Title: and I’ve got a ton of great ideas
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of it.
Word count: 1,061
Summary: It’s simple, or maybe it isn’t.
Notes: For Katy. Title from City Middle by The National.
They don’t know what it is, or where it came from, but it hovers harmlessly in the middle of the room, emitting a low sound that sounds like different things to different people. Tony thinks it sounds like explosions, Steve says that it sounds like gunshots, Natasha says it sounds like someone being put in cryogenic stasis (Tony has no idea what that sounds like, so he takes her word for it), Bruce says that he doesn’t hear anything. Clint just shudders and Tony wonders if he hears you have heart or something else.
Thor explains what it is in halting, wary sentences, every muscle in his body becoming more tense as Tony, Steve and Clint approach it.
It's simple, or at least it sounds like it is.
"It gives you what you want," Tony says, his mind buzzing with possibilities. “It lets us change everything that went wrong.”
"No. It can be used to attain something that you desire, but it causes ripples throughout entire realms. It is never used. Its origin is unknown, even to my father. It should not be here.” Thor hasn't sounded so angry since Loki, but Tony doesn't care. He isn’t coming anywhere near it, though, and he doesn’t look at it as if he’s starving and it’s the only food for miles. Maybe it’s an
Asgardian thing, being able to resist it because he knows that it is or because he’s from the same place.
He can bring back Yinsen and his family. His parents. Coulson.
“Look at it,” Thor says. “Does it look like something you should be experimenting with?”
Tony hasn’t looked away. It’s harmless. It just hovers there, but the explosions get a little louder. It isn’t doing anything wrong, so why shouldn’t they use it?
Steve stares at the small ball as well, fingers twitching as if not reaching out and grabbing it is the most difficult thing he's ever done. Maybe it is. Tony can imagine Steve's own possibilities. Bucky. Peggy. Dr Erskine. All the friends who have died while he was on ice. The future he never got to have, as well as the one he never asked for.
Opposite him, Clint reaches out for it, but he stops less than a centimetre from the shiny surface. The ball changes shape, warping and growing until it’s closer to him. Tony doesn’t know what he wants to change, but it has to be something big, someone he cares about.
"If you change your past, you alter your future, if not here, then elsewhere," Thor warns them. He doesn’t make any move to get closer, though. He probably has his own changes he wants to make, people he wants to save. “Our lives are not the only ones at stake.”
On the other side of the room Natasha and Bruce aren’t even looking at the device, alternating between staring at the floor and looking at each other. They don’t say anything, and Tony hasn’t seen Natasha this shaken since he got his hands on the security footage of her being chased by the Hulk. He doesn’t know what she wants to change, but he knows that Bruce will change if he has the chance.
Clint draws his hand away, pushes it deep inside his pocket and closes his eyes.
“Leave it alone,” he hisses, and it’s the same way he speaks when he’s been awake too long and the mess Loki made in his mind is starting to rear its ugly head. He doesn’t look entranced now, he looks scared. “We can’t do this. Look at it. Really look at it.”
He backs away, until he’s standing beside Bruce and Natasha. Natasha nudges him behind her, probably ready to stop him if he tried to make a move for the device. Thor steps between their little group and the device. He raises his hammer, his intention clear.
“If you refuse to step away, I will destroy the device.”
Steve’s fingers almost brush the silver, and the sphere moves again, pushing towards his hand. That seems to break the spell for him and he snatches his hand away, as if burned.
“Thor’s right.” He’s backing away as well, face pinched. “We can’t do this. Look at it, Tony. Really look at it.”
Tony doesn’t move. Can’t they see it? Everything uncoiling around them, a world where good men and women were never killed, where they won without losing in the process.
“We can save them.”
“No!” Thor shouts, and Bruce and Clint flinch. “You cannot interfere in things you do not understand.”
Tony reaches out for the sphere. The sphere reaches out for him. “I understand just fine.”
Mjolnir crashes down beside him, cracks radiating out across the room.
And then he does understand.
Save Yinsen and Erskine and they never become who they are. Bring back Coulson and, somewhere, they lose. It doesn’t matter if it’s in another universe, another timeline, a life that none of them will ever live. Somewhere, somehow, someone else is going to lose in the same way they did, maybe even in a worse way.
Yinsen lives in their world and another Tony Stark dies in a cave. Erskine’s formula is used to create an entire army of supersoldiers and another Steve Rogers never crashes a plane and never ends up on ice, never becomes an Avenger. Coulson lives and, somewhere, the Avengers Initiative fails.
The spells breaks. The device feels wrong, as if it’s trying to drag him towards it, as if something is trying to crawl inside him and tell him what to do. He doesn’t even want to investigate it, the thought of taking it apart and seeing how it works isn’t exciting, it’s terrifying. He knows exactly why Thor wasn’t coming any closer before, why he warned them away. Why Bruce wouldn’t even look at it. It’s something primal screaming inside him, and Tony’s willing to bet that the Hulk could feel it from the start.
“Do it,” Tony says, backing away until he feels his shoulder bump against Bruce’s, never looking away from the device. Thor stands over it, but he makes no attempt to touch it, doesn’t destroy it like he should. Tony can still feel it trying to get to him, hundreds of little pinpricks across his skin. “Destroy it. Now.”
Thor raises Mjolnir and Tony looks away.