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Spoils of War

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They’ve failed. So fucking miserably and utterly failed.

 

That’s the one single thought that keeps running on auto-repeat in Tony Stark’s mind as he’s lying flat on his back among the rubble like a big metallic bug, staring at the lumbering forms of the butt-ugly alien creatures darkening the sky above.

 

In movies and books, a protagonist in his situation would be laughing hysterically at the total mess they’re finding themselves in, but he’s not feeling even a tiny bubble of laughter welling up. There’s just a huge, terrible black hole inside of him, totally devoid of any potential for humour or wittiness.

 

They’ve failed. They couldn’t close that damn portal, and now, New York is being mercilessly crushed by these… creatures.

 

Once more, he stirs, trying to extract himself from where he’s stuck under the beam weighing down on him. And once again, the metal obstinately refuses to budge, doesn’t move even an inch from his struggles.

 

And what makes having to see New York being smashed into bits and pieces by an alien invasion even worse, is that he’s stuck and can’t do jack shit. Not that it makes much of a difference, if he’s to be honest – even if the beam of doom pinning him in place would vaporize into thin air this very instant, nothing would really change. His suit is damaged beyond repair and has shut down completely. Total power failure, no connection to Jarvis, no nothing. Every last back-up resource utterly depleted. Even the warning signals have long since stopped churning, the bleeps and blinking having faded away to nothing.

 

His suit is just a sheath of metal now, fully encasing him. Well, apart from the missing faceplate that got lost somewhere along the way, having been torn off by some stray splinter.

 

And now that suit is good for nothing more than serving as protection from the beam weighing down on him, taking the pressure off his body and preventing him from being slowly crushed to death. But he’s still stuck, as surely and certainly as a mouse held down by a lion’s paw.

 

Not that it matters. He’s going to die here anyway, the last function of his Iron Man suit being as a substitute for a coffin.

 

At that, he spares a thought for his comrades, wondering how they are faring. If they’re still alive, something that he sincerely doubts. Natasha and Clint were probably the first to go – despite their well-honed skills, their bodies are as fragile as his without his suit. And Bruce – well, once the Hulk is gone, he’s even weaker than Tony, the only Avenger bearing that doubtful honour. Steve and Thor ought to last the longest, but he knows that not even they will be able to hold their own forever against the never-ceasing downpour of swelling, undulating warships coming out of that space portal.

 

He swallows and licks his lips, desperately wishing for a drink of water, if nothing else. Despite the thirst, at least it’s more pleasant to occupy his brain with that than thinking about his fellow Avengers and the morbid speculations about who might still be left. He lost track of them long ago in the battle, as they were separated and driven back by the vicious onslaught. Natasha he had last seen as a limping swirl of red and black as she jumped at a Chitauri, and Steve bleeding profusely from his left arm as he threw his chipped and cracked shield at an opponent, but as for the rest, he can’t remember. Can’t recall what the last was that he saw of them.

 

A shadow flickers over his face as the sun is momentarily shaded over by one of those hideous creatures moving over the skyline. Its sickly movements are slower, more subdued, as if it’s doing recognisance as opposed to battle. Which makes perfect sense, of course. Judging by the sounds, the fighting has already died down, at least in this area, and there is no doubt about which side has emerged victorious – it sure as hell isn’t his.

 

The previous roaring and shouting and crashing have not fully ceased, but it is fainter now, and more interspersed with bouts of silence. He closes his eyes for a while, trying to shut out the visual proof of their lost cause, shutting out the ruins of collapsed buildings and the mountains of rubble filling the streets. So much damage in so little time. So much chaos, so much utter destruction. He can only pray that the invasion will be contained before it reaches the rest of the country, or, at least, the rest of the world. That someone will be able to stop this madness, by whatever means.

 

A higher form of war, Thor had called it. It’s strange, because it doesn’t seem like any higher form to him. Just chaos and destruction, death and blood and pain, like all wars. Like in all human history, just on a grander scale.

 

The scouting warship flies past him again, lower this time, sweeping across the sky as a dark abomination. He shudders, seeing its shadow move over his armoured body, a sickly grey tint on grimy and dusty red.

 

Groaning in frustration, he makes another yank on the arm that’s still trapped, but he’s meeting with no more success than before, and he ceases his struggles as his exhausted body quickly wears out. It’s such an irony that he’s come out of the battle more or less unscathed, with nothing worse than bruises and cuts dully throbbing beneath the suit, only to end up stuck like this. No broken bones or internal bleeding, just being held here like a lamb for slaughter, for whenever one of those Alien-Predator hybrids finds him lying here and decides to gut him.

 

Unless, of course, he dies of thirst instead.

 

Well, whichever comes first.

 

He coughs a little; the air around him is saturated with dust and sooty particles, some of them having settled to cover his suit with a fine, dull layer of grey and black.

 

So this is the end, then – the great Tony Stark, dying ingloriously trapped beneath a beam in a heap of broken rubble in a fallen city. And he didn’t even get a chance to gloat at his nagging doctor about how wrong he was – it wasn’t liver cirrhosis that would eventually be his demise, but a bunch of fuck-faced aliens from outer space.  Yeah, suck on that, Doctor Greendale, Ph D of Whatever Fancy Brand of Medicine.

 

There is an itch on his chin – a trail of blood slowly making its way from a cut on his head. He reaches out a hand – the one still free – to wipe it off. His gauntlet hovers above his face for a little while before he lets it fall to his side, annoyingly powerless and weaponless.

 

What sounds like a blood-curling scream echoes between what’s left of the broken buildings around him; even if it’s probably just some screeching metal, it is eerily reminiscent of a human voice. Enough to make a shiver run across his spine, filling him with nameless dread.

 

Whatever is to become of the world now, he won’t be there to see it. He just wishes he knew that Pepper was safe somewhere, that she managed to get away from this madness. That she isn’t one of the unlucky people trapped in this ruined city, another one of the faceless victims whose bodies will never even be dug out of the rubble. She deserves better than that. But if he knows her and her resourcefulness right, she would have made it out, one way or the other. He tries to console himself with that, the only positive thought he can muster up right now. Yes, Pepper got out, she’s somewhere safe.

 

Though, where she got out to, he doesn’t want to consider in detail. Because maybe this destruction will just spread until this is the fate of the whole world, and there will be nowhere safe. Maybe this really is… the end.

 

Pepper

 

Something is trailing across his cheek again, and he wipes at it, pretending it’s just another drop of blood.

 

They’ve failed. So fucking miserably and utterly failed. They, who were supposed to be Earth’s greatest heroes, didn’t manage to protect their planet, and they sure as heck didn’t even get to avenge it either.

 

For a long time, he just lies there, waiting for death, for nightfall, for the Chitauri, for something to come. But there is only an eerie silence, and it’s making his skin crawl. The fighting has obviously moved far away now – if there’s still any going on at all. Occasionally, a scouting ship sweeps past, and whenever that happens, he closes his eyes, not wanting to look at it. The mere sight of it makes him feel sick.

 

The next time a shadow falls across his face, he does the same thing – resolutely closing his eyes to shut out the reminder of their failure, of the way their world has been thrown into a maelstrom of terror and death, perhaps about to swallow up all of mankind. Everything he’s ever known, everyone he’s ever cared about, all about to be thrown into that gaping abyss. Fucking hell.

 

But whatever is blocking out the sun doesn’t go away; he can still feel the shadow hovering above him. Perhaps the ship has spotted him, and is preparing for the launch of a well-aimed missile to take out the fallen Avenger sprawling pitifully on the ground.

 

Whatever. At least it will be quick.

 

“Well, if it isn’t Stark.” A short but telling pause, as something ungently prods his side, felt even through his armour. “So we meet again.”

 

That voice – that voice – oh, how he recognises it, despite his having only heard it speak a few sentences before. The smugness and the conceitedness. The arrogance and the disdain as it gazes upon its defeated foe.

 

In shock, his eyes snap open, hoping against all hope that he’s wrong and that it’s just his delirious brain imagining stupid things.

 

But it’s not. Standing above him, with a smug look on his face as it takes in the sight beneath him, is no other than the root cause of all this shit.

 

Loki.