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Smash the chandelier to smithereens

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“Pete, you gotta let go, I’m gonna catch you.”

His voice might sound relatively calm and collected but inside, Tony Stark is just about to explode.

The upgraded suit is on its way but it’s taking so bloody long and Tony can barely catch up. He can see the kid clinging desperately to the starship’s surface, can see how uncertain his grip is turning as the passing air currents drag him down. Why isn’t his parachute activated, Tony’s inner voice laments, his parachute should have dragged him down miles bellow, oh right the little idiot used it last week and was scheduled to come and have it replaced only that was tomorrow -

“But you said save the wizard!” the boy cries, voice husky in the thinning air. Through the roar of the engines and his own roaring heart. Tony can hear him mutter, I can’t breathe, and then the little dumbass pulls his mask off, as if that’s going to help anything.

“You’re too high up, you’re running out of air,” Tony says, helplessly watching the damned thing steadily climb even higher. How long before it leaves all traces of oxygen behind? Five seconds, ten?

“Yeah, that makes sense,” he can hear the kid breathe out, barely audible through the mic inside the collar of his suit. There’s a swooshing sound as the reinforced suit, thank God (and paranoia) accustomed to higher altitudes, shoots by Tony just as, to his horror, the kid faints and his grip loosens and then he’s falling like a stone. The upgraded suit hits him in the back and finally envelops him in a protective layer that might actually save his life in this scenario.

Peter is completely wrapped in the new suit in seconds but, apparently, the hypoxia he’s suffered so far takes longer than that to recover from. His newly reinforced body hits the side of the starship without him making a single move to stop it and then he’s free-falling in earnest. Tony plunges down again and catches the unconscious boy in his arms before he can plummet past him.

I might never see you again, he thinks, allowing himself a fraction of a second to hold Peter like he never allowed to happen before. There’s so much he would like to tell him, so much he would love to tell Pepper, to hold her in his arms again, but he can’t - there’s no time, he has to get to Strange and the fucking stone.

“FRIDAY, I want his parachute open at a sensible altitude,” he murmurs to the AI, knowing that his commands will be delivered to the kid’s one. “Make sure that he’s awake and lands in one piece. Have Happy pick him up and get him somewhere safe.

“Roger, boss,” the program replies, unconcerned. In Tony’s arms, the boy starts to stir.

“Bye, kid.” Tony drops him mercilessly before he can come around for real. It’s easier that way. The last thing he needs right now is a confused child asking him not to leave (or worse, to let him come along).

He doesn’t turn around from his renewed climb up to the flying donut and just to be sure, he sets the kid’s comm to silent for a couple of minutes. By then, Tony will have already been long gone and will have spared himself the agony of hearing the kid calling for him, as he knows he will.

You’ll have to forgive me for this, Pete. Hope I’ll be around one day to ask for it.

***

Peter comes around to the sensation of being weightless. It takes a few seconds for him to realize that there was no logical reason for that to be so. He forces his eyelids to part and only so manages to swallow a scream at the sight of ground rapidly approaching.

“Karen, what the hell!” he yells and waves his arms and legs, trying to create momentum to control his fall.

“I’m glad to hear you’re awake, Peter,” Karen replies. “I’m about to deploy your parachute. Try not to wriggle too much, you would get tangled in the cords.”

“Wait, no…” Peter looks up to where the spaceship is barely visible, rapidly leaving even his enhanced sight. He had to be out of it for less than a minute - can faintly remember Mr. Stark’s voice in his ear - but the ship is already too far out. There’s no chance he could ever get back there and be of any help. “No, Mr. Stark!”

“Peter, I’ve been instructed by Mr. Stark to get you to safety and alert Happy Hogan,” Karen says in his ear. She sounds like May always did when Peter was younger and would throw hissy fits about wanting to see mom and dad. “If you open your parachute now it might give you enough time to avoid landing inside the city as recommended.”

“Are you crazy? Why would I want to be outside New York now?” The offer to open the parachute sounds good though; Peter is getting quite nervous by how fast the rooftops of the metropolis underneath him are growing.

“It is generally advisable for untrained skydivers not to land inside a mass of buildings,” Karen says, unfazed. “Also, my instructions are to get you to safety. You are not safe in New York right now. These aliens could return any time and without Mr. Stark, you’re hardly a match for them.”

“Thanks, Karen,” Peter replies, trying to keep his annoyance in check. “Real ray of sunshine you are. How about we deploy the parachute now?” The approaching ground is really unsettling.

“Excellent idea, Peter.”

Ten minutes later, Peter lands in Pelham Bay Park. He calls Happy (already on his way), then calls May and tells her to leave the city (which she eventually agrees to; says that she will stay with a colleague at their parents’ in Connecticut for a few days and then meet him somewhere), calls Ned to tell him the same (which elicits a series of questions Peter doesn’t know how to answer) and finally calls Michelle, who, unsurprisingly, is already done packing her family (as he would expect; she is more observant than anyone else he knows after all). Peter says some rushed goodbyes to all of them and pretends that he isn’t scared at all that something horrible will happen and he will never talk to May or his friends ever again.

***

Tony is in trouble. Or rather, the crazy wizard he has to save because the fate of the entire universe depends on it is in trouble, thus putting Tony in trouble by proxy.

The wizard is being tortured. He’s going to be killed in short and Tony is, uncharacteristically, running out of ideas about how to take action in face of this new development.

In the end, he settles for the one thing that has (almost) always worked for him: talking his way out of his opponent’s attention and then doing something ridiculous, incredible, and awesome.

Long story short, a piece of his shoulder armor shoots The Mouth of Sauron from behind while he’s being sweet-talked. He never sees it coming. Then he (and the flying carpet thing, okay) smash into the scary crystal needles before they can finish lobotomizing the annoying wizard. It was a genius plan start to finish. It might have failed had the ugly jeans-blue son-of-a-bitch not lied about how quick and awesome the needles were (and thankfully, he did, though on the other hand Tony would just love to take them apart under a magnifying glass). He expects the annoying wizard to offer his service and cooperation as a sign of gratitude, or maybe just say “thank you”.

Instead, the discount Dumbledore starts shitting on everything and generally becoming A Bother.

Seriously, had he not been so important for saving the entire universe Tony would have blasted him in the face repeatedly. And even then it’s a close thing.

They argue about what to do next. Some very strong arguments fly by. In the end, Tony wins and they take the game to Thanos’ playground without him knowing. Tony says that the element of surprise might be their best chance.

What he doesn’t say is that he doesn’t really expect them to succeed anyway but that he would do anything, absolutely anything in the world, to keep Earth (and mostly New York) from experiencing any more alien visits, so they might as well not give Thanos another reason to go sniffing there if it can be helped.

***

The Avengers facility looks as huge and unsettling as ever. At first Peter thinks it’s empty and almost asks Happy to stay with him because the large, empty spaces seem quite terrifying when one is left alone while still shaken from a friggin alien attack and almost being dragged out of the atmosphere. His lungs still burn just thinking about it.

Turns out, the place is way less unoccupied than any other time Peter has ever been here. He goes to grab something to eat and suddenly, he’s face to face with Black Widow at the kitchen counter, cutting an apple with what looks like a small sword or decent-sized machete.

He freezes on spot.

She lifts an eyebrow at him while looking him, in his suit with mask removed because nobody was supposed to be around, up and down and sideways. The way she’s holding the huge ass knife in her hand makes Peter really concerned about whether or not his body will continue on being in one piece.

Then, Black Widow swallows the piece of apple she was chewing on but pointedly keeps the knife in her hand. Show-off , Peter thinks, but doesn’t dare uttering a word. “How old are you?” she asks, in a voice that sounds like her daily diet consists of a bottle of whiskey and three packs of cigarettes.

“Uhhh.” Way to not sound like a complete idiot, Parker, what the fuck is wrong with you. “Seventeen, In a month.” Nailed it.

His inner voice sounds suspiciously like Michelle.

“So when crap hit the fan, Tony Stark didn’t hesitate to drag a 14-year-old across the Atlantic to act as the deciding force in the fight of enhanced adults,” the Widow muses. “Must’ve had some really deep faith in our team then.”

Peter swallows. She hates him. He’s so dead. The but Mister Stark did hesitate for at least 2 minutes snark-ass remark dies on his tongue.

The Widow chuckles. “Come on, I wanna see Sam’s face when he realizes that he got his ass kicked by a high schooler.”

Peter is so, so dead.

***

The visit to Titan starts with crashing the ship into the dead planet’s surface and even that fact alone would be enough for Tony to whip up a nasty Booking dot com review that would go along the lines of “nature sucked, services sucked even harder, traffic was a murder, 0/10 would recommend, avoid it like the plague”, only meaner.

That is before they’re jumped by and nearly obliterated the weirdest team Tony has ever laid his eyes on, and that includes his own. Yet for all their combined impracticality they make for a considerable fighting force, together being able to take Strange hostage (though he frees himself by creating a portal underneath his feet, which gets him a hardy “whoa dude, cool!” from the assault team leader). They end up shouting at each other in a stand-off before they finally realize that they are actually on the same side.

The band is lead by a blond jackass from Missouri who seems to be mostly unaware that Missouri is on Earth and even Tony’s considerable chill is tested when he introduce himself as Star-Lord (seriously?). Followed by an odd-looking, odd-speaking woman with antennae on her head. Strange attempts to explain to her what a mantis is and why is it worth mentioning, but he fails spectacularly. Then there’s a less cute Papa Smurf with no chill at all.

Also they’re sure all high as hell, because when asked about who else is with their team the joke from Missouri says that their team also consists of an alien woman who is the adopted daughter of Thanos (which isn’t that weird to be honest, Tony himself could talk days about daddy issues), and apparently, a talking raccoon.

“There’s no such thing as talking raccoons,” Tony says, mostly to himself because honestly. That’s just... nope. That is, before he remembers that he’s speaking to literal aliens. “There aren’t no talking animals.”

The Mister Clean character looks him dead in the eyes and starts laughing so hard he doubles over.

“Just as there are no talking trees, right?,” says the sassy poster boy in a you haven’t seen shit yet tone of voice.

Secretly, Tony is thankful that he had the presence of mind to record this entire encounter on a camera hidden just above the arch reactor because otherwise nobody, not even the kid with his puppy-dog loyalty and boundless imagination will ever believe him that this happened. In fact, telling anyone but the kid without providing sufficient evidence would probably land him into rehab again. The camera keeps running either way.

He replays the recording several times later to make sure that he heard a teenaged sentient tree correctly. He truly didn’t expect to be out-weirded this quickly.

(He tries to ignore the way Star-Lord tends to look away every now and then, a far-away mist to his gaze and breathing heavily like something is breaking him apart from the inside. Tony noticed him utter words under his breath and remembers that upon arrival, he has mentioned that they were looking for a missing team member, someone named Gamora. Well, Tony doesn’t have much data to go by but he can imagine that what Pepper’s been for him, that’s what Gamora is for Peter Quill.)

What is less impressive about this entire encounter is their catastrophic lack of tactics of how to get a score on Thanos. Tony’s distraction plan is off the figurative table pretty quickly. He feels outmaneuvered by the Guardians, which isn’t a feeling he has often experienced (but it’s one guy and two aliens against one, so he gives himself a pass). Strange sucks as a side-kick, really.

Speaking of Strange… Strange is glitched. If wizards do get glitched, that is, but the green bursts of light and the way he’s cocking his head at unnatural speed while meditating really don’t carry much other meaning. Is this the sorcerer version of the blue screen of death? Tony’s MIT classes surely didn’t cover how to turn wizards off and on again.

Strange jumps up and swiftly announces that the odds of the universe surviving are 14 million to one.

Easy, no?

***

Peter Parker’s second meeting with Captain America is nothing like he expected yet somewhat way more than he ever dreamed of.

Say, it would be nice for the man to shake Peter’s hand and acknowledge him as a valuable member of the team. He never thought it plausible though.

He doesn’t get a handshake from the man. Instead, when Black Widow drags him into the common area where the rest of the rogue Avengers fraction sits around, wearing dramatic expressions and looking ready to take down anyone who comes near, the poster man for all things honorable and American rises from his seat and walks over to Peter. He still has the same somber look on his face as the others do and Peter feels utterly dwarfed by the tall mountain of pure muscle and bravery looks him directly in the eyes and tenderly lays a hand on Peter’s shoulder.

“Queens, right?” he asks, his tone warm and calm. “Welcome back.”

“Thanks,” Peter replies, trying (and failing) to keep a cool, indifferent face. “It’s Peter. Um. Peter Parker.”

“Steve Rogers,” the Captain says, like that wasn’t obvious. “I gather you helped out Tony quite a bit.”

Peter lowers his eyes. “Yeah, didn’t do much good though.”

“That’s not your fault.” The Tony must care a big deal about you looms in the room, but thankfully the Captain has the good sense not to say it. Peter might have started screaming if he did.

“But what do we do with him now?” asks Sam. “If we leave him here Ross will catch him.” His tone doesn’t say that that outcome would be entirely unwelcome. Peter doesn’t really blame him - they did stand against each other in Germany and after that, Sam did end up in the Raft. Had the tables been turned on them, Peter would surely be bitter about it too.

“We’re not going to leave him here,” Natasha says. Steve nods absent-mindedly.

“Wait, are we seriously taking a child with us?” Bruce demands, agitated. “We can’t enlist children, for crying out loud. Besides, they’re still after Vision, they know how to track us, wherever we go might very well turn into a laughterhouse. Shouldn’t his parents have a say in his safety?”

“My parents are dead,” Peter say quietly. “I live with my aunt. She knows that I’m here.” She doesn’t necessarily know that he’s about to be moved to an unknown exotic location under the watchful eye of the Avengers but she would surely agree to let him go rather than have him be arrested and thrown into a prison specifically designed for holding and superpowered people and breaking them apart.

“Listen,” Bruce says, pacing around. “I’m not saying leave him for Ross to chew and spit out. Of course we shouldn’t leave him here. But look, this is a child. I know some of you are unfamiliar with the concept of children so please, let me explain. They’re not miniature adults. They’re delicate and impressionable and make dumb decisions under pressure. We need to take the boy out of here and drop him off somewhere safe, ideally somewhere with zero hostile alien presence.”

Peter doesn’t know what to say. He would hardly describe himself as “delicate”; then again, everyone is probably delicate compared to the Hulk.

Steve walks up and lays his hand on Peter’s shoulder again. “I hear what you’re saying, Bruce. But I’ve also seen Peter fight first-hand. We all have. Tony trusted him before and right now, that’s good enough for me.” His face takes a darker shadow. “Besides, we’re going to need every single hand that we can get.”

Colonel Rhodes looks up and around. “There’s enough of us to keep one moderately intelligent kid from getting himself killed, I think. Especially after Tony’s managed to pull it off it on his own all this time.”

“I’m probably not the one who is safest to be around,” Vision points out. “Particularly if those aliens come back for another try, and they will.” He turns a pleading eye to the Scarlet Witch, who silences him with a heartfelt “no, shut up.”

There’s something going on that Peter is not really on, but what else is new.

“Even if the aliens come back for Vision, I reckon that right among us is still the safest place to be,” Captain America muses. “We can keep Peter safe with us, we owe that much to Tony.”

There’s a long pause where nobody says anything before Falcon mutters something like “just great” and Colonel Rhodes tells him something like “behave”.

Black Widow’s watch suddenly beeps and the voice of Pepper Potts sounds through the room: “Natasha? I tried to hold up Ross and his men but they wouldn’t have it. I’m sorry, but you’ve all got just about five more minutes to get the hell out.”

Chapter Text

Peter Parker is used to his fair share of incredible, high-tech toys and holograms everywhere. He has spent time around Tony Stark, a widely recognized hologram enthusiast, after all. He knows his way around.

Nothing he’s ever seen before has prepared him for Wakanda.

That place is mind-blowing. Unreal. As in Peter has to actually pinch himself several times to make sure he’s not dreaming it.

He wishes he took a change of clothes with him, as his suit, albeit reinforced, makes him feel a bit too open and he would sooner drop dead on spot than meet the royal family of Wakanda wearing a T-shirt with a lettuce pun on it. At least the suit comes with a full-face mask, which he is not above using if necessary.

He even tries to put it on but then Black Widow turns up, pulls the hand with his mask down gently and says “no, don’t do that, we don’t have to hide here,” and well, if that’s good enough for a superspy then it might just be good enough for Peter, too.

He’s pointedly hiding behind Colonel Rhodes because he still feels horribly out of place when they all walk out of the Quinjet. It goes all smoothly, nobody paying him much attention since there is actual royalty right in front of them, until -

“Aren’t you a little short for a superhero?” says somebody directly to him and Peter jumps up to realize that King T’Challa’s sister is looking directly at him, smirking like a cat.

Worse, Captain Rogers is looking at her and at Peter and back at the princess with the unmistakable stare of I understood that reference. Even the Scarlet Witch fails to hide a grin. Oh hell.

“Uh - huh, what?” he stammers. What’s wrong with you, his inner Michelle voice says, banging its imaginary head on imaginary wall.

King T’Challa steps up, putting a hand on his still-grinning sister’s shoulder. “Don’t mind Shuri, she is very over-excited,” he says calmly. “What she meant to say is hello, brother in arms, you are welcome in our country.”

“Right,” Shuri says, nodding. To Peter, she whispers, “still a shortie”.

Peter cannot help liking her. As soon as he gets a chance he has to ask King T’Challa to allow Ned and, most importantly, Michelle to come and meet Shuri. He sets that as the new reason for his existence.

Then the Winter Soldier appears and he and the Cap greet each other like fire greets air and it makes Peter feel somewhat intrusive in what should be a more private affair, but it doesn’t seem like others mind. They all look cozy and comfortable around each other, like they all hadn’t tried to beat the crap out of each other a few years ago. They’re going inside the dome now, everyone chatting with anyone and then Mr. Bucky is next to Peter, looking at him with an unreadable expression and oh god not this again, Peter has been intimidated enough in one day.

He stands his ground as tall as he can and looks back at the super-soldier with relative calm.

The man keeps his stare for a few seconds more and then, wordlessly, offers his flesh hand for Peter to shake.

So, Peter does. “Mister Barnes,” he says, deepening his voice into a more adult-sounding version.

“Onesie,” the soldier nods. Falcon snorts loudly as he passes them.

Bucky looks Peter up and down, like he’s deciding whether he’s danger or not. “Nice suit,” he says finally. “Can it do more than the last one?”

Peter shrugs, feeling at ease again. “Probably. I guess we’ll find out soon.”

***

Later, it’s Bucky and Steve standing alone in a corridor, looking at the company still debating in Shuri’s lab when Bucky says quietly, “Banner and Rhodes are taking turns watching over the kid at all times, did you notice?”

“Yeah,” Steve replies softly, his arm draped lazily around Bucky’s shoulders.

“So, two of Stark’s best buddies alternate on babysitting duty,” Bucky continues in the same low voice. “Is the boy his secret lovechild?”

Steve chuckles. “No, I don’t think so. It’d be fitting, though.”

Natasha appears at Steve’s other side seemingly out of the blue. “No blood relation,” she says just as quietly. “I checked.”

“When?” Steve asks, puzzled. “It’s hardly been a day since…”

“I checked over a year ago,” Natasha says, unfazed. She looks up at the two super-soldiers. “Even wondered how he digged the kid conveniently just in time to bring him to Leipzig? Well, so did I. Then, suddenly, he gains a mysterious intern nobody has ever seen in SI at the same time an unregistered vigilante in New York suddenly radically re-designs his costume? Would you not check what the deal was? Please.” She leans lazily into Steve’s other side.  

Steve blinks down at her. “You never stopped looking out for Tony, did you,” he remarks warmly. “Even after all that happened. After what he told you last time you two met.”

Natasha shrugs. “Just because Stark hates my guts doesn’t mean I hate him back.”

“So you knew about Peter all this time,” Steve concludes, taken aback. It makes sense, in hindsight: Natasha always looks out for her own. She remains on friendly terms with Pepper Potts, Steve knows that (he’s not sure that Tony knows, but that’s neither here nor there). It would be useful to be aware if one of the most important figures of this planet were about to be suddenly assassinated by a secret agent pretending to be a high-schooler, too, since Tony is notoriously bad at recognizing threats unless they’re stating malicious intents into his face but again, neither here nor there. They’ve been there, they’ve done that. They’ve been that.

“Not really,” Natasha replies, frowning. “I never got his identity. Stark’s been covering for him pretty well. Even Pepper didn’t know his real name until a few weeks ago. I just got enough DNA to run a test and even that took me really, really long.”

Steve pulls her closer to his side and drops a peck into her hair, breathing a quiet thank you.

They’re silent for a few minutes after that.

“So, no Stark blood in this one,” Bucky says, off-hand, after. He speaks in the tone of a man who is painfully aware that his were the hands that orphaned Tony Stark, whether he wanted or not. The tone of a man who is aware that his new mission is to make sure that the least he can do is to keep someone safe for a change. “Does that change anything for us?”

“Absolutely not,” says Natasha sharply. “We brought the kid here to make sure he stays alive and in one piece. Nothing’s changed about that.”

“Agreed,” Steve mutters. “I don’t care how much effort Tony put into the battle suit. Kid’s not leaving this room, not over my dead body.”

And just like that, five minutes later there are spaceships falling from the sky on them.

***

They’re waiting for Thanos to turn up. It’s the longest, most anxious wait in Tony’s life.

He’s sitting aside from the Guardians, resting as much as he can while he can.

He’s trying to stop his subconsciousness from flashing snapshots of his life and various predictions of the deaths of all he holds dear in front of his face. How cliché is that.

Sighing, he pulls out a small photo of Pepper smiling. Not a hologram or a projection inside his mask - a real, printed photo she took ages ago for her passport or something and that he shamefully stole before she walked out his door and they both thought their shared life was all over. She never asked to have it back, even though she must have known that he had it all along.

At least he’s managed to hold onto a photo of her.

He must be away a long time, because suddenly Quill is next to him.

“Your wife?” he asks, sympathetically, pointing at the photo.

“If we make it out of here then yes,” Tony replies.

Quill nods, understanding. His gaze turns elsewhere. “Kids?”

“Never been a dad material,” Tony says. He doesn’t mention the dream he had last time he slept or the naked, gaping want in his chest. Funny how things turn out exactly what you've longed for your entire life exactly the moment they've gone. “Never wanted any kid of mine seeing me turn into my dad,” he adds in a half-voice.

“Yeah, dads,” Quill chuckles. “I mean, I don’t know your dad, obviously. But dude, my old man.”

Tony lifts his head Star-Lord’s way. “Huh?”

“I mean, he kinda tried to destroy the entire galaxy, so I had to blow him up.”

Tony turns fully around and looks at the other man, uncomprehending.

“I mean, my pops was an evil planet, so.” Quill shrugs in a what-can-you-do way, like that makes it any more believable.

Tony keeps staring. This collection of weird phrases and bizarre pop culture opinions outweirds him way more than Tony ever thought possible a mere half hour ago.

“And he killed my mom.”

That one, Tony can understand. It brings him back to rank 2 of top 5 worst times of his life. “Any more shocking, eye-opening revelations that you feel I’ve got to know?”

Quill seems to ponder that. “No, I don't think. I mean, I wish Yondu was here now, he was the one for chill plans. Real genius.” He smiles to himself, looking away and adding softly, “too bad.”

Tony could have mentioned that he is, by all means, also a genius himself. He keeps silent though. The moment doesn’t feel right.

***

There’s a general consensus established as soon as the spaceships appeared in the sky that Peter Parker is not to leave Princess Shuri’s admittedly spectacular lab under threats of bodily harm. He is to remain there, guarding the room with Wanda and be of any help that Princess Shuri requires, if any. There’s nowhere to swing out in the open and he would be deprived of his greatest strength, they say. Tony would find a way to return from outer space just to personally brutalize each and every one of them if a hair on Peter’s head was harmed, they don’t say.

King T’Challa calls for his warriors to come. The remaining Avengers get ready to fight.

“There are catacombs under this place,” Steve Rogers tells Peter quietly, just before he and his companions leave for battle. “In case we don’t hold them back.”

“You will, though,” Peter replies. The thought of it being otherwise doesn’t even register to him. This is Captain bloody America he’s talking to and that’s only the third most badass person around here.

Steve sighs, closing his eyes, and puts his hand comfortingly on Peter’s arm. “Just in case, then, you, Wanda and the Princess take Vision and go. Don’t let them catch you if we fail.”

Peter takes a few moments to nod. “Alright,” he says, not pushing the point. “Best of luck, Captain Rogers.”

“Same to you, Mr. Parker.”

The Widow appears behind the Captain, smiling slightly at Peter and running a thumb slowly, comfortingly, down his cheek. There are no words that she needs to add.

***

Tony is strategically hiding up above when Thanos makes his entrance. Already yielding all of the Infinity stones but two makes him nearly damn impossible to beat. The illusion he shows to Strange (and therefore to all of them) is impressive, it speaks for his case, and it’s the philanthropist in Tony that stops him from giving Thanos a point.

It would take everything they have combined and then some to defeat Thanos, as powerful as he is now.

But defeat Thanos they must.

Strange starts the offensive, followed by the Guardians and Tony himself. Then, out of nowhere, another spaceship appears and hits Thanos square in without causing a single scratch on him.

Nebula, Tony hears the others whisper. Gamora’s sister and something of the Guardians’ frenemy or what. What matters is the side she’s on and that together they manage to bind the purple Titan, just so - he really is incredibly strong. He’s throwing them back and forth before Mantis lands on his shoulders and sends him into a wobbly, just-there trance.

Tony starts pulling the damned glove off while the others are holding Drax moderately still. Except, he can’t pull it off on his own, so Quill runs to help him out, asking about Gamora while at it.

That is when Mantis finds herself unable to keep it in and wails that, “he mourns.”

Who would he mourn, Quill asks, and then it all goes to hell.

It’s not that Tony doesn’t understand. He does, really. He thought he lost Pepper before, lived (if shortly) with knowing that she was gone. He understands Quill’s pain, the thing is that they don’t have time for this.

Before he can stop Quill, the man is beating Thanos out of Mantis’ trance and after that the situation escalates really fucking quickly.

When Tony recovers from having the surface of a planetary satellite thrown right at him, he sees that all his companions are taken out of the fight. It’s vicious and he exhausts himself within seconds but keeps pushing on beyond limits. He beats and attacks and dances around like mad and, wonder of wonders, he just manages to draw a drop of blood out of Thanos.

Just seeing the result that cost him so much effort makes him want to break down and go to sleep for a hundred years but that is luxury all the world and its riches can’t grant him. He intensifies his attack, unbelievably so - and then, in less than a second he’s twisted around and a blade made out of his own nanotech is plunged into his side.

For a fraction of a moment, he feels no pain. All he can register is the breath knocked out of his body and the creaks in the armor as its inner bones and plates become indented and stuck upon movement.

Then he feels the pain.

Tony is halfway delirious from it within seconds and hardly even notices the huge purple maniac stroking him on the head like a father would pet a hurting child. It’s sick,, this twisted idea of love that Thanos has bestowed on his own daughter, that he’s planning to bestow on all of them.

He braces for the final blow that’s coming in seconds and - he doesn’t die.

The final blow never lands.

Because Stephen Moron Strange has decided to doom the entire universe.

Just as soon as Tony is able to stand up without toppling over he’s going to kill him.

***

Later, they would say that they were all just minding their own business - Wanda and Peter pacing while watching Shuri work magic, wishing to help her along but not knowing how. They’re anxiously watching their friends and the Wakandan soldiers fight an enemy that outnumbers them overwhelmingly, wishing to help but not knowing how, and not daring to leave their post. The future depended on them staying.

They were watching the battle progressing with increasing worry for their friends. When the digger weapon thing appeared on the horizon Peter could feel Wanda tense up beside him. He could see her looking back at Vision and forth at the battlefield, back and forth several times until finally she pushed him back, shrieking “stay with Vision!” and launching herself out of the window, closing it again with a flick of her hand behind her back.

Peter turns around frantically, feeling his instincts whine on a new level. There’s a commotion on the corridor outside and Peter leaps across the lab just as a dark-clad alien pushes in. The creature knocks out the guards at the door, pushes inside and slams its fist into Peter’s mid-section with such a force it resonates through his diaphragm. Peter grasps a pillar to stop himself from going down like a sack of potatoes. Through the pain, he sees Shuri being shoved down and he tries to help her, but Vision is faster, toppling the ugly thing over and out of the window.

Hiccuping, Peter springs up and shoots a web that slings him to the broken window.

“Where are you going?!” shouts Shuri after him.

“They need help!” he yells back, and then he’s flying through the air, the metal legs implanted into his reinforced suit giving a mighty shove that propels him from the window frame out, gliding above the plains of the battlefield on his suit’s wings and towards the rainforest he can see Vision and the alien crashing in.

It feels like ages before Peter feels confident to retract the wings and head-dive into the trees, even though it might have taken about a minute tops. He plunges through the thick branches towards the sounds of a singular battle going on. Through a clearing, he can see Bruce Banner in the huge suit taking the fight - or being taken in fight by an alien - elsewhere, down a ravine.

“Kid, what the hell are you - “ Peter hears the Captain yell but before the sentence can be finished or Peter can come up with a proper excuse, his senses go haywire and the air fifty feed ahead of him opens in electrified blue and black clouds. A huge pink figure steps out, rising its left hand clad in a golden glove that has five bright, colourful stones shining at the base of each finger.

“Shit,” Peter breathes out, his knees nearly giving out as he watches Thanos walk towards them. This is bad, this is bad, this is BAD.

“Stay away, Pete,” the Captain says softly, walking past the boy , closing the distance between himself and the Titan. “Don’t let him focus on you.”

Then he leaps into the fray and the rest of the Avengers with him.

One battle goes on on the plains, another fifty feet behind, perhaps a more visceral one, if Wanda Maximoff’s sobs and the quiet words of Vision are anything to go by, a third fight right ahead - and Peter has never been really good at following orders.

He takes into a sprint, catching onto a tree branch with a web, swinging onto the huge figure even as he watches his teammates being thrown around like ragdolls one by one. By some miracle he manages to land a web onto the gauntlet on the Titan’s hand from thirty feet away but before there’s even a remote chance to pull it the red stone on the glove glows and suddenly, the string of spiderwebs between Peter’s fingers turns into a live, hissing huge yellow snake.

Within half a second the reptile springs forward, its fangs bared, the several rows of needle-like, backwards facing teeth ready as Peter drops the web he was swinging from in shock, tumbling down from the tree that was holding him. The thing goes after him with sickening agility before  he even lands.

It doesn’t look or behave like any snake Peter has ever seen ( magic snake, you idiot, the voice in his head screeches; I don’t need this right now, the other, more conscious voice shots back) - it bites and bites while Peter dodges and dodges, it wraps its tail around his ankle faster than he can blink and flipping his foot up. Peter lands hard on his back - the bloody thing is strong - and he doesn’t even have time to fire up a web to catch himself before the snake is around his legs, gliding up his body and squeezing for dear life. Its head and neck are still free and it lashes at Peter again - he quickly webs up the mouth with three shots but the beast just lifts its head up, pulls and its lower jaw splits in the middle and it tears through the webs. With renewed zeal attacks again, tightening its hold on Peter’s lower body as the teeth clink on the Iron Spider suit.

It seems that the nanotech suit holds its own because there is no piercing pain in the place the snake got through Peter’s defence - the animal apparently realizes the same thing as its next target is Peter’s right hand. It catches the flailing limb easily between its jaws and bites down with force.

It’s not the teeth or the venom that are going to be the problem, Peter thinks - it’s simply the creature’s enormous physical strength. He can barely feel his legs, but he more than acutely feels how his spine grinds, pelvic bones pushing into the sacrum from both sides and vertebrae grating each other and his false ribs hanging in there somewhere in the cacophony of the snake’s hold. He cannot cry out because of the pressure to his diaphragm, he can barely take in enough air not to choke and the loops of the snake’s body are inching up to his ribcage, he can feel the bones in his hand snap -

Something happens, Peter isn’t even sure what or how he knows, he’s never felt anything like that before, like something metaphysical ripples through the air and earth around him, he feels disoriented in time but that could just be the pain because oh it hurts - and just when he thinks he can’t take it anymore, that the snake will tear his wrist out of the rest of his hand and squeeze the life out of him at the same time, it just… stops. It disappears, apparently, because Peter is suddenly aware that it isn’t there anymore, though he somehow has no recollection of it leaving in any fashion.

So he just lies on the ground, trying desperately to bring air into his quivering lungs, for a few moments unaware of what just happened - there is no one within arm’s reach but he knows he’s not alone, he can feel the others around him close by even without seeing them. He tries to sit up but his body will not listen - something has to be broken inside, he thinks, judging my the sharp, pulsing pain that nearly blinds him when he attempts to engage the muscles of his midsection. It doesn’t go away and he’s left to keel sideways, curled up slightly on one side while blinking the tears of agony and frustrations while trying to keep his whimpers of agony to minimum. Air, he needs air - he extends his left hand, the only part of his body that seems to more or less work, and rectacts his mask to gulp on the hot, mineral-smelling air.

Then, the feeling shifts - a strange kind of hollow cold settles in his gut, slowly radiating out - it’s the searing, burning out of cold, unassuming at first but quickly picking up in intensity. It’s white-hot freezing, it’s crystal clear and it hurts.

“What - no - !” he rasps out, completely at a loss to what’s happening. Then he hears voices, calling names, other than his, but there’s a “kid!” in there, too, shouted in a familiar voice; “Peter!,” too, getting closer, and he opens his eyes to slowly focus on Captain America, kneeling about sixty feet away from him, looking completely lost with his hand on the ground by - is that a machine gun? He doesn’t know, he can’t concentrate -

“Peter,” someone says softly behind him, and two warm hands land on his shoulder, gently pitching him onto his back to stare into the pale, terrified face of Natasha Romanoff.

He can second her on the terror because his own heart is triple-taking with anxiety, it’s all he is, fear and burning cold on the inside that spreads out to his extremities.

“Peter, what’s happening?” Natasha whispers, putting her palm on his dirty, tear-stained cheek in a sad imitation of the farewell she gave him what feels like lifetimes ago. “What is it?”

“What’s going on here?” asks a voice, sounding tired and laden with the weight of the world itself. Steve Rogers’ face appears behind Natasha and even through his wet lashes Peter can see just from the captain’s expression alone that something horrible, unspeakable just happened.

“No, Peter. What happened to him?!”

“I don’t - I don’t know,” Natasha mutters, her voice hitching a note into panicked. She slides one hand behind Peter’s head and the other under his shoulders, “help me get him up, Steve, we have to - ”

“Yeah, here, let me…” more hands, stabilizing Peter as he’s carefully lifted into sitting position but they feel wrong on his skin, or maybe his skin feels wrong on itself, like all sensations are going, going, gone, and the terrible scorching cold gives way to scorching, freezing emptiness .

“I - I don’t - “ he tries to force out but the terror intensifies even more and there’s pain, pain like he cannot describe, unlike anything he ever felt before, pain on a molecular level, and he’s distantly aware of landing his body weight sideways onto Natasha’s shoulder, he sees his left hand gripping desperately onto Steve’s, he can’t breathe, he’s choking, there’s a pair of arms holding onto him where he still can feel, pulling him closer to Natasha, there’s a large, warm hand on the back of his neck, he thinks he can hear one of them whisper, brokenly, “no, not you too, please!

Then the hollowness spreads, his vision fades, and everything is gone.

***

On the abandoned planet of Titan, Tony collapses down on a broken metal structure, surrounded by ash in the air and a blue alien cyborg whom he hardly notices. There is no one around to be strong for anymore.

His head is in his hands and no breath is left in his lungs. The gaping hole in his side sends waves of sharp, crippling pain with each breath he takes.

He feels empty, except for how he’s not.

He is fear, he is agony, he is misery.

His mind wanders despite his effort not to let it. There’s nothing but ash for it to go.

The entire world.

Pepper.

Rhodey.

Peter.

Pepper.

Rhodey.

Peter.

Pepper.

.

.

.

Did I just kill everyone?