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The End of Infinity

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Earth-200004: October 2016

 

For a long moment, Tony couldn’t see through the dust. 

It was isolated, billowing up like a carnival tent from one of the many cavernous buildings of the park. One area, surgically chosen, precisely destroyed, heavy and inescapable. Beside it, free of it, he saw the shadow of wings, huge and menacing and unnatural. 

He didn’t see the shadow of anything else.

The panic that clutched at Tony’s chest was visceral. It was cold and it burned and it turned his esophagus inside out and sucked his rib-cage into and through his lungs. 

The dust expanded, lowering and obscuring anything and everything around it. Tony could smell it. He wondered how it would taste. 

It was an accident, Tony thought in a surge of desperate denial. A fluke. The park was so old, so abandoned, something could be wrong with the support and no one would know. And there were so many buildings. It didn’t have to be that one, it hadn’t been that one—

But the turbines of a wingsuit were whirring, and a phone call silently ticking in the corner of his visitor had ended. 

There was only space for one thought in his mind. One single word, drowning out all the others. 

No. 

No, no, NO—

“FRIDAY—” Tony couldn’t hear his own voice. He was searching the screen of his helmet for vitals, for anything— 

The only vitals he read were those of a limp spider-suit, hanging empty in the corner of a far-away workshop. 


 

Once, when Peter was nine, he’d gotten his swim-shorts caught on the support of a water slide. He’d wriggled out of them and burst—naked and panicked—to the surface of the pool not long after, but there’d been thirty seconds where he choked, submerged.

Water in your lungs felt like dread. Like something unsettling in the base of your stomach, heavy and dragging on everything inside you. It burned in your throat as you tried to expel it, only to suck down more.

Dust in your lungs was not like that.

Dust was something else. Dust itched. Dust coated everything it touched, bitter and thick against Peter’s larynx, behind his tongue, in his ears. He was breathing it, destroying himself as he tried to respirate it.

He was drowning in a pool of dust and rock.

He was buried in a grave of steel and silver. 

Murderer.

Maybe he deserved it. 


 

Loki’s confidence shattered. 

And so did his anger, his fear, his determination. Little shards of hate and frustration and sadness dissolved like ice beneath the hot sun, leaving emptiness behind. Emptiness that tasted of dust.

Peter.

Loki’s skin crawled, feathers and fur and scales boiling beneath his veins, but he was stuck frozen by the rubble falling around them. He couldn’t shift—there was nothing to shift into, nowhere to run, nothing to be done and it was too late, too late, he was falling through the Void again and this time there was no one to catch him and nothing waiting on the other side.

Peter.

Magic roiled around Loki’s hands, eating away at his sleeves like an invisible splash of venom. The invisible force pulled at his cheeks, his hair, his neck. He felt nothing. 

Peter.

Loki took a step forward. The scene around him was morphing, run through with wires of purple light. He tried to advance again, but his booted foot came down on a limp, cold hand, attached to the bloody form of an Asgardian. Loki’s mouth opened in a silent scream. 

He’s dead, a voice roared in the back of his mind. Maybe it was usually a whisper, gnawing away at him, but this was a scream, a caterwaul of inescapable fact that pounded into his consciousness. He’s dead, and you never told him you forgave him, you never spoke to him again, he died thinking he’d driven you away and its all over now, you’ve failed again, you’ve failed and he’s dead, the only one who ever believed you, believed in you, you you YOU—

Loki convulsed, his hands flying into his hair, a half-breath shuddering through his lips. A lump formed beneath his skin, then faded away, just as the skin on his back began to stretch. That too became nothing. 

He was boiling, shifting within his skin, trapped in his body as Peter was beneath that rubble and it hurt, Odin it hurt, Father help me, help him—

Loki stared at the rising debris and shattered. 


 

The tears on Tony’s face burned.

He didn’t know when they had started, but they were soaking his beard now, blurring his view of the useless data on his visor. 

The dust cleared before them like the realizations in Tony’s mind, glaring and cold. The boy had promised him he’d be safe, promised, and Tony had believed him, Tony had trusted him, and now—

Now, look where they were again, but it was not Tony dead in the cold and the weight and the betrayal this time, it was Peter, and that was so much worse. H e should not have trusted.

No, he should have kept him safe.

The boy should be safe, Tony should have KEPT. HIM. SAFE.

Tony might have been screaming it, roaring it, sobbing it, as he stumbled backward in the grass of a field he never should have touched. He should have been with the boy. But he had not, he’d been here, he’d been listening—

Listening to the Liesmith while Peter Parker died.

Tony turned, very slowly, toward the figure beside him. Loki’s posture, his expression, the sound he was making didn’t mean a thing to Tony as lies and truth and trust and denial bled together at the seams within his mind. 

‘What’s left of him beneath your precious Earth.’

What was left of Peter now?

With a precision that did not match his trembling form and blind vision, Tony lifted his palm toward Loki.

And fired.


 

There were noises coming out of Peter now, wrung from his lungs by the concrete pressing against them. Whines and cries, grunts that didn’t sound like him, was that his voice?

His hands scrambled at the rock around him, fingernails ripping clean of their cuticles and spraying blood across the dust-coated metal. The patterns looked floral. Peter, his senses clogged and screaming at the pain, the noise, the dark, ripped at the mask on his face. Blood tracked down his cheeks as he cast it desperately to the ground before him. 

He was mumbling, words that didn’t mean anything in a tone of utter terror. They could have been screams for all the emotion they held within, but Peter couldn’t draw enough breath to cry out. 

He didn’t want to die here. He didn’t—he didn’t want to die at all, he didn’t want to go, not to dust, not to dust. 

Peter braced his hands beneath him and pushed, rubble digging into his shredded fingers. They slipped off the concrete with a stinging agony. He struggled like a netted fish, writhing in what little space he had, but it only drove pain into his chest and fear into his heart.

He started screaming then. 


 

The blast crackled through Loki’s form like lightning through rusting sewer pipes. He cried out, losing his balance, not even bothering to extend his hands to catch himself. Another blast followed, missing him by a hair's breadth.

Loki didn’t notice. He didn’t notice, didn’t feel anything, not with the voice still pounding in his head, not with the dust still churning before them, not with Peter… not with Peter…

As the low voltage of Iron Man’s not yet fully charged blast rushed through him, Loki’s form shattered like the rest of him.

A thousand textures and creatures and skins bubbled up around him, folding over his limbs, swallowing his head. They merged together into an armoured surface of onyx carapace as Loki hit the ground. He writhed, the cheat grass flattening beneath his elongating body, ripped beneath his fingers as they merged into something razor-sharp and wickedly serrated. His back arched. The skin peeled like a sail, snapping away from his form and unfurling into the cold, cold air.

Loki’s cry turned to a roar.


 

“Please, somebody! I’m down here, I’m stuck, I can’t move! I can’t move, PLEASE!”


 

When the creature rose before him like the inky blackness of empty space, Tony’s eyes widened. 

It was surprise, adrenaline, that sent him rolling as the first swipe nearly removed his entire shoulder from his torso. Not fear. Tony didn’t have any room left for fear. It had all been sucked away, devoured by the hole in the crust of the very Earth just yards away.

Tony leapt to his feet, kicking his repulsors into action and lifting from the now-burnt grass. The creature before him—Loki—whipped an enormous, horned head in his direction. Glinting eyes, slitted through with white pupils, locked onto Tony.

Loki opened a maw the size of Tony’s torso, teeth glinting in the moonlight around them. His tongue curled against the two fangs dropping over his bottom lip. 

Tony hadn’t known they had dragons in Asgard. 


 

Peter screamed until his throat was raw and he tasted blood, but no one heard. No one came.

The tears on his face tracked through the filth, and when they reached his mouth they tasted more of copper than salt. He strained his neck, his shoulders, his arms, trying to see the light or the exit or something, but the weight on his back kept him helpless.

Exhausted, Peter let his head drop, his fingers trailing into the water pooling from the broken pipes around him. His mask was just barely visible beneath the surface, floating forlornly in the muck. Blood dripped off his fingers. It swirled like food coloring when it touched the water, and Peter found himself captivated.

Something was whispering at him, reminding him, and he couldn’t… he couldn’t hear… 

You’re nothing…

Kid. Murderer. Useless, ignorant, inconsequential, unimportant. 

You’re nothing…

The mask glinted in the water, awkward and makeshift and ragged.

You’re nothing…

He’d worn that mask for six months. Learned in it, fought in it, grew in it. He’d been wearing it when he saved a dozen people within an out-of-control bus. He’d been wearing it when he did his first backflip from twenty stories up. 

He could have done all those things without it.

If you’re nothing… 

In the elevator of the Washington Monument, Peter’d almost died to save a group of high-school kids. There’d been no mask then. He’d just been an ordinary hero.

If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it. 

Peter braced his hands beneath him and pushed.


 

Loki wasn’t sure when he started feeling again.

It came in stages as he roared, swatting at the man-shaped pest that buzzed around his towering body, barely the size of his head. He could feel his wings beating with vicious fury behind him, feel the air that whipped around his elegant neck, feel the precision of the flick of his plated tail. 

He could feel the grief that thrummed like a heartbeat in his blood. 

Some part of him, the part of him that could still think, could still function through the screaming inside his head, was trying to hold him back. It pleaded for him not to lose control. It kept crying something, some name, some claim as to his identity, remember this isn’t who you are, not anymore, you aren’t a monster, this isn’t you—

But the only one who’d ever believed that was lying dead beneath the rubble. 

Loki locked his gaze onto Tony Stark and began to fight. 


 

“Come on, come on Peter, Spider-Man, come on Spider-Man—”


 

It was with a tangible snap that Loki turned bloodthirsty. 

Tony’d felt that snap before, so many times as he fought, in so many races as they invaded, and it shoved him into true, life threatening danger with almost nauseating speed. 

Tony didn’t care. He couldn’t care.

‘I’ll leave what’s left of him beneath your precious Earth.’

He didn’t care what was a lie anymore, didn’t care who he should trust. He didn’t care that his legacy was breaking, that his memory was souring, because what did that matter anyway, what did any of it matter?
Truth, life, trust, safety, future. 

What good was any of it, if he couldn’t protect the ones he loved?

Tony was yelling over the sound of FRIDAY’s voice, the sound of Loki’s roar. He dived, his out-of-date suit sparking, sending a beam of energy into the creature’s neck. 

The dragon flinched, thundering an angry defiance, but it did not slow. Wings raised, fangs bared, it was so close Tony could smell the fire in its throat. 

Tony began to call power to his arc reactor. It crackled, and he pushed away the memories that tried to rise to the surface—they didn’t matter, nothing mattered. 

Loki beat his great wings, and Tony found himself unbalanced in the air. It moved like wind, but not at all, unable to be tracked and stabilized within and suddenly Tony was upside-down, was flying toward Loki and not away—

A jaw closed around him with the power of an industrial piston. Tony went to fire the rockets behind his shoulder blades as the pressure began to crack through the metal on his hip and shoulder and that was impossible, that shouldn’t be possible, no no no no no—

The Mark 46 didn’t have shoulder-mounted flares, Tony remembered vaguely, just as Loki’s teeth shattered through the steel and buried themselves in his flesh. 


 

With slow, coughing movements, the rubble began to shift.

“Come on, Spider-Man!”


 

Tony’d learned once that bone transmitted sound better than air. 

He hadn’t believed it, five years old and glaring at a museum sign. But he’d sighed and done as the words had instructed, sliding a straw onto the little metal bar and biting down as he plugged his ears.

The music that had exploded into his mind had made him gasp in wonder.

But this was not music. And though it exploded, it was not wondrous.

Tony heard the crack of his hip bone fracturing, the grind of Loki’s fang against his scapula. He heard his tendons stretching, snapping like rubber-bands.

And it hurt.

A breathless scream escaped Tony’s throat as Loki bit down harder, shards of Tony’s broken armor digging into both of them. Loki snarled, lowering his head, and shook like a wolf with a rabbit in his teeth.

Tony screamed again.

He crumpled with barely the strength to slow his fall with a repulsor as Loki dropped him. His suit was wet with blood; he could feel it down his legs, sparking against the shredded wires. FRIDAY was powering it down, doing all she could to protect him—Tony could hear her fearful voice in his ears but couldn’t recognize what she said. 

He blinked, rolling onto his back. Loki was standing above him, pupils narrow, green eyes flashing. He looks evil with that blood on his teeth, Tony thought distantly. Like a fantasy character.

His suit was pulling away from him, now that it was compromised. Good—if the central wire was severed, the arc reactor was destabilizing and Tony being in the suit when that happened? Not good. 

Not that it mattered. 

Tony forced his hands to move, pulling himself out of the shattered suit, trailing dark fluid onto the metal and grass. It was sticky. Good thing this was his workshop shirt—there was grease on it anyway. 

There was a dragon rearing above him, claws the color of midnight.

Right. Loki, Prince of Asgard. Tony was going to die, wasn’t he?

Tony didn’t think he had the capability to care anymore. He just hoped someone would take care of the bots.


 

Was that a dragon?

Oh. 

Oh shit.