Thanos, in all his glory, looms over Tony Stark as the Battle of Titan comes to an end, debris from a crushed moon floating peacefully above them. Stark tries to stand back up but fails. The pain and exhaustion is just too much; he is merely human. Besides, the only thing keeping him from bleeding out on the spot is his own hand-blade sticking out from his stomach.
“You have my respect, Stark,” says Thanos, softly tousling’s the Earthling’s hair, like one might with their kid. “When I’m done, half of humanity will still be alive.”
Stark winces and begins to hyperventilate, an instant trickle of sweat running down his cheek, almost making him think that it is blood from a head wound. For all his work on the suit, for all his preparation, it never occurred to him to build an emergency Klonopin compartment.
“I hope they remember you.” Thanos backs up and points the gauntlet at Stark’s heart. All four infinity stones — power, space, reality and soul — glow their native colors with a loud buzz.
Stark feels his insides pound, as if they’re about to be torn apart. Realization sets in as panic peaks: the Avengers have lost. Stark has nothing left in his arsenal, no flash grenades and no hidden repulsors. He has nothing left to say. No witty, distracting remark. Nothing. The faces of everyone he has failed flashes before his eyes... Pepper, Happy, Peter, Steve… The best he can do now is ready himself for the inevitable. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes but just then he hears the voice of Doctor Strange:
Thanos lowers the gauntlet and looks at Strange who is barely able to sit up.
“Spare his life,” Strange says with what strength he has left, “and I’ll give you the stone.”
Thanos looks amused at first but soon lines form on his forehead. “No tricks,” he seeks assurance.
Strange gently shakes his head.
The Man Titan watches Stark, who’s pleading with Strange not to make the trade. One thing is clear in all of this: under no circumstances can Stark’s life, or anyone’s for that matter, be worth an infinity stone. “Of course,” Thanos thinks. “A tactical exchange.” However, he can’t see what Strange could possibly get out of this trade, which puts him at a massive disadvantage.
“Don’t!” Stark continues to plead but the sorcerer has already summoned the time stone out of thin air. He doesn’t make any attempt to use it however. It seems to Thanos that Strange almost wants to give the stone up. Something is undoubtedly off.
The sorcerer, with a flick of his fingers, sends the stone floating in Thanos’s direction. He watches it reach and push into the palm of his hand. Even as he puts the time stone in its rightful place on the gauntlet, next to the power stone, and feels the aggregated energy surge through his veins, he finds himself in disbelief. This was almost too easy.
But his work on Titan is far from over. It’s imperative that he finds out what Strange has planned out and he may just have an idea how.
“I actually know of you,” he tells Strange.
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“They,” says Thanos, pointing to Stark and the fallen Avengers, “call you Doctor Strange or the Sorcerer Supreme. But among the stars, you are also known you as the mortal who has known infinity.”
Strange gets the reference and snickers. “I see. You tell Dormammu I said hello.”
“Oh you can tell him yourself.” Thanos smirks and snaps his fingers — only the space, power and reality stones glow.
“What have you done?!” Strange screams but his voice is blocked out by a thunderous clap.
Thanos looks upward. The sky — bright and loud — looks like it is being split apart, purple smoke from the other side bleeding into this reality. Finally, the split morphs into an enormous hexagonal portal. The smoke clears up and a gigantic face makes itself apparent. Thanos takes a look around and realizes that everyone except him and the ethereal entity up above is frozen in time.
“Thanos…” Dormammu screeches.
“Old friend.” Thanos finds a big enough rock and sits down.
“The Mad Titan is no friend of mine. Which begs the question… how dare you summon me?”
Thanos chuckles. “Maybe I just wanted an audience. It’s the greatest day in the history of the universe after all. For what I’m about to accomplish today, they’ll remember me as Thanos the Generous.”
Dormammu roars and the ground shakes. “The arrogance… the ego… I’d impale you where you stood, but unfortunately--”
“Unfortunately, you’re bound to your word to Doctor Strange.”
Dormammu frowns and breathes out trails of purple mist. “Just tell me why I’m here.”
“You haven’t figured it out yet?” Thanos laughs. “For all your power, it’s astonishing how dull you are. I’m using you, you old fool!” Thanos points the gauntlet at the ground and activates the time stone, kick-starting a time reversal on the entire planet. “Let’s see what you people have been up to,” he whispers. He watches Strange go back to being unconscious. Tony becomes unstabbed, an invisible presence playing out Thanos’s part. Everything is reversed, every detail from the Battle of Titan.
Dormammu roars again, clearly insulted at the titan's’ audacity, and in a rush of rage fires a rain of purple rocky spears at the offender. One penetrates the Mad Titan’s skull. One goes right through his heart. And so on. The rain soon subsides, leaving Thanos’s body looking like a space porcupine sleeping on a rock.
But then the corpse bursts, launching a cluster of bubbles into the air. The spears slide down and clang into the ground.
“No, no, no, no, no…” Dormammu chants as Thanos reappears two feet away from where he sat before, the reality stone glowing as brightly as ever.
“Congratulations,” he tells Dormammu. “You have crossed the threshold and effectively broken your cosmic pact with the Sorcerer Supreme. The Living Tribunal will not be pleased if he hears of this. And, of course, I’ll be more than happy to testify against you.”
Dormammu remains speechless for the moment. He must be having a hard time processing the fact that he has once again been tricked by a mortal. “You can reverse my act. Do it!” he demands.
“Tut-tut.” Thanos shakes his head. “Manners.”
Thanos sighs, heavily, making it seem as though this is the hardest decision he has made all day. “Fine, once I’ve found what I’m looking for, I’ll restore your innocence, along the natural course of time on this planet.”
“What do you want me to do in the meanwhile?” Dormammu asks, quite politely, in fact.
Thanos smiles. “As they say on Earth: I want you to sit there and look pretty.”
Finally, time reverses back to the point before Thanos arrived on Titan. Doctor Strange, meditating on a rock, looks like he is phasing in and out of reality, or rather, phasing between multiple realities. Thanos pauses the reversal and walks up to Strange’s frozen face. “I never realized you were a Nexus Being,” says Thanos. Oddly enough, Strange still seems to have the stone inside his necklace. It’s only an illusion, of course, reality trying to make sense of itself.
Thanos reactivates the real time stone, allowing time to flow in its favored direction for the moment.
Doctor Strange snaps out of meditation.
“Hey, what was that?” asks the young boy who has been accompanying him, Stark and the others.
“I went forward in time,” Strange replies, no more aware of Thanos’s presence than a fictional character is of its reader, “to view alternate futures. To see all the possible outcomes of the coming conflict.”
“How many did you see?” Peter Quill asks.
“Fourteen million six hundred and five.”
“How many did we win?” Stark wants to know.
Strange takes a moment and send down a gulp before faintly answering, “One.”
Thanos laughs, relieved and happy, now that he has some idea of Strange’s plan. “You should’ve kept looking, clever one,” he tells Strange. “It’s a pity, really, that you had the patience to examine millions of realities but at the first sign of hope, you stopped. Or is it that you couldn’t bear to look at the fourteen million six hundred and sixth timeline, because you were suspecting the worst? You were certain that I was desperate enough to accept your gambit and you were right. Nevertheless, you underestimated me — a fatal mistake.”
Thanos activates the time stone again, this time with a snap, and becomes surrounded by a green light. It stuns him. Once his cognition returns, he finds himself back in the future, the moment he attached the time stone to the gauntlet, once again feeling the intoxicating surge of energy.
“What if I killed Stark right now despite our deal?” he tells Strange.
Strange seems perplexed. “It’d be a dishonorable thing to do.”
Thanos sits down on the same rock where his decoy was killed moments ago. Tears roll down his cheek. “I just killed my daughter, sorcerer. I’d have to be very naïve to believe I still had honor left.”
Dread and uncertainty fills Strange’s wide eyes. “Thanos, listen to me--”
“I do hope they remember you,” Thanos says with eyes fixed on the red earth of Titan and activates the space stone. Two portals appear: the first one opens beneath Tony Stark and drops him into an erupting volcano somewhere in Vormir, immediately killing him. The other one sucks Thanos out of Titan and lands him inside the forest of Wakanda.