“Quill, Peter—” Tony can barely hear over the sound of his pounding heart, hot panic racing through his veins. “Quill! Do not engage him—we almost have the glove off, come on! Come on! Just another minute! Don’t do this, not now!” Peter’s face, beside him, is strained. Quill’s whole body is shaking, Tony notices distantly, his fingers cutting into his suit as his feet brace against the uncaring ground of a planet he never should have seen.
Tony sees what’s going to happen a second before it does. “No! Quill! If we get this off—it’s going to hurt him so much more. So much more. We just need time. You just—you’ll just have to wait one second, okay, one second—you can do this, man.” Quill, only a breath away from Thanos’ face, turns tear-filled eyes to Tony’s face. Drax has his arms around Quill, and Tony doesn’t know them, but he knows enough to see that this is an unfamiliar position for the two of them.
Quill’s cheeks are wet, his clenched fists shaking, but he stops struggling against Drax. His body slumps in a way that could be heartbreaking if Tony let himself think about anything other than the catastrophe he’s trying to prevent. Drax’s face holds grief, too, and raw anger—his look at Thanos is nothing short of murderous, tinged with desperation. “Just give us time,” Tony begs. “We’re almost there.”
“Quill,” says the blue woman slowly—when did she get here? who is she? what is she, to them? enemy, ally?— “She wouldn’t want…” She trails off, the words hanging stagnant in the air, and Tony isn’t sure what the end of that sentence might be. There are too many variables, too many unknown factors. Everything here is too much, is too overwhelming to process. Focus, Tony. Pepper’s voice. Survive now, panic later. And he hasn’t stopped pulling, hasn’t stopped gripping the iron glove with all the strength he has, but when Quill bows his head in defeat, tears dripping down his nose, Tony lets out a tiny breath of relief. Good. Focus, Tony.
“Come on, Pete.” Peter, his Peter, too-young Peter who shouldn’t be so far away from home, who shouldn’t be here at all, looks at him. “Pull, c’mon, dammit, pull!”
The girl with the antennas is still gripping Thanos’ shoulders—Mantis? Was that her name? She warns them with a shaking voice: “There is not long—you do not have time—he is so strong—"
Peter lets out a yell, expelling frustration and desperation from deep in his chest, and Tony grits his teeth, and – the glove comes off. The glove comes off, and the colours around them dim. The world doesn’t stop but it dims, growing less shaky and seeming to stabilise, somehow. When Tony blinks, he sees the glove lying in Peter’s hands, his gloved fingers miniscule as they grasp all the power in the universe. His eyes are wide. “Oh, thank God,” breathes Tony, and he’s already turning to Strange when Thanos’s eyes clear.
Thanos yells, a sound of pure rage filled with promises of pain, and he throws the girl off his shoulders and sends her flying, but the ground doesn’t shake with his voice. Clouds do not gather, the earth doesn’t split—without his glove, Thanos is nothing more than anything they have ever faced. The thought gives Tony a small burst of energy—not much, no, but enough. More than he thought he had left.
“You, boy,” Thanos snarls, eyes locking onto Peter’s, and Tony feels a fury fill his bones. No. He doesn’t have time to do anything, though, because Quill breaks out of Drax’s hold faster than Tony can even see, and his fist is flying at Thanos’s face.
Thanos stumbles back half a step, but even that is more than anything they’d been able to achieve earlier, and whatever part of Quill is thinking functionally must recognise it too, because his next swing is filled with even more power. “Tell me it isn’t true!” Quill’s voice is achingly desperate, and terribly angry. “Tell me it isn’t true!” His voice cracks, and his fist drives into Thanos’ ribs.
“Peter,” Tony snaps, turning away from the fight, “Strange.”
Strange nods, glancing at Tony sharply, and twists his one hand forward, opening a sparkling portal. “The glove, Peter,” he demands, and Peter sends a quick look over to Tony. The gesture makes his chest clench with some unknown feeling. Tony gives a jerky nod, and Peter hands the glove to Strange, his arms clumsy around the bulky armour.
“Where are you sending it?” Tony’s voice is raised to be heard over the sound of Thanos beginning to fight back against Quill’s furious assault, over the sound of Quill’s vocal anger. Thanos is trying to reach them, and he’s succeeding despite the other’s best efforts, one slow step at a time. His teeth are bared, and stained with purple blood.
“You will never succeed!” Thanos roars, and then his head snaps back with the force of the blue woman’s heel to his chest. Thanos lets out a snarl, and Tony brings his gaze back to the glove cradled in the wizard’s hands.
Strange’s smile is tight but victorious. “Somewhere no one will ever find it,” he promises. The portal, from what they can see, is pitch black. Darker than black, even. Tony nods, accepting this, and when Strange passes the glove through the circle, it disappears from view even before the portal closes behind it.
“No!” Thanos yells, enraged, and his hand flings out, flinging Quill away from him and into a nearby pillar. Peter’s eyes widen, and Tony almost wishes that he was wearing the mask, just so he wouldn’t have to see that expression of fear on the teenager’s face again. It’s a familiar feeling, the will I make it home this time? and he wishes achingly Peter never had any reason to feel it at all.
“Come on,” says Tony, allowing what remains of his cracked helm to slide back into his armour. “Let’s go kill Thanos.”
Peter nods, the daze in his eyes clearing and being overtaken by a single-minded determination that Tony recognises. Before they can say anything else, work on a plan, Strange speaks up, words sounding, for once, unplanned. “Tony,” he says, brow furrowed, looking almost confused. “I never saw this future.”
Tony stills, flickers of panic nearly overtaking him for a moment before he brushes them aside. “In the future where we won, or where we didn’t?”
Strange shakes his head. “In any of them.” His eyes are troubled.
“I don’t care, then. I don’t care.” Tony takes a step towards the fight and decides to deal with this later. He’s never needed divine permission before. He doesn’t need it now. “We can make it a winning future.”
Peter grins, and Tony keeps the picture in his mind when he turns to face the battle. Quill has brought out his blaster, shooting at the purple giant in between ducking from the titan’s swinging fists. The blue woman is on Thanos’ other side, holding two glistening blades in her hands and slicing at the insides of his legs whenever he turns to face Quill. Drax must have been swept aside too harshly at some point in the fight, because his body is crumpled against a rock not too far away, and the antennae girl crouches beside his body, large eyes fixed unblinkingly on the chaos before her.
Tony blasts off of the ground, aiming his glowing palms at Thanos and hitting him with everything he’s got, flying out of reach when Thanos swings his bulking hands too close for comfort.
“It’s too late for you,” Thanos yells. He’s trying for a cocky smile but the blood running down his chin ruins the effect. “It’s too late for your world, Tony Stark.” Tony, hovering in the air, feels the impact of these words hit him like a physical blow. Thanos pants out a harsh laugh, breaking one of the blue woman’s swords with a kick out from his chest. Peter, jumping through Strange’s portals like before, sporadically sticks webbing over his eyes and sticks his arms to his body.
“It’s far too late for you to save any of them. My mercy—it will be a gift.” Tony’s eyes narrow, flying over to help Quill up to his feet and then zooming back into the sky near Thanos, looking for weak spots which the titan might not recover so easily from. Peter, dropping out of a portal, is batted harshly aside, and his head cracks against a rock in the ground. The sight makes Tony even angrier, and he fights to remain level-headed.
Thanos looks up directly at Tony, lips pulling back. “But not for you and yours, Stark—for them I will allow nothing but pain.” Tony’s jaw clenches. “Endless, endless pain—” His words are cut off as Tony’s beam hists him squarely in the chest, making him stumble, right as the blue woman thrusts her remaining blade up. Thanos, reeling backwards, falls directly onto the point of the blade, staring in surprise as the point protrudes from his chest, before the woman draws it out, twisting it as she does so.
“This cannot kill me, daughter,” Thanos sneers, whirling to face her, clumsy on his feet. Peter’s webbing tangles around his legs. “You are not nearly enough for that.” One of his hands is fumbling at the wound, despite his words, and the woman’s face twists in cool anger.
“I have never been your daughter,” she growls, voice low and words clear. “And neither was she.” With that, she drives the blade into his body anew. Thanos chokes, and Tony lowers himself to the ground, kneeling beside Peter and slinging one of Peter’s arms over Tony’s shoulders to keep them upright.
“Gamora,” Thanos starts, but Quill’s enraged words cut him off.
“Don’t you dare say her name, you bastard,” he snarls, and raises his blaster. Smoking hole between his eyes, Thanos drops to his knees. His body wavers for a moment before thudding heavily onto the ground, face down. Silence fills the air, thick and heavy, and Thanos' chest does not rise.
Quill is panting, blood and tears and sweat on his face. Grief and anger paint a picture too raw to look at, and he steps over to Thanos’ body carelessly. The blue woman nudges him with her foot. Tony can hear his harsh breaths in the air, Peter’s eyes wide open as he takes in the sight before them. Strange brings his hands together, golden light still encircling his wrists.
The woman looks at the corpse below her, Quill reaching her side, and her hands form into fists. A second later, she pulls a dagger from her pants and drops to one knee, driving it into the back of Thanos’ neck. She stands again, wiping his blood on her sleeves. No one asks why she did it. Quill turns away from the body, his entire physique looking lost and stiff.
“A far easier death than he deserved,” Strange remarks.
“You have no idea,” growls the blue woman.
Strange glances at her levelly. “I may have some idea.”
Her eyes narrow. “Thanos murdered my family and my people, pulled me apart piece by piece—”
“Nebula.” Quill’s voice is flat, still raw at the edges. “Not now.”
The blue woman, Nebula, whirls to face him, hands fisted. “Don’t you dare—”
Quill looks up at Tony. “Thanos is destroying your world,” he says. His eyes are shining, words jagged. “This isn’t over yet.”
Nebula stills, body seeming to relax somewhat now that she is faced with another enemy to fight. “More children of Thanos,” she says slowly. Quill nods. His hands are shaking.
“More armies,” he adds, “more fighting.”
“Earth,” breathes Peter. “Mr Stark, Tony, they’re coming for earth—”
Strange, silent until now, shakes his head. “Oh no, Peter Parker. They’re already there.”
“What—Mr Stark, we have to help them, we have to go home!” Tony looks at the teenager he’s supporting and feels himself age another year. Peter is already showing the signs of concussion, and he shouldn’t be fighting. He should never have been fighting. And what shape are the rest of them in, battered and broken? Which of them would even come with?
“I agree,” Strange says, oblivious to Tony’s internal despairs.
His hands move in front of him to make another portal, but he stops before it appears. “How many will pass through?”
Quill cuts him off before he can say anything else, waving a hand. “We’re—we’re coming. I don’t know how much help we’ll be, but Rocket and Groot are with Thor. And if earth is being threatened, well.” He shrugs, but he’s unable to shake the visage of exhaustion, of loss, from his person. “I didn’t get the feeling Thor would let his only remaining planet die.”
Thinking of Thor makes both Tony and Peter brighten. Thor from relief, Peter from excitement. But then: “Wait. Only planet he has left?”
Quill stares at him. “You haven’t heard about Asgard?
Surely he doesn’t mean… Horror makes Tony’s throat close up. God, Thor.
“Later,” Strange decides. “We all pass through, then? Wonderful.” And the ground gives way beneath them.