"Infinity" co-written with Pryotra (on AO3)
The first sound to break the silence was Thanos screaming in rage.
It was a loud, echoing bellow that seemed to shake the air, rattling the others out of their stupor.
Peter Quill's horrified cry of "What the hell was that?!" was the next thing to fill the silence, and Stephen Strange shook his head to clear it, blinking down at his empty hands and missing necklace.
Admittedly, the battle hadn't been going particularly well up to that point. Even when the tentatively reunited Avengers and the surprisingly more united Guardians - as well as some of Captain America's contacts, an Asgardian female warrior, and Thor's adopted brother Loki of all people - had all teamed up, they were still no match for Thanos' gauntlet.
Stephen Strange wasn't particularly sure what happened to the Avengers during the Accords business, but the wounds hadn't been healed in the slightest. And Thanos had been more than happy to take advantage of that. They were all uncoordinated, unprepared, and honestly probably fairly pathetic, as far as the Titan was concerned. That was why he'd managed to get a hold of the one stone that he'd been trying for during the entire fight.
The Vision, the android granted life though one of the stones' power, had been the primary target, and the Avengers, disjointed as they were, were helpless to protect him.
Just a minute ago Stephen had been holding back Wanda Maximoff as she screamed Vision's name, thrashing to get free so she could help the android as Thanos tried to tear the mind stone from his head. Now Maximoff was nowhere to be seen. And neither were half of their fighters.
He wasn't entirely sure what had happened.
Stephen closed his eyes, recreating the moment, just like it had been. He'd been at the edge of the fight trying to keep Maximoff from potentially running to her death, and the Guardians had been attacking Thanos, trying to draw his attention away for long enough to allow the others to land a hit in a desperate attempt to save the Vision.
Thanos had grabbed the synth by the throat and begun to pry the gem free, and Maximoff had screamed, and there had been a blaze of her red power that had left Stephen somewhat disoriented, and then-
"Hey, Earth to Strange," the grating voice of Tony Stark intruded on his thoughts with all of the subtlety of a hack saw. "Where the hell did everyone go? What did he do to them?"
"I don't believe that it was Thanos," he murmured, flexing his fingers a little to dispel the clinging static charge of Maximoff's powers as he tried to gather his thoughts.
"He is distracted," Drax shouted before Stephen could even think to offer further explanation. "Now is our chance to destroy him!"
"I'm good with that plan," Nebula growled, taking off in the direction of the raging titan with Drax and Gamora on her heels.
For a second Stephen debated calling them back, but Thanos didn't seem overly interested in the Guardians anymore. The mad Titan seemed to be searching frantically for something, casting rubble around as he tore through the heaped debris at his feet.
It took Stephen a long moment to notice what was different: the gauntlet was dull in his hands.
"The infinity stones are gone," Stephen said in shock, needing to hear the words aloud to properly register them.
Wherever Maximoff's blast of frantic power had taken their missing teammates, it had brought the stones along with her.
But what was the connection? Magic, even in its most basic form, was simply will given shape. Maximoff's powers were a different branch than his own, but they were still magic, and they were still subject to those laws.
He glanced around, noting quickly how many were missing.
Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Vision, and Thor. Perhaps more. All gone.
That left Hulk, Iron Man, the Guardians, War Machine, the spider child, Thor's brother, the Valkyrie, and himself.
A skeleton crew to face a god, and yet, somehow, Thanos wasn't interested. The attacks from Nebula, Gamora and Drax were brushed off, but not returned.
"We need to fall back, regroup," he murmured. "Everyone who can still stand, everyone who can still fight. We need to regroup before Thanos gets his head back on straight and comes after us. Just because he doesn't have the stones doesn't mean he won't wipe half of the planet's population by hand if given the opportunity."
"Sounds like as good a plan as any," Stark conceded, blasting himself into the air as he shouted for Colonel Rhodes.
Strange took a moment to collect himself, still trying to gather his scattered thoughts in order.
He had to contain the aliens to this one area before they hurt anyone.
He had to locate the stones.
He had to deal with Thanos.
But first, he had to get everyone out of here.
The Avengers compound would be as good a location as any for the time being, with enough space for everyone present and theoretically some kind of defense system. For now, it was their best bet.
"Fall back," he shouted again, catching the attention of the nearer heroes as he placed his hands together and brought them in a large, sweeping circle to open a portal. "We need to fall back. Make sure everyone gets through."
He could hear the call going out through what remained of their fighting force, everyone making their way in his direction one by one.
Strange held the portal steady as their troops evacuated, taking a rough head count as everyone went through.
They only had fourteen people left.
Out of an original twenty seven.
Trying not to dwell on the number, Strange stepped through the portal and let it close behind him, sealing them all safely away from Thanos for the time being.
Once he was sure that they were safe, he took a moment to look around.
The Avengers compound was a large, modern building with a very open floor plan. Even their group didn't begin to fill the entry hall. The ceilings were high and vaulted, with one entire wall made up of widows.
Overall it was well lit, but rather industrial feeling.
Strange glanced around at what remained of their army, taking stock.
It was a pathetic bunch.
They were all dusty and dirty and battered, most of them nursing sore legs and arms, if not straight up limping. A few had bright traces of blood on them. From what he could tell, nothing looked too serious, but he would need to check them over far more closely to confirm that, and at this point he simply didn't have the time to coddle any of them.
"What's the plan, magic man?" Quill called out to him with a frown. "We just going to sit around here while prune-face mc-crazy is out there smashing stuff up?"
"Yes, why have you taken us away from Thanos?" Drax frowned, his hands clenching and unclenching by his sides. "We should be fighting him, not cowering away like weaklings!"
"You will fight him in due time," Strange replied a touch sharply. "For now I need you to take this opportunity to restock your supplies, sharpen your blades, and bandage your injuries."
The guardians grumbled a little but thankfully didn't argue, moving toward the nearby sitting area as a unit.
Strange barely had a minute to collect his thoughts before Stark was heading for the stairs, folding back the mask of his suit as he did.
"And where do you think you're going?" Strange called after him.
"To get a stiff damn drink," was the reply, accompanied by a careless wave of the man's hand. "Catch up to you guys in a bit."
"Get back here," Strange snarled in disgust, sending tendrils of his magic to drag the billionaire back. "I don't need you drinking yourself into a stupor right now!"
"Hey, jackass, I'm just getting something to take the edge off," the man scowled, pulling fruitlessly against the threads of magic as the mechanics of his suit whirred. "Why don't you mind your own goddamn business get this stupid Wizard shit off of me?"
"You want me to let you drink before you operate a highly dangerous mechanical weapon of mass destruction in close proximity to our teammates?" Strange asked derisively. "I don't think so, dick. Go sit down with the others until I find some good way to put you to use."
"Hey, what the hell do you think you're doing?" Rhody asked sharply from the far side of the room, cutting off Tony's furious stuttering. Strange turned to find Nebula slinking around one of the Compound's operating terminals, the cyborg blinking up at them in mild surprise as she froze with a hand reached out toward the device.
Before he got a chance to hear her reply, Strange found himself blinking down at the masked face of the spider child - Peter.
"What do I do?" the Parker boy asked, and Strange paused for a long second as his thoughts broke off and re-directed. He needed busy work for the child.
"I need a count of exactly who is missing," he snapped after a moment, sending the boy toward the huddled remains of their once-formidable army. "Names, powers, and connection to the stones, if any."
The spider-boy was quick to scamper off, muttering the instructions back to himself, and Strange turned to look for Stark once more.
However, he was once again interrupted.
Loki Laufreyson - Thor's half-brother, who also happened to be responsible for Thanos' first invasion - stepped forward before he could resume his conversation with Tony, and Strange bit back a snarl of frustration.
He'd barely gotten a second to breathe since closing the damn portal…
"Thor has little connection to the stones," Loki drawled, seeming disinterested save for the scheming glint in his eye as he watched Peter leave. "However, I noted the chaos stone's reaction to the witch. As she is the only confirmed magic user of the missing group, we should probably focus on her."
"I mean, yeah, we could ignore the fact that Vision had the mind stone stuck in his forehead for the better portion of two years," Stark commented, seemingly having given up on his drink as he approached on Stephen's other side, shooting the Asgardian prince a glare. "But by all means, let's follow the lead that he suggests. Not like he was ever working with Thanos or anything. Perfectly trustworthy."
"Must everything be a popularity contest with you?" Loki drawled in return, and Stephen put a hand out between the two before they could continue.
It had been painfully obvious that the two hated one another. Or rather, Stark hated Loki, and Loki was enjoying getting a reaction out of Stark. But right now he really didn't have the time or the patience for such petty squabbles.
"While you do bring up a good point, Mister Stark, the last I saw, Thanos was ripping the stone out of the Vision, so we have no guarantee if he still has a connection to it, or is even alive," he explained, trying his best to be patient. "On the other hand, I was holding your witch back when they all vanished, and her powers flared before she disappeared. I think she may be a good lead, given the circumstances."
"Not my witch," Stark muttered sourly. "I am claiming no responsibility for any of this."
"In typical Stark fashion," Loki commented with a benign smile, and Strange took a pointed step between them with a growling sigh.
"Must I separate you two like toddlers?"
"Speaking of toddlers...?"
Stephen bit back a groan as the self-appointed 'Star Lord' walked up to the trio, licking his lips in preparation to speak as he shot a final glance over his shoulder.
"The spider-dude? Just took his mask off. And he's, like, eight."
"Parker is fourteen," Tony corrected sharply.
"That's still a kid!" Star Lord cried, appalled. "I mean, Gamora and Drax and Rocket and I are terrible parents, God knows, but we didn't intentionally send Groot into active front line combat as a kid - we didn't let him battle with us till he was at least a sapling! Yondu didn't even send me into stuff he knew would be combat based until I could at least drink!"
"He's been doing this on his own for a couple months now, and he asked to come," Tony replied, indignant.
"And you let him?!"
"Yes! He's a skilled fighter, and-"
"Dude, your introduction speech to us was literally 'we are all probably going to die horribly.' How is that at all the kind of situation to bring in a little kid as backup?!"
"He's in high school-!"
"Gentlemen," Strange bit out, his patience wearing thin. "He's here, and there's no changing that, so we're going to make use of his presence - just like I'm about to do with the rest of you. If you all could manage to shut up for more than fifteen seconds-..."
"Um, I'm sorry, but who put you in charge?" Stark asked, crossing his arms.
"Yeah, no, I had questions about that too," Star Lord chimed in before Stephen could reply. "Because my crew will kind of listen to me, but that's about it. And Rocket doesn't listen to anyone. Ever."
Stephen sighed, closing his eyes.
This was starting to give him a massive headache...
"I am able to track Maximoff's magic, to an extent," he explained slowly, as if talking to a group of particularly dense children. "And given that all of you seem to have a history with one another, and Quill's crew are a group in and of themselves, it seems natural that an impartial party should take charge."
That, and he was probably the only one who had ever taken on a god like Thanos before and won.
Author's Note: If any readers are in the Fate fandom, go check out some of Pryotra's works on AO3.