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Long Time Coming

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The choice was obvious, and he would do the same thing over again, even knowing what he knew after the fact. The Gauntlet had been thrown away from Thanos for the fifth time. Thor and Captain America had been smacked down by the Mad Titan. Peter had found himself near them, his Iron Spider legs wrapped around him as he fought with the aliens.

The force of Captain Marvel’s landing threw the gauntlet towards him, and he quickly caught it with a web, clutching it to his chest for the second time in less than an hour. The hairs on the back of his neck pricked, and he snapped his eyes up to find himself on the other end of the deadliest glare from the Titan. Peter swallowed heavily, and the vague idea of putting on the gauntlet crossing his mind before he shoved it down and lept into the air, webbing himself away.

Thanos snarled and started after him, only to be backhanded by Captain Marvel. He staggered back and returned the attack, barking an order at one of his men. Peter didn’t really know what Thanos was up to, but he did know that he needed to get away from him. His heart thrumming into his chest, Peter ran with no direction to go. The van with the thing in it had been destroyed–he didn’t know where to take the gem covered glove.

“Kid! Give it to me!” Peter skittered to a stop and snapped his head around. Thruster’s whirling, Stark landed next to him, his hand outstretched.

Peter started to pass it to him, uncurling his arm, but something kept him from handing it over. Something told him that if he did, everything would go wrong. “What’s the plan?” Peter panted, mask lowering so he could look his mentor in the eye.

Stark didn’t appear any better than he felt. He sighed shakily and glanced up at the aerial battle where Ms Potts was fighting. His gaze lowered before he snapped back around to Peter. “We need to get rid of the Purple Fucker–give it here.”

“What? How?” Peter blinked, dread curling in his chest.

Stark grimaced but quickly covered it with a strained smile. “I’ve got an idea, Kid, but I need the stones.”

That was exactly what he didn’t want to hear, although he knew that it was coming. “What? No–you can’t do that!”

Stark sighed. “Pete, we don’t have time–” He cut off when a yell sounded from behind them. It sounded feral and unhinged. The two heroes jumped back and Thanos landed where they had been standing, the ground cracking. He straightened with a growl and levelled his hate-filled eyes on Peter.

In that moment, he knew what he had to do, the certainty of his choice curling in his gut, making him feel sick.

Peter scrambled backwards, holding the glove up. Staring the Titan, down he jammed the gauntlet onto his arm. Surprise flickered across Thanos’s face while Stark’s shocked cry bounced around him. Quickly, the nanotech shifted and shrank so the gauntlet fit snugly over his hand. The moment it aligned, pain flared up his arm. It felt like what you would think a campfire would, harsh and hot yet warm and comfortable. It hurt less than the feeling of his cells ripping themselves apart.

Peter set his jaw, glancing a final time at the horrified look on Stark’s face before turning his glare back to the Thanos. Gritting his teeth, he raised his hand, the stones flashing excitedly on the back of his hand. “Go to hell,” he snarled and snapped his fingers.

That’s when everything changed.

He’d been willing the stones to get rid of Thanos and his army, to fix everything, so that he could go home. See his Aunt, go back to school, and have everything okay. Well, that’s what happened–in the long run.

The moment his fingers snapped white light exploded from the stones, and Peter turned his head away. Strong feelings washed over him from his arm, ranging from excitement, satisfaction, smugness, and then to inevitability. The sense that everything was falling into place.

Peter opened his eyes and gasped before clamping a hand over his mouth. His eyes were wide as he stared at his new surroundings.

“Wh-where am I?” he stammered behind his palm and twisted to see where he was. It was a large open plane, barren stone cutting off a few miles in every direction. Everything else was open space. Stars shone brightly in the vastness above him.

When he'd first arrived where he'd ended up, Peter had clamped down on his breathing, a futile effort if he ever actually found himself in space without the proper gear. His mask was off, so he wasn't wearing anything that could keep him alive.

He was though. He took an experimental breath in, and he didn't die. It wasn't air. He knew that. Whatever he was breathing, he wasn't meant to inhale–but he was.

“Hello?” he called, turning on the spot. “Is anyone there?” Not even an echo answered him. Wherever he was sound didn't travel.

“What's going on?” he muttered then looked down at his hand. He froze. The stones where gone. He wasn't even wearing the gauntlet.

What the fuck?

Language,” a mirthful voice echoed in his head.

Peter yelped and spun. “Who's there?”

Hello, Peter Parker,” the voice continued, still keeping its amused undertone.

“Okay, you know my name. Why–how do you know my name?” Peter stammered and took a couple of steps back, arms rising defensively.

Another voice giggled in his head. “You shouldn't fear us, little one. Many do/will/have.” His mind couldn’t decide on which present to focus on. It was like whoever was speaking was using all three at one. “But you shouldn't. And in time you won't. It's nice that you're finally here.

“That doesn't make sense,” Peter told whatever it was flatly. “I don't even know who you are.”

Look down,” a third voice suggested calmly. “All will be made clear.

Unsure, Peter did just that and screamed. The Iron Spider suit was gone, and he was standing barefoot in track pants and a t-shirt. But that wasn't what had alarmed him. Embedded in each of his arms were the infinity stones.

On his right, just above his wrist was a blue gem, which he immediately recognized as the Space stone. Before when he’d been running with the gauntlet, he had no idea which one was which, but now, staring at them, he could identify each of them. The red one resting above the muscles of his forearm was the Reality stone, and the one on his biceps was the Mind Stone. On his left in the same order and place was the green Time Stone followed by the Purple and Orange, Power and Soul stones respectively.

Jaw slack, he stared down at them. Numbly, he tried to grip the Space stone and pull it out of his skin, but no matter how much force he used, the stones wouldn’t budge–none of them.

“Wh-what’s going on?” Peter stammered. “Why–why do I have them…?”

You’re special, Peter Parker. We’ve been waiting to meet you.” Another voice joined in and the Time stone lit up as it spoke.

“Wha–are you speaking to me?” All of the stones flashed brightly, and he felt the affirmative surge in his chest. The Reality stone was giddy and amused. Space shared the ruby’s amusement but was more reserved.

Catches on quick doesn't he?” Soul pulsed dryly.

He’s a little overwhelmed–it’s to be expected,” Time spoke again, its tone gently chiding.

Peter closed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair. “You’re sentient?”

Is that so unexpected? We do command the forces of the Universe,” Space reminded him.

“Right. Okay, the Infinities stones are sentient. Wow. Sure, that’s… yeah.” Peter sighed and rubbed his face–hard. “Why am I here? And why are you in my arms!”

You wished for things to be fixed,” another voice interjected, this one deeper and rougher than the others. Peter looked at his arms and saw that Power was the one speaking. “That was too grand for us to fix by ourselves. A wish like that needs to be carried out by the wisher.

“Great,” Peter muttered. “So, I’m crappy at wording things. That’s nothing new. But that doesn't explain why I’m here, and you’re under my skin,” he stressed, his pulse rising. He really didn’t understand why he was there. Him messing up his speech won’t change. Not anytime soon. He looked out again at the expanse around him, black except for the flickering stars. As he watched them, he swore that more were coming into being.

Time shone lightly and a sort of calm rose up in his chest, causing him to lower his tense shoulders. “Power is correct, your phrasing was too vague for us to accurately grant your desire. However, they are not telling you the whole truth.

“Oh goodie,” Peter snarked.

Space chuckled bemusedly. “What Time is tip-toeing around is that we need an Avatar to correct things. It wasn’t just your wish that caused this. Before, we’ve always had guardians to keep us from destroying everything. You’ve seen what happens if we fall into the wrong hands.

Peter grimaced. He was starting to understand where the stones were going with this. And he didn’t like it. “Yeah, Thanos–trying to make everything balanced or whatever.”

Yes, even if he was sorely mistaken,” Reality continued. “There was nothing to balance. Everything was as it should have been. Thanos was the one disrupting everything.

Point being, we need guardians to make sure that what came to pass does not,” Soul told him flatly. “Time had a guardian and has had one since basically the beginning. I placed a fail-safe on myself to stop the nonsense before it began. However, every plan has its flaws–and they were found.

Therefore,” Mind added. “We need something or someone that will fill that role more permanently. I approve of the vessel that I was in before all of this began. The Vision was an ideal candidate–however, he still fell.

So, we need a guardian that will not fall,” Power finished grimly.

“No, nononon–that’s insane,” Peter told them, backing up instinctively. “I’m human. I’m flawed. I know I am. I-I-I’ve made mistakes–big ones! And I know I’ll make them again. Vision was an android. He couldn’t be as messed up as I am–it wasn’t in his programming. If Vision wasn’t fit for this, this, position, then there is no way in hell that I’m going to be!” As he talked, his voiced increased in volume until he finished with a screech. However, the voice still fell flat within the vastness of space. It made the hairs on his arms stand up, and he wanted to curl into as small of a ball as he could.

The stones were sympathetic, but Reality was unforgiving. “Yes, you are–but you, Peter Parker, are so much better than Vision was. Yes, he was a robot, so he wouldn’t make logical mistakes, but the universe doesn't need logic. Not now, not ever. Your soul, it’s the best within the Avengers, and we know you will not fail.

Despite the huge compliment that he’d just been given, Peter shook his head. “But I’m mortal. And a kid–I can’t be the-the Guardian of the Stones. That’s–no. I can’t.”

You can/will/are,” Space told him gently.

And you’re not mortal–no longer.” Soul flared brightly and solid agreement echoed from each of them.

There–that’s what he had dreaded hearing. Peter squeezed his eyes shut and sank to the ground. His throat caught and he bowed his head. His cries fell flat in the empty air.

___________________________________________________________

Pepper tucked her binder under her arm, and using her shoulder, she pushed the door open. The bell above her chimed, and she smiled as she stepped into the small establishment. A mop of brown curls popped out from the back and a bright grin was thrown her way. “Miss. Potts! Good morning–I’ll be right there.”

“Take your time,” she called back sweetly and started to go through her emails. She’d answered and solved about a dozen problems before the young man came to the counter, wiping his hands on a towel.

Throwing it onto his shoulder, he stepped up to the cash register and quirked his brow. “Trouble in paradise?”

Pepper sighed and slipped her blackberry away. “If paradise was looking after a five-year-old parading around as an adult, everything is peachy. Mr. Stark is just being himself.”

Peter snickered. “So, dumping everything on you.”

Pepper combined a grimace with a smile. “Got it in one. He may be the CEO, but he just signs things.”

“Ehhh, but he also makes everything you guys sell,” Peter pointed out.

Pepper sighed and tucked her hair behind her ear, even if the motion was pointless because it was up in a perfect bun. Peter’s smile turned soft and he jerked his chin at her. “What's today's poison?”

“Oh, definitely poison for Mr. Stark,” she responded immediately, inciting a laugh from the man. She smiled with him before ordering a caramel latte for herself and a black coffee for her boss.

Peter nodded. “That’ll come to $5.50,” he informed her, tapping it into the register before he started making the drinks. While working the espresso machine, he asked casually, “So, anything new going on?”

Pepper thought about that for a moment. “Not really. Mr Stark just finished the new missiles and started on the next. Oh–then there’s the Apogee Award Ceremony, which I hope he’ll actually go to,” she added with a click of her tongue, taking out her credit card to tap it on the machine.

Peter snorted and shook his head. “I wouldn't bet on it.”

Slipping her card back into her wallet, Pepper glanced at the man–-boy, really. He didn’t look any older than twenty, and even then, he had a youthful face. She’d always thought that something about him looked timeless, unchangeable. Even if his clothing style was strange–like when he still wore long sleeves in the summer heat, and considering how they were in California, that was impressive.

When she’d first found his little shop opening in the little town close to Stark’s Malibu house, she’d sworn that he was eighteen or nineteen. The last year hadn’t really changed that for her. However, she’d learned to roll with it–Peter Parker was one of the more mature people she knew, and that was saying something.

There were also little moment like this when he predicted something that would come to pass. She’d first noticed it when she’d said something about an important meeting and having to rush to get there on time. He’d purposely held her back for five minutes, making her order, saying that something bad would happen if he didn’t. She’d just barely missed a fatal car accident because of his interventions.

So, now, she groaned. “Great. More paperwork.”

Peter laughed and released the lever, moving around the machine to add the caramel shot to her drink. He stirred it and capped the cup before placing it on the counter. “One caramel latte for the Lady.” He bowed slightly with a fake tip of the hat.

Pepper scoffed, and he smirked playfully before going to make the other drink. So Stark wasn’t going to show up to the ceremony, she thought idly and sighed. Rotating the drink on the counter with her fingertips, she wondered if she should tell Rhodey and Obadia not to expect him. They wouldn’t believe her. She heaved a heavy sigh and scrubbed at her face, it was too early for this.

“Don’t think too hard on it,” Peter cut into her thoughts, and she looked up to see him placing the other drink on the counter, his face solemn. “This one won’t matter as much.”

This one?” she asked, grabbing the other drink.

Peter smiled sadly and shook his head. “With Stark? There’s always going to be a next one.”

Well, amen to that. Pepper pursed her lips and nodded. “Thank you for always letting me in early,” she told him and headed towards the door that’s sign was still showing ‘closed’.

Peter shrugged. “Where else are you going to get coffee at five o’clock in the morning?” Pepper shook her head and was about to leave when Peter called after her. “What was the name of the new missile?”

Pausing at the door, she cocked a brow at him, “Don’t you know that already?” Peter smirked and lowered his chin, looking at her under raised brows. She huffed and answered him truthfully, “Jericho.”

Peter’s face didn’t change but his hands stilled on the counter. He chuckled. “City of the Moon. The Canaan city that fell–did he name it or did someone else?”

“R&D did. Since it’s a weapon against the Arabs I think they thought it would be well fitting,” she mused. “When Mr Stark names things, it's far less profound.”

Peter laughed and made a shooing motion at her. “Have a good day, Miss Potts.”

“You as well.” She smiled back at him, and with a final wave, left the little cafe, leaving Peter alone.

He watched her go, his gaze soft before a quiet voice interrupted his thoughts, “You’re not going to warn her of the attack?

Peter glanced down at where the Soul stone was under his long sleeve. “... No. Even if I don’t want Tony to go through Afghanistan… Earth needs Iron Man.”

The other stones hummed in agreement, Soul sending him a wave of approval before they fell back into ‘slumber’ where they left him alone. He would always be thankful for that–-having six voices in your head all at once could get overwhelming.

Looking back out at the morning lit street, Peter sighed. No matter how horrible Tony’s future was for him, Peter knew that he had to let him go through it. Who he was at the moment wouldn't help anyone–-they needed the man that comes out of that cave.

He blinked out of his thoughts when a timer in the back went off. He smirked and turned, time to start the day.