Somehow, the journey back to Earth feels simultaneously like an eternity and the blink of eye. Tony was numb. His whole body was tingling with pins and needles. Head spinning, knees weak, vision blurred. He hadn't even noticed the blood running off his face and pooling in his lap until Nebula threw a bandage at him. She flew them to Earth on a ship she found on Titan. It was in pretty bad shape, so she had to use some of her own body parts to get it working. Tony would have felt bad about not helping, but he couldn't feel.
The universe seemed so silent, so empty. Void of all the joy there once was. When Nebula landed the ship on Earth and kicked Tony out so she could go wherever the hell she was going, he was immediately surrounded by chaos. People ran through the streets of New York screaming. The sound of ambulance and police sirens rung in Tony's ears. Skyscrapers had gapping holes in them. Fires consumed every other building on the block.
Tony wasn't even thinking- not consciously, at least. His body was just moving, instinctively putting one foot in front of the other. The images of horror around him were all too familiar. A city he loved torn apart by needless violence. But, he could not heal it now, nor could he grieve for it.
Step by step, Tony's body carried him to the penthouse he and Pepper were staying in. Several times on the walk, people tried to stop him, get his attention, cry for help. Tony ignored them all. They felt so far away, like nightmares of panicked voices his head had plagued him with since the last time New York was in ruins. Tony couldn't help anyone. Nobody could help anyone anymore.
When Tony finally reached the door, it took all of his strength to knock on it. Suddenly, the numbness faded. Terror flooded him to awareness like a splash of ice cold water. What if Pepper wasn't in there?
He came back. He came back just like she told him too. He always would. He would always want to come back to her.
Pepper was the one who worried. The one who had to fear that her love wouldn't return to her. Tony never imagined that one day, he would have to fear that his loves wouldn't be there to return to.
The door flung open.
"TONY!" Pepper screamed. She threw her arms around him and cried.
Tony let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding in. He held Pepper close, gripping her to be sure she wouldn't turn to ash and float away.
"I was so scared." She cried.
Tony kissed the top of her head. Pepper looked up at him and wiped some still wet blood off his chin.
"What happened?" She asked, trepidation evident in her voice.
That's when Tony broke down. The man empty of feeling moments ago was now overwhelmed by them. He fell to the ground and wept.
Pepper dropped down to the ground beside him. She held him, gently rubbing her hand up and down his back. Her touch was so soothing.
Tony clamped his eyes shut. He couldn't look at her when he said it. Admitting failure to her was worse than admitting it to the world he was supposed to defend.
Pepper furrowed her brow. "Who won?"
"T- Thanos." Tony chocked on his tears. "He has all six infinity stones. He was unstoppable before. Now, he's........."
Tony didn't even know what kind of power Thanos had. More than any being in the galaxy. The kind of power that could bend the fabric of reality at his will.
"Tony, you're shaking." Pepper said. She helped him to his feet and brought him inside. "Sit down and I'll-"
"IT'S MY FAULT!"
Pepper was cut off by Tony's sob.
"This is not your fault. An evil man doing evil is at fault, just like always. You were trying to stop him, just like always." Pepper told him.
"It's my job to stop him, save the day, be the hero."
"It's your choice. You do it because you care about people." Pepper reminded him. "You could have run from danger like everyone else. Instead, you ran towards it."
Tony got a horrible taste in his mouth. Maybe he should have listened to her, gotten off the ship and come back to Earth, let Thanos take Strange. It's not like Tony's fight made any difference. Thanos was too strong.
If he'd done that, Tony was sure Peter would have come with him. Then maybe, Peter might still be alive. And if Thanos' genocide still came for Peter, at least he would've been able to spend his last hours with his Aunt.
"Peter" Tony cried.
Pepper studied his face as he cried. When she understood his mourning, Pepper went pale. She sat down next to Tony, in tears again herself.
The memory of Peter's hug was like a stab in Tony's heart. It was far worse than any actual stab wound.
I don't feel so good
I don't want to go
He was so young. So smart. So brave. So much to offer the world. So much more deserving of life than Tony.
"It's my fault he's gone." Tony whispered.
Pepper looked like she was about to try and convince him otherwise, but decided against it.
"I should have never sought him out to begin with. He could have helped the people in Queens, a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. The biggest threat he should have been up against is small time crooks and his fucking SATs. I put him in danger for my own selfish gain. I was obsessed with keeping The Avengers together, so obsessed that I put a kid in danger AND YOU KNOW WHAT? I KILLED THE AVENGERS TOO! IT'SMYFAULTTOO!"
"Tony, Tony" Pepper tried to console him as he ranted. "Slow down."
Tony rested his head in Pepper's lap. She stroked his hair. He calmed down enough to take a breath.
"He was my friend, Pep."
Tony wiped his face, a mixture of blood and tears stained his hand.
"The kid looked up to me and in a way, I looked up to him. He was everything I wish I could've been."
Pepper took Tony's hand and squeezed it. "He was a good kid."
Tony smiled sheepishly. "I didn't get to tell him how proud I am........"
Tony and Pepper held each other for a while. They didn't say anything else. The pain inside both of them was expressed by the sounds of pain outside their window.
Eventually, the sun set. Tony and Pepper sat in the darkness. Pepper was almost asleep, mentally exhausted from the day, when Tony spoke.
"He made me want to have to a kid."
Tony felt Pepper's body go rigid. He looked at her. Even in the darkness, he could see her eyes glisten with tears.
"Is that why you were talking about me getting pregnant this morning?" She asked.
Tony didn't even remember talking about that. This morning felt like a lifetime ago.
"I guess it's good you're not pregnant." Tony sighed. "I proved today that I would be a shitty dad."
"Tony!" Pepper whimpered.
Tony could feel her heart break. He sat up from her lap. His feather light touched brushed hair away from her face. He caressed her cheek. When Pepper looked him in the eye, he knew.
"H- How- W- When?"
"Today!" Pepper cried. "I was supposed to get my period a few days. I thought it was just a fluke or something. But after what you said this morning, I know it sounds crazy, but that's when I knew. I got every kind of test they sell."
Tony's lip trembled. "And?"
He wasn't sure which answer he was more afraid of.
Pepper smiled. "They're all positive!"
Tony stared at her in awe. "Positive?"
"Positive!" Pepper confirmed.
Tony pulled her to him and kissed her with fiber of his being. For one moment, he lost himself in her. Forgetting the tragedy of the day, rejoicing in the glimmer of hope for the future. So much deaths surrounded them.
Finally, new life.