This entire story is a spoiler for the end of Infinity War, so only read this if you've seen it. It's also a GIFT FIC for my amazing beta's birthday approaching in the fall, Queen of Crystallopia. My first gift fic, I am not sure if there's a special category for these, so, let me know. Please see your nearest dollar store for balloons and your nearest grocery store for the cake and tissues.
Tissues for the inevitable tears. I'm still shook from that film!
Please feel free to leave reviews and tell me your thoughts on the story and if it makes you feel any better, haha.
And as always - to Crystal! You are the greatest writer I know!
I don't want to go, I said - I cried -
Over and over again -
Please don't take me
Not like this
I don't want to go
I don't want to go
I'm not ready
Mr. Stark, please - don't let it take me
"I'm sorry, Tony," I say,
Splintering - sickeningly - I am ash, brown and flickering like candle light
I'm not there
More what, though?
I had felt Mr. Starks arms grasp me firmly one last time, holding me, telling me it's going to be okay
But it's not okay, is it?
Or at least, it's not okay on a crazy-ass planet of broken ships and rocks.
Where is here?
Everything around me is solid white. Or at least, some semblance of white. There is a bright mist along the ground, there is no ground, really. Like a cloud filling the bottom of a swimming pool. No water, though. Just fog.
Fog fading into a gray expanse in every direction.
I can't tell if I have a body or not.
The last thing I remember…
Crying with fear - for my life - ending -
I died, crying, in Tony Stark's arms. Full of fear - begging. Knowing it was the end and feeling no bravery, no heroics, nothing but teeth clenching, shirt grasping, trembling fear…
I never said goodbye to Aunt May. Ned. Michelle.
I'm overwhelmed in darkness, not from the fog around me, but from inside. It claws up my throat - I gag. I heave dryly over and over - lungs.
I still have lungs.
You can't throw up if you're a pile of dirt, can you?
Last I checked, I looked like the end of a cigarette butt. Too soon…? But I had to have died - that has to be death. Nothing else could feel like that.
I felt death creeping over me and obliterating me from the ground up.
That was certainly death.
I did not imagine that I died frightened and scared like a child.
I'm still that way now - afraid, clenching, grasping, liquidizing fear in my heart and lips.
Fear laces through my veins. A tremor wracks me solidly through the middle -
My chest hurts. I still have a chest.
I take a step forward.
I have a foot!
No, make that two!
There's nothing but white fog, as far as the eye can see - which isn't very far, because it's thick. If I had to guess though - the fog above me feels pressed. Hemmed in. It's a shade darker than the fog on the floor, I can almost imagine the soupy clouds are actually bumping against something like - a ceiling.
Oh, I get it! Thanos probably used the a stone to like - only make things look like death - and feel like death - heck, maybe it's still death - but he really just sent me to a giant cloudy space prison. Right? Everyone who died is probably here.
I try -
I don't realize I'm screaming until I shut my mouth, and it's silent again.
"Hello?" I try.
"HELLO!" I scream. "ANYONE OUT THERE?"
"AUNT MAY!" I scream, as loudly as I can. My throat burns. "MR. STARK? CAN ANYONE HEAR ME! HELLO! SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME!
I bend over at the waist and sob. Over, and over again, the sobs shuddering through my body, pooling in my stomach with nausea and pounding in my head with a migraine.
I fall to my knees, holding my arms, sinking deeper into the fog. The ground feels cold, and flat. Invisible. Linoleum on the floor of a grocery store if I had to make a comparison to anything.
I press my face into the cold, holding myself, shaking with shock and non-function.
I can't be dead. Not like this.
Not if this is the afterlife…
A pure expanse of nothing.
I open my eyes and lift my head. I think I was asleep - for who knows how long. How can one tell the time here? There's no time. There's still
Wait wait wait wait
Oh, god. There's something.
Breaking up the monotony.
A shadow not far from me - maybe twenty feet. I shakily stand, looking down at my hands. I can't tell what I'm wearing. For a moment it looks like - the Iron Spider suit. Then I see nothing - no hands, no feet, no body. Then I see a normal school outfit, a green t-shirt and jeans. And then my old spider man suit… then nothing again…
Like I'm flickering in and out of existence.
The shadow is taller than me. Rectangular. Like an obelisk from that really REALLY REAAAALLY old movie 2001 Space Odyssey.
It could almost be a tall door-sized white chocolate bar.
Not door SIZED…
It IS a door.
Very plain. Just white, not even a particular kind of material, that I can tell. It's just… solid…
The most beautiful sight here. The only thing to see at all. The knob is a small silver dome. No specific style. Just a single bulb to grab and crank to the side…
But I don't touch it.
The door is standing alone. No walls. I walk around it, instead. Examining it from all angles. As if a door frame was built alone and a door placed inside. There is an energy around it - one I can't explain. Maybe it's alive! So I wouldn't want to touch it without its permission, right?
"Hello," I say quietly, at the door. "Is anyone on the other side?"
I finally gather my nerves and press my ear against its surface - no sound there, either. The surface doesn't feel any colder or warmer than the rest of this place.
There's really no temperature here, either. I can't feel anything except the existence of my own body.
I gotta figure out how to get back. That's the mission. Spider-Man's next mission. Spider-Man Go-Home. Operation New York - wait, no. Maybe not home. Maybe the same planet I left. I don't even remember what's it called. How would I find it if I don't remember what it was?
Everyone was disappearing - dying - Tony held me as I died, but maybe he turned to dust right after me.
Maybe everyone is dead and there's no one to rescue there.
But it would be safer to check. Especially if Mr. Stark survived.
I step back from the door. The only way to go is through.
I grab the knob and slowly twist it to the side. Then I thrust the door open as fast as humanly possible - it opens inward -
The same fog on the other side.
It's just a frame and a door.
No walls into another room - another world - or home, like I so foolishly hoped for a split second.
I've fallen through the empty door frame to stand precisely where I stood before when I examined the back of the door. Shit.
Shit shit shit shit.
I'm trapped here.
Disappointment and pure terror crushing me, I slowly shut the door.
It clicks shut.
Slumped, I turn around and -
There's more of them.
Hundreds more of them - row by row, column by column. All identical. Set up as if they were planted, like an orchard.
I find myself smiling. Well clearly I am not so dead and this place is not empty like I thought. They can't all be empty. There would not be so many doors for all to be empty. One of them has to be like, like - like a portal! Maybe the same portal that opened up over New York all those years ago and let the aliens in!
Maybe I'll just fall right into Manhattan and everything will be okay again.
Or maybe they are all empty and that's purgatory. I'm trapped in a fog bank, spending eternity testing each door only to find nothing every time, forever a cataclysm of helplessness, despair, and hope.
I walk down the aisle between the doors, looking carefully over each one. Counting them. Looking for differences. But I see nothing, hear nothing.
I leave one of the doors open, to experiment. It stays open. It doesn't try to swing itself shut. I try to test for wind - any sign of the natural world. No wind either to push the door even a hair's breadth out of place.
I try each one.
I lose count sometime around three-hundred. I walk through another one, nothing changes. Everything is the same on one side as it is on the other.
They go on for miles - no, not miles. Eternity.
I stop and rest. I don't feel tired, exactly, but - maybe I need to give up. For a moment. Wait until curiosity takes over again, giving me motivation. So I force myself to give up.
I feel the weight of the horror press on me again, overriding my hope, exhausting me.
I collapse on the floor, curling up in a tight ball, holding my knees to my chest.
Pressing my face in, I unleash a torrent of sobs. I let them take me over, making me sick, till I hyperventilate. But I can't die twice, can I?
I imagine for a moment someone calls my name - if only.
"Peter," a voice says, and a hand gently touches my shoulder. I twitch, coming out of the semi-vegetative state of emotional agony, tuning into the fog again. My eyes pop open and I'm scrambling to my feet, launching myself up and bracing myself on a door frame with shock, mouth opening and closing like a fish trying to speak.
"D-D-Doctor Strange," I splutter.
He's standing in front of me. In the flesh.
He looks how I left him. Brutally bashed in, clothes torn, a bloodied lip.
"DOCTOR STRANGE!" I literally throw myself at him, giving him an embrace that was certainly not expected nor necessarily welcome. I find myself bursting into tears again - but relieved ones. The kinds that are pathetically joyful. This guy is so powerful - with magic - even without the stone! He could probably get us home!
"I'm so happy to see somebody," I sob wholeheartedly. "I thought I was trapped here - alone - alone - I can't be alone like this - you won't leave me, right? Please don't leave me. Please don't leave me. Please..." I venture off into hysterical territory.
He pushes me away from him momentarily, grasping my shoulders firmly. "Are you hurt?" he asks darkly.
"I don't know," I sob.
"You were lying on the ground. Are you hurt? Did you fall?"
"No - no - no," I continue to cry like a crazy person. "I just - I was just…" I make a winding gesture, pointing at my blotchy, red, blubbering face. "I was doing this. Like right now."
Dr. Strange expression softens, letting me hug him again. He gently pats my back. "Shhh, there, there," he says in a clipped tone. "You are going to be alright. Everything is going to be alright. We'll… we'll… I'll… I mean, I shall make sure you're alright. That's my job. There there. You're okay."
I recognize that tone.
It's professionally… clinical one.
Oh shit - he's an actual doctor.
"Dr. Strange," I say with a hiccough, trying to control myself. "Like an actual Doctor. Not… a fake name."
"Dr. Stephen Strange," he replies wryly, "Neurosurgeon."
"And a magician," I add hopefully.
He levels a calm, calculating stare at me. "Yes, in a sense. Though a magician unable to help us out of this trap, I am afraid."
I stare at him and feel a sudden WHOOSH under me - am I turning to dust again? No, please, god - no -
But I'm just sitting heavily on the ground with a thud.
"We're trapped," I repeat in a hoarse whisper. "We… we won't escape..."
The pure horror of this threatens my very core.
I can't do this.
Not even with company. With or without.
How exactly can one live forever when you're already died?
In a show of solidarity, Dr. Strange lowers himself beside me, resting his elbows on his knees and staring off into the endless rows of doors. "Not exactly," he says. "trapped - yes. Unable to escape, no."
I look at him. "Do you mind explaining that oddly counter-productive statement?"
He glances at me sharply, a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, which quickly dissipates. "We are trapped between dimensions."
"Like… earth and space?" I ask in a small voice.
"Dimensions," he corrects, and I imagine how he must of sounded at a hospital. Probably just like this. "The planes at which our known realities lay on top of one another... like a stack of plates. Doorways connect them - in theory. Which we prove today by being here amongst them. Millions of doors. Millions of possible realities."
"You mean I could jump through a door and go back to our reality," I say eagerly.
"It would only seem that way," Dr. Strange corrects crisply. "Not the reality in which we just died."
I feel my heart slam in my chest. "So…" I can barely bring myself to say it. I wipe my nose on the back of my hand, my chin trembling. "So we did die."
"By the mortal sense of the word, yes," Dr. Strange says. He looks at me, his expression severe, but not directed towards me. Just in general. "What were you studying in school?"
"Uh… like everything?"
"Still in high school," he infers.
"Was," I correct, looking away. "WAS in high school."
"Have you come to study yet the laws of thermodynamics and the conservation of mass?"
"That mass cannot be created nor destroyed but only rearranged?" I blow a puff of air through my lips as if someone asked me if I knew how to solve for x. "Yeah, we've studied that."
"Wrong," Dr. Strange exclaims. "Incredibly wrong. It's the energy. The energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only rearranged. Total amount of energy in a closed system can…"
"Change from one form to the other," I finish. "Right. That's right - yeah, duh. Um. Probably got that wrong on the final, too."
He pauses. "We've been killed by Thanos in our reality, there is no doubt about that. Our mortal bodies destroyed and our energy rearranged to arrive between dimensions."
"So… why didn't I go to heaven?" I ask sheepishly. I never really believed in anything, but I at least had a vague idea of an afterlife I did believe in, where I'd see my parents and my uncle again. There was no scenario in which I was in danger and thought that if I died, I wouldn't see them again. They were a given. My anchor at the end.
Instead I have a surgeon with a funny name.
Dr. Strange clearly thinks this is a stupid question, but makes the kinder choice not to start an argument about it. "We have not… advanced, if you will," he says carefully, "Into any other dimension because time is still in flux. The universe has rearranged us because it may still have need of us."
"Is that like, the wizard stuff?" I ask carefully. "Which is cool - like really cool - don't get me wrong - but I fail to see how - or why - we're here. And not," my voice chokes up, "there."
"I am a purveyor of the mystical arts, yes," Dr. Strange intones, "But there is science behind it as well." He turns to me, looking somewhat urgent. "You remember what I told you. And the others. I saw only one path in where WE were victorious. Didn't I tell you that?"
"We are on that path still," he says,
His body flickers
Like a two dimensional image
Transparent one moment, solid the next.
I jump to my feet, pointing at him. "What was that?" I ask, fear crippling me again. "What was that? DID YOU SEE THAT?"
Dr. Strange looks around, calculating, but not afraid. He stands and clasps his hands together. "I am in a different inner-plane than you. Each between their own reality. We cannot share - for long, anyway. Did you not realize this?"
"Huh?" I ask.
"You came in through the door you opened," Dr. Strange says. "Only what's left of my capability for powers in this anti-mystical place is keeping you here now. You'll have to return to your own."
"Don't - no, you can't," I cry out in a panic, reaching out and grasping his arm. "You can't leave me in here. Not alone. Please. Please don't."
"You won't be alone," he says brashly. "Trust me. And I'm not leaving - you are. Each one of us who was killed by that smug purple bastard has their own plane. We may visit, if we like. But not long. Everyone has their own door - do you understand?"
I feel a strange tugging on my body, like someone attached parachutes to my shoulders and then turned on a windstorm.
I fight it. I stand firm.
"I'm not leaving," I say. "I can't - I won't. There's millions of doors. What if I can't find you again? All of them were empty, anyway."
"You can find me again," he says comfortingly. "They only look empty. You have to step through."
"I can step into the space between realities where other dead people are?"
"Certainly," Dr. Strange gives me a wan smile. "And visit alternative realities of your own."
"Have you been to some of yours?"
"Yes - for days already. Weeks."
My heart falters. "Won't you run into yourself in the past?"
"Only if I still had the time stone," Dr. Strange says sternly. "You on the other hand - you will not run into past selves. There is only one you. You have died. All these realities are in a stasis of non-movement - in a coma, if you will. They only begin when you step through. Alternatives."
"What's the point of that?"
"If anything, to keep you occupied until the world has need of us again."
"What do you mean by that? Like, live some other life just to curb boredom?!"
The tugging is sharper - it's starting to - tug me back -
My feet skid on the floor.
I notice a door slowly creeping open behind me. By itself.
"It's going to be okay, Peter," Dr. Strange says.
I grab the frame of the closest one to me, my fingers clenching the hard material, my brow furrowed with doubt at him.
"I don't believe you," I admit, my voice growing louder. I don't think the wind is making a sound, though.
"One path," he holds up a finger. "I said there was one path in which we were successful. Tony Stark took that path - don't you understand? We are dead - but only for now. The universe will rearrange us again."
"Bullshit," I find myself saying angrily. "People don't just come back to life."
"I'm sorry, Peter," he replies slowly. "It's… it's going to be a long wait to find out if that is true or not. Until then - there are escapes. No time will have passed - it doesn't exist here. Different realities. But the doors will always be there. Just don't forget to come back so that you can be ready. When there is time again."
"I don't want to…" I find myself repeating, but I'm cut short by a WHISKING sound, like reverse vacuum with a higher pitch, and I'm sailing through the air and plummeting through the open door behind me. It slams shut, and the wind pull ends, and
I'm falling on the ground again.
I'm instantly at my feet, wrenching the door open again - begging - praying - I can't be alone again - I can't -
I can't -
I can't -
I open the door and Dr. Strange is standing right where I left him, giving me an incredulous look. "Mark the door if it makes you feel better," he says without much sympathy. "We must make the best of this."
"I WILL!" I bark, slamming the door again, seething with anger - the unfairness - the confusion. He wasn't making any sense! At what point does the universe decide it just WANTS US BACK and we pop back into the reality we left? That's not even possible.
I look at myself. I'm wearing what - seems like - a spider suit. More like a pair of pajamas. It's seamless. There's nothing to it. No web shooters, only patterns. No Karen. Nothing.
I look back up at the door. Cringing, I steel myself, plant my feet, and punch the door as hard as I can. A slight indent appears - but not obvious enough.
Letting out a roar of anguish, I punch it again, and again, and again. Each pound harder than the last, creating a small crater in this weird material. At last it's deep enough to notice, and speckled with red blood. My knuckles sting with the split skin.
Well, even the blood is a little bit of a relief. It means in whatever inter-dimensional shit hole I'm stuck in, at least I have some sort of mortality. If I can bleed, I'm alive. No matter what this dumb universe wants to do with us.
And now a door to Dr. Stephen Strange's plane is marked distinctly. I can find it again if I am careful, and I vow not to venture beyond three rows on either side so I never get lost.
I take a step back and look at the other doors.
Each one of them the same.
But I hadn't walked through them - only opened them. What happens if I…
I go to the door next to Dr. Strange's plane, wrench it open, and walk through.
There's brightness - noises - voices, cars.
The smell of exhaust and freshly burnt toast.
The welcome cacophony of a Sunday morning in Queens.
Coming Next: On his first venture into an alternate reality, Peter tries to warn his family about Thanos. But the whole thing about alternate realities are that... they're a little different and it doesn't go as planned.
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