I only woke up ten minutes ago.
This is the first thing that comes to mind when Peter finds himself in the eye of the storm, clutching the re-created gauntlet to his chest.
All around him people he knows and people with blue skin and people made from rocks and people who don’t look like any kind of person Peter has ever seen are fighting - fighting for life, fighting for revenge, fighting for the universe. Blood sprays and the Earth shakes and fire rains from the sky.
But from where he stands, he can see it all mapped out. Can see the parts of the whole coming together before him like the many intricate details of a circuit board. He sees a missed connection here, a faulty component there. Small events adding up one by one until all that’s left is a cascade failure.
Mr Stark is thrown through the air like a limp ragdoll. He smashes into the ground and doesn’t get up.
Thor and Captain America are taking on Thanos two on one and they aren’t winning.
Peter can see it. He can see where it leads.
They are going to lose.
It fills him with a terrible, crippling fear. Even having only been back ten minutes, he knows that getting to this point had come at the cost of just about everything to those who were left behind. He had seen it in Mr Stark’s eyes. Felt it in the tightness of his arms around him.
They can’t lose after all that.
Get the stones to the van, they said. That’s the goal. Put them back in the past where Thanos can’t get to them.
But… what does that matter if everyone dies here and now?
More than that, even without the stones, what horrors could Thanos unleash on the Earth? On the universe? The devastation all around them speaks for itself.
You can’t be a friendly neighbourhood Spider-man if there’s no neighbourhood.
Peter looks down at the glove in his hands. The stones glitter in their mounts.
He thinks of his uncle. Of Ben pushing Peter behind him and taking a bullet to the chest for it. Peter has never stopped blaming himself, never stopped feeling guilty about being left behind. But deep down, he knows that it was Ben’s choice, and to deny him that would be doing him a disservice – has no doubt that he would have made the same one again and again and again if it meant keeping his loved ones safe.
If you have the ability, you have the responsibility.
The battle is raging all around him. People are screaming. Dying.
Peter can stop it.
He can stop it right now.
Heart pounding, Peter takes a breath…
…and slips his hand into the gauntlet.
He sees white.
He’s on his knees.
Pain and power entangle like vines, crawling up his arm, taking root in his bones.
It’s too much. It’s too much. It’s too much.
Someone is screaming.
It might be him.
Heaving for breath, Peter lifts his head. He sees galaxies and supernovas and the creation and end of all things, but closer… a red and gold suit blasting towards him – Tony – and an ugly purple grape gazing upon him with fear and reverence.
It is the last of these that he focuses on now.
He focuses on the five years stolen from himself and so many others in the blink of an eye.
On the five years of suffering endured by those left behind.
On the slow realization that crawls across Thanos’ face as Peter lifts his hand.
He takes a breath. Inhales dust and starlight. Feels it filling and filling him until it spills out at the seams of his being.
The universe opens up before him. The cosmos is listening.
“Magic with a click," he pants out.
And then he snaps his fingers.
“Freaky, right? Orange has never really been my best light either, but I’m adapting.”
“Natasha. You can call me Nat.”
“Nat. Wow. Okay… I’m –“
“Peter. I know.”
“Right. Right. Are you – we – I mean…”
“Yes and no. It’s a little hard to explain. The stones carry a price, you see, but… I think you knew that before you used them.”
“I had to. I had to do it.”
“Well then, the spiders save the universe. How’s that for a team?”
When the world fades back in, Peter is lying propped up against a rock.
His whole right side is a mess of agony – he is aware of this, and yet hardly feels it.
Hardly feels anything.
Rhodey’s is the first face he sees, warping in and out of focus like everything else around them. He’s crouched down beside Peter, tears rolling down his cheeks, and for a moment, the sight is startling – Peter doesn’t think he’s ever seen Rhodey look anything less than professionally composed.
There is a blankness to Peter’s mind, but as he lies there, trying and failing to properly expand his lungs, bits and pieces start to come back.
“Did – “ Peter breathes out. Something warm and wet escapes with the air, trickles down his chin. “Did we –?“
“We won. We won, kid. You did it.”
Warmth spreads out through his chest at Rhodey’s watery smile.
I did it. Everyone is safe.
He lets the relief of that envelop him like a blanket, heavy and comforting as he starts to sink into the rock at his back.
He hears the clunk clunk of metal boots hitting the ground hard in front of him. Forces his eyes to focus on the man inside the suit falling to his knees beside him, the hands reaching out to smooth away damage that can’t be undone.
“Why, kid?” he says. If the hug he’d pulled Peter into before had been unexpected – nice, but unexpected – the fear in his eyes now is even more so. Peter has never seen that expression on his face before. Not even... before. “Why did you do that? Why – Jesus.” A hand curls around the back of Peter’s neck, slides down to rest on his shoulder. “Pete. Peter.”
I’m sorry, Peter thinks.
It’s not what he says.
He remembers now that it’s what he said last time, when his atoms were splitting apart both excruciatingly slowly and altogether too quickly – remembers the devastation on Tony’s face when he’d heard those words.
Three syllables are too much effort now anyway.
He settles for two.
It’s comes out so quiet, Peter isn’t even sure he said it, but Tony hears him. Despite Peter’s best intentions, Tony’s face crumples, though Peter can see he tries hard not to let it.
“I’m right here, kid.” He takes Peter’s hand – the one that isn’t mangled beyond repair – and squeezes it tight. Peter’s fingers twitch in response. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here.”
There are two tethers pulling at Peter. One is Tony’s hand, clasped around his own, the other is something else – something far away and unseen – and he knows that even Iron Man isn’t strong enough to win the tug of war against it.
Still though, Peter commands his fingers to curl loosely around Tony’s, to try and cling to the anchor right in front of him, because he has to make sure…
“May…” he forces out with great difficulty.
The thought of leaving her all alone crushes him. He doesn’t even know if he already has – if she’s spent the last five years missing him, or only the last fifteen minutes. Either way, it weighs heavy on his heart.
“She’ll be okay, Pete. I promise. I’ll make sure of it.”
It’s all he needs to know.
There are so many more things Peter wants to say. So many more. But he forgets what they are. His voice falls away.
Everything seems to fall away.
“Peter.” The voice is gentle, but firm. “Kid, look at me.”
He hadn’t realised he no longer was.
With an almost Herculean effort, he turns his head. Tears his unfocused eyes away from the sun that is beginning to push through the hazy clouds of battle.
Like Rhodey, the sight of Tony Stark fighting back tears is a surprising and unsettling one. Peter wants to comfort him, but his mouth won’t move like it’s supposed to. Nothing will.
“I – “ Tony starts to say. It looks to Peter like he is warring with himself, anguish pinching the corners of his eyes as he struggles. “I’m proud of you, kid,” he settles on eventually, though, even in this in-between state, it’s clear to Peter that he means more.
Through the lethargy and the pain, Peter tries to smile.
Tony’s hand tightens around his limp one. Another comes up to cup his cheek, thumb swiping away a tear he hadn’t felt spill out. Peter leans into the warmth.
“You did good,” Tony says in a thin voice. “You did good, kid.”
Peter can’t see him anymore – everything has been consumed by grey – but his words and the warmth of the hand on his face follow Peter down into the darkness.
Everyone is safe.
I’m proud of you, kid.
You did good.
You did good.