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happy retirement

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Carol strides through the throng of heroes, all gathered around Iron Man. The Infinity Gauntlet weighs heavy on her hand, and as people catch sight of the golden monstrosity, they jump aside. And then there’s Rogers, who runs up to her side. “Captain,” he says. “Why-”

Carol stops in her tracks, just twenty feet from where Stark lies prone, and turns to face Rogers. “Because he has a family,” she says, memories of Maria and Monica flashing through her mind. “He saved the entire goddamn universe, and he deserves time with his family.”

“You could die,” Rogers says. “I could do it.”

Carol smiles. “I can fly through space unassisted, Rogers. But I appreciate the sentiment.” She salutes him, and she doesn’t wait for his response. She walks over to Stark and his family, and her breath catches in her throat at the sight of the charred skin. That could happen to you, a small part of her says. “Ms. Potts,” she whispers. The red-haired woman jumps a little, a tear running down her face. “Let me try.”

Peter whips around, his eyes puffy. “You could- I mean-”

“Look, I’ll be fine. Let me try,” Carol urges.

“Carol.” Rhodes’s voice is choked, but he still manages to command attention. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she replies.

Peter and Rhodes and Potts all take a step back, and Carol steps forward. Apprehension is an understatement for what she’s feeling, but she’s made her promises. The scrotum-chinned shithead is not going to get what he wanted.

She pulls the first Stone off and places it into the Gauntlet, and the raw energy radiating from it makes her want to throw up. She grits her teeth and continues plucking the Stones from Stark’s hand like they’re deadly grapes. Gives a whole new meaning to The Grapes of Wrath, says the small part of her brain that’s still capable of rational thought. When the last Stone finds its place in the Gauntlet, a wave of energy bursts out, so strong that it knocks everyone in a ten-foot radius to the ground. Carol stumbles back, too. She is not going to let that goddamn grape win.

Bring Stark back, she thinks. Bring Natasha back. And then she snaps.

The pain is incredible. It rips through her arm and claws its way up her neck, and the only thing keeping it from devouring her is sheer willpower. It’s like an inferno combined with an ice storm combined with a hail of daggers, all shooting into her from the Gauntlet. She grits her teeth even harder, determined to win.

And then, as quickly as it came, the energy is gone. Carol stumbles again, and Rhodes’s hand shoots out to stabilize her. “Thanks,” she groans. He nods, but his eyes are fixed on Stark. Carol scans the battlefield for any sign of Natasha- she knows it’s futile, but she needs to know.

There’s nothing.

She turns her attention back to Stark and company, her heart filled with sorrow.

But Stark stirs, the black marks receding. “Tony?” Peter whispers, his voice filled with emotion.

Stark opens his eyes a little, and a pained smile stretches across his face. “Underoos.”

Peter makes a noise that sounds a little like a sob, and he throws his arms around Stark’s neck. Potts takes a hesitant step towards them, and her voice breaks when she says, “Tony, you’re-”

“Get in here,” Tony says. “Platypus, you too.”

Potts and Rhodes immediately wrap Stark in a hug. “Jesus, Tones,” Rhodes says.

“Okay. Get off me. Lemme up. I need to thank you,” Stark says, pointing at Carol as Potts hauls him to his feet. “You- why?”

“You saved the universe. You deserve to have a happy retirement,” Carol tells him. “You did good, Stark.”

“Call me Tony. And come for cheeseburgers with us.”