruce left, turned towards its owner and smiled.
“I had been waiting for you, Tony,” said Steve. Tony wore a plain black T-shirt and sunglasses and held a cheeseburger in his left hand. He sat on the grass, in front of the bench where Steve was sitting.
“Well, now, since you will not be busy getting caught up in suicidal missions, I wasn’t in any hurry to meet you here,” said Tony, as he munched on his cheeseburger.
“Same goes for you, I believe.”
“Ah, you heard.” Tony looked at his empty right sleeve. “Yes, I think I will also take a break from saving the world. I officially retired in front of the world yesterday. Fury took it well.”
Steve and Tony looked at each other and laughed.
“You can’t blame him. With the chaos of the blip, he has a lot on his hands right now.”
“I know, I know. But, we both saw the next group of heroes in the battle, didn’t we? There is someone with the power of the stars thrust within them, and then there is a talking raccoon. Maybe we are yet to see even more bizarre heroes. The way I see it, the future is promising and smart and—” Tony paused as something caught his eye. “—and a complete idiot! PETER PARKER, what do you think you are doing?”
Tony threw his cheeseburger and raced towards Peter, who was frantically shouting directions in the air. He was wearing a stylish pair of glasses while Morgan laughed and cheered him on from the side, oblivious to what was going on. A distinct sound came from above, and Steve saw something like a missile zooming in to strike the surface of the river. Before it could reach the water and drown them all, Tony grabbed the specs and gave a command. The missile blasted itself in the air, causing no damage except for maybe confusing the birds in the vicinity.
“Damn it, Spiderboy,” Tony chided.
“Damn it,” repeated Morgan. Peter and Tony looked at each other, knowing they both messed up and reached a silent agreement to never speak of this to anyone.
Steve stood up and watched Tony, Peter and Morgan one last time before leaving.
“You are right, Tony. The future does look promising,” he said.
Written by Lekhya Reddy and Shranya Shrivastava for MTTN
Edited by Snehal Srivastava for MTTN
Featured Image by Harshal Agarwal for MTTN