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The Harming of Peter Parker

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Tony pivots left, he jerks right, he feels the side of Thanos' fist against his head like a wrecking ball to a soft human skull. His bleeding armor tech can't keep up, can't go any faster; red and gold bits fleck off his helmet; the orange soil under his feet is indented with the force behind his block; he feels like maybe he's got a few broken ribs, and his breaths are fast and strained and panicked.

He tastes iron along his gums, and the bridge of his nose is gashed open and bloody.

The suit is failing — in a few swings, Thanos will beat him, if he doesn't figure something out. C'mon, Tony, use that big stupid brain of yours. Use that glorious mash of matter you call a mind. Think on your feet, before the bones in them are broken. Use those hands that build suit after suit, before Thanos rips every finger off them.

His enemy barely bats an eye. A vicious blow to the head leaves him spinning around, but he snaps back into focus.

"Leave him alone!" Spider-Man orders from on high. With a scream that bleeds into Peter Parker's indignant yell, Stark thrusts the blade formed on his right hook toward Thanos; sinking the weapon anywhere will do, if it means making the bastard bleed. Peter swings in, nimble and in tandem with his mentor, aiming a swift kick to the genocidal monster's skull — and suddenly he's grabbed and swung by the head in a huge hand, plucked from the air like nothing.

His helpless body is swiveled around and held out like a writhing shield.

Tony's blade punches through Peter's chest like a finger through aluminum foil.

Stark gasps like he's the one who had been stabbed. Peter's eyes are wide and caught up with the dazed longing for this to be a terrible nightmare, like he'll just blink and it'll be the ceiling in his apartment bedroom. Thanos' hand releases him. The nano-tech blade shrinks away. Blood pours out from the whistling hole in Spider-Man's suit as Peter crumples across Tony's plated legs where he's fallen in disbelief; the hero's arms scrabble to encircle Pete's muscular shoulders as a twisting and tearing agony floods his heart's every artery and vein. When the boy just slumps there against his collarbone, he shakes his head.

"No, no no no—"

Peter gasps for air, and something warm and full of life drains into Tony's lap and through his fingers.

"M-Mr. Stark, I— I don't feel —"

Wheezing. They're both wheezing. Peter can't breathe because he's got a fist-sized hole in his chest, where his compromised left lung would be nestled. Tony can't breathe because he put it there. The whole world keeps spinning in circles, even as he drags Peter closer and flips him so that he lays in his arms. The kid's head flops back. Tony's fingers press at the base of his skull with enough desperation to bruise, as Peter's chin tips back limply. "Pete, kid, hang on. Peter. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Peter — I never would — I wouldn't —"

Peter's brown-eyed, terrified gaze turns slightly. Tony puts a stained hand to the boy's cheek, leaving evidence of his mistake in stark red lines.

"M-mmh-" Peter tries. So much blood, too much blood, Tony tore right through an artery, the powers aren't helping either, they're not—

Thanos stands above the two, and though his expression is offensively softer, his hand shapes into a fist regardless; the stones glow. Tony feels like he's gone, plucked out of his body as his mind fuzzes over. He can barely see the kid in his arms. Is something wrong with his vision? Is he having another attack? The kind Pepper would usher him out of, on one of those ugly, blackened nights in the tower? Everything's numb, he can't see, he can't think, he can't feel, he can't fight, he can't build, can't think, can't see, can't fight, can't—

"Stop!" Strange yells.

Tears don't journey down Tony's face. Gravity takes them directly to Peter's shivering cheek instead. His lips part and his mouth is red like candy a kid would buy from a convenience store before vigilante patrols, the kind that stains your tongue and teeth. Strange says with aching defeat, "... Spare Tony Stark, and I'll give you the stone."

Peter's eyes roll back. Eyelids droop helplessly and fingers disentangle.

And if you died — I feel like that's on me.