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"Well, this is... orange."
Quill turned in a slow circle, scanning the horizon. Or where the horizon should have been. In every direction there was only orange sky, orange ground, an unbroken expanse of nothing stretching away as far as the eye could see. They weren't on Titan anymore.
He'd seen them come apart, flaking away like ash. He'd felt it himself. But now he was alone.
He moved hesitantly forward, his steps sending ripples across the shallow water at his feet. Like everything else, it was glassy and unbroken and stupid, stupid orange.
"Who made all the Tang?"
He whirled, reaching for his weapons and finding his holsters empty. Improvising, he struck what he hoped was an imposing Kung Fu pose.
But it was only a child, a little girl standing behind him - green skin, red hair, and a familiar expression of bemused judgement.
"You look just like-- holy shit, Gamora?"
The child took a step forward, tilting her head to stare up at him. Without a word, she offered her hand, leading him out across the water.
"So it's true, then. I'm dead." He shook his head wonderingly, stealing glances at down at the girl that she had been. "You're dead. Drax, Mantis... I saw them come apart, back on Knowhere. The Reality Stone. When Thanos was gone - after he took you - they came back together. I thought maybe, maybe this is like that, maybe we could..."
She shook her head. "Not this time. Thanos won."
"Which means we lost. But we don't lose."
"Don't we?" She stopped, dropping his hand and turning away. "You said it yourself, when we first met. We're losers."
"Taken out of context, but okay," he muttered sullenly. With a sigh, he stared down at his feet. "I tried. To do what you asked. I did. I was too late, but I tried."
Gamora made no response. When he looked up she was herself again, as he had last seen her, desperate and defiant, with tears in her eyes. Quill closed the distance between them, crushing her against his chest. If this was death - well, screw it.
After a time, she pulled away, looking up at him. "I know you did."
"You still should have gone right."
Gamora laughed despite herself, wiping at her cheeks. He traced an errant tear, pulling her into a kiss. Suddenly, though, he sensed that they weren't alone.
Turning, they found Drax and Mantis watching them. Mantis gave a little wave, but Drax remained perfectly still.
"Dude! Again? We can totally see you."
Quill swept a hand, taking in their surroundings. "Everything's orange. You kinda stand out."
Drax's brow furrowed curiously. "Why is it orange?"
"That's... that's actually a good question." He looked to Gamora.
She sighed, staring out across the water. "We're inside the Soul Stone."
"Inside the--?" Quill gaped.
Mantis closed her eyes, her antennae glowing as she reached out with her senses. After a moment, she shuddered and gave a slight nod, stepping closer to Drax. There was another figure behind her, sitting sullenly on the ground.
"I am Groot."
"Aw, man. You too?"
He looked up at Quill and folded his limbs. "I am Groot."
"Yeah, I know it's boring here."
"I am Groot."
"And I miss my Zune. But at least we still exist, right?" He looked around again. "Where's Rocket?"
"I am Groot."
"On Earth? Aw, I wanted to go to Earth."
"I am Groot."
"C'mon. That's just mean. I don't talk about your planet like that."
Groot returned to sulking, poking at the ground and sending ripples across the water.
"Inside the stone..." Drax was puzzling it out. He reached for his knives and, finding nothing, clenched his fists. "Then we can break it. From the inside. It will be easier."
"Still not how that works." Quill shook his head, taking Gamora's hand in his again. "So we're not dead?"
She winced, unable to meet his eyes. "You've been... unmade. Trapped here."
"Inside the Soul Stone."
"Can we get out?"
Gamora sighed, looking up at him at last. "Maybe. You, them."
"And you?" He dreaded the answer.
She only shuddered and buried herself in his arms.
Wanda pushed through the crowd of people, her eyes scanning faces familiar and unfamiliar. Some she had glimpsed on the battlefield, others were alien, like nothing she had ever seen before. The entire universe might be here - wherever here was - but there was no sign of Vision. The connection between them, the thrumming warmth of the stone that had created them both - of love - was gone, severed.
And she had done that. She had destroyed it, destroyed him. And, in the end, it had meant nothing.
Sinking to her knees, she let out a scream. The strangers around her seemed to stretch and vanish, leaving her alone in the vast, orange expanse. Curled in on herself, Wanda barely noticed.
"Hey. Uh, hi."
She glanced up, gasping through her tears. There was a boy staring down at her, a skinny teen in a red and blue suit, his face as damp and puffy as her own.
"Sorry. I just... Are you okay?"
"Right. Yeah. Me neither." He held out his hand. "I'm Peter."
After a moment's hesitation, she allowed him to pull her to her feet. "Wanda."
"You're looking for someone? I thought Mister Stark might be here, but--"
"Stark." Her voice was cold. "You know Tony Stark?"
"Yeah. He made me this suit. And then he made me an Avenger." There was wonder in his voice, but his expression was troubled. "We were fighting Thanos - on, like, another planet - but I think... I think I died."
"You're not dead." A voice rang out behind them, as Strange came gliding toward them across the nothingness.
"Doc, hey." Peter waved. "Wait... we're not dead?"
The older man came to a halt, offering a hand to Wanda. "Doctor Stephen Strange."
"Wanda Maximoff." Something passed between them as she shook his hand, the Doctor's expression curious and appraising.
"What... are you?"
"What are you?" She retorted.
"He's a wizard," Peter replied helpfully.
Strange sighed, exasperated.
"A wizard who thinks we aren't dead." Wanda looked around them. "I feel dead."
Peter shuddered. "Me too."
"That you feel anything at all would indicate otherwise." Strange paced, his feet hovering just above the orange water. "I am familiar with alternate dimensions, pocket universes. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say we've become trapped in a reality beyond our own."
"There are others here. Other people. I saw them."
He nodded. "It seems Thanos succeeded. Half the population of the universe, displaced."
Wanda looked away. "Then the dead, the ones who died before, they’re..."
She sagged. Peter lay a steadying hand on her arm, but she gently shook him off. "We tried to stop him. The... final stone, I destroyed it. But it didn't matter. Thanos made time move backwards, brought him back. And then he took it." At the memory, she pinched shut her eyes.
"Him?" Peter asked.
Strange ignored him. "You destroyed an Infinity Stone?"
"Impressive," he mused. "But the Time Stone was already in his possession. With it, what's done can be undone."
"Which would be really useful right now," Peter interjected. "If you hadn't given it to him."
Strange stared down at him, unmoved. "In all the possible futures, there is one - one - in which we defeat Thanos. I have a plan."
Wanda looked up eagerly. "What plan?"
"In a word? Stark."
"Tony Stark?" She laughed, loud and long and bitter. "We are doomed."
"Where the hell are we?" Bucky stared out across the orange expanse.
"Definitely not Wakanda." Beside him, Sam patted at his chest, marveling to find himself intact. "Thought I was dead there for a minute."
"So this is - what? - Heaven?"
"You really think you'd be here if this was Heaven?"
Sam clapped Bucky on the shoulder, his expression softening. "Sorry. It's just... y'know."
"Weird, yeah." He shook his head. "I've died before. Didn't feel like this."
"I have seen the Great Veldt, the ancestral plane. This is not it." T'Challa came toward them across the nothingness, his hands clasped behind his back.
Sam arched a brow. "The what?"
"The home of our ancestors. The heart-shaped herb allows us to commune with them, to visit - briefly - the land of the dead."
"Uh huh. Must be some herb."
Bucky ignored Sam's smirk. "So then where are we?"
T'Challa shook his head. "I do not know."
"Anyone else remember disintegrating?" When the others nodded, Sam sighed. "What about the others? Steve?"
"He was okay," Bucky shrugged. "I think."
"Good to know some of us made it." Nick Fury joined them, appearing out of the vast, orange expanse with Maria Hill at his side.
Sam gaped at them. "It’s ‘us’ again, huh? Where the hell have you been?"
"Around." Fury looked to the others. "Your Highness. Barnes. Hope you're not gonna shoot me this time."
Bucky winced. "Yeah, I--"
"Not much fear of that if we're already dead," Hill interrupted, turning to T'Challa. "What's the situation in Wakanda?"
"The invaders breached our barriers. We held for a time, until Thanos himself entered the field."
"He's the genocidal alien who's been laying waste to the universe," Sam supplied. "Y'know, since you all have been out of the loop."
Bucky nudged him and he subsided. "Wakanda's tech, their fighters, we threw everything we had at him. But once Thanos had all the stones..."
"His intention was to reshape the universe," T'Challa finished for him. "To wipe out half its population with a snap of his fingers."
"Guess we drew the short straw," Sam muttered.
Fury scowled. "So you're saying we lost? It's over?"
T'Challa smiled, his eyes drawn to the horizon. Wherever this was that they had found themselves, the vast expanse was no longer empty. They were gathered there, appearing in ones and twos - the Dora Milaje, Wakandan warriors, men and women and children from around the globe, strange and startling peoples from other worlds. Some looked dazed, others angry, but they were all here, all real. They were not dead yet.
The King surveyed his army. "Oh, no. It is not over."