"He did it," the blue meanie said, stating the obvious. Nebula was her name, he remembered. She and Tony were the only ones left on the desolated planet. Everyone else was gone. Those morons who called themselves the Guardians of the Galaxy, the stupid wizard who had handed Thanos the Time Stone, claiming there was no other way, and the kid… God, the kid. Peter.
"When I'm done, half of humanity will still be alive." The way Thanos had said that, it had sounded more like a promise, a reassurance than a threat. Tony wondered how many of the "survivors" would actually survive. Since the massacre was random, there was no way to estimate how big the real apocalypse would be.
It had started out a good day. He and his fianceé were jogging in the Central Park, he had even convinced Ana to tag along. Pepper had finally asked her to be the maid of honor, and much to everyone's relief, she had said yes. Things were starting to get better at last. And then, they had seen a spaceship hovering above the city, and everything had gone to hell once again.
He picked up his smashed helmet, and examined the tracker inside. Of course, it had been broken. It wasn't beyond repair, though. He just needed some wires, and scrap metal. There was plenty of both lying around…
"What are you looking for?" Nebula asked.
He took him some time to find his voice again. "I… I need to fix my tracking device."
"No one's coming for us. We should fix that ship instead and get out of here as soon as possible."
"My daughter has the coordinates of this planet. She'll come. In the meantime, I'll make sure we're easier to find."
Nebula made no comment, and he continued his search for the materials. His fingers occasionally went to the sealed wound in his torso, to make sure he wasn't bleeding. He had been so scared when Thanos had stabbed him. Not of death itself, but the idea that Ana might come here, only to find his lifeless, impaled body…
"How do you know your daughter is alive?"
Tony froze on the spot. He could see that she wasn't trying to taunt him or anything, but he gritted his teeth angrily nevertheless. "I just do."
"You love her," she observed, as if she was witnessing a rare phenomenon.
Right, someone had said she was the adopted daughter of Thanos. This girl probably had no idea what an actual father-daughter relationship was supposed to be like. "I do."
"What about that spider boy?"
"Spider-man," he corrected her firmly.
"Was he your son?"
"No. We weren't… related."
Nebula sprang to her feet. "You fix your tracker, I'll fix the ship."
She had taken maybe five steps away from where she had been sitting when a portal opened and Thanos appeared again.
"You," Nebula snarled, and charged at him.
With a lazy, effortless slap, Thanos parried her attack and sent her flying off. He wasn't here for her. He had all the six stones now, and Tony was completely defenseless. Too proud to surrender, he stood as tall as possible, and looked him in the eye. But when Thanos came closer, he realized something was very wrong with the gauntlet. It had been charred, along with his arm. It had to be still functional to some degree, though, otherwise he wouldn't have been able to teleport here. "If you want me to fix that, don't bother."
"I want to show you something. Come." His free hand grabbed Tony's arm, and then, they were no longer on Titan. Thanos had brought them onto a spaceship.
"Look," he said softly, gesturing at the window.
Tony looked out and saw the remains of another dead planet. Its condition was much worse than Titan, though. At least Titan was still intact. This one, on the other hand, wasn't. Most of it was gone; only a fragment of crust and some hot magma beneath it had remained. Millions of pieces of tiny rocks were floating around them. If he had to guess, he would say it had been cracked open like an egg by some unnatural force. Hopefully, it was uninhibited when that had happened.
"Why are you showing me this?"
"Oh, Stark… Don't you recognize your own home?"
The cruel question hung in the air for what felt like an eternity. What? Was this… Earth? "No," he said, shaking his head wildly. "No, this is one of your tricks… You're using the Reality Stone on me."
He's lying, he reminded himself. Thanos was just playing a sick game to convince him that he wasn't as evil as everyone thought. To prove that he could be much more merciless if he wanted to be. The Earth itself couldn't be gone. That was something beyond even his nightmares.
"This is real. You know it is." He took off the Gauntlet to prove his point, and set it aside.
Thanos was right. Deep down, he knew this wasn't an illusion or anything. He knew what an illusion felt like, thanks to the Maximoff girl. He collapsed on his knees. Everyone he had tried so hard to protect had died a horrible death. Tony had traveled to another freaking planet, in another freaking galaxy, ready to sacrifice his own life, and yet somehow managed to become the only survivor, just as he had feared. Still, he was almost glad that at least Peter wasn't around to see this shit. Almost.
"Why? You said half of humanity would still be alive… You promised!"
"I did. This wasn't me. Your world was already destroyed by the time I came for the Mind Stone. Now we're truly alike. In fact, your story is even more tragic than mine, for this is your own daughter's doing."
At the mention of Ana, Tony found the strength to get back on his feet. "Leave her out of this, or I swear I'll find a way to kill you this time."
"Oh, but it was you who brought her into this. She was coming to Titan with you, wasn't she? But you sent her back, told her to warn the others against me. Of course, she knew that wasn't going to be enough. You both did. So, she did something no one else was brave enough to do. She turned that Inhuman friend of hers into a weapon that could stop me. It would've worked, if they hadn't accidentally destroyed the planet first. Ana tried again and again, until she realized she had to give up to break the loop. That's when I came."
"What loop?" he forced himself to ask. He had always feared that the world would tear Ana apart, not the other way around. But it was what had happened. Literally. He had to know. He had to know what exactly had gone wrong.
"It doesn't matter anymore. Do you know what the Kree call her, the Inhuman?"
"I don't know, and I don't care."
"The Destroyer of Worlds," Thanos answered his own question.
Tony remembered the famous words of J. Robert Oppenheimer, spoken after witnessing an atomic bomb test. "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." In fact, Tony knew his dad had been there with Oppenheimer during the Trinity test. He must have heard those words first-hand. No doubt there was some tragic irony here.
And then, there was another saying, not as famous as Oppenheimer's, but no less true: "You Starks don't know the difference between saving the world and destroying it." The Maximoff girl had turned out to be right, after all.
"Fools," Thanos went on. "Daisy Johnson was nothing but a tool, and tools are… disposable. Nevertheless, she was what the Kree wanted, so I gave her to them. Let them flaunt themselves."
"Where's Ana?" Judging by the way Thanos spoke, Ana was alive. Tony focused on that thought. He had to find her and get far, far away from Thanos. Where they would go, he didn't know. They would figure something out.
"You've proven me wrong. I didn't think you'd forgive her so easily."
"She's my daughter."
"She killed your woman, too," Thanos reminded.
He tried very hard not to picture Pepper getting swallowed by a wave of magma, or her frozen dead body floating in space. And I killed JARVIS. She forgave me for that.
Thanos gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze. "You should be proud, Stark. For you fathered Death herself, the true Destroyer of Worlds."