Thanos looks at him, a triumphant gleam in his eyes. “I am inevitable.” he draws out, closing his fingers to snap the rest of life out of existence.
His face falls in confusion as he turns his fist over to reveal empty holes where the six Infinity Stones should have been.
Pain. Unrelenting pain. Tony looks down at his arm, now covered in rainbow-colored streaks of death. His breath hitches as his eyes rise to meet Thanos’.
“And… I… Am… Iron Man.”
Tony’s fingers start to close around the snap when he feels a strong hand on his shoulder.
“But we are the Avengers.”
Tony turns around to meet Steve’s gaze, only to see a chain of everyone else holding hands behind him. There wasn’t a single person on their side disconnected from the chain. “Go on.” Steve urges. Tony snaps, and just like that, the world falls away into dust. The battle is won.
When Tony comes to, he’s in a room all alone. Wait, no. There’s a young woman with him that looks somewhat like T’Challa. Tony’s eyes drift around the room as he tries to figure out where he is, why he’s here. When he tries to get up, he is greeted with a soaring rush of pain that knocks him back down. The girl turns around.
“Well, look who finally decides to wake up.” she starts, “My name is Shuri, T’Challa’s sister. You have been out for three days.”
“Pepper,” Tony interrupts, “Peter?” he croaks,
“They are both asleep. It is currently three twenty-seven in the morning, on April thirtieth, two-thousand and eighte--” she catches herself, “two-thousand and twenty-three. As I was saying before you interrupted me, it has been three days since the battle. When you snapped your fingers, Thanos and his army turned to dust. Your right arm and shoulder were badly damaged, but with the use of modern medicine I expect that you will make a full recovery, with only a few limitations. You were incredibly lucky that Steve started the chain; it is the reason that you are still alive.” she stands up and sets down her clipboard, “I will be back in a moment, if you need anything, press that button.” she points to the call button conveniently located next to Tony’s good arm. Tony tries to nod, but it looks more like a neck spasm. Shuri gives a tight-lipped smile and a curt head-nod and leaves the room.
Tony closes his eyes as he tries not to focus on the searing pain in his right arm. Had it really been three days since the battle? Since he saw Peter again, since Pepper and him fought side-by-side? Wait. If Pepper was with him, who was watching Morgan? Did Happy stay behind to look over them? His mind was spiraling with a million questions until he heard footsteps coming toward him. He tries to turn his head to face the door, but it proves to be pointless, as the cast covering his arm, shoulder, and neck didn’t allow for much movement.
“Tony,” Pepper’s breathless voice rushes in to the room, and she runs over to his side, pressing a kiss onto his forehead.
“Pep,” he pulls her into a hug with his good arm.
She cups his face in her hands, hardly believing her eyes. She smiles and a few rogue tears slip down her cheeks. Tony doesn’t remember the last time that he’s seen the circles under her eyes so dark. Guilt pangs at his stomach. You’re so lucky to have her. He hears someone clear their throat in the corner of the room. Tony’s eyes rise up to meet Peter’s.
“Uh, hi Mister Stark,” Peter slowly walks toward Tony, as if walking faster would break the man. “I just wanted to say hi.” Tony motions for Peter to come closer with his good arm, and Pepper walks to Tony’s other side to give Tony and Peter some space. When Peter reaches Tony, he practically collapses into the older man, “I’m so glad you’re ok.” Peter whispers. Tony looks up at Pepper and tries to smile. She smiles back, and his heart is full.
The next time Tony wakes up, he is able to think more clearly. He wakes up to a nearly empty room. Pepper and Morgan were both sitting quietly, Pepper reading, and Morgan coloring.
“Daddy!” she gets up from where she was coloring, “Look what I drew! It’s you and me and Mommy.” She holds the drawing in front of his face, her other fist full of crayons. Three stick-figures holding hands with humongous smiles plastered on their faces stared back at Tony. It was moments like these when Tony couldn’t believe how lucky he was to have such an amazing life.
“Wow! That looks,” Tony clears his throat as he realizes how hoarse and dry his voice sounds from days of disuse. He looks over at Pepper, “Could you grab me a cup of water?” When Pepper returned with water, Tony drank the entire glass like he was dying of thirst. “That looks amazing.” he finished, and Morgan beamed. He put his hand on the back of her head and kissed her forehead. He pats the empty space on the bed next to him and Morgan climbs up, nestling under his good arm. Tony sets the crayons and the drawing on the table next to his bed and Pepper pulls her chair closer to the bed to take Tony’s hand. The drawing on the table watches over them as Tony falls asleep again, a depiction of the life Tony never thought he could have.
The next day was the day when Tony’s arm cast was scheduled to come off. With the advanced Wakandan technology that had been employed to heal his charred skin, Shuri mentioned that, with a vibranium sleeve worn over his arm and shoulder, he would be back to normal within two weeks. Of course, rehabilitation would take longer than two weels, but it shouldn’t prove to be a big problem in the future. When Shuri removed the cast, Tony looked away. He looked at Pepper, his eyes glued to her as Shuri drilled the plaster off his shoulder, watching her face as she watched the cast come off, searching her expression for clues as to how his arm looked.
“It will be ok, Tony.” she reassures him, squeezing his other hand.
When Shuri pulled the cast off, it took all Pepper had in her not to gasp in shock, her stomach turning. She tried not to let the surprise show on her face, and was immensely glad that she accepted Peter’s offer to babysit Morgan.
“It will help me pass the time while Happy looks for May.” Peter had insisted. “Really, I don’t mind. I love hanging out with kids.” Even though Morgan was eager to spend as much time with Tony as she possibly could, Pepper thought it best that Morgan not see these kind of things so early in life.
Though Tony can tell that Pepper tried her best to hide her surprise, he knows that it’s bad.
“You must give the arm and shoulder some time to heal.” Shuri begins, “Your skin was burnt very badly, and your nerves and muscles have been damaged as well.” Tony turns away from Pepper, his eyes bouncing to look at his injured arm. The sight was grotesque. Blackened skin was flaking off in places, and his arm looked like the flesh and muscle had been boiled off, leaving behind just skin and bone.
“The skin will need to be cleaned at least two times a day,” Shuri continued, beckoning for Pepper to join her on the other side of Tony, “I am going to teach you how to clean the area so you may go home sooner.” Pepper hesitantly walks to Tony’s other side, looking a little green-around-the-gills.
“Okay, first you take this antibacterial solution and spray it all over his arm.” She hands Pepper the spray bottle, looking at her expectantly.
“Um, alright,” Pepper starts, taking the spray bottle of solution from Shuri. Hands shaking, she spritzes Tony’s arm tentatively. “Does it sting?” she asks, bringing her eyes up to meet Tony’s.
“No. Is it supposed to?”
The two turn to Shuri, expectantly, “In first and second-degree burns, stinging is completely normal. But because your burns are much deeper,” she gestures to the charred skin on Tony’s arm, “it is possible that you may not ever regain feeling in the skin. However, I expect that you will still be able to rehabilitate the limb and rebuild muscle strength in your arm.”
Pepper remembered the time that Tony had her replace his arc reactor, asking him to never ever ever ever ever ever ever ask her to do anything like that ever again. Shuri’s voice cut through Pepper’s thoughts, “Alright. We have to wear gloves for this next part.” she hands the box of blue latex gloves to Pepper.
After she snaps on a pair, Shuri hands her a tube of clear ointment. “Next you take a little of this on your fingers,” she demonstrates, squeezing the tube so a small amount of salve comes out onto her gloved hands, “and gently apply onto the affected skin, being very careful not to be too rough.” she finishes, applying the ointment to the skin in light, circular motions.
“This much?” Pepper confirmed, as she squeezed a little salve onto her fingers,
“Yes. Just like that. You’re doing great.” Shuri encouraged.
Pepper sets down the tube and taps her fingers together a couple of times to get the ointment on both hands. “Okay,” she takes a shaky breath and starts to apply the salve. Suddenly, an overwhelming wave of nausea hits her out of nowhere, and she runs into the bathroom attached to Tony’s room and vomits into the toilet.
Shuri and Tony exchange glances, and Tony moves to get up.
“Mister Stark, you really should sit down,” Shuri tried, but it was no use. When Tony Stark wanted to do something, Tony Stark would do something.
“No, Shuri I can handle this.” Tony said, getting up from his bed, taking the few steps from his bed to the bathroom, making sure to drag his IV hanger along.
Tony sat with his back against the side of the tub while Pepper dry-heaved into the toilet, trying his best to hold her hair away from her face with only one hand. When she was finished, Shuri brought her a glass of water and some mouthwash.
“I’m sorry,” Pepper said, eyes bright with unshed tears, “I’m the worst, Tony. I can’t even handle something as simple as cleaning your arm.”
“No, Pep, you’re not the worst. It’s ok.” She moved so that she was now laying with her head in his lap, her tears falling onto Tony’s fleece sweatpants. They sat there for a moment, him brushing his fingers through her hair, in a picture of unconventional comfort.
After a few minutes, Pepper pulled herself up off the tile floor of the bathroom to help Tony up and back into bed.
“For today, I will finish treating his skin,” Shuri says, looking at Pepper, “but pay attention so you will know what to do in the future.”
“Alright. Sorry about that.” Pepper apologised, “Sometimes I get a little squeamish around things like this.”
“That is completely alright Miss Potts,” Shuri affirms, “it’s more common than you would think during the first couple of times.” she laughed, finishing applying the salve and wrapping his hand, arm, and shoulder in a sleeve.
As she was finishing up, Morgan’s telltale giggle floated down the hallway.
“Guess Peter’s done.” Tony laughs, his eyelids drooping in fatigue. He hated being this exhausted all the time.
Pepper walked out into the hallway to greet the pair, shushing them before they entered the room.
The duo walked in, hand in hand with Morgan leading the way, and Peter following where she lead, eyes full of adoration for the vivacious four-year-old.
“She wanted to take a nap with you.” Peter grinned sheepishly as Morgan hopped up into her dad’s bed.
“That is just fine. Come here Morgs.” he puts his arm around his daughter and she immediately relaxes, and within minutes, she was asleep.
“How are you doing, Peter? You look tired.” Pepper commented.
“I’m alright Miss Potts. Thank you for aski-”
“Pepper,” she interrupts, “you can call me Pepper, Peter.”
“Oh, ok. Thank you Miss Po-- Pepper,” he smiled. “So, Mister Stark-”
“Hey, kid, same goes for me. Tony.” Tony followed.
“Alright, Tony, I know you’ve been busy with,” he gestured to the rest of the room, “recovering and stuff, but I was wondering if you’ve heard anything about my aunt. I asked Happy to look for her, but I haven’t heard anything from him so I was wanting to know if he told you anything. If not, no worries, I was just-”
“What about your aunt?” Tony questioned.
“Well, not everyone has been found after the Snap, and I’m sure it would be difficult to keep track of everyone in a situation like this, and all of our phones were disconnected so it’s not like we can text each other or anything, so I asked Happy if you could maybe use some Stark Tech to help find her, facial recognition or something, but I understand you’re very busy so-” Tony puts a hand on Peter’s shoulder.
“Of course I’ll help you find your aunt,” Tony says, dropping his hand, “but first, I’m going to get a little more sleep.” he smiles, stifling a yawn.
“Oh, yeah, of course,” Peter stumbles to get up, “thank you Tony.”
“No problem, kid.” Tony replied.
Walking out of the room, Peter caught Shuri’s eye, “Hey, you were the girl with the sweet Nikes on the battlefield, right? That was awesome!”
“Well, what other shoes was I supposed to fight in? I actually made some cool modifications to mine, would you like to see? I call them ‘sneakers’.” The rest of their conversation echoed down the hallway.
“Tony.” Tony’s attention was pulled back to Pepper. “Happy already looked into the May situation.” Tony waited for her to continue, but she seemed stuck, searching for words that didn’t exist. “She was on a bus when she was dusted.”
It occurred to Tony. After the first Snap, much more than half of the world’s population was lost. Between the Snap, accidents relating to people who were dusted, and the depression that consumed many of the remaining, causing some to decide they didn’t want to live in a world without their loved ones, the world had lost so much more than fifty percent of its population.
Tony should have realized it would be no different this time around.
Maybe Thanos won, after all. Tony quickly shoved that thought away. It may be true, but dwelling on the fact definitely didn’t help anything.
Pepper continued talking, “I should have told you this a long long time ago, but before-” she paused, “you know, she talked to me about changing her will. She didn’t have any family other than Peter, and she thought it best for Peter to be with us if anything should happen to her. She said that it was important that Peter would be with people who knew about Spiderman and that care about him.” She saw Tony’s shocked expression and added, “She told me not to tell you. She wanted to bring it up in her own time. But then after they were dusted, it just,” she trailed off, “it just didn’t seem necessary.”
Tony didn’t know what to say.
“How will we tell him?” Pepper looked down. How do you tell someone that their last living relative died?
How do you tell someone that the only person left in their world is gone?
Later that day, when Shuri was cleaning Tony’s arm for the second time, they’d called Peter in to tell him what happened.. He’d internally predicted the news before the words even escaped Pepper’s mouth. Tony watched as the hope in Peter’s eyes left, fear settling in in its place. Tony tried to assure Peter that he wasn’t alone, that him and Pepper and Morgan would be there for him but Peter barely heard him. He stood up, trying to hide the tears that were about to overflow.
Tony and Pepper looked at each other. That did not go well.
But then again, could telling someone that the last member of their family died really go well?
She’s gone. shesgoneshesgoneshesgoneshesgone.
Every time that this had happened before, May was always there for him, to help him process his grief. But now, she’s gone. Peter ducks into the nearest bathroom and stands there for a moment staring at his reflection in the mirror.
You are completely alone.
You’re alone and have nowhere to go.
What do I do now? Where will I go? How will I get back to Queens? Oh, man, do I still live in Queens? Will I have to live in a foster home?
Peter knew that there was nobody to take care of him now. Ben and May were in his parent’s will, and he knew that May was on Ben’s will and that Ben was on May’s. There was nobody there for him.
His breathing hitched and his heart pounded. He clutched at the collar of his shirt, desperately trying to force air into his lungs, choking. His vision is spotty and he collapsed onto the cool bathroom floor.
I am going to die.
I guess it makes sense that it all should end like this. He thinks, I can survive a freaking building being collapsed on top of me, but not this. Fitting.
Sweat beaded on his forehead as he realized he didn’t want to die. He felt himself, back on Titan, body being ripped apart as his healing factor frantically tried to stitch his cells back together, but failing again and again and again until all he saw was darkness.
So. Much. Pain.
He lets out a strangled cry and Shuri knocks on the door before pushing it open.
“Peter. Peter. Look at me.” she commanded, kneeling down next to him on the floor, and Peter followed her instructions. “Breathe. Come on, breathe with me.” she continued, taking loud, exaggerated breaths for Peter to mimic. After a few moments, Peter’s breathing finally calmed down, and his shoulders slumped.
“I know it does not seem like things will ever get better, but they will.” Shuri starts, rubbing Peter’s back, “I cannot even imagine what you are going through,” Peter looks up at her with glossy eyes, “please let me know if I can do anything to help you.”
“Do you,” Peter’s voice cracks, “do you have any food?” he asks, as his stomach grumbles.
“Of course!” she gets up from where she was sitting, “I will be right back.”
Peter swallowed the nausea rising up in his throat. I am alone.
Pepper tentatively pushes the door open. “Peter, honey, are you alright?”
Seeing Pepper sent another wave of sadness washing over him as he realizes that May will never comfort him again. He swallows the lump in his throat as he gets up to drink some water from the sink faucet.
He sits on the floor, back against the wall and Pepper sits next to him, putting an arm around his shoulders.
Shuri reenters the bathroom with a tray full of fresh Wakandan fruit. She hands it to Peter, who graciously accepts. “Bone apple teeth.” she says, and Peter gives a weak smile. Tears prick his eyes again. I can’t do this, Peter thinks, and his face crumples as he hangs his head.
Shuri sets the tray on the floor and pulls Peter in for a hug, Pepper joining them, tears clouding Shuri’s vision. She had only known Peter for a day but it felt like they had known each other for their entire lives. She didn’t know much about him, but she did know that Peter wasn’t going to do this alone.