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You Should've Gone For the Head

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From a purely engineering perspective, the ship was a beauty. A small part in Tony’s mind was desperate to pick everything apart and figure out exactly what it ran on. The more logical side of his brain was working overdrive to keep a panic attack at bay, and boy did this one feel like a doozy.

         Sweat dripped from his temples as he looked over to the blue woman (Nebula, his brain supplied. He’d heard it mentioned somewhere in the clusterfuck that had been Titan). She looked stoic and anxious at once.

         Perhaps she was still mourning this Gamora woman. The weird aliens had all been arguing over a mysterious person who may have died or maybe she hadn’t. Tony couldn’t remember all that well.

         All he could focus on was the series of really weird events that had landed him here. On a spaceship. In space. Probably lightyears away from anybody he could call a friend. Not like there were many of those in his life to begin with.

         And there was that panic attack he’d been trying so hard to push off.

         Tony fell to his knees with a gasp, hating his weakness.

         Nebula jerked her head around to look at him. She appeared concerned, but it was hard to tell with the black spots clouding Tony’s vision and the fact that she was also a cyborg. Robots always were difficult to read.

         “Hey,” She started toward him and the guards that surrounded them shot to attention.

         “Stand down, traitor.” Another alien, thankfully not the Squidward guy, shoved a glowy spear at the blue woman.

         She bared her teeth in response. “Can’t you see something is wrong?” She gestured toward Tony’s shaking form. “What would Thanos think if he knew he’d gone through all the trouble of bringing this human back with him only for him to die of neglect at his guards’ hands?”

         The guards shifted uneasily. The one who had spoken first clamped his mouth shut (Tony was going to call him Gorn since he kind of looked like the giant lizard man in that one Star Trek episode. God, he missed when Star Trek was a fantasy series to him and not a theory).

         Nebula wandered closer to Tony. She seemed unsure as to his condition and cautiously lifted one hand to press it to his back.

         “Are you hurt?” She asked, grimacing.

         Tony’s hands were clenching and unclenching, and he struggled to get his breathing under control. His mind was racing a million miles per second as he absorbed both his thoughts and the uncomfortable reality surrounding him. “Just dandy.” He managed, eyes squeezing shut.

         “I do not understand. What is wrong?” The blue woman grasped his arms and squeezed.

         “What do you care?” Tony shook his head. It was too much. His chest hurt where the arc reactor once sat.

         “I care because you might be my one ticket back out of this hellhole and you are not going to die on my watch.” Her voice was firm and offered no room for argument.

         Tony laughed. He was being used. This was familiar. This he could deal with. “What? Your weird friends aren’t coming to save you? They were a bit banged up back there, but the big guy was coming round right before we were swept up.”

         “They will think nothing of me while Gamora is still missing. They’re going to try and find her and bring her back. I mean nothing to them.” Nebula scowled again. “I was only convenient.”

         Tony cracked an eye open. His shivers were weakening, and he narrowed in on what Nebula was saying.

         “I know how that feels.”

         She regarded him coolly. “Yes, I suppose you would.”

         They were interrupted by Gorn again who shouted something at Nebula. Another guard, this one looking suspiciously like Alf, approached them. He (or maybe it was a she; Tony wasn’t familiar with alien genders yet) hauled Tony to his feet and began tugging him out of the makeshift cell.

         He could still hear Nebula shouting in the background but couldn’t focus on her words. The cell widened into a hallway that was all metallic angles and dark grease. Tony squinted. No, it wasn’t grease. The dark stains were blood and Tony felt his heart leap into his throat.

         He had a feeling that this had not been Thanos’s ship very long ago and he regretted to imagine what had happened to its original crew.

         Wanting to close his eyes, but not willing to give up a chance to memorize the layout, Tony forced himself to observe every corner and turn he was forced down. He watched for other members of Thanos’s bloodthirsty army and committed their faces to his memory. One day he was going to destroy each and every one of them. He knew it in his bones.

         Alf dragged Tony through one more doorway and it was clear that they had arrived at what served as the control center. Monitors flashed with symbols he couldn’t even begin to decipher, and panels and gear switches littered the room. A huge window located on the opposite wall to Tony peered out into a great vastness of space. It was dark, empty, and exactly what Tony’s nightmares had been composed of since Loki’s invasion. He felt himself go cold at the sight.

         “Are you frightened?” A deep voice resonated through the room and Tony felt more than he saw the goons flinch.  

         He turned to face the man/alien/god who was responsible for all of this.

         “Thanos,” He acknowledged, proud that his voice was steady. He’d always been good at speaking under pressure. He was also pleased to see that the gash he’d managed to score on his face was still there, red and angry looking.

         “Anthony Stark. Merchant of Death. The man who destroyed half my army before it even arrived.” Thanos made the motion of cocking an eyebrow. Tony thought it looked weird on a face with no eyebrows.

         Letting his press mask fall into place, Tony smirked. “Sorry about that. Except, I’m not really.”

         Thanos laughed and Tony stiffened. “You are an intriguing specimen. So different from your race. Really, I find myself enamored. Perhaps it’s because we see things the same way, you and I. We are alike.”

         “We,” Tony felt his lips curl up in a snarl, “are nothing alike. You – giant mass murdering alien who wants to exterminate half the galaxy. Me – a human who is going to send your ass back where it came from. Also, I look better in gold.”

         Thanos shook his head looking unruffled. “We are survivors, Anthony. Both of us.”

         Opening his mouth to retaliate, Tony was cut off by Thanos speaking again.

         “We were rejected by our home planet because of who we are. Who we were always meant to be. You see, we are greater than what was perceived of us. And we have both felt betrayal at the hands of people we thought closest to us.”

         Red and blue flashing. A hand pushing something sharp deeper and deeper into his chest. Obie smiling, Steve grimacing, his own saving grace pumping poison into his veins. Tony couldn’t breathe.

         “Stop.” Tony murmured, heart racing.

         “The truth is, they couldn’t handle us. They couldn’t stomach the greatness that we were destined for.”

         “Stop it.” He said louder.

         “Even when we speak the truth, they deny it. They call us monsters, selfish, insane. But we both know what this universe needs. We both know what it’s like to make hard decisions for the good of the masses. They were too weak to stand up. Because they didn’t like it, they disagreed. We are both intelligent creatures, Anthony Stark. I understand you. I understand what you are.”

         “Shut up!”

         “We are both here to protect these people and they are ungrateful to us.”

         “Why are you saying this? How do you know this?” Tony knew he was yelling, but he could barely hear himself over the storm in his ears.

         “You didn’t fail your people, Stark. They failed you.”

         Tony’s breaths came faster. “Ultron was a good plan. He should have worked. I didn’t do enough to control his parameters, that was the problem. I’m to be blamed for Ultron. I am supposed to protect Earth.”

         The smile Thanos gave him was condescending, but a glimmer of sorrow slipped into his features. “Ultron did his job. He knew what I know now. The biggest threat to this galaxy isn’t one side or the other, it’s all of us. We stand here wasting resources, wasting time, and everyone is going to die soon. Don’t you see? To save the most people half must die.”

         “This is insanity.” Tony whispered.

         “How many times have geniuses been called irrational? People label ideas they don’t understand as dangerous. You know this better than anyone.”

         “I don’t have to listen to this.”

         Thanos regarded Tony. Shivers raced up his spine and he had the distinct impression that he was being assessed. For what, though, Tony wasn’t sure.

         “No,” Thanos finally spoke. “But you will understand. In time. We are going to save this universe, Anthony Stark, together.”

         Thanos nodded towards Alf and Tony was grabbed once more.

         “I don’t have to break you, Stark. Your mind is going to do that by itself. I’m going to enlighten you and you will be reborn.”

         He struggled against the furry arms that restrained him. “I will never join your cause, you sick fuck. You hear me? I am going to destroy you and everything you stand for.” Alf was dragging him out of the control room, but Tony made sure Thanos was watching him when he spat out one last remark. “I hope you remember what this feels like now because I am going to kill you.”

         The smile he received was chilly. “We’ll see.”

 


 

 

         Peter woke up coughing. His skin felt sticky from dust and sweat and blood and for a moment he couldn’t remember where he was.

         Then it hit him.

         Titan. The big purple guy’s home. He’d hitched a ride on the big donut ship and then Mr. Stark had named him an Avenger.

         Where was Mr. Stark?

         Peter sat up, wincing at the bruises hidden beneath his new suit. He remembered fighting Thanos, teaming up with the weird space Avengers team, and that Doctor guy using his portals to fling Peter around. He also remembered Mr. Stark going head to head with Thanos. He remembered Thanos stabbing Mr. Stark and that was when his vision had gone white with rage.

         He’d watched Uncle Ben die in front of him, unable to do anything. He would be damned if he didn’t do anything to help Mr. Stark.

         Mr. Stark who had smiled, clapped him on the shoulder, and offered him an entire future. Mr. Stark who had fondly called him kid and protected him when Peter most needed it. Tony who had become more than just an idol for Peter to worship and more of a friend. He was Peter’s family now.

         Peter had flung himself at Thanos only to be brushed aside like the insect he was dressed as. The hit was hard, though, and Peter remembered fighting with consciousness as Thanos closed in on Mr. Stark. With Peter incapacitated, The Doctor yelled something and Thanos had paused. Reconsidered Mr. Stark.

         Then he opened up one of his big storm portal things and disappeared inside with Tony and the blue woman.

         Peter shot to his feet. He remembered everything. That big Thanos guy had kidnapped Tony Stark. He had to save his mentor.

         Around him the Space Avengers were stirring. A bunch of them groaned in pain and he noticed the Doctor breathing heavily, half buried beneath moon rubble.

         Rushing over, Peter started to pull rocks off the man.

         “What happened?” The Doctor opened his eyes and stared at Peter.

         “I-” Peter paused as the rocks began to float away on their own. Watching them in wonder Peter replied, “I couldn’t stop him from taking Mr. Stark. They’re gone. The other guys are still here but I don’t know if we can trust them.”

         The Doctor pulled himself up off the ground and dusted himself off. “I remember now.”

         “We have to go save him!”

         “We have to figure out how to get off this planet.” The Doctor started to walk away from him, presumably to check on the others.

         “And then save Mr. Stark.” Peter grabbed the Doctor’s shoulder. He caught the man’s eyes and tried to communicate his resolve through telepathy.

         The Doctor regarded him for a moment and then sighed. “If it is at all possible, we will look for Stark.”

         Unconvinced that he had the man’s loyalty, Peter backed off and watched him attend to the others. He guessed he really was a doctor as the man went around, took pulses, and checked everyone’s pupils. Perhaps that ‘Strange’ name or whatever really was his name.

         Doctor Strange. Peter snorted. If he hadn’t been so preoccupied with his worrying he would find this whole situation way funnier than it actually was. Ned was going to be so jealous.

         Soon the rest of their ragtag superhero group was standing and eyeing each other awkwardly.

         “So,” Doctor Strange began. “Since you all seem to be relatively well versed in space travel, I assume you will have some way off this big rock.”

         The leader of the Space Avengers stepped forward. “We might. But we’re going to save Gamora. You guys can hitch a ride with us but that is our priority. If not, you’ll just have to wait until the next straggler passes by this system and pray they notice you.”

         Strange nodded. “That’s fair.”

         “Hey, wait!” Peter protested. “We have to save Mr. Stark. That Thanos guy took him and we have to find him before he gets hurt!”

         Space Dude looked him over. “Look, I’m sorry your friend got wrapped up in this. But if Thanos has him then chances are he’s already dead. We have a real lead on where our teammate might be, and I can’t waste my time chasing after a suicide mission to get your guy back. We’re going after Gamora. You can either come with us, or like I said, wait here.”

         Panic flooded Peter’s body. He couldn’t just give up on Mr. Stark like that. He had to go after him. He refused to believe that Tony would be taken by Thanos only to be killed hours later. Mr. Stark was definitely alive. Peter had to believe that.

         He opened his mouth to argue more when Doctor Strange placed a hand on his shoulder. Minutely, the other man shook his head.

         “You can’t find Mr. Stark if you’re marooned on a desert planet. Follow these guys and then look for him.”

         Logically, Peter knew the Doctor was right. But he’d just survived fighting a giant purple alien who wanted to blow up the universe or something and he was angry.

         “Why is your friend more important than Mr. Stark?” Peter had never felt more like the teenager, but he was desperate.

         Space Dude’s mouth angled downwards. He looked uncomfortable to be arguing with someone Peter’s age, but Peter wasn’t going to let up just because he was seen as some kid.

         “It’s our ship. We do what we want. And we want to find our teammate. This isn’t a negotiation.” Space Dude tapped on his ear and started speaking again. “Kraglin? You hear me? We need to be picked up right now. Shit just hit the fan.”

         Frustration surged in Peter and he felt tears pricking the corners of his eyes. Angry at himself for being so emotional, Peter wiped his face and took a deep breath.

         Strange patted his shoulder awkwardly. “Look, we’ll find Stark. I know we will. But you can’t do anything from here. We’ll go with them and then figure out a plan.”

         “You’re going to help me?”

         Strange sighed as if he was already regretting the decision. “Yes. But we do this my way. I have more experience battling extraterrestrial maniacs and the supernatural, so I am going to lay down some groundwork here.”

          “I’m a kid who can climb up walls and stop a bus with my bare hands.” Peter deadpanned.

         “Which might be useful in the future but Thanos has already proven he’s strong. We need to be smart about this.”

         “And then blindside him and defeat him!” Peter pumped his fist in the air. “Yeah, I get it now. So, what do we do about those guys?” He nodded towards the Space Avengers who seemed to be discussing Peter and Doctor Strange in their own secret huddle.

         “We play their game.” Strange didn’t even look over at them.

         “We could steal their ship!”

         Strange looked at him as if he had just suggested they run off a cliff. “Do you know how to fly a spaceship now?”

         Blushing, Peter scratched the back of his head. “I guess not. I was kind of hoping you might know how.”

         Where on Earth would I have learned how to- You know what? Never mind. Just follow my lead from now on if you want any hope of saving Stark.”

         Peter sobered up and nodded. He would follow along with these space travelers. He could play nice for a few days. Then, he would find Mr. Stark. He knew he would. Peter felt his resolve settle in his stomach, a comforting weight reminding him that the battle wasn’t lost yet. Thanos was going down, one way or another, and Peter would have a front seat to all of it.

         Over the horizon a large spaceship flew into view. It was bulkier than the donut ship, but it floated smoothly towards them.

         “All aboard, weirdos. We’ve got a damsel to save.” Space Dude grinned as a ramp lowered from the ship, revealing another human-looking guy.

         “Are you referring to Gamora as a damsel?” The blue guy spoke up. “Damsels are the ones you save. If anybody is a damsel in the relationship, it’s you, Quill. You are pathetic without her.”

         Space Dude, Quill, frowned. “Just get on the ship, Drax.” He spared a glance to Peter and Doctor Strange. “You guys coming or not.”

         Peter bit down an angry retort and Strange nodded.

         “We’re coming with you.”

Chapter Text

         Tony had been cold before. Hell, he’d survived waterboard torture in a cave, he’d flown through a wormhole into space with a nuke on his back and came back out, and he’d come back from Siberia in a broken suit. But there was something about the chill seeping into his muscles from his new cell that gave Tony pause.

         It was a creeping kind of cold. The cold that leaves your lips blue and your heart heavy. It makes you wonder if falling asleep might just be a good decision – even if you don’t wake up again.

         Tony shook his head, trying to clear the thought from his mind. He would be of no help to his planet if he died on this spaceship.

         What if they don’t need you, though? What’s your purpose then? A voice as chilling as his cell whispered in his mind.

         No, Tony had to escape. He had to get back. He couldn’t just leave his people defenseless.

         But they’re not defenseless. They have their “heroes.” You were never a superhero. Just a man trying to make his conscience feel better.

         Tony wanted to scream. He couldn’t think like this, not now. If he gave up, Thanos won.

         Thanos’s voice joined the others rattling in his brain. “I don’t have to break you, Stark. Your mind is going to do that by itself.”

         Tony knew that Thanos was playing mind games with him. He was trying to distract Tony from the real situation here, which was a huge purple maniac trying to control the universe. But he’d lived through worse, right? He could survive a measly little cell and some petty words.

         The guard outside his cell was neither Gorn nor Alf. She seemed to be a female alien with pointy horns and a face that resembled a humanoid deer. In the few hours Tony had been sitting in his cell she hadn’t turned her gaze away from him. It was disconcerting, and Tony wished the cell had a corner he could curl up in that would allow no prying eyes to watch his mental breakdown.

         The deer lady still hadn’t blinked, and Tony sighed.

         “You got a name?”

         She cocked her head, blue hair falling lightly over her shoulder.

         “Do you even understand me?” Tony raised his eyebrow. He hadn’t considered that all of these different species of aliens would have languages vastly different than those on Earth. It was fascinating to think about.

         Deer Lady hesitated for another moment and said, “I understand you.”

         Tony perked up. “You know English?”

         She furrowed her brows. “I do not know what English is. But my translator allows me to understand what you say, and for you to know my responses.”

         “Remarkable.” Tony was so going to start researching a new intelligence system that could act as a universal translator the second he got home. “How does it work? Is it implanted in your ear? It’d have to have some kind of electrical current wired to your neural pathway or something. Do aliens even have the Wernicke’s area? Your brain structure must be similar to human’s if it works the way I think it does or maybe-” Tony knew he was getting excited but speculating about alien technology was vastly superior than getting drawn further into his manic-depressive episode. “-it’s totally different than anything we’ve ever seen on Earth before and would introduce a whole new way of thinking about the brain.”

         Deer Lady squinted at him. “I think it might be malfunctioning. I do not understand what you said.”

         “It happens a lot, don’t worry about it.” Tony waved a hand. “So, does it also help interpret context and semantics?”

         “I-” The alien was cut off by a banging on the side of wall in Tony’s cell.

         “Would you please shut up?” That sounded like Nebula’s voice. “Some of us are actually trying to plan an escape here.”

         “How long have you been there?”

         “I’ve been here since before they brought you back from Thanos.”

         And just like that Tony’s excitement faded.

         “What did he say?” Nebula asked after a brief pause.

         “Just some bullshit about us taking over the universe together. I have to say he was scarier as an idea, but that man has some serious problems. I’m sensing some abandonment issues. Maybe a delusion or two.”

         Nebula was quiet again for a long moment. “Be careful, Stark. You may think you’re ahead of him at first, but he probes his way into your mind faster than you can see him approach. You don’t even know he’s gotten in your head until you’re in too deep and doing terrible things just to keep him happy with you.”

         Tony didn’t respond, didn’t want to admit that perhaps Thanos had already started his invasion into Tony’s sanity.

         It would be easier, wouldn’t it? The voice chimed in again.

         What would? Tony balled his hands into a fist, dreading the answer.

         It didn’t come, and Deer Lady stood up swiftly. “I must report this conversation to my Father.”

         Tony rolled his eyes and could have sworn he heard Nebula do the same.

         “That’s right, Anilik. Run off and tell Daddy what the prisoners are saying. There’s not much left of me to replace to ease his disappointment.” Nebula spat out.

         Deer Lady, or Anilik, paused. She studied Tony for a moment through the shimmering bars. “But there is plenty to improve on him.

         Tony let out a shaky breath. If Nebula responded he didn’t hear it. Replace? Replace what?

         “-rk? Stark?” Nebula was calling his name.

         He blinked, and the cell swam back into focus. God, he was slipping a lot. It felt like his anxiety was beating behind his eyelids, desperate to get out and it was taking most of his concentration just to pretend to ignore it.

         “Hey, how do you even know my name?” Tony faked a laugh.

         “He’s watched you.” The reply was ominous at best and Tony almost didn’t want to ask for clarification.

         “Watched me?”

         “After that little stint with the explosion and his ships, Thanos has watched you. He likes to know his enemies before he wipes them out. It’s how he does it so easily. But you intrigued him.”

         “What does that mean?”

         “It means you’re just like Gamora. He spared her from the genocide of her people because he saw something in her. He sees something in you too.”

         Tony wasn’t sure how to process that information and then made the decision to simply not acknowledge any of it.

         “So, then, what did you and Ani- Anilik mean with the ‘replacing’ thing?”

         He heard a sigh come from the cell next to his. “Whenever one of his children fails him, whenever they disappoint him, he replaces something on them. Or did you think I was born with these machine parts attached to me? I was never as good as Gamora and so I was left this hybrid monster and she stayed perfect.” The bitterness rolled off the speech in waves and Tony felt himself empathizing with the blue woman.

         “You know, I was never enough for my dad either.” He started.

         Nebula snorted.

         “Seriously. He used to rant that I’d never be as smart as he was, or as strong as Captain America. Most nights he liked to drink and that’s when he really showed off his true colors. If he couldn’t leave an impression on me mentally, then by God he’d do it physically.” Tony laughed. “You know, one time he actually threw his whiskey bottle at me? That shit took thirty-two stitches and about a hundred grand donation to keep the hospital quiet.”

         “Did he tear your eye from its socket and force a new one in?”

         Tony paused. “No. Jesus, what the hell? I’m trying to bond with you. He ripped your eyeball out?”

         “He will do the same to you, Stark.”

         “Never thought I’d miss Howard but damn he is starting to look like the freaking dad from March of the Penguins in comparison.”

         “He will try to improve you too.”

         “I won’t be here long enough for him to even try.”

         Nebula laughed. “Soon we will be bonding over experiences much similar than a simple ‘I don’t like my daddy’ situation.”

         That’s when Anilik returned, another guard in tow. This one was a towering colossus of stone and mud. “Father wishes to speak with you.”

         Tony hesitated before he stood. “What about?”

         Anilik smiled, revealing sharp little teeth.

Not a deer, Tony thought unhelpfully.

Good luck, Stark.” Nebula whispered through her bars, watching him. He saw an emotion pass through her features, but it was gone too swiftly for him to identify it.

 


 

 

As much as Peter resented being on the ship, he still could admit to himself that it was pretty cool to be traveling through space with actual aliens. It was a very, very small part of him, though. Like, maybe twelve percent of him thought that. The rest was focused on his plan to rescue Mr. Stark.

 He didn’t know who this Gamora woman was, but he doubted she could be special enough to be more vital to the galaxy’s survival than Iron Man.

Besides, that Quill guy was annoying and wouldn’t stop singing. It was like he was rubbing the whole situation into Peter’s face.

The Doctor was sitting in a corner, meditating. Thankfully he wasn’t doing that twitching thing again with projected heads coming out of his shoulders. That had really creeped Peter out when he first saw it.

The big blue guy, Drax, ambled over and sat next to Peter. “So,” He started solemnly, “You are a bug boy.”

Peter spared a glance over at him. “What?”

“Your abilities – they resemble some of the insects on my planet. Were you hatched from an egg and raised from a larva as Mantis was?” He gestured to the woman in the green get-up who brightened when she noticed the attention.

“No.”

Drax didn’t reply for a moment. “I am immensely strong. I could crush a spine with my bare hands. I also have the ability to turn invisible. Would you like to see?”

Peter didn’t know how to respond and couldn’t tell if Drax was mocking him or not. “No, I don’t care about your super powers. I’m just here to find Mr. Stark.”

“Yes,” Drax nodded. “The man in the metal suit. You care about him?”

Peter sighed, his posture slumping. “Yeah, I mean, he changed my life. And he’s the closest thing I have to a dad. I’m not going to lose another person I care about.”

From the corner of his eye Peter could see Quill leaning subtly towards them, eavesdropping.

Peter huffed and turned away from both Drax and Quill’s prying ears. “Never mind. It’s not like you guys would understand.”

Drax’s eyes widened. “I do understand. You are like Quill. He too lost a father and then a father figure. Now he is saving the only person he has left.”

“Hey! Stop telling strangers my whole life story!” Quill shouted indignantly.

Peter looked back over at the man, ideas running through his head. “Then you know,” He started, “What it feels like. What it’s like to lose people, to lose family. You could help me. I have to save him.” He knew he was begging but Peter couldn’t think of another option.

Quill’s eyes hardened and Peter him clench his jaw. He knew what Quill was going to say before he opened his mouth.

“I can’t leave her.”

Peter shook his head. Drax tried to ask a few more questions about Peter’s abilities but he was done talking to these people. He felt a little bad about ignoring Drax since he seemed friendly enough, but he didn’t want to make friends. They were the reason Mr. Stark was kidnapped. If they had listened to Mr. Stark they wouldn’t be sitting here. Peter would be on his way back to Earth, Thanos nice and destroyed, the universe saved, with Mr. Stark by his side.

Eventually Drax gave up his one-sided conversation with a confused look directed at Peter and went to sit by Mantis.

“Heads up, we’re closing in on Vormir.” Quill piped up from his seat in the cockpit. “Gamora is somewhere down there. We’ll split up to find her. Drax and Mantis, you guys go together. Kraglin and I will head off too.”

“And what would you have us do?” Doctor Strange opened his eyes and peered at the crew.

Quill jumped. “Christ, I’d forgotten you were even there.” He took a deep breath and shook his head. “You and the kid wait here. We don’t know what we’ll find down there.”

“With all due respect, Mr. Quill, the kid and I have talents that might be uniquely fitting for this type of excursion. Both of us could cover far more ground than any of you.”

“You wanna help us find Gamora?” Quill squinted in confusion.

“The sooner we find your comrade the sooner we can go about our business.” Strange reasoned.

Peter watched the exchange, head bobbing back and forth. He understood the Doctor’s line of logic and if finding this Gamora woman got him back on track to finding Mr. Stark then he would be the best tracker this planet had ever seen.

“I can get up high pretty easily.” Peter confirmed.

Quill hesitated a little bit longer before acquiescing. “Fine, but you guys have to take some coms. And if anything goes south for whatever reason, we will leave you behind.”

Doctor Strange rolled his eyes. “Fine.”

 


 

 

         Thanos hadn’t gotten any prettier since the last time Tony had met with him and the stupid, impulsive section of his brain decided to tell him so.

         Thanos smiled indulgently and waved his arm.

         Anilik let go of Tony’s arm and he rubbed the spot where she’d gripped him. He was pretty sure she had cut off the circulation to his hand.

         “You are entertaining but disobedient, Anthony.” Thanos sat down on his makeshift throne. It seemed to be made from a bad welding job that combined a pilot’s seat and various metal scraps. The control room seemed unfitting for the kind of symbol Thanos was trying to create and Tony scoffed out loud.

         “I’ve been called worse.”

         “By your so-called friends, I presume.”

         Tony didn’t reply, instead narrowing his eyes. His glare didn’t seem to affect the Mad Titan though.

         “You see, Anthony, I have a working system here. As much as I admire your spirit, it does not fit within this system. If we are going to save this universe, I need to know that you are on the same page as I am. I need to know that you will obey my will, adhere to my rules. I’m not looking to oppress you. Not like your former ‘teammates’. I want your mind and your passion. But it would be much more convenient if it followed the same path as I do.”

         He hadn’t eaten in hours, but Tony felt his stomach roll in protest at what Thanos seemed to be suggesting.

         “I can’t have your disobedience, Anthony. Please don’t think of this as punishment. I’m- how would you understand? I’m upgrading you.” Thanos smiled. “I am going to fix you. Make you better than you have ever been before. You thought you enhanced yourself with your suit? I can make you so much more.”

         Tony felt he might throw up.

         “This is your first test. You’ve overstepped yourself and now I am going to show you how I fix this.”

         “I don’t consent to this.” Tony’s vision blurred as the gravity of the situation hit him. “I don’t want this.”

         “You don’t yet, but you will thank me one day. You will understand this is for your own betterment.”

         A swarm of guards filed into the room. Two carried a crate filled with what looked like human body parts constructed from various metals.

         Thanos peered into the box as it was held up to him. When he found what he was looking for, he grinned and held up a golden forearm. The hand was crafted beautifully, the detailing exquisite around the joints but Tony paled.

         “Don’t do this.” He whispered.

         “I’m helping you.” Thanos insisted gently. “This will help you.”

         More guards stepped forward. Two grabbed Tony’s shoulders and forced him to his knees. Another pushed a black, stone table up to his side. A fourth alien reached out and pulled Tony’s arm out from where he’d been hugging them to his sides.

         Tony thrashed, trying to free himself. Obscenities fell from his lips in every language he knew as he watched the biggest alien step forward.

         He carried a glowing machete that hummed with power. As he approached Tony could feel the heat radiating off of the weapon in waves.

         His hand was forced onto the table and his sleeve rolled up. The guard on his right side stroked his arm gently. It was a strangely comforting gesture from a creature that was aiding in a potential mutilation.

         Sweat beaded on Tony’s brow and he struggled harder against his captors.

         Thanos settled back into his throne and raised his hand, fingers poised.

         “Wait!” He cried, desperate.

         Thanos paused.   

         “I will obey. Please, not my hand.” Tony’s eyes were wild as he stared up at the alien god. “I will follow you. I will learn to understand you.”

         Thanos’s hand lowered as he regarded Tony. “Oh, Anthony.” His hand went up again and he flicked his fingers.

         The guard surged forward with his machete.

         “I don’t believe you.”

         Tony’s screams echoed through the ship.

 


 

 

         Deep in interior of the spacecraft, Nebula flinched. She understood in that moment that this was the beginning of the end. No one stood up to Thanos for long. Everyone submitted eventually.

         She had, Gamora had, the whole universe would.

         Tony was just the start.

Chapter Text

         Tony knew he was delirious. From the pain or the shock, he couldn’t tell, but his heart beat had slowed to a normal pace. That probably wasn’t good considering where he was. He figured his heart had every right to beat as wildly as it was able without going into cardiac arrest. In fact, he should be wheezing with panic right now. But his mind was calm, his breathing steady.

         He was admiring the hand.

         It was beautiful, really. Not a smudge marred the perfect gold exterior. The joints around his wrist and fingers were embellished lightly with an etched design that reminded Tony of the flowers that grew outside his old Malibu mansion. The palm was plated to allow his hand to clench and spread his fingers without resistance. In the center of it looked to be a repulsor similar to his own Iron Man gauntlet. An itch in the back of his mind urged him to test it. If it worked like he thought it might, it would be like waving his arm – a pointed movement that was controlled by his motor cortex.

Tony knew it was somehow connected to his brain for the hand to move with his control. The flawless plates covered an intricate web of wires that linked to his nerve endings. He knew because he’d watched them attach them all.

         It moved wonderfully. Just like a real hand.

         For a moment Tony wondered if this is how Barnes felt when he first woke up with a silver arm. Tony laughed. It was a high pitched nervous sound.

         He fisted the fingers and then relaxed them just to watch the blue light from his prison bars reflect off of them. So pretty.

         His arm throbbed briefly where it had been severed at the elbow. It was a phantom pain, Tony knew. His body was missing its lost limb. But Tony knew he couldn’t really be feeling physical pain. The new arm was attached wonderfully. How could something so perfect looking cause him any pain?

         He supposed it also could have been that horrible concoction the guards had made him swallow before he’d passed out in the control room. He was honestly surprised the pain hadn’t done it first.

         Tony turned his hand over and over. He couldn’t blink.

         “Stark?” Nebula’s voice floated to him through the air.

         “It’s never moved so smoothly before.” Tony murmured.

         “Stark!” Her voice, more insistent this time, snapped him from his reverie.

         “Oh my God.” He rasped. Tony thrust the arm down and buried it in his jacket. It was horrible. He couldn’t look at it and think of what had occurred only a few hours ago. Or had it been days? Tony couldn’t remember.

         “Listen to me,” Nebula barked at him. “They will come down soon to give us food. You have to convince them to move me over to your cell.”

         “Why would I do that?” He whispered. “Why should I trust you?” Tony blinked back tears, his flesh hand shaking.

         “I’ve been through this before. You’re going to have to reprogram that thing in a few hours once the shock wears off. If you don’t it’ll start glitching and Thanos will replace it again. The second time hurts just as bad as the first, trust me.”

         He heard her words, but they didn’t register in his brain for a few seconds. “What do you mean I have to reprogram it?”

         “That thing they made you drink? It slows down your processing systems so you can deal with the pain and the installation procedure. Once it wears off, your body is going to go into overdrive to compensate. It’s going to hurt, and it’s going to drive you mad. Your hand is programmed to function in tandem with your slower body processes right now. Once it speeds up, the hand is going to short circuit. You won’t be able to reprogram it yourself while you’re in that state, so I’ll have to.”

         “You’ve done this a lot?” Tony slurred.

         “I learned how to do it myself after the fourth attachment.” Tony’s heart skipped as he realized that Nebula meant she had suffered this alone for years.

         “What else is he going to do to me?” Tony murmured. He wanted to cry but he couldn’t let himself. Stark men are made of iron. If he cried, it meant that Thanos had won. Tony couldn’t let him win, not with so much at stake.

         “They’re coming. Remember, you have to get me over into your cell.”

         He didn’t want to try, though. He wanted to sleep. He wanted to forget everything that was happening until the world stopped turning inside out and everything was back to the way it was.

         Footsteps echoed down the corridor, clanking heavily. Whoever it was bringing them their food, they were big.

         Tony gritted his teeth. He wouldn’t give up that easily. Dismembered hand or not, he was going to fight. The resolve strengthened in his gut until he had almost convinced himself he was ballsy enough to attack whoever it was approaching.

         He wasn’t sure how to power the repulsor in his hand yet, but he’d been Tony Stark long before he became Iron Man. And Tony Stark knew how to fight.

         He had launched himself out of a cave in the middle of nowhere, fire and hell raining down beneath him. He had synthesized a brand-new element and cured himself of the palladium poisoning as it ate him alive. He was the one who infiltrated a known terrorist’s headquarters with only his brain and skills to aid him. He was Tony Stark and he would not be left to rot on this damned spaceship.

         Tony steeled himself as he struggled to his feet. With one eye aimed at the bars caging him inside and the other searching for anything, anything, he could use as a weapon, both his real and his artificial hands curled into fists.

         Then their guard swung into view.

         “I’m glad to see you on your feet, Anthony.” Thanos smiled down at him and Tony’s breath left him in a whoosh of air.

         He saw the Mad Titan’s grin as his lackies sliced through Tony’s flesh and bone. The smell was terrible but the look in Thanos’s eyes had been worse. Tony stumbled backwards.

         “I’ve brought you some food.”

         Tony didn’t respond, and his eyes never left Thanos as he knelt down to release the locks that kept the holographic bars in place.

         “Will you eat?”

         Tony spared one quick look at the tray Thanos was carrying. It was uncharacteristic to picture the large alien carrying something so domestic as a food tray, but Tony’s humor had fizzled out somewhere between here and the installation of his new hand.

         The tray seemed normal enough – Tony even recognized some of the things on it. A steak, fresh-smelling rolls, and what appeared to be mashed potatoes. The others were a mixture of alien vegetation. Purple, leafy sprouts and black grains composed a salad of sorts, and the steak was smothered in a sauce that smelled like gravy but had the appearance of orange glaze. It steamed invitingly, and Tony almost forgot he was supposed to be fighting.

         Almost.

         Tony tried to force his feet to move, but they remained solidly attached to their place in the floor. His fists trembled but they too did not move anywhere near Thanos’s nose which is where Tony desperately wanted them to be.

         “I hope you will at least try it.” Thanos set the tray down in front of Tony. “The cook went through quite a bit of trouble to prepare this for you. I truly believe you will like it.”

         “How do I know you haven’t poisoned it?” Tony managed to get out between gritted teeth. His heart was racing a million beats per second.

         Thanos had the nerve to look wounded. “Why would I poison you, Anthony? I’ve gone through the trouble of saving you, enhancing you, and now feeding you.”

         Tony scoffed. “I think you and I are seeing two very different situations here. You haven’t rescued anyone. You kidnapped me, mutilated me, and now you’re manipulating me. I may be open minded, but you can’t spin this in any way for this to shed a positive light on yourself.”

         Thanos let out a deep sigh. He turned back towards the door before replying. “You may look at it this way now, Anthony, but I can assure you that I see more clearly than you. You’re a smart man. You’ll understand what is happening in due course.”

         Tony watched him exit the cell and power the blue bars to close behind him, separating the two. He’d never felt so grateful for the confinement.

         “Wait!” Nebula’s voice shouted through the air and Tony started. He’d forgotten she was even there.

         Thanos hesitated, peering into the cell next to Tony’s.

         “You need to let me into his cell.” Nebula’s husky voice pleaded. “If you value his sanity, you’ll leave us together.”

         Tony could see the wheels turning in Thanos’s head as he contemplated the million different scenarios that could happen with Nebula betraying Thanos again and stealing off into the night. Tony had only known her for a brief time and he could already imagine at least thirty-two different escape plans the cyborg might use. Some of them weren’t too bad and Tony filed those strategies away in the back of his mind in case she didn’t use them.

         “Why?” Thanos’s eyes narrowed.

         “I need to reprogram his hand to adjust to his body specifications once his processes speed up.” Nebula answered simply.

         Thanos looked over at Tony, studied him. Then he said, “Fine.”

         He did something on the panel between the two cells, out of sight from Tony’s perspective, and the wall between the Tony and Nebula disappeared. Just like that.

         Tony blinked rapidly to clear his vision in case he had missed something. But no. There was a wall. Now there wasn’t.

         Science!Tony breathed heavily.

         Nebula looked a little worse for wear and new bruises littered the organic parts of her body. The robotic portions were dinged up, indicating that woman had gone a long while since her “upgrades” had started.

         Thanos eyed the two for a moment before turning back to Tony. “If she hurts you, tell me. I will not stand for anyone hurting you.” Then he was gone, and Tony and Nebula were left alone.

         “What the hell happened to you while I was gone?” Tony demanded, moving over to kneel next to the blue woman.

         “The other children are very protective of Daddy. They wanted to show me exactly what they thought of my actions against him. Pathetic. I’m in a cell and they can’t even face me by themselves. They’d piss their uniforms if Gamora were here.”

         “No offense but this is seriously one fucked up family.”

         Nebula looked at him, bemused. “You should see the reunions.”

         Tony stared at her. “Did you- was that a joke?”

         Nebula cracked a small smile. “I make one on occasion.”

         Tony felt himself returning her smile and just like that, a new, tender, alliance was brokered between the two. He felt somewhat reassured knowing he wasn’t completely alone on this spaceship in the middle of space.

         “If you want, I can take a look at your mechanical parts. I’m pretty good with this kind of stuff. Actually, I’m brilliant at it.”

         Nebula glanced down at herself. Unconcerned, she replied, “I’ve been through worse. He may be a monster, but Thanos doesn’t use subpar materials when he’s crafting his children. The parts will fix themselves in time. The worst of it is already gone.”

         “The worst of it? What exactly was going on down here for this not to be the ‘worst of it’?” Tony gestured to Nebula’s bruises. They were beginning to turn black against her blue, gray, and purple mottled skin.

         “Leave it, Stark.” Her tone brokered no chance for arguing so Tony changed the subject.

         “So, what do we need to do about this hand?” Tony looked down at it reluctantly. He could feel its allure calling to his mechanic heart. The golden facets blinked at him seductively. Hating his weakness, Tony shook his head to clear his confusion.

         “You might want to brace yourself. It’s going to hurt a lot.”

         Tony sat down. “You wouldn’t happen to have a gag on you?”

         Without warning, Nebula detached her arm and held it out to him.

         There was an awkward pause before Tony burst out laughing. “That- I can’t believe you just Buzz Lightyear-ed me! Oh my god!”

         Nebula’s small smile grew until he could see her teeth glinting, white and sharp. There was something wickedly funny beneath her no-bullshit exterior. Tony briefly wondered what she might have been like if Thanos had never captured her. Would the woman before him be as warm and witty as he suspected?

         He felt saddened when he realized he’d never find out. Whatever happened, Thanos had damaged something in her and Tony felt a keen loss at the thought of a kindred spirit that might have been.

         Nebula reattached her arm and her grin faded. “I have nothing that will help with the pain. You will just have to bear it or pass out.”

         Tony sighed. “I’m used to pain. Just do it as quickly as you’re able.”

         Nebula hesitated, her own hands hovering over Tony’s arm. “Just remember, the first time is always the hardest.”

         “I know you meant for that to be encouraging but it was really depressing.”

         “I didn’t mean to reassure you. I’m preparing you.”

         Tony’s eyes met her levelled gaze. Another silent conversation passed between them and Tony nodded.

         Quick as a snake, Nebula had the plates open on his arm before he could blink.

         That wasn’t so bad, Tony thought to himself, observing her work.

         Then Nebula began fingering through the wires underneath the surface and Tony saw white.

 


 

 

         Peter hated Vormir. It was a desolate looking planet with creepy mist and red canyons covering the surface. It was ideal for his suit, he blended in pretty well with the shadows, but it also made searching for somebody a pain in his butt.

         The Doctor floated several yards above him to search a greater distance and Peter was left doing recon on anything Strange pointed out.

         So far, he’d discovered a weird shaped rock, another weird shaped rock, and a rock that actually looked a bit like John Travolta if you were standing in a very particular position. After that Strange pointed out another oddity that was, surprise, a rock.

         Peter hated rocks.

         He was from Queens. Vormir was like travelling through his worst nightmare.

         Quill hadn’t even given them much to go on. Gamora had green skin and wore leather. Peter supposed he didn’t know many green-skinned, leather clad women but he still wasn’t sure how common they were in space. Maybe the planet had a secret habitation of green-skinned, leather wearing women and he’d never discover which one was Gamora because none of them would speak English.

         If that happened he’d never get to Mr. Stark on time.

         Maybe this Gamora woman had the ability to turn invisible.

         After the eighty-seventh odd-shaped rock Peter had almost convinced himself that the others were playing a prank on the two Earthlings by making them search a deserted planet for a woman that didn’t exist.

         Or maybe they had already found her and had left him and Doctor Strange behind.

         As if sensing Peter’s worry, the Doctor glanced down at him from his position above Peter. “Their ship is still there.”

         “How did you-”

         “I can read minds.”

         Peter gaped up at him “Seriously? That’s so cool! What am I thinking right now?”

         Doctor Strange rolled his eyes. “I was being sarcastic. I can see their ship parked up on that cliff.”

         Peter glanced back at said cliff. Just as Strange said, the ship was sitting peacefully.

         Peter blushed, embarrassed. “It just feels like we’re on a fool’s errand, you know? I mean, what if she’s holed up somewhere hiding. We could look like the enemy to her.”

         Strange looked thoughtful. “You may be right. If that’s the case, we’ll just have to hope that the others find her first. We can’t do anything now that would indicate we’re on her side should she see us.”

         Peter was beginning to feel like frustration was becoming his default emotion. “This is pointless. We could be rescuing Mr. Stark right now-”

         “Hold on-” The Doctor cut him off and floated a few yards away. In a moment, he was out of sight.

         Peter rolled his eyes and began climbing the cliff face that now separated the two. “If this is another rock, I swear to Thor…” Peter trailed off. On the other side of the bluff was a figure. She looked to have fallen the way down, but she was too far for Peter to tell if she was breathing or not.

         Doctor Strange was already floating down towards her and Peter shot a web at a particularly long rock jutting out of the side of the precipice. Then he swung down until he was hurtling past the Doctor. He landed on his feet lightly next the figure.

         Green skin, leather garments, Peter was fairly certain they’d found this Gamora woman.     

         She was breathing lightly but there was no blood, no bruising or awkwardly jutting limbs to indicate she’d taken any damage in the fall down.

         As Peter approached her, he saw her eyelids flutter.

         “Um, Miss Gamora?” He tried.

         Her eyebrows furrowed, and Peter tried again.

         “Miss Gamora? Um, Quill sent us to look for you. He’s here. We want to help you.”

         Doctor Strange landed behind him and moved swiftly to Peter’s side.

         With a practiced ease, he knelt down and felt for a pulse. “It’s steady. She should be coming around in a moment.”

         Gamora let out a light moan and her arm twitched. “Thanos… Stop… Thanos…”

         “Well, at least we know she’s on our side.” Peter murmured darkly.

         The Doctor shushed him and Peter tried not to feel offended.

         “Gamora? Can you hear me?”

         She wiggled slightly in response, her eyes cracking open. In the span of a heartbeat she was on her feet, a weapon drawn. She staggered for a second before regaining her balance. Breathing heavily, she levelled her wicked looking blade at the two.

         “Quill sent us.” Doctor Strange repeated Peter’s earlier words and Peter saw her grip on the blade waver.

         “Who are you?” Gamora ground out. Although she appeared free of injuries, she winced as if something had punched her in the stomach.

         “Peter, if you would contact the others and tell them we’ve found their teammate,” The Doctor levelled Peter with a knowing look.

         Catching on, Peter immediately tapped on the neat little device in his ear that Quill had given them. He may not like the man but his gadgets were pretty cool. He’d never admit it out loud, though.

         “Hello? Is this thing working?”

         Quill’s voice crackled to life in Peter’s ear. “We can hear you, kid. Any updates?”

         Awesome, Peter thought to himself, speculating ways he might make a rudimentary transmission device for himself when he got back home. It would be an amazing science project.

         “We found Gamora.”

         There was an extended silence on the other end. After a few moments, Quill’s voice returned. “We’ve got your coordinates. We’re headed your way now.” His voice was breathless, hoping, and Peter felt a little bad about how he’d treated Quill earlier. They all had people they’d lost to this mad war. He shouldn’t begrudge someone their need to search beyond expectation for somebody they cared for deeply. Someone like Mr. Stark to Peter.

         Gamora seemed to have calmed slightly in the few seconds it took for Peter to communicate with Quill. It seemed Doctor Strange was telling her about the events that had taken place for them to end up on this remote planet.

         “And you’re from Earth as well?” Gamora directed the question to Peter and he startled.

         “Y-yes.”

         “Then you are Peter’s people?”

         Peter was confused. “Um, yes? How did you know my name?”

         “I don’t know your name.” Now Gamora looked confused.

         “You just said my name. I’m Peter.” He was really beginning to wonder if perhaps Gamora had fallen from the cliff and damaged her brain.

         “You’re Peter too?” Gamora looked as if she’d had a revelation. “Is every male from your planet named Peter? Then what about this Kevin Bacon? Why is he also not named Peter?”

         Peter was really getting bewildered. “Who else is named Peter?” He cried.

         “Quill. You said you are with him.”

         Doctor Strange and Peter looked at each other.

         As if summoned, Quill himself soared over the cliff above them and hurtled down. For a moment Peter worried that he was going to end up splattering himself across the red rocks but at the last moment Quill swooped upwards and dropped the last few feet.

         You found me.” Gamora breathed.

         “I knew you weren’t dead.” Quill replied, just as husky. “I would feel it if you were gone.”

         They embraced, and Peter and the Doctor were left to stand awkwardly by.

         Soon, Peter heard the rumblings of the spacecraft before it too appeared over the blood-colored mountains. It landed several yards away and the rest of the Space Avengers tumbled out, running towards them.

         Drax reached them first and scooped Quill and Gamora up into a hug. Mantis flitted around them, seeming to absorb the energy of the group and laughing alongside them. She patted a body every second or so and her face lit up again and again as if experiencing the joy for the first time over and over.

         Kraglin grinned from the entrance to the ship.

         Doctor Strange coughed politely.

         Quill looked over to them from his group hug. There were tears glistening in his eyes and Peter felt his heart twinge in sadness. Would he get to hug his loved ones ever again? Aunt May, Ned, MJ, Mr. Stark… Even Flash would be a welcome sight if it meant he was home again with everything back in its proper place.

         “I’m pleased that this reunion has gone as well as could be planned, but Peter and I also have urgent matters to attend.”

         Quill wiped at his eyes. “You guys helped us. That puts you in my good books. I know I said I’d drop you back off where you want to go but I’ll help you find your dad.” He looked at Peter.

         “No, he’s not my-”

         “And if it means getting another shot at Thanos, I’m in.” Quill’s mouth slanted into a grin – it was a hard and feral thing.

         “You’re going to attack Thanos?” Gamora glanced over to Peter.

         “He has my friend.” Peter said defiantly. Let Gamora try and sway them away from his mission. He’d just gotten Quill to agree. Now he just needed his ship.

         “He has the Soul Stone. He’s more powerful than ever. You have no hope at defeating him.” Gamora said bluntly.

         Peter clenched his jaw, ready to argue back.

         “But he still has Nebula too. I can’t abandon her to him like I did before.”

         Peter gaped at her.

         “I’m in.” Gamora nodded to Quill who beamed.

         “If you are going to battle I am always ready for combat.” Drax added sagely.

         “You’ve got yourself a team.” Quill said to Peter.

         For the first time since Peter had been in space, he felt his spirits rise. “We’re going to save Mr. Stark.” He said quietly, mostly to himself.

         The Doctor spoke up from behind Peter, “We’re going to save this universe.”

Chapter Text

“That was nothing.” Tony wheezed once he’d regained consciousness. “I barely even felt that.”

         Nebula rolled her eyes.

         Tony struggled into a sitting position. At some point he must have sprawled onto the floor during their impromptu operation, completely passed out. His arm screamed righteous fury at him and he tried not to whimper. He was entirely too old to be whimpering.

         “Great news. You’re cured.” Nebula deadpanned at him.

         “I feel cured. Like a whole new person.” Snarking felt natural to Tony even if absolutely nothing else did. What better way to cope with debilitating mental and physical trauma than sarcasm?

         Nebula regarded him with something close to fondness in her eyes for a moment before her attention was stolen by the plate of food still sitting in Tony’s half of the cell. It no longer steamed, and the orange gravy stuff was beginning to congeal but it beckoned invitingly to the both of them.

         Tony’s stomach rumbled.

         Nebula glanced back at him with a question written across her expression.

         “There’s enough to share.” Tony answered.

         She breathed out a sigh of relief, as if she’d been expecting him to deny her a share of the food.

         “Hey, you helped me. The least I can do is give you some of this alien nourishment.” Tony cracked a smile which Nebula returned with some hesitation.

         They both scooted over to the tray and stared at it.

         “So… how should we do this?”

         There weren’t any utensils and Tony wasn’t sure what to do with a thick slab of meat and no knife.

         “Watch.” Nebula’s forearm opened up and a sliver of a blade extended forward. It was thin but sharp looking and Tony leaned back minutely at its sudden appearance.

         She began sawing away at the steak until two even slices were divided on either side of the tray. Then, the small blade retracted back into her arm. No seam was visible, and Tony would have doubted anything was behind that artificial skin had he not seen the knife himself.

         “Neat party trick.” Tony acknowledged. “There a reason you didn’t pull it out earlier?”

         “Sometimes a secret is worth more than a knife in your hand. I prefer to wait for my opportunities. I’ve rushed into too many situations to not be cautious.” Nebula started to tear into the food in a frenzy.

         “But Thanos installed your arm. He doesn’t know about it?”

         “Not even the Mad Titan knows every little thing about me.” She paused her eating to answer. “I had this put in a while back in a small shop on Xandar. I thought it might come in handy one day. Never expected to use it for this, though.”

         She trusted him with this information, Tony realized. The show of faith meant more to him than he could put into words but his sense of camaraderie with the woman strengthened.

         Tony regarded his own golden arm. If he ever escaped, – No, when he escaped. There could be no ‘ifs’ in this situation. He would escape. – he would shred everything that screamed alien from this prosthetic and build it anew. He’d make it as human as he is with all the subtle safeguards of his suit.

         As Tony plotted, he ate. He knew that his bad eating habits would do him no good out here. If he wanted to survive, he needed to treat this like he had in Afghanistan.

         But Thanos was smarter than a group of Earth terrorists. This was a new playing field and Tony didn’t know the rules of the game. He wasn’t even sure of the limits.

         The golden arm glinted at him. Why give your enemy a share of your treasure? Why give him a share of treasure with a hidden weapon right in the heart of it?

         The repulsor puzzled Tony the most. Of course, Thanos probably realized Tony had no way of knowing how to work it, but he likely also knew Tony’s capabilities. Mechanics and engineering were kind of Tony’s ‘thing’. If he didn’t know how to work the repulsor now, he’d figure out a way to work it later. Why would Thanos take the chance when Tony had already sworn to kill him?

         Because he doesn’t believe you will.

         Which is ridiculous, because the second he gets the chance, Tony is blasting his way out of here just like he had in Afghanistan.

         But this isn’t Afghanistan. This is a brand-new world, a brand-new universe.

         Tony was shaken from his internal musings by Nebula shooting to her feet.

         Thanos was standing in the doorway again. Tony had no idea how he’d gotten there without either of them noticing. The old bastard was quieter on his feet than he’d led Tony to believe.

         Slowly, Tony stood too.

         The blue bars of the cell vanished and Thanos beckoned Tony forward.

         Nebula remained standing, her form trembling minutely in rage or fear, Tony wasn’t sure.

         “Walk with me.” It wasn’t a request.

         Against his will, Tony’s feet shuffled forward. He hated how timid he must appear to the alien with his head cowed and his mouth shut.

         His personality yelled from inside his head to bitch at the Titan and make sassy remarks until Thanos went away, but his arm sent a throbbing jolt to his brain in a painful reminder. He would have to curb his defiance for now. It wasn’t worth losing another limb over.

         Thanos led Tony down a lit hallway. They walked in silence for several minutes before Thanos broke the quiet. “How are you feeling?”

         Tony stared up at him in shock. “How am I feeling? Boy, that’s rich coming from the thing that cut my arm off.”

         Thanos looked nonplussed. “It doesn’t seem to be bothering you. You look healthier than you did when you boarded.”

         With all of his better judgement yanking on Tony’s verbal reins, he wasn’t entirely sure how his mouth kept moving. “I’m missing an arm.”

         “And you have gained a far superior one. I did warn you that compliance would be in your best interests. But my punishments do not come without some kind of reward.”

         Tony’s mouth clamped shut at that.

         “You’re special, Anthony. You do not belong in a cage. Earth has been one for you for far too long and I made the mistake of putting you in another.” Thanos came to a stop in front of a large solid-looking silver door. There was a keypad to the right of it and Thanos tapped in a code.

         The door slid open like something out of Star Trek and Tony gaped.

         It was a workshop. Holographic screens littered the room above rolling chrome tables. Machines Tony couldn’t even begin to name whirred and hummed quietly and a floating drone zipped about, tinkering with one thing before flying to a screen and tapping out a program of some kind.

         It didn’t acknowledge Tony as he stepped further into the room, eyes flitting wildly.

         “What is this?” Reality crashed back in on him and Tony turned to Thanos.

         “It was security’s quarters. I had it… refurnished. Do you like it?”

         “What is this?” Tony asked again. He didn’t trust gifts, especially not from a mad alien Titan intent on destroying the galaxy.

         “I’m freeing you from your cage, Anthony.”

         Does no one in space speak literally? Why is everything a metaphor?

         Thanos sighed and glanced about the room. “You are of no use to anyone holed away in some cell. You are not my prisoner, and I will not treat you as one.”

         “Then what exactly am I?”

         “You are my guest. In time, perhaps you will be something more.”

         Tony shivered. “Yeah, I think not. Guests can come and go as they please. I think I fit the definition of prisoner a little more closely.”

         It was like talking to a brick wall, though. Thanos shook his head. “I want you to use this room.”

         “Aren’t you afraid I’ll build a bomb and blow us all to smithereens?”

         “You cannot harm me. And bombing this ship would kill Nebula too, would it not?”

         Damn.

         “I want you to realize your potential Anthony. There are sleeping quarters in here as well and you will have open access to the ship. Wherever I may go, you can as well. This technology, it is far more advanced than anything you have seen on Earth. I look forward to seeing what you create with it. But please, do not make me regret gifting this room to you. An arm is not the only thing I can take from you, nor is it the most devastating.”

         Tony’s heart dropped like a stone into his stomach.

         “You may program the code on the door to any series of numbers that you will remember. It will limit who has access to this room. And do not worry, no one but I can reach you here.”

         The comment was not nearly as reassuring as Thanos likely intended for it to be. Tony’s horror deepened until the words on his tongue dried up into a fading thought.

         “We can do so much together. You’ll see.” Thanos exited the room as swiftly as he’d appeared before his and Nebula’s cell.

         Nebula. Thanos had said that he’d have open access to the ship. Tony could use that to his advantage.

         He hurried back down the hall in the same direction that he’d come from. Sending a silent prayer that he was going the right way, Tony skidded to a halt in front of a fork.

         The hallway sectioned off into two different paths. He didn’t remember this when he’d come this way with Thanos.

         Maybe Thanos was laughing at him from somewhere, watching through hidden cameras. He’d set Tony loose and now he was going to watch him get lost in the first five minutes of semi-freedom.

         Tony’s head swiveled back and forth. Right or left? Taking a deep breath, Tony let out a loud, “Nebula!” and winced at the awkward silence that followed.

         Well, it had been worth a sho-

         “Stark?” It was faint, but it had definitely been Nebula’s voice and it had come from the right hallway.

         He’d been about to go left so he supposed this was a good sign.

         Tony hurried down the correct passageway until he could spot the glowing cerulean that was undoubtedly the bars from their cells.

         “What are you doing?” Nebula hissed and stood from where she’d been lounging towards the back of the cell.

         “Thanos gave me free reign of the ship.” That sounded weirder out loud, Tony realized.

         Nebula gaped at him.

         He shrugged.

         “And the guards?”

         “Supposedly they won’t bother me. I think. Big Guy really needs to learn how to speak plainly. I kind of just guess at his meanings.”

         Nebula shook her head in wonder. “This could be beneficial.”

         Tony stepped closer. “That’s what I was thinking. We could-”

         Before he could start spilling his guts to her, Nebula cut him off with a wave of her cybernetic arm. “Careful, Stark. The walls have ears here.”

         Tony’s mouth snapped shut and he glanced around warily.

         “Don’t waste this opportunity.” Nebula looked at him meaningfully. They would have to figure out a means of communication that didn’t blast their intentions out loud for the entire ship to hear.

         A small smirk played at the corners of Tony’s mouth.

         He had his first project and a brand-new workshop to start it in.

 


 

 

         Now that everyone kind of had the same priorities, Peter could fully appreciate the awesomeness that was traveling in a spaceship. Quill had been eagerly showing him and the Doctor around, describing what each button and lever did. Peter guessed Quill was just so grateful the two Avengers had found Gamora that they were basically the best people in the universe right now.

         He’d just shown Peter how to work the space shower and Peter had never felt so excited to bathe in his life. It was a space shower.

         Gamora had taken over piloting, claiming that she knew where they could find information on Thanos’s whereabouts. His search for all the Infinity Stones required a lot of man power and he was bound to leave a trail somewhere. They just needed to pick up on it.

         Peter found Gamora terrifyingly competent, so he had made the decision to trust her judgement on this. Plus, she sounded like she had dealt with Thanos numerous times and if she was still breathing, Peter counted her as a Valuable Asset.

         The Doctor made some mention of finding back up, but Peter wasn’t sure when exactly that was going to come into play.

         He was beginning to suspect they were deliberately leaving him out of some of the planning aspects because of his age but he had yet to stumble upon a secret meeting being held without him, so he couldn’t really complain.

         “Hey, are you gonna want to wash that?” Quill gestured to Peter’s suit.

         He glanced down as if just remembering that he’d been wearing it for over a day now.

         “Oh, this cleans itself. Part of its technology. But I wouldn’t mind some normal clothes to wear. This can get kind of itchy.” Peter tugged on the neckline of the suit. He didn’t want to take it off, really, but he also didn’t want to sleep in it. And Peter was exhausted.

         The emotional roller coaster he’d been on all day had eaten up all of his energy. And he was starving.

         “I think we can probably find something for you. Kraglin’s stuff might be the closest to your size.” With a wave of his arm, Quill beckoned Peter over to a small room. It contained a bed and a wardrobe.

         “Will he mind?” Peter stood awkwardly in the doorway.

         “Kraglin? Nah. He’s just happy to be here most of the time.”

         “Oh,” Peter took a small step forward. “Well, if you’re sure.”

         Quill tossed him a worn shirt and pair of pants from the wardrobe. Peter caught it on instinct and glanced down.

         He was tall enough that it would probably fit.

         “Come on, I’ll show you where you and the wizard guy will be staying. If Gamora is heading where I think she’s heading, you’re gonna want to rest up before we land.”

         Peter followed behind Quill to another room. The floor was covered in dead leaves that crunched underfoot.

         Peter’s brows furrowed in confusion. How did they get leaves up in space? Where did they come from?

         “This is Groot’s room. You can sleep in here for now. He’s off with another of our teammates and some big douchebag looking for a hammer or something. We’ll figure out living arrangements when he comes back.” Quill crossed his arms and seemed proud of himself for planning this far ahead. “He’s kind of a teenager, so I figure you’d be most comfortable here.”

         Doctor Strange appeared in the doorway. “And where shall I stay?”

         Quill jumped nearly a foot in the air. “Jesus Christ, dude. Wear a bell or something!”

         The Doctor waited patiently as Quill got his breathing under control.

         Finally composed, Quill stood up straight and waved the Doctor down the hall. “Here, you can have Rocket’s room.”

         They were out of sight by now, but Peter heard the Doctor’s crisp voice say distinctly, “Why is there a hairball in this bed?”

         He wasn’t sure who exactly this Groot and Rocket were, but they seemed like they would be some interesting aliens to meet. He couldn’t wait to see more real live extraterrestrials once this Space Avengers crew was back together.

         Peter stripped himself of the Iron Spider suit quickly and felt relief as cool air hit his skin for the first time in hours. Maybe he should take one of those space showers first before he went to sleep. But he was also still hungry.

         Debating with himself for a moment, Peter decided that food would be his priority, then sleep. If he woke up before they landed wherever they were going, he’d grab a quick space shower.

         It’d be like being an astronaut.

         He dressed quickly in Kraglin’s clothes. The pants fit pretty well, if a bit baggy, but the shirt seemed a little short.

         Oh well. He figured he’d survive walking around in them for now.

         Peter exited Groot’s room and made his way back to where he remembered the rest of the crew gathering. Sure enough, he found Drax shoveling a large amount of something – were those nuts? – into his mouth. Peter’s stomach growled loudly in response.

         Mantis sat next to Drax and smiled warmly at him.

         Peter figured that was as good of an invitation as any and sat down next to her.

         “Hey, where could I find some food that won’t kill a human?”

         “Right here!” A plate full of colorful fruits landed in front of Peter and Quill appeared right after, sitting across from him.

         Peter didn’t need to be told twice and dug in.

         “Good news, kid. You have enough time to get some shut eye before we land. Gamora thinks we’ve got a good shot at getting some information on the Big Man. Apparently, he always sends a representative down there for supplies whenever he passes through the sector.” Quill watched him eat with a quiet sort of fascination.

         The fruit was great but unlike anything Peter had ever tasted. A tart, but salty tang splashed across his taste buds with every bite. He wondered briefly about the planet that produced such cool fruit.

         “How does Gamora know so much about Thanos?” Peter questioned.

         “Oh, she was sort of like, kidnapped by him and he considers her a daughter, but it was a really weird relationship. Then he tried to kill her and now we’re gonna try and kill him.” A smile appeared on Quill’s face, full of nonchalance.

         Peter felt his mouth drop open before he remembered his manners. “His daughter?”

         “Adopted daughter. I’m telling you, it was really weird.”

         “No kidding.” He set the fruit down, his stomach no longer trying to eat itself. “And I thought I had family issues.”

         “Oh, believe me, on this ship, your family is probably the most normal out of all of us.”

         There was a glint in Quill’s eye that seemed to beg Peter to ask but he resisted for the time being. He figured he was going to have plenty of time to learn about these space dwellers while he played catch up with Thanos and Mr. Stark.

         “You said we’re heading somewhere to get information on Thanos. Where are we going, anyway?”

          Quill grinned. “Knowhere.”