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Take These Broken Shards (I’m bleeding out)

Chapter Text

NOW

 

Pain in his stomach and chest; throbbing, stabbing pain.

 

Pain in his back, his arms, like they’d been ripped from him, muscles torn apart.

 

Pain all over, there was no part of him that didn’t hurt. It felt like he’d slammed into solid concrete, like he’d been shot, stabbed, torn apart. Aunt May, it hurts, make it stop, please make it stop!

 

Dizziness filled his mind, nausea in his belly. He was spinning, tumbling, and turning out of control, being flung in every direction. Was that water? Was he underwater? Karen, help. Help me! he cried out in his mind, but he couldn’t speak the words.

 

Darkness all around him. Why is it so dark? Why do his lungs feel so tight, like he can’t even take a breath?

 

Cold. He was so very, very cold. He couldn’t think for how cold it was. Couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t- couldn’t stay- awake…

 

The loud rushing noise in his ears began to fade. Everything he was feeling began to fade. That was nice. He was so sore, so tired. A nap would be nice.

 

His eyelids grew too heavy to keep open anymore. Oblivion rose up and pulled him into its grasp.

 

 

I’m sorry Mr Star-…

 

 

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3.30am, Saturday, 2nd December 2017

 

Tony Stark groaned, and pulled a pillow over his head. “Friday turn the alarm off dammit!” The AI complied, and he sighed in relief. Why was his alarm going off? He was sure he’d only been asleep a short while, and it was Saturday, so he didn’t have to work today. Pepper muttered sleepily beside him, snuggling into the covers.

A very loud, extremely annoying horn sound blared through the ceiling speakers. The bedroom lights flashed on, then off, then on again, and kept flashing as the noise continued. Blarp blarp - blarp blarp.

Tony’s eyes flew open, and he rolled out of bed as he realised that was the emergency Avengers alarm. Pepper did the same on her side.

Racing down the hall, Tony noted that the alarm and flashing lights were all over the compound and that the rest of the Avengers team were on their way to the conference room as well. Most were in their pyjamas, like he was. Bucky was the only one fully dressed.

As soon as the team were all present, Friday started the large television screen on the end wall, filled with the headline

Spider-Man Dead?

Masked vigilante shot, missing in river

Gasps and various other exclamations were audible around the room.

“Friday contact Karen,” Tony ordered tersely.

“I am unable to contact Karen, or Peter,” the AI replied, sounding apologetic. “Playing news report now.” The video on the screen before them began playing.

“J. Jonah Jameson here for the Daily Bugle, reporting live from the shores of East River in Queens. You can see behind me the Triborough Bridge where Spider-Man fought a gang of armed criminals only a short time ago. The events began when the NYPD were called out in pursuit of an armoured security truck that the group had hijacked on its way from a nearby Bank of America branch. Spider-Man joined the chase as it reached the bridge. Viewers will know that I am no fan of the masked menace but in this instance it’s clear, without Spider-Man there our beloved Police Captain would now be dead. Spider-Man saved his life when the police car he was in was forced off the side of the bridge by the driver of the hijacked armoured truck. Watch this footage with us.”

A shaky, badly lit amateur phone video begins, with a voice over from Jameson.

“At first you can only hear the many police sirens from the pursuit. The person who captured this footage was in the river side park below and off to the side of the bridge. What someone was doing in a park at 3am I have no idea, but that’s their own business. Now, we hear the screeching of brakes and the clash of metal on metal, and there – you can see the captain’s police car going over the side of the bridge. It rips through the safety railings and starts to fall – but there! Spider-Man’s webs catch the back of it, and there, there he is securing the car to the underside of the bridge. You can see him helping the captain out of his door and taking him back up to the bridge using more webs.”

The news report changes back to Jameson, standing on the bridge with police cars circled behind him, lights flashing. The armoured truck can be seen off to the side, protruding through the railings on the edge of the bridge, front wheels hanging out over the river. Police and other emergency service personnel stand along the side of the bridge, shining torches down into the river.

“We go now to more video footage from witnesses on the bridge at the time. In this, you can see that as Spider-Man swung the captain back up onto the bridge, the criminals opened fire at them both. Spider-Man placed his own body in front of the captain, and it looks like he was hit by at least one bullet before the police around them began to return fire. The criminals then attempt to ram their way through the police blockage and the truck swerves out of control before slamming into the side rails of the bridge itself. As it bursts through the railings, Spider-Man flips onto the front of the truck and shoots webs out on both sides, stopping the truck from leaving the bridge and falling into the river below.”

The footage cuts out for a moment, and Jameson reappears, looking solemn.

“I warn viewers that this next footage is disturbing. You may wish to look away,”

He paused, then continued his narration as the video began playing once more. None of the Avengers looked away.

“Spider-Man is standing on the front bonnet of the armoured vehicle, his feet braced against the grill. He’s holding the truck in place with webs from both of his outstretched arms. He appears to be struggling to hold it and you can clearly see blood visible on his abdomen from where he was shot protecting the police captain moments before. Now gunshots are heard and Spider-Man tries to dodge, but the truck slides forward as he does. He shoots more webs out to hold the truck in place and we can hear him yelling “I’m trying to save you!” at the criminals but they keep firing. Ahhh, no, he’s shot, Spider-Man is shot, once, twice I think and he’s falling, Spider-Man is falling. He flips in mid-air but hits the torn and twisted remains of the safety railing, oh god did it impale him? I don’t know, I can’t tell, and there, oh my god he’s gone, Spider-Man has fallen into Hell’s Gate in the East River.”

The news report switches back to Jameson, looking sombrely once more at the camera.

“There you have it folks. Is Spider-Man dead? No-one knows. The Water Police and Harbour Patrol have been called out to search for him, and you can see police helicopters behind me searching with their spotlights. We will stay here at the scene to bring you all the news as it happens. For now, I’m J. Jonah Jameson for the Daily Bugle, the first to bring you this dramatic breaking news.”

Tony swallowed, his hands shaking slightly. Peter couldn’t be dead, could he? Not Peter. Anyone but Peter. Struggling to draw in breath, Tony could feel his heart pounding. He shook himself mentally. This was no time for a panic attack. Peter needs me.

“Friday, track Peter’s suit, and his phone,” he directed. “Give me everything you have.”

“Karen’s last signal was at 3.07am. Biometric readings showed Peter had been shot three times and was falling. The signal cuts off then. Peter’s phone is unavailable and I cannot trace it’s signal.”

“Let’s go,” Tony said curtly. The rest of the team needed no further instructions, running to get suited up and on their way. Tony split from the group and simply headed for the closest window once he was in his suit. He blasted off into the sky, Rhodey right behind him, as the rest of the Avengers sprinted to the Quin Jet.

As he flew towards the last known location of Spider-Man, Tony tried to control the heart clenching fear that threatened to overwhelm him. Peter had grown distant recently, spending more time at home than at the compound. Tony had missed him more than he’d been ready to admit. They’d had a huge fight the night before, and Peter had left the compound. Now he was missing, possibly dead. Tony shuddered inside the suit, and poured more power into his flight speed.

I’m coming Peter. Hang in there. I’m coming.

 

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Chapter Text

 

 

(then)

 

 

June, 2017

“Hey Peter! I’m just calling to see if you’ll be staying at the compound this weekend?” Tony said cheerily into his phone, trying to hide the hopeful tone in his voice.

“I can’t Mr Stark. I’ve got exams, and assignments,” Peter voice came back.

“Maybe next weekend…” his voice trailed off, then returned.

“I’ve got to go Mr Stark. Bye.” The dial tone sounded in Tony’s ear and he sighed with disappointment.

Peter was avoiding him and he didn’t know why. He hadn’t been to the compound in – had it been a fortnight already? Tony was shocked as he confirmed that with Friday. He was right, it had been over two weeks since Peter had been there.

“Pepper, do you think I’ve done something to upset Peter?” Tony asked worriedly.

“Probably. You can be very annoying sometimes,” Pepper answered, a slight smile on her lips as she teased him.

“But Peter is very forgiving. He’ll come back, just give him time.”

“It’s already been two weeks since he was here last! That’s not like him.” Tony told her, unable to articulate his vague feelings of concern.

“Why don’t you ring May then? Maybe she knows what going on.”

Tony brightened at Pepper’s suggestion, planting a quick kiss on her cheek in thanks as he reached for his phone again.

“Hi May, it’s Tony.” Tony’s body language reflected his stress as he spoke to May. He paced up and down in the living area of his and Pepper’s part of the compound, one hand absentmindedly rubbing his chest; slowing and then finally stopping as their conversation ended. His shoulders slumped, and he sighed with his whole body, rubbing his hand down the side of his face.

“May says Peter really wants to focus on his schoolwork right now. That it’s a very mature decision and I shouldn’t bother him.”

“Then perhaps you should listen to her,” Pepper said gently, her look sympathetic.

Tony just huffed in response, and stalked off to his lab.

 

 

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Peter had been acting strange for weeks now. Distant, even moody. Staying away from the compound. When asked, he said it was because of exams, or assignments. He was staying at home to study. Sometimes he said he was too tired from his Spider-Man patrols, and that home was closer than the compound after a long night. Other times he said he had plans with Ned, or MJ. They seemed to be doing a lot of practises for their Academic Decathalon team.

When Tony pushed him to come the last time, Peter had snapped at him, shocking Tony.

“Just leave me alone!” The shout echoed through Tony’s head at night when sleep refused to come.

“I can’t spend every second up there with you, I have a life you know!”

The words had hurt more than Tony wanted to admit, even to himself.

Peter had been coming to the Compound at least one afternoon every week since Tony had realised he needed to be more hands on with the young hero, and staying there every other weekend. Tony had thought that Peter liked working with him in the lab, tinkering with improvements to the Iron Man or Spider-Man suits, even repairing or upgrading the rest of the Avengers gear at times. They trained together, Tony giving him lessons on fighting, and strategy. Sometimes they even patrolled together, Tony staying overhead and giving Peter tips, mentoring Spider-Man as well as Peter Parker.

Peter met Rhodey, then Natasha, who quickly worked out who he really was. Later he met Vision, and then T’Challa during one of his visits to work on amendments to the Sokovia Accords. None of them were particularly happy about Peter’s age and that Tony had taken him to the battle in Berlin, but after getting to know him they realised that he had already been working as a superhero on his own anyway. Each took the time to get to know him, and helped with his training, working with him in their own particular areas of expertise.

Peter’s visits had gradually become one of the highlights of Tony’s life, to his surprise.

He'd been broken after the fight with Captain America, hurt and distrusting of everyone. But Peter brought light back into his life. He was always so optimistic and cheerful. He’d worn away at Tony’s walls bit by bit, and now Tony couldn’t imagine his life without Peter in it.

When the broken team managed to resolve their differences enough to come back together after the ‘Civil War’ as the media liked to call it, it was Peter who’d helped them all learn to get along again as they struggled to rebuild their broken trust.

Peter had been there when Captain America and his team had returned from their exile, and in some cases imprisonment. It was only a couple of months after Peter’s big fight with the Vulture when the Rogues had all arrived back at the compound. Tony remembered the day vividly.

Steve, Bucky, Sam, Wanda, Clint and Scott had all been standing awkwardly in the communal living area of the compound. Tony had retreated behind the kitchen bench, needing something physical between him and Steve. Everyone was dressed casually, in everyday wear. Not a weapon in sight.

Rhodey and Natasha were standing off to one side, while Vision crossed the gap to touch Wanda’s face gently as she smiled shyly up at him. T’Challa wasn’t there, having his own kingdom to run, and Bruce was down in his own lab. He’d returned from wherever he’d been but said he needed to stay out of this, in order to avoid hulking out from the stress. No-one had objected to that. 

The two groups had been standing like that for a while, not really knowing how to be around each other anymore. Some attempts at conversation had been made, stopping and starting hesitantly as everyone fumbled their way around safe topics and tried to avoid sensitive ones.

An almost audible sigh of relief had passed through the room when the elevator door pinged open and a short teenager came out of it, curly brown hair messily sticking out his head and his arms full of books.

“Hey Mr Stark, I had to bring all my books, I’ve got sooo much homework to do this weekend! Have you got anything to eat? I’m starving….” the boys voice trailed off as he realised that the room was full of Avengers.

“Ohmygoditstheavengers, itsALLoftheavengersinthesameroom ohmygodohmygodohmygod!” he’d squeaked, eyes widening in shock.

“Over here Peter,” Tony called from his spot behind the kitchen bench, wanting Peter safe beside him.

He still had nightmares about the fight in Berlin, and didn’t think he’d ever forget seeing Peter knocked to the ground, moaning in pain. He knew Ant-Man hadn’t deliberately hit Peter, but the thought of it still sent chills down his spine.

Peter ignored him. Mouth open and starry eyed with awe, he dumped his books and backpack on the dining table in a haphazard pile and went right up to Steve, reaching out his hand to shake Steve’s.

Tony spoke quietly into his watch. “Friday, put this up on a screen for Banner.”

“Hi Mr Steven Rogers Captain America sir, it’s so nice to finally meet you in person at last. Have you and Mr Stark made up? I’m an idiot, of course you have or you wouldn’t be here. Me and Ned had a big fight last year but it was nothing like your fight, that was really full on wasn’t it. I’m so glad you’re back here though, the Avengers are a team and should all be together. You guys are like family right!”

Steve blinked at the onslaught of words as his hand was shaken up and down rapidly. He opened his mouth to reply but Peter was already moving on to Sam and Bucky, who’d moved up to stand protectively beside Steve.

“Oh wow you’re Bucky Barnes and you’re the Falcon! Mr Barnes sir your metal arm is the coolest thing ever. Is it magnetic? Does your phone stick to it? Can I do some experiments on it sometime? Oh hey it’s different, the star is gone, who did the upgrade for you, was it His Highness Mr T’Challa? They have really cool tech in Wakanda, I can’t wait to go there someday. Mr Falcon your wings are super cool too. I like the way you can fold them up to do flips and tucks, that must really help when you don’t have a lot of room to move, and then you can snap them open and stop your fall, that’s awesome. I sure could use something like that. And your little birdy thingy is neat how it does all the things for you but like, stealthily. Wow, this is so cool!”

Bucky and Sam had both blinked in an unconscious echo of Steve’s response to the friendly teenager shaking their hands. They too had no chance to reply before he’d moved on. The tense mood in the room had perceptibly lightened as the teenager rambled on and on to each of them.

“Ohhh you’re the magic lady aren’t you! I’m sorry I don’t know your name ma’am but it’s nice to meet you too! I like how you do that glowy thing with your hands and eyes and you just like lift stuff up and whoosh it around! Jrrrzzoum, jrrrzzoum!”

Wanda looked a little taken aback but smiled slightly as the boy waved his hands around excitedly to show the movements he was talking about as he continued gushing words.

“Your magic is like the most awesome-est thing ever. How does it even work? Is it like super advanced science that we don’t understand yet? My friend MJ is just going to die when she finds out I met you, she thinks you are bad ass. She totally stans you and Ms Romanov too. Hi Mr Vision sir, nice to see you again!”

Turning to the last two he hadn’t yet greeted, the boy paused to take a breath, to everyone’s relief. Smiles of amusement were on everyone’s faces now.

“Oh Mr Hawkeye sir, wow it’s awesome to meet you for real at last! It’s so impressive the way you can account for all the variables when you shoot arrows in battle and everything is moving so quickly. How do you calculate the effect the different masses of your arrows have? Cos you have like your regular arrows, grappling hook arrows, exploding arrows, and I don’t even know what other types you have but I’m sure you have lots. Having to account for the different masses, and the constantly changing angles that you’re firing from, wind resistance and so many other variables all while everything else is going on in a fight, and you’re like running and climbing and dodging enemy fire at the same time. That is like, super hard man, I know. And you like, never, ever miss, do you! That’s amazing, it’s just so freaking impressive!”

Clint’s mouth dropped open as the boy shook his hand up and down repeatedly as he gushed over how smart he thought Clint was. Tony groaned silently to himself. Of course Peter would fanboy over Barton of all people.

Peter was moving on again though, coming to Scott Lang, who was standing slightly behind the others as if expecting to be overlooked like he usually was. It was Peter whose mouth fell open this time, as he saw Scott standing there.

“Oh wow, Mr Lang sir, you’re the Ant Man! I did a paper on Quantum Physics last month inspired by you! What’s it like in the Quantum Realm? You get to work with the source code of reality at that level, like, you could totally rewrite the laws of physics. You can move within space and time in ways that no-one else can. Quantum physics is like, the foundation of physical reality! You could engineer reality to be different than before, and not just ideas of space and time but things that we haven't even considered as human beings yet. How does your head not explode just thinking of all the possibilities!! And you look so awesome when you’re all like, super huge, I guess it’s not feasible for you to stay that way very long because of the extra energy you’d need to use but oh man it just looks so super cool!”

A look of surprise crossed Scott’s face while Peter spoke, followed by his eyes lighting up as he grinned back at the short boy in front of him, shaking his hand up and down as he spoke in a rush just as he had with everyone else. Peter finally finished his almost non-stop speaking and was looking around at everyone, beaming. Smiles could be seen on everyone’s faces as they looked back at this friendly young man.

“Alright Lassie time to calm down. Come and eat your toasted sandwich,” Tony told Peter as he placed a plate on the kitchen bench. While Peter had been meeting the team, Tony had been busy creating a triple layered ham and cheese sandwich with extra cheese, then toasting it in a sandwich press before cutting it into two triangles. Peter’s eyes widened with pleasure as he wasted no time, hopping up to sit cross legged on the kitchen bench, plate in his lap and munching into his after-school snack.

“Phanks Mr Stark!” he said happily, speaking around his full mouth.

“Shoes!” Tony told him in exasperation.

“Whoops sorry!” Peter replied, kicking his shoes off his feet. He took another mouthful as they clunked down onto the floor in front of the bench. Tony rolled his eyes, chuckled, and ruffled Peter’s hair in affection, suddenly realising half the room was staring at them in silence.

“Tony, who is this?” Steve asked tentatively.

“Do you have a son we didn’t know about?” Clint asked at the same time.

“You didn’t name your kid Lassie, did you?” Sam said.

Tony smiled a little, relaxing now that Peter was beside him. “His name is Peter Parker, and he’s my personal intern,” he told the rest of the team.

Peter waved at them all, apparently choosing not to speak this time with his mouth still full of food. He swallowed mightily, then nudged Tony with his elbow, whispering loudly.

“What about, you know. The other thing?” Everyone heard what he said easily.

Tony looked at Peter. “That’s up to you,” he told him.

Peter looked back and shrugged. “They’re going to have to know sooner or later, right?” to which Tony nodded.

“Know what?” Steve asked, managing to look both confused and suspicious at the same time somehow.

“I live in Queens,” Peter told him. The others looked confused while Steve narrowed his eyes.

“Tony you didn’t,” he started, disapprovingly, only to be cut off by Peter.

“He did, and I’m okay with it. He needed help and you- well you know what happened. You both made mistakes and did dumb things and you are both adults who need to just grow up and get over it. Now shake hands and say you’re sorry.”

The erstwhile members of Team Cap still looked confused, while Tony and Steve both appeared to be taken aback with this abrupt order. They didn’t move.

“Right. You asked for this,” Peter informed them. He then jumped off the bench into the middle of the two men, shot webbing into their chests from each hand, and pulled them together as he jumped straight up onto the ceiling out of the way. Tony and Steve were stuck together, chest to chest as Peter crouched upside down on the ceiling above them.

“Yeah so, hi everyone, I’m Spider-Man by the way!” he told the rest of the room, waving. Shocked silence was the only response from the newcomers, while Natasha was making muffled snorting noises from behind the hand she was holding over her mouth.

“Peter get us out of this!” Tony called up. His eyes were wide and nostrils flared, starting to panic a little at Steve’s close proximity.

“Nope. You have to hug each other now since you wouldn’t shake hands,” Peter answered smugly. “Aunt May always makes me and Ned hug it out when we don’t want to apologise after a fight.”

“Fine,” Tony growled, raising his arms and patting Steve on the back once. “There, we hugged. Happy now?”

“Nope. Aunt May says it has to last at least twenty seconds for maximum hug efficiency. It takes at least that long for your brain to release oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. And I think you guys really, really need those feel-good feelings right now.” Peter replied while crawling across the ceiling, still upside down, before flipping back down onto his spot on the kitchen bench and continuing to eat his sandwich.

Tony heaved a deep sigh of resigned acceptance. If it was anyone else saying this, he’d punch them. But Peter…. Peter was the best thing in his life, and there was almost nothing he wouldn’t do for Peter.

He circled his arms around Steve again. Steve moved slowly, cautiously, and raised his arms as well, placing them around Tony gently. They stood there, unmoving, as the rest of the room watched in silence. To his surprise, Tony really did begin to feel less tense, more relaxed. He sighed, and felt Steve’s body relax in response. It actually felt… nice. Huh.

“I am sorry Tony,” Steve murmured into his ear. Tony sighed again, and tilted his forehead down so that it was resting on Steve’s shoulder.

“I am too Steve,” he replied, eyes shut as he admitted it. A moment later, Tony opened his eyes and saw Natasha smiling at him softly, Rhodey next to her wiping his eye.

“Alright that’s enough!” Tony muttered in embarrassment, trying to disengage from Steve’s chest. The webbing still held them together. “Peter!”

Steve chuckled quietly, and stood still as Peter bounced over with his dissolving spray and disentangled them. Tony grabbed Peter’s shoulders and shook him a little, smiling sheepishly at the boy, then suddenly lifted him and shoved him back onto Steve’s chest where there was still webbing left.

“Eep!” Peter yelped, stuck with his back to Steve’s chest, feet off the floor and arms waving wildly as he laughed. Everyone else burst out laughing as well. It was almost as if the fight between them all had never happened at all.

Tony smiled. Perhaps things would be alright now after all. Thank God for Peter.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

NOW

 

Saturday, 2nd December 2017

“Friday, configure the S.I. Combat Drones to search for Peter’s bo- to search underwater,” Tony cut the thought of searching for Peter’s body off before it could fully form as he flew towards the East River area of Queens. Peter was alive. He had to be.  

“Calculate how many drones we’d need to cover the width and depth of the river in a search pattern formation. I don’t want a single inch missed. Get them here as fast as you can.”

“Yes boss,” Friday replied calmly.

Tony landed with a thump amidst the crowd of police and other emergency services personnel at the Queens end of the bridge, Rhodey right behind him. Barricades on both ends blocked the bridge off from traffic while the investigations into the pre-dawn events were underway.

“Captain, the Avengers are coming to help with the search for Spider-man,” Tony called, striding towards the area that the search was being coordinated from as his helmet retracted.

“I need an update on what’s been done so far, and can we clear an area for our jet to land on the road there please.”

Friday relayed the information to the rest of the Avengers while Tony listened to the police captain. They came to join him as soon as the jet had landed, and a planning meeting got underway. Tony had only just informed the police about the drones when they appeared, multiple lines of them flying in formation in the sky like a linked net as they undulated down from the S.I. satellite in orbit above.

Everyone in the area stopped to watch the spectacle. The drones began lining up, side by side just across the water’s surface, covering the river from bank to bank. They effortlessly flew around any boats on the surface as they formed their configuration, then dipped under them. As the line across the river was forming, so to were vertical lines, stacking on top of one another until a huge grid had formed. Once the line stretched all the way across the river, the whole grid began dropping down into the water. Their lights could be seen beneath, strobing the darkness below as they began their slow search pattern. 

Tony projected a hologram from his arm to show what the drones were doing underwater. Row upon rows of them could be seen, so close together there was less than half an inch between them. They formed a line across the bottom of the river, then the grid above rose all the way up to just below the surface. They were moving slowly forward, scanning as they went.

Satisfied, Tony called the Avengers to him, and began giving instructions.

“Alright. We’ll start at the bridge and follow the tidal current, it’s an ebb tide right now so we’re heading south and west from here. Our flyers will split into pairs and search both sides of the riverbank from the air. Rhodey, you’re with me, Wilson you and Vision on the other side. Rogers, Romanov, you search the south bank by foot, Barnes you and Maximoff take the north bank. Take as many emergency personnel as you need. Ah, if that’s alright with you Captain?” Tony paused while the police captain nodded, then continued.

“Barton, get up high and do your thing. Bruce, stay with the jet. Run projections on how far Spider-man might have been washed downstream and let us know.  I also need you to keep track of the drone’s search. Alert us the second they find anything, you hear me. I want to know the very second he’s found. Everyone good?”

“How far down river do we search?” Rhodey asked quietly.

“As far as we have to,” Tony replied authoritatively, no doubt in his mind. They would find Peter. He wouldn’t accept any other result.

“Let’s go,” Tony ordered, his helmet closing as he took off into the air without delay.

Dawn broke over the city a few hours later, as the search continued. Citizens woke to hear the news of Spider-man’s disappearance and possible death being broadcast on all news channels and social media; and the people of the city reacted.

It began in Queens, naturally enough. People began to gather at the river’s edge, to help with the search. Those with their own boats, dinghies, and other watercraft swarmed onto the water up and down the East River. Others joined the search along the banks – and soon it had spread to almost all sections of the entire river system in all of New York. There were people searching everywhere for Spider-man. They were even searching as far down as the Upper Bay, and even in the Hudson River.

Tony didn’t tell them to stop, even though it was unlikely he'd be that far away. The more people looking for Spider-man the sooner he’d be found.

By mid-morning, a shrine had appeared in Queens at the river side closest to the bridge where Spider-man had fallen. People lit candles and menorahs, placed flowers, crosses and statues of saints or other holy figures from various religions. Hand-written notes and letters appeared, and Spider-man figures were scattered throughout the items. Prayers for his safety were spoken in several languages, and from different religions.

Those interviewed by the news media spoke of how Spider-man always helped everyone, and never discriminated by religion or race. He simply helped those who needed it.

Tony sent Happy to May and Peter’s flat, and he kept her there, at home, out of sight. She was distraught, frantic to do something, anything to help. Ned arrived and helped Happy convince May that they should all stay there, at Peter’s home. He might make his own way there and need help.

They knew it was best that they stay there, no matter how much they wanted to be out helping the search. They couldn’t risk letting Spider-man’s secret identity being known through their temporary heart ache. Reluctantly, May and Ned stayed home.

Social media lit up as the hashtag #findSpiderMan went viral. Hundreds of tributes and stories were posted on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and then thousands. It seemed like everyone in the city had a story about how Spider-man had saved them or helped them in some way. From stopping muggers, to helping little old ladies across the street, if someone needed help in some way, Spider-man had been there.

A group of cat owners gathered in the park near the shrine. “Spider-Man Loves Cats” blazoned on their shirts in red and blue letters. When interviewed, each told a touching story of Spider-Man rescuing their cat. There were dog and bird owners there as well, and one person even had a baby alligator that Spider-man had rescued. They had their own Facebook group and hold regular Spider-man fan meetings, according to the page’s information.

The Avengers returned to the base of operations at midday to regroup. Tony hadn’t wanted to stop but was eventually convinced by the rest that he needed to take a break, however short. As they gathered, a food truck nearby sent over stacks of sandwiches for them. The truck had Delmar’s Mobile Deli & Grill painted across the top of it.

“On the house for the Avengers,” the man running it told them.

“All proceeds today are going to New York Foster System in Spider-man’s honor. Spider-man loves those kids, he visits orphanages and foster homes whenever he can. He even helps them with their homework. Please find him for us all,” he finished, wiping his eyes as he turned away.

“We need him.”

Tony’s own eyes watered as he took a bite, quickly turning away from the rest of the team. It tasted like dust in his mouth, but he forced himself to eat. Fainting from lack of food wouldn’t help Peter.

As the team ate, music echoed out over the river. One lone violinist stood playing a song at the start of the bridge nearby. It was a slow, haunting song, almost a dirge. Moments later a cello joined him. They played the song through once, then began again, a little faster this time, with a vocalist accompanying them.

Spiderman, Spiderman
Does whatever a spider can
Spins a web, any size
Catches thieves just like flies

Look out!
Here comes the Spiderman”

“What the hell?” Tony asked no-one in particular. The rest of the team came to stand next to him, listening in wonder.

“It’s Spidey’s theme song,” one of the police officers told them.

“One of the local school bands made it after he rescued a bus load of their kids. It’s pretty popular here in Queens.”

“Spider-man has a theme song?” Clint asked in confusion. “Do we have a theme song?”

“Err, I don’t know,” the policeman told them, embarrassed.

“Spidey’s pretty popular around here. He’s helped a lot of people. I sure hope we find him soon.”

Spiderman, Spiderman
Friendly neighbourhood Spiderman
Wealth and fame?
He's ignored
Action is his reward
Look out!
Here comes the Spiderman”

“I knew P- I mean Spider-man did a lot of patrolling all the time,” Steve spoke quietly.

“I had no idea he’d helped so many people. Look at them all down there.” He gestured to the people holding vigil at the impromptu shrine, the cat group, other random weirdos, and all the other people gathered to help with the search. Many were wearing Spider-man t-shirts or costumes.

“They love him,” Natasha said. “They really, really love him.” The group nodded in agreement and wonder.

“We have to find him.” Rhodey and Bucky spoke resolutely at the same time. The rest just nodded again.

Tony suddenly swore and stormed down into the park. By the time Natasha and Steve had caught up to him, he was confronting a sketch artist who had sketches of Spider-man propped around him on display.

“Are you actually trying to profit from this?” Tony demanded the artist, fists clenched and visibly shaking in anger. He was furious. The man puts his hands up in front of him, ink covered fingers spread apart.

“No way friend. I’m giving them away to anyone who wants one. If people want to donate money they can, I’m giving it all to the soup kitchen that Spider-man helps out at sometimes.”

“Spider-man helps at a soup kitchen?” Tony asked in sudden bewilderment, surprised at the generosity of the artist and his knowledge of Spider-man’s activities.

“Yeah dude, he’s there almost every week, on different nights I guess depending on what else he’s got going on. He’s pretty reliable though. Hey, do you want this one?” the guy said, handing Tony a sketch.

Taking the paper, Tony looked at the drawing of Spider-man. It showed him slinging with a web through the sky, tall city buildings around him. He’s holding a cat under one arm and has a ridiculously wide grin across his masked face. ‘World’s Friendliest Superhero’ was scrawled across the top, while small figures on the ground below can be seen waving up at him.

Tony’s hand started to shake, and Nat took him arm, leading him away quietly.

“Did you know he was doing that?” she asked Tony.

“No. No I didn’t” Tony replied. “He never mentioned it.”

Steve caught up to them a few moments later.

“That’s not all he’s been doing. That group of people over there were just telling me how Spider-man comes and makes hammocks with his webs for the homeless people in all the parks at night. They last the night and are warmer in winter than the ground.”

Something else Peter had been doing that Tony hadn’t known about. He shook his head in surprise. Come on Peter, where are you?

They were back at the base of operations area by then, and Natasha and Steve told the rest of the team what they’d learned. Tony took the drawing into the quin jet and put it carefully in a safe place, then spun around and hurried back out.

“Let’s get back to it. P- Spider-man needs us,” he said tersely. The group nodded, determined to find their missing member at all costs, and spilt up to continue searching their areas.

The afternoon slowly wore away as the Avengers and the people of the city continued searching.

Hope surged through Tony when Bruce reported over their comm system that the underwater drone search had found Spider-man’s mask. It was on the bottom of the river just off Mill Rock Island, at the junction between East River and Harlem River.

“Tony, according to the algorithm, and factoring in the location of his mask, the most likely place for Spider-man to wash ashore would be at Halletts Point. I suggest you start searching buildings in that area. If P- Spider-man came ashore then, injured as he was, he’d probably find somewhere to get out of sight,” Bruce said worriedly, his voice unlike his customary calm manner.

“Wanda, can you get over there and see if you can pick anything up?” Tony asked he began to fly in that direction.

“Everyone else, let’s gather there as well and work out a new search grid for that area.” Verbal affirmation came from all the team members.

A short time later, Wanda was hovering cross legged in the air a few feet above the ground, her magical red energy visible around her as she searched for psychic traces of Peter at Halletts Point. Tony and the rest of the Avengers stood nearby, a holographic map of the neighbourhood projected between them by Friday as they divided it up into search grids.

“Pe- Spider-man DID come ashore here!” Wanda suddenly announced excitedly.

“I’m picking up very strong emanations of pain, and fear,” she added in a worried tone.

“He feels very confused, very, very cold, and his thoughts aren’t making a whole lot of sense. I’ll see if I can project it to you all.”

She frowned in concentration, and suddenly a strong wave psychic energy washed over them all. Tony staggered slightly as the wave of emotions hit him, and Rhodey, standing nearby, reached out to brace him in support.

Together, they all felt what Peter had as he staggered ashore in the dark. Dangerously cold, acutely hurt, alone and scared in the darkness before dawn.

“My mask, I’ve lost my mask. Oh god if anyone sees me they’ll know who I am. Karen call Mr Stark! Karen? She must have been damaged, my suit’s all ripped apart. Where’s my phone, oh no no no it’s wet. What’ll I do? I need to hide. I’m so cold. Oh god it hurts. I’m so tired. Gotta find somewhere to hide. So tired. Am I dying? I can’t feel my… I can’t….”

The disjointed spiel of thoughts faded out, then one last thought floated through their minds-

“at least Skip won’t hurt me anymore…”

The feelings and emotions faded away, leaving Tony feeling hollow inside. Hope had bloomed within him upon learning that Peter hadn’t drowned in the river, but he was badly hurt, scared and hiding.

And who was Skip, how had he been hurting Peter? Tony wondered with fear and anger, his protective instincts roused by that last, despairing thought of Peter’s.

“Tony, I’m picking up more wet, cold sensations, more darkness,” Wanda said. “I think Peter may have fallen back into the river after that... his thoughts just cut off suddenly,” She looked at them in fear as she spoke.

Tony rocked backwards slightly as his heart thudded in fear. Not back in the river. Please no.

Fuck. Alright, we’ll keep searching in the river, but we’ll also search around here too. We’ll get started on these buildings. Split up. We’ll go block by block from here, and along the bank on this side of the river as well.” Tony ordered, and the team rushed to into action once again. Judging by their determined, worried expressions, they felt the same way as Tony. They had to find Peter before it was too late, before he bled out from his wounds.

Despite the new information and area to search, night fell with no sign of Peter. The Avengers had been searching almost non-stop for over fifteen hours, and the signs of exhaustion were starting to show. At last, Steve called a halt to the search.

“Tony, we need to stop. We’re all exhausted. We’ll get some rest and start again at dawn,” Steve said.

“We can’t help Peter if we collapse.”

“I’m not stopping,” Tony replied tersely.

“There’s no way in hell I can sleep knowing that Peter’s out here somewhere, hurt and alone.”

He refused to even contemplate that Peter might have drowned.

“We don’t want to stop either Tony,” Natasha told him quietly.

“How about we go back to the compound, freshen up and eat something, then we’ll come back here and keep searching. Do you think you could do that with us?”

Tony didn’t want to, but he knew his mind would function better if he took a short break. He had no appetite, but a shower and a strong cup of coffee would give him the energy needed to keep searching into the night. Shoulders slumped in dejection; he reluctantly followed the others back to the Quin Jet that Bruce had moved to the park at Halletts Point.

Back at the Avengers compound upstate, Tony headed for his shower without speaking to anyone.

With Peter missing and hurt, it felt like half of his soul had been ripped away, and he couldn’t find any words to speak; to anyone. Peter wasn’t his son biologically, but it felt like he was in every other way that mattered. Tony thought he might just lie down and die if they didn’t get Peter back.

Feeling physically better but still emotionally numb, Tony wandered out into the main living area. Some of the others had also showered and returned, while others were absent. Sam and Bucky were cooking in the kitchen, bickering quietly to each other without any real bite in their words. It was almost as if they were seeking solace in their usual passive aggressive banter.

For the first time, Tony considered that the rest of the team might be feeling the same way that he was. Peter had somehow found a way into everyone’s hearts, something no other team member had ever managed.

Tony sat miserably with his cup of coffee, waiting for the time when he could go back to the search.

Stay strong Peter. We’ll find you. Just stay strong.

 

Chapter Text

(then)

 

Life with the reunified Avengers slowly settled into a new sort of normal for them all after Peter broke the ice at that first meeting, at the compound in upstate New York. Tony watched on with bemusement as Peter continued to unknowingly charm each member into loving him just as much as Tony himself did, simply by being himself. 

Group training sessions were reinstated, as well as various smaller combinations where they all practised working together once more, learning to trust each other in combat again. Peter had been thrilled to have not one, but two super soldiers to train with. When he announced that he’d been holding back in his training sessions with Tony, Rhodey and Natasha for fear of hurting them, Tony huffed in disbelief.

“Alright, alright, don’t get your romper twisted web-head. Steve, can you put him through his paces?”

“Are you sure Tony?” Steve asked worriedly, coming over to stand next to Peter, who was bouncing up and down excitedly.

“I don’t want to hurt him.”

“You won’t hurt me Mr Rogers!” Peter told him cheerfully.

“I’m pretty strong, and fast too.”

“How strong?” Bucky asked in interest, coming over to join them.

“Umm, I don’t actually know,” Peter answered, forehead furrowing.

“You caught my arm in Berlin, can you do that again?” Bucky asked, abruptly throwing a punch at Peter.

Steve gasped, but Peter simply caught Bucky’s arm and held it steady in front of his face without even flinching.

“Maybe we should do some tests before you two let loose on him,” Tony said, wondering why this hadn’t occurred to him before.

“I’ll figure out some way to learn your capabilities Peter. In the meantime, maybe just continue doing what you’ve been doing.” He smiled as Peter mimicked his huff with exasperation.

“Look kid, I know you’re like, super strong and agile. You probably are stronger than Cap and Bucky-”

“Oh now I don’t know about that-” Steve interrupted, while Bucky just snorted. Peter grinned cheekily.

“-but you don’t have the fighting experience they have,” Tony continued.

“They can teach you a lot.”

Steve looked surprised at Tony’s words, then pleased. He, Peter and Bucky went off to one side of the training room and began using the heavy punching bags, showing Peter how to punch correctly. Tony left them to it, his mind already busy with ways to test Peter’s abilities.

Later that morning, Natasha and Clint wanted to see a demonstration of Peter’s agility but weren’t satisfied with the flip he showed them when asked.

“What if I shoot arrows at you, how good are you at dodging them?” Clint asked.

“Clint you can’t hit him with arrows, Tony would kill you!” Natasha said in exasperation. Tony nodded in agreement from where he was sparring with Rhodey.

“No holes in the spider-kid. It’s a rule,” he ordered.

“I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to hit me anyway Ms Nat,” Peter said with a grin.

Clint’s eyes narrowed at the challenge. Tony waited for him to mention his Peter-tingle, but he didn’t, so Tony decided to keep quiet and see what happened next.

Peter climbed up the wall next to them, and called out to Clint that he was ready. As Clint began to fire arrows, Peter shot webs out and swung around the high roof of the training room, flipping, jumping and spinning anytime an arrow came close. This went on until Clint ran out of arrows in his training quiver was empty. He hadn’t hit Peter once.

“Were you even trying to hit me Mr Barton?” Peter asked as he landed on the ground in front of him, pulling his mask off his face.

“I thought I’d go easy on you-” Clint began to reply, only to be cut off by Natasha.

“He was going easy for the first couple of shots, but then he started really trying,” she told Peter.

Clint scoffed at her and ducked his head, looking embarrassed.

“How do you even change directions mid-air like that?” he asked Peter.

“I’m pretty sure you were defying the laws of physics more than a few times. And can you hear my arrows or something? It looked like you knew they were there when you couldn’t possibly have seen them.”

“Maybe you’re just not as good a shot as you think you are?” Peter said innocently instead of answering the questions.

“I mean you are, like, pretty old, aren’t you? Maybe you’re losing your touch.”

Clint’s eyes widened and his mouth opened, then closed again. The look of affront on his face was priceless, and Tony snorted as he tried not to laugh. He saw Natasha holding a hand in front of her face, visibly trying not to laugh as well. Several of the others were reacting in much the same way, Peter’s aerial acrobatics having been the centre of attention.

Peter finally took pity on Clint and grinned cheekily at him. “Gotcha!”

“Ooh you little devil,” Clint mock-growled at Peter. “I’ll get you!” He jumped forward to grab Peter, who dodged nimbly out of the way.

“No cheating with webs!” Clint shouted.

The pair chased each other all around the room, laughing and calling each other names. Everyone else joined in, some blocking Peter, others tripping Clint. It devolved into an old-fashioned game of tag, no powers or weapons, just good fun with friends. Smiles could be seen on everyone’s faces as laughter rang out across the room. No other training session had ever been quite like it.  

Finally, Tony declared training finished, calling that it was time for lunch.

The fact that he was puffing and panting and had just been tagged as It was completely beside the point, he told himself. He decided to ignore Peter when the boy called him out for being old as well. Peter of course, was barely even puffing. God save me from enhanced teenagers Tony thought tiredly.

Once lunch was finished, everyone dispersed to their own rooms or other pursuits. Tony and Peter sat together in the communal living area, chatting. Peter yawned, looking sleepy.

“Tired?” Tony asked, eyes quickly sweeping over Peter to check that he was alright. 

“Yeah, just a bit. It was a busy patrol last night,” Peter replied, eyes drooping.

“Yes I saw what time you got in. We’ll talk about that later,” Tony told him, grabbing a light blanket and spreading it over Peter.

“In the meantime, lie there and have a nap.”

“I’m not a baby Mr Stark-” Peter mumbled as his eyes drifted closed.

“Neither am I and I still take naps,” Tony told him quietly, sitting back in his own chair and closing his eyes as well. A soft snore was his only answer.

Tony reclined back in his comfy single couch; eyes shut. He wasn’t sleeping, but was planning ways in which to test Peter’s strength and other abilities. He’d finished making mental notes for several ideas, when he heard a quiet scuff, and opened his eyes.

Clint stood next to Peter, a can of shaving cream in his hand, evidently about to prank the boy. Tony’s eyes widened, and he shook his head urgently, raising a finger over his mouth then motioning Clint over to the kitchen. Looking disappointed, Clint silently sighed and rolled his eyes, then did as he was told.

Steve and Bucky were in the kitchen, quietly making an afternoon snack for everyone. Clint stood near them, downcast as Tony walked soundlessly over.

“Peter has super hearing,” Tony said extremely quietly into Clint’s ear.

“If you spray that right next to him, he’ll hear it.” And that’s what you get for calling me old, Peter! he thought to himself, grinning.

Clint’s eyes widened, apparently having been expecting to be told off, not encouraged. Steve and Bucky both heard the tip, and smirked silently at each other, Steve rolling his eyes at them as well. They continued arranging the fruit, cheese and biscuits, making the soft noises they’d already been making.

The food preparations helped masked the sound of Clint spraying shaving foam onto a large serving spoon, filling it as much as he could and swirling the foam upwards into a spiral. He then tiptoed back over to Peter, who was asleep on his side, one hand curled slightly open in front of his face. Clint carefully tilted the spoon and slid the big pile of shaving cream onto Peter’s hand, then retreated equally quietly back to the kitchen.

“Friday, are you getting this?” Tony asked quietly.

“Recording boss,” Friday answered, equally softly.

“Please announce that Steve and Bucky have made an afternoon snack in the kitchen for everyone,” Tony asked her politely. The four in the kitchen watched Peter avidly as Friday made her announcement.

The teenager twitched as Friday’s voice filled the room, and began to roll sleepily onto his back. His hands came up to rub his eyes, and the shaving cream went all over his face.

“Ppffmmph!” Peter mumbled “Mmmfffphhh!!!” He sat up, eyes shut, face and hand covered in the shaving cream, his brown hair tousled and messy, with flecks of shaving cream in it as well. He looks hilarious! Tony thought as he, Clint and the others all burst out laughing.

Everyone else arrived and began to laugh as well, as Peter’s flailing hands found the blanket and he wiped the shaving cream off his face, spluttering.

“Alright, which one of you did this?” he demanded, lips pouting and eyes scowling as he stomped over to them.

He glared at Steve and Bucky, moved on and narrowed his eyes at Tony, then Clint. Peter’s lips quivered as he tried to maintain his scowling look of anger, then he gave up and burst out laughing with the rest of them. He reached out as if to shake Clint and Tony’s hands, then rubbed remnants of shaving cream in their hair instead.

“Not bad old men, not bad!” he complimented them all, with a special wink and nod at Clint. A cute little curl of hair moulded by the shaving cream flopped down across Peter’s eye as he spoke.

“You know it’s on now though, right?!”

Tony felt a slight tinge of concern at the menacing tone in Peter’s voice, and he looked worriedly at the teenager. Peter just smiled back at him, managing to look both innocent and wicked at the same time somehow.

Oh no, what have we done? Tony thought nervously.

 

 

 

-------------

 

 

 

That was the beginning of the Prank Wars, as they came to be known over the following months. 


The Avengers version of normal life carried on, with Peter coming and going from his home in Queens; and the team going on missions whenever ordered to. He stayed almost every weekend, training with everyone on Saturday mornings, working with Tony in the lab in the afternoons, and just generally hanging out. The ex-Rogues were on house arrest at the compound still, and came to look forward to Peter’s visits as much as Tony did, bringing light and life to the compound as they did.

Peter had bided his time, waiting patiently until it seemed like there wasn’t going to be any retaliation for Clint’s prank. Clint and Tony had finally relaxed their anxious vigil, when, a fortnight after the shaving foam incident, Peter quietly replaced Hawkeye’s training arrow heads with glitter bombs that he’d made in the lab. At their very next training session, he dared Clint to try and hit him with arrows again, teasing him about his age once more. Clint of course, couldn’t resist Peter’s jibes.

“What the fu-?” burst out of Clint’s mouth as the first arrowhead exploded in the air just above him.

Peter had programmed them to disperse at varying intervals off the ground, and the first one was the lowest, guaranteed to cover Clint with the sparkling rainbow cloud. He swiftly reloaded, choosing a different option, and shot at Peter again. Peter, knowing that every single option was a glitter bomb, made sure to be near another Avenger each time as he swung. Clint cursed again as another glitter bomb exploded above Tony’s head, and swiftly fired once more, then again and again as Peter swung gleefully around the room.

Eventually, Clint ran out of arrows. The entire training area was filled with glitter; in the air, on the ground – and completely covering every Avenger. They had given up trying to hide and had all collapsed in laughter. Everyone wore a beautiful rainbow of sparkles, everyone except Peter, who stood upside down on the ceiling above them, laughing and poking his tongue out at them.

“You know you’re cleaning this up young man!!” Tony mock-shouted up at him, his smile completely contradicting his apparent anger. Peter just laughed even more at him.

They thought that was the end of it. They were wrong.

Steve acted next, attempting to get back at Peter. The glitter had slithered inside his suit and it had taken him far too long to get it out; and he was super itchy each time he wore it until it was finally clean. He baked a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies and instead of sugar, added salt. Timing them to be ready just as Peter was due to arrive after school one Friday afternoon, Steve was placing the freshly baked, warm and delicious smelling cookies on a plate when Peter walked in.

“Cookies!” Peter exclaimed gleefully, snagging several before the others could. “Thanks Mr Rogers!”

Steve watched Peter carefully for his reaction as he bit into the first one, and blinked in disappointment when all he got was a “Mmmm, these are great!”

Tony, Rhodey, Sam and Bruce reacted as expected however, coughing and spluttering as they each bit into their cookies. Bucky simply kept munching.

“Rogers what the hell kind of cookies are these?” Tony yelped, rushing to get a drink.

“Salted,” Steve muttered dejectedly, his shoulders slumping as Peter started on his third cookie with no sign of slowing down.

“I tried to get Peter back,” he sighed.

“I think you underestimated the power of an enhanced teenager metabolism,” Bruce grinned at Steve.

“He could probably eat just about anything when he’s hungry!”

That night, after his patrol, Peter took the coffee machine apart and removed the heating element from both it, the kettle, the microwave and the stove. Putting everything back together, sans the critical parts, he then had a short discussion with Friday, and went to bed.

There were some extremely grumpy, unamused Avengers the next day.

Tony and Natasha became very twitchy when they were denied their customary caffeine intake. Friday claimed mechanical errors for the appliances, which then mysteriously spread to her ordering capability when she was asked to order takeaway coffee. If anyone was to have coffee that day, they would have to leave the compound to do so. 

Their reaction time during training was markedly different to normal, and tempers much shorter than usual. Tony caught Peter smiling to himself and demanded to know what he’d done.

“Who, me?” Peter asked, looking innocent, then collapsed with laughter at them all. He did take pity on them and replace all the heating elements that night though.

The next week, Sam poured some cereal and milk into a bowl and placed in the freezer. When Peter appeared that Saturday morning, Sam offered to make breakfast and placed the frozen cereal and a spoon in front of him. Trying to take a spoonful and encountering the solid mass, Peter just shrugged and smashed his spoon into it, breaking it all up then eating the frozen chunks. After finishing, he politely asked Sam if there was any more, saying he’d really enjoyed it. Sam threw his hands up in the air in defeat as Peter smiled mischievously.

During the week after that, Peter sent everyone a message on the group chat app, StarkSnap, while he was at school. It contained a link with ‘News Alert – Breaking News’ and was accompanied by Peter’s message.

“Holy cow guys, should we do something about this?”

Wondering what was happening, Tony pressed the link. A burst of synthesised stringed instruments exploded out his phone speakers. He heard the same music from other rooms nearby as well.

Tony stared at a man with strangely fluffed up hair, wearing a long trench coat, swaying to the music, while waving spirit hands around a lot. It looked like an old music video from the Eighties. The lyrics started, and Tony listened.

“We're no strangers to love, you know the rules and so do I. A full commitment's what I'm thinking of, you wouldn't get this from any other guy.”

“Tony what the hell is this video that Peter just sent us?” Clint shouted from the hall as he headed for the living area.

“It says breaking news, sounds like an emergency but I keep getting this song?” Steve asked in a perplexed tone as he appeared in the room behind Clint.

“Iiiiii just wanna tell you how I'm feeling, gotta make you understand. Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you.”

By then the rest of the team had gathered around, frowning worriedly in confusion. Another message from Peter pinged into the group chat.

“Congratulations, you have all just been RickRolled. Look it up Boomers!”

“Rick…. Roll….,” Steve muttered to himself as he googled it. The others were silently doing the same thing.

“Oh that little-” Clint grumbled.

“What the fuck is a Boomer?” Bucky asked.

That incident spawned a whole new phase of pranks as they tried to Rick Roll each other at random times.

Tony was craftier. During their usual morning training session one Saturday, he filled Peter’s bedroom at the compound with hundreds of helium-filled balloons. Peter’s reaction upon opening the bedroom door and seeing the balloons come floating out was to laugh with glee and dive into the room.

His laughter turned to a terrified shriek however, when Tony, who had dressed up as a scary clown and patiently hidden in the room, jumped out and scared him. Peter’s scream and a loud ‘thud’ echoed through the hallway and communal living areas of the compound, drawing the other Avengers out to see what had happened.

They found Peter, who was pretending to have fallen from the ceiling and passed out, lying on the ground with a frantic Tony hovering over him, helium balloons floating all around them.

“BOO!” Peter yelled into Tony’s face after he’d heard the others arrive in the doorway, scaring Tony more than Tony had managed to scare him.

They decided that one was a draw.

The rest of the afternoon was spent playing with the balloons in the high-ceilinged training room. They learnt that only eight balloons, held together with webbing, were needed to support Peter. Increasing numbers were needed to support each of the others.

Thor arrived mid-afternoon, and walked in on the team floating at various heights on bundles of helium balloons. He immediately demanded his own bunch, and sat proudly cross-legged on them, paddling through the air with more balloons tucked under his cloak, allowing it to float regally through the air after him.

Loki, who had arrived with Thor, climbed nimbly onto a bunch as well after Peter webbed them together for him, and began chasing Scott around, the two of them playing tag in mid air around the others as they laughed.

Clint disappeared, and returned with his bow. He climbed back onto his own balloon pile, and began shooting the balloons under Peter, causing him to lose altitude.

Instead of panicking, Peter simply flipped to the person floating nearest to him, which was Rhodey at the time. Clint shot a couple of Rhodey’s balloons, and Peter flipped over onto Wanda, who was reclining on her balloons as if it were a Lazy Boy chair. Peter landed face down across Wanda, blushed furiously red and muttered “Sorry Wanda!” before flipping again, this time landing awkwardly on Bucky’s cloud of balloons.

There wasn’t much room left and Peter slipped off over the edge, being grabbed by his shirt at the last moment by Bucky, who yelled “I’ve got him Clint, shoot him!!” while holding Peter dangling below him. Peter yelped, twisting and flailing his arms as he giggled uncontrollably.

“Don’t shoot him!” Tony cried, as Loki threw a couple of daggers at Clint’s balloons.

Clint descended hurriedly to the ground and took aim at Peter once more, calling “I’ll only wing him a bit Tony, don’t worry!”

Peter shrieked in mock fear, then twisted abruptly out of his shirt completely and fell, twenty feet to the ground. Tony grabbed at his chest and gasped in real fear, and everyone else did too, only to see Peter tuck and roll as he landed and spring to his feet again on the floor, completely unhurt.

“So you are the Spider-man I have heard about,” Thor said in his customary, almost pompous manner of speaking.

“Yeah, yeah I am. Hi, I’m Peter Parker!” Peter answered, reaching out his hand to shake Thor’s as Thor drifted past him. “Nice to meet you Mr Thor Odinson sir!”

Thor grabbed Peter’s hand and pulled him up, flipping him over to land on Thor’s back.

“Let us smite these infidels’ friend Peter!” he roared, drawing his daggers as Peter shot a strand of web at Tony’s balloon cloud, drawing it down towards them. The room descended into chaos as it was suddenly every person for themselves.

Thor and Peter made a formidable team. Peter drew their victims towards them with webs, while Thor pierced their balloons with his daggers. Loki, Natasha and Bucky were the only others with bladed weapons, and soon the three of them faced off against Thor and Peter, everyone else having been disabled and sent to the ground. They didn’t have the advantage of Peter’s webs however and so needed to throw their daggers instead of holding onto them as Thor was able to. So they all were soon defeated as well.

Thor and Peter declared themselves the winners, and floated around above everyone else’s heads, Peter now sitting on Thor’s shoulders, rubbing their victory in good naturedly.

“Our training session have definitely changed since you started joining us Peter,” Tony told him affectionately after the two had landed on the ground again.

“Oh and by the way, you’re cleaning all of this up.” He snorted at the look on Peter’s face, and ruffled his hair.

“Gotcha!”

Thor and Loki both spent a lot of time with Peter that night, getting to know him better. They had heard so many stories from the rest of the team about how smart he was, how friendly and kind, that they had decided it was time they met the boy for themselves.

Neither were disappointed, Tony thought, as a raucous burst of laughter from Thor filled the corner of the room they were sitting in together. He wondered what Peter had said or done to make Thor laugh like that. Even Loki was smiling at him.

“I do like your son,” Thor told Tony later that evening. “He is clever like you, but also very sweet. Touchingly naïve, but then he is also very young.”

“He’s not my son,” Tony began to say, resigned to once more explaining their relationship.

“I know that Peter is not the child of your body Stark,” Thor interrupted soothingly.

“He is most definitely the child of your heart though. I’ve seen how you watch over him. He is your Heart-son, a child of your heart. One whom you love so much, he may as well be your own flesh and blood.”

Tony blinked. He’d never heard such an expression before, but Thor was right. It perfectly suited the way he felt about Peter.

My Heart-son.

He wondered if there was such a thing as a Heart-father, and felt warm all over at the thought.

 

 

 

--------------

 

 

 

Chapter Text




NOW




Deep heavy rolling thunder echoed through the sky outside, despite the clear twilight evening.

Thor had arrived with his customary flare, Loki by his side. The pair strode indoors and up to the living area in haste.

“Stark, why is the hash tag Find Spider-man going viral over the social interwebs? What has happened to my Peter?” Thor demanded authoritatively.

Tony sighed. He didn’t have the energy for this. Steve and Natasha told Thor and Loki what had happened instead, while Tony drank the hot, black coffee that Rhodey handed him.

“Why didn’t you call me? We must find him immediately. The Heir to Asgard cannot be lost,” Thor commanded.

“Wait, what? What do you mean the Heir to Asgard?” Tony blurted in surprise.

Everyone else stopped what they were doing and stared at Thor as well, the rest of the team having regathered in the living area by this point.

“Peter is my Heir. He is the only one worthy. Heimdall! Search for Peter Parker Starkson at once!” Thor shouted up at the roof, his eyes turning orange as he called the Gatekeeper of Asgard.

“Hold up a moment Thor,” Tony said tiredly.

“Care to explain why you think Peter is your heir? If anything, he’s my heir, not yours. I plan to give him Stark Industries one day.”

“Peter can lift Mjølnir,” Thor said simply.

“Therefore he is destined to rule Asgard after me.”

Various exclamations of surprise sounded around the living area as everyone heard what Thor said, and several people spoke at once.

“Wait, what?”

“When did he lift your hammer?”

“Why didn’t either of you tell us about this?”

“So it was Peter that kept leaving your damn hammer in all those annoying places?” Tony said, eyes narrowing.

“We thought it was you!” Sam and Clint said to Thor at the same time, laughing.

“No no, it was young Peter. He picked Mjølnir up the day we first met. After I told him what that meant, he asked me to keep the joyous news to myself, which made me laugh. I did not fully understand why he would not wish to shout the happy tidings throughout the nine realms, but I respected his wishes. I did enjoy his pranks with you all though, they amused me greatly.”

“Is that why you took him to Asgard for the weekend not long after you met him?” Natasha asked Thor.

“Yes of course,” Thor replied matter-of-factly.

“He needs to become familiar with his new home, and meet the people. Young Peter did not seem overly thrilled with the thought of ruling Asgard, I admit, but there is time. He will need to be trained more in warfare, strategy, fighting techniques and leadership skills in the years to come,” he paused, and looked thoughtful before continuing.

“Odin says that Peter very likely has the same lifespan as an Asgardian. We do not need him to rule anytime soon. So you may have him rule your kingdom first, friend Tony.” Thor told him magnanimously.

“What? Wait, does that mean you told the Asgardians he’s your heir?” Tony said, running his fingers through his hair worriedly.

“Of course!” Thor repeated.

“My people wished to meet their next ruler. He is very popular in Asgard, and much loved. We should find him quickly, or they may all decide to come and assist in the search.”

“Oh god, the last thing we need is hordes of Asgardians descending on us,” Tony said in exhaustion, picturing the chaos such an event would cause in New York.

With hope revitalised by Thor’s positive attitude and presence, they sat down to eat a quick dinner together. Thor and Loki didn’t eat, instead showing them all the hundreds of Tweets, Instagram posts and Facebook messages posted in tribute to the missing hero.

One subreddit on Reddit had hundreds of comments and continued to rise. It was called Spider-Man Our Hero, and was filled with stories of people whose lives he’d touched.

Spiderman Fan162
Spiderman saved my life when I was mugged last year. I’d be dead now without him. I’m helping with the search and am praying for him. Please don’t die Spiderman!
- SpideyLover Same! He saved my life by stopping a car that was about to hit me and a whole bunch of other people. He just caught it with his hands, and then after he made sure we were all okay he took off, didn’t even wait around to be thanked. Dude is a legend.
- LivingMyBestLife Spiderman stopped our school bus from driving off a bridge when the brakes failed. He inspired me to work harder and do better and live the life he saved the best I can. I hope they find him soon.
- 964 more comments {expand}


Daily SpiderMan
omg SpiderMan is missing Guys! Its Spidey’s turn to be Rescued, get out there and join the Search NOW

Spiderman_fan
Spiderman rescued my little sister’s cat when it got stuck up a tree. Please be safe Spiderman. We love you.

THE ULTIMATE SPIDERMAN FAN #BeGreater #BeYourself
peeps spidey needs our help. search all the rivers in new york! find our boi. he is the best of us all.
- HeroesBasketballTeam our whole basketball team is out looking for him. Spiderman shoots hoops with us sometimes, he has mad skillz. We raise funds for the animal pounds in Queens now in his honour. Love the way he helps the little people.
- HelpTheLittlePeople my Catholic priest called our entire congregation out to help look for Spiderman. He is so kind and friendly and has saved so many of us. We are praying for his safe recovery.
- HelpAllinNeed -@HelpTheLittlePeople our Rabbi did the same! Spiderman has helped so many of us, it’s our turn to help him. Shalom.
- HelpTheLittlePeople -@HelpAllinNeed Bless you. Spiderman loves and helps us all. Let’s all put our differences aside and help him now in his time of need.
- SpideyCops By all means please help us search for our beloved hero but please stay out of the way of the professionals. We want to find him too.

Clean&Free
Spiderman helped me get clean. The first time he took my drugs last year, I wanted to kill him. It seemed like every time I scored, he’d be there, taking them off me and off my dealer too. The third time, he took me to a rehab clinic and talked me into trying it. My life is completely different now. I’d probably be dead if not for him.
- SoberAF Dude me too!! Man I hated that masked freak when he kept doing that to me. I just wanted to score and get high and he kept ruining it. That dude is one persistent guy. He talked me into rehab too! Now I’m back in college and doing really well. He’s the best.
- IStanSpiderman Wait, I’m not the only one he did that to? He’s annoying af but he helped me get clean. Jeez I really hope the little guy isn’t dead.
- 381 more comments {expand}

MarryMeSpidey
Come home Spiderman! Please don’t be dead.
- SpideyWife364 he can’t marry you he’s already married to me. I love you Spiderman, come home soon!
- MarryMeSpidey I’m not against polygamy
- SpideyWife019 I am
- SpideyHubby285 So am I
- 74 more comments {expand}

“Do you find this funny?” Tony accused Thor when he chuckled over the last post.

“What? Of course not!” Thor told him, affronted.

“Peter will be fine friend Tony. He is strong, and worthy. A mere few small metal projectiles will not stop him.”

Tony restrained himself from punching Thor in the face for his ridiculously optimistic outlook on the situation. Rhodey shook his head at him warningly, and Tony scowled at him.

“We need to widen the search radius,” he said to the room in general instead, receiving nods of agreement.

Thor’s eyes turned bright orange as Heimdall spoke to him suddenly. He frowned, and shook his head, then yelled “No! Look again. Look further, look deeper Heimdall. Find him!”

Tony watched Thor as he shouted denials and commands into the air, a sinking feeling growing within. His eyes returning to their normal appearance, Thor turned to him, still scowling.

“Heimdall says he cannot find Peter. He cannot see him, nor hear him anywhere in the Nine Realms. He said Peter has travelled somewhere that Heimdall cannot follow.”

Tony had no idea what to say to that.

“We’re not stopping the search,” Steve said authoritatively.

“Finish your food, we’re heading back out soon.”

Forcing himself to eat under Natasha and Steve’s watchful eyes, Tony mostly pushed his food around his plate distractedly, not tasting a thing.

“Boss, I’m receiving information from several of the drones in the river,” Friday announced.

“Put it up on screen in here Friday,” Tony said, hastily standing up and moving across the room. Steve, Natasha and Thor followed.

“Boss, it appears….” Friday hesitated uncharacteristically, and Tony snapped at her impatiently.

“What?”

“It appears that they’ve found a body,” Friday said quietly.

The background sounds of plates and cutlery clinking vanished as everyone heard what she said. Tony swayed slightly as his vision greyed out for a moment, and he swallowed heavily, grabbing a chair for support. No.

Steve stepped closer to him, a silent, supportive presence, and Tony was glad he was there.

“Play it,” he ordered Friday.

A grid of grainy images appeared before them, being filmed by several of the drones in their lattice formation below the waters of the river. Friday had stitched them together to form one large picture. The colours were murky brown, dark grey and deep black, sporadically lit by strobes of light moving through the water.


Shapes appeared out of the darkness, then vanished as the drones moved slowly past them. The rusting remains of an old car could be recognised on one side, a bicycle and then a shopping trolley protruding up from the riverbed in other places. A cluster of debris appeared, chunks of concrete near the river’s edge, bent and broken rebar spearing up out of it in rows. An old tyre was lodged in the rebar as if caught in a claw.


Tony caught his breath as the blurry outline of what was unmistakably a body appeared in the murkiness. One of its legs was caught in the rebar, wedged between two narrow spears of metal. As Tony stared at it, all sound faded away, except for a drum beat that began thudding somewhere in the distance.

Two arms floated up in the water, as if reaching for the surface.



He couldn’t tell if it was Peter or not.


“Fri-” Tony’s voice hitched, and he huskily cleared it. “Friday move them closer.”


The image jerked slightly as the drones began moving closer. Tony didn’t see Natasha moving closer to him on one side, even as Steve had on the other. Nothing existed but the picture on the screen before him.


As the cameras got closer, it could be seen that the body was facing away from them. It had no shirt on, and tight dark coloured pants. In the dark gloom it was impossible to tell what colour they were, or pick out any details.


Dark, mid-length hair drifted in the water above the corpse’s head, swaying gently with the current.


The view changed to a single camera as Friday directed one drone towards the face, and the image was suddenly gigantic in front of them.


The arch of a pale neck, the curve of an ear came into view.



Tony heard distorted, muddled sounds coming from beside him. Something was touching his arm, and he shook it off. His lungs had forgotten how to draw breath.



The drumbeat grew louder, skipping a beat every other moment, thudding more quickly as each second passed, even as time itself slowed to a crawl.



oh god is it Peter god please don’t let it be Peter please




A clear expanse of skin became visible, a cheek smooth and innocent of hair.




no no no not peter not peter not peter




Lips could be seen now, motionless, ajar. Then the nose, straight and undefined in youth.




Never again would breath ease from either.




… no … not peter … not …




The eyes appeared, blankly open and fixed on distant views.




Staring wide-eyed forevermore at a place he couldn’t follow.




Light flickered in them, but it was only a cruel trick.




There was no life in those eyes.




peter no-




Grey fog swept in from each side, obscuring the ghastly view.




Shadows bloomed and darkened, ruthlessly dimming his sight.




The drums boomed once, then twice, then ceased their relentless thunder.





Silence echoed strangely in his ears.




The world spun, and Tony plummeted into grateful release.





peter-













Chapter Text

(then)

 

Winter passed quickly for Tony. He was still busy adding the final touches to the new Stark Industries facility after selling the Avengers Tower in New York and moving them all upstate the previous year.

The Avengers compound, where they all lived and trained, was complete, but S.I. was a separate entity so had its own, separate facility nearby. There were dozens of research laboratories in various scientific fields including aeronautics, robotics, micro-technology, even some fringe science, as well as production and development facilities for everything S.I. produced, and Tony enjoyed being involved in some way with all of them.

Peter continued his weekend visits as often as he could, still unaware of just how much he was helping the reunified team with learning to live and work together once more.

Tony finally became fed up with how much the others monopolised Peter when he was there on weekends, and demanded that he come at least one afternoon a week as well, solely to work with Tony in their labs, or on S.I. related research. Those afternoons were for Tony and Peter alone, and woe betide anyone who interrupted them. The wrath of a Tony denied his Peter fix was a thing to avoid at all costs.

The prank wars continued of course. Everyone was having too much fun with them to want to stop.

Bruce created a glue even stronger than super-glue, then used it to glue some dollar and half dollar coins to the floor outside the lift, so anyone entering the communal living area would see them. It fooled quite a few of the Avengers before Peter arrived, and fooled him as well. Everyone enjoyed his attempts to pick the coins up.

That sprouted a new line of research for Peter, with assistance from Tony, and Scott as well, as they tried to find something that would dissolve the glue. Every attempt failed, and eventually the coins were left where they were in defeat. Bruce looked pleased with himself, and said they were permanent evidence of his victory.

A day later, Peter used Bruce’s own glue against him, and stuck Bruce’s favourite microscope to his desk. He also stuck a selection of Tony’s most used tools on his work bench, scattered as if they’d just been used. Tony tried even more ways to dissolve the glue, and in the end gave up. The tools remained where they were, and he bought new ones. Every time he looked at them he smiled.

Peter talked Scott and Clint into going to a FooFighters concert with him, taking Cassie and Cooper as well. Tony of course had to go too. If the Dadvengers were doing a Dad & kid thing together Tony damn sure wanted to be part of that.

They all absolutely lost it when Rick Astley came on stage and began singing Never Gonna Give You Up with the FooFighters. They agreed it was the best Rick Roll ever, even when Peter wouldn’t tell them how he’d managed it. It was one of the most fun rock concerts Tony had ever been to.

Peter built several small devices and inserted one in each of Steve’s special punching bags. The first time Steve punched one, a loud and long fart noise echoed through the training room. Steve blushed bright red as everyone stopped their warmups to look over at him. Punching it again, the same noise played once more. Shoulders shaking with laughter, Steve kept punching. Finally he was just laughing too much and had to stop. As he worked his way through the rest of his punching bags over the coming weeks, various retching; groaning or screaming noises would be randomly heard. Eventually the bags just started pleading with him to stop hurting them.

“Ow! OW! Why are you doing this to me? Please stop sir! Please, please stop hurting me!” would ring out in Peter’s voice. Steve gave up at that, and switched to sparring with Bucky instead. At least he didn’t talk back.

Wanda joined in the war when she made strawberry milkshakes and mixed Peter’s with the hottest hot sauce she could find. She put it on the kitchen bench right before Peter was due to arrive that afternoon, and fled. Peter of course grabbed his as soon as he arrived, and guzzled it down. Wanda, along with Vision, Tony and Rhodey, watched from the couches they were oh so casually sitting on.

Peter, starving as he usually was after school, swiftly downed his entire milkshake, then froze, eyes going wide. Running frantically to the sink, he started drinking straight from the faucet, pawing at his tongue. Wanda and the others came closer to watch, laughing at Peter’s red face and eyes streaming with tears.

Their laughter stopped abruptly when Peter’s whole body started going red, and sweat began streaming profusely down his face, then from pores all over his body. His eyes kept watering, then suddenly rolled up into his head as he collapsed backwards onto the floor.

“Jeezus Peter!” Tony yelled, racing to his side, his heart faltering as he did.

Pressing his fingers against Peter’s neck, Tony swore at the heat radiating off Peter’s skin. Every part of his exposed skin was bright red, his temperature far too high. Rhodey appeared with an Epi-pen, and injected it quickly into Peter’s leg, then they all waited anxiously.

Nothing happened. Peter remained unconscious; his skin too hot to touch. Tony swore again and picking him up, ran to the med bay, shouting for Doctor Cho.

That was when they learnt that Peter’s inability to thermoregulate went both ways. He wasn’t allergic to hot sauce; he just couldn’t cool his body down when he had too much of it.

Luckily Doctor Cho was able to cool him down and he woke soon after with no side effects, bar one. His enhanced sense of taste had been dealt a harsh blow with the hot sauce, and he couldn’t taste anything at all for a couple of days afterwards.

Tony declared that food and drink related pranks were banned from that point on. No-one argued. Seeing Peter fall like that, whether in person or when Tony made them all watch the video together afterwards, had scared them all. Wanda especially felt bad, and made Peter many (non-booby-trapped) delicious snacks and treats for weeks afterwards.

The pranks calmed down somewhat after the hot sauce incident.

Peter replaced all the books on Bucky’s shelf with romance novels. Bucky read them anyway. Peter pouted at the lack of response, then changed everyone’s ring tones to the most annoying songs he could think of, asking Friday to refuse to change them back.

Wanda’s ringtone was Poison, by Alice Cooper. Peter’s grin at her expression on first hearing it was pure cheek. Tony was glad the kid didn’t know how to hold an actual grudge.

Trying to reprogram Friday, Tony found he could not. It was his turn to pout then, sulking that she liked Peter better than him. Friday simply replied that she considered the pranks a team bonding activity and therefore worthwhile, so she would continue to assist Peter when requested.

Spring break arrived, and all the Avenger kids were invited to stay at the Compound for a week. Peter, Cassie Lang and Cooper, Lila and Nathaniel Barton enjoyed getting to know each other, judging by the laughter that rang out around the compound throughout the week. Tony shook his head to himself. Who would have ever thought that the playboy Tony Stark would enjoy having kids around! Peter really had changed him for the better.

Steve managed to pull off an excellent prank on Peter at last. He’d ordered a special pair of dissolving swim shorts from Amazon, and then one day suggested a swim to everyone. Enthusiastic agreement met his suggestion, especially from the kids.

Peter couldn’t find his swim shorts (Steve having taken them in preparation) so Tony, who was in on the joke, directed him towards the spares. Naturally the only pair in Peter’s size were the ones Steve had bought…

Everyone gathered at the compound’s pool, the kids jumping in immediately and splashing around. The adults entered with a little more decorum, but were soon enticed into playing with the children and each other.

Perhaps ten minutes had passed, and Steve and Tony both noticed that Peter had swum away from the group, towards the deeper end of the pool.

“Hey let’s see who can toss a kid the highest!” Tony called out to everyone, and adults started grabbing whichever kid was closest to them.

“Dibs on Peter!” Steve immediately called.

“Ah, no, that’s okay, I’ll err, I’ll sit this one out!” Peter called back from the other end of the pool.

“Aww come on Peter, don’t be a party pooper! Let me toss you!” Steve said, swimming towards that end.

Tony followed, and then so did some of the others, Nat and Wanda among them. Everyone else started launching the kids out of the water and seeing who got the highest before landing back into the water again. Squeals of joy came from the kids as they flew through the air.

“Come on Peter, if you don’t want Steve to throw you, maybe I can? I’m sure we’d win with the way you can flip and dive!” Nat wheedled him.

Peter was huddled into the corner to the pool by then, legs paddling frantically as his hands were holding the material of his swim shorts underwater. A bright red blush bloomed across his cheeks.

“No!” he yelped, then gulped air as he nearly went underwater.

“I’m good. I umm, I don’t feel like doing that right now!”

“What’s the matter Peter?” Steve asked in a deceptively innocent voice, his eyes glinting mercilessly.

“Is there something wrong?”

Peter’s face went even more red, until his entire face was flushed.

“Peter?” Wanda asked in concern, swimming closer.

“Are you alright?”

God bless her, Tony thought. That was perfect.

“I’m fine!” Peter squeaked, trying to get away from Wanda, but he was already jammed into the corner and there was nowhere else to go.

“I just- I just, umm...”

Peter looks completely mortified, Tony thought gleefully. Steve had outdone himself with this prank.

“There’ssomethingwrongwithmyshortsokay!” Peter blurted out suddenly, and even his ears were red now.

“What was that Peter?” Steve called out loudly.

“There’s something wrong with what?”

That got everyone’s attention, and others started swimming to the end of the pool to see what was going on.

“Oh my god!” Peter squeaked, his eyes widening as he saw the rest of the group swimming towards them.

“Peter what’s the matter?” Nat said, concern in her voice as she moved closer to him.

“No!” Peter cried out, “Don’t come any closer, please!”

Steve couldn’t contain himself any longer and started chuckling.

“Are you having a wardrobe malfunction Peter?” he said wickedly, and saw Peter narrow his eyes at him in realisation.

“What did you do?” he hissed at Steve in accusation. It would have sounded a lot more menacing if Peter hadn’t dipped under water at the end of his sentence, ending it in a burble instead of a growl.

Peter resurfaced and flung an arm out to grab the edge of the pool – and the back of his shorts floated up as he let go of them. He emitted a frantic eep! and grabbed them again, trying to hold them against his body.

Steve burst into loud laughter at Peter’s predicament, joined by Tony and then the others as they realised a prank was underway.

The seams down the sides of Peter’s swim shorts had dissolved in the water, leaving him with only a flap of material at the front, and another at the back, secured only around the waistband. If they weren’t held in place with his hands, the material floated up and away from his body.

“You’re so dead Mr Rogers!” Peter told him, still unable to sound properly menacing as he began inching his way along the way towards the shallow end of the pool, where the steps out and towels were located.

He finally made it to the end, followed by the crowd of teasing Avengers, and slunk up out of the pool. By this point, Peter’s entire torso was blushing red. He scuttled sideways over to the closest towel, hands trying desperately to cover himself up, and breathed a sigh of relief once he got to it at last and wrapped it around his waist.

A loud wolf whistle from Nat echoed through the room, and everyone laughed again as Peter turned and bolted from the pool enclosure in horrified embarrassment.

Peter refused to speak to Steve after that, and blushed instantly red anytime Nat, Wanda or even Cassie or Lila came anywhere near him for days afterward. Offers of assistance with dressing, or of loans of clothes came regularly from the other men, and made Peter blush as well.

Steve was congratulated on a truly delightful prank by everyone except Peter, who just grumbled and blushed whenever it was mentioned.

On the last weekend of spring break, the kids all became hugely excited when Tony bought them every single Avengers themed Lego kit there was. The coffee tables were pushed aside and all the Avengers joined the kids in a marathon Lego build session.

They made the Helicarrier; the Avengers Tower; the Avengers Compound; the Quin Jet; the individual Mech Avengers; the Hulkbuster suit and minifigures of every single Avenger, even Spider-man.

As they finished, Tony noticed Peter whispering animatedly to Scott as he waved his Spider-man minifig around in the air, Scott nodding and grinning right along with him. Tony frowned, sure they were up to something, then got distracted as Bruce challenged him to a Hulkbuster vs Iron Man mech fight.

Dinner that night was a loud and raucous affair. Thor and Loki had come back to visit once again, and everyone was in high spirits. The lively party ran late into the night, until the children all collapsed from their sugar highs (Tony had been very generous with sodas) and the adults from more alcohol than they were accustomed to. Everyone slept late the next day.

When Tony finally emerged from his room, he wandered into the kitchen in the hope that someone else had already made coffee. No-one had. Instead, they were all standing at the largest window, staring outside. Wondering what was going on, Tony joined them, and saw, sitting on the grassy training area below, a giant Helicarrier, made entirely of Lego. On the other side of the grass, giant Lego models of the Avengers Tower and Compound sat proudly in the morning light. Not entirely life size, they were still huge.

“Peter!” Tony yelled, laughing. “What have you done now?” He went for the lift to get down and have a better look, and yelped when it opened to reveal a life size Iron Man mini figure inside.

“Peter!” he yelled again, still laughing.

Everyone assembled outside soon after, and marvelled over the huge Lego sets. Their Avengers minifigs were all enlarged as well, and scattered around the compound.

Hawkeye’s was up on the roof, taking aim at anyone standing below. Spider-man’s was climbing down the side of the building, suspended by real webbing. The Captain America figure was found in a lab, throwing its hands up in despair in front of a computer. The only one they couldn’t find was Ant-man.

Snorting with laughter, Peter and Scott explained that when they used Scott’s Blue Pym Particles to enlarge all the Lego, the Ant-man figure had been left in its regular size, and that they had a prize for whoever could find it.

With that announcement, the search was on. Children and adults began racing in every direction, searching for the tiny figure, laughing as they went. Tony, with Peter following, ran around the corner of the real Avengers compound, then stopped dead still. The Quin Jet had vanished, replaced by a life size Lego Quin Jet.

“Peter! What have you done with my Quin Jet?!!” Tony called.

“Don’t worry Mr Stark, it’s somewhere safe!” Peter replied cheerfully.

The adults were all exhausted (and somewhat hungover) by the time the figure was eventually found. It was Cassie who found it, to Scott’s pride and joy, inside the head of the enlarged Iron Man figure in the lift.

“Just like you went in his suit in Germany, right Dad?” Cassie said, laughing.

“That’s right Peanut!” Scott answered somewhat nervously, looking sideways at Tony.

“That was you?” Tony exclaimed, laughing in surprise. “I’d always wondered what caused that malfunction!”

“Err, yeah, that was me,” Scott answered hesitantly, still unsure of Tony’s reaction.

“Relax Scott,” Tony assured him, patting him on the back. “That’s all in the past now. Good job though. I’ll have to reprogram Friday to look out for micro-menaces in future.” He saw Peter smiling at them both, and pulled him in for a hug, ruffling Peter’s hair and making it even scruffier than it already was.

“Alright you two, it’s been fun, but school’s back tomorrow and you have a lot of cleaning up to do.”

“Awww Mr Stark! Can’t we just leave them all like this? Just for a little longer, please?” Peter asked in a pleading tone. The other kids joined in the chorus, and Tony gave in good-naturedly.

“Just for today mind you!” he ordered them in a mock stern tone.

“I can’t have giant Lego all over the place all the time!”

“Thanks Mr Stark!” Peter shouted, as the kids all ran off to play on the Lego.

“I can’t wait to send Ned photos of all of this!”

The rest of the day passed in a blur. And in between the adults exhausted, hungover state, the children’s excitement over the giant Lego and the rush of packing for them all to return home that night, something rather important was forgotten.

 

 

--------------------

 

 

 

Tony called Peter midmorning the next day.

“Hey Mr Stark, I’m in class, I can’t really talk now!” Peter whispered into the phone when he answered.

“Peter Parker, I don’t have time for this right now. Where is it?” Tony’s demanded in exasperation.

“Where is what?” Peter asked in confusion.

“My Quin Jet! You know, the one you put ‘somewhere safe’ and replaced with a Lego version?” Tony said angrily.

“The Avengers have been called out and you and Lang forgot to return it. We can’t find it anywhere!”

“Oh shit.” Peter yelped under his breath.

“Oh shit what? Where is it Peter?” Tony yelled, losing his patience.

“It’s…” Peter hesitated, took a breath and then told him.

“It’s in my bag. Here at school with me. We shrunk it and made it into a keyring so we wouldn’t lose it. I’m so sorry I forgot all about it! Can you come and get it?”

“Well I would Peter if I had any Pym Particles handy to enlarge it again. Which I don’t. Do you happen to have any with you Peter? Hmmm?” Tony snarled at him sarcastically.

“I don’t!” Peter squeaked, sounding really worried now.

“What about Scott-”

“Lang went back to San Francisco with his daughter last night, or had you forgotten that?” Tony yelled into the phone.

“I’ve got Fury expecting the Avengers in Washington this afternoon and no Quin Jet to get us there! We’re going to have to ask S.H.I.E.L.D. if we can borrow one of their jets! Or God forbid, use commercial flights to get there, do you know how embarrassing that will be?”

“I’m sorry Mr Stark!” Peter cried.

“I’ll bring it back this afternoon after school-”

“Don’t bother. I’ll send Happy for it. I’m too angry to see you right now.” Tony told him coldly, then hung up.

He was livid. Fun pranks and hijinks were all well and good but this was Avengers property and necessary to save lives. Thank God it was only a meeting for the Sokovia Accord amendments, and not an actual mission.

Now how the hell was he going explain to Fury why they needed to borrow a jet; and get some Pym Particles from the other side of the country so they could get their own jet back?

Tony sighed, running his hand through his hair and tugging worriedly on it.

Peter had royally fucked up this time.

 

 

--------------------

 

 

 

The fallout from the Quin Jet incident became known the following weekend. Peter was summoned to the compound on Friday afternoon. He arrived much more quietly than usual, Happy reporting that he’d spent the drive up in silence. Tony had left instructions for Friday to send Peter to the conference room as soon as he arrived.

The full team was there, including Scott who had returned earlier that day. Most looked sympathetically at Peter as he stood in the doorway, looking exactly like he’d been summoned to the principal’s office. Tony was still angry, having copped most of the flak from Fury for the palaver.

“Peter, this is Agent Westcott. He’s been sent by Fury to stay here to assist with ‘team discipline’.” Tony stated in disgust, using air quotes for the last two words.

He had argued against this, feeling it was completely unnecessary, but Fury had said it was either this, or Peter would be made to sign the Sokovia Accords and forced under control that way. The conversation between the two had not ended cordially. As mad as Tony was at Peter right now, he still didn’t want him to be bound to the Accords at his age, when he wasn’t even a full Avenger yet. Tony still wanted to protect Peter from that, despite his current anger.

Peter froze halfway through the doorway, staring at Agent Westcott, who was looking back at him with a small smile.

Tony frowned. Peter looked completely terrified, eyes wide, standing motionless. Surely the kid wasn’t that afraid of getting in trouble for his prank?

“Peter!” Tony snapped, and Peter jumped, stumbling a little as he moved to a chair at the opposite end of the table from the agent, finally sitting down clumsily in between Bucky and Steve. He looked impossibly tiny next to the hulking super soldiers as he sat head bowed, hunched in on himself. He hadn’t spoken a word.

“Right,” Agent Westcott spoke, standing up.

“First we’ll all watch this power point presentation on responsibility, then I’ll have a little one on one chat with Peter. Tomorrow, we’ll be doing some team building exercises so I can see what areas need to be improved upon.”

The slide show started with blocky graphics and cheesy muzak. ‘Personal Responsibility, Social Responsibility and Ethics’. Tony groaned outright.

“Do we really need to watch this Agent Westcott? Peter is more responsible than anyone I’ve ever met,” he said.

“Is he?” Agent Westcott asked with a sneer.

“Then explain to me where your Quin Jet was for the first half of this week,” he ended patronisingly.

Tony sighed, and had to concede. He glanced over at Peter apologetically. Peter didn’t notice. He was staring at Agent Westcott with huge eyes that looked oddly shiny, as if he was about to cry. His lips appeared to be quivering just a little.

They all sat through the horribly boring presentation until it eventually ended.

“Right,” Agent Westcott said. “Peter.” Peter twitched, head down once more.

“What do you have to stay about the problems you caused for everybody by being irresponsible?” the agent continued.

“I’m sorry,” Peter replied, in a small voice. It was the first time he’d spoken since he’d arrived.

“How did it make you feel to know that you have let everybody down?” Agent Westcott continued.

Tony didn’t like the way he was zeroing in on Peter, but the man had been sent here to discipline him, so Tony forced himself to stay silent, even while he saw how uncomfortable this was making Peter.

“Terrible,” Peter answered quietly, looking down at the table. His hands trembled before him and he clenched them together before settling into stillness once more.

“Do you think there is any connection between being responsible and being trusted? Between being responsible and being respected?” Agent Westcott continued relentlessly.

“Yes,” Peter said.

“What?” Agent Westcott barked suddenly, and Peter recoiled as if he’d been struck.

“Yes, Sir, I do,” Peter said.

He still looked scared, which confused Tony. Sure, this was boring and this guy was a tosser, but it wasn’t that bad. Peter just had to take his licks and move on. Perhaps it was time something like this happened. Peter just needed to grow up a little. He’ll be fine once this is done.

“Alright. I have some paperwork to do,” Agent Westcott said.

“If someone could show me where I’ll be staying, I’ll finish that up. Then after dinner, Peter and I will have a private session to discuss responsibility in further detail.”

Everyone started getting up and leaving the room, as Natasha stepped forward to show Agent Westcott to his quarters. Tony had put him in the room next to Peter’s, who’d been the most recent to have a bedroom assigned, leaving the one next door empty.

Peter stayed sitting where he was, shoulders slumped dejectedly, eyes downcast. The last Tony saw as he left the conference room, Peter was still sitting there, a forlornly small figure. His heart clenched at the sight, then he mentally shook himself and left. Peter needs to learn this lesson.

At dinner, the mood was subdued. It was different having a stranger eat with them, especially one there for such an unpleasant reason, and judging by their expressions, no-one was happy about it.

Tony did not like Agent Westcott and the reason he was there but he knew he had to tolerate it. Peter, he noticed, hardly ate anything at all. Instead of inhaling his food and having seconds or even thirds like he usually did, he barely ate a mouthful, instead just pushing his food around his plate. As soon as dinner was finished, Peter muttered a request to be excused and fled to his room. He hadn’t spoken a word during the entire meal. Tony let him go, feeling bad for him.

Agent Westcott excused himself soon after to conduct the one-on-one session with Peter. He asked for privacy, explaining that S.H.I.E.L.D. had developed procedures for teaching young enhanced, and that it was beyond time that Peter began these lessons.

“Should I attend as well then?” Wanda asked.

“I have not had any such lessons.”

“I have not been briefed on your requirements,” Agent Westcott answered.

“I’ll start with Peter, and inform human resources that you need lessons also. They’ll let me know what to do with you.”

Everyone sat around the living room after the dishes had been done. No-one spoke very much, the mood still subdued.

“This sucks,” Tony finally said what they were all feeling.

“It sure does,” Clint replied.

“Peter wasn’t the only one pranking people. We’re all guilty of that. But he’s being punished the most.”

“We’ll make it up to him once this is all over,” Steve told them all. “Right Tony?”

“Right,” Tony answered.

An hour or so later, Agent Westcott returned.

“Peter and I have had a long chat. I believe he’s starting to understand that he can’t do as he likes with no regard for property.”

“I’ll go and check on him,” Tony said, starting to stand from the couch he was sitting on.

“Please don’t. I’ve told him he’s not to patrol as Spider-man until further notice, and he’s fairly upset about that. I’ve asked him to remain in his room and consider the consequences of his actions. I’ll have another chat with him tomorrow after our group session.” Agent Westcott said commandingly.

Tony subsided into the couch again, frustrated with the whole situation. He glared at Agent Westcott (did the man even have a first name?) whenever he wasn’t looking in Tony’s direction, and finally excused himself and fled to his lab when he couldn’t stand being near him anymore.

Tinkering in his lab, Tony couldn’t settle on anything, and asked Friday to show him the video feed from Peter’s room. It was dark, and he couldn’t see anything.

“Is he alright Friday?” Tony asked the AI.

“Peter is lying in bed.” Friday replied unhelpfully. Well, at least he hadn’t snuck out. Fuck it. Tony decided he was going to go and check on Peter. Agent Westcott can shove it.

Standing to leave his lab, Tony was surprised when Friday spoke again.

“Peter has asked me to lock his door and requests that he be left alone.”

Tony’s shoulders slumped in sympathetic misery, and his head bowed. Peter will be alright he told himself. This will be over soon and we can all forget about it.

His hand rose unnoticed, and rubbed at his chest as he sat there, thoughts only on Peter and his suffering.

 

 

--------------------

 

Chapter Text

NOW

 

 

---------------

 

 

Steve

 

 

He’d seen a lot of death in his time, and a lot in this time as well. You become almost numb to the sight after you’ve seen it enough. Never liking it, never that, but numb. Desensitised. It was the mind’s self defence mechanism, to protect you from the pain.

The image on the screen before them now was not one he could ever feel numb about. The empty, lifeless gaze of a boy whose life had been cut too short. He wasn’t a soldier like Steve. Hadn’t signed up for a life of service to his country. Just a kid who’d ended his life stuck in the bottom of a dark, filthy river. Steve closed his eyes and bowed his head sorrowfully.

Beside him, Tony crumpled silently to the ground.

Steve didn’t react quickly enough to catch him, too lost in his own sadness. He saw Nat respond faster, but not fast enough.

Tony hit the floor with a thump. He didn’t move.

They turned him onto his back together, and Steve felt a rush of relief spread through him when he found a pulse. A trickle of blood dripped from Tony’s mouth, oozing down his chin. He was unconscious, but breathing.

Steve stepped back as Bruce and Doctor Cho appeared, letting them do their work. Glanced at the screen, and was glad to see that Friday had shut it down. He never wanted to see that image again.

Looking around the room, Steve checked on the team. Everyone looked equally shaken. Standing there blankly as Tony was taken swiftly to the med bay.

Natasha’s face was emotionless, but Steve could see a slight tremor in her fingertips. Clint had moved close to her, a bewildered look on his face. He raised a hand towards Nat then just held it there, mid-air. Reaching out for comfort from the sight they’d all just seen. Nat hadn’t noticed. 

Bucky’s head was bowed, his long hair obscuring his face, as Sam placed his hand on his arm. Steve couldn’t tell if Sam was comforting Bucky or holding himself up.

Wanda was shaking, pressing her face into Vision’s chest as he held her.

Rhodey had followed Tony from the room, but Steve had seen his face before he was gone. Grey, like all the blood inside had been drained out. He’d seen soldiers die too; Steve remembered fuzzily. Not this though. Never this.

Thor had fallen to his knees with Loki beside him. The younger supported his elder brother, braced under his arm, one arm around his back. Face in his hands, strands of hair covering it like a shroud, Thor rocked slightly. Loki looked around, and Steve saw tears flowing freely down his face.

Steve cleared his throat to gain their attention. It didn’t work. He tried again, then coughed, and they started looking towards him. It was up to him now. Tony couldn’t do what needed to be done, so he had to.

“We need to retrieve his body and formally identify it,” he said quietly.

“I will do it,” Vision spoke equally quietly.

“I am- less affected than the rest of you. I also will not require any special equipment.”

“I’ll go with you,” Natasha stated tonelessly.

Bucky nodded, saying “I will too.”

“I can’t-” Clint spoke brokenly. “I just can’t.” Tears fell from his eyes then.

“I will go,” Thor informed them as he stood. “Peter should be escorted as he deserves.”

“I too will go,” Loki said softly.

“I’ll stay here to look after Wanda and Clint, and check on Tony,” Sam told them.

“I’m coming too. But first I need to check on Tony myself,” Steve said, and turned in the direction of the med bay.

Tony lay unmoving on the med bay bed, a thin oxygen tube running under his nose. Seeing a man who was usually so full of life lying there like that, utterly still save for the slight rise and fall of his chest, was wrong. If Tony- no. They couldn’t lose both Peter and Tony. Steve couldn’t stand that.

“How is he?” he asked the doctors softly. Pepper and Rhodey looked up at his words from the other end of the room where they sat.

“He’s stable. We believe he suffered a psychogenic blackout. They occur as a result of stress or anxiety; and sometimes develop after people have experienced ill treatment or trauma. They’re often a reaction to a horrific experience,” Doctor Cho explained as she was checking Tony’s vitals.

Steve snorted quietly. Stress, anxiety, trauma and a horrific experience. That about summed up their day, for Tony most of all.

“Usually someone would wake relatively soon after an episode, but given Tony’s heart history we’re keeping him sedated for the night. He’s going to be suffering once he wakes up and a proper night’s rest will help him get through it,” she ended.

“It won’t matter,” a new voice spoke, and Steve turned to see Thor standing in the doorway. He raised his eyes at the Asgardian questioningly.

“Peter is Tony’s Heart-son. Tony is Peter’s Heart-father. The bond between them is deeper than blood. It is a rare and precious thing in the Nine Realms. When the bond is a strong one, what happens to one will often happen to the other,” Thor informed them, paused a moment, then continued in a lower tone.

“I have never seen a bond as strong as theirs. We may very well lose Tony even as we have lost Peter.”

His words fell into the room as everyone stared at him. The only sounds were the muted beeping of the monitors. Then a small cry came from Pepper, and she turned to Rhodey, beginning to sob. He held her against his chest silently, tears dripping from his own eyes.

“We need to go,” Thor told Steve resolutely. “We need to bring him home.”

They boarded the Quin Jet without speaking. There was nothing to say. Their last words to Peter had been full of anger, and now that would never change. Steve regretted that bitterly.

 

He sat, thinking of the boy from Queens who’d shone so brightly.

 

His light was snuffed forever now.

 

---------------

 

 

Natasha

 

She remembered telling Rick, not so long ago, that she’d never thought she’d have family, but then it turned out she had two. There was her fake family; Alexei, Melina and Yelena, and then there was the Avengers. Her real family. She’d told him that right before she’d left to begin her personal mission of patching the fractured team back together.

Peter had helped that process more than he would ever know. Nat’s breath hitched unexpectedly. He’ll never know, now. Oh Peter. And now she was going to retrieve his body.  The youngest member of her found family. A child she’d wished was her own.

Nat lent against the back rest of her flight chair, her mind far away. 

Some of the team knew of her forced sterilisation in the Red Room. They didn’t know, however, just how deeply that had affected her. How she yearned for a child of her own.

Clint suspected, of course, how could he not. He saw how she was with his family. He never said anything to her, just allowed her to indulge her truncated maternal instincts with his own children. The rest of the time Natasha wore the emotionless mask that had served her so well in her work. It worked, somewhat. Never perfectly, but it worked.

Until Peter came.

His age at that first battle in Berlin had never really bothered Nat. She had been raised as a child soldier, and understood that children and teenagers were perfectly able to become fighters, even killers, if they were properly trained. Peter was enhanced, and possessed a deep sense of justice.

He wanted to protect those who needed it, but was completely untrained. He’d often appear at the compound injured in various ways, which disturbed Nat. Regardless of his enhanced healing, he shouldn’t allow himself to be injured so often. Selfless heroism was all well and good, but not that selfless. So Nat took it upon herself to make sure he was trained in the skills that would help him the most.

The first time they’d trained together, Nat had gently teased Peter on the pose he adopted each time he landed, Yelena’s words ringing in her ears. They’re great poses, but it does look like you think everyone’s looking at you, like, all the time.

Peter’s response however, had surprised her.

“But it’s all about physics Ms Romanov! I worked out the equations of motion. See, sometimes I’m capable of landing with a force of up to several thousand newtons.”

Natasha had no idea what that meant and said so.

“Oh. Okay so a newton is a unit of force equal to the force required to impart an acceleration of one meter per second per second to a mass of one kilogram, right?” Peter had paused and looked at Nat inquiringly. She’d just nodded dazedly, a little stunned by his rapid words.

“I usually land at a pretty high velocity, so the more my momentum is about to change, for example going from falling to stopping, the more force it’s going to take. Landing in a three-point landing in a half crouch, with one knee and one hand hitting the ground directly, spreads my impact force out more than a two-point landing would. Bending my legs extends the amount of time my momentum has to come to a complete stop and therefore lowers the force on my body even more. It can reduce the force of my landing by as much as thirty five percent, which therefore reduces the pressure put on my body.” Peter had stopped for a breath, then continued.

“It takes about four thousand Newtons to shatter a femur, which is the strongest bone in the human body. So if I’m landing at thousands of Newtons more than that, I have to do whatever I can to reduce the force of the landing will have on my body. Luckily, even though I’m really light, my body is a lot denser than normal people, so I can withstand the higher force without damage. I won’t smoosh into the ground!” He’d grinned happily when he said that, miming something falling then smashing flat before her.

“There’s more to it than that too. Did you know that Harvard scientists have confirmed that standing in a powerful pose increases your testosterone by around twenty percent, and it also reduces cortisol by twenty five percent? I suppose for you that would be oestrogen though. Anyway so when I stand or land like that, my body produces more of the dominance hormone, and less stress hormones. And it positively charges my neuro-endocrine levels which is a really huge help when I think I’m about to totally freak out before a fight.”

“Oh and it’s also as intimidating as fuck, especially when I make my eyes go all glary in my mask!”

Natasha had given up trying to understand the science at that point, and had just laughed. Peter’s knowledge in that area was far greater than hers. So, conceding that the way he landed actually had merit, she concentrated on training him in fighting techniques.

They drilled in martial arts, and slowly Peter’s hand to hand fighting ability had begun to improve. She made him study human anatomy, then taught him how to use joint locks, and how to target the weakest parts of a body. Nat had been trained in how to incorporate gymnastics and acrobatics into her fighting style as well from an early age. Peter did this instinctively, and was far more flexible than she was, but she was able to teach him how to incorporate fighting techniques into those movements.

Then she offered to teach him how to shoot. Peter’s eyes had widened in dismay, and he’d ducked his head.

“I um, I don’t want to learn that. I’m sorry, I don’t want to offend you Ms Romanov, but I don’t think I could shoot someone,” he’d told her hesitantly, looking up at her from his lowered eyes.

“I don’t want to kill anyone.”

Natasha had loved that about Peter, and told him “I’m glad you don’t want to Peter. It’s part of what makes you special.”

“There’s something else you could teach me maybe, if you want to?” Peter had said then, and looked at her hopefully.

“Can you teach me how to fly the Quin Jet?”

“Peter you’re fifteen! Do you even know how to drive yet?” Natasha had burst out laughing at his indignant expression.

“I’ve driven before! A bit, anyway. And the crash totally wasn’t my fault, Ned didn’t tell me the turn soon enough! Anyway Mr Stark is going to teach me as soon as he has time!” he informed her.

“If I’m old enough to learn to drive, then I’m old enough to learn how to fly too!”

“Hmm,” Nat hummed, stalling. Peter had crashed a car? She’d look into that later.

“How about we wait until you’re sixteen, alright? It can be my birthday present to you,” Nat had said in the end, unable to completely dash his hopes.

Peter’s look had changed to one of pure joy, and after thanking her profusely, he’d raced off to call Ned and tell him all about how he was going to learn to fly a Quin Jet.

 

Now she was sitting in that same Quin Jet, flying out to recover his body.

 

Nat shuddered, and a single tear slipped from her eye.

 

 

---------------

 

 

Thor

 

 

Sitting in the Terran flying craft with the others, Thor found that he had lost all desire to speak. He was a warrior, from a warrior culture. He had fought in thousands of battles, and relished each one. Death was an old acquaintance, and a risk every warrior took each time they took up their weapons. He was not afraid of death.

Dying in battle was one of the greatest honours an Asgardian could earn. But dying in battle as young as Peter had was not how it was supposed to be. He had bravely fought the villains, refusing to give up even after he had been injured. He had even saved their worthless lives – and lost his own in the process.  

Peter was strong, and he was worthy. The only other person that Thor knew who could wield Mjølnir. His Heir, no matter how far that might be in the future. It was incomprehensible to Thor that he was gone. It didn’t matter that Heimdall had been unable to find Peter. Didn’t matter that they’d seen an image of a body on a screen. Thor would not believe it until he had seen Peter for himself. Could not believe it.

From the first time they’d met, Thor had enjoyed Peter’s playful nature. Thor had still been grieving for his mother, Frigga, and had only stopped in to see the Avengers from a sense of duty. Seeing them all floating around on balls of air had surprised and intrigued him, enough so that he had decided to join in with the game. Peter had had no idea of his loss, and so hadn’t burdened Thor further with useless sympathy.

Learning that Peter could wield Mjølnir had stunned Thor. Hearing that he didn’t want anyone to know had surprised him, and learning the reason why had made him laugh out loud.

Peter had gone over to where Thor and Loki were sitting on a pair of couches at the far end of the living room that day, the first time they’d met. The brothers had needed to step back a little from the chaotic noise of a large group preparing for dinner, and had retreated slightly. Thor thought that Tony had understood, as he’d given them a small nod of unspoken support and let them be.

The boy though, had been oblivious, and followed them over. As he went to sit with them, Peter had picked Thor’s hammer up and moved it a little further down the couch, making more room for himself.

Thor’s mouth had literally dropped open, something he’d thought was only a strange Earth expression, until then. Loki’s mouth was open too, and he’d looked at Thor incredulously. Thor was unable to speak.

“Ahh young Peter, do you know of that which you just did?” Loki had asked him politely, an edge to his voice.

“Umm, no? I’m sorry, should I have not touched your hammer Mr Thor sir? Did I break an Asgardian rule? I’m sorry!” Peter had answered, a worried, apologetic tone in his voice.

Thor had finally rediscovered his words by then, and had joyously explained the meaning of Peter’s innocent act. Instead of being honoured by the revelation, Peter had been embarrassed. Embarrassed! Thor would never understand Midgard teenagers. But Peter had begged them to keep it a secret, and Thor had agreed, thinking the truth would come out sooner or later anyway, so a delay would not matter overly much.

When Peter had explained his desire to play tricks on the other Avengers with the hammer, Loki’s eyes had danced with glee, and he had heartily approved of the plan. Thor had allowed them their fun, mostly because he hadn’t seen Loki that happy since before their mother had passed.

Peter had chosen Tony to target first, to get him back for the balloon and clown prank; and planned to use the hammer to block access to the coffee machine. Thor did not know what a clown was, and had not understood why this would matter, until Peter told him how addicted to coffee Tony was. Then Thor had laughed out loud in delight, startling himself.

Thor made sure to be elsewhere the next morning when Tony awoke, going jogging with some of the others. The magical voice seemed very fond of young Peter, and so had warned them when Tony was rising. Peter showed him the recording later, of an irritated Tony stalking off to find another source of coffee. Since Peter had also repeated an earlier trick of his, rendering the other coffee machines useless, Tony had to travel further than he would most likely prefer to find his cherished beverage. It had been marvellous to watch.

Ever the trickster, Loki had joined with Peter in finding new ways for the hammer to annoy people. Together, he and Peter, with some input from Thor, had plotted their moves. They laid the hammer over Barton’s bow and quiver, rendering them unusable, then did the same thing to Wilson’s wingsuit. Their reactions had brought light back into Thor’s life, and into Loki’s as well. He would always be grateful to Peter for that.

The boy had had to return to his first home after that, and so Thor had taken Loki and returned to Asgard. They’d informed Odin of their glad tidings, and a feast had been held in celebration. Thor was instructed to bring Peter to Asgard as soon as possible. Odin wanted to meet him.

Obtaining permission from Peter’s Aunt May, and from Tony, Thor had returned to Earth a few weeks later in order to bring Peter to Asgard. Before they left though, Peter had insisted on a few more pranks with Mjølnir.

He covered Bruce’s current research notes with the hammer, then later put it in the fridge, in front of the meat needed for that night’s meal. Thor was often mysteriously somewhere else when the hammer was discovered (usually watching on a screen in Peter’s bedroom); and so it had to stay where it was.

Until the others remembered that Vision could also lift the hammer, to Peter, Loki and Thor’s regret. It was no longer as much fun after that, and Thor had been surprised to realise that he missed those pranks.

Peter had loved Asgard, and the Asgardians had loved him. They held a huge feast for him, and showed him their magic. He had been mesmerized by the Bifrost, and had pestered everyone with endless questions about how it worked. They had indulged him shamelessly, but it hadn’t gone to Peter’s head. He remained humble, awed by all he saw and had profoundly expressed his gratitude to Odin before he left.

Odin had been enchanted by him; Thor had noticed. He had already begun making plans for the training Peter would require to become the next king after Thor when they left to return to Earth.

That training would never take place, now, Thor realised in grief. Peter had left them. He’d fought many glorious battles, but now it was his time to rest.

Thor wondered if Peter’s Aunt would allow him to have an Asgardian style burial at sea. Peter was Asgardian royalty, after all. Thor would fire the flaming arrow himself, perhaps letting Clint assist, should he wish to.

The lake behind the compound would make a fine place to send Peter off on his journey to the halls of Valhalla.

 

There would be enough room for his human family and friends, and for the thousands of Asgardians that would come.

 

They would honour him as he so rightfully deserved.

 

 

---------------

 

 

Loki

 

 

Conflicting feelings churned within, sitting there in the craft next to his brother. Peter’s death opened the way for Loki to once more be next in line for the throne of Asgard, his greatest wish. But achieving that at the cost of losing Peter? That was unbearable.

When Peter had first lifted Mjølnir, a viciously hot spurt of jealously had ripped through Loki. Who was this child, this tiny Midgardian child, that was worthier than Loki? He’d immediately begun planning his death.

Then Peter had asked Thor not to say anything, and explained his desire to play tricks on the other Avengers. The instant jealously and hatred Loki had felt faltered, and a grin had unexpectedly flashed over his face, surprising him. This child had a prankster’s nature like Loki himself!

Peter’s pranks were quite simple, but the consequences of them gave Loki great satisfaction. Watching Stark be deprived of his favourite beverage had been a joy, and getting revenge on Banner, no matter how small, had given Loki vindictive pleasure. He had not forgotten what the Hulk creature had done to him.

Loki’s feelings towards Peter were not just founded on their compatible trickster tendencies.

The boy had an openness to him, a complete lack of guile or deceit, that Loki found captivating. How was it possible for a person to be that honest, even while playing pranks on people? Loki couldn’t comprehend it, and watched Peter avidly whenever they visited Midgard, and when they took him to Asgard. It seemed to be completely unfeigned, which was absolutely fascinating to Loki.

Loki had asked Peter to teach him more about Midgard, seeking ways to get to know this astonishing creature. Peter taught him about social media, which Loki at once adored. Here was a way for people to invent entire fictions about themselves, and publish them for the world to see. How extraordinary!

He immediately made Peter show him how to create accounts for Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Facebook and more, then how to use them. It was wonderful. Loki crafted many different personalities and had separate accounts for each of them, using his magic to transform into different people and taking the images that Peter called ‘selfies’, creating mischief and chaos in the online world to his hearts content. He particularly liked the concept of trolling, and would often do that just for the sheer malicious pleasure of it.

It had been a shock to Loki to realise that in getting to know Peter, the child’s open and sunny nature had worked their magic on Loki himself. Somehow Loki had fallen in love with Peter, even as everyone else did, and he had no idea when that had even happened.

When Loki had noticed the hash tag ‘Find Spider-man’ going viral that day (using his magic to access the interwebs from Asgard), unease bloomed inside him. He’d searched at once for factual accounts of what had happened to Peter, and as he viewed them a feeling of dread grew within him. He’d moved quickly to action after that. Finding Thor had taken some time, to his concern and annoyance, but eventually he had, and had insisted that they must travel to Midgard and Peter’s aid instantly. 

But they had already been too late. Peter had long fallen into the water and drowned before they even knew he needed aid. All that was left to do was recover his body and say their farewells.

Loki would rather lose his chance to reign for all time than lose Peter. That choice had been stolen from him when Peter’s life ended.

 

How he wished he could manipulate time itself and change that. But such a thing was impossible.

 

Loki mourned quietly beside his brother instead.

 

 

It was all he could do.    

 

 

---------------

 

 

Bucky

 

 

He’d always loved Steve more than anyone else in the world, but now Peter was a very close second. Peter’s heart was even larger than Steve’s, something Bucky had never thought possible. Now he was gone, and Bucky didn’t know how to cope with that. He had never lost anyone he truly cared about. It felt worse than any physical pain he’d ever felt. He’d rather lose his other arm, and both legs, then to feel like this.

Bucky hadn’t known how to act around Peter when they met. This child was the one who could stop his arm? It was a bewildering thought for someone used to being the strongest person in any group. It took a long time for him to get used to Peter’s exuberance, and even longer for Bucky to start opening up around him. Peter had changed Bucky, for the better, and Bucky would always love him for it.

When Peter had switched out his book collection for romance novels, Bucky had pretended not to care. He had to maintain his trademark gruff demeanour after all. Secretly though, he’d been thrilled. Thrilled to be included in the prank wars, and thrilled that it was Peter that had pranked him. Even after he finished the trashy books, which he’d read out of sheer stubbornness, he kept them for the memories.

Peter had been completely unbothered by his past, accepting Bucky as he was now, not judging him for what he’d done then. He was also obsessively fascinated by Bucky’s arm. So Bucky had allowed him to conduct his experiments on it – and found himself learning more about magnetic forces than he’d ever expected in the process.

It started with simple magnets, trying out different types, sizes and combinations. The prosthetic wasn’t pure Vibranium, instead being made from a Vibranium alloy, which meant it was magnetic, to Peter’s joy. He even tried sticking iron fortified cereal to it – and laughed hysterically when the cornflakes stuck.

Apparently Tony had noticed Peter’s interest, because soon after packages randomly arrived, addressed to Peter and Bucky.

One had contained one hundred 8mm steel balls; and one hundred 24mm long magnetic sticks. Peter’s eyes had lit up and he looked straight at Bucky with pleading eyes. Bucky had sighed, pretending reluctance – but was secretly just as fascinated as Peter. He sat still for hours that afternoon, watching Peter create a sculpture from the magnetic sticks, joined by the steel balls, occasionally helping add pieces, or steadying a section for Peter.

By the end, the sculpture reached nearly two feet above Bucky’s arm, and extended outward in impossible looking ways. Tony came in and took photos, laughing at Bucky when he glared back – but didn’t move and risk toppling the sculpture.

From time to time he looked through those photos on his phone. Peter’s happy face in them always made him smile.

“Bucky! Bucky where are you?” Peter’s shout had echoed through the compound one Friday afternoon as he ran through it after school. He found Bucky in his room, reading.

“Bucky!! Have you seen that really old movie The Hunt for Red October? It’s like a spy movie set during the Cold War, that was when the USA and Soviet Union were enemies-”

“Peter I know what the Cold War was, I lived through it, remember?” Bucky said, amused.

“Oh, right! Well anyway they had this submarine that was powered by a magnetohydrodynamic propulsion system which is like the most super coolest thing ever hey! So can we do it?”

Bucky remembered being completely lost, and staring at Peter in confusion.

“Do what? Build a submarine?”

“Oh! No, no. Although that would be super cool as well. And Mr Stark probably has most of what we’d need over at S.I. already….” Peter’s voice had trailed off as he stared off into space, hands twitching as if building a submarine already.

“Peter! What do you want to do?” Bucky had prompted him with a smile on his face.

“I want to build magnetohydrodynamic propulsion system powered by your arm! Just a little one. Can we please?”

Peter had batted pleadingly his eyes at Bucky, which was completely unnecessary since Bucky was always going to do whatever Peter wanted anyway. But this had sounded interesting.

He’d followed Peter down to his lab and watched as he dug around and found lengths of copper wire and some batteries.

“Now we just need a shallow dish to sit on your arm, warm water and some salt and pepper,” Peter told Bucky, leading him back upstairs again to the kitchen.

“Pepper?” Bucky asked. “I get why salt, but why pepper?”

“So we can see the current moving in the water better, that’s all,” Peter explained.

Steve, Sam and Rhodey had found them sitting at the dining table when they came in later to start preparing dinner, staring avidly into the water as the current formed by the circuit Peter had made swirled the water around in the dish. They’d scaled the system up by that point, and Bucky was now sitting at the table attached to several more wires and batteries.

The three had been quite interested in the experiment too, discussing the possible military applications of the system.

“It’s not really very efficient for large scale models,” Peter told them all.

“Seawater has low electrical conductivity so it’s not practical for real world applications. Plus when you combine electricity and salt water like this, it creates poisonous and explosive gasses. That’s what those bubbles are there,” he added, pointing to several fizzing patches in the water.

“Wait, this is poisonous?” Bucky said, intrigued.

“It’s explosive?” Sam and Rhodey had both yelped at the same time, stepping back hurriedly.

“And you’re just sitting there at the dining table with it?” Sam had continued.

“Ummm, yes? I mean, Bucky and I both have enhanced healing, so we’re good. And if it explodes it would only be a little one. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t do too much damage.” Peter had told them unconcernedly.

“Peter I think we need to have a talk about proper safety procedures,” Steve had said with a sigh.

“And about caring about your own safety,” Rhodey had added.

“Just because you have enhanced healing doesn’t mean you can do dangerous things without due care.”

“Mm-hhmm,” Peter had mumbled distractedly, “Sure, whatever you say,” as he continued fiddling with his experiment. He’d missed the raised eyebrows and looks of concern shared between the adults, but Bucky hadn’t.

Tony, Pepper and the rest had come in then, arriving for dinner.

“Is that a magnetohydrodynamic propulsion system?” Tony had immediately asked, his eyes brightening in interest.

“Whoa cool. How far do you think we can scale it up before Bucky’s arm isn’t strong enough to power it?”

Bucky had had to bite back laughter at the expressions on Steve, Sam and Rhodey’s faces.

Watching Peter struggle recently had been difficult. Bucky wasn’t any good with feelings, didn’t know how to talk about that sort of thing. Or even talk much at all really. He’d tried to be a silent support for Peter, but didn’t think it had worked.

Bucky had no idea why Peter had changed. He’d just wanted to help him feel better. Help him be happy again.

 

Now he’d never be able to do that.

 

Bucky would die for Peter without a second thought, no questions asked. But he couldn’t do that now.

 

All he could do now was bring his body home.

 

 

---------------

 

 

Vision

 

 

Sitting in the pilot’s chair, Vision flew the Quin Jet towards the location that Friday had given him. He could have travelled there much faster on his own, but had come to understand that the others needed to be there as well. None of them were in a fit state to pilot an aircraft right now, so Vision did it for them.

The jet’s interior was hushed as it flew through the night. The group sat silently, grim-faced. Vision thought perhaps they might each be thinking about Peter, but he wasn’t sure. He had never experienced loss before, and didn’t know what he should be feeling.

Memories of Peter scrolled rapidly through his mind, and he smiled, then frowned. Was smiling appropriate? Vision swiftly glanced at each of the others with him. None were smiling. But the memories he had of Peter – at least the ones he’d accessed so far, were full of joy, laughter and happiness. They made him smile. Vision was confused, but did not think now was the optimal time to seek clarification. He decided to search online for answers instead.

Vision was still struggling with how to feel grief when they arrived at the location Friday had sent to him. He put the jet into hover mode and opened the rear doors. It was unnecessary for him, of course, but he would need them open to bring the body back inside.

“Are you ready?” Steve asked quietly as he came to Vision’s side, looking down into the black waters below with him.

“Yes,” Vision replied simply, then floated out into the air beyond. He gazed back at the six inside the jet, all watching him stoically, then descended into the watery darkness below.

His eyes glowed fiercely as he submerged, and to Vision the underwater landscape was as easy to navigate as a clear sunny day. The drones were clustered nearby, small strobes of light flashing as they bobbed slightly in the current, maintaining their positions on Friday’s command. The body-

Vision abruptly detected unfamiliar sensations within his own consciousness, and paused. He processed massive amounts of information in microseconds, running simulations, seeking an answer to understand what was happening.

To him, it was as if days had passed. In reality, it hadn’t even been one second.

Vision had been analysing the emotions his human teammates had been displaying ever since the video of the body had began playing. It was something he did constantly, always seeking to further his understanding of the human condition. He used learning algorithms and sentiment analysis along with a host of other processing commands, all of which had just formed the conclusion that humans have the ability to transmit their emotions to others.

That feelings are contagious, like a virus.

And he was infected.

“Are you alright Vision?” Steve asked over the comms, snapping Vision out of the stillness his revelation had produced.

“Yes,” Vision replied calmly. “Proceeding with the retrieval now.”

He transferred his previous thoughts to a separate compartment for analysis another time, and continued with his mission.

Approaching the floating body from behind, even as the drones had, Vision then shifted around to the front – and ceased moving. He blinked, even though he had no need to, and opened his mouth, then closed it again. Took a second to confirm his discovery, then opened the comms to make his report.

“It’s not Peter,” he told them simply.

“What?” “Vision are you sure?” “What do you mean?” “Praise Odin!” The reactions burst loudly and chaotically into his ears.

“Vision, are you sure?” Steve cut across the jumbled responses again.

“Yes. From behind the resemblance is similar, as are the facial features. But this body has tattoos on its chest, and Peter does not. It is not him.”

Oh thank fuck,” Steve said, his relief palpable over the comm. Similar emotionally weighted responses came from the others.

Vision felt a lightness within him that was unexpected. Was this what they were feeling? Interesting.

“Shall I retrieve this person’s remains, or should I leave it for a police investigation?” Vision inquired.

“I’ll contact them and ask,” Natasha replied, and so Vision waited, floating serenely in the dark water, pondering emotions and how he felt them. He was sorry that the person before him had lost his life; but glad that the poor soul wasn’t Peter. How curious to feel such conflicting things at the same time.

 

It merited further analysis.

 

 

---------------

 

 

Tony

 

 

 

it’s not Peter

 

 

The words drifted through the smothering darkness, twisting, turning, soaring out of reach. He couldn’t comprehend them.

 

 

Tony, it’s not Peter

 

 

Tony, that was him. Right.

 

 

It’s not Peter?

 

 

Awareness surged, and he fought against the heavy weight that suddenly felt suffocating.

 

 

It’s not Peter?

 

 

His heart pounded unexpectedly. Beeping echoed its abruptly rapid beat from somewhere nearby.

 

 

Not Peter? It’s not Peter? He raced after the thought, grasping towards it frantically.

 

 

It’s not Peter!

 

 

Tony opened his eyes.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

(then)

 

Tony was up late the next day, having had trouble sleeping. He hated that Peter was being punished like this for what was really, a fairly harmless prank. There had been no emergency, no-one had died, and during the long, dark hours spent worrying about Peter, Tony’s anger over the Quin Jet incident had ebbed away. Now he just wanted to find his kid and give him a big hug.

The remains of breakfast were being cleared away as Tony entered the kitchen. Making himself a quick cup of coffee, he looked around for Peter. He wasn’t there.

“Alright everyone, it’s time for our group session,” Agent Westcott announced briskly as he came into the room, not even bothering to say good morning.

“We’ll meet in the training room in ten minutes.”

Dispersing to get dressed, muted sighs were expelled from several lips. The general mood hadn’t improved when they regathered downstairs soon after.

Peter still hadn’t appeared.

“Friday, tell Mr Parker that if he doesn’t attend the mandatory sessions, there will be consequences,” Agent Westcott ordered the AI brusquely.

The team started their usual warming up activities as they waited for Peter. Tony kept one eye on the door as he stretched with Natasha, Wanda and Clint. It was another ten minutes before Peter appeared in the doorway, and Tony abruptly stood upright as he got a good look at the boy.

Peter stood half in, half out of the room. He was wearing an over-sized hoodie, one of Tony’s, with the hood up over his head and partially covering his downcast face. His arms were wrapped tightly around his body, his shoulders hunched.  

“Peter, so nice of you to grace us with your presence,” Agent Westcott called. Tony’s hackles rose at his patronising tone.

“Alright everyone, sit in rows before me here. Peter, you’re at the front.”

Seriously? You’re going to make us sit on the ground like children? Tony thought incredulously.

“Yes. I am treating you like children, because you’ve been behaving like children,” Agent Westcott spoke, answering Tony’s unspoken thoughts uncannily.

“You are the Avengers, Earth’s mightiest heroes, yet you’ve been playing silly children’s games for months. This will stop. Now watch this slide show on the correct manner in which soldiers should conduct themselves.”

Another mind-numbingly boring slide show, with the same dreadful muzak playing appeared on the wall screen before them. Tony groaned internally, and instead watched Peter. The small teen sat in front of the rest of the team, all alone. His knees were bent up against his chest, arms wrapped around them, a tiny ball of isolation. Tony couldn’t see his face, but his body-language spoke of misery.

Eventually the presentation ended, and Tony stretched, ready to get up.

“Stay where you are people,” Agent Westcott ordered them. He then began a lecture on the Sokovian Accords regulations regarding enhanced people. Tony rocked his head back, rolling his eyes and sighing.

“Do you have a problem Mr Stark?” Agent Westcott inquired snidely.

“Yeah, I do. We know all this already. We’ve got better things to do then-”

“Apparently Mr Parker does not know ‘all this’ as you call it. You have failed to educate him appropriately, and therefore are required to sit through this with him now.” Agent Westcott snapped, then continued his lecture.

The information spam continued. Agent Westcott was not a good speaker. He talked at people rather than to them, in a dull, droning tone that made it easy for Tony disengage from. He zoned out, thinking instead about some upgrades to the Spider suit he had in mind. That will cheer Peter up, he thought.

“Peter!” Agent Westcott barked suddenly. Tony jumped, as did most of the others he could see. Peter jerked his head up, almost falling to the side.

“Were you actually asleep then?” Westcott demanded angrily.

“No! I-” Peter began, sounding panicked.

“Don’t lie to me, I saw that your eyes were closed,” the man scoffed at him.

“I’m not surprised you got yourself into trouble, you can’t even pay attention to a simple lecture,” he continued.

“Clearly it’s time for some more active lessons. Everyone up, split into two groups.”

Grateful to finally be able to stand up, Tony moved quickly to make sure he was part of the group with Peter in it. Steve joined him, as did Natasha, Clint and Scott. Bruce, Rhodey, Bucky, Sam, Wanda, and Vision formed the second group.

“Alright, we’re going to start with a Trust Fall,” Agent Westcott said, and was answered by several groans.

“Really?” Tony asked him in exasperation.

“I think we trust each other just fine thank you very much.”

“I disagree,” Agent Westcott replied, glaring at him.

“Your actions following the introduction of the Sokovian Accords were not those of a trusting team.”

He waved his hand around as he spoke, indicating that he meant everyone rather than just Tony.

“I have instructions from Director Fury to make you a cohesive, disciplined team again, rather than a gaggle of naughty school children playing pranks. You will do as I say or suffer the consequences!”

From the corner of his eye, Tony saw Peter hunch his shoulders at the words.

“Fine. Let’s get on with it then,” Tony grumbled in disgust. 

“For those of you who may not know, a trust fall is a trust-building exercise in which a person deliberately allows themselves to fall, relying on the other members of the group to catch them,” Agent Westcott instructed ponderously.

“I’ll go first,” Natasha said quietly.

Clint and Scott faced each other, with Steve and Tony next to each of them. Their uneven numbers meant that Peter stood at the end, where Nat’s head would fall. She climbed up on some step training blocks in front of them, turned her back and let herself fall back without further ado, the four men catching her easily.

Peter, Tony noticed, had raised his arms but hadn’t actually touched Natasha. Tony tried to make eye contact to give him an encouraging smile, but failed. Peter still had his hood up and his head down.

The groups moved through the exercise robotically. There was no laughter, no one bantering like they usually had at training sessions. This was something they had to do, not something they wanted to do.

When Scott and Peter ended up next to each other, Scott quietly said “I’m sorry Peter. It was my fault too.”

Peter didn’t reply.

Before long, the four adults had all had a turn at falling, and it was Peter’s turn. He stepped slowly up onto the blocks, his back already turned to the rest of them, his reluctance clearly telegraphed with every step. Tony, who was now at the head of the group, saw Peter’s shoulders rise at he took a breath, then abruptly let himself fall back with his arms crossed over his chest.

As Tony and the others caught him, they saw that Peter had fallen with his eyes shut. They flew open as he landed, his body completely stiff in their arms, trembling ever so slightly.

Tony was shocked to see large dark shadows under Peter’s eyes.

They stared at each other for a moment, and Tony felt his heart twist at the empty, bleak expression Peter had.

He opened his mouth to say something, hand rising to cup Peter’s cheek, but Peter clenched his eyes shut again as if slamming Tony out, suddenly twisting out of their hands to drop into a crouch on the floor between them. He turned his back on them all, pulling his hood up over his face once more as he did, his arms crossing over his chest as his shoulders hunched.

“Alright everyone, you didn’t do too badly with that,” Agent Westcott announced with a grudging tone of approval in his voice.

“I was pleased to see that no-one was dropped, although Peter you need to participate more. We’ve got time for one more exercise before lunch. It’s called the Human Spring. You need to split into pairs matched according to your strength. Peter that means you’re with Rogers.”

Peter didn’t reply but simply stood where he was, allowing Steve to move up to stand next to him. The rest paired off mostly evenly. Bucky ended up with Vision since he didn’t have another super soldier to pair with.

“In this exercise, you will face each other and touch your palms together. Lean toward each other and move your feet further and further back, step by step, so that you have to depend solely upon your partner to remain standing. Begin!”

Tony, leaning into Clint’s hands, barely paid attention to what he was doing. All his focus was on Peter. He and Steve may be among the strongest there, but the height disparity was never more pronounced than now.

Steve was one of the tallest in the room, baring only Agent Westcott himself, who was of a similar height. Peter was the smallest, and his hunched posture today only accentuated that. As they leant against each other and began stepping back, Steve naturally loomed over Peter, being so much taller.

It was obvious that Peter could support Steve easily, but Steve wasn’t able to support Peter properly, since by the time their legs were as far apart as they could go, Peter was almost completely under Steve, who was forced to hold his hands at his torso to reach Peter’s. Peter was completely unsupported, held in place only by his feet, and his hands braced against Steve’s.

“Good job Peter,” Tony heard Steve whisper. He saw Peter start to raise his head, then Tony was distracted by Westcott barking at him to concentrate on his own work. A moment later, the thuds of a fall sounded nearby, and Tony ignored Westcott to look hurriedly over at Peter.

Peter was lying fully outstretched on his stomach on the floor, Steve sprawled awkwardly over the top of him. Even as Tony and Clint broke apart and began rushing over to them, Steve pushed himself off Peter and crouched next to him. Steve gently took hold of Peter’s shoulders and pulled him over onto his back, his head flopping lifelessly as he rolled.

His eyes closed, lashes dark against pale cheeks, there was a large red mark across Peter’s forehead, blood streaming from his nose. He was unconscious. Tony’s breath caught in his throat as he knelt next to Peter.

“Peter? Wake up Peter, come on kid, wake up,” Tony said worriedly as he pushed Peter’s fringe out of his eyes. The rest of the team hovered around in concern.

A moment later, Peter’s eyes fluttered open, and once again he and Tony looked into each other’s eyes. Tony took a shaky breath at the misery he saw in Peter’s eyes. He looked so vulnerable lying there, so small.

“Steve, can you carry him to the med bay?” Tony asked urgently.

“Ahh, I think someone else should?” Steve answered uncertainly.

Bucky stepped forward and scooped Peter up, carrying him carefully as he and Bruce headed for the med bay.

“We’re done here,” Tony told Agent Westcott tersely.

“I have another lecture-” the man began.

“No you don’t. Not today,” Tony cut him off.

“We’re done.”

“Fury will hear about your insubordination,” Agent Westcott blustered angrily.

“Yeah? Make sure to tell him how you caused a minor to be knocked unconscious at the same time,” Tony shot back.

“Because if you don’t, I sure as hell will. Now get out.”

“I’ll be back next Friday afternoon. We’ll continue this then,” Agent Westcott replied coldly. Tony ignored him, instead striding towards the med bay.

In the med bay, Peter was sitting sideways in a chair, knees tucked up before him. He was holding an ice pack to his nose, his eyes shut and his head leaning sideways against the back of the chair. His hood was covering his head yet again.

“He refused to lie on the bed,” Bruce said quietly to Tony as he came in.

“His nose isn’t broken, just banged up. The bruise is already fading.”

Tony went over and crouched in front of Peter.

“Hey kid. You ok?” he said quietly. When Peter didn’t respond, Tony dragged a nearby chair closer and sat on it before him.

“Peter. Are you alright?” he tried again.

Peter’s head turned slightly, and he opened his eyes and looked at Tony. They were barely visible between the ice pack against his nose and the pulled-up hoodie that drooped over his head. Tony saw a pair of large, dark eyes with those damned dark shadows under them, unruly strands of hair dangling down. His heart twisted in his chest at the sight.

“Listen to me. I know this has been tough on you. It sucks, but no-ones dying. You just need to stick it out and it will be over soon enough. Ok?”

Peter closed his eyes, and took a halting breath. He began to speak, paused. Took another breath, then tried again.

“Someone died in Queens last night because I wasn’t there,” he whispered.

Tony’s heart felt like it split in two. Oh no.

“Oh Pete no,” Tony said softly, sighing heavily.

He instinctively reached out to hold Peter, then froze as Peter recoiled back from his outstretched hands, pressing himself into the back of seat, turning his head away and closing his eyes again. Shutting Tony out.

Tony stayed like that for a moment, stunned. Peter had never shied away from a hug before. He must hate me for making him miss that patrol, he thought sadly, dropping his arms quietly.

He didn’t leave though. They sat there for a while, next to each other but not touching, until Peter opened his eyes again.

“I just want to go home,” he said quietly, looking down. Tony nodded.

“I’ll take you.”

Bruce stepped back as he and Peter left the room. Peter didn’t look or speak at him, not even to thank Bruce for his help. It was very unlike his usual politeness. It’s like he didn’t even see him.

The car was full of silence on the drive to Queens. Peter sat in the back seat instead of the front, and when Tony looked in the rear-view mirror he was asleep. With those shadows under his eyes, it was likely he hadn’t slept at all the night before, Tony guessed.

He knew how seriously Peter took his role as protector of Queens. Being forced to miss a patrol, then learning that someone had died, must be tearing him apart. Tony resolved to tell May what had happened, to make sure that she knew he’d need extra support this week.

Leaving Peter that afternoon was the most difficult thing Tony had done in months.

 

 

--------------------

 

 

Back at the compound, Tony found everyone sitting in the living area. By the way heads lifted and people stood when he came in, he guessed they’d been waiting for him.

“How is he?” Steve asked first.

“Someone died in Queens last night while Peter was grounded. He blames himself,” Tony told them.

“I told May what happened. She’ll look out for him this week.”

“Poor kid,” Sam said. The rest nodded and muttered agreement.

“What the hell happened?” Tony asked in confusion.

“He was holding you up easily Steve,” he added to the super soldier.

“I told him he was doing good,” Steve said uncertainly.

“He looked up at me and- Tony he flinched. He looked up at me and flinched, like he was scared of me. He pulled his hands back and just fell. He didn’t even try to block his fall, just slammed into the ground. It happened so fast.” 

“I saw it too,” Natasha murmured from where she was sitting.

“He was definitely scared of you.”

“But why would he be scared of me?” Steve asked in bewilderment. Tony had no answer.

“Agent Westcott is awful,” Wanda complained.

“Do we really have to have him here, and do all the things he says?”

“The United Nations panel overseeing the Sokovian Accords has placed S.H.I.E.L.D. in authority over us. If we don’t do what they want, things could become very uncomfortable for us,” Tony said tiredly.

“Let’s hope he gets whatever he wants and finishes as quickly as possible,” Rhodey replied.

“He probably has some program he has to put us through in order to teach us ‘discipline’,” he finished, using Tony’s classic air quotes around the last word.

Tony agreed. They just needed to get through this, get it over and done with. Peter was suffering now, but he’d be alright once it was done. He’d been through worse.

“Tony, are you alright?” Pepper asked him, concern in her tone.

“I’m fine. Why?” Tony asked her, confused by her worry.

“You keep rubbing your chest. Is there something wrong with your heart?” she told him.

“No. It’s fine. I’m just worried about Peter,’ he answered.

“I think we’ll let Doctor Cho be the judge of that,” she told him, a steely glint in her eyes as she stood.

“Come on. You’re going to the med bay.”

Tony sighed, and rolled his eyes at her in resignation. He didn’t bother arguing, instead just quietly going with her.

His grin of vindication when given the all clear by Doctor Cho was satisfaction enough.

 

 

--------------------

 

Chapter Text

 

NOW

 

---------------

 

Wanda

 

She sat on the couch between Sam and Clint, weeping. Peter was gone, he had left her, even had Pietro had left her. They had both been stolen from her, both lost, both far too young. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. It couldn’t be true. Not Peter. Not again.

Wanda’s grief surged over her like a wave, exactly as it had when she’d felt Pietro’s death. Again and again it swelled, knocking her down inside. The last time, Wanda had had to stand against it, to finish Ultron off. Now she had no reason to stand. She felt like she too was drowning, even as Peter had.

It had been a surprise to meet Peter, and learn just how young he was. Unlike most of the others, Wanda understood his need to fight for his beliefs at such a youthful age. Having lived less years didn’t mean that children didn’t care just as much about what they believed in as adults. She thought perhaps people forgot that, as they grew older.

She and Peter had both lost their parents at a young age, and so Wanda had felt a connection with him. In Peter’s cheerful, cheeky personality Wanda saw echoes of Pietro, and being with Peter made that loss a little easier to bear. He had known loss, like she had, but hadn’t lost everything, like she had. He still found joy in life, and had slowly been showing Wanda how to find it again too.

Peter was a child of his times, and of the American way, fluent in the use of the internet and its idiosyncratic ways of communicating. Sometimes listening to the way Peter spoke made Wanda feel old, even though she was only a few years older than him. He was helping her feel young again, bit by bit, teaching her the ways the internet and the social medias. She preferred her privacy, but enjoyed the silliness of it all.

She showed him the sitcoms that she’d loved as a child, and they watched them companionably together, eating popcorn and laughing. Wanda enjoyed laughing with Peter. It felt like home.

She saw how much Peter meant to Tony, and was glad that they had found each other. Everyone suffered loss, but finding a new family was an unexpected gift. They both deserved that. But now Peter was gone and-

Wanda.

Vision’s voice pierced her like a dart, shocking her out of her miserable thoughts.

Wanda, it’s not Peter. Do you hear me? It’s not Peter.

Lifting her head from Sam’s shoulder, Wanda looked at him, her eyes widening as hope swelled within.

“It’s not Peter,” she told him in joy, then turned to Clint on her other side.

“It’s not Peter!”

“What? How do you know?” Sam asked urgently, grabbing her. Clint’s eyes were staring into hers, wet and large.

“Vision just told me! It’s not Peter!” she almost shrieked, her emotions threatening to overwhelm her. Their faces reflected the shock and hope that she felt so strongly.

“Vision has just contacted me and informed me that he has confirmed that the body is without doubt not Peter’s,” Friday advised.

“I am informing Ms Potts and Mr Rhodes now as well.”

Wanda fell back against the couch in stunned happiness. It wasn’t Peter!

 

---------------

 

 

Scott

 

He heard the news when Cassie came running out to where he was working on the van in the garage, just before lunch on Saturday.

“Daddy, Daadddy!” she shrieked, tears streaming down her face. As he stood up hastily, Cassie grabbed him and pulled him into the house, refusing to tell him what the matter was. The news was on the television in the kitchen, the headline “Spider-man Dead?” in bold print across the bottom of the screen. Scott felt as if his heart stopped. Oh no.

“Is it true Daddy?” Cassie whispered tearfully. “Is Peter dead?”

“I don’t know baby,” Scott said, pulling out his phone. Tony didn’t answer his call, but Friday did. She updated him but had no real answers.

“Peter’s missing, baby. The Avengers are out searching for him.” Scott told his crying daughter.

“Are you going to go and help look for him Daddy?” Cassie asked him pleadingly.

“Of course I am. Can you call your mother and ask her to come get you? I’ve got to book a flight. Remember, no-one knows-”

“That Peter is Spider-man. I know Daddy, I’m not a little kid you know. I can keep a secret. Just find him okay? Please find him.”

There were no direct flights from San Francisco to New York until Sunday lunch time. Scott didn’t want to wait that long, anxious to get out there and help the search. He took a six pm flight to Miami, then overnighted at the closest motel. A four am flight had him arriving at La Guardia at seven am Sunday morning.

He’d finally gotten through to Sam just before he landed, and had heard about the discovery of a body overnight, learning with relief that they’d confirmed it wasn’t Peter’s. Scott knew he would not have been able to cope with that at all. 

Whatever had been going on with Peter for the last few months didn’t change the way Scott felt about him. Peter was special, and to say that about someone when there were so many incredible people in the Avengers team was really saying something. There was no-one else like Peter.

It had felt wonderful to have someone look up to him the way Peter had. He’d often felt undervalued and overlooked, but Peter’s awe when they met had changed everything. Tony had looked at him differently after that, and started talking to him more. He understood quantum physics less well than Scott did, but well enough for them to bounce ideas off each other. He’d even given Scott his own lab space, kitting it out with all the equipment Scott could ever have dreamed of.

Their prank with the giant Lego had been the best. Scott had loved the playful nature of sneaking around the compound positioning all the figures, and then watching Cassie and the other kids playing hide and seek while looking for the tiny Ant-man figure. Even the adults had joined in, and it had felt so nice to be a part of the fun. A real part of the group. It had also reminded him of how things used to be with Cassie, when she was much younger. Their relationship was good now, but it hadn’t been that playful for a while. Until Peter came into their lives.

It was Scott’s fault that they forgot to resize and return the Quin Jet. He was the adult. He should have remembered before taking Cassie to the airport and flying home with her that night.

Peter had copped the blame because he had the miniature Quin Jet in his bag, but it was Scott’s fault. Tony hadn’t listened when Scott tried to explain it to him over the phone the next day. He was too angry to hear the words. Scott had tried to explain to Agent Westcott as well, the first day he arrived at the compound, but had been brushed aside. The same thing happened each time he said anything about it. It was almost as if Westcott had something against Peter, but that couldn’t be right. He didn’t even know Peter.

Scott had been forced to watch as Westcott focused his aggravating discipline sessions on Peter more than any of the rest of them, and it had made his stomach churn every time. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. But there was nothing he could do about it. He’d tried talking to Peter now and then during the months since Easter break, but Peter hadn’t been responsive. He’d shut Scott out, just as he had the others. That had hurt Scott deeply, after their earlier camaraderie.

None of that mattered now though. Peter needed help, and Scott was going to be there for him. Nothing else mattered.  

His final flight landed, and he left the plane, carrying only his backpack. Scott didn’t bother going to the Avengers compound. He was already in Queens, not far from the search area. He took a taxi to where Friday had told him the Avengers were, and joined the search. He would be there for Peter and nothing would get in his way. Scott would search with the rest until they found him.

 

---------------

 

Rhodey

 

Standing before the large crowd of reporters in the Avengers compound press room, he held his hands up to quieten them down. Lights flashed and video cameras flickered with red lights as they all focussed on him, holding microphones out eagerly to hear what he had to say.

“Thank you all for coming. As you know, Spider-man was grievously injured in the early hours of Saturday morning, and fell into the East River in New York City. Despite the search beginning almost immediately, to date we have not yet found him. We will not stop until he is found.”

“The Avengers would like to thank the New York City Police and Fire Departments, many of whom have been tireless in assisting the search. We would also like to extend our gratitude to the people of New York, and Queens in particular, for coming out to help as well.”

“We are humbled by how many lives Spider-man has touched, and we know that he will be too. If you are searching for him, please make sure that you keep yourself and others around you safe. Thank you,” Rhodey finished simply.

“Colonel Rhodes! Colonel Rhodes is it true that a body was found last night?” a pushy reporter from the New York Times shouted over everyone else’s questions.

“Yes, that is true, however we have verified that it is not Spider-man. Out of respect for the deceased I will not be discussing the matter further. It’s a police matter now,” Rhodey answered her. He stayed with the crowd for further questions, then took his leave, citing the need to get back to the search.

In reality, Rhodey was heading back to the med bay to check on Tony, who had not yet been released. He was deeply concerned about how Peter being missing was affecting his oldest friend.

Watching the way that having Peter in his life had matured Tony had given Rhodey great joy. Taking Peter under his wing and mentoring him in both tech and the ways of the superhero, Tony had truly found himself at last. No longer the drunken, irresponsible playboy, Tony had essentially become the one thing Rhodey had never expected – a father.

Rhodey knew that just as he had refused to stop looking for Tony when he was lost in the desert, so to would Tony refuse to stop looking for Peter.

This press conference reminded him of the disastrous one in which Tony had revealed himself to the world as Iron Man. Peter didn’t want that. He wanted to keep his identity a secret from the world, to protect his loved ones, and Rhodey respected that. Putting the safety of others before yourself was something he and Peter had in common.

Despite thanking the city’s service personnel and civilians for helping in the search, Rhodey hoped that the Avengers would find him first. If he was found by anyone else, hurt as he was, his identity would be exposed for all the world to see. It wouldn’t matter that he was their hero, especially after the way he took a bullet for the police captain. His secret would be revealed and his loved ones in danger from his enemies.

Rhodey knew that Peter would allow himself to die rather than let that happen, even as Tony had allowed himself to be poisoned by the palladium from the early Arc Reactor models. Tony had kept on doing what he needed to do to save others, at great personal cost to himself, rather than stop, and risk people getting hurt.

Peter was exactly the same. Yet more proof that they belonged with each other. So Rhodey went to check on Tony, ready to be by his side when he went back out to continue the search.

Tony’s collapse last night hadn’t shocked Rhodey, though it had scared him. Watching Tony suffer over recent months, as he watched Peter struggle with the consequences of his pranks; he had realised just how much Peter meant to Tony. He’d had problems with his heart ever since those pieces of shrapnel had pierced it all those years ago, and even after Tony no longer needed an arc reactor in his chest, Rhodey knew it was still fragile. Rhodey had watched Tony watch the child that had come to be like a son to him flounder, and had seen how deeply it had affected him.

Thor’s belief that their hearts were linked in some mystical way sounded like bullshit, but something about it made Rhodey reconsider. Perhaps this heart bond idea had some merit to it after all. It would explain why Tony had collapsed when he thought Peter was dead – and why he opened his eyes when they told him it wasn’t Peter.

Doctor Cho had sedated him again after that, insisting that he still needed to rest through the night. Rhodey didn’t envy Pepper for having to explain that one to him. He’d left her to handle that explanation, taking on the responsibility of the press conference to avoid it.  

 

They needed to find Peter, and soon.

 

Rhodey wasn’t sure how much more Tony could take.

 

---------------

 

Sam

 

The relief Sam had felt upon hearing that the body in the river wasn’t Peter had roared through him in a wave of emotion. He’d been sitting silently with Wanda and Clint, holding her as she wept, pressing his arm against Clint’s to remind him he wasn’t alone.

Thank God it’s not Peter.

Now he was back in Queens, continuing the search with the others. It hadn’t been Peter’s body that had been found, and he was still out there, lost and needing help. They still had to find him.

Shuddering as the images from the news video of Spider-man falling from the bridge flashed through his mind yet again, Sam shook his head to force them out. It was as if they’d been playing on a constant loop in his head since the first time he’d watched it. That stomach churning dread he’d felt, in the pre-dawn darkness of Saturday morning as the footage played before them. He just couldn’t shake it off. An insidious reel of images, filling his mind without mercy.

Memories of the way Riley fell, triggered when he saw Peter fall. Not again.

The dimness of the dark night sky, muting the bright colours you’d usually see. The sudden, echoing rattle of gun shots, thuds as they hit their target. The jolting of Peter’s body being hit, then falling back, arms spread wide as if embracing the sky.  Sam had seen the exact moment that Peter’s consciousness vanished just before tumbling away into the darkness below. The way his body had gone limp, his spark gone. Was he only unconscious or was he lifeless? Sam couldn’t tell. Didn’t think he could bear to find out.  The aching emptiness of loss surged through him. Not like Riley. Please no, not again. God not again.

Sam didn’t think he could live through that again, especially not with Peter. He’d left active duty after Riley died, unable to keep flying missions with that aching loss gnawing away inside him. That was why he’d begun helping other veterans work through their post-traumatic stress disorders. It had helped him learn how to live with his own. Now it was as if time had rewound, and he was there in that moment again, watching Riley fall. There was nothing he could do. Just hover in the sky and watch him fall.

If Peter really was de- he couldn’t even think the words to himself. Peter can’t be gone. Not Peter. He didn’t deserve this. Sam mentally shook himself. This was no time to lose it. Peter needed them.

Having Peter in their lives over the last year had helped the awkwardness between the divided team heal more than Sam had ever expected. They’d been so fractured, so broken and distrusting of each other. Peter’s enthusiasm cheered them all up every time he was with them. Sam had watched him, thawing Steve, and even Bucky without even knowing what he was doing.

Helping Tony slowly start to trust them again by showing him they were safe to be around.

Peter was interested in all of them, and found something in common with each of them. His interest infected everyone, and they each learnt things about the others they’d never anticipated.

Finding out like that Bucky liked to read when Peter switched his books didn’t change how they worked together on missions, or how they trained together, but those sorts of things brought them closer together as a team, as they should be. Peter understood intuitively that the little things mattered, and he taught that to the rest of the team by his example. He was an important part of the team. Perhaps the most valuable of them all.   

 

Twisting in mid-air, Sam swooped down on yet another roof-top to search it.

 

They would find him. Any other possibility was simple unbearable to think about.

 

Peter would be found, and he would be fine.

 

Sam would make sure of it.

 

---------------

 

 

Clint

 

Walk the streets and search. Search every alley way. Every hidden alcove, every crack in between buildings. Don’t stop. Can’t stop. Gotta find Peter. He needs us.  

The thoughts repeated themselves over and over as Clint searched. Thinking they’d lost Peter had nearly broken him. He couldn’t handle going through that again.

Peter was unique. He was bright, and good, and loved everyone. He was pure, and self-less, a true hero. He was everything Clint wanted to be. Everything he could never be.

Tony and Peter had a close bond, no-one would argue with that. But Clint felt a strong connection with Peter too. From the first time they’d met (officially anyway, Berlin didn’t count); Peter’s unabashed admiration of Clint’s archery skills had earned him a special place in Clint’s heart. Peter hadn’t been at all duplicitous, but had openly and honestly respected Clint’s proficiency.

They’d had many discussions on their respective skills and how they were similar. Each had to account constantly for so many changing variables during the heat of battle, and each worked in multi-dimensional spaces more than the others, bar the flyers.

When Peter had finally revealed his ‘spider sense’, Clint had been hugely relieved. It had bothered him more than he let on, not being able to hit Peter with arrows. Not that he wanted to hit him, but he should be able to. Learning why he’d been unable to took that sense of failure from him.  

Clint hoped his own children would grow up to be as strong as Peter was, as honourable. That they would never find the darkness within that Clint knew he himself was capable of.

Peter had known pain in his life, and had survived it. He hadn’t let it change him. Clint knew that he would react very differently, should he ever lose his family as Peter had. He was capable of acts that Peter never would be. That only made it even more important to find Peter as soon as they could.

 

Clint knew what it was like to be all alone, and in pain.

 

Scared that the world would find him.

 

That they’d hurt him. He’d been there.

 

The thought that Peter was feeling that now made tears prick at his eyes if he dwelled on it too long.

 

He shook his thoughts away and kept searching.

 

They had to find him.

 

---------------

 

 

Bruce

 

 

“Spidey hurt?” The anxious, child-like voice spoke quietly in Bruce’s mind.

“Yeah buddy, Spidey hurt. We’ll find him though,” Bruce replied the same way.

“Spidey dead?” The voice was even quieter this time. It sounded scared, the way a toddler might after a nightmare.

“No bud, no. Spidey’s tough. He’ll be okay,” Bruce reassured him.

“Yeah Spidey tough, like Hulk. Spidey no die,” Hulk said firmly.

“Puny Banner find Spidey.”

Bruce nodded, and returned his attention to the search, sure that Peter wasn’t dead. He’d been hurt badly, sure, but Bruce more than almost anyone else knew just how strong Peter was.

Bruce, Tony and Peter had tested and measured Peter’s physical enhancements in every way they could think of. The results had amazed Bruce. This was what Ross was after when he’d commissioned Bruce to recreate the Super Soldier Serum. Bruce had been researching and experimenting with gamma radiation instead of vita radiation, which of course had resulting in the creation of the Hulk.

Then one day out of the blue, Peter appeared in his life. A child with enhancements matching and in some cases exceeding Steve’s. When he told Bruce how he’d been enhanced, Bruce had been stunned.

Peter had gained his powers through radiation as well, via a radioactive spider-bite. He’d never explained where or when it had happened, and didn’t know what type of radiation it might have been. Bruce hadn’t pushed, thinking it was better this information stayed secret, to prevent Ross and others like him from creating their own spider-powered soldiers. Peter’s secrets needed to be protected from them.

Peter was more than just an interesting scientific curiosity though. Sure, his Spider-man side was amazing and heroic. His Peter side was even more heroic, in Bruce’s opinion. Months ago, not long after they’d met, Peter had come to Bruce and shyly asked if he’d help Peter with a project. Bruce had agreed, thinking it would be a chemistry or biology school assignment or something.

Instead Peter had shown him a journal documenting his wounds as Spider-man, and how long they took to heal. Apparently he’d started using his webs to bind wounds up while out on patrol, and had noticed that they healed even faster when he did. He wanted to know if his web formula had the potential to improve the healing factor for ordinary humans and not just for him; and if so, whether there might be a way to produce medical dressings from the formula.

Intrigued, Bruce began planning a study with Peter’s input. As they did, Peter spoke of his plans for these dressings, if they were able to confirm the potential application he thought might be there.  

“I want them to be available to everyone who needs them. I want to make sure that they aren’t taken by the big pharma’s and sold for crazy high prices. Maybe Mr Stark will agree to produce them, and then we can keep the formula secret. But I want to make sure anyone, anywhere in the world can get access to them, either for free or for a really cheap price. Especially the people who can’t afford healthcare,” he finished passionately as he looked at Bruce through his messy fringe.

“What do you think?”

Bruce had smiled, he remembered fondly, and told Peter it was a fantastic idea. He was fairly sure that Tony would agree to produce the dressings, and would most likely even agree to give them away for free. It would be a good PR exercise, but Bruce thought Tony would do it anyway, for Peter. His web formula had the potential to revolutionise the medical industry, and help millions of sick and poor people around the world, and he wanted to give it away. The kid was amazing.

In addition to his caring and self-less nature, Peter’s unabashed acceptance and liking for the Hulk had improved Bruce’s own life enormously.

The first time he’d felt himself hulking out when Peter was around, Bruce had panicked about what the Hulk would do to Peter even as his consciousness was subsumed by the Hulk’s. He shouldn’t have.

They’d been in the training room as usual one Saturday morning. Bruce had been aware of Hulk simmering in the background of his mind. Always a faint presence, for some reason that day Hulk was more aware than he usually was. He was interested in this new person training with them, flipping and springing around in the air above them with his webs, laughing delightedly.

“Want meet Spidey,” Hulk decided, and with that strange statement took control from Bruce; to his horror.

The team reacted much as they always did when Hulk appeared, going still, doing nothing to attract his attention and antagonise him.

No-one had expected his appearance, judging by their surprised expressions. Bruce hadn’t seemed angry or upset, hadn’t been punched too hard while sparring. The Hulk was just suddenly there.

The Hulk and Spider-man saw each other at the same time.

“Hey! Hulk it’s you!” Spider-man called out excitedly, flipping around and swinging over towards him on a web.

“I’ve been waiting to meet you! You’re so awesome!”

He launched off the end of his web and flipped, landing right in front of Hulk. Tony had tensed, almost hyper-ventilating, and Bruce was shouting in Hulk’s head.

“Don’t hurt him Hulk, he’s a friend!”

Hulk snorted, and muttered “Hulk not hurt Spidey. Hulk like Spidey.”

The rest of the team took a few cautious steps closer at his words, and he glared at them. They froze.

“Hey Hulk, want to play?” Spider-man called out to him.

Hulk looked back at him and nodded, and Spider-man ran right up to him, then climbed up into his hand and curled into a ball.

“Toss me Hulk!” Peter called out. Tony clutched at his chest in the background at Peter’s words.

Hulk frowned a little, then took Spidey’s body in one hand and threw him out into the air away from him on an almost horizontal line. A web trailed out behind Spidey, and when he was about sixty feet away, he flipped and began zooming back at Hulk, curling in on his web as he went.

“Yeehaw I’m a human yo-yo!” Peter yelled in delight.

Hulk caught him, then threw him again, a loud, deep snort of laughter erupting from him. The group stared in astonishment at Hulk and Peter playing together, Hulk’s deep booming chuckle and Peter’s much higher giggles echoing through the large room. Hulk began tossing Peter higher, towards the roof, and Tony couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Hulk don’t slam Spider-man into my ceiling please! Outside the two of you!” he ordered.

Hulk snorted at him contemptuously, his lip curling.

Peter flipped onto the ground and ran towards the door, calling “Come on Hulkie!”, and Hulk lumbered after him happily. 

Once outside, the game continued. Sometimes Peter would use a web, and sometimes he’d tell Hulk to just throw him as high into the air as he could, shrieking with laughter and showing no sign of fear at all.

Bruce had regained a tiny part of awareness by that point, and from inside Hulk’s mind he noticed Tony go pale and swallow heavily when he saw how high the Hulk was able to throw Peter, hovering in the doorway as if not knowing what to do about this new development. But nothing bad happened. Peter used his web-wings to circle back down and land safely, or sometimes Hulk would leap and catch him, cradling Peter’s tiny body as carefully as if he were an egg. Inside, Bruce felt Hulk’s delight at having someone to play with, someone who wasn’t scared of him.

Hulk loved his Spidey friend.

A happy Hulk something that none of the team had ever seen before. Nat had been able to calm him somewhat in the past at times, but that was nothing like this. They never became exactly used to it, but they became slightly accustomed to having the Hulk randomly appear when Spider-man was around, wanting to play.

His presence within Bruce was always more peaceful after their play sessions, and Bruce was indebted to Peter for that.

One day, Peter came running into Bruce’s lab, dressed in training clothes and soaking wet.

“Dr Banner, Dr Banner, can Hulkie please come out and play?” he had asked Bruce excitedly.

“I found something I think he’d really like!”

In the middle of his work, Bruce had hesitated, then felt Hulk stir within him, curious and eager to play with his Spidey. Not wanting a Code Green, Bruce agreed, telling Hulk he’d go with Peter first and when they got there Hulk could come out to play. Hulk had subsided semi-tolerantly, impatience bubbling within him.

Peter had led Bruce out of the building and towards the lake, and Bruce realised he must have been swimming. But why was he fully clothed?

“So I was training with Mr Rogers and Mr Barnes right?” Peter began explaining in his rambling way.

“And we were jogging around the lake. I’ve seen the lake before, how could anyone miss it, but I’d never really looked at it, you know? So we got to this high bit, and I looked down, and it just looked a-mazing!” Peter bounced up and down around Bruce as they walked, his hands waving wildly as if to demonstrate a wide view.

“And then I looked down, and we were so high up, and the water was so far below us and I just thought, that looks like the most awesomest cliff dive ever. So I ran up to it and jumped. And it was just like – ahhhhh - and it felt like I was flying, and then I hit the water and Mr Banner, it’s so quiet and peaceful down there! All the sounds I hear all the time, they all just went away! I could stay down there forever. And so I thought that Hulkie would really like that too!”

“Oh my god Peter you jumped off that cliff? It’s got to be a couple of hundred feet high! Why didn’t Steve and Bucky stop you?” Bruce asked, appalled.

“I don’t think they noticed; they’d gone ahead by then. It’s not that high Mr Banner, really. Look I’m fine!” Peter replied, spreading his hands to demonstrate.

“Hulk jump,” the voice came forcefully from within Bruce, and he shuddered. This was not a good idea.

“Hulk swim,” the voice came again, and Bruce gasped in dismay as he was pushed aside. Hulk surged to the surface of their mind and took over.

“Swim Spidey?” he faintly heard Hulk say.

“Yeah! Jump, then swim!” Peter replied enthusiastically.

“Let’s go!”

Later that afternoon, after a contented Hulk had finally relinquished control, Bruce heard the full story. Steve and Bucky hadn’t noticed that Peter had vanished at first, so had kept running their circuit. By the time they had, and retraced their path looking for him, he and the Hulk were in motion.

They saw the huge, green-skinned Hulk, running straight for the cliff, with a tiny Peter clinging to his back, screaming with excitement. Steve and Bucky had raced after them, but only arrived after they’d leapt off the cliff.

Peter’s voice echoed in a high-pitched “Wooo-hoooo!” the sound falling as it followed the pair down. Steve and Bucky had watched as Peter sprang away from the Hulk just before they both hit the water, Peter diving gracefully while the Hulk hit like a bomb.

The pair both disappeared, and Bucky sucked in his breath.

“How long can Peter stay underwater?” Steve asked apprehensively, searching for any sign of them.

Bucky just held up his hand and pointed at his mouth. He was holding his own breath to keep track of how long they’d been under. Steve had nodded in wordless understanding. If Peter hadn’t surfaced by the time Bucky needed a breath, they’d go after him. 

At last Bucky gasped for breath, and Steve looked at him worriedly. Peter still hadn’t resurfaced. He took a few steps back, preparing to run and jump, when Bucky held up his arm and pointed.

“There!”

Peter had resurfaced, followed a moment later by the Hulk. Steve and Bucky watched as Peter clambered up onto the Hulk’s back and clung on as he started to swim back to the cliff. Hulk climbed up the cliff quickly and easily, the dripping pair looking at Steve and Bucky a little shame-facedly as they arrived at the top, giggling together.

The sound of the Hulk giggling was not a thing they ever thought they’d hear.

“Oh hi Mr Rogers and Mr Barnes! We decided to go for a swim!” Peter said innocently.

“By jumping off a cliff several hundred feet high?” Steve asked disapprovingly.

“Umm, yes?” Peter had answered guilelessly.

“It’s not that high. Want to try?”

“No!” “Hell yeah!” Steve and Bucky spoke simultaneously, and Steve glared at Bucky.

“You should try it Mr Rogers sir. It’s super peaceful in the water down there, you know all the sounds we hear all the time with our super-hearing, they just all fade away. It’s really nice.” Peter said pleadingly.

Steve had sighed, Bucky told Bruce, and had then given in. Peter had Steve wrapped around his little finger, Bucky teased Steve while they were telling their story.

“That’s how I found them,” a new voice cut in behind them.

“This bunch of maniacs spent the whole afternoon jumping off that cliff, then floating around underwater for as long as they could hold their breath,” Tony complained as he strolled into the living area. 

“I never thought I’d see a chill Hulk floating around on his back in a lake with my kid asleep on his chest,” Tony continued with a shake of his head.

“You pair are going to be the death of me, I swear. And you two are nearly as bad!” he admonished, shaking his finger at Steve and Bucky.

“I thought you’d be more responsible! And it was supposed to be my turn with Peter this afternoon!” 

They’d all laughed at the plaintive tone in his voice.

“I’ll play with you in the lab tonight okay Mr Stark?” Peter reassured him, while the others kept chuckling.

Bruce could feel the Hulk inside him, feeling drowsy and content.

“No-one plays with Hulk like Spidey. Spidey Hulk’s best friend.”

“He sure is Hulkie boy. He sure is,” Bruce had replied silently.

 

Now Hulk’s Spidey and Bruce’s Peter was missing.

 

Bruce didn’t know if the troubles that Peter had been having in recent months had anything to do with what had happened to him.

 

It didn’t matter. Bruce knew how it felt to be out there all alone, scared and hurt.

 

Peter was lost and he needed their help.

 

Bruce wasn’t going to let him down, and agreement from Hulk within rose in a warm inundation of emotion.

 

They were going to find him.

 

 

---------------

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

(then)

 

Peter didn’t come to the compound for his weekly lab afternoon session with Tony that next week. May messaged Tony to say he didn’t feel up to it. Tony let him be. He knew Peter had been patrolling every night as Spider-man, Friday had kept tabs on that through Karen. He needs to work off the guilt, Tony thought sadly.

He remembered the words Peter had spoken when they first met.

“When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.”

Tony sighed. He was impatient for Friday to arrive, to see Peter again, yet also wasn’t, as it would bring the officious Agent Westcott back as well. I won’t allow Peter to be grounded from patrolling again though, you can be damned sure of that, Tony thought viciously. He’s paid enough.  

Fury had called Tony during the week, and reprimanded him for cutting the discipline program short on the weekend. Tony was ordered not to interfere again, regardless of what happened, and threatened with even stricter disciplinary action against the whole team if he did. Tony had begun to explain about Peter’s injury, and Fury had cut him off, uninterested, then hung up on him. He’d fumed for hours afterward.

Eventually, it was Friday. Tony wanted to pick Peter up, and was surprised to be confronted by Happy, who also wanted to be there. Deducing that Happy was also concerned about Peter, Tony compromised, and so they both went. Pepper would be proud of me, he thought cynically

Waiting outside the Midtown School of Science and Technology, Tony anxiously searched the crowd of students streaming out for Peter. Most of the students had dispersed when he finally appeared, walking slowly. His friend Ned was with him, appearing almost like a guard. He walked Peter right up to the car, then hugged him tightly – though Tony noticed that it was a one-sided hug, Peter not returning it. Then, as Peter was climbing into the car, Ned rapped on Tony’s window. He rolled it down and looked at him curiously. They’d never actually met, but clearly each knew who the other was.

“You look after him this weekend,” Ned said sternly. “I know what happened. You need to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he finished, glaring at Tony with no sign of fear.

“I completely agree,” Tony simply said, then waved at the kid as Happy drove off. Peter, in the back seat, hadn’t spoken a word.

“Hey Peter,” Tony began, awkwardly twisting around in the front seat to look at Peter.

“How’ve you been?”

“Fine,” Peter mumbled, looking out the window.

“Do you want to get something to eat?” Tony asked, thinking Peter looked a little thinner than usual.

“I’m not hungry,” Peter replied, still not looking at Tony.

He closed his eyes, and Tony saw that he still had shadows under them. Too much patrolling, trying to make up for when he wasn’t there, Tony thought sadly. He looks so tired.

The drive back to the compound was silent as Peter slept.

Back onsite, Peter took his bag and disappeared into his room, where he stayed until summoned for dinner. When the others asked after him, Tony told them what had happened on the drive.

“The guilt is hitting him hard,” Tony explained. “He’s been patrolling a lot.”

“He’s probably worried about dealing with Agent Westcott again too.” Natasha observed.

“Should we go and see him?” Sam asked.

“With teenagers, it’s probably best to let him come to us,” Clint answered.

Tony agreed. He didn’t have as much experience with kids as Clint, but it felt very much as if Peter just wanted to be left alone.

Agent Westcott arrived as they were sitting down to dinner. He came out of the lift just as Peter came down the hallway into the living area. When Peter saw the agent, he went completely still, eyes wide as he stared at Westcott. He looks like a deer caught in headlights, Tony thought.

“Peter! Come sit with me,” he called, ignoring Westcott pointedly.

Peter scuttled sideways, giving Westcott as wide a berth as he could, and slid into his seat clumsily.

Westcott passed by the empty chair at the other end of the table, and sat opposite Peter instead. He smiled at everyone, looking completely insincere to Tony. Peter kept his head down, avoiding eye contact.

Conversation was stilted as the group ate. Tony noticed that, just as he had last week, Peter didn’t eat much at all. He’d take a mouthful of the fried chicken, or the steamed vegetables that Steve and Sam had cooked together, then hold it in his mouth for a long time, barely chewing. After several minutes, he’d swallow hugely, as if forcing himself to, then take a big drink of water. Tony bumped shoulders with him, trying to encourage him to eat, and Peter jumped, dropping his knife with a clatter.

“Fuelling your body is important Peter,” Agent Westcott said in a patronising tone.

“Do I need to add lessons in that to your program?”

Peter shrank back in his seat, and muttered “No sir,” quietly.

He picked up his knife again and ate another bite of chicken, then took a deep breath and began shovelling food into his mouth. Tony blinked as Peter cleared his plate rapidly, showing no pleasure in the meal, simply eating it robotically.

“May I be excused?” Peter asked Tony moments later. Tony nodded, taking pity on him, and Peter stood.

“I’ll be in soon for your one-on-one session Peter,” Agent Westcott said as Peter turned to leave.

Tony saw Peter’s shoulders stiffen and his hands tighten into fists, then he bowed his head for a moment before walking away from them all, heading towards his bedroom.

“I’ll come with you,” Tony told Westcott after Peter had left.

“You will not,” the agent replied.

“Was Director Fury not clear enough during his call to you earlier this week? You are not to interfere again.”

Tony glared at the obnoxious man in impotent anger, his hands tightening into fists just as Peter’s had, then shoved his chair back and stalked out of the room, furious at the situation and his inability to make it easier for Peter in any way.

Several hours later, Tony looked up from the prototype web-shooter he’d been tinkering with in his lab. He hadn’t achieved anything of note, being too distracted by his worry about Peter to work well.

“Friday, what’s Peter doing?”

“Peter left the compound two hours ago,” Friday replied.

“Karen informs me he is currently patrolling in Queens.”

That was good, Tony thought. He was out doing what he loved. Peter must be alright.

 

 

 

--------------------

 

 

 

Peter appeared at breakfast the next morning, and slowly ate a piece of toast under Westcott’s watchful eye, and Tony’s concerned one.

He was still very quiet, sitting between Wanda and Natasha, who tried to engage him in conversation. Peter nodded or shook his head in answer to their questions, occasionally shrugging, but didn’t contribute to any of the chat that the other Avengers were working hard to keep light-hearted. Tony saw several of them watching Peter, and exchanging looks around him.

The morning’s training session began with a slide show presentation. Tony huffed in disgust, then plonked himself down on the floor next to Peter, glaring at Agent Westcott challengingly. 

‘The Discipline of Teams’ floated across the screen in front of them. Tony groaned and resigned himself to yet another long, numb-assingly boring waste of time.

“When you think about discipline, you probably think about disciplinary action: punishment, warnings, performance improvement plans, suspensions, and so on. But discipline can also mean a structure, attitude, and environment that supports excellence.” Agent Westcott narrated the slides as they watched, even though the words were clearly on the screen and they could all read.

An hour later, it finally ended. They weren’t allowed to stand up yet though. Agent Westcott had more to say.

“Our aim for the Avengers is to mould you into an efficient, disciplined team. One with meaningful common goals, whose mix of complementary skills work together towards those goals. Today’s exercises are designed to get you to practise setting specific performance goals and develop a sense of mutual accountability. What happens to one of you, happens to you all. We’ll start with the Human Knot.”

Tony sighed and rolled his eyes. Where did this guy get his material, some human resources manual from the seventies?

“Stand up and form a circle, then join hands with two other people – but not the ones next to you. You must unravel the knot by untangling yourselves without breaking the chain of hands.”

Huffing in exasperation, Tony joined the others as they did what they were told. Everyone ended up standing very close to each other, their personal space completely invaded. Normally Tony would be very uncomfortable with this, as he suspected Bruce and Bucky were. This time, his focus on Peter helped distract him. The boy could barely be seen amongst the taller adults.

They began to manoeuvre around each other, bending, twisting and turning. Bodies were pressed up against each other in a variety of awkward ways. The height differences made things interesting. Tony snorted, then chuckled out loud when he saw Peter, eyes tightly shut, jammed with his entire front pressed against Wanda’s, and Natasha’s pressed up behind him. He wasn’t holding either of their hands, but was being slowly pulled between them.

“Every man’s dream hey Peter?” Tony called to him. Peter looked completely mortified as his face went bright red. The rest of the men laughed as well, breaking the tense mood.

Natasha turned her head and glared at Tony, looking as if she wanting to stab him with something. Tony blinked, taken aback. What was she so upset about?

The exercise continued. Now, as people twisted and turned over and around each other, various comments filled the air.

“Oooh baby, I like the way you feel,” Sam told Bucky as their arms slid over each other’s.

“You’re so strong and manly.”

Bucky snorted, a smile flickering across his face.

Clint and Scott both began giggling when Clint tried to climb under Scott, through his legs.

“Ride me cowboy, ride me!” Clint chirped. The whole knot almost went over and they all started to laugh.

All except Peter, Tony suddenly noticed. They were close to each other at that point, and Peter’s face was grimly set. He was easily the most flexible of them all, able to bend and contort in almost any way required, but he wasn’t having any fun at all judging by his expression.

The continuing movement forced Tony and Peter to stand next to each other, Tony’s chest against Peter’s back, and Tony frowned as he realised that Peter’s whole body was trembling.

“Are you okay Pete?” Tony whispered softly; his mouth right next to Peter’s ear.

Peter didn’t reply, and a bigger shudder ran through his body. Tony’s frown deepened. Peter was definitely not okay.

Looking up, Tony saw Natasha watching them. Tony tried to communicate his concern to her wordlessly, and she nodded. Steve and Clint saw their interaction, and the ripples of it spread through the others as well. Eyes glanced at Peter, then over at Agent Westcott, who stood off to the side watching them.

Wordless communication flashed through the adults in the group, and suddenly Natasha, Sam and Rhodey all fell down, hands coming apart and breaking up the knot. Peter gasped quietly and quickly stepped to the side, away from everyone else, standing there with his shoulders heaving and arms clasped tightly together in front of him.

“Hmph. Clearly we need to work on this again another time,” Agent Westcott announced disapprovingly.

“You are still acting like children. But for now, follow me.”

Agent Westcott led them outside and kept walking, not looking back. Following meekly like a brood of ducklings, the Avengers closed in around Peter, putting him in the protected middle position by unspoken agreement. They kept their distance, everyone noticing by now how he twitched when anyone got too close to him. What was going on with him? Tony wondered in confusion. Is he mad at us for all making him do all of this? 

After a few minutes’ walk, Tony realised that Westcott was leading them to the assault course he’d had custom built for the Avengers, off to the side of the property.

“Split into two teams again. Rogers and Barnes, you need to be in separate teams. You’re both the largest and heaviest, so you’re going to be blind-folded, and your hands and feet tied. You’re our ‘prisoners’, and your teammates must get you through the course. To make you all work as an actual team, those with powers or tech are not allowed to use them. No webs Parker. No hulking out Banner. You need to work hard, work smart and help each other.”  

Bruce rolled his eyes at this, and snorted. Everyone else knew he never wanted to hulk out, but apparently not this guy.

Looking at everyone, Tony saw the same mix of resignation and exasperation that he felt on most faces. Peter looked like he wasn’t even there, staring off in the distance. Bucky had his fists clenched, glaring at Westcott, and Steve was speaking quickly and quietly into his ear. Grudgingly Bucky nodded.

“Right. Carrying Rogers will be Parker, Wilson, Rhodes, Barton and Ms Maximoff. Barnes will be carried by Stark, Banner, Lang, the Vision and Ms Romanov. Vision, kindly tie our prisoners up for me,” Westcott instructed.

Great. Tony started feeling anxious. Not only had he been separated from Peter, but he was stuck with Bucky. Westcott probably did this deliberately, the sadistic bastard. 

Bucky had allowed Vision to tie his hands and feet together with the thin cords Westcott had supplied. He did not look happy. Vision then tied Steve, and blindfolded them both.

“Let’s get on with it everyone.” Tony muttered to them all.

He didn’t have the heart for a rousing moral boosting speech. He just wanted to get this over and done with. They stood in their groups at the start of the course, each with a trussed super solider in the middle. Westcott called the start and they began.

Because it had been Tony who had designed the course, for the Avengers, it could be configured in a multitude of ways, with varying levels of difficulty. Steve and Bucky were able to use the control system to configure the course to be as difficult as they wished, with higher, deeper and longer challenges than the basic course. They used it several times a week, as did the rest of the team, though anyone un-enhanced usually set it to the easier designs. 

The course was currently in its standard configuration, similar to most military assault courses, for which Tony was extremely grateful. He hoped Westcott didn’t know about the other settings, just the basic course was going to be hard enough with no tech or powers, carrying the heavy super soldiers.

They began. Tony had been feeling apprehensive from the moment the teams were announced, but as they worked together to carry Bucky, he found that he was able to compartmentalise those feelings. Stealing glimpses of his teammates, and the other team, it seemed like the others were doing the same.

Carrying their ‘prisoners’, the teams manoeuvred up, over and around a six-foot and a ten-foot wall, a climbing net, various sized bars they had to climb over or under, and a net that had to be crossed. Tony’s tension eased further as they communicated with each other to move Bucky through the obstacles, and he even managed to speak to Bucky himself a few times, telling him what was happening and what they were going to do before they did it.

Finally they made it to the end, and Tony untied Bucky himself, patting him on the back silently. Bucky heaved a sigh of relief and nodded back. They all had scratches, scrapes and bruises in various parts of their body, but nothing serious. Together, they turned to see where the other team was.

Steve’s team were back at the overhead traverse monkey bars still. These were made of scaffolding, higher than standard monkey bars, and stretched across a waist deep pit of muddy water below. 

Vision’s strength had come in very handy when Tony’s team had made their way across the bars during their turn. He had simply held Bucky around his torso with his legs and swung across with his hands while the others made their own way across. Tony had assumed that Peter, being the strongest in his team, would do the same.

Instead, Peter was crouched alone on the top of the scaffolding, his arms folded and his back turned to them all. His whole posture radiated anger. Steve was in the muddy water below, being dragged out by Rhodey, Sam, Clint and Wanda. They were all filthy. They pulled Steve to the other side of the pit and clambered out clumsily, then stood and looked up at Peter, high above them. Going into a huddle, they could be seen talking to each other.

Clint then broke away and swiftly climbed up to Peter, crouching next to him. He reached out to touch Peter, who recoiled away from him and quickly dropped down through the scaffolding, swinging along it easily and reaching the rest of his team far more quickly than Clint, who had to climb down in a more human manner. The team began moving through the rest of the course again, with Peter barely assisting, and eventually arrived at the end, puffing and panting.

“What did you think you were doing out there Parker?” Agent Westcott shouted at him as soon as he arrived at where they were all standing.

“You dropped your prisoner in the water, and deserted your teammates. Despite being the strongest, you let them do most of the work. This exercise was about teamwork, not about doing whatever you want!”

Peter scrunched up his eyes and lowered his head, and his hands closed into fists. Then his chin jutted out and he raised his eyes, glaring back at the agent.

“This is stupid!” he unexpectedly yelled in Westcott’s face.

“We would never do anything like this for real! We have powers and tech for a reason, and telling us not to use them is just a waste of time!”

His outburst stunned Tony. It was the opposite of every other time he’d interacted with Westcott, and completely unlike Peter. Tony had never actually heard Peter yell at anyone before, he realised in surprise. 

There was a moment of silence as everyone stared at Peter in shock, then Agent Westcott’s eyes narrowed.

“You have clearly failed to see the point of this exercise. We will discuss it in more detail during your personal session tonight. The rest of you, keep him under control this afternoon or there will be consequences,” he told them angrily, before spinning and stalking off back towards the compound.

Tony turned to Peter, as the others were too, and noticed that his angry demeanour had completely vanished at Westcott’s words. His face had turned white, and he was hugging himself tightly. Eyes wide open, Peter looked at Tony beseechingly.

“I- I thought he was leaving this afternoon?” he said quietly, voice quivering.

“No, he’s staying another night to make up for what we missed last week,” Tony told him.

“Look, you’re right, okay? This is ridiculous, and we wouldn’t do it this way during an actual mission. But we have to do what he says so that he can tick all his boxes and leave us the hell alone. Can you do that with us?”

Peter’s eyes slid past Tony, in the direction of Agent Westcott, and his gaze unfocused. Tony thought he hadn’t been heard, then Peter shuddered all over, and gave a sudden nod, firming his jaw and gulping. He didn’t say anything else, just shot a web out above them and swung up and away, going around Westcott below him and heading for the compound.

“What the actual fuck happened out there?” Tony asked Steve’s team with weary exasperation, as they all watched Peter vanish into his bedroom window.

“I’m not really sure,” Steve answered.

“We decided that Peter should carry Steve up and across the monkey bars,” Sam told the other team.

“He’s the strongest, so it made sense, right?”

Everyone nodded.

“So we got Steve to stand behind Peter and put his arms over Peter’s shoulders, piggyback style. Peter started climbing up the side easily,” Clint said.

“He didn’t say anything, but I could tell something was wrong,” Steve continued.

“He was trembling, and kept twitching away from me, like his skin was crawling. We were at the top and starting across when I slipped a little. I tightened my arms to hold on better, and he just…. froze. He went completely still, and I could feel him gasping.”

Steve paused, then shrugged, spreading his hands wide.

“Next thing I know, he’s somehow twisted out of my grip and I’m falling.”

“I cushioned Steve’s fall with a bit of magic. I was trying not to let Agent Westcott see, but I couldn’t just let him fall like that,” Wanda told them apologetically.

“I don’t think he noticed,” Rhodey said, smiling at her a little.

“Thank you Wanda,” Steve told her.

“I’m glad you did that. It was unnerving, falling like that while bound and blindfolded. Though I was more worried about Peter at the time. Why did he drop me like that? And the way he flinched from me last week. Have I done something to him? He’s not still mad at me about the dissolving swim shorts, is he? It was just a joke.”

“He could be. That really embarrassed him. But it’s not like him to hold a grudge,” Tony told him.

Wanda snorted. “My phone still plays ‘Poison’ every time it rings,” she pointed out.

“Teenagers can be pretty sensitive about being embarrassed,” Clint said consideringly.

“Right. I’ll talk to him about it later when he’s had a chance to cool down.” Tony decided, and they all started walking back towards the compound.

He still didn’t understand what had happened. It was so unlike Peter not to care about others, and to drop Steve like that? Tony still had trouble believing he’d actually done that. 

 

 

--------------------

 

 

 

The afternoon session passed painfully slowly. Agent Westcott had a quiz for them about responsibility, an actual, paper-based multiple-choice quiz. It’s like the man never left the eighties, Tony thought in disgust.

After that they had to split into groups of three, and work together to see who could build the highest tower out of popsicle sticks and putty.

Tony hoped that Peter would enjoy the engineering aspect of it at least, but watching him covertly, saw that he was only going through the motions, just barely participating. Natasha and Rhodey, his partners, were obviously trying to jolly him along, but Peter wasn’t cooperating. His chin jutted out mulishly as he jabbed the sticks into the putty and handed them over, not even attempting to build it himself.

Agent Westcott’s aggravating teaching technique and annoying exercises did bind the team closer together than they’d ever been before – but not for the reasons he thought he was teaching them.

In their concern and worry for Peter, the team had united again. Tony had all but forgotten what Steve or Bucky had done in the past, or who had fought each other on which side during their disagreement.

It simply didn’t matter anymore. Peter did. Tony didn’t even care that Bucky and Sam were his partners. He just built a tower from whatever they handed him, eyes on Peter the whole time.

Dinner was a repeat of the night before. Peter refused to make eye contact with anyone, and didn’t engage in any of the attempts at conversation. He just shovelled his food into his mouth as quickly as he could, then fled to his bedroom. 

“He’s just sulking,” Agent Westcott told them condescendingly.

“Teenagers can be moody. I’ll talk to him about it during our session.”

“What else do you do during your sessions with Peter?” Tony asked challengingly.

“I’m teaching him about the Accords, both in general and as they relate to him specifically. We also talk a lot about discipline, maturity, and the responsibility he has to society as an enhanced individual, among other things. All the things he should have been taught already, and hasn’t been.” Westcott answered him disdainfully.

“It’s easier to do that without you interrupting all the time and being a bad role model.”

Tony sat back, stung. He hadn’t neglected Peter’s education that badly, had he? Was he really a bad role model? His old doubts and insecurities came flooding back, and he barely heard Wanda asking about her own education, or Westcott’s brusque dismissal of her question.

That night, Tony had difficulty sleeping, as he continued to question his role as Peter’s mentor. He didn’t forget to check in on Peter with Friday though. Once again, she reported that he was patrolling.

At least he is still has that to make him happy, Tony thought in relief as he finally dozed off.

Tony was late to breakfast again the next day, which was fairly typical for him even without his current worry over Peter. He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat next to Peter at the table, greeting those already there.

“Morning Pete,” Tony said to the teen, who had his hood up at the table.

“Put your hood down please, you know we don’t like that at the table.” He was trying hard to show Westcott that he was in fact a good role model.

Peter’s hands rose slowly and pushed his hood back, keeping his eyes on his plate as he did.

“Peter what happened?” Natasha asked from across the table where she was sitting next to Westcott.

Tony tore his eyes from his phone and looked at Peter, who had a large dark bruise across one cheek.

“Nothing,” Peter mumbled, but Tony saw his eyes flicker to Westcott and away again.

“I got into a fight during my patrol last night. It’s fine.”

“You should be more careful with your actions Peter,” Westcott told him sternly.

“You don’t want to get hurt any more than you need to, even with your advanced healing.”

Peter’s shoulders slumped and his head dropped once more as he nodded quietly.

Tony watched Peter carefully. He seemed fine, but Tony wasn’t convinced. Peter was unlikely to open up any further in front of Westcott, with his obvious dislike of the man, so Tony bided his time semi-patiently.

Westcott left after breakfast, informing them he’d be back the following Friday. As soon as he was gone, Tony turned to Peter.

“Med bay. Now,” he said simply, leaving no room for argument. Natasha followed them and stood in the doorway.

Bruce shone his torch into Peter’s eyes and waved it back and forth. He gently palpitated Peter’s cheek, and pronounced it not cracked.

At his words, Tony stepped forward and clapped his hand down on Peter’s shoulder – who winced, then stilled, trying to hide his reaction.

It was too late. Tony and Bruce had both seen it.

“Shirt, off. Now.” Tony said. Peter bowed his head, staying still, then sighed and slowly took his shirt off.

Tony, still behind him, sucked in a breath in surprise. Peter’s back was covered in bruises, varying in shape and size. He heard Natasha’s similar reaction from behind him.

“What the hell kid?” Tony asked in frustration.

“Why didn’t you tell us you were hurt this bad?”

“It’s not that bad,” Peter muttered.

“I didn’t want another lecture.”

“Lie down. Friday, scan him,” Tony ordered, his stomach twisting at the thought that Peter felt he needed to hide injuries from them to avoid getting in more trouble with Westcott.

“Is that a boot print on your chest?” Tony demanded as Peter started to lie down on his back.

Peter shrugged, and answered “I guess so,” uncaringly, lying down as Friday scanned him.

“Peter has multiple contusions and one cracked rib on his left side,” Friday announced. Tony sighed heavily. Of course he did.

Bruce began taping Peter’s side up despite his protests that he’d be fine, and after a moment Peter gave up, bearing the treatment stiffly, staring off into the distance silently.

“Can I go home now?” he asked Tony once it was done.

“I’m tired.”

Tony nodded, and Peter left to pack his bag.

“Tony, do you think Agent Westcott did that to him?” Natasha asked, quietly moving to stand next to him after Peter had left the med bay.

“What?” Tony said, surprised.

“Why would you think that?”

“Peter doesn’t like him. You’ve seen how he acts around the man,” Natasha explained.

“I don’t like him either,” Tony said simply.

“Peter would tell us if he’d hit him though. He said he got into a fight during his patrol, and Peter doesn’t lie. I believe him.”

 

 

--------------------

 

They adjusted to the new routine, and grew somewhat accustomed to Agent Westcott’s presence at the compound every Friday night, and Saturday morning. No-one liked the man, but they learned to tolerate his presence.

Peter’s behaviour changed.

It was clear that he didn’t want to attend the team exercises run by Agent Westcott, or even be at the compound at all. He stopped coming to their weekday afternoon lab sessions, and complained to May about the weekend trips.

She called Tony to discuss things, telling him that Peter wanted to stay home and study. Tony explained the situation with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Accords in more detail to her than Peter had, and made it clear that his attendance was mandatory, or there could be significant repercussions.

May said she understood, and so Peter was made to attend the compound every time Westcott was on site.

He stopped staying on Saturday nights though, leaving as soon as he was released after the Saturday sessions. It was as if he couldn’t get away fast enough, Tony noticed with sadness.

Every time Tony tried to talk to Peter about his behaviour, he just repeated that the sessions were stupid and useless. He stayed in his room during breaks, and refused to talk to anyone during meals. Tony hadn’t had a chance to ask him what his problem was with Steve, and it didn’t seem as important anymore. Peter seemed to have a problem with all of them now, not just Steve.

Movie nights were a thing of the past. Pranks were non-existent. Peter hadn’t even set foot in his lab in weeks. Or in Tony’s.

He was behaving exactly like a moody, sullen teenager, and Tony hated it. This wasn’t his Peter. Where had the sunny, happy boy that they all knew and loved gone?

These damned S.H.I.E.L.D. sessions couldn’t end soon enough. Unfortunately when queried on the matter, Agent Westcott said he wasn’t happy with Peter’s behaviour either, so he'd have to continue the sessions indefinitely.

Three weeks before summer break, Peter didn’t come to the compound at all.

Happy called Tony when Peter didn’t appear at his car after school. Peter hadn’t answered his phone, so Tony called May. She told him that Peter needed to study for his exams that weekend. His grades had slipped this term and he was worried about them. That is was a very mature decision and they needed to respect that. Tony said he did, then called Agent Westcott to let him know.

“I’ll have to stay two nights next weekend to make up for the lost session then,” Agent Westcott informed Tony.

“Make sure Peter understands that. I expect sessions to continue through the school break as well.”

Tony sighed. Peter was not going to enjoy his summer break.

Perhaps Westcott would get what he needed soon and leave them the hell alone. Tony hoped that was how things would go.

This had gone on long enough.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

NOW

 

Sunday 3rd December 2017

 

Tony sat bolt upright in the med bay hospital bed suddenly, startling Pepper who was sitting nearby. Light filtered in through the high windows, brightening the room.

“How long was I out?” he asked Pepper urgently, noticing the daylight outside.

“About twelve hours,” she began to reply, then stopped as Tony swung his legs off the bed.

“Tony wait. Stop, please!” Pepper said, sounding desperate.

“You need to take care of yourself.”

Like hell I do. Tony ignored her and stood up, then quickly sat down again as the room swayed around him.

“Shit,” he muttered. His head pounded, and his teeth hurt, especially his front teeth. Had he lost one?

“What happened?” he asked, feeling his mouth with his hand.

“You passed out when you saw-”

“The body,” Tony breathed out a long sigh, then looked frantically at Pepper.

“It’s not Peter, right? Please tell me that wasn’t a dream.” He held his breath while he waited for her answer.

“It wasn’t a dream Tony. It wasn’t Peter. Just some other poor boy that ended up in that river for God knows what reason. The police are investigating it now,” she finished.

“Right. Poor kid. Okay I need to get back out there,” Tony said decisively, moving to stand up again.

“Tony.” The authoritative tone in Pepper’s voice made him pause.

“You had a medical episode last night. You haven’t eaten in well over twelve hours, if you even ate anything last night at all. If you go out there now, you will collapse again. Don’t put me through that again Tony. Don’t you dare.”

Tony blinked, and looked at Pepper. Really looked at her. She looked like a wreck. Her usually immaculate makeup was smudged, black marks under her eyes. Her hair was unkempt, and she looked pale, and exhausted. Oh.

“But Peter-” he started to explain, and she cut him off.

“Half the team is out searching for him. They have been ever since Vision confirmed that the body wasn’t Peters’. They’re working in shifts so that they get some sleep. The other half are resting, or eating, which is what you need to do,” Pepper told him pleadingly.

“Please Tony. Just have something to eat. Then you can keep looking for him.”

Tony reluctantly gave in and agreed. He knew from past experience that it was better to do what Pepper wanted. Even if he argued and fought against it, she’d win in the end. She always did. He had no idea how it happened; it just did.  

He grumpily followed her into the kitchen, where they found Rhodey cooking bacon and eggs. It smelled amazing.

“Making me a good breakfast old buddy?” Tony said in delight.

“For starters, it’s lunch, and yes, I am,” Rhodey informed him in an annoyingly condescending tone.

“If I don’t, you’ll go right back out there and search until you collapse again, won’t you? Don’t put Pepper and me through that again Tony. It’s not fair on us.”

Tony narrowed his eyes, about to make a snarky reply, when he saw the bags under Rhodey’s eyes. He looked as exhausted as Pepper did. Oh. Right.

Sometimes Tony forgot that people cared about him. Deep down, he didn’t feel he was worth caring about, and it always surprised him when he was shown that others did.

“Alright,” he said instead, taking the coffee that Pepper handed him.

“Can you tell me what progress has been made while I was sleeping?”

“You mean unconscious from a psychogenic blackout. Which was a result of stress and anxiety,” Pepper said unequivocally.

“Or if we believe Thor, your heart couldn’t handle the thought of Peter’s death,” Rhodey added, confusing Tony.

“What? What does that even mean?” he asked uncertainly.

“He says that you and Peter share a bond deeper and more magical than even that of a biological father and son. He calls Peter your Heart-son, and you Peter’s Heart-father,” Rhodey told him, shrugging wryly.

“He also said that when the bond is a strong one, what happens to one will often happen to the other, and he has never seen a bond as strong as yours,” Pepper continued, then looked directly at Tony.

“So you need to take care of yourself. For Peter. If this bond thing is real, he needs you healthy, and well,” she finished, staring at him intently. 

Tony was taken aback at this. He and Peter were linked somehow? He vaguely recalled Thor mentioning something about it months ago, but he hadn’t paid much attention. Thor often spouted random mystical nonsense, and Tony usually tuned it out and ignored him.  

A warm feeling began to grow in his chest. They shared a bond deeper than father and son… It felt right to him.

Tony picked up his fork and began to eat. For Peter.

Finally, after he’d finished the plate before him and found he was able to eat another helping, Tony was allowed to return to the search. He suited up with Rhodey beside him, and they headed out together. I’m coming Peter.

Despite Tony’s newfound hope and energy, and the freshly rested teammates that joined him, they didn’t find Peter that afternoon.

 

Or that night.

 

 

 

---------------

 

 

 

Monday 4th December 2017

 

The sky was beginning to lighten in an early pre-dawn shimmer and they still hadn’t found Peter.

More than forty-eight hours had passed since he was last seen alive.

Despite Tony’s reluctance, they went back to the compound for a short break. Shadows of exhaustion and lines of despair were etched deeply on all their faces.

Drinking yet another black coffee (and glaring at Bruce when he hesitantly suggested that it might not be the best thing for Tony’s heart), Tony paced back and forth in the living area while the others made themselves a simple breakfast. Everyone was too tired for anything elaborate today. They’d agreed to a couple of hours sleep before heading back out again.

“Friday, show me what Peter did after he left here on Friday,” Tony said, needing to see him again, even if only through the eyes of his suit via Karen.

“Do you mean the first time he left, or the second time?” Friday asked politely.

“What?” Tony asked back, surprised.

“He came back? After that shit storm of a fight that we had on Friday? Show us!”

Tony remembered the look in Peter’s eyes the last time he’d seen him. The desperation he’d felt, and Peter’s last words to him. They’d pierced Tony like a blade. He thought Peter would stay away for a long, long time after that. But Friday was saying he’d come back? When?

Friday began playing a video on the large wall screen TV in the living area, the time stamp showing it was recorded just after 2am Saturday morning. The rest of the team gathered to watch with Tony.

The footage showed Peter in his Spider-man suit, stumbling down the hallway towards the med bay, a knife sticking out of his leg. He slumped against the wall outside a bathroom, then staggered into it.

The video feed cut off, then restarted, the time stamp showed it was almost half an hour later. Peter came out of the bathroom, still wearing his suit but now with a bandage made of webbing around his thigh, and ran back down the hallway. Still limping and appearing to be in pain, Peter jumped much more awkwardly than his usual graceful style and dove out the window at the end of the hall that Friday had opened for him, disappearing from the camera’s line of sight.

“What the hell Friday? Why did Peter leave when he was clearly injured and seeking help? What happened in that bathroom?

Tony swore in frustrated confusion. He could hear the others murmuring similar comments to each other behind him, concern clearly audible in their hushed voices.

“I am unable to answer that question,” Friday said in a robotic tone, unlike her usual nuanced voice.

“What the fuck? Dammit Friday- ” Tony cursed again, getting ready to wrestle with whatever odd privacy protocol Friday was working under, when she interrupted him.

“Boss, Peter’s phone has just become active again. It is located on the roof of the Mount Sinai Queens Hospital.”

Tony’s heart thudded in his chest at her words. A surge of hope rushed through him and he spun, almost dropping his coffee cup in his haste to put it down on the table. The rest of the team had already begun racing for the Quin Jet, while Rhodey and Tony went for their suits and the closest window. Hold on Peter, we’re coming. Just hold on.

“Friday, is there any sign of Peter near his phone?” Tony asked once he was in the air and streaking towards Queens, using the open comm channel.

“No boss, sorry,” Friday said apologetically. 

Tony poured more power into his thrusters and quickly outdistanced Rhodey and the jet. It wasn’t enough. He needed to get there and get there now. Gritting his teeth, Tony kept going.

He finally arrived, and landed on the roof of the hospital, looking around, but not seeing anything out of place.

“Friday where is it?” he asked with anxious frustration.

“Look up boss,” Friday directed, “There, on the east facing wall.” and finally Tony saw Peter’s phone, webbed high up on the wall facing the rising sun, well above the reach of anyone on the ground.

Tony shot up and retrieved the phone as the rest of team arrived, Natasha parking the Quin Jet on the helicopter landing pad on the hospital rooftop. They all ran out of the jet and gathered around Tony. It was definitely Peter’s phone, the Hello Kitty sticker Tony had stuck to the back as a joke still there, partially peeled off with water damage visible on it.

“He must be nearby. Spread out and search every inch of this place,” Tony ordered tersely.

There were no objections to his abrupt tone, as everyone simply did as he said. The next few moments were a jumbled blur as each of them looked in every nook and cranny on the roof top they could find. 

Tony, Rhodey and Sam searched from the air above. None of them could see any sign of Peter. Come on Peter, where are you? Tony asked silently, his anxiety skyrocketing as more time passed and Peter wasn’t found. His heart began rapidly pounding in his ears, and his breathing sped up.

“I’ve got something!” Scott’s voice came over the comms in a tinny, excited shriek.

“I think- I think it’s Peter?” He sounded very uncertain.

“WHERE?” Tony demanded, looking around frantically. “Where are you?”

“Look at the rows of those metal boxes going up the tall brick tower thingy where Peter’s phone was stuck. I’m about halfway up, in a gap in between them-”

Tony was moving before Scott finished speaking, and found him, shrunk down to his tiny size standing between the rows of metal ventilation boxes attached to the side of the hospitals roof.  Rhodey and Sam swiftly flew up there as well.

“There,” Scott’s reedy voice came as he turned and pointed into the dim recess behind him.

“See that weird looking cocoon thing? It looks like Peter’s webbing, right? I sure hope it’s Peter anyway ‘cos otherwise we’ve got one huge insect problem-”

“Friday analyse,” Tony commanded, pointing his arm into the gap.

“The material is consistent with Peter’s webbing.” Friday informed him.

Tony’s heart, already beating quickly, sped up even more.

“I am unable to detect any vital signs,” she continued, and he felt like the world had dropped out from beneath him. Tony slipped down a few feet in the air as he clenched his fists and his thrusters cut out.  

He flew up again and forward, trying to reach Peter, and snarled as the narrow gap prevented access, his hands slipping and sliding over the metal, unable to reach in.

“The recess is only fifteen inches high boss, it is too small for you to enter,” Friday informed him and he snarled again.

“Scott, get in there and see if it’s Peter!” Tony asked urgently, desperate to get to him.

The tiny figure on the shelf of metal turned and ran into the back of the niche as Tony began frantically tearing the upper metal box apart. He could see blood pooled under the edge of the cocoon, dripping slowly off one side of the box, onto the other boxes below.

“Boss if you continue you risk structural failure which may harm Peter,” Friday’s voice in his ear sounded very far away.

A metal hand came down on Tony’s shoulder from behind, Rhodey pulling him away. Tony clenched his fists and restrained himself from punching his friend out of the way, shuddering with the effort.

“It’s Peter!” Scott’s voice rang out over the comms.

“I can see his hair, I’m climbing up it, oh man he’s so cold. Crap, I’m stuck in the webbing! I can’t move!”

“Tony, move out of the way. Scott, stay still,” Wanda’s voice came through the comms as she flew up to them, her hands glowing with her magic.

She hovered before the narrow shelf, reaching out her hands as her eyes lit up with an eldritch scarlet radiance. The glow spread over the cocoon of webbing as she used her magic to slowly draw it out of the niche. 

Wanda lowered the cocoon to the ground below in a controlled descent, and Tony and the other flyers followed while those clustered together on the roof top made room for them. She placed the pitifully small bundle to the ground carefully. It landed with barely a whisper on the concrete surface.

“That thing was invisible from both the air and the ground,” Sam told them.

“I don’t think we would have found it if not for the phone coming online again.”

Using the web dissolver in his own suit, Tony crouched down and began spraying a line along the top of the cocoon. Several people reached out and helped pull it gently away from Peter, while Bruce gently plucked Scott’s tiny body from where it was stuck near Peter’s forehead. Scott quickly morphed back to his usual size.

Peter’s body was revealed to a chorus of soft gasps and curses.

He was utterly motionless; extremely pale, his skin almost grey.

“Friday scan,” Tony whispered roughly, his voice shaking.

They waited while Friday’s lights flickered over Peter’s still body. It seemed to take much longer than she usually did, and when she spoke, she sounded strangely unsure.

“Vital signs are extremely slow boss. Slower than that required to sustain human life,” Friday finally said.

Tony’s hand trembled as he reached out to touch Peter gently, cupping the back of his head carefully.

“Peter? Wake up Peter,” he begged, voice shaking.

“Please, wake up.”

There was no response. He wanted to shake Peter a little, like he used to do when waking him at the compound, but didn’t want to hurt him more than he already was.

Tony began gently pulling more of the cocoon away with help from the others, struggling to breathe around the lump in his throat. Drums had begun pounding somewhere in the distance.

Peter’s small figure was lying curled tightly onto his right side. His suit was shredded, torn away almost completely from his entire torso and shoulders, remnants covering only his arms and legs.

Tony sucked in a shocked breath as Peter’s left shoulder was exposed, revealing a large dark handprint shaped bruise curling from his back over the top towards his front. Each finger mark ended in crescent shaped scabs of blood where fingernails had dug cruelly into his flesh.

Another handprint was branded onto Peter’s left hip, more crusted blood curving over his side towards his front where yet more fingers had dug into him. Lines of scratches were visible there as well, as if someone had repeatedly clawed at him from behind. Bile rose in Tony’s throat at the sight.

Curled into a foetal position, Peter’s arms curved in against his chest as if hugging himself, hands tucked over his face protectively. His eyes stayed closed as Tony and Steve gently turned him onto his back, his lips partly open as he breathed shallowly through his mouth. The length of time between one breath and the next was unnaturally long.  

Peter’s face was too pale, his lips almost blue, Tony saw, dread sinking inside him.

His lower lip was bloody and swollen, ragged lines of dried blood smeared down below it, and a gash across the right of his forehead had been oozing more blood sluggishly as well, coating half his face in gore.

As they turned him, Peter’s head lolled back limply, and audible gasps sounded from the group. A third handprint bruise was revealed, this one across his throat in prime choking position. The size of the hand seemed huge, almost covering Peter’s entire throat. It was vile to look at, and Tony shuddered to think of what had happened to Peter while on patrol that night. He hurriedly continued his inspection.

Scrapes, scratches, and cuts were scattered over every exposed patch of Peter’s skin, perhaps from an uncontrolled tumble through the debris choked waters of the river, or perhaps from earlier on his patrol. Patches of webbing were plastered haphazardly across his chest, with blood seeping out from under them slowly. None of his wounds appeared to have clotted properly, Tony noticed uneasily, even though more than two days had passed.

Tony counted three gunshots wounds under the rough webbing patches, as well as a long, deep gash running from Peter’s left thigh diagonally up to his right shoulder. His suit had been shredded apart and lay in tatters low on his hips. It was obvious that he’d tried to patch his wounds with webbing, but had only partly succeeded. Another, more secure looking bandage of webbing could be seen on the thigh where they’d seen a knife impaled on the video footage Friday had showed them, peeping through yet more rips in his suit.

“Don’t remove those patches of webbing,” Bruce ordered Tony. “They’re slowing his blood loss. We’ll remove them in the med bay. We need to get him back there.”

“I’ve got him,” Tony replied.

He carefully picked Peter up and carried him to the med bed inside the quin jet. His body was so light that Tony needed no help. Peter’s head tipped back as Tony held him, exposing that vile handprint bruise across his throat again. Tony swallowed his nausea away and gently put him down on the bed.

 

Wake up Peter

 

 

Please, wake up

 

 

please

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Text

 

(then)

 

 

Tony left it until later that week to call May. He’d discussed it with the rest of the team in the meantime, and they’d decided to invite Peter to stay at the compound during summer break.

Perhaps some time there with them, without the aggravating presence of Agent Westcott, might help Peter find his way back to his old, happy nature. Westcott would still make his unwelcome appearances on Fridays and Saturdays, but the rest of the time it would be just them. Just like old times, Tony hoped.

Eager to do whatever it took to bring Peter back to them; Tony made the call. He’d missed Peter more than he wanted to admit, even to himself.

“Oh Tony, I’m sorry but Peter can’t stay with you during summer break. He’s got a job, working as a camp counsellor,” May said in response to his invitation.

“He got a job?” Tony was stunned. “Why would he do that?”

May laughed. “People in the real world need to earn money Tony, remember?”

“But- but I’ll give him anything he wants. He knows that doesn’t he?” Tony said, bewildered.

“I’m sure he does, but Tony, you know Peter. He wants to earn things on his own, not take handouts from you.” May pointed out.

“Oh,” was all Tony could say.

Had he ever known what it was like to have to work for money? He couldn’t remember ever needing to. Peter was stubborn about that sort of thing though. He sighed.

“Ok. Can he come up for a weekend before then? S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t happy about him missing sessions in their program.”

“Not next weekend, but I’ll send him up on the last one of term, after his exams are finished. He really doesn’t like those sessions, you know Tony. I think that’s why his grades have slipped so badly this term. He comes home from the compound completely exhausted and distraught each time.”

“I know,” Tony sighed once more.

“None of us do, they’re awful. But if he doesn’t do them, they’ll make him sign the Accords, and I want to protect him from that for as long as possible. Until he’s eighteen, at least.”

“I understand. Thank you Tony. I know you’ve got Peter’s best interests at heart.” and with that, May ended the call.

Exhaling wearily, Tony called Agent Westcott. It was not a pleasant phone call, but in the end the odious man accepted that Peter needed to concentrate on his schoolwork, and that he was allowed to have a summer job. The last weekend before the break would be their last session until the autumn.

Tony could have sworn that he heard the man snarl as he hung up. Prick.

 

 

--------------------

 

Three weeks later, Peter returned to the compound. Tony’s heart started beating faster as he saw Peter come out of his school on the Friday afternoon. He’d overruled Happy this time, insisting on picking Peter up alone. It had been so long since they’d had a lab day together, and Tony felt the need to spend some time alone with him, even if it was only during the drive up to the compound.

“Hey Pete!” Tony greeted him happily as he approached the car, determined to keep things light. Peter hesitated, appearing to be uncertain whether to sit in the front or the back seat.

“Sit up front with me?” Tony asked, hating the pleading tone in his voice even as he hoped Peter wouldn’t sit in the back. He felt more than heard Peter’s soft sigh as he opened the front passenger door and climbed in.

“Hi Mr Stark,” Peter spoke quietly as he put his seatbelt on. He rested his head against the window and looked out as Tony started the car and pulled out.

As they drove, Tony tried to start a conversation with Peter, but only received monosyllables in response. Peter finally said he was really tired from his exams, and hunched down against the door, closing his eyes. Within moments his breathing evened out into soft, regular breaths as he fell asleep.

Disappointment washed through Tony, then he remembered May telling him how tired Peter had been lately. Better to let him sleep if he needs it that badly, he thought, and settled into the drive. It was nice just being near Peter, even if he was asleep. Tony’s heart felt lighter than it had in weeks.

Peter woke as Tony parked the car in the compound garage, and followed him upstairs, yawning and rubbing his neck sleepily. The rest of the Avengers had gathered in the living area, keen to see Peter again, and all stood as Tony and Peter entered the room. Voices spoke over one another as they all welcomed him back, and Tony was sure Peter looked awkward for a moment.

Had he thought they wouldn’t miss him? Tony wondered as he made Peter a snack. No salted cookies or chilli milkshakes this time, just a good old-fashioned sandwich. Peter smiled a little at him as he took the sandwich gratefully, and startled, Tony smiled back. It was the first time he’d seen Peter smile in weeks, and it felt good.

“So Peter, Tony tells us you’ve got a summer job,” Steve said from his seat on the couch. The others gathered around them as Peter ate.

“Yeah!” Peter said, eyes lighting up. He looked happy; Tony realised with relief. Steve smiled as well, clearly pleased that Peter was speaking to him. Perhaps he’d finally gotten over whatever his problem had been with Steve.

“I’m going to be working as a camp counsellor in Brooklyn. The camp is run by Good Shepherd Services for disadvantaged kids.”

“I know them!” Steve said in surprise.

“Bucky, do you remember? They started up in New York in the forties. And they’re still around now, helping people in need? That’s excellent,” he finished approvingly, as Bucky nodded in agreement.

“How many days a week will you be working with them Peter?” Natasha asked, a small smile on her face. Tony could tell that she was glad to see Peter smile again too.

“Five days a week for ten weeks over summer break, eight am to six pm. I start on Monday,” Peter answered.

“And I’m working for Mr Delmar on the weekends too. He has a food truck now too, did you know?”

Exclamations of surprise burst from Sam, Rhodey and a few others.

“Those are long hours Peter, are you sure about this?” Sam said in concern.

“But that means you won’t have time to come and see us!” Clint interrupted, fake pouting in disappointment.

“Why do you even need to do this?” Tony asked, still confused about that.

“You know if you need anything you can just ask me, right?”

“I know Mr Stark,” Peter told him, rolling his eyes.

“But it’s May’s birthday in a few months and I want to be able to get her something special, from me. I can handle the hours. It wouldn’t be the same if you just gave me money for it. Besides-” he paused, looking down.

“Besides what?” Tony asked gently. He was so happy to see Peter smiling, talking to them all, even rolling his eyes, that he was scared to spook him and ruin it all.

“I want to help kids who need it. Kids who maybe just need someone to see them. To be there for them. I want to help people, not just as Spidey, but as me. As Peter Parker. You know?”

Peter had spoken quietly, and his words fell into the silent room as they all listened to him. Tony’s chest felt tight as pride swelled through him. Peter was honestly the nicest person he’d ever met.

“That’s very admirable Peter,” Steve spoke before Tony.

“We could all take lessons from him,” he told the rest.

“Sometimes I think we get so focussed on our responsibility to protect the world that we forget to think about what’s really important.”

“The people in it,” Peter said, still speaking quietly.

“That’s what matters. Helping the little people.”

Tony couldn’t hold back anymore, and moved next to Peter, sliding an arm around him in a half hug.

“I’m proud of you Peter. You put us all to shame. And that idiot Agent Westcott thinks you aren’t responsible enough.”

As Tony hugged Peter, he felt him tense suddenly. His shoulders rose as he inhaled swiftly, his body trembling just a little.

“Th- thanks Mr Sta-ark,” Peter replied shakily, then stepped away from him.

“I’m gonna go… go call Ned,” he muttered towards them as he grabbed his bag and moved towards his room, almost running.

“Dammit Tony, why’d you have to go and ruin it?” Clint said accusingly.

“Why did you have to go and say Westcott’s name?” Rhodey criticised.

“You spooked him.”

“I didn’t mean to, okay? He was so happy. I was so happy seeing him happy! I didn’t think about what I was saying…” Tony shook his head, as annoyed with himself as they all were.

He’d done exactly what he was trying so hard not to do.

“Fuck,” he muttered under his breath angrily.

 

 

--------------------

 

Friday evening followed the same pattern that had been established by Agent Westcott on his first night at the compound. He appeared just before dinner, as standoffish and arrogant as he always was.

Tony watched for Peter’s return to the living room as dinner was prepared. He saw most of the others doing the same as they made half-hearted conversation with Westcott, or with each other.

Just as they were sitting down at the table, Peter slunk into the room. Eyes on the floor, he slipped into the empty seat next to Tony. Tony was sure that Peter knew Westcott was there, especially with his enhanced senses, but he didn’t acknowledge him at all. He just ate his dinner robotically, then quietly asked to be excused. As he left the room, Westcott spoke to him for the first time.

“I’ll be in soon Peter. We’ve got a lot to catch up on, you and I.”

Tony’s hackles rose as he saw how Peter’s steps faltered momentarily at the words. He looked at Westcott, and saw him staring back, a challenging look on his face. Tony opened his mouth to speak, and Westcott raised his eyebrows, cocking his head on the side as if daring Tony to question him.

Swallowing bitter, impotent anger, Tony subsided without speaking, and left the room shortly afterwards. Once again, he fled to his lab, his comfort place.

I wish Peter was here with me now, instead of with that- he couldn’t even think of the word for what the man was, and threw a spanner at the wall in frustration.

The next morning felt like a bad replay of the first weekend Westcott had been there.

Peter missed breakfast, and came late to the training session. He was wearing Tony’s old hoodie again, looking small as the large jumper swamped him. Its hood was up over his head once more, and he didn’t make eye contact with anyone, despite Tony’s attempts. He saw some of the others trying as well, and failing.

That day passed dismally slowly. Peter had retreated not just from Tony, but from them all. He did whatever he was told by Westcott, but never spoke or made eye contact with him, nor anyone else, unless forced to.

Saturday night may as well have been a direct replay of Friday night.

Westcott dropped a hand onto Peter’s shoulder as they left the dinner table for Peter’s second one-on-one session for the weekend. Peter’s shoulders hunched, but he didn’t shake the hand off. Tony noticed signs of tension from many of his teammates as the pair walked away, and grimaced at them. There was nothing they could do.

Westcott left after breakfast Sunday morning. Peter still hadn’t appeared from his room, so Tony went to check on him. The room was empty, the bed unslept in, though the covers were rumpled.

“Friday, where’s Peter?” Tony asked, concerned.

“Peter left before midnight boss. Suit telemetry shows that he went on patrol, and is now at his home in Queens.” Friday answered.

He didn’t even say goodbye before the summer break, Tony realised with disappointment.

Sighing, Tony tried not to be concerned. Peter would call him if he needed him.

He hoped.

 

 

--------------------

 

June – August 2017

 

Summer passed slowly for Tony.

Peter didn’t call.

Tony knew he was busy working as a camp counsellor, and at Delmars. He used Friday frequently to check in with Karen, and knew that Peter was still patrolling every night as well.

The Avengers were called out on a few missions, but not enough to fill the time. Tony had trouble concentrating on anything, and took to wandering the Stark Industries part of the compound at random times. He tried assisting the researchers and developers with their work, but couldn’t keep track of his focus with them. Pepper finally stepped in.

“Tony, you need to stop interrupting the R & D staff. You’re disrupting them, and scaring the interns,” she ordered him halfway through the summer.

“I am not!” Tony denied, affronted. He wasn’t scary.

“You are,” Pepper reiterated firmly. Her eyes softened.

“You’re worried about Peter, and it shows. You’re not sleeping. You’re bothering the staff, sprouting random nonsense that doesn’t even relate to their projects. You’re acting like the old, drunk Tony. But I know that you’re not drinking. You need to find something else to do.”

Tony just looked at her, lost.

“I don’t know what else to do,” he told her quietly. Pepper sighed gently, and put her arms around him.

“Talk to the others. Upgrade their weapons, or suits, or something. Just don’t do it here.” she ended mock-sternly.

As he always did, Tony did as she said because (he only admitted this to himself, never to others) Pepper had managed to whip him a long time ago.

She was right though. Tony was able to find enough projects for the Avengers to occupy himself for the rest of the summer.

 

 

--------------------

 

September 2017

 

The summer break finally ended, and school returned. May had called to tell them that Peter would be coming to the compound the next weekend.

“He had a good summer Tony. But he didn’t look excited at all about coming up to see you. I think it’s that discipline thing. Is that still happening?.” she asked, her voice sounding worried over the phone.

“Yeah. S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn’t cleared Peter yet, or us. The sessions will continue until they do,” Tony told her resignedly.

“None of us like it, but we have to do what they say.”

Peter’s first weekend back at the compound after the summer played out in exactly the same way as his last, but without the happy excited Peter that they’d seen a glimpse of at the beginning of that last weekend.

He was sullen, avoiding eye contact and didn’t respond to questions about his summer, or join in any conversations. Present only when forced to be, he spent the rest of the time in his bedroom, avoiding them. The same scenario played out the following weekend, and the next.

Tony thought he might be losing his mind. He’d tried so many times to talk to Peter, only to be rebuffed each time. Most of the others had tried at one time or another as well. Peter just told them all the same thing. That he thought the discipline sessions were a waste of time. That he was fine. That he just wanted to be left alone.

Tony didn’t know what else he could do, so he did nothing. Just watched Peter the few times he saw him now, and worried.

The weeks dragged miserably by, turning into months, and soon it was almost end of term again.

 

 

--------------------

 

Wednesday, 29th November 2017

 

Tony felt like he was near breaking point. He was jittery when Peter wasn’t there, and anxious when he was. Nothing he did or said seemed to break through to the boy. Everyone else had kept trying as well, in their own various ways. Nothing they said, or did, mattered.

Peter shut them all out. He was there, without being there.

Then May called to tell Tony that Peter’s grades were dropping again, and that he’d been skipping school. Stunned, Tony questioned her.

“Skipping school? Peter loves school, he never skips!”

“He’s missed at least a couple of days every week this term, and last week he missed three. I don’t know where he goes, or what he does. Can you check with his suit lady?”

Tony was doing so as she spoke. Friday showed him details of Karen’s records on a holo-screen floating in the air above his lab work bench.

“Telemetry shows his suit has been left in his room every day. He’s not taking it to school with him anymore?” Tony said questioningly, confused.

“Peter takes his suit everywhere!”

“Well if suit lady says he’s not then I guess he’s not. So where is he going all those times? And why?” May said, frustrated.

“I’m going to ground him from patrolling until he stays in school and his grades pick up.”

“Ah, May, Peter may not react to that very well,” Tony began cautiously, remembering what had happened the last time Peter had missed a patrol.

“Well what else am I supposed to do?” May shouted frustratedly through the phone.

“Do you know how hard it is, trying to parent a teenaged freaking superhero? He’s so moody all the time lately, and so angry. I just need him-” she sighed heavily before continuing, “I just need him to be safe. Go to school. Do all the things.”

Tony exhaled wearily. “I’m worried about him too May. We all are.”

“I’ll have a talk with him tonight, and warn him what I’ll be doing if he doesn’t stay in school,” May decided.

“He deserves one more chance to straighten up. He’s a good kid. Usually, anyway. Lately, I just don’t know. Did you know he quit the decathlon team? He hasn’t been to Ned’s in weeks either.”

“I didn’t know any of that,” Tony replied.

“He doesn’t talk to me anymore, or anyone else here. He stays in his room except when we have to do the discipline stuff. He’s changed. Could it be some sort of teenage hormone thing?”

“I don’t know. Maybe,” May said quietly.

“I just don’t know anymore.”

They finished the call, and Tony sat motionless at his work bench, thinking. He remembered doing some pretty fucked up shit when he was a teenager. Being angry at his father all the time. Avoiding his parents, even Jarvis sometimes. He skipped school as well, to go drinking…. shit. Was Peter drinking?

But Tony drank back then because his father was a dick. Why would Peter start? Because of the messed up S.H.I.E.L.D. discipline crap, of course.

It sucked arse, but Tony and the others were mature enough to recognise that it wouldn’t last forever. Sooner or later it would be over.

Teenagers though, were developmentally egocentric; they hadn’t yet developed the ability to be able to see past difficult times. To Peter, it must feel like this is how his life is always going to be now. And so he’s looking for ways to dull his pain. Oh Peter, no.

Tony asked Friday to tell everyone to gather in the conference room. He needed to talk this over with them.

“-he’s skipping school a lot; May doesn’t know where he’s going during the day, and he’s not taking his suit with him. Or his phone, I checked,” Tony ended, bringing them up to date once they’d all arrived.

“I’m worried he’s drinking.”

His diagnosis of Peter’s problems brought a wave of denials.

“Peter wouldn’t drink!” Wanda said.

“No! He wouldn’t!” Clint echoed. “Would he?”

“I don’t know,” Natasha said.

“Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. He’s changed recently.”

“What would be the point?” Steve asked.

“His metabolism won’t allow him to get drunk. Mine won’t, and his works even faster than mine does.”

“I agree with Steve. Peter wouldn’t drink, there’d be no point. And besides, where would he even get alcohol from?” Bruce questioned.

“Maybe he just does it to numb his pain,” Bucky said quietly.

“I’ve tried that. And I knew plenty of places to get booze illegally in Brooklyn when I was a teen, even before all the crap I went through.”

The room quietened for a moment while everyone considered his words. Rhodey hadn’t yet said anything, but had been looking at Tony consideringly. Tony guessed he was remembering when they first met, when Tony was a drunken wreck.

“I think Tony might be right,” Rhodey said at last, reluctance in his tone.

“I don’t want to believe it, but it makes sense.”

“I lack the experience of the human condition to comment. However there is a great deal of data online that suggests he may indeed, be using alcohol inappropriately,” Vision told them thoughtfully.

“I think Tony is right as well,” Sam said at last.

“It never occurred to me until now, but a lot of Peter’s mannerisms are like the veterans I used to counsel, the ones who form an addiction.”

“So what do we do now?” Tony asked the group.

“We follow him,” Clint and Natasha said at the same time. Tony shook his head.

“May has told him she’ll take his suit and forbid him from patrolling if he skips school again. I think- I hope, that he’ll listen to her.”

“We should search his room,” Sam stated, looking around the room.

“See if he’s hiding anything.”

“I don’t like that idea,” Tony told him uneasily, and saw others nodding their heads in agreement.

“We’ve always respected the privacy of each other’s rooms here. I don’t want to break his trust in us.”

“We can’t let Peter go down the path you did Tony,” Rhodey spoke again.

“I think we should do it.”

“I agree,” Pepper spoke from the doorway, startling Tony. He hadn’t realised she was there.

“You were destroying your life back then Tony. If Peter’s drinking, we need to help him. We can’t let him do the same.”

Tony dropped his head into his heads in defeat, sighing miserably. “Fine.”

Sam and Rhodey did the searching. Tony stood in the doorway, watching unhappily.

They didn’t find any alcohol, but Sam found a pencil case and took it to the conference room.

“What the fuck Sam?” Tony demanded when they had all gathered again, as Sam tipped the pencil case out onto the table.

“Those are colouring pens!”

“When have you ever seen Peter colouring in?” Sam retorted.

“They’re Sharpies, and those are Vapes. Sharpies have solvents that give you a high when inhaled. Vapes are e-cigarettes, with nicotine in them. Not alcohol no, but Peter having these is not a good sign.”

Uneasy mutterings filled the room.

“Is Peter smoking such a big deal?” Clint asked.

“Like, I know it’s not great. But he has enhanced healing, so it wouldn’t hurt him, would it?”

“It’s addictive,” Bruce told him.

“That’s not okay. And solvent highs are actually very dangerous. People have died from them.”

“Look at this,” Sam ordered them, calling up information on the screen on the end wall.

“These are the physical signs of addiction.”

They read through the list silently. Tony’s heart fell. Peter didn’t have all the signs listed, but he had some.

‘Trembling/tremors; loss of physical coordination; changes in appetite and eating habits; clenching of the jaw.’

Tony had seen all of those in Peter over recent months.

“And these are the behavioural signs,” Sam continued, moving to another page.

Again, they all read them quietly. Tony was feeling really worried now. Peter showed a lot more of these signs.

‘Withdrawing emotionally from loved ones; decreased participation in family activities; changes in activities or hobbies; shifts in social circles; poor performance in work or school; repeated lying, dishonesty or deceit; secretive behaviour; self-isolation; neglecting responsibilities’ – Peter was doing all of those.

Shit. Neglecting responsibilities. Peter was spending days and days out God knows where – without his suit. He wasn’t saving people as Spider-man. That was his number one priority in life, above all else, and he wasn’t doing it while he was skipping school. He was still patrolling at night, Tony had been keeping an eye on that, but to go out without it during the day was unheard of for Peter.

“I’m betting that Peter has more of the behavioural signs than the physical ones because of his enhancements,” Sam spoke quietly into the still room.

“He may only be using the lighter drugs right now, but he is using. We need to help him before he escalates.”

“So what are we going to do?” Tony asked the room almost frantically.

“How do we- what do we-”

“We need to talk to him about it. Can you try to get him up here before Friday?” Bruce answered.

“It would be better if we do it when Agent Westcott isn’t around. Peter really doesn’t like him.”

“I’ll call May tomorrow.” Tony decided.

“I need some time. I need to think about all this.”

Standing abruptly and leaving the room, Tony headed downstairs.

Dammit Peter. You’re supposed to better than me, not the same. You should be learning from my mistakes, not repeating them. Tony felt like a lead weight was inside his chest, dragging him down.

They had to find a way to help Peter. They had to.

 

 

---------------

 

Tony ended up in his lab after the team’s conversation about Peter’s suspected drinking, and tinkered around, fiddling with a few bits and pieces.

Instead of making him smile, the tools permanently attached to his lab table by Peter now just made him sad.

He’d been working on a small, roboticized AT-AT for Peter, though he wasn’t sure he’d ever even be able to give it to him, the way things were going. It was about the size of a cocker spaniel dog, and was going to behave in much the same way. He listened to music for a while, but every song made him think of Peter, bringing back the nauseating churn of worry and doubt.

Eventually he gave up, and wandered out and down the hall aimlessly. He passed Peter’s lab, paused, then went in. Peter hadn’t been there for weeks, as far as he knew. Tony wondered what he’d even been working on before he stopped coming here.

Peter’s lab was far neater than Tony’s. His work bench was clear, equipment stored tidily in the correct places. It looked empty, like no-one had ever even used it. Desolate.

Shoulders sinking as sadness filled him, Tony turned to leave. As he did, he saw a flutter out of the corner of his eyes, and looked towards it, startled. What was moving?

There was a length of black plastic, hanging over a narrow doorway opening into the next lab across. It was closed with a zip, but had a small gap at the bottom, flapping a little as if in a breeze. Strange.

The lab next door was empty, not having been allocated to anyone. Moving closer, he saw that black plastic had been hung inside the glass windows separating the labs, blocking the interior from sight.

What was Peter doing in there? he wondered curiously. Taking a deep breath, Tony unzipped the plastic sheet and stepped inside the next room. His eyes widened with shock and dismay at what he saw.

The room was full of row after row of tall leafy plants, lined up neatly in pots with large rectangular trays under them. A distinctive smell filled the air, pungent, aromatic but skunky. It flowed into Tony’s nostrils and he could taste it in his mouth. He knew that smell well from his party days.

Moving a little further inside, Tony saw that the room was well lit with large, bright lights hanging overhead. He spotted a ventilation system above the lights, complete with exhaust fans, connected to the air vent, and was that a carbon filter? The walls and ceiling were lined with reflective silver, and irrigation pipes ran along the top of the soil in the pots, snaking back and forth around the plants.

Tony was stunned, shaken to his core. Peter was growing pot. Had been for months judging by the size of the plants. They were large and healthy looking, starting to bud.

It wasn’t an alcohol problem he had, but a drug one.

“Friday, get everyone down here, now,” Tony ordered her, leaving the room. He couldn’t stay in there a moment longer.

“Tony, what is it?” Rhodey asked when he arrived, followed swiftly by Steve, Clint and Sam.

Tony just shook his head, and motioned towards the room next door. Looking curious, they all went in, and Tony heard their exclamations as they reacted similarly to how he had.

Natasha, Pepper, Bucky, Bruce, Wanda and Vision came in together, and also followed Tony’s flap of the hand. After a few moments, everyone came out and clustered around Tony.

“What is going on here Tony?” Steve asked, unsure. “Is that what I think it is?”

“If you think it’s a plantation full of home grown weed, then yeah, it is,” Tony answered him, suddenly bone-weary. He didn’t want to deal with this.

“That’s a grow tent,” Sam said unequivocally.

“Those are specialised grow lights, to simulate sunshine. It’s a completely self-contained, self-sufficient system, designed to produce a maximum yield crop quickly and efficiently. It practically runs itself.”

“The irrigation system is plumbed into the compounds plumbing and has a timer,” Clint stated, “and the fan system is connected to the ventilation system as well.”

“When they’re closed up properly, a grow tent is smell proof, and light proof,” Sam told them.

“You’d never smell it until you opened it up. I’ve never seen one so large, or so well set up.”

“We were wrong,” Tony told them all.

“Peter doesn’t have an alcohol problem. He has a drug problem.”

Tony closed his eyes, and bowed his head tiredly. This was far, far worse than they’d thought.

Pepper took charge then, saying they’d discuss it all tomorrow, and steering Tony up to his bed. He collapsed into it with a despondent groan, seeking relief in the sweet nothing of sleep.

It didn’t come.

 

 

 

 

--------------------

Chapter Text

 

 

 

NOW

 

 

 

The whole team wordlessly followed as Tony carried Peter into the Quin Jet. Natasha took the pilots seat, then began flying the jet back to the compound upstate.

“We need to warm him up. I think his inability to thermoregulate has caused him to fall into a state of hibernation. Warming him up should reverse the effects. I hope. I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Bruce said worriedly as he checked Peter’s injuries.

“Use this,” Thor said gruffly, his voice thick with emotion as he removed his long red cloak.

Tony and Steve gently lifted Peter as Thor slid his cloak underneath. Hands reached out to help wrap it gently around Peter while others pulled the remaining shreds of the cocoon out from beneath him. As small as he was, they were able to surround him with the large cloak multiple times, wrapping him several layers of the warm, thick material. Only his head was left exposed.

Taking his jacket off, Bruce folded it into a sort of pillow hoodie, cradling Peter’s head with it and covering his messy, matted curls with the fabric to keep his head warm as well. His fingers trailed lightly through Peter’s hair as he finished.

“What was with the weird cocoon thing?” Scott asked. “Has Peter ever done that before?”

“Not that we know of,” Tony told him tiredly, looking at Bruce for confirmation.

“No, I don’t think he has. His webbing seems to be able to accelerate healing somewhat. We had started to study the effects of it before…” Bruce paused, and shrugged deprecatingly.

“He might have done it for warmth, or in the hope that it might help his healing. I don’t know,” he ended softly. 

The rest of the trip was spent in silence as they all stared at Peter’s small, still form, feelings of worry, fear and despair for him visible on all of their faces.

Tony’s mind kept returning to those horrific handprint shaped bruises. The bullet wounds and gash could be explained by the fight that had caused his fall into the river, but who had put those ghastly handprints on him? Who had hurt Peter like that?

After what felt like an eternity, Natasha turned the Quin Jet around to land on its landing bay at the compound. Tony saw Doctor Cho standing nearby, waiting with a wheeled stretcher bed and her team of nurses, and assumed that Friday had alerted her to the situation as they flew. The moment they touched down, the rear doors opened and allowed them access, and with efficient speed and care, Peter was gently lifted onto the stretcher bed and swiftly wheeled off into the compound. Bruce went with them, updating Doctor Cho on the way.

Tony and the rest of the team followed in a jumbled, rushed mess, but when they arrived at the med bay, they were barred from entering by a nurse, firmly closing the glass door in their faces. Tony tensed, about to ignore protocol and enter anyway, stopped only by Rhodey placing a hand on his shoulder, shaking his head at Tony’s angry look.

“Let them do their work Tony. They’ll help Peter faster without us getting in the way,” Rhodey said quietly, tugging him towards the conference room across the hall.

The rest of the team was already there, making coffees for what promised to be a very long day. No-one wanted to go too far away.

Tony reluctantly sat with them, pulling a chair over to the door where he could see into the med bay more easily. Absentmindedly drinking from the cup Clint handed him, Tony watched Bruce and Doctor Cho working on Peter. He heard none of the words being spoken behind him, focussed completely on the room across the hall. 

Peter’s body was being tethered to IV’s, connected to monitors, and then to assisted breathing equipment by Bruce and the swarm of nurses while Doctor Cho rapidly assessed his injuries, the remaining patches of webbing being removed as she did so. As she listed the injuries aloud, nurses rushed to gather the equipment they would be needing for surgery.

“Three gunshot wounds. Right lateral thorax, suspect bullet lodged in muscle, no exit wound. Left upper quadrant between seventh and eighth ribs. Suspect perforated liver, internal bleeding. No exit wound. Right lateral pelvis, right lower quadrant. Possibly hit the ilium, suspect tissue embedment, no exit wound. Deep laceration on torso from right clavicle to left hip, bleeding is…. slow?” she paused, sounding unsure for a moment.

“Friday, please x-ray to determine bullet locations more accurately.”

Tony could hear the medical team and doctors discussing what they were doing as they worked. Bruce explained his theory about Peter being in hibernation, and the need to warm him up. Nurses moved to place warming blankets around and over his body even as the two doctors began operating on the gunshot wounds. Thor’s cloak was tossed unregarded to one side, blood stained and filthy.

Suddenly blood began to flow from Peter’s wounds, streaming out of him and overflowing the table, then gushing over the edge, slicking the floor with sickening speed. The white warming blankets turned gruesomely red in seconds.

“What happened?”

“He’s bleeding out!”

“Apply pressure!”

“ -hypovolemic shock,”

Words were snapped out frenetically. The doctors appeared bathed in his blood as they worked frantically to control it, their white coats swiftly stained a vivid red.

Tony jumped from his seat at the conference room door, and ran to the closed door of the med bay, pressing his hands up against it. Peter was bleeding out before his eyes, and there was nothing he could do about it. Oh god, no. Please no.

The rest of the team rushed to stand beside him, lining the hallway as they looked in through the clear glass, watching helplessly with worry and fear.

Tony watched Peter’s life ebb away in front of them as his heart began pounding inside him. There was so much blood. 

 

How could so much blood come from someone so small?

 

Hopelessness tore at his soul. Help him. Oh god please help him.

 

Not Peter, please. Anyone but Peter.

 

Take me instead!

 

The heart monitor and other machines began screaming warnings as Peter’s body suddenly began to spasm.

 

“Blood pressure’s dropping. He’s going into ventricular fibrillation. Commencing CPR,” Doctor Cho announced coolly as she moved swiftly to begin chest compressions.

 

Everyone else began moving very rapidly around her. 

 

“Get the defibrillator,” Bruce ordered, moving to place resuscitation electrode patches on Peter’s chest.

 

“Fuck, the bullet wounds are in the way!”

 

“Get them as close as you can,” Doctor Cho ordered tersely, puffing slightly as she continued to compress Peter’s chest.

 

She stopped compressions to allow Bruce access with the pads, and the unnerving screech of a flat line sounded in the room. The sound of Peter’s heart not beating stabbed into Tony’s own heart like a spear, and it shuddered in response, stuttering. He grabbed the door for support, staggering.

 

“He’s going into cardiac arrest,” Doctor Cho announced, grabbing the paddles.

 

“Charge to two hundred. Clear!”

 

Peter’s body jerked as the shock entered it, but the machines kept screaming.

 

“Charge to four hundred. Clear!” Doctor Cho repeated her motions with no response.

 

“It’s not working!”

 

“Use the Captain America setting!” Bruce cried, sounding panicked.

 

Doctor Cho paused and looked at him. He nodded urgently at her.

 

“Charge to eight hundred. Clear!”

 

Peter’s back arched up as the huge shock went through him. Everyone in the room and hallway collectively held their breath as they waited to see if it worked.

 

It didn’t.

 

The dreadful screech of the flat line continued, and no-one moved.

 

Bruce bowed his head as Doctor Cho spoke.

 

“Time of death-”

 

“NO!” Tony roared as he threw the door open and bolted to Peter’s side.

 

“Tony you can’t be in here-” Bruce began; eyes sympathetic.

 

“GET OUT OF MY WAY!” Tony shouted in Bruce’s face as he as he shoved him roughly aside. 

 

A look of panic crossed Bruce’s face as it began turning the shade of green that meant Hulk was on his way, and he gasped as he stepped backwards hurriedly.

 

Tony paid no attention. He activated the Iron Man gauntlet in his wristwatch and it formed around his shaking hand, as he bent over Peter’s unresponsive chest.

 

“Tony you can’t-’ Doctor Cho started.

 

“Watch me,” Tony snarled, as he pressed his palm against Peter’s chest and fired the repulsor right above his heart.

 

Peter’s entire body flew up off the bed as the powerful energy blast struck him, then landed on the bed again.

 

And the alarms stopped screaming.

 

The heart monitor began beeping regularly again as Peter’s heart restarted. Doctor Cho stared at Tony in amazement for a second, then moved swiftly to control the bleeding.

 

“Spidey okay?” Hulk asked in what passed as a whisper for him from where he was standing next to Tony. Tony startled, having not even noticed Hulk appear.

“Yeah Hulk. Spidey’s okay,” he said wearily. For now, anyway.

Hulk sighed a huge sigh of relief, and allowed Bruce to regain control, vanishing as quietly as he’d appeared.

The adrenaline left Tony as suddenly as it had arrived, and all his strength with it. His eyesight blurred, and darkened, and the world spun. A heavy weight pushed him down, and he staggered limply back. Hands gripped his arms and shoulders as someone caught him.

Tony’s head was spinning and he felt nauseous from what had just happened.

Peter had died. Not for very long, but he had died.

His heart thudded in his chest, and he abruptly sat down on the floor, slipping out of the hands holding him.

The world greyed out and he closed his eyes gratefully.

This is a nightmare. That’s all. Just a nightmare and soon I’ll wake up and Peter will be fine.

Tony lent back against the wall of the med bay and quietly lost consciousness.

 

 

 

---------------

 

 

 

The faint, regular beeping of a bedside monitor sounded in Tony’s ears as he woke.

Peter! he thought groggily as he opened his eyes.

He was surprised to find he was lying in a bed, and that the beeping was coming from a bedside monitor next to it. Pepper stood at the foot, looking down at him, her hands twisting anxiously over one another.

“What?” he mumbled, starting to sit up while looking around for Peter.

“Oh no you don’t,” Rhodey’s voice sounded from the other side, as his hands gently pressed Tony back down.

“Peter’s alright. He’s still in surgery, but they got the blood loss under control,” Rhodey told Tony.

“Look, you can see him over there,” and he pointed to the other end of the med bay.

Tony looked over and saw Peter, still lying on the surgical table. The movements of the doctors and nurses were calmer now, much less frantic then they had been before. Relief surged through him, and he dropped his head back onto the bed. Then the thought he’d woken with surged to the front of his mind, and his eyes opened wide once again.

“I need to go to the conference room,” Tony told Rhodey. “Help me up.”

“Tony-” Rhodey began, exasperation in his tone.

“You should try and sleep. You didn’t get any last night, and Peter’s going to be in surgery for hours.”

“Tony-” Pepper started as well.

“No,” Tony snarled. He was done looking after himself. He’d remembered something, and it couldn’t wait.

“I can sleep when I’m dead,” he growled, ripping electrodes off his chest.

“I’m going with or without your help. Just help me goddammit! Please?” Tony said, looking pleadingly at them. Relief swelled within when they nodded. 

“Friday call everyone to the conference room please,” Tony asked as he sat up and swung his legs off the bed.

“There’s something we need to see.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

(then) 

 

Thursday, 30th November 2017

Tony’s depressed mood hadn’t left him the next morning. He sat and stared at his black coffee glumly, sighing dejectedly every now and then. The same thoughts kept spiralling around his mind. I just wanted Peter to be better than me. But he’s turning out just the same.

The others moved around him, eating breakfast, or drinking coffee, but didn’t speak to him. He was grateful for the space they were giving him.

A small plastic bag of pills landed on the table before him with a thump, startling Tony out of his reverie. Staring at it, he could feel his heart sinking as dread rose within him. He looked up, and saw Clint standing at the end of the table with a box in his arms, a disappointed look on his face. Sam stood next to him looking sad, smaller plastic boxes in his hands.

“Clint, what-” “What the-” Natasha and Steve spoke over each other as they and everyone else stared at the bag of pills.

“After Tony found the weed plantation last night, I decided to do a more thorough search of Peter’s room. I found that inside the ceiling – and these.”

Shifting the box in his arms, he tipped the contents out onto the table. Tony saw bag after bag sliding out of the box, and other objects. His eyes widened, shock and dismay surging up into his mouth, making him feel queasy.

There were large and small bags filled white powder; some with yellow and black powder in small envelopes; more bags with chunks of what looked like small, off-white crystalised rocks. 

Bags of pills – plain white pills; pills with coloured logos; brightly coloured pills with logos imprinted on them; bags with small squares of paper printed with colourful pictures. Baggies of weed in various sizes were mixed among them. Some bags were full, some had only a few items inside them.

Sam placed the boxes he was holding down and opened them silently. Some were plastic, some locking boxes, some steel lunchboxes. They contained a mix of glass bongs and stems, with brown smoke residue inside, and black burn marks on the outside ends.

There were also dirty metal pipes, and pipes made from glass bottles and soft drink cans. Cigarette lighters. Metal spoons. Packets of razor blades, small squares of tin foil, and tobacco papers. Small mirrors, even little rolled tubes of money. A couple of light bulbs with burn marks, and other, empty light bulbs, the inside components missing.

The last held several needles, and syringes, along with lengths of thin, flexible plastic tubing, and small packets of alcohol swabs. It was clear that several of them had been used.

“Cocaine, LSD, methamphetamines, MDMA, heroin and weed,” Sam told them bluntly. “There’s enough here to supply a small country – or kill someone several times over.”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Steve swore, voicing everyone’s shock. No-one even bothered teasing him about it.

“Peter had all of this?” Bruce asked in disbelief.

“Yes. He had it stashed everywhere in the ceiling cavity. I needed a ladder to get up into it, but he’d be able to climb the walls to it easily.” Clint answered.

“What is all of this?” Thor asked naively.

Loki looked puzzled as well, “Some sort of medical equipment?”

“It’s drugs. Lots and lots of fucking drugs. This is really bad,” Rhodey told them quietly.

“Why is there so much?” Wanda asked timidly, eyebrows rising.

“Because Peter’s enhanced,” Tony said resignedly. “His metabolism would burn through drugs too fast, just like Steve’s does with alcohol. So he needs to use far more than an ordinary human.”

Loki still looked confused, and spoke hesitantly, “I gather that there is something wrong with Peter having all of this, so I assume it must be difficult to acquire. Where would Peter get it from?”

Shit. Tony bowed his head a little in realisation, “He’s been skipping school, disappearing for hours without his phone or suit. I guess he’s been meeting dealers.” He huffed out a large sigh, and pressed his hands against his forehead.

“What are we going to do?” Natasha spoke quietly. “We can’t let him keep doing this. He could overdose and kill himself. He needs help.”

“We stage an intervention,” Sam said firmly. “Tomorrow afternoon as soon as he gets here. I’ll message you links with some information to read about how to do one.”

“For god’s sake don’t use the group chat. Peter’s part of that,” Tony reminded him. “I need to call May and let her know about this.” He was not looking forward to that phone call.

“What about all of this?” Clint asked, indicating the heap on the table.

“Box it up again and put it in the conference room out of sight,” Sam told him. “We’ll confront Peter with it when he denies using drugs.”

Silence hung over them all as looks of defeat and despair passed between them.

“You think he’ll deny it?” Bucky asked. “Peter’s never lied to us before.”

“He’ll deny it,” Sam answered confidently. “Addicts always do.”

Addicts always do echoed in Tony’s mind.

He vividly remembered his own denial when Rhodey and Pepper had confronted him about his alcoholism. The rage he felt at their interference. How he’d thought he was fine, that he didn’t have a problem, he just liked to party. But he wasn’t fine then, just like Peter wasn’t fine now.

Oh Peter, Tony cried out silently in anguish. Why?

The group dispersed, and Tony retreated to his bedroom. He couldn’t deal with anyone else right now. Steeling himself mentally, he called May and told her what they’d found, rubbing his chest as he spoke. He suggested she search Peter’s room there, and asked her to call him back as soon as she had. Peter was at school, May told Tony, she’d called and checked that he had been attending each day this week, so she’d search his room right away.

Not even ten minutes later, Tony’s phone pinged. It was a picture message from May.

Dreading what he was about to see, Tony opened it up. The picture was of an assortment of needles, syringes, plastic tubes, lighters, more pills, powders and weed. Not as much as they’d found, but large enough. Dammit. He pressed May’s number with shaking fingers.

“What am I supposed to do about this Tony?” May’s frantic voice sounded loudly in his ear. “He’s using drugs? Peter doesn’t do that! He doesn’t do anything like that!”

“He’s changed this year though, hasn’t he May. We’ve both seen it. I don’t know why he’s doing it. Maybe because of the whole discipline thing with S.H.I.E.L.D. Maybe that made him depressed so he tried something new, and now he’s addicted. I don’t know. But he needs help, and we’re going to help him.” 

Tony explained Sam’s plan for an intervention, and May asked if she should come.

“Sam says there’s a chance that it will go badly. If you’re here, he might feel we’re all ganging up on him. I think if you stay out of it, Peter will still feel like he has somewhere safe to go. Someone on his team,” Tony told her what he’d been thinking. “What do you think?”

“I agree,” May replied. “I’m going to put all this back exactly where I found it, and not say anything to him. Not yet. I’ll wait to hear from you how it goes. You’ll call me right after, won’t you Tony?”

“Absolutely,” Tony reassured her, not anticipating the next afternoon at all.

 

 

 

--------------------

 

 

 

Friday, 1st December 2017

Friday afternoon arrived both dreadfully slowly, and far too quickly. Sitting in the conference room quietly waiting for Peter to arrive (Happy had been sent to pick him up as usual), Sam checked that everyone had read the information he’d sent them and knew what to say. They were all dressed casually since this wasn’t a mission briefing.

Tony’s palms began to sweat as he heard Happy coming down the hallway, speaking loudly to Peter, presumably trying to let them know they were almost there. Smooth Happy, smooth.

He rubbed his hands over his pants, and took a small sip of water from the glass before him, wetting his lips nervously. Then Peter was standing in the doorway, hoodie over his head, shoulders hunched in on himself. His eyes flickered around the room swiftly, then he looked at the ground. He didn’t speak.

“Hi Peter, come in and have a seat,” Tony tried to speak in a friendly tone, but his voice wavered ever so slightly. He saw Peter glance at him before he went and sat at the seat that had been left for him, at the far end of the table, dropping his backpack on the floor next to it.

Opening his mouth again, Tony found that he’d lost his words and looked around with a touch of panic. Pepper saved him.

“Peter, we love you. You know that, right?” she asked him gently.

Peter looked up, startled. His eyes widened.

“We all care about you Peter,” Steve reinforced, while the others nodded and expressed similar sentiments of affection.

“You’re amazing Peter. You have so much goodness inside you. So much to offer the world,” Tony finally found his words again. “But we’re worried about you. You’ve changed so much this year, but-”

“But not in good ways,” Sam ended Tony’s sentence for him when he paused, struggling.

Peter had been snatching quick, glances at them from under his eyelids as they spoke, his head tilted down towards the table. Now he frowned and set his jaw. He still hadn’t spoken.

“We’re worried about you Peter,” Natasha told him calmly.

Wanda continued, “You avoid us whenever you’re here.”

“You don’t work in the lab with me anymore,” Tony added sadly.

“And you barely eat unless we make you,” Rhodey stated.

“You leave as soon as you can,” Loki said. “We hardly ever see you anymore,” Thor spoke over his brother and they grimaced at each other.

“You’re skipping school,” Pepper said, and Peter scowled at her, eyes narrowing. “May is worried about you too,” she added gently. 

“You’re leaving your suit at home and going god knows where during the day,” Tony told him, and now Peter was glaring at him accusingly, his breath quickening.

Bruce gently said, “You’re not happy Peter. We can all see it, and we want to help you.”

“Everyone feels sad sometimes, but that’s ok,” Steve began, then Bucky took over.

“Those feelings don’t last forever, even when you feel like they will.”

“You don’t need to take drugs to feel better Peter,” Tony told him. “I know, I tried. They don’t help, they just make everything worse.”

Peter’s look of anger vanished, and he blinked, squinted at Tony and frowned, then spoke for the first time.

“You think I’m taking drugs?” he asked in confusion, bewildered.

“We know you’re taking drugs,” Tony replied. Peter stared at him, mouth ajar.

“You’ve been displaying many of the physical and behavioural signs for months now,” Sam explained steadily. Peter blinked a few times again, and looked over at him.

“I’ve wh- what?”

“We thought you were just angry about the discipline sessions,” Clint told him sadly, “but then we realised you were using.”

“But I’m not!” Peter protested, eyes wide and staring around at them all. “I’m not using drugs!”

“Please don’t lie to us Peter,” Tony said quietly. “We’ve always been honest with each other.”

“I’m not lying!” Peter objected, looking around frantically at them all, his hands gripping the edge of the table.

Wanda broke eye contact with him, looking down at the table. Natasha, Bucky and Sam stared back impassively. Tony looked to Clint, and nodded.

“We found this in your room,” Clint told Peter, and tipped the box out onto the table. The drugs and paraphernalia they’d all seen yesterday slid out into a messy heap, as well as the Sharpies and vapes. 

“And I found the little operation you’ve got going on in your lab,” Tony said, steadily looking Peter in the eye.

“Stop lying to us. We just want to help you.”

“I’M NOT LYING TO YOU!” Peter yelled desperately, standing up and slamming his hand down on the table.

He took a step back, knocking his chair over with a bang. His face went red, and he clenched his fists, breathing heavily as he glared at them all.

Tony and a few of the others began to rise as well, but Sam motioned with both hands for them to sit down again, then spoke to Peter.

“Peter, we just want you to be happy, and healthy. You have a problem, and admitting it is the first step to recovery.”

Peter laughed a little suddenly, almost hysterically. Oh god, is he high right now? He sounds manic, Tony thought with a spurt of fear. He’s really messed up.

“And you, in all your wisdom, have decided that this- this intervention, is the solution. Drugs!” Peter snorted hysterically again, and rubbed his face with his hands, muttering “Jesus fuck. Drugs! Oh god.”

He took a deep breath, then started for the door, “We’re done here.”

It shocked Tony, how perfectly Peter sounded like him in that moment.

“No we aren’t.” Pepper said firmly. She stood between Peter and the door; her hands held before her entreatingly.

Tony’s heart thudded in his chest suddenly. Peter was incensed, and powerful. He might even be high. In this state, he wouldn’t hesitate to push one of them out of the way, and they could all handle it, but Pepper... Pepper is the only non-combatant here.

“Please just sit down Peter,” she pleaded with him. “We love you and want to help.”

Peter’s fists closed, and a tremor ran through his body. His shoulders tensed, and he stepped into a fight pose, glowering at Pepper ferociously.

Tony snapped, scared that Peter was going to hurt Pepper, and lost his temper.

“Sit down in that chair right now young man!” he yelled at Peter – and Peter lost it too.

He spun and jumped up onto the table, flipping over it to the far end, grabbing a water glass as he went. As he jumped down from the end, he turned and slammed the glass against the table edge, breaking it.

“You think I’m using drugs?” he shouted, and slashed the jagged end of the glass deeply along his forearm.

Blood immediately began spurting out, and Peter grabbed another, unbroken glass, letting his blood drip into it.

“There. Test it!” he shouted, pushing the glass of blood towards a horrified looking Bruce.

“Test it and you’ll see that I’m not lying to you!”

Tony didn’t know what to do or say as Peter stood there, trembling with fury, completely ignoring the blood running down his arm and dripping onto the table, the floor.

A moment later Peter shuddered, and seemed to deflate slightly. He bowed his head and closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then looked directly at Tony from under his lashes.

“Has it ever occurred to you that you ask too much? That you take it for granted that I want to be here? Hasn’t it ever crossed your brilliant mind that maybe I don’t want to do this anymore? I hate you, Tony. I hate all of you. I’m done. Just leave me alone,” he said viciously, but quietly, and bent to pick up his backpack.

Tony rocked back in his chair, recoiling from Peter’s words. He felt like he’d been stabbed in his chest. Like he was being torn apart.

I hate you, Tony. It was the first time Peter had ever called him Tony, and he said it like that. Tony thought his heart was going to stop, it was shuddering so badly in his chest. He wanted to throw up.

Shaken looks on everyone else’s faces suggested they felt the same.

We can’t let him go like this, Tony suddenly realised.

He stumbled a little in his haste to get between Peter and the door, Thor and Steve moving quickly to stand on either side of him when they saw him move. Peter had only taken a few steps when he saw them blocking his way, and his eyes narrowed again as he glared at them.

“Get. Out. Of. My. Way,” he said, biting off each word as he spoke.

“No,” Tony replied, looking desperately into Peter’s eyes.

“I’m not letting you go.”

“You can’t stop me,” Peter told him coldly, dropping into a fighting stance, curling his hands closed slowly and deliberately as his body tensed all over.

Tony felt Steve and Thor go taut beside him.

Oh God, are we really going to fight him? Tony thought despairingly.

 

 

Time seemed to pause.

 

 

Tony could hear his heartbeat drumming in his ears, matching the pounding in his chest.

 

 

A wave of cold fear washed through his body at the thought of fighting Peter, and goosebumps prickled on his arms.

 

 

If they fought like this, things would never be the same again.

 

 

Please don’t Peter. Please, please don’t.

 

 

The moment stretched while Tony begged Peter in his mind to stop, staring pleadingly into his eyes.  

 

 

It seemed like everyone in the room was holding their breath while they waited to see what Peter would do.

 

 

Then Peter whirled, and lightly sprinted the other way. He leapt, and launched himself at the large window, shattering it as he plunged through.

 

 

Fragments of glass rained down around him.

 

 

“PETER!” Tony shouted, racing after him, the others leaping to follow.

 

 

Looking out the window, he saw no sign of Peter.

 

 

All Tony saw were hundreds of broken glass shards, sparkling and glittering with obscene cheerfulness in the late afternoon sun.

 

 

Shattered all over the ground below, even as Tony’s heart was shattered above.

 

 

 

Peter was gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text






NOW

Monday 4th December, 2017

As Tony had requested via Friday, the team assembled in the conference room. When they were all sitting down around the table, Tony asked Friday the question that had bloomed in his mind when he’d woken in the med bay bed.

“Friday, what happened here on Saturday morning? Why did Peter leave when he was hurt and looking for help?”

“I am unable to answer that question,” Friday said in the same strange robotic tone she’d used just before they’d found Peter. It was vastly different to her usual nuanced, pleasantly accented voice.

“What do you mean you can’t answer? What happened in that bathroom before Peter left? Show us the footage Friday!” Tony insisted, the pitch of his voice increasing with his frustrated anger.

“That footage falls under the S.H.I.E.L.D. Discipline Protocol. I am unable to share it with you.” Friday replied in the same robotic tone.

“What?!” Tony half shouted in shock and rage, “You don’t have any protocols that I haven’t programmed, and that’s not one of them.”

“You are incorrect. The S.H.I.E.L.D. Discipline Protocol may not be accessed by any member of the Avengers; Stark Industries personnel or affiliates.”

“Who created this protocol?”

“Agent Steven Westcott.”

“Get him here now,” Tony demanded.

“I am unable to contact Agent Westcott,” Friday answered, that strange tone she kept using sending shivers down Tony’s spine.

Tony sighed, rubbing his hand tiredly over his face. His brief enforced rest in the med bay had not restored his energy at all. There was a growing feeling of dread in his chest, and he desperately hoped that his suspicions were wrong.

“Friday, does the footage show a clear and present danger to Peter?”

“Yes, it does.” Her answer caused a ripple of reaction to move across the faces of the confused looking people sitting around him.

“Alright, new protocol,” Tony muttered, his fingers flying as he typed on the holographic keypad in front of him. He finished moments later.

“Friday, activate the Safety-First Protocol, override the S.H.I.E.L.D. Discipline Protocol and show us the god-damned footage!”

“Thank you boss,” Friday answered, her pleasant tone returning, this time with a distinctly grateful note to it.

The large television lit up in front on them with a video from inside the bathroom, continuing from the footage they’d watched much earlier that morning. Peter could be seen standing inside the bathroom, naked with a towel wrapped around his waist, a gap in the towel visible where he was bent over cleaning the wound on his thigh. The knife lay on the floor nearby.

Peter’s head turns towards the door, then his body. He takes a step back at the same time. His entire demeanour shows fright, and trepidation, his body language defensive as he holds his hands up in front of him, palms open. They are trembling a little.

“Skip please. Don’t-”

Skip. The hairs rise on Tony’s arms as he heard that name. The same name Wanda had helped them hear in Peter’s thoughts by the riverside during their search. The person that had been hurting him… the sick feeling of dread spread, and began curdling in Tony’s gut as well. Oh Peter, no. Not this.

A man enters the camera frame, but only the back of his head can be seen. He is tall, with blond hair cut in a similar style to Steve’s.

“Now now Peter, you know what will happen if you try to resist,” the man says in a commanding voice.

Tony frowned as it sounded familiar, but he couldn’t place it.

Peter can be seen shaking his head as he backs up, limping. Rivulets of blood start to spill down his leg from the knife wound.

“Please. Not tonight. I’m hurt-”

“I don’t care,” the man replies, grabbing Peter roughly by the shoulder and spinning him around to face the sink.
“You’ve been avoiding me long enough. I know you were here earlier, that you left before our session. Do you want your identity revealed? Do you want Aunt May in danger because of you? Ned? Or that pretty girl you like, what’s her name, MJ? You know what will happen if you don’t do what I want.”

Tony felt warmth draining from his face as he watched. His hands clenched into fists on the table before him, as he swallowed his nausea down with a gulp. No no no. Not this.

Natasha audibly inhaled while Wanda covered her mouth with her hands, eyes wide. Similar reactions come from the rest of the team watching as the towel is ripped from Peter’s body on screen before them, gasps and terse denials echoing around the room.

The unzipping of the man’s pants can clearly be heard in the silence of the bathroom, followed by Peter’s agonised cry as he’s brutally violated. His hands scrabble against the mirror, then the wall as he’s bent over the sink painfully. The man’s hand is on Peter’s hip now, cruelly digging into his skin, scratching at him even while holding him in place.
“Good boy,” the man purred. “You’re not as tight as you were when you were seven, but I still like you.”

Tony groaned a soft “No,” hiding his face in his hands as the implications of that statement hit him, and tears gathered in his eyes. He couldn’t watch – but couldn’t look away either. If Peter had to suffer through this violation, Tony had to watch it. Peter deserved no less.

“Skip, please, stop-” Peter cried softly.
Using his other hand, the man grabs him around his throat tightly in a choke hold and pulls Peter back against him viciously, cutting off his air. He holds Peter like that for a few moments, as Peter struggles for air, then slams his head forwards into the mirror, cracking it. Peter slides down until he’s bent over the sink again, blood dripping into his eye from a gash across his forehead. The relentless thrusting continues, Peter’s body rocking forwards without resistance.
He presses his mouth against his forearm where it’s braced on the sink, trying to muffle his sobs of pain.
“Don’t you dare fight me! You know you’re not the only kid I’ve got my eye on. That Barton fellow’s got a couple of sweet young boys I like the look of. Do what I want or I’ll have my fun with them instead,” the man growls into Peter’s ear.
“You promised you’d leave them alone!” Peter cried desperately, his fists opening and closing spasmodically as he tried not to fight back.
“I won’t fight you, just don’t touch them!” he pleaded, tears dripping from his eyes as he clenched them shut.

Clint snarled out loud at this, the arrow he’d been gripping with both hands snapping suddenly in two as they tightened in rage. He glanced briefly at the aluminium and carbon shaft that he’d snapped as if it were timber, then glared at the screen again. The look on his face was one Tony had never seen before. A dark look of rage, hatred and wrath, all the emotions Tony was feeling himself. Clint looked as if he was trying to obliterate the man from existence through will power alone - and Tony wanted to help him.

The horrendous video continued inexorably. Tony didn’t want to watch but couldn’t look away. This was why Peter didn’t stay at the compound on Friday night. This was why he went out into the city again, despite being injured.

Guilt rose like bile in his throat. Revulsion, loathing, rage and more, all churned violently within him, straining to get out. His hands clenched as if they were around the man’s neck, snapping it, and he knew he would kill him the moment he found him.

An interminable amount of time later, the horror was over, and the man stepped back, shoving Peter’s shaking body away from him roughly. Peter fell to the floor and curled into a ball; arms raised protectively around his knees as he hid his head from his attacker.
“Remember what will happen if you try to tell anyone about this,” the man told Peter as he turned to leave. “I’ll tell the world who you are, and you’ll be responsible for hurting all of your loved ones, and those Barton kids. It will all be your fault if they get hurt. Only yours.”
There was no response as Peter stayed on the floor, visibly shaking. His arm snaked out and grabbed the towel from the floor, and he covered himself haphazardly with it. As his attacker left, his face was briefly visible on camera.

“Westcott,” Tony snarled, echoed equally savagely by Clint. Bucky growled, and the edge of the table cracked as his metal hand gripped it in fury, crushing a hole in it.

“This is the Shield Agent tasked with disciplining Peter after his boyish pranks, is it not?” Thor boomed angrily, stabbing his dagger deep into the timber table.

“How dare he do such a thing to a child!”

Tony had no response, and barely heard Steve confirming the rapist’s identity to Thor. He was watching Peter on screen still, tears pouring silently down his cheeks unchecked even as they dripped slowly down Peter’s.

Peter remained curled into a ball for a while, head down, then one hand slowly reached out and grabbed the knife lying discarded under the sink.

“Peter no…” Wanda cried out softly.

He turned the tip of the knife towards his inner wrist, and dragged it slowly, almost thoughtfully up over the skin there. A faint line of blood appeared, and Peter paused, digging the knife a little into his skin.

The moment seemed to stretch as Tony watched with new dread as the knife pressed in and out of Peter’s skin, almost methodically. Not deep enough to do any actual damage, the contemplation of the action was clear in Peter’s movements. Oh god Peter, no. Don’t do it. Please, don’t- Tony’s entire focus on the horrendous video playing before them, he’d forgotten that Peter was in the med bay across the hall, that he hadn’t done what he was plainly considering on the screen before them now.

Bowing his head then taking a deep breath, Peter tossed the knife aside, the light cut already starting to vanish. He moved quickly then, reaching for his suit and getting dressed in it, taking a moment to web a bandage around his injured thigh, which was still bleeding.

The last they saw of his face on the video showed it tear streaked, bitten lip swollen, blood from the cut on his forehead dripping down over his eye. His hair was dishevelled and messy, but it was the look in his eyes that struck Tony to his core.

There was no hope in them anymore, no joy. Peter’s eyes looked dead inside. His spark had been snuffed out. Tony shuddered as Peter pulled his mask over those empty eyes and limped slowly from the room. Friday cut the video feed, and the room was silent as the implications became clear.

Peter had been raped by Agent Steven Westcott, and had fled the compound afterwards. Traumatised, violated and injured, he still went to the assistance of the police only a short time later, saving their lives and stopping the criminals they were after.

If Tony had only realised what had happened, he could have helped Peter. Peter wouldn’t have had to flee the compound, a place where he should feel safe. He wouldn’t have been out fighting criminals alone, injured and violated. He wouldn’t have been shot, wouldn’t have fallen, wouldn’t have been lost….. Tony’s head began to spin as his thoughts spiralled out of control. He groaned, and placed his head into his heads.

“Oh god Peter, I’m so sorry,” he muttered, guilt threatening to overwhelm him. Retching sounds came from the corner of the room as Scott threw up into a pot plant in the corner.

“Sorry,” he muttered shame-facedly as he returned to the table. Sam patted him on the back silently.

Near them, Steve shuddered, lifting his hands from the table. Rows of finger-shaped grooves were crushed into the timber where he’d been gripping it with both hands throughout the video playback.

“Friday, how long?” Wanda asked suddenly, tear streaks down her face. Tony lifted his head and stared at her, abruptly realising that what they’d just seen wasn’t the first time Peter had been attacked by the paedophile.

“The first incident occurred on the same day that Agent Westcott was sent here by Director Fury to discipline Peter.” Friday answered, her tone sounding regretful.

“Agent Westcott initiated the S.H.I.E.L.D. Discipline Protocol soon after his arrival, and went to Peter’s bedroom that same night.”

“That was months ago,” Steve breathed out in dismay.

“That was when he started to change,” Rhodey said, his shoulders slumping. “I thought he was just angry at getting in trouble for all his pranks.”

“We all thought that,” Natasha replied sombrely.

“Oh my god we thought he was taking drugs,” Clint said, his eyes red rimmed. “We accused him of being an addict! And instead that was- he was being- he was protecting my kids oh my god Peter,” he ended brokenly, covering his face with his hands and breathing heavily as he gasped for air.

“The signs were all there, but we got it wrong,” Sam spoke quietly. “We should have known Peter wouldn’t take drugs, even when we found all those baggies, and the plants. But this… I never thought-”

“None of us did,” Tony cut him off harshly. “He was supposed to be safe here. This is the one place he could completely be himself, without fear of getting his loved ones hurt. And that bastard used that against Peter. He manipulated Peter’s goodness, used his protective nature against him, to force him to do- that. Over and over again. How many times Friday? How many times did he do this to Peter?”

Friday didn’t answer verbally, instead opening a file folder on the screen before them. Icon after icon filled the folder, each one a video file of what Peter had been subjected to for month after month, hidden away from discovery using Tony’s own technology against him. Faces paled around the room as they saw how many there were.

“Do you wish me to play them from the beginning boss?” Friday asked in a quiet voice.

“No!” Tony replied raggedly. “Not now. I can’t…. I just can’t right now,” he finished shakily.

“Son of a bitch. Every Single Time,” Steve swore, startling them all. “Look at the dates. Every Single Time Westcott stayed the night he, he raped Peter.”

Shoulders dropped and heads bowed as they all realised the implications. Scott retched again.

“Friday, search for information on Steven Westcott,” Steve demanded angrily.

Natasha left the room, her face set with an impassive expression. Tony saw her enter the med bay across the hall where Doctor Cho and Bruce were still operating on Peter, and speak to them quietly. Bruce’s face went white and his shoulders started to shake as she spoke. He closed his eyes momentarily, chest heaving with deep breaths. Natasha returned to the room shortly after.

The video files disappeared from the screen, and were replaced by various background files on Steven Westcott. There was the standard information they’d expect to see from anyone. Westcott was twenty-four years old. He’d enlisted in the army, aged seventeen, before completing high school. He’d specialised in intelligence, earned commendations, and risen quickly within the ranks. Apparently that had gained the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D., and he transferred to the organisation four years ago, again rising quickly within their ranks.

A note in his file stated that he’d volunteered to be the discipline liaison with the Avengers when Peter’s prank with the Quin Jet came to their attention. It noted that Agent Westcott had grown up in the same area as Peter and wasn’t much older than him, so it was thought he would be the ideal person to teach him the discipline needed to be part of the Avengers.

“Friday, what else can you find?” Natasha asked. “Peter called him Skip, and-”

“And Westcott implied he knew Peter when he was seven,” Tony ground out harshly. “Seven.”

“I have found sealed files in Steven Westcott’s records. They were sealed by court order when he was sixteen,” Friday spoke into the silent room.

“Unseal them dammit Friday!” Tony ordered her. “I don’t care how you do it, just tell us what’s in them!”

Once again, Friday was silent as she filled the screen with information.

Steven ‘Skip’ Westcott, aged sixteen, had been accused and convicted of sexual assault against several male minors. One of the names listed was Peter Parker, aged seven, of Queens. The other boys ranged in age from six to twelve years old. Westcott had served time in a juvenile detention facility instead of completing his senior year. His lawyer had applied to have his records sealed and Westcott joined the army once his sentence had been served.

“How did we not know about this?” Tony said in despair.

“The records were sealed.” Natasha said. “S.H.I.E.L.D. would have looked at his service history, just like we did. There was nothing else to find unless you had a reason to go searching for it.”

“I am going to kill him,” Bucky spoke for the first time, the cadence of his voice calm and measured, his Russian accent much more pronounced than usual. Loki nodded in agreement with every word.

“I am going to rip his arms from his body one by one. I am going to tear his co-”

“Bucky!” Steve stopped him. “We can’t kill him; it will just be us who ends up in prison then. We must do this by the book. We’ll find him, and make sure he gets the maximum punishment for his crimes.”

There were various nods and shaking of heads of the others either agreed or disagreed with his statement.

“What constitutes punishment for such a crime here?” Thor asked, looking in surprise at his hand, bleeding from where he’d clenched it around his dagger in anger.

His brother silently passed him a scarf to bind it up. Several rough, deep lines had been etched into the table before Loki, carved with his own knife while the video played, a pitiful substitute for carving instead into the flesh of the man who did this to Peter.

“He’ll be prosecuted in a court of law, sentenced and sent to jail,” Steve explained to Thor.

“That piece of shit deserves to die,” Clint muttered angrily. Bucky and Loki nodded in agreement.

“I’ve asked Doctor Cho to swab for evidence of sexual assault,” Natasha told them. “It’s been less than seventy-two hours so she should still find viable DNA, even with the submersion in the river. She said she’d do it while Peter is still unconscious.”

“I need to see Peter,” Tony said abruptly. He wanted revenge on Westcott for what he’d done to Peter, but Peter still needed him. Westcott could wait.

“We’ll figure all this out later, I’m going to the med bay. Do what you can to find Westcott, but for god’s sake keep it quiet.”

“What about May?” Clint asked. “We should tell her. We haven’t even told her we’ve found Peter yet.”

“Tell her we’ve found Peter, but not about- this,” Tony said, waving his hand at the screen dejectedly.

“Peter should be able to decide who he wants to know.”

“I’ll go,” Sam and Wanda spoke at the same time. They agreed to call her first, then go to her flat to pick her up and bring her back to the compound with them. Peter should be out of surgery by then, they hoped. Happy said he’d drive, startling them. They hadn’t even realised he was there.

 

 

 

---------------

 

 

 

Tony sat heavily down on the couch off to one side of the med bay where the doctors were still operating on Peter, as they had been for several hours already. He looked terribly small on the bed, and so very, very pale under the bright lights above him. A clear mask covered his mouth and nose as the ventilator helped him breathe, and IV tubes snaked into both arms.

The multitude of bruises, cuts, scrapes and gashes covered in dark blood stood out in vivid relief against Peter’s dreadfully pale skin. Dark hollows had etched themselves under his eyes, appearing even deeper next to his cheekbones, which were prominent against his sunken cheeks. His body was gaunt, with his collarbones and ribs clearly visible.

It looked like the body of a starved and tortured prisoner of war, not like Peter at all.

Natasha joined him as he sat in the med bay, watching over Peter as his surgery continued.

“Sam, Bucky and I watched some more of the videos. That monster was raping Peter in his bedroom every time they had one of those one-on-one sessions, while we all sat and did nothing. Repeatedly in some instances. Remember those bruises on Peter’s back that time? The boot print? That was Westcott,” she ground out furiously.

“He beat the shit out of Peter that night, then raped him as he lay there, injured. How did we never hear anything Tony? There were noises, Peter crying out in pain-”

“His room is sound-proofed,” Tony said despairingly. “Because of his enhanced senses. Just like Steve and Bucky’s are.”

“Friday-”

“That fucking protocol stopped her from saying anything.” Tony cursed bitterly.

“And Peter didn’t because Westcott was threatening him from the very first time,” Natasha said. “He manipulated Peter’s fear of exposure, his fear of his loved ones being hurt – he even used Clint’s kids against Peter’s protective nature, right from the very beginning. He knew exactly what to say to get Peter to do what he wanted.”

“I don’t understand why Peter still didn’t come to us – to me? I would have done something. I would have made it stop,” Tony said, blaming himself for not realising what was happening all those times. The gnawing guilt threatened to overwhelm him.

“Westcott had already raped Peter when he was only seven years old. Imagine how terrifying it must have been, coming face to face with the same man again. Then he used the power he already had over the younger Peter, to intimidate and manipulate him all over again. Childhood trauma is powerful, and difficult to overcome. The bastard clearly knew that, too,” Natasha swore in frustration.

“He also used the Accords, and us, against Peter. Westcott told Peter that if he said anything, and we came after him, we’d all end up in the Raft. He told Peter he’d make sure we suffer.”

Tony sighed heavily. He felt so helpless. Anger, grief and shame swirled through him chaotically, joining the blame he placed on his own shoulders for not knowing. For not protecting Peter. Then he thought of something he could do. It wasn’t enough. Nothing would ever be enough, but it was something.

“Nat, can you clear out the room next to mine? Order new furniture, new bedding, everything. Make sure nothing is the same as it is in Peter’s room. I don’t want him to ever have to go there, or to see any of that ever again,” Tony spoke hurriedly, tears pricking at his eyes.

“I’ll ask everyone to help,” Nat answered quietly. “That’s a good idea Tony.” She patted him on the shoulder, then left.

May arrived late that afternoon, her arrival waking Tony where he’d finally fallen asleep, leaning back against the wall in the med bay. Peter had been in surgery for almost eight hours by the time she arrived. Looking over at him blearily, Tony saw that the blood on Peter’s skin and on the floor had all been cleaned away at some point. The medical staff had apparently all changed their clothes as well. At least May will be spared the sight of that, he thought gratefully.

“How is he?” May asked Tony worriedly after Sam had shown her into the room. Doctor Cho and Bruce both heard her, and came over to them.

“Peter is stable for now,” Doctor Cho began in a quiet, reassuring voice.

“He has three gunshot wounds, and a deep laceration across his chest. Luckily for him, the rounds were small, most likely from a handgun. They didn’t perforate his body, and didn’t fragment, so we were able to retrieve all three bullets. His liver was ruptured, but should repair itself in time. His other wounds are less serious and his enhanced healing will repair them in time as well.” She paused, and Bruce took over.

“Apparently Peter has a hibernation reflex which was triggered when he fell into the cold river. It stopped him losing too much blood before we found him, but we don’t know when he will awaken. We’ll monitor him closely, especially his body temperature and cardiac output. We’ll also keep him on an assisted breathing machine to lower stress on his body as it recovers,” Bruce explained carefully, looking at May to make sure she understood.

She nodded shakily, clutching Tony’s hand tightly. Several of the other Avengers were in the room or standing in the doorway by now, quietly listening to the update.

“Peter will need to continue receiving fluids, blood products and antibiotics intravenously, to replenish the blood lost and prevent septic shock and bacterial infections. That river is renowned for being a bacterial maelstrom. We’re also administering medications to increase his heart’s pumping strength. This will improve circulation and get blood where it’s needed.” Doctor Cho continued.

“We’ve begun replacing the electrolytes and calories that Peter has lost, and will continue that for as long as needed. His body has been deprived of food for more than forty-eight hours. With his high metabolism and need for greater amounts of food than a typical human he has essentially been starved. In addition to this, it appears that even while he was in the state of hibernation, his body continued to try and repair itself. The webbing bandages and cocoon helped slightly, but his body has cannibalised itself, eating away at his own flesh. These two factors are why he looks so gaunt.” Bruce finished their update, adding “You can come and see him now,” to May. He led her over as Doctor Cho stepped out of the room, motioning Tony to follow her into the conference room with the others.

Once everyone was inside the conference room, Doctor Cho closed the door quietly.

“Peter’s blood had massive amounts of polyhydroxy alcohol in it. It’s a natural chemical compound similar to the anti-freeze that tarantulas produce in winter that slow down their metabolism. It stopped him from bleeding out in the river, or afterwards. But it also stopped his wounds from clotting. He’s slowly been losing blood the entire time he was missing,” she told them.

“When we warmed him up, his body stopped producing this sort of anti-freeze, which is why he suddenly began bleeding out. He lost almost sixty percent of his blood volume, which would be fatal to most people. If we had of known about it, we could have kept him cool, keeping him in the hibernation state while we operated, which would have avoided him bleeding out that like,” Doctor Cho continued, shrugging slightly.

“We’ve never seen anything like it in a human before, but at least we know about it now. All of Peter’s unique factors – the healing aspect of his webbing; his enhanced healing; this state of hibernation, they all combined to save his life. But we don’t know what effect the hibernation will have on him now. We don’t know when he will wake up.” She paused for a moment, then continued quietly.

“I took the swabs as requested by Ms Romanov. I take it you haven’t told his Aunt about his other injuries? Bruce suggested we cover the bruises caused by the assault so that she doesn’t see them. He isn’t sure if Peter will want her to know about it or not,” she finished, looking at them inquiringly.

“We haven’t told her, no. I think Peter should be able to decide if he wants to or not,” Tony explained, and the doctor nodded in agreement.

“Being able to decide who knows and who doesn’t is an important part of the recovery process. Peter is going to need a lot of therapy and support if he’s going to come through this. He’ll need people in his corner,” she replied.

“He has us,” Tony told her vehemently.

“He’ll always have us.”

Everyone else nodded firmly in agreement.

 

---------------

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text




NOW




After his long and complicated surgery was finally over, Peter had been transferred from the surgical table to the hospital bed that Tony had woken up in earlier in the day. Tony and May spent Monday night by Peter’s bedside together, Tony taking the uncomfortable chair, May dozing on and off in the deep armchair that Steve had carried in for her.

Machines clicked, whirled and beeped softly around Peter. Multiple IV lines snaked into both his arms, and a central venous line had been placed in his throat as well. The clear breathing mask still covered his face, and bandages covered much of his torso – some normal, some made from his webbing. Warm blankets were tucked carefully around him, replaced with freshly warmed ones every few hours by the nurses.

Before she fell asleep, May had called Ned, who had been frantic with worry about Peter, and had reassured him that Peter was going to be alright. Ned told her he’d call MJ, to Tony’s relief. He thought that girl was scary.

The night was long, and quiet. They didn’t speak much, each content to just watch over Peter without words. Tony was anxious for Peter to wake up, and stayed awake the entire night.

May called her boss on Tuesday morning and asked for a day off, telling him that Peter was very sick. She called Midtown as well, telling them the same story, then sat with Peter throughout the day.

Tony circled carefully around May as they both sat with Peter. They’d wordlessly called a silent truce on their usual passive aggressive banter. Tony was just too exhausted to bother, and was grateful that May apparently felt the same. He still hadn’t managed more than a few hours’ sleep at a time since they’d first learnt of Peter disappearance, except for the time he’d been unwillingly sedated.

“Tony, we need to show the city that Spider-man is alive,” Rhodey told him mid-morning as he was leaving Peter’s bedside for a bathroom break.

“The press release we issued yesterday has halted the search, but there are a lot of questions being asked. People think he’s dead and that we’re covering it up.”

“Why the fuck would we cover up his death?” Tony asked, surprised.

“I don’t know, to prevent riots maybe? They love him down there. He’s their own personal hero, and they haven’t seen him since he fell into the river three and a half days ago,” Rhodey told him earnestly.

“I’m not dressing Peter in his suit in the condition that he’s in,” Tony said emphatically, “and we’re not releasing images of him without his suit. Ever.”

“Perhaps I can help,” a new voice cut in. Tony and Rhodey turned around and saw Loki and Thor walking down the hallway towards them.

“Allow me to shapeshift into Spider-man, suit and all, and put some bandages on me. I’ll lie in the med bed and do a video,” Loki said.

“Please Tony. Let me help with this. I love Peter too.” He looked into Tony’s eyes earnestly as he spoke.

Tony sighed and nodded, hating the situation but acknowledging the necessity. Rhodey and Loki left together, discussing the details of what he should say. Thor kept walking with Tony.

“Peter will recover from this Tony,” Thor told him with no doubt in his voice at all. “He is strong. Stronger than we even knew, suffering as he has for so long, and not breaking. He will not break now.”

Tony just shrugged, unable to find words to express his doubts. His guilt was still too fresh, too raw for him to believe that everything would be alright. That Peter would be alright.

The thought that Westcott was molesting Peter had never even crossed his mind. Tony had always assumed that Peter would tell him anything, especially since they’d started growing closer. He had no experience with someone being so deliberately manipulative like Westcott was with Peter, no experience with anyone who’d been sexually assaulted and threatened like that, especially not a child. It had never even occurred to him that that could be the reason for Peter’s changed behaviour.

Tony didn’t think he’d ever forgive himself for not seeing what was happening. For not digging deeper, for not pushing more. For not stopping Westcott – for not saving Peter… Tony sighed morosely. All he could do now was be there for Peter. To help him in whatever ways he needed. To try and make up for what he’d missed seeing before. To help Peter heal. Tony vowed to himself that he would do whatever it took. For Peter.

He wandered around the compound, wanting to give May some time alone with Peter, but unable to settle anywhere. Seeing Steve and Bucky heading downstairs dressed in training clothes, Tony decided to get changed and join them. Maybe if he hit something for a while he’d feel better.

When Tony arrived in the training room, the pair had finished their warmup skipping. Steve hung a punching bag up, wrapped his fists in tape and let fly with a powerful throw, a look of frustration on his face. Tony guessed that he too needed to work some of his guilt out.

“Ow! OW! Why are you doing this to me? Please stop sir! Please, please stop hurting me!” Peter’s voice cried out plaintively, and all three men recoiled.

What was funny months ago was now horrifying to hear, knowing as they did now just exactly what consequences Peter had suffered as a result of their pranks. Face in a grimace, Steve ripped the bag down and threw it heavily against the wall.

“I feel so god-damned useless!” he shouted in Tony and Bucky’s general direction.

“That fucking- fucking piece of shit was hurting Peter for months! For months and months and we did nothing! We should have been protecting him, and instead we let it happen. We just- let it happen.”

Steve spun abruptly and punched the wall. Powder flew and bits of concrete fell to the ground as he punched it again, and again. Blood flecked the crater in the wall that was growing every time Steve hit it.

“Stop it Steve!” Bucky ordered him. “Hurting yourself isn’t going to help Peter.”

Catching Steve’s arm with his metal fist, Bucky staggered as Steve whirled and punched him in the face with his other fist, not holding back at all.

“Cap, enough!” Tony cried, stepping in front of Bucky and raising his hands placatingly. “This isn’t helping anyone. Get it together!”

Steve held the clenched fist he’d been about to punch Bucky with again in mid-air, staring at Tony, standing protectively in front of Bucky.

Standing in front of the man who’d murdered his parents. Protecting him from his own best friend, who’d kept that secret from Tony as well. It didn’t matter that Bucky didn’t need protection. What mattered was that Tony, who’d been so betrayed by Bucky, and by Steve, now stood before him like this. Like a friend – a friend to them both.

The fight drained out of Steve as suddenly as it had appeared, and he dropped his fist. Chest heaving with heavy breaths, he stepped forward and embraced Tony in a bear hug, shuddering with emotion as he did. Tony stood unmoving for a moment, then lifted his arms and embraced Steve back.

“Aunt May says it has to last at least 20 seconds for maximum hug efficiency. It takes at least that long for your brain to release oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. And I think you guys really, really need those feel-good feelings right now.”

Peter’s voice echoed through Tony’s mind. He had been right then, and was right again now. The hug felt good, just as it had back then.

He sighed, and felt Steve sigh as well. God I wish I was hugging Peter right now floated through Tony’s mind.

“You got those feel-good feelings happening too?” Steve asked Tony, lips quirking a little as if he too were remembering Peter’s words.

“Yeah,” Tony answered huskily. “Yeah I do.”

Bucky watched them both, holding his hand to his bleeding nose without any sign of pain, a small smile on his lips.




---------------






The video of Loki-as-Spider-man was released and almost immediately went viral on all media.

Lying in the med bay bed in the Avengers compound, ‘Spider-man’ waved cautiously at the camera, holding one arm to his side as he did. Bandages covered his torso in the same regions where Peter had been shot.

“Hi everyone!” Peter’s bright voice sounded.

The cheerfulness of it cut through Tony as he watched. He couldn’t wait to hear Peter speak like that again.

“So, I guess you heard that I had a bit of an incident the other night. I got hurt, but I’m going to be okay. The Avengers told me all about what you all did to help the search for me, and I want you to know how grateful I am to you all. Thank you.” ‘Spider-man’ paused for a moment, rubbing his chest carefully.

“I’ve always known how special the people of Queens, and all of New York are. The way you all came together and helped look for me proves that. I’m going to be out of action for a little bit, so I’m asking you now. Can you all keep doing that? Can you keep looking out for each other, for the little guy, while I can’t? Can you all be your own friendly neighbourhood heroes for me?”

Loki-as-Spider-man looked directly into the camera, somehow managing to convey earnestness and sincerity despite the mask covering his face. His performance was masterful, reminiscent of Peter in every way. The hairs on Tony’s arms rose up even as he smiled at the image, and he was glad that Loki was on their side now.

“Well anyway, that’s it from me folks. It’s time for my medicine!” With a jaunty wave, ‘Spider-man shot a web out of one wrist, and pulled a sandwich wrapped in Delmar’s distinctive wrapping towards himself.

“Bye everyone, stay sticky!”

As Tony finished watching the video in the living room, Loki came into the room, followed by Rhodey, Thor, Wanda and Bruce.

“Was I alright friend Stark?” Loki asked hesitantly. “I tried to emulate Peter’s goodness and caring for the people.”

“You were great Loki,” Tony said, and decided fuck it. He stood and hugged Loki awkwardly. Hugging was nice and he was going to do more of it. Loki stiffened for a brief moment, then cautiously patted Tony on the back.

“I think you said exactly the right thing. Peter would worry about the people while he can’t be there. Asking them to look after each other was brilliant.”

The look on Loki’s face as Tony finished speaking and stepped back was priceless, and a bit of Tony’s old snarkiness returned as a half-smile crossed his own face.

“Yeah apparently I hug now. It’s a thing I do. Don’t wet your pants over it.” He turned to leave, and found Thor, Wanda and Bruce lined up behind him, each holding their arms out and smiling mischievously at him. Fuck it, Tony thought again, and stepped into the group hug. This is nice.

May stayed late Tuesday night but eventually had to leave. She needed a night’s sleep in her own bed before having to return to work on Wednesday, her arsehole boss refusing to give her any more time off. Happy offered to drive her home, and to pick her up after work on Wednesday afternoon.

Peter still slept.

Some colour had returned to his skin, and the bruises were starting to fade, even as his flesh began to resemble something a little closer to a healthy weight. Dozing in his bedside chair that night, Tony repeatedly jerked awake as nightmares featuring Peter’s assault played over and over in his mind. Midnight passed, and Sam and Scott appeared.

“We’ll take over Tony,” Sam told him in a hushed voice. “Go to bed.”

“No, it’s alright,” Tony muttered, unmoving, not meeting their eyes. “I’m alright.”

“Maybe you are,” Sam replied. “But we aren’t. We love him too, and we feel the same guilt as you. Please let us sit with him.” Scott nodded without speaking next to him, looking woefully at Tony.

A long, soft sigh escaped Tony as he looked at them, really looked at them, and realised they were feeling the same things he was. He had been so wrapped up in his own guilt and shame that he hadn’t noticed. Shame-faced, he nodded, and rose from the chair. Sam patted him on the back as he left, while Scott smiled a quiet smile of thanks.

Wednesday morning dawned bright and clear, almost obscenely cheerful given the sombre atmosphere.

Tony had to admit he felt better after some time in his own bed. It was the first time he’d been there since being awakened early Saturday morning. It had been nice to be near Pepper, too, even if all they did was sleep.

He decided to stop in the kitchen for a quick breakfast before checking in on Peter. Sam and Scott were there as well, along with Rhodey, Steve and Bucky. Quiet good mornings were murmured as Tony came in. He stopped, looked at Sam and Scott worriedly.

“Clint and Nat are sitting with Peter,” Scott told Tony, correctly guessing his concern.

Tony paused and tilted his head, eyes narrowing as he realised that he hadn’t seen them for a while. Since they’d all watched the video together, in fact. Forgetting about breakfast, Tony turned and hurried in the direction of the med bay.

Still sleeping, Peter looked a little better.

More colour infused his skin, and the lighter bruises were gone, as well as most of the scratches and scrapes. Bruce was there, removing the bandages and checking on Peter’s progress. As Tony stood next to Peter’s bed, Bruce spoke quietly to him. Nat and Clint listened carefully from where they sat on the other side, on a two-seater couch that had replaced the single armchair previously there. They looked tired; Tony realised.

“Peter’s healing slower than he usually does, but I’m not surprised,” Bruce told them.

“As far as I know, these are the most severe injuries he’s ever sustained. That, along with the hibernation, has drained a lot of his body’s natural resources. He is making steady progress, however. The blood pressure medications will be discontinued today, as will the blood transfusions in the central venous line. He’s getting there,” Bruce ended, stroking Peter’s hair gently before leaving the room.

Standing still next to Peter’s bed, Tony looked down into his sleeping face. He looks so peaceful, Tony thought.

He remembered the reason he’d rushed up here, and glanced over at Clint, and Nat. They sat, seemingly unperturbed, and looked back at Tony. He jerked his head towards the door, and they rose silently, moving through the room and into the conference room across the hall without sound. Uncanny damned spies, Tony thought a little irritably, stressed by what he suspected. He saw Wanda and Vision coming down the hall, and paused to ask them if they’d stay with Peter.

“Of course we will,” Vision answered calmly, “it’s why we are here.” Wanda just nodded, and Tony gratefully left them to it.

“Alright, spit it out,” Tony ordered Clint and Natasha, closing the door behind him. “What did you do.”

“Who, us?” Clint replied innocently, while Natasha simply raised an eyebrow.

“Are you sure you want to know Tony?” she asked.

“I’m sure I don’t want to. But I need to,” Tony said frankly.

“Westcott won’t ever be able to hurt Peter, or any other child, ever again.” Clint told him unapologetically, anger simmering beneath the surface of his words. His jaw jutted out belligerently, as if daring Tony to fight him.

“What. Did. You. Do,” Tony ground out.

“We took him. There were no witnesses. No evidence that can connect him back to us. He just vanished on his morning run,” Natasha told him calmly. “Apparently he lives in a dangerous area.”

“Fuck!” Tony whisper-shouted, throwing his arms open and looking at them wildly.

“What the fuck! I want to kill him just as much as you, but we can’t! The fucking Accords, the fucking U.N. will have us for this! We’ll be locked away and Peter will be all alone!”

“We didn’t kill him,” Natasha informed him, a cold light in her eyes.

“Well what the fuck did you do with him? And why didn’t you tell me?” Tony demanded, pacing the room as emotions flooded through his body and heart.

Alarm over what they’d done – and anger that he hadn’t been a part of it. Knowing all the reasons why they shouldn’t go after Westcott didn’t change the fact that he wanted to. Wanted to more than he’d ever wanted to do anything in his life before.

“You needed to stay here, to be with Peter. Bucky worked out what we were doing but we made him stay here as well. He has too much at stake to risk something like this right now,” Clint told Tony calmly, before continuing.

“We messed Westcott up a bit. Well, a lot actually. We cut him for every time he hurt Peter, and for all his other victims. That didn’t feel like enough, so we decided to try Lingchi, the torture of a thousand cuts. That was interesting. It still didn’t feel like enough though, so I used an arrow and- well I’m sure you can guess where I put it. He’s going to feel that for a long, long time. Then we gave him to Thor and Loki,” Clint continued nonchalantly, stroking the shaft of one of his arrows as he spoke, a cold, dark look in his eyes.

“I castrated him first though. Did you know that my Widow Bites can cauterise wounds? I didn’t.” Natasha said with clinical interest, inspecting the weapons on her wrists while she talked.

“Peter upgraded them for me before-” she stopped speaking, jaw clenching and eyes hardening.

“Thor and Loki are taking him to Niflheim. They told us that it is the Hell that our worlds myths are inspired by. It is very real, and apparently a very, very bad place to be,” Clint finished their confession, such as it was.

Did it even count as a confession if no sign of guilt or remorse was shown? Tony wondered.

“Niflheim is the lowest of the Nine Realms,” Thor announced as he came in through the doorway and overheard Clint’s last comment.

“It was once the world of the Frost Giants before they went to Jotunheim. Now it is a frozen, barren world, populated only by those too evil or insane to dwell anywhere else,” he finished, looking just as unrepentant as Clint and Natasha.

“There are no females of any species on Niflheim anymore,” Loki added with a truly evil smirk. “Westcott, a small, powerless human with his pretty blond hair and pleasing features, will most likely find himself quite unhappily popular there.”

Tony closed his eyes, and rubbed his hand over his face wearily. Internally, he was viciously pleased with Westcott’s fate, though he wished he’d had a hand in it. Outwardly, he showed his concern over the possible repercussions they might face because of their actions.

“Just-” he exhaled with resignation. “Just make sure there’s no evidence. Nothing that can be linked back to us.”

“Already taken care of,” Natasha replied confidentially. “Friday put a worm into all of his devices wiping any records relating to Peter that aren’t part of the discipline sessions. The bastard had copies of all the videos that Friday was made to conceal. They’re all gone now. She also wrote a report from him detailing his satisfaction with the results of the discipline sessions, and advising that they are no longer required. We left it on his desk and a copy on his computer too, backdated to last Friday.”

“What about Fury? We need to tell him-”

“No,” Nat cut Tony off. “Fury might think he knows all and see all, but he missed this. He should have known about Westcott’s history with Peter, and he didn’t. He doesn’t deserve to know anything about it.”

Tony stared at her in surprise, and at Clint nodding in agreement beside her. Given their history with S.H.I.E.L.D., and with Fury, Tony was a little shocked that they weren’t more loyal to the master spy. He had to admit though, the thought of the supposedly infallible Director Fury being ignorant of the matter was appealing, in a darkly ironic way. He just hoped they would be able to keep it that way.

“We don’t know what Peter would want, either,” Clint interjected. “He may not want Fury to know about it all, and may not want to pursue legal resolution, especially with the risk of his identity being revealed during a court case. We thought about waiting, and asking him, but-” he paused, and his hands clenched around the arrow shaft once more.

“But Westcott needed to pay. Jail or the Raft isn’t enough for him. We wanted to make him pay for his crimes. To make him suffer like Peter has. So we did,” Nat ended for him, looking unapologetically at Tony, not at all regretful of their actions.

“Alright,” Tony stood, ending the conversation. “This never happened. If Fury asks any of us about Westcott, we know nothing. He told us on Friday that the discipline sessions were finished, and that’s it. Make sure everyone is on the same page, and you can tell Steve about what you did, because I’m not going to.”

Rhodey and Pepper took over the bedside watch from Wanda and Vision at lunch time, Tony having accepted that everyone wanted to be by Peter’s side almost as much as he did. He had claimed the graveyard shift, after May had gone home, for himself, and knew he would have time with Peter later that night.

It was easier for him to be alone there, in the dark, quiet hours of the night, watching over Peter. The notion of sleeping through a whole night was a distant memory for Tony now. Better to be with Peter in case he woke.

While he waited for his turn, Tony once again found himself wandering the compound, unable to settle with any work in his lab. Coming out of the lift into the main living area, he was surprised to hear loud pounding, smashing and cracking from down the hall towards the bedrooms. It sounded as if something was being torn apart in rage. As if Bruce had Hulked out and- oh no, Tony thought, and ran towards the sounds, heart hammering in his chest.

He stumbled to a stop and stared in surprise at the scene before him. Bruce hadn’t hulked out after all, though he was there, with Steve and Bucky. All three were holding sledgehammers, and appeared to be in the process of destroying the walls along the hallway of both Peter’s room, and the one that Westcott had stayed in. The internal wall between the two was already gone.

“Umm hello? What’s going on?” Tony asked, only a mild snark in his tone, since he thought he had a pretty good idea.

“No-one wanted either of these rooms. I don’t think anyone will ever want them, after what happened here,” Steve told Tony.

“So we decided to make them into an open-plan library,” Bruce continued. “The library part was Bucky’s idea. He thought Peter might be able to tolerate being here if there were books. In time. One day, maybe.”

“Huh. Good idea.” Tony looked at Bucky, who was looking steadily back at him. He was touched by the thoughtfulness of their plan, and a little humbled.

He wasn’t sure why it kept surprising him when other people showed how much they cared about Peter. It made sense. Peter was exceptionally special.

“We got a new conference table too, and fixed the window in there, as well as the mirror and mess in the bathroom near the med bay. Thought it would be better if Peter didn’t see all those reminders,” Bucky told Tony.

“That’s a good idea too. Thanks guys,” Tony said gratefully.

He and Bucky nodded to each other at the same time, and Tony left them to it. The sounds of the demolition resumed as he kept going down the hallway, deciding to see what had been done for Peter’s new room.

Looking into the bedroom doors on either side of his own room, Tony found that Peter had been given Steve’s room. He supposed that made sense since it was already soundproofed for enhanced hearing. Idly wondering where Steve had moved too, he decided it didn’t matter, he’d find out sooner or later.

The colour scheme in Peter’s old room had been similar to all of the bedrooms. Cool grey walls, light grey carpet, minimalist furniture. Peter’s bedding and accents had been the red and blue of his Spider-man suit, something Tony had chosen back when he first invited Peter to stay. That felt so long ago now. Peter’s bed had been in the middle of his old room, and he’d had a small table and chairs in one corner.

This new room looked nothing like that. The colour scheme was predominantly blue, with white and yellow accents scattered around. The walls had been painted the same colour as a light blue sky, soaring above a lush navy-blue carpet.

There was a new bed standing in one corner, against two walls. The bedding arranged artfully over it was mostly light blue, a couple of white pillows and sheets tucked behind. A navy throw was folded diagonally across the end of the bed, near the door to the ensuite and walk in robe, and there was a bedside table with a lamp and some books sitting on it next to the bed. The other side of the room held a long narrow table against one wall, with a couple of chairs tucked under it, and a set of shelves tucked into another corner. All the furniture was white.

The shelves were half full of books, a very eclectic mix. There were several chemistry, physics and biology textbooks; engineering manuals; an anatomy guide and some books on magic, but there were also novels. Classics such as Lord of the Rings, Great Expectations; and Little Women were scattered in between more recent works by Heinlein; Asimov; Jemisin and more. There were even several Star Wars novels – and Star Trek ones. Tony raised his eyebrows at those, suspecting that someone was playing a gentle prank on Peter.

He then snorted as he saw the book Stane had insisted was worth publishing several years ago, ‘A Stark Biography’ on the shelf as well. Someone was playing a prank on him as well from the look of it. Perhaps it would make Peter smile.

Where the original, minimalist style window had once been, now stood a long bay window, stretching up almost to the ceiling and jutting outside the room. It had three tall double French windows enclosing it’s three angles, the frames all painted white. Each of them stood open, and Tony could see a narrow ledge outside the window. Beneath the bay window inside, a thick white trapezoid cushion covered storage drawers’ underneath, and smaller blue and yellow cushions were scattered artfully over it.

Sheer white curtains filtered the light streaming through the window, and fluttered gently in the fresh smelling breeze. Two bright yellow beanbags sat cheerfully between the window and the corner bookshelf. One the other side of the bay window, a small white rectangular planter sat next to the bedside table, overflowing with a lush plant with large greenish yellow leaves.

It was a room as unlike Peter’s old room as Tony could imagine, and he loved it. It was so calming, but also bright, open and cheerful. It was nothing Tony could ever have designed himself.

“Do you like it?” a quiet voice came from behind him. Tony turned to see Wanda standing shyly behind him.

“I love it.” Tony told her unequivocally. “It’s so fresh and bright, but also calming. I’m sure that Peter will love it too.”

Wanda looked down, blushing. “It wasn’t just me. Everyone helped. Scott suggested a bay window for extra seating, and Sam said it should have a ledge outside to make it easier for when Peter comes back from patrolling. Nat helped me with the colour scheme, and Steve and Bucky chose linen and cushions that they said would feel nice for Peter with his enhanced sense of touch. Everyone helped with the books, and Clint made sure there are enough charging points and power sockets. He said teenagers need a lot more tech stuff than adults. Pepper put your old Arc Reactor on the shelf there. She said it feels right that your heart watches over Peter now,” Wanda smiled slightly as she spoke.

“Thor and Loki brought the bed from Asgard,” Wanda continued, awe in her voice. “They said the carvings are stylised branches of the World Tree and the Apples of Immortality. I don’t actually know what those are, but they said it was a bed worthy of Asgard’s heir.”

Looking at the bed head, Tony believed it. Two thick posts rose from either side where it stood against the wall, and held an arch of intricately carved timber between them. The timber was light in colour, but glowing a rich, golden tone. It shone softly in the room, unlike any timber Tony had ever seen. Leaves and vine-like branches curled around each other as if growing out from the truck in the centre of the panel, with apples scattered throughout, gilt in gold.

“Vision suggested a trundle bed underneath the bed, in case he wants to have his friend stay over. Rhodey made sure the bathroom was different to Peter’s old one as well, and that it matched this room. I chose the plant – it’s called a Golden Pothos. It’s meant to be very good at purifying air as well as allergy friendly so I thought that might help with his stronger sense of smell. We can take it out if it’s no good for him though,” Wanda added hastily at the end of her words.

Tony was feeling a little stunned at how much thought and care had gone into making this room for Peter, and how quickly the team had worked together to get it done. He was a little sad that he hadn’t had an input.

“Oh, I almost forgot!” Wanda interrupted his self-pity. “Friday suggested something too. She said it’s something you’d been working on for Peter but hadn’t gotten around to installing yet. Watch! Friday, activate Infinite Skies protocol please.”

In response, the windows slid silently closed, and three black out blinds dropped out of the bay window ceiling to cover them. Wanda closed the door behind them and darkness filled the room. It was utterly silent. Slowly, tiny pinpricks of light began to glow across the ceiling and exposed walls. They mimicked stars, twinkling with tiny pulses of light. There were different sizes, so that some looked far away, and some looked closer. Single stars, clusters of them, and even cloudy, multi-coloured nebulae filled the sky. Faint flashes of blue, gold, yellow, silver and white sparkled and faded as the whole effect appeared to move ever so slightly.

They look like beacons of hope for all the lost souls of the world, Tony thought, touched by the loveliness of it. It was like standing under an endless night sky. With his concern over Peter’s spiralling behaviour, he’d completely forgotten this project after starting it earlier in the year.

“It moves to match the night sky above Queens,” Wanda told him quietly. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

Tony coughed and cleared his throat, hastily wiping at his eyes.

“It’s magnificent Wanda,” he said huskily. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”




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Peter’s breathing mask was removed before May arrived on Wednesday evening, and the bandages covering those repulsive handprints also removed. They had completely vanished, to everyone’s heartfelt relief. Now he was only bandaged where the bullets had hit him, and the long gash across his chest. Bruce had made more of Peter’s prototype medical web formula which was used as bandages for those wounds.

When Tony took over from May as she was leaving to go home, she stopped him, and wordlessly patted his shoulder. Tony held her hand there and quietly looked at her. They smiled in mutual understanding of their love and concern for Peter, then parted ways.

Tony sat next to Peter quietly, and watched over him through the long, silent hours of the night. He watched Peter’s untroubled face as he slept, lashes lying lightly against his cheeks. He stroked Peter’s hair back from his forehead now and then, checking the temperature of his skin.

Sometimes Tony spoke to Peter. He told him how the people of the city had come out to help search for him. Told him stories of Avengers missions. Stories of Tony’s years at MIT. Told him of his hopes for Peter’s future with Stark Industries.

Told him how sorry he was for not realising what had been happening to him.

But mostly Tony watched Peter’s chest as it rose and fell in even breaths. He never wanted to see it fall still again.

The dawn of Thursday morning slid quietly across the sky, the growing light awakening Tony from his light doze. As always, he looked to Peter as soon as he was awake.

Peter had shifted a little in his sleep for the first time, turning onto his side towards Tony and curling a little. One arm lay beside the pillow cradling his head, his hand loosely open in slumber. His other hand was tucked against his chin, his thumb pressing lightly against the groove between his lips. It looked almost as if he was sucking his thumb, though he wasn’t. Tony felt an ache in his chest at how young Peter looked, and how peaceful his face was. Untouched by any pain, or fear. Just a boy, snoring ever so slightly as he slept.

“It’s a self-soothing behaviour,” Doctor Cho told Tony when she arrived for morning rounds.
“Peter is unconsciously comforting himself. He will most likely be completely unaware of it once he fully awakens.”

Tony felt his heart sink at her words. Despite his physical wounds healing, Peter still had severe mental and emotional trauma to deal with when he awoke. Swearing that he would be there for him, Tony sat down once more, running his fingers gently through Peter’s hair as he slept.

A soft sigh escaped Peter’s lips as he tilted his head a little into Tony’s hand, then stilled once more. Whatever it takes, Tony resolved again. I will do whatever it takes to help this boy heal. The guilt he felt tried to intrude, but Tony ruthlessly shoved it away, and focussed on Peter instead.

The morning brought good news as Doctor Cho announced that Peter’s brain waves showed he was beginning to move out of the deeper hibernation sleep and into a more normal sleep.

“I’d expect him to awaken fully in the next day or two if he continues on this track,” she told Tony, pleasure crinkling her eyes a little.

Tony suspected that she too, had a soft spot for Peter, and smiled at her. She removed all the of heart monitors, and the remaining IV lines bar the one sustaining Peter’s metabolism. After checking, she also removed the long bandage over the gash in his chest, and said she expected that the remaining ones could be removed the next day.

Clint and Rhodey arrived to relieve Tony’s vigil, and he went looking for a coffee, then decided instead to go to bed. Peter was doing alright, and had the others to watch over him. Tony admitted to himself at last that he needed to sleep, wanting to be in the best shape he could for when Peter finally awoke.

He slept until mid-afternoon, waking refreshed and rested for once, and wandered out into the kitchen looking for something to eat. Steve, Natasha and Bucky were sprawled around the various couches nearby, and Tony stopped suddenly, turning and staring over at them.

Stepping curiously towards them, Tony blinked. Steve’s hair had been shaved off into a short buzz cut, his usual blond locks gone. Instead, russet brown fuzz covered his skull.

“What?” Tony asked in confusion. “Steve, your hair?”

Steve shrugged with a touch of embarrassment, running his fingers over the dark stubble.

“Westcott has blond hair, like mine. I think that’s why Peter had so much trouble being near me,” Steve explained quietly. “So I asked Nat to dye it dark, then shave it off. I can’t change the fact that we’re similar heights, but I can change this.”

Warmth swelled within Tony as he considered this. Steve had had the same haircut practically forever. It was his trademark ‘Captain America’ look, known and trusted the world over. Yet he had shaved it off without hesitation, for Peter. Tony walked over and placed his hand on Steve’s shoulder.

“Thank you,” he said simply. They stayed quietly like that for a moment. Bruce interrupted the moment when he came into the room and saw Tony.

“Tony! Come and look at the library, it’s finished!” he announced. Steve, Bucky and Nat followed Tony as he went with Bruce, who was clearly excited despite his usual, calm manner.

The original grey walls and grey carpet that had been in both bedrooms had disappeared along with the walls facing into the hallway and splitting the two rooms. Now, a long rectangular open plan room had taken their place, the walls painted a medium toned, soothing green. The floor sported warm timber floorboards, shining with varnish. The windows in each room had been removed, and replaced with a higher, narrower opening that ran the length of the entire room. Light flooded in through it.

Timber bookshelves, the same colour as the floorboards, lined the length of the walls at both ends of the room, running floor to ceiling, partially filled with a selection of books and a scattering of ornaments. More bookshelves in the same timber stood along the back wall, rising to just below the high window. A selection of indoor plants stood in white pots along the top of those shelves, bathing in the light above them. Tony recognised the same plant that was in Peter’s room among them, and knew that Wanda had once again chosen plants suitable for enhanced senses.

The minimalist furniture was gone, replaced with lush chocolate brown leather armchairs, a mix of single, double and three seaters scattered around the room in groups. There was also a couple of cream coloured fabric chaises, and a round snuggle chair in one corner that looked amazingly comfortable. Coffee tables and side tables, some with lamps on them, stood here and there around the chairs. More lights hung from the ceiling over the groups of furniture, warmly lit despite the daylight outside.

A large hexagonal fish tank, almost the same size Peter’s old bed, stood where it had once been. Schools of small, brightly coloured fish swam within, darting in and around the myriad of water plants and each other.

Bruce watched shyly as Tony looked around. Once again the team had managed to surprise him. It was clear that the same thought and care had gone into creating this room as it had for Peter’s new bedroom, and once again moisture welled along his eyes at their concern.

“It’s wonderful. Did any of you sleep last night? You did all this, and his new bedroom, so fast!” Tony said gratefully.

“I think it will definitely help Peter, and the rest of us as well. Ah Wanda, I need to have words with you!” he announced sternly as Wanda approached the group with Sam. Wanda’s eyes widened and she looked apprehensive as she came up to Tony.

“Yes Tony?” she said meekly, ducking her head a little as she spoke.

“I’m guessing that you had a lot to do with designing all of this, just like you did for Peter’s room?” Tony asked her in a disapproving tone. Wanda swallowed nervously.

“Ye-es?” she replied.

“Well, I want you to give my room a makeover too, and the living and dining areas too. Maybe even the kitchen. I’m sick of this lifeless minimalist style. I liked it when I was younger, and it was easy to clean up around when you’re partying all the time. But we all live here now, and none of us are really the partying type anymore. I really like the style choices you make and how homey and welcoming they look. Will you do it? Please?”

Wanda stared at Tony wordlessly, her mouth open a little. He guessed he’d shocked her with his words. The others were smiling at them both, he saw.

“I would love to!” she finally managed to say, her eyes brightening. “Some of the others have asked me to do their rooms as well. I never thought you’d want the rest of it done though, or your room!” She beamed at Tony, looking delighted and he nodded back, grinning.

“But my room first right?” Tony asked in his old needy, selfish manner, causing Steve to laugh out loud.

“My room first,” he said again, nodding his head.

The others just rolled their eyes at him.




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Chapter Text

NOW

 

 

Friday morning

Once again dawn found Tony dozing beside Peter’s bed, and as he had every other time he’d awoken during his long vigil in the med bay, he looked first to Peter.

The last IV had been removed during the night, Doctor Cho saying that Peter was close enough to waking that he didn’t need it anymore.

“He’ll be hungry when he wakes, and will need small, easy to digest meals often. Scrambled eggs, plain rice, chicken soup, that sort of thing to start with. Soft, bland food,” Tony had nodded, and messaged Steve, asking him to make sure the kitchen was appropriately stocked.

Peter was lying on his back once more, but no longer in the arranged, unnatural position he’d been in for most of the week. Now he was sprawled in the ungainly manner of teenage boys everywhere, one arm flung up above his head, the other hanging half off the bed, legs akimbo and the blanket only partly covering him.

Even as Tony watched, Peter stirred, curling his back up off the bed in a long-arched stretch that looked rather peculiar. Almost like a cat stretching, but entirely the wrong way. He then curled up onto his side into the same position Tony had found him in yesterday. Tony leant forward as he saw Peter’s eyelids flutter a few times, his eyes opening slowly. They didn’t focus on anything. 

“Hey Pete,” Tony said softly, excitement churning through him. Finally. He was finally waking up.

“Marrughh,” Peter mumbled incomprehensively, his eyes drifting closed again.

“I don’t wanna get up yet Mr Star-”.

Mouth opening in surprised amusement, Tony huffed quietly when he saw that Peter was asleep again, long, deep breaths exhaling slowly. His thumb had found its way to his mouth again. Self-soothing, Tony reminded himself, comfort behaviour. I shouldn’t find it as adorable as it is. Should I?

Steve and Natasha appeared at the door, and Tony rose, stretching his own back and neck as he went to talk to them.

“Peter just woke up a little bit, but he went straight back to sleep,” Tony told them, smiling hugely at the news.

“Did he say anything?” Steve asked eagerly, and Tony snorted.

“He said he didn’t want to get up yet. Just like he has every other time I’ve ever had to wake him up,” he told them, chuckling a little. “I’m not going anywhere while he’s starting to stir.”

“I’ll get some coffee for you then,” Natasha offered. “Do you want any breakfast?”

“Not yet thanks. Peter will be hungry when he wakes, I’ll eat breakfast with him then,” Tony told her, almost jiggling with anticipation.

His heart was beating swiftly with hope and light-heartedness for once, instead of the tumult of fear, worry, terror and anxiousness he’d been feeling for the last week. It had been a long, long six days since they’d first been woken to the news of Peter’s disappearance.

First the search, so soon after Peter had fled from the compound; and the overwhelming terror that they’d lost him; Tony’s own strange heart episodes; then coping with Peter’s injuries and his almost death had been hard enough once they’d finally found him.

Learning then of the assaults forced upon Peter, week after week and month after month, had come very close to breaking Tony completely. He needed to see Peter awake like his suit needed its arc reactor. One was useless without the other, just as Tony was useless without Peter in his life.

Despite Tony’s eagerness, it was several more hours before Peter woke again. He rolled onto his back and repeated his stretch, a soft “Oof” escaping his lips as his hands fumbled at the not-quite healed bullet wounds on his chest. Eyes fluttering open once more, Peter gazed up at the ceiling and just lay there, blinking sleepily and yawning.

“Mmm-I in the med bay?” he asked curiously in a groggy voice. “Wha happened?”

“You got shot kiddo,” Tony said, standing to move next to Peter’s bed. “A few times actually. How’re you feeling?”

“Hhhhnggggn,” Peter yawned hugely, and blinked some more. “Really hungry.”

Tony snorted, then chuckled in relief. “I’ll get Doctor Cho to check you over, then we’ll get you some breakfast. How’s that sound?”

“Mmm good,” Peter mumbled, eyes closing again.

Tony smoothed Peter’s hair back from his forehead where it had tumbled in an unruly mess, and pressed the call button. Doctor Cho must have already been on her way as she arrived moments later, and Peter stirred again as she checked his stats.

“Welcome back Peter. Would you like to try sitting up?” she asked gently.

“Sure,” Peter told her agreeably. He rolled onto his side and sat up, letting out another soft “Oof” as he did.

Doctor Cho steadied him with one hand on his shoulder as he swayed slightly, watching him carefully. Another giant yawn escaped his mouth, and he rubbed his eyes. The rumble of his stomach echoed through the room and Tony laughed a little. Moving forward slowly, Tony stood on Peter’s other side, ready to steady him if he needed it.

When Peter stopped swaying and had his eyes more open, Doctor Cho helped him carefully stand. Tony hovering anxiously near them.

“I’m okay,” Peter muttered. “I’m really hungry.”

“Do you want to put some clothes on first?” Tony asked him gently, and Peter looked down as if noticing his boxer shorts for the first time.

“Oh,” he said vaguely. “Okay.”

Tony gathered the t-shirt and track pants he’d brought into the room last night and passed them to Doctor Cho, who helped Peter get dressed. He was slow to move, and more clumsy than usual, and zoned out a couple of times, just standing there yawning and blinking until prompted to keep getting dressed. 

“Do you think you can walk to the kitchen, or do you want to use a wheelchair?” Doctor Cho asked Peter once he was clothed. A look of affront crossed his face, and his lower lip pouted out.

“I can walk,” he said mulishly, stepping forward.

Tony continued to hover nearby as Peter walked slowly towards the door, stretching his neck from side to side. By the time he got to the door Peter was standing taller and walking more confidently, though still much slower than his usual pace.

“Friday, can you please tell whoever is in the kitchen to start cooking scrambled eggs for Peter and I?” Tony asked. “Tell them we’re on our way.”

The walk to the kitchen took some time as Peter paused occasionally to hold a hand against the wall, panting slightly and holding his chest. Tony desperately wanted to duck his head under Peter’s arm and support him that way, or even pick him up and carry him, but Doctor Cho had cautioned him against that.

He may not want any men to touch him for some time. Her words echoed through his head painfully, the reason behind them making his heart ache. Peter didn’t seem to notice, though he did seem a little out of it.   

Finally they made to the kitchen door and through. Muted greetings were called out to Peter from Natasha, Wanda, Vision, Rhodey, Steve, Bucky, Sam, Thor and Loki. Tony rolled his eyes when he saw how they were sitting oh so casually scattered around the living room couches, fairly sure they’d all just run there when he’d told Friday that Peter was up.

Peter showed no sign of noticing anything odd, focusing on the dining table he was heading towards carefully after giving a jerky, almost embarrassed sort of wave in their general direction.

“Peter!” Clint and Scott called from where they were cooking the eggs, huge smiles on their faces.

“You’re up! Hungry?”

“Uh. Yeah,” Peter answered quietly. “Yeah I am.”

Tony stayed next to him as they walked over and sat at the table, Peter lowering himself gingerly into the chair and sighing. It was only a moment before Clint was placing a small plate of scrambled eggs before him, and a glass of orange juice.  

“Thanks Mr Barton,” Peter said, starting to eat.

A grimace passed fleetingly over Clint’s face, missed by Peter who was looking at his plate, though Tony saw it. Peter’s polite formality was back.

Tony had barely begun to eat when Peter finished and looked sadly at his empty plate. He wordlessly pushed his plate over to Peter, eyes crinkling fondly as Peter inhaled that rapidly as well.

Yawning after he finished, Peter looked over to where Clint and Scott had joined everyone else in the living area. They were watching Masters of Flip together. Clint was pointing out things that he would do differently, critical of the efforts of the people on screen before them. The rest were listening and watching avidly. Huh. Perhaps renovations to the compound were more anticipated than Tony thought.

“Want to go watch with them?” Tony asked quietly, and Peter paused, then nodded.

They made their careful way over, and Tony hesitated when he saw that there was only a three-seater left empty. Would Peter be alright if they sat on it together? Tony wasn’t sure. He decided to just sit at one end of the couch and let Peter decide what he wanted to do.

After standing for a moment, Peter sat somewhat gingerly down on the same couch, at the far end but facing towards Tony, curling his legs up beside him and leaving a decent gap between them. He leant against the back of the couch while Tony breathed a quiet sigh of relief. He caught small smiles from several people who had been watching them intently while pretending to watch the television.

Leaning back, Tony felt a wave of tiredness wash over him. He’d only dozed last night, and had missed his catch up nap this morning. I’ll just rest for a moment, he thought, and closed his eyes.

The clinking of dishes suddenly disturbed him, and he lifted his head, startled. Where had everyone gone? Looking around, Tony saw Peter asleep on the couch next to him, but no-one else nearby. Peter was snuggled into the back of the couch, still curled up, and someone had covered him with a soft blanket. His thumb was touching his lips again, Tony noticed.

Natasha looked over from where she was behind the kitchen bench, a soft look in her eyes, and motioned Tony over.

“You both went to sleep right after you sat down,” Nat told Tony quietly. “It was adorable.”

Tony huffed. “I am not adorable,” he objected.

Nat just raised an eyebrow at him and smirked, mouthing adorable at him.

Peter slept on, and a few hours later the others gradually started returning as lunch time drew near. Some began preparing food, while others sat at the table, chatting quietly. Tony saw eyes constantly looking over at Peter’s sleeping form, even as his own were.

The smell of frying bacon filled the air, and Peter stirred. His face turned towards the kitchen, eyes still closed, and his nose twitched.

Steve snorted quietly across the table from Tony, and upon inquiring glances said, “His stomach just rumbled.” Bucky was smiling too.

Everyone was watching Peter now while trying to appear as if they weren’t. He stretched lazily, and rubbed his eyes, sitting up and yawning. 

“Want something to eat Peter?” Natasha asked him from the kitchen. “We’re about to have lunch.”

Peter nodded somewhat sleepily, and went over towards the table. He sat next to Wanda, in a seat at the end of the table. Tony wished Peter had sat next to him, but knew not to push it. At least Peter was joining them. After the way things had been left between them last week, just the simple fact that he was even staying in the same room as them seemed like a miracle.  

Sam and Natasha served lunch. They’d made buttery bacon-fried rice, a large salad, a platter of mixed cold meats and plenty of bread rolls. Natasha gave Peter a serving of the rice on its own, smiling gently at him as she did so. His eyes flashed up to hers briefly, then dropped away, and Tony suddenly realised that Peter hadn’t made eye contact with anyone earlier.

A twinge of unease slithered its way down his spine, and he shoved the feeling away.

Peter had two helpings of the rice before he yawned, looking sleepy again. Tony guessed that Doctor Cho had been keeping tabs on him via Friday, because a moment later she appeared in the doorway.

“Peter, I need to check your bandages,” she told him. “Would you come back to the med bay with me please?”

Peter sighed, then nodded and rose from the table. Tony considered following, then decided to give him his privacy now that he was awake.

“Friday, let me know when they’re done please,” he asked the AI instead, moving to help with the dishes.

“Doctor Cho is on her way here,” Friday announced only a short time later, and Tony’s body tensed with anxiety.

“Is Peter-”

“Peter is asleep again, in the med bay bed,” Friday told them, and Tony breathed a sigh of relief. He kept washing dishes until the doctor came in.

“Bruce is sitting with Peter,” she told Tony and Natasha first, correctly guessing Tony’s concerned look. “He fell asleep again after we removed his bandages. His wounds are healing well, but he’ll still be stiff and sore for a while.”

“Is it normal for him to be sleeping so much now?” Natasha asked her, lines of worry creasing her forehead a little.

Doctor Cho snorted a little with a quirk of her lips. “Nothing about Peter is normal,” she told them.

“But I’m not concerned about it. He’s mostly alert when he’s awake, even if he is a little out of it. He’s moving well enough, eating and drinking.” She paused.

“He should be fine to sleep in his own bed tonight. I take it you haven’t told him that you all know what happened to him? The assaults, I mean,” she clarified.

“He hasn’t been awake long enough yet,” Tony told her. “And everyone was in here this morning. After that debacle of an intervention we tried to force on him, I don’t think we should all confront him at once with this.”

Doctor Cho nodded approvingly. “You’re right, I think that would be too much for him. He may not react well when he learns that you all know,” she paused again, and adopted what Tony privately labelled her teacher look.

“Children who have been sexually abused almost always feel that what happened was their fault. They are often burdened with guilt and shame, and feel themselves to be ‘bad’ or ‘worthless’ because of what happened. Peter is still very young. When he learns that you all know, he might react negatively. You should prepare yourself for that.”

“I’ll tell him with you,” Natasha told Tony, and he gratefully nodded.

“We’ll do it when he wakes up next,” he replied.

It was late afternoon when Peter next woke. Bruce walked with him out into the living area, where they had chicken soup and soft bread waiting for him. They’d spread the word, and this time only Tony and Natasha were there. They’d decided to wait until Peter had finished eating to talk to him. He still needed the calories.

Peter was almost finished the soup when he paused, and frowned.

“What day is it?” he asked in a quiet voice, looking up at Tony. The confusion in his face made Tony lose his words, and Natasha answered in his place.

“It’s Friday Peter. You’ve slept almost an entire week,” she told him gently.

Peter’s eyes widened, and his fingers tightened around the spoon as he stilled, breath flaring his nostrils. His eyes flickered to the door and back down to the bowl before him, and he ducked his head.

“Is he-” Peter paused, swallowed heavily, and started again. “Is he- are we- doing the d-discipline session tonight?” His voice wavered ever so slightly with his quiet question, and he sat with his head bowed, waiting for their answer.

“Oh Peter,” Tony sighed, guilt and sadness threatening to overwhelm him as he watched Peter waiting to hear if he was going to be raped again that night, not even trying to fight it. What have we done to you?

“No.” Natasha answered firmly. “That’s not happening ever again.”

Peter took a small, shuddering breath, and lifted his head a little. Tony saw hope in his eyes, but also wariness and doubt. He didn’t believe her.

“Peter we know,” Tony said, his own voice shaking now. “We know everything that bastard did to you. He won’t ever touch you again.”

“We made sure of that,” Natasha told Peter tightly.

Peter went completely still, not looking at any of them. His chest began rising and falling quickly as his breathing increased, and then he abruptly stood up, his chair falling over behind him. He backed away from the table, shaking his head over and over.

“No no no no, you can’t, he’ll hurt you, he’ll lock you up, he’ll hurt Coo-” Peter stopped speaking but kept backing up, his arms hugging his chest. He tripped over a small side table and fell heavily backwards, landing on the floor with a gasp.

Tony and Nat had both stood up when Peter did, and they moved quickly over to him when he fell, Nat dropping back to let Tony approach first. He moved slowly to squat next to the scared boy, reaching out his arm but pausing before he touched Peter.

“It’s alright Peter. He can’t hurt you, us or anyone else,” Tony said. “We didn’t give him a chance for that. He’s not even on the planet anymore,” he added, trying to be reassuring.

Peter’s eyes widened dramatically, and his nostrils flared.

“You killed him Mr Stark?” he whispered, shocked.

“No,” Natasha answered for Tony. “Thor and Loki took him to Niflheim. They are the only people on our planet who can go there. He is never coming back.”

Peter looked stunned, and disbelieving. He blinked his eyes and lowered his head, trembling, then swiftly looked back up at them, eyes creasing in an accusing look.

“You knew?” Peter whispered, scooting backwards away from them. “You knew? Why did you let him-” he sucked in a shaky breath, his voice rising.

“Why – why didn’t you stop him?”

Peter shuffled rapidly back, feet scuffing against the floor. He retreated until his back hit the far wall, where he hunched protectively into a ball, shrinking into the corner. Curling his arms around his knees before him, he looked at Tony, his eyes large and shining, curls straggling down over them.

Mr Stark why did you let him do that to me?

Tony felt as if the floor was falling out from under him as Peter’s words struck him. He shuddered, and bowed his head for a moment, closing his eyes.

“Oh kid,” he breathed sadly.

Rising from his squat, he moved cautiously over to Peter, slowly so as not to scare him. Peter had his forehead on his knees, and was panting quickly, heavily, gasping for breath.

Kneeling just in front of Peter, Tony reached out one hand but paused, remembering what Doctor Cho had said. His hand shook a little as it hovered there, then he lowered it down to his side.

“We didn’t know. Peter, we didn’t know. We would never, never have let him do that to you. We only found out after you fell into the river,” he told Peter quietly, willing Peter to hear him, to look at him. To believe him.

Peter took a large, hitching breath, and raised his head slightly, looking up at Tony through his fringe.

“You didn’t know?” he asked plaintively.

His voice sounded so young, so lost. Tears pricked Tony’s eyes as he shook his head.

“We didn’t know.”

Peter took another, larger breath, and exhaled shudderingly. His lower lip trembled, and then he launched himself at Tony, scrambling to his knees in front of him, and flung his arms around him, clutching him tightly.

Surprised, Tony paused for less than a heartbeat, then put his own arms around Peter, holding him close. They knelt there, clinging to each other, both shaking with deep, shuddering breaths. Peter’s head was tucked into Tony’s chest and Tony pressed his face against Peter’s hair, holding him tight with all his body.

“I’m sorry Mr Stark,” Peter whispered quietly against Tony’s chest.

“No,” Tony said sternly. “None of this is your fault Peter. None of it.”

“But I took the Quin Jet-” Peter started.

Tony stopped him with a gentle kiss on the top of his head.

“That was dumb, yeah,” he told him. “But you didn’t deserve what happened. No-one ever deserves that. And I’m sorry.” He felt Peter jerk a little, as if surprised.

“What are you sorry for Mr Stark?” he asked disbelievingly. “You didn’t do anything.”

“That’s exactly it Peter. I didn’t do anything. I should have known what was going on. Known what he did to you, and I didn’t. I let you down more than you’ve ever, ever let me down. You were supposed to be here under my protection, and I failed you,” Tony paused, and took a deep, hitching breath.

“I’m so sorry Peter. I’m so very, very sorry.”

Tony’s eyes had grown wet as he spoke, and he trembled a little with the strength of his emotions. Peter’s arms tightened around him in response, and Tony let out a shuddering breath.

“It’s okay Mr Stark. I got you,” Peter told him. Tony snorted.

“It’s my job to comfort you kid, not the other way around,” he muttered into Peter’s hair. Peter simply huffed back in response. 

The rest of the world seemed to disappear, and all Tony knew was the feel of the child in his arms, warm with life.

I will never let you be hurt like that again, he promised Peter silently. Never again.

They stayed like that, each seeking and giving sorely needed comfort. Tony’s knees were screaming but he didn’t care. He wasn’t going to move until Peter did. Finally Peter twitched, and began to pull away. Tony released him, though he didn’t want to. He wanted to hold Peter like that forever, keeping him safe.         

Natasha spoke quietly from where she was sitting nearby on a couch. “May will be here soon Peter. Happy’s driving her up. She finished work early when we let her know that you’re awake.”

Peter’s eyes tightened and he looked anxiously at Tony. “Does she know?”

Tony shook his head. “We weren’t sure if you’d want her to or not,” he said softly.

Peter was already shaking his head. “I don’t want her to know,” he said. “I can’t- she can’t-”

“It’s alright Peter. If you don’t want her to know, that’s okay,” Tony reassured him. “Whatever you need, just tell us.”

Peter looked bewildered by that comment, and Tony grimaced. Kid hasn’t been telling us anything for months and suddenly now he’s going to? Idiot, he berated himself angrily. Peter startled a little, Oh god now he thinks I’m angry at him

“Come on kid. I need to get off this floor, my knees are older than yours. Hot chocolate?” Tony asked, hoping to distract Peter.

It worked. Peter’s eyes brightened, and his stomach rumbled loudly. Tony snorted, and groaned a little as he stood up slowly. Peter flowed to his feet with no apparent stiffness at all, and Tony huffed quietly.

They were sitting on the couches drinking hot chocolate, Peter eating a sandwich as well, when May and Happy arrived.

“Peter! Oh my god I was so worried! Don’t you ever do that again, you hear me? Never again!” May practically shrieked at him as she rushed over to Peter.

He almost dropped his plate as she threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly. Tony, watching closely, saw Peter tense slightly, then his arms rose slowly around her as well. Tony rescued the plate and went into the kitchen to give them some space.

“How is he?” Happy asked Tony quietly, watching the reunion with what passed as a fond expression for him.

“He’s-” scared, confused, overwhelmed “alright. He doesn’t want May to know what happened,” Tony answered equally quietly. Happy nodded, accepting Peter’s choice.

May and Peter stayed on the couch, talking quietly. It was mostly May talking, Peter not saying much. He fell asleep after a while, and May looked surprised, then concerned. She rose and came over to the kitchen, while Happy went and gently covered Peter with a blanket. 

“He just fell asleep Tony,” she said worriedly. “Is that alright?”

“He’s been doing it all day,” Tony reassured her. “Doctor Cho said it’s fine. He wakes up for a while, eats, then falls asleep again, then does it all over again a few hours later. She thinks it’s something to do with his healing, or the hibernation thing.”

“Oh,” May said thoughtfully. “Right.”

Tony started rummaging around the fridge, looking for something to make for dinner. May and Happy watched him for a few minutes, then gently but firmly pushed him out of the way. Rhodey appeared, then Pepper, who hugged May. They began making large quantities of bolognaise, enough for everyone, giving Tony vegetables to chop. He screwed up his face but didn’t bother arguing. 

As he had at lunch, Peter began to stir when the smell of the cooking food reached him. Tony made sure to watch, finding the way Peter’s nose twitched and his face turned towards the smell unbearably endearing.

When his eyes finally opened, Peter saw Natasha, Bruce and Sam, sitting quietly across from him. They smiled gently at him, and he ducked his head as if embarrassed. Thor, Wanda and the others were chatting quietly amongst themselves on other couches nearby. Pepper announced that dinner was ready, and everyone began to gather at the table.

Tony saw Peter notice Steve’s hair when he and Bucky walked into the room. May noticed as well.

“You cut your hair Mr Rogers!” she said in surprise, while Peter stared at him.

“Yeah,” Steve told May somewhat sheepishly. “I decided I don’t like being blond anymore.”

Peter’s eyes and nostrils flared at his words, and an almost imperceptible tremor ran through him. Tony noticed, sure that Steve had too, as well as Bucky, Natasha and some of the others. May, still looking at Steve, didn’t.

“Come on, let’s eat!” Tony clapped his hands, startling Peter out of his wide-eyed stare.

They all sat down at the table together, Peter sitting between May and Natasha. The atmosphere felt very different to how all the other Friday night meals had been for the last several months. It wasn’t tense, stressed or miserable. It also wasn’t rowdy, as everyone was clearly taking care to speak more softly than usual, to not overwhelm Peter. Quiet discussions carried on between various people, mostly about ideas for the renovations they were going to do.

Peter looked puzzled at the conversation topics, but didn’t say anything. May asked though, and he listened while Tony explained their idea to redo the living and dining rooms to make them more comfortable, less sterile. May happily endorsed the plan, telling Tony it was about time they made the place into a home rather than an office.

After dinner May said she’d better head home, telling Peter she had to do another shift on Saturday to make up for missing a day earlier in the week. She asked if he wanted to stay at the compound, or go home with her, and Peter hesitated.

“I think maybe, I’ll stay here?” he asked her uncertainly.

May nodded, saying she’d feel better with Doctor Cho around to keep an eye on him, then hugged him, kissed his forehead, and left, Happy once again following to drive her home. Smiles flickered and flashed around the rest of the group, Tony’s the largest of them all. Peter wanted to stay with them.

After May had left, Tony saw Peter heave a sigh of relief, and swallow.

“Are you okay?” he asked gently.

“Yeah,” Peter answered, then “Yeah,” again as if trying to convince himself that he was. “It’s just, a lot.” Tony nodded understandingly.

“Want to watch some TV Peter?” Scott called from the lounge room, and Peter nodded, going over to sit with them. He tensed slightly when Wanda sat next to him, then relaxed.

The opening credits for Star Trek Beyond began rolling on the large screen, and Peter screwed up his face, glaring at Scott. He and Clint just chuckled, batting their eyes innocently at Peter, who huffed at them.

Less than half an hour later, Peter was yawning hugely, his eyes drooping.

“Time for bed Peter?” Tony questioned. Peter nodded, then looked up at Tony, his eyes widening a little.

“Do I- can I- do I have to sleep in my room?” he asked quietly, and Tony’s heart quivered at his uncertain tone.

“Ah, about that,” Tony said, and saw everyone else perking their ears up as he spoke. “We made some changes while you were sleeping. Hope you don’t mind, but that room doesn’t exist anymore.”

Peter blinked, and his brow furrowed a little. “What?” he replied, with a confused tone in his voice.

“Come and see Peter?!” Wanda said shyly next to him. “We all helped.”

The whole group followed as Tony and Wanda led Peter out of the living area and down the hallway towards the bedrooms. When they came to where Peter and Westcott’s rooms had once been, there was quiet jostling and mutters as they all tried to watch Peter’s reaction at the same time.

Tony had the best view, and saw Peter’s face when he saw the new library. He came to a halt suddenly, and stood there, staring, his eyes going wide once more as he looked all around the large space. After a few moments, Peter’s mouth opened, then closed, and he swallowed, clearing his throat.

“You did all this, for me?” he said softly, tilting his head up at Tony.

“Of course we did,” Tony answered quietly. “We would do anything for you Peter.”

Peter swallowed again, and his lower lip quivered a little.

“Come on,” Tony told him, “Come and see your new bedroom.”

Their avid spectators trailed behind them as Peter followed Tony and Wanda further down the hall. Peter’s reaction was even better this time, his eyes widening further than Tony thought humanly possible and a soft gasp escaping his lips as he stood in the doorway and stared. After a moment, Tony gave him a gentle shove inside, then followed. Some of the others did as well, the rest peering over each other from the doorway, like an overgrown litter of mute puppies.

Wanda began pointing out what each of them had helped with, then Peter’s mouth opened in a large yawn, his eyes drooping shut at the same time. He swayed a little, and Tony put a careful hand on his shoulder, steadying him.

“Maybe you can tell Peter all about it tomorrow Wanda?” Tony suggested kindly. “I think he needs to sleep now.”

Wanda blushed, and nodded, wishing Peter a quiet goodnight then left the room, the others falling back and leaving as well.

“Bathroom’s in there,” Tony pointed it out to Peter, then went over to look out the window and make it clear that he wasn’t going to follow Peter inside.

Peter nodded and moved somewhat dazedly over to the wardrobe, finding some pyjamas after a moments search. He took them into the bathroom and closed the door. Tony heard the shower running and sat down on the bay window cushion to wait. He was lost in thought, staring out at the dark night when Peter came out, freshly washed and in clean clothes. He stood tentatively in the middle of the room, glancing at the large bed and then at Tony.

“I’ll leave to you to it then?” Tony asked hesitantly as he stood up, suspecting that Peter wanted to be alone when he got into the bed. “I just wanted to show you one last thing.”

He asked Friday to activate the Infinite Skies protocol, and heard an intake of breath from Peter as the room darkened around them. A soft “Oh” rose from Peter’s mouth as the multitude of stars began to twinkle above them, and on the walls.

“Is it okay?” Tony asked a little anxiously. “Not too dark – or too bright? Friday can adjust it however you want.” His eyes had adjusted a little to the dim light, and he saw Peter turn towards him.

“I love it Mr Stark,” Peter told him quietly. “It’s all so much-” a yawn interrupted his words, and Tony chuckled quietly.

“Go on, into bed now,” he directed Peter. He thought he saw Peter start to reach out towards him, then stop and pull back.

“Good night Mr Stark,” Peter just said, going over to his bed alone.

“Good night Peter,” Tony replied, wishing he could hug him, or tuck him in.

Perhaps in time Peter would be able to accept that, but not yet.

Tony left the room and quietly closed the door behind him, leaving Peter to sleep in his new room.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

NOW

 

After showing Peter his new room and making sure he was settled in for the night, Tony decided to put in a few hours in his lab. He’d been neglecting his work for a long time now, and finally felt in the mood to be productive again. As he put some tunes on and cranked the volume, he heaved a happy, contented sigh.

Peter had finally awoken from his strange sleep. He was going to be alright. He had trauma that needed to be worked on, but Tony would help him. Whatever he needed, Tony would do. He was determined he’d find a way.  

He tinkered around placidly, not really building anything in particular, just getting into the habit of using his hands again this way. His eyes fell on the half-finished AT-AT dog robot, and he grinned. He could get some more done on that for Peter.

Just after midnight, Friday relayed a message to him from Pepper.

“Tony, are you coming to bed tonight?” Her voice sounded mildly exasperated.

Right. Sleep. Be rested to spend time with Peter tomorrow. Good idea Peps.

“Friday, please tell Pepper that I’m on my way,” Tony asked politely. “And can you check on Peter for me?”

“Yes boss. Pepper says, ‘About time’. Peter is awake,” the AI told him calmly.

“He’s awake? I thought he’d sleep all night. Is he alright?” Tony asked her worriedly.

“His heart rate is elevated and he is breathing faster than usual,” Friday answered him.

“Tell him I’m coming to check on him please Friday,” Tony requested as he left the lab in a rush. A short time later he was tapping gently on Peter’s door.

“Come in,” a muffled voice said.

“Pete? It’s me. Are you okay?” Tony asked quietly as he opened the door.

The room was dimly lit by the starlight projected by Friday, set to its lowest level. He could barely see.

“Yeah,” Peter’s voice wavered a little. It came from the direction of the window seat, not from the bed. Tony squinted and walked carefully forward. He heard a rustle from the floor, beside the window.

“I’m down here,” Peter said softly. He’s sitting on one of the bean bags, Tony realised.

Peering down, Tony saw Peter curled up into the beanbag in the corner, huddled under a blanket. He sat cautiously down in the second bean bag, next to Peter’s. It rustled as he shifted around in it, getting comfortable. It had been a while since he’d sat in a beanbag, he’d forgotten how comfortable they are.

“I thought you’d sleep all night,” Tony spoke into the dim room. His eyes were starting to get used to it at last, and he thought he could see Peter’s eyes, open and looking up at the stars above.

“Yeah.” Peter sounded sad. He exhaled a long, drawn-out sigh.

“Bad dreams?” Tony guessed.

“Yeah.” The reply was even softer this time.

“I’ve been having them for a while. Ever since-” Peter stopped speaking, and breathed in brokenly.

“God Peter, I’m so sorry,” Tony felt like crying. “I should’ve-”

“You’re here now,” Peter cut him off. “It’s just-” and he paused again.

“You can tell me. You can tell me anything,” Tony told him gently.

Peter sighed unevenly. “This room is really nice. I really appreciate everything everyone did for me. It’s just… it’s really quiet in here. Like my old room. Where he- where I-” Peter paused, and took a deep breath.

“Where it happened the most,” he ended shakenly.

“I was dreaming that he was here and it was happening again and when I woke up it was so quiet. And I got scared,” he continued, and Tony’s heart clenched so hard it actually pained him.

“I didn’t know if he was here or not,” Peter’s voice trembled, and he took another hitched breath.

“Oh Peter. He’s not here. He’s never going to be here ever again,” Tony told him fervently, leaning towards Peter as he spoke quietly, passionately, reaching out.

“You’ll be alright. He can’t hurt you now. You’re safe. You’re safe now.”

Tony heard rustling as Peter shifted as well, then felt him lay his head on Tony’s shoulder. Tony’s heart thumped a curious double thud as Peter leant on him. 

They lay there for a while, not speaking, just quietly being together in the dim light.

The beanbags were jammed up against each other, and as Tony moved a little, getting more comfortable, they susurrated softly.

“I like the sounds they make,” Peter said almost inaudibly, and Tony guessed he meant the beanbags. He sounded quieter now, exhausted, and Tony hoped he was getting sleepy.

“Just close your eyes Peter,” Tony murmured softly. “I’ll be right here if you need me.”

He would stay there all night if Peter needed him to, and every night until he wasn’t needed anymore. Tony stretched his legs out across the floor in front of him, shifting carefully, and curled his arm around Peter’s back. He felt Peter tense slightly, and drew his arm away.

“No,” the drowsy voice came out of the dark.

“Don’t go Mr Stark.”

Tony gently put his arm around Peter’s back again, and pressed his lips to his hair.

“I’ll never let you go Peter. Go to sleep. I’ve got you,” he whispered.

 

 

-------------

 

 

Pepper found them the next morning when she went looking for Tony, who hadn’t come to bed at all, despite telling her he was on his way. She stood in the still open door of Peter’s room and quietly gazed in, a soft smile on her lips.

Tony lay nestled on his back in one bean bag, his body leaning towards Peter’s. One arm curved under Peter’s head and around his back, holding the boy against his chest. His lips were brushing the hair on the top of Peter’s head, while his other hand rested tenderly on top of Peter’s arm.

Peter was curled up on his side, snuggling into Tony, his head on Tony’s shoulder. His fingers were no longer pressed against his lips the way Tony had told Pepper he’d been doing in his sleep the past couple of days.

Instead, Peter’s fingers were lying directly above Tony’s heart, as if feeling its beat. Strands of Peter’s hair straggled messily down his forehead, almost obscuring the lashes gently resting on his cheeks.

They both looked utterly tranquil, at peace with the world. The deep lines that had etched themself into Tony’s face were gone, smoothed away in slumber. The pinched look around Peter’s eyes had also vanished, as had the hollows under them. A blanket was draped haphazardly across Peter’s waist and legs, and partly across Tony’s as well.

The scene was endearingly sweet. The love between them both was visible in every curve of their bodies, audible with every peaceful exhalation they made.

As Pepper gazed at them, she noticed that they were both breathing with long, slow deep breaths, perfectly in sync with each other. She took out her phone and muted it before taking several photos of them. Tony would complain but she knew he’d secretly love the images.

As she finished, Steve came down the hallway and stood beside her. A small smile appeared on his face as he looked in at the pair, just as it had on hers. Then he snorted a little, a sort of quiet half chuckle, and Pepper looked at him curiously.

“Their hearts are beating with the same rhythm. Thor might just be onto something with that Heart-son; Heart-father theory of his.” Steve told her quietly.

“They definitely have a special bond, that’s for sure,” Pepper replied, and smiled once more.

Perhaps her hopes for motherhood weren’t as far away as she thought.

 

 

-------------

 

 

Tony woke slowly, feeling completely rested for the first time in at least a week, possibly longer. He had slept deeply, and well, and was feeling good. Stretching, he was confused to be curled slightly in something that made shushing sounds as he moved. What? Oh, beanbag. Right.

Looking for Peter, he saw the beanbag next to him was empty.

“Peter?” Tony mumbled sleepily, looking over at the bed. It was empty as well.

“Peter is in the kitchen with Natasha, boss,” Friday told him helpfully.

Tony groaned a little as he struggled up out of the beanbag. These things weren’t made with adults in mind. But he was grateful they were there, since they’d helped Peter get back to sleep.

He rotated his neck as he walked down the hall toward the kitchen, hearing the usual morning bustle on the way.

Natasha was frying what smelt like onion, bacon and mushrooms while Peter was cracking eggs into a bowl. He’d emptied one carton and was working on a second. Spotting Tony entering the room, Peter looked up at him and smiled a little, almost shyly, then ducked his head and returned his attention to his task.

“Morning all,” Tony said as he made himself a coffee, joining Sam and Steve where they sat working on crosswords in the paper at the dining table. 

“Good morning Tony!” they chorused together, then laughed at each other. The light-hearted atmosphere felt wonderful.

Tony saw Peter’s eyes flicker over to them and back again swiftly. He’d finished cracking the eggs, and was now whisking them under Nat’s direction. She was waiting to mix the fried mix into them. Tony liked Nat’s omelettes; she had a knack to making them perfectly fluffy somehow.

Peter finished whisking the eggs and Natasha patted him on the back in thanks. When he didn’t pull away, she looked at him measuringly, then gently drew him into a hug, giving him plenty to time to move away if he wanted to. Tony watched, then the others noticed, as Peter’s arms slowly rose around Nat too, hugging her back, his head peeping over her shoulder towards them, eyes closed.

Thor, Loki and some of the others came into the room then, and spotted Peter.

“Peter!” Thor’s loud voice reverberated into the space as he moved quickly behind the hugging pair.

“You’re up!” He reached out and put his arms around Peter from behind, bending slightly to embrace him as well. His long, blond hair brushed lightly against Peter’s face – and Tony saw his eyes flare wide open, then go curiously blank.

“Peter?” Natasha said worriedly, stepping back and holding Peter by his shoulders, then snapping “Thor, get off him!”

“Peter?” Tony echoed, rising to his feet abruptly.

Peter didn’t respond.

Thor stepped back in bewilderment as Natasha turned Peter’s head by his chin to look at him. His face was pointing at hers but there was no comprehension in his eyes. Tony swiftly strode over to them and saw as he did that Peter was breathing with rapid, shallow breaths.

Reaching out to Peter, Tony paused, his hand hovering just above Peter’s shoulder. He could see Peter’s body trembling, but he didn’t know whether to touch him or not.

“Stark?” Thor asked confusedly. “What is the matter?”

He stepped forward as he spoke, coming up behind Peter – who reacted to his proximity, and suddenly dropped to his knees on the floor, curling over on himself and hiding his head in his arms protectively, completely silent the entire time.

Tony quickly knelt in front of Peter, giving him breathing room but wanting so badly to just grab him and hold him, make him feel safe again. But he knew that right now that was probably the worst thing he could do. Peter was gasping now, huge deep ragged breaths, as if struggling to draw air into his lungs.

“You’re safe Peter. It’s not him, do you hear me? It’s not him,” he told Peter, quietly and urgently. Tony repeated the words, hand reaching out to Peter again, hovering near him, so close but never quite touching. 

“Thor, you triggered a panic attack,” Sam said from above them. “Everyone, back up and give Peter space.”

“Idiot,” Natasha muttered at Thor as they all stepped back.

Tony didn’t move. His heart was pounding with worry for Peter as he knelt there before the terrified boy.

“Peter, listen to me,” Sam’s calm voice came from above them. “Try to breathe with my count, okay? In one, two, three, four and out one, two, three, four. Okay? Again. In one, two, three, four and out one, two, three, four.”

Sam repeated the count over and over again, and Tony found himself breathing with it. After a while, Peter let out a huge, gasping sigh, then raggedly started breathing to the count as well.

His whole body shuddered sometime later, and his head came up, tear stained eyes finding Tony’s.

Tony’s heart pounded solidly, once and then again, at the look in Peter’s eyes. He looks so lost, so afraid.

His hand, still hovering out towards Peter, turned inwards in invitation - and Peter hurtled forward into his arms, head thumping into Tony’s chest with a thud, rocking Tony back a little.

Peter clung to Tony like a limpet, arms clutching tightly around his chest, almost painfully, his ear pressed against Tony’s heart, eyes clenched shut. Tony sighed raggedly himself as he finally put his arms around Peter’s shaking body.

Above them, Sam continued counting their breaths, nodding in encouragement at Tony when they made eye contact. Tony followed the count with his breaths, and felt Peter unevenly doing the same.

“Tony,” Steve’s voice came from behind him. “Peter’s heart rate will match yours. If you can calm yours down, his will follow.”

What? Tony frowned, baffled by Steve’s strange statement, but at this point he’d try anything to help Peter.

He closed his eyes, resting his lips against Peter’s head, and concentrated on breathing in through his nose, picturing his heart rate slowing down as he did.

 

Time seemed to slow, and Tony lost himself in Sam’s quiet voice count.

 

He focused only on breathing in slowly, then out again, on feeling his heart beat slow down.  

 

Time passed, he had no idea how much, then he felt Peter quiver all over in his arms.

 

Opening his eyes and looking down at Peter, Tony saw and felt him withdraw, scooting onto his backside and pressing his back against the kitchen cupboard, drawing his knees up in front of him.

 

Tony let him go, even though he didn’t want to.

 

Becoming aware of muted sounds, Tony looked up and saw that the others had all moved away, except Sam, who was standing a few steps away from Peter. Sam nodded at Tony again, indicating Peter quietly, then stepped softly away.

Tony slipped to the side, huffing out a quiet sigh as his weight left his knees and he slid onto his butt instead. He lent back against the cupboard like Peter was, and stretched his legs out with a small groan.

“You’re gonna be the death of my knees, I swear kid,” he teased Peter gently, watching carefully for his reaction.

Sure enough, Peter looked up anxiously at Tony, then at his knees, then back to his eyes. His face scrunched up worriedly and his mouth opened.

“No,” Tony cut him off. “Don’t you dare apologise. It was a joke, get it? Just a joke,” he added, shoulder bumping Peter’s with a nudge.

“I will kneel with you for as long as you need me to, whenever you need me to,” Tony finished quietly.

Peter took a large, rough breath and sighed it out again, then nodded somewhat shakily at Tony.

“Okay,” he whispered, and lent his head onto Tony’s shoulder, closing his eyes. Tony sat next to him in silence, letting Peter lean on him for as long as he needed to.

Tony wasn’t sure if Peter had dozed off or not. His breathing was mostly even, though still with a slight hitch every now and then, and he trembled a little occasionally as well.

Sometime later, a rumble sounded from Peter’s stomach, and he shifted a little. Tony laughed quietly.  

“Do you want something to eat?” he asked, unsure if Peter would want to stay out here with the others or not.

Peter lifted his head and nodded a little uncertainly, eyes scrunching.

“Yeah,” he said as his stomach grumbled again, louder.

“What do you say we go sit on the couches and let Nat cook her omelette then,” Tony said.

Peter nodded and clambered to his feet easily. Damn kid and his flexible knees, Tony thought affectionately as he started to get up, a lot more slowly than Peter had.

A hand appeared in front of his face and Tony looked up in surprise at Peter, who was reaching down to him. He reached back and felt Peter pull him up effortlessly. Tony smiled in thanks, still surprised that Peter had reached out for him, then looked around the room.

Sam and Steve were back at the table, still doing their crosswords. Rhodey and Bruce had joined them, and nodded silent greetings at Tony and Peter.

Natasha and Thor had disappeared, Tony noticed. Bucky was on one of the couches, reading, while Clint and Wanda were watching another renovation show on the television.

“Where’s Nat? She was going to cook eggs,” Tony asked them as he and Peter settled on a couch next to each other.

“She took Thor off for a talk,” Wanda told them. “Loki went with them.”

“I’ll cook the eggs,” Clint offered, starting to get up.

“No way Clint, I want them to be edible,” Steve told him from the table, “I’ll cook them.”

“Ms Nat won’t yell at Thor, will she Mr Stark?” Peter said in a low voice from where he’d curled into the end of the couch. “It wasn’t his fault.”

“She won’t,” Tony said reassuringly. “I don’t think Asgardians know about P.T.S.D. She’ll probably just explain it to them.”

“I have P.T.S.D.?” Peter asked uncertainly, his forehead and eyes scrunching up.

“Of course you do,” Sam told him as he came over to join them. “That was a panic attack you just had. After what you’ve been through, it’s perfectly normal. When you’re ready, we’ll find someone you can talk to about everything.”

Peter looked worried at Sam’s words, and glanced over at Tony. “But how? How- how can I tell someone about- it. About- that. They’ll find out I’m Spider-man!”

“Shhh shhh, it’s okay Peter,” Sam said reassuringly, making calming motions with his hands.

“Most of us have been in therapy at some time or other – and some of us still are. There are therapists who are used to talking with people like us, people we trust, that you can talk to. S.H.I.E.L.D.-”

At the name Peter shook his head violently, recoiling into the back of the couch.

No! Not them,” he cried, fear making his voice shake. “He worked for them!”

Tony saw the realisation hit Sam at the same time it dawned on Tony.

Of course Peter wouldn’t want anything to do with S.H.I.E.L.D.. Westcott had been their agent. That fucking raping bastard. That was going to make things tricky in the future. Peter would have to deal with them, and the Accords, at some point, sooner or later. But not now.

“We’ll find someone,” Tony told Peter positively. “Someone you can trust, that you feel comfortable with. I had P.T.S.D. after the attack on New York and had therapy for it. It helped me a lot, and it will help you too. It will be alright.”

He projected confidence towards Peter, knowing that it was important that he be able to talk to someone professional. Inwardly, Tony was concerned. He remembered how hard it had been for him to talk to a therapist, and how many he’d gone through before finally finding one he felt comfortable with. Sighing, he rubbed his hand down his face. All he could do was help Peter through the same process as much as he could, and hope that he found someone suitable.

“Not Banner though, okay? He just falls asleep,” Tony said to Peter, a small smile on his face as he looked over to Bruce.

“Tony! I told you it’s not my speciality!” Bruce protested in resignation. Tony just laughed at him, and after a moment Peter smiled a little too. The sight gave Tony a warm feeling in his chest.  

Steve finished cooking the omelette around the time Sam, Tony and Peter finished their quiet conversation, and they went over to help put dishes and cutlery on the table. Tony noticed that Steve was carefully keeping his distance from Peter, and made sure to catch his eye, and smile in appreciation. Steve just nodded back.

The late breakfast began at last, and Tony was grateful that everyone was being mindful of Peter’s sensitivities. Voices were kept soft, even cutlery didn’t clink as much as normal.

Natasha, Thor and Loki returned just as they were about to start eating. Tony almost snorkelled the mouthful of coffee he’d just taken when he saw Thor, who was looking a little self-conscious. Muffled snorts and small chuckles came from around him as the others did too, except for Peter who was concentrating intently on the food on his plate.

Just like Steve, Thor was sporting a new haircut. His long, flowing blond locks were gone, replaced with a short back and sides style, like Steve’s. Unlike Steve’s though, Thor’s hair flowed up into a spiky textured crop on the top of his head, and he had lightning styled zig zag tracks cut into each side. His hair was much darker closer to his scalp, and not at all blond anymore. His beard had been trimmed shorter too, and appeared darker as well.

Tony saw the moment when Peter noticed Thor’s new look. His eyes widened, and his mouth dropped open. A small fleck of omelette fell out onto his lip, and Peter hastily licked it back into his mouth again, sucking on his lip briefly.

“Your hair-” Peter said quietly, then drew in a breath and glared at Natasha.

“You didn’t have to do that to him Ms Nat,” he said reprovingly. “He didn’t mean to scare me.”

“Hush young Peter, it’s alright,” Thor said in his version of a quiet voice. “I’ve been thinking about a change anyway. Natasha just helped me decide on a style. With her knives.

The last few words were muttered under his breath as he glanced sideways at Nat accusingly. Beside him, Loki snickered.

“If it helps you, I would do it one thousand times over, and more,” Thor added more seriously, looking keenly at Peter now. “I am sorry about my actions earlier. I did not understand that I could affect you like that. I will be more careful from now on.”

“Umm. Okay,” Peter said, blushing a little. “I didn’t know that would happen either. I’m sorry. I’m sorry about all of this, making you all do all this-” he waved his hand around as if indicating everything that had happened over the last several months, the renovations, the haircuts, all of it.

“Peter no-”

“This is not your fault,”

“Don’t ever blame yourself, do you hear us?”

“It is NOT your fault,”

Everyone spoke at once, over the top of each other, and Peter flinched back just a little at the sudden loud noises. His eyes widened anxiously, and he looked as if he might bolt.

Tony put a hand on Peter’s, hoping to help ground him, and looked at him intently. “You did not make any of this happen. You did not choose what happened to you, and it is not your fault. Do you understand me?”

Peter’s eyes were still wide, a shimmer of liquid shining in them. He blinked once, and tiny droplets appeared on his lashes.

Not my fault,” he whispered uncertainly, forehead furrowed. Tony nodded encouragingly, and Peter repeated it.

“Not my fault.”

Nodding again, Tony hoped that Peter maybe believed it a little more that time. They would keep working on it for as long as he needed.

Tony exhaled heavily, and noticed Peter doing the same thing. He quirked a lip at him and nodded back to his plate. A moment later, Peter swiped at his eyes, then continued eating.

 

 

 

 

---------------

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Tony & Peter

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

NOW

 

 

The days after Peter had finally woken up seemed to pass slowly. There was a hushed quality to the living areas of the compound, as the team continued their quiet ways to help Peter in his recovery. To Tony, it felt as if they were all tiptoeing around, or walking on egg shells, just waiting for the snap.

Peter still fell asleep a lot, though the length of time he slept was less and less each day. The bullet wounds and laceration continued to heal well, first with angry new red skin covering them, then gradually starting to fade to pink. Tony noticed Peter rubbing at them from time to time, though he never complained about feeling any pain. But then, Peter never did.

One day, after another family breakfast, Clint asked Peter if he felt up to telling them a few things. Peter’s eyes crinkled a little, and he looked at Tony anxiously, who nodded at him.

“You don’t have to tell us anything you don’t want to Peter. But there are a few things we’ve been curious about if you feel up to it. Maybe we could go sit on the couches?”

That would feel less formal, Tony thought, as he moved across the large room with Peter and the others. He still regretted how their attempt at an intervention had gone in the conference room, and suspected that Peter had bad memories of that as well. As if he needs more of those, Tony bitterly admonished himself for yet another of his mistakes.

They all settled down on various couches, Peter sticking close to him as he’d been doing a lot lately. Tony couldn’t say he minded, not even to himself. It was nice being close to Peter. He felt better with Peter near him, knowing he was safe, and hoped that Peter felt the same.

Steve, Nat and Sam made coffees and teas for everyone, and a hot chocolate for Peter, and brought them over. They sat sipping quietly for a few moments, giving Peter time to prepare.

“Peter, first of all we want to say how sorry we are,” Natasha began quietly. “We’re sorry we didn’t realise what was happening to you. What he was doing to you,” she continued, looking earnestly into Peter’s eyes. Her hands uncharacteristically shook a little, and she swiftly put her coffee cup down, clenching them together instead.

“If we had realised,” Nat stopped, and took a shaky breath, closing her eyes briefly, “we would have stopped it. Whatever it took, we would have stopped it.”

Nat paused, and took another deep breath. “It’s happened to me, too,” she told Peter quietly. “If you ever want to talk to me about it, I’m here for you.”

His eyes widened and he looked at her in shock. “But you’re so strong!” Peter burst out, startled.

Nat just snorted. “Doesn’t matter. When something like that happens, it’s just- you just-” she stopped again, and shuddered, closing her eyes again.

“I know,” Peter said quietly. “You just push it away. Pretend it’s not happening to you.”

Natasha nodded shakily, and they shared a look of understanding. Tony was glad Nat had told Peter. He’d have someone to talk to, who knew what it was like.

“Thank you Peter, for doing what you did to protect my boys,” Clint spoke next, his voice rough, and slightly choked. “I will never forget that. I wish it had never happened to you though. I’m so sorry that it did.” He leant forward as he spoke to Peter earnestly, his eyes looking intently into Peter’s as if trying to convey everything he was having trouble saying.

Peter just nodded simply, and said “I would do it again if I had to, to protect them. Or anyone.”

“You shouldn’t have had too though. And I’ll make sure you never need to do anything like that again if it’s the last thing I do,” Clint told him vehemently, making Peter blink at the passion in his tone.

“Peter, we’re sorry too, for thinking you were using drugs,” Sam spoke next. 

“That was my fault,” Tony interrupted. “I thought you were drinking alcohol when you were skipping school, because that’s what I did when I was your age and having problems.”

Peter snorted softly from where he was leaning against Tony’s shoulder.

“So we searched your room, and found colouring pens and vapes, and Sam said they were for sniffing,” Tony continued, a questioning tone in his voice as he finished.

Peter snorted softly again. “I do sniff them,” he said, then held his hands up at the startled reactions that erupted around the room.

“But not like that. It’s just, some nights after I’ve been patrolling, I’ve got the smell of blood in my nose and I just can’t get it out. It’s gross,” he explained, wrinkling his nose at the memory.

“The pens help me not smell it anymore. I don’t sniff them really, I just uncap them and leave them near me. The scented ones are really strong smelling. Same for the vapes, I don’t breathe them in, just press the button and spray them into the air. They’re not as overwhelming as air fresheners. They just help the smell of blood be less there,” he ended quietly.

Tony was stunned. He’d never considered the things Peter had to do sometimes to cope with his enhanced senses. Judging by the looks on the others faces; they felt the same. Except for Steve and Bucky, who were looking interested. They glanced at each other, then at Peter at the same time.

 

“Could we, ah, could we borrow some of those sometime please Peter? We didn’t know there was something that could help with that. You’re right, it’s pretty bad, that smell,” Steve asked Peter, Bucky nodding as he spoke.

“Of course you can!” Peter said, looking guilty. “I’m sorry, I should have thought about you both and told you about it,” he added apologetically. 

“It’s alright, we know now,” Bucky replied, smiling a little at him.

“Pete, what about the weed plantation though? What on earth are you growing it all for?” Tony asked him, still worried about that.

Peter snorted again, louder this time. “It’s not weed, it’s hemp,” he answered, eyes creasing in amusement as he looked sideways at Tony.

“I was going to run experiments on incorporating some of the molecular structure of hemp fibre into my medical web bandage formula, but I needed samples to study first. I didn’t know how much I’d need, I usually go through a lot of supplies when I’m experimenting with my formula, so I just planted a lot,” he explained to them all.

“I set it all up just before spring break. Some of the interns helped me, and Branden did the plumbing and ventilation stuff, but I made it self-sustaining so I didn’t have to bother anyone with looking after it when I’m not here,” Peter continued.

“Who’s Branden?” Wanda asked, her eyes scrunching a little at the unfamiliar name.

“Head of maintenance,” Tony told her absently, still focused on Peter, who resumed speaking after a moment. 

“Anyway then the kids came to stay over spring break and I got distracted with them and forgot to tell you about it Dr Banner. And then after that-” Peter stopped speaking, and shuddered, his voice dropping.

“After that I guess I just forgot about it completely.”

The room grew hushed as everyone remembered what had happened the week after the spring break holidays ended. What had happened when Agent Westcott first arrived.

Tony swallowed heavily and put his arm around Peter’s shoulders lightly, sighing in relief when Peter pressed against him instead of pulling away.

“We should have just asked you,” Rhodey said to him. “We’re sorry Peter. Sorry we thought the worst and didn’t just trust you.”

“But the pills?” Pepper spoke for the first time. “Peter, why do you have all those pills, and drugs and all those needles?” She clasped her hands together on her knees as she spoke, leaning towards him, a worried look on her face.

Peter sighed, and rubbed his face tiredly, reminding Tony of his own mannerism. “Yeah, I probably should have mentioned those,” he said sheepishly.

“I try and help people you know? So I take them whenever I come across a deal, or a user. I just take their stuff. But the first time I did it, I was really tired that night, and I didn’t know what to do with it, so I just put it in the ceiling out of reach in case the kids were around. And then it was just easier to do that each time, so I did. I always meant to tell you, and May too, but-” he stopped again, and sighed, turning his head onto Tony’s shoulder and closing his eyes.

“But I was trying so hard to keep you all safe. To stop you from finding out what he was doing. It was easier to just not talk to you at all,” he ended quietly.

They all looked at each other as Peter breathed raggedly against Tony.

“So you weren’t out scoring drugs when you were skipping school then. What were you doing – and why didn’t you take your suit and phone with you?” Tony asked him, trying not to show Peter how anxious that had made him.

Peter shrugged, “I was just walking. I just wanted to get away from it all, not think about it anymore. I didn’t want to be tracked, so I left everything at home, and I just – walked. That’s all.”

Sighing, Tony nodded, “I get it. I feel that way sometimes too.” Peter had been trying to cope with so much, all on his own. No wonder he felt like he had to get away sometimes. 

“I knew it!” Thor exclaimed in delight suddenly. “These were all those people talking about you doing that on The Reddit, do you remember Loki? You showed it to us when Peter was missing. They said Spider-man had taken their stuff and then talked them into doing the rehabilitation thing. The Reddit was full of people saying it!”

Peter turned his head and looked at Thor, frowning in confusion.

“People talk about me on Reddit?”

Loki chuckled in delight at his question. “Oh Peter, you went viral when you went missing. You won’t believe how many people were talking about you online!” he told the boy merrily. “You were trending for days and days!”

“You’ve touched so many lives Peter, more than any of us ever knew. Thousands of people came out to help search for you,” Tony told him proudly.

“Oh,” Peter said simply, his mouth hanging open in surprise.

“People told us about how you help at a soup kitchen; how you make hammocks for homeless people; the foster kids you help with their homework,” Steve told him, smiling in approval.

“Why didn’t you ever tell us about all the things you do, Peter?” Rhodey asked him, a fond look on his face.

“I don’t know,” Peter said, quirking his lips and flushing in embarrassment. “It’s just what I do when I’m patrolling. Help whoever needs it. I told you I go patrolling,” he ended, as if that explained everything.  

“We thought you were stopping muggers and helping little old ladies across the street,” Bruce told him.

“I do! It’s just, there’s not always bad guys around, so I find other ways to help people. It’s not that big a deal,” Peter muttered, looking down.

“I think the people in this city feel differently about that,” Clint told him. “They made you your own theme song! We saved the city from freaking aliens and we didn’t get a theme song!”

“Oh god you heard about that,” Peter groaned, covering his face. A bright red blush could be seen through his fingers, and his ears went red as well.

“You knew?” Clint asked in surprise.

“Well, yeah. It’s been around for a while now,” Peter said with a shrug.

“How does it go?” Scott asked, having missed the first day of the search when they’d learned about the song, and Clint’s eyes lit up.

“Friday, can you find a version of it online?” he asked the AI, and Peter groaned again.

“Oh god, please don’t,” he begged her. The screen on the wall lit up as Friday ignored his pleading voice.

The version of the song that played was different to the one they’d heard a week ago. It was a much faster, livelier version. Clint sang along, with a mischievous look on his face, grinning at Peter as he did.

Peter tried to hide his face in Tony’s shoulder again, but Tony was having none of that now.

“Sing along kiddo, come on!” he teased him gently, liking the embarrassed smile on Peter’s blushing face. He was grateful to Clint for lightening the mood. 

“Friday, can you make that the ring tone on Peter’s phone please? And don’t let him change it, you hear me?” Tony ordered the AI.

“Your wish is my command boss,” Friday replied. Tony could have sworn he could hear a smile in her voice.

“Aww Friday no don’t do that!” Peter mock-whined, but Tony could see the smile he was trying to hide.

Everyone laughed. It felt good to do that again, as a group. It had been so long. Then the moment passed, and the mood quietened.

There was something Tony desperately wanted to ask Peter, but he wasn’t sure if now was the right time or not. Peter seemed open to talking about things, so he decided to try.

“Peter, why did you come back that night? After we tried to force an intervention you, you still came back, back to that bastard. Why?” Tony asked him in a quiet voice.

Looking down at his hands that suddenly clenched themselves into fists against his gut, Peter didn’t answer right away. He took a deep breath, and looked up for a moment.

“I umm, kind of forgot he’d be there,” Peter told him, looking down again self-consciously.

“I was out patrolling, trying to help people and I realised that I don’t know their stories. I don’t know why the guy whose drugs I’d just taken thought he needed them. I don’t know what kind of mess his life might be. But I still wanted to help him, help them. You know?”

No-one spoke while Peter talked, but some of them nodded when he looked up at them. He continued.

“And then I realised it was the same for all of you. You didn’t know what was happening to me, but you wanted to help me. You had the wrong idea, but you were still trying to help. And I thought maybe, maybe I could tell you. And maybe you could find a way to stop it, without everything Sk- everything he said would happen, happening.”

Tony closed his eyes, relief and regret warring with each other inside him. Peter had forgiven them. He’d been coming back to ask for help.

“So I started coming back, to talk to you. But then I stopped this guy mugging this lady, and I got stabbed. And between that and thinking about all the yelling and how I left, I kind of forgot that it was Friday. That Sk- that he would be there.”

Peter paused, and took a deep, shuddering breath, then exhaled raggedly. 

“I don’t understand Peter. How could you forget something like that? He’d been doing that to you for months, and you forgot?” Scott asked him, confusion in his voice.

No.” Natasha suddenly said vehemently, glaring angrily at Scott. “You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to judge Peter,” she spat out.

“Until it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels. You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know…” her voice trailed off, and she took a shaky breath. Clint put his hand on her arm, then his arm around her shoulders, drawing her into him comfortingly.  

Peter looked at her wide eyed, mouth open a little. “It’s okay Nat. Really. Scott’s just trying to understand. I don’t mind,” he said, and wrinkled his forehead, as if thinking of how to express what he’d been thinking.

“It was really bad, the first time it happened. I was so scared, and it hurt so much, and he said all those things. It was like I was little all over again, but even worse, because I couldn’t let him do it to Cooper or Nathaniel. They don’t deserve that.”

Tony swallowed, trying to ignore the nausea that rose within at Peter’s words. I was so scared, and it hurt so much. Oh Peter. 

Clint shuddered all over as he heard again how Peter had protected his children, and his fists clenched tightly closed as he scowled. It was Nat’s turn to comfort him then.

“Spidey don’t ‘serve that either,” Bruce said abruptly in a deep, gravelly voice, a green tinge washing across his face as Hulk spoke earnestly to his little friend.

“Bad man hurt Spidey. Hulk smash bad man.”

Peter blinked a few times, and looked worriedly at Hulk.

“The bad man is gone now Hulk. He can never hurt Peter, or anyone else ever again,” Nat said authoritatively.

“Good,” Hulk said with a thick growl. “You hurt him?”

“Yeah, we hurt him alright,” Nat said, a cold smile appearing on her face. It didn’t reach her eyes.

The emerald colour disappeared from Bruce’s face, and he sighed in relief, as did several of the others. Peter was staring at Nat speculatively, a frown on his face.

He shook his head a little, took another deep breath, and blew it out in a long rush, then continued talking, apparently deciding not to question Nat about what they’d done. Tony was grateful for that. He didn’t know whether he wanted Peter to know what they’d done to Westcott, or not. It could wait.

“Anyway, it kept happening, but I still had people who needed me. I still had to be Spider-man every night. People die when I’m not there. It didn’t matter that bad things were happening to me, I still had to be there for them.”

“So I just pushed it all down inside me, and tried not to think about it. I couldn’t tell you, Mr Stark, or any of you, so it was easier to push you all away. I didn’t mean those things I said. I don’t hate you. I just freaked out when you all confronted me like that. I couldn’t tell you it wasn’t drugs, but I couldn’t tell you the truth either, because then Sk-” Peter paused, and took a long, trembling breath, before continuing, “because then he would make you all suffer. I didn’t know what else to say. I panicked, so I just… ran.”

Peter turned and looked pleadingly at Tony, as if willing him to understand what he’d done, and why.

Tony cupped the side of Peter’s head with his hand gently, and nodded at him.

“It’s alright Peter, we understand. I understand,” he said reassuringly.

Peter nodded back shakily, then continued speaking. Tony ran his fingers through Peter’s hair as he listened, and Peter leant into the touch slightly, almost like a cat being stroked.

“So yeah, it was bad. But I guess I got really good at pushing it away, because all I was thinking about was coming back home to make things better with all of you, and about how much my leg was hurting.”

“I’d forgotten he’d be there, and then he- he got me- and then- then I just had to get out of there. If I’d stayed, he might do it again, like he did sometimes. So I didn’t.”

Tony shuddered all over again at Peter’s words. What he’d been going through, right here in their home, all that time, and they didn’t know. He’d never forgive himself for that.

“And then- well, I guess you know what happened after that,” Peter ended with a shrug.

“You mean the part where you got shot and fell into the river in the middle of winter?” Tony asked with a snort. “Yeah, we know about that.”

“That was really cold,” Peter said musingly. “Really, really cold.”

Tony snorted again. “Remember how you can’t thermoregulate?”

“Yeah?” Peter said questioningly.

“Turns out if you get too cold, you go into a sort of hibernation state,” Tony told him.

Peter’s eyes widened, “I do?” Peter said in wonder.

“I remember getting really sleepy. And trying to get warm. I tried to make a blanket from my webbing…” Peter’s voice trailed off and his brow furrowed.

“We found you in a cocoon of webbing, hidden away where no-one would find you,” Tony told him. “If you hadn’t stuck your phone where it would dry in the sun we might not have found you at all,” he finished.

“I don’t remember doing that. I just remember thinking I needed to hide, and that you’d find me. Huh,” Peter mused, almost to himself, his eyes unfocused as he thought about it.

Tony heart twinged at Peter’s last word. Once again he sounded just like Tony himself. The faith Peter had had in Tony and the others to find him made him ache inside all over again. He began pulling Peter a little closer, then stopped as Peter sat upright all of a sudden, pushing away from him.

“Oh my god I haven’t patrolled for so long! I need to go-”

“You do not!” Tony interrupted him.

Bruce continued, shaking his head, “You are in no fit state to be going anywhere Peter.”

“We’ve been keeping an eye on things for you,” Steve told Peter, as Bucky, Clint and some of the others nodded.

“And people have been looking out for each other as well, just like Loki asked them to in the video he made, pretending to be you,” Rhodey added. Peter looked at him in confusion at that statement, his mouth gaping open a little.

“The city is fine. You need to concentrate on getting better, alright? That’s all you need to do,” Tony reassured Peter.

Peter looked at them all a little dazedly. “You did all that, for me?” he asked in a quiet voice. “Even after I was so horrible to you for so long?”

“Of course we did. You were trying to protect us, right? You don’t really feel that way about us, do you?” Tony answered him rhetorically. Peter replied anyway, looking anxious.

“No! I mean, yes! I mean-”

“Peter it’s okay,” Tony cut him off gently. “We know what was happening now, and we understand why you acted the way you did. None of us blame you or are upset by it, we know it’s not how you really feel about us. We all forgive you. The question is, can you forgive us?”

Tony’s voice hitched a little with the last few words, and he cleared his throat, then tried again.

“Can you forgive us for not realising what was happening to you? For not stopping it? I’m so sorry Peter. We’re all so sorry-”

Muted variations of the same expression came from everyone lips, jumbled over each other as they looked at Peter solemnly. He flushed from all the attention, and looked down for a moment, then lifted his head.

“Of course I forgive you Mr Stark! I forgive all of you,” he added, looking around at them all.

“It wasn’t your fault!” he told them earnestly, leaning forward a little.

“It wasn’t your fault either,” Tony told Peter just as earnestly, while the others nodded in agreement. Peter broke eye contact and looked down, frowning a little, and Tony’s heart twinged.

“Maybe you don’t believe that right now Peter, but it’s the truth. You didn’t ask for that to happen to you – hell, you even tried to stay away so it wouldn’t happen, and we made you- we forced you to come here, to be here, where that monster-”

Tony’s words fled him then, and he bowed his face into his hands, chest heaving as he took deep breaths, trying to regain his composure. He just felt so damned guilty, so useless. Peter had been suffering for so long, and he hadn’t even realised what was really happening to him. He’d never even-

A hand came down onto his shoulder and pressed, breaking his chain of thought. Tony raised his head, and saw Peter looking at him intently, his eyebrows quirked upwards worriedly.

Peter’s hand pulled Tony towards him a little, and Tony let it. Peter hugged Tony to him, giving him some sorely needed comfort. Tony relaxed into his embrace, revelling in it for just a moment, then stiffened and pulled away, grabbing Peter’s shoulders and shaking him a little.

“Dammit Peter, stop being so selfless! You shouldn’t be comforting me - I should be comforting you!” he admonished in a huff.

Peter just huffed right back at him. “There’s no rule that says we can’t comfort each other, is there?” he said, a little of his old cheekiness surfacing with his words and the twinkle in his eye.

Tony felt the tightness in his heart ease at Peter’s words, and allowed himself to hope that maybe, just maybe, Peter would be alright. In time.

 

 

 

Chapter Text




NOW

 

May had Peter excused from school until after the Christmas break, with Doctor Cho supplying a doctor’s note giving the reason for his absence, not the real reason of course. He still had to complete his work, which was emailed to him each day, but wasn’t required to attend in person. He stayed at the Avengers compound with May’s blessing, and she would occasionally stay over as well.

It was a quiet time for the rest of them. Peter was busy with his schoolwork, and with the light physical therapy he was allowed to do. He was disgruntled when the team refused to allow him to train with them, and grumbled when Tony took him on a gentle walk around the compound instead.

Tony restrained himself from a snarky remark when, less than one hundred yards into their walk, he noticed Peter breathing more heavily and rubbing his scars. He looked around, and saw some bushes nearby. That would do.

“Can we stop while I check these bushes?” he asked Peter. “My grounds keeper said there’s been some weird bug chewing on all the leaves lately.”

“Sure,” Peter wheezed slightly, and waited while Tony inspected the bushes.

Conveniently, Tony finished his thorough inspection right around the time Peter stopped puffing, and they continued on their stroll. He made excuses to stop each time Peter started puffing again, and was congratulating himself on his subtlety as they approached the main building at the end of their walk.

“You know I know what you were doing, right?” Peter said, looking at Tony sideways as they went through the doors. “You could have just told me to take a break.”

“Yeah right. Would you have listened?” Tony replied, shaking his head. “You’re too stubborn for your own good.”

“Hmm, where have I heard that before?” Peter asked, grinning. “You know the expression about the pot and kettle, right?”

Tony opened his mouth in affront, ready to launch into full rebuttal mode, then stopped. Peter wasn’t wrong.

“Fine,” he grumbled. “I’ll work on being less stubborn if you admit when you need a break. Deal?”

“Deal,” Peter answered easily, still smiling.

Tony just rolled his eyes at him. It was too nice to see Peter smiling again to bother arguing with him any further.




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It wasn’t always as easy as that.

Peter still had nightmares every night, and Tony ended up on the bean bag next to him each time. He didn’t mind, just glad that Peter let him be there for him.

They installed a small fish tank in Peter’s room, sitting on the end of his long desk, and the soft sounds of the filter and pump helped him feel more comfortable at night.

Being too close to the other men still made Peter tense up if he wasn’t expecting it, and he kept apologising for it to them all. No-one took it personally, and they all reassured him over and over again that it was alright.

He was especially sensitive to men being close behind him, and they all learned swiftly to avoid that, even Tony. It was a major trigger for Peter’s panic attacks, and after Tony finally forced himself to watch the rest of the videos of Westcott’s assaults, he understood why.

Westcott had apparently preferred the dominating position of pinning Peter beneath him from behind. Tony was unable to eat dinner the night after he finished watching the videos, the images churning sickeningly through his mind. He wished all over again that he’d been with Clint and Nat when they went after Westcott.

Wished he’d been able to get his hands around Westcott’s neck and squeeze… Tony’s hands clenched as if he was throttling the bastard right then. He was glad they hadn’t killed him outright. A swift death was not enough for what he’d done to Peter. Tony hoped Westcott would suffer for years to come. He wondered if Thor might be convinced to take Tony to Niflheim sometime, just to ‘check’ on him… Tony’s hands twitched again at the thought, and he smiled grimly in anticipation.

The team celebrated Christmas quietly, with none of the usual glitzy extravaganza that Tony had splurged on in the past. May joined them, and they had a lavish dinner together.

Pepper gave Tony the framed picture she’d taken of him and Peter sleeping on the beanbags, and laughed as both he and Peter blushed.

Peter gave Tony a pair of cloth knee braces, and an extra-large bottle of fish oil capsules.

“To help with your old joints,” he told Tony in a solicitous tone. The quirk of his lips and glint in his eye stopped Tony’s denial from leaving his lips, and he snorted in laughter instead, shaking his head at the now openly grinning boy.

“I don’t know if I should give you your present anymore,” Tony said in affront. “I am not old!”

Peter just raised his eyebrows as everyone else laughed at Tony. Grumbling and muttering to himself under his breath, Tony got to his feet and stalked out of the room, ignoring them all.

“Wait, he’s not really upset is he Ms Potts?” he heard Peter ask her worriedly.

“No Peter, it’s alright, he’s just going to get something,” Pepper replied reassuringly.

Tony came back a few moments later, a cardboard box with a large cheerful bow on top in his arms. He placed it carefully down in front of Peter, who looked at him inquisitively.

“Go on. It’s for you,” Tony told him, smiling.

Peter began removing the bow from the box and paused as the box moved slightly under his hands. He looked at Tony again and raised his eyebrows, then kept opening the box.

“Ohhhhh!” Peter breathed out softly, mesmerised by what was inside.

“What is it?” May asked, although Tony knew full well that she knew exactly what it was. He’d had to run it by her first, after all.

“It’s a kitty!” Peter whispered reverently, reaching into the box carefully and lifting out a tiny orange tabby kitten. He immediately cradled it in his arms and began cooing at it, stroking it and rubbing its belly.

“Ohh aren’t you just the most beautiful creature! Yes you are, oh yes you are!”

“Fury sent him. Apparently he’s descended from his favourite cat or something. I think he’s sort of an apology from him.”

Peter scrunched his face up at that, but kept stroking the kitten, who was now purring contentedly in his arms.

“He’ll need to live here at the compound, because you can’t have pets in your building, but he’s your cat,” Tony continued as May nodded in agreement. “We’ll look after him when you’re not here,” he ended.

“Ohmygod, thank you Mr Stark! He’s the best!” Peter smiled up at him – and Tony saw that the smile reached his eyes, a rare occurrence nowadays – but one that was becoming more common as time passed.

“So what are you going to name him?” he asked Peter. He felt almost dizzy at being able to make Peter smile again.

“Tiger!” Peter said emphatically. “Look at him, he’s totally ferocious!”

Tony had to laugh at that, and heard several of the others doing the same. Tiger, as the kitten was to be known, was currently curled up in the crook of Peter’s arm, sound asleep and purring like a miniature motorbike. He didn’t look ferocious in the slightest.

“Well, he will be one day, when he’s all grown up! You’ll see,” Peter declared.

“Sure bud, we’ll see,” Tony nodded, chuckling in pure happiness. The look on Peter’s face as he gazed down at Tiger was totally worth all the drama and mess that having a cat in the compound was sure to bring.




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After Christmas, they began on the much-anticipated living room and kitchen renovations.
The team decided to do most of the work themselves. There hadn’t been many missions lately, the world being quiet from alien or Avenger level threats. It seemed like Hydra had been wiped out, or were at least reduced enough not to be too troublesome.

Even S.H.I.E.L.D. were keeping their distance. Finger light surveillance by Friday had determined that the Avengers weren’t suspected of anything to do with Agent Westcott’s disappearance. He’d been listed as missing while off duty, and neither S.H.I.E.L.D.’s own investigation, nor the police investigation, had found any leads. Tony thanked all the deities he could think of for that blessing.

Fury hadn’t even mentioned it when he’d called to advise that the discipline sessions were no longer required, and to ask how Peter was. He’d heard about his disappearance from the media, and had even sent S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to assist in the search at the time. Once they’d found Peter, Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. had backed off.

Tony assumed that Fury knew how pissed off he still was over them all being forced to complete the discipline course. The Director had no idea what Westcott had done to Peter, and Tony intended to keep it that way. If they were ever suspected of being involved in Westcott’s disappearance, they still had the DNA evidence of what he’d done to Peter; images of the handprints Westcott had left on Peter’s body; and the video files of his assaults on Peter. Everything was stored offline and hidden away where Peter, or anyone else, would never stumble across them. Tony had made sure of that.

The gift of the cat to Peter was obviously meant as a peace offering, and Tony hoped that it would help. Westcott had caused Peter to form very negative feelings towards S.H.I.E.L.D., which could cause problems in the future. Perhaps the cat would help soften that attitude in time.

So the renovation project gave them all something to do when not much else was happening.

They tore up the pale grey tiles on the floor first, and replaced them with warm timber flooring that matched the library floor. Clint was very particular about how they should be laid, and banished Tony when he wasn’t as precise as Clint demanded.

Grumbling, Tony joined the wall painters, Steve, Nat, Wanda and Peter. They were painting the walls a warm creamy colour, cutting in from the trim along the floor and around the windows in preparation for rolling the paint afterwards.

“We need a ladder or something to reach the top,” Nat was saying as Tony joined them. He looked up at where they were looking, and realised that they were discussing the need to cut in along the ceiling trim.

“I could just stand on someone’s shoulders.” Peter suggested. “It’d be quicker, we could just walk along the wall instead of having to move a ladder all the time.”

Tony looked at him carefully. It was the first time Peter had suggested something involving physical contact with someone else since… he swallowed the thought away, and nodded.

“Alright. Up you get,” he simply said instead, bracing himself as Nat and Wanda stood to each side of Peter and assisted him as he stepped onto a chair, then onto Tony’s shoulders.

Oof. Tony winced slightly as Peter stood on his shoulders. Peter wasn’t heavy, but Tony was no super solider either. He held Peter’s calves in support and stepped carefully to the wall, as Steve passed Peter a brush and held up a paint can for him.

Things proceeded well enough until they were almost halfway around the room. Tony’s shoulders started shaking, then his arms where they were bracing Peter.

“Uh, Pete I think you should get down, I can’t take much more of this,” Tony warned him.

“But we’re almost done!” Peter protested. “We can’t stop now!”

“I can’t keep going. I’ve got to stop,” Tony said, swaying a little. Steve, still holding the paint can next to them, swiftly stepped forward to brace Peter’s legs as well, stopping him from falling off Tony.

Steve’s eyes widened as he realised he was touching Peter, and he withdrew just as swiftly, eyes widening and flying up to meet Peter’s.

“I’m sorry Peter! I was just-”

“It’s okay Mr Rogers, I mean, Steve,” Peter said, a look of surprise on his face.

“I think-” he paused, took a deep breath, then continued. “I think I could stand on your shoulders. If that’s alright with you?” he said hesitantly.

“Are you sure Peter?” Steve said quietly, looking up at him. “You don’t have to.”

“I know. But I want to get this finished,” Peter said, waving his hand at the walls – and Tony wobbled beneath him at the sudden movement.

Nat swiftly grabbed the paint can from Steve as he reached for Peter – who stepped gracefully from Tony’s shoulders onto Steve’s, balancing there easily as Steve held his legs.

Peter took a deep breath and smiled down reassuringly at Tony, who’d sat down on the floor as soon as Peter’s weight had left him.

“I’m okay. Let’s do this!”

Stretching his neck and shoulders, Tony sighed in relief when Pepper came up behind him and started massaging his aching muscles. He kept a worried eye on Peter and Steve, but they seemed to be working well together, Nat holding the paint can for Peter now.

“Do you need some of those fish oil capsules?” Pepper whispered into Tony’s ear, and he huffed at her in affront.

“What did I ever do to deserve you?” he asked in mock despair. “I work hard, I provide for you, and still, this is how you treat me?”

“Oh hush,” Pepper just laughed at him, then kissed him.

The renovations continued around them as she successfully distracted Tony from his worry over Peter.




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Spider-man Given Key to City

“J. Jonah Jameson here for the Daily Bugle. I’m reporting live from the Queens Borough Hall where today the New York Mayor and the Queens Borough President will jointly present the Key to the City to Spider-man in gratitude and recognition of his heroic efforts in keeping the people of Queens, and greater New York, safe.”

“Last month, Spider-man heroically risked his own life to save the life of one of our Police Captains and was thought for a time to be dead. That event caused thousands of citizens to aid in the search for the masked mena- excuse me, the masked hero, and thousands more stories flooded the internet of the people he has saved.”

Tony snickered at the look on Jameson’s face as he stumbled over calling Spider-man a hero. The odious man was finally being forced to acknowledge the good that Peter had done for the city, and Tony loved that it was so difficult for him.

“Today Spider-man will be presented with the Key to the City that symbolises the freedom to enter and leave the city at will, as a trusted friend of city residents. This symbol is reserved for individuals whose service to the public and the common good rises to the highest level of achievement-”

The screen before Tony switched off abruptly, cutting short his enjoyment of it, and he looked around with an indignant “Hey!”

“Do you really need to watch that again?” Peter asked him in exasperation. “You were there, why do you keep watching it?”

“I like seeing Jameson choke while praising you!” Tony protested. “He’s made your life difficult for so long, and now he has to acknowledge the good you do. It’s the best!” he grinned wickedly.

“So, what are you going to do with it?” Tony ended, pointing at the ornate, oversized skeleton key sitting on the dining table.

“Umm, I don’t know, actually,” Peter shrugged. “I guess I’ll put it in a drawer in my room?”

“No way! We need to display it! It’s too big to stick on the front of the fridge, how about I get it framed and we’ll put it up in the library where everyone can see it?”

“Oh no, you don’t need to do that Mr Star-” Peter paused as Tony gave him a look, and swallowed. “I mean- Tony. You don’t need to do that. Seriously. I’ll just-”

“Nope,” Tony cut him off, a little thrill of pleasure racing through him at the sound of Peter using his name. It had taken such a long time, but he’d finally convinced Peter to call him Tony, and he loved it.

“We’re displaying it. If nothing else, it will give Barton conniptions every time he sees it. He’s still not over you having your own theme song, and now you have a key to the city as well? We have to display it. It’s glorious!”

Tony chuckled as Peter threw his hands up in the air in defeat.

That wasn’t the real reason he wanted to prominently display the key, of course. He was just so proud of Peter. So damn proud of him. He’d been through so much and never gave up. Never let what he was going through stop him from helping those in need, in so many different ways. Never let it change who he was.

He’d build a statue of Spider-man if he thought Peter would let him. Framing the key would do for now.

Peter had started therapy recently. It had taken a couple of tries, but now it seemed like they’d found someone he felt comfortable with, someone who checked out against Tony’s exhaustive and illegally intrusive background check (he’d never make that mistake again with anyone near Peter). Someone who they all felt they could trust.

Peter hadn’t revealed his alter-identity to her yet, but he thought he might, in time. He was only at the beginning of what would be a long journey of recovery, but Tony held hope that he was going to be fine, someday.

He’d gone back to school as well not long ago, and seemed to be doing alright there. Tony had had a long discussion with Peter about the need to tell him – or someone, anyone – if there was anything he was struggling with, and he hoped that Peter would actually do that. Peter’s instinct to protect those he loved, and the innocent, was still as strong as ever, despite what he’d suffered for it. Tony just hoped he’d learned that he didn’t need to do everything alone anymore.




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Spring, 2018

Spider-man To Speak at Rally

Queens Neighbourhood Holds Rally for Sexual Assault Survivors

NEW YORK (TheDailyBugle) Our own friendly neighbourhood Spider-man will be speaking at a rally in Astoria Park in Queens this weekend. The rally is being jointly hosted by the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Be Heard Coalition on Sunday, 3rd at 1:00pm.
Be Heard On the Third will be an empowering afternoon of storytelling for change. Survivors of sexual assault and their supporters will be coming together to honour the power of stories, and to mobilize for the Be Heard Act, a comprehensive federal bill addressing sexual assault, harassment, and violence.
Featured storytellers include: Spider-man, State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, Alysia Reiner (Actress, Orange is the New Black), and Daisy Auger-Dominguez (Workplace Culture Strategist) among others.
Speculation on Spider-man’s presence at the rally has been rife since the announcement that he will be speaking there. No comment has been issued by Spider-man or the Avengers yet despite repeated requests.




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Peter stood all alone on the raised stage, wearing his Spider-man suit. He looked tiny in front of the crowd of thousands, who were waiting expectantly to hear him speak.

The announcement of Spider-man’s presence had boosted attendance just as Peter had anticipated it would. He’d told Tony that he hoped that by speaking today he could help raise awareness and support to the coalition and their cause. There were many survivors and their supporters in the crowd, and many Spider-man fans as well. There were also a large number of press, recording everything and sharing it with the world.

“H- Hi everyone.”

Tony’s heart lurched at the nervousness he could hear in Peter’s voice. He wished he could be standing next to him, to support him, but he wanted this to be Peter’s moment, not overshadowed by Tony Stark or Iron Man. Peter had worked hard for a long time with his therapist; and he had chosen to do this. Tony would support him in any way he could, even if he had to stand in a crowd in disguise to do it.

He and the other Avengers were all present, scattered throughout the crowd, wearing casual clothes, hats and sunglasses, and trying hard to be inconspicuous.

“I wanted to be here today to support survivors of sexual assault and to encourage them to speak out, to get help. You see, it happened to me, too.”

Whispers ran through the crowd in a wave of muted sound, and cameras flashed from the reporters. The crowd grew quieter again as Peter held his hand up.

“When I was younger, I was raped repeatedly over many months. The man who did it manipulated me, and made threats to make me keep silent, so I didn’t speak out about it. I wish-”

Peter’s voice hitched, and he took a deep breath. Tony felt like his heart was in his mouth as he watched the teenager struggle to go on.

Next to him, May clenched his hand tightly. Some time ago, Peter had told her, and Ned, what had happened. It had been a difficult and emotional time for them all, and May had blamed herself for not realising what was happening. Tony had convinced her to attend counselling, even as he was, and they were both working through their feelings and reactions. The rest of the Avengers were doing the same.

“I wish I had said something much sooner, and I hope that someone listening today might gain the courage to do the same. I know what it’s like. You want to forget what happened, even when it’s still happening. But that doesn’t work. It just keeps screaming louder and louder to get your attention until you acknowledge it.”

Tony saw Peter take another deep breath as he paused again.

“It’s scary to talk about at first – yes, even for me. But trust me - eventually it will feel empowering. Saying out loud that you were raped, and asking for help doesn’t make you weak. It makes you strong. You are a survivor, and you can get through this. It doesn’t define you. Don’t let what your attacker did limit you. It has no power to shame you, only them.”

“What happened wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t your fault. You aren’t weak, or broken.
Survivors of sexual assault are strong. You are strong. You are brave. And you can go on from here.”

Hearing those words from Peter’s lips – it wasn’t your fault – spoken so passionately, lightened Tony’s heart immensely. He knew how much Peter had struggled with that. Knew how much Peter blamed himself for allowing Westcott to do what he did. He suspected Peter would always feel partly to blame, if only a tiny amount, but he hoped one day he would be able to fully believe that it truly wasn’t his fault.

The choice that Peter made, to allow Westcott to rape him, was made with the protection of other, more vulnerable children in mind. Protection of others had always been his primary reason. That had been why he tried so hard to keep it secret. To protect the children, his loved ones, and the Avenger themselves.

Peter had tried to protect them all, at such great cost to himself.

He was the most heroic person Tony knew. Tony wished with all his heart that none of this had ever happened. But it had. It had, but it was over, and Peter was recovering. In true Peter fashion, he was even using what had happened to him to help other people. Using the pull of Spider-man to raise awareness to the cause. Tony didn’t think that anyone else would ever be able to impress him as much as Peter had.

“I’d like to share a song with you that expresses how I feel better than I ever could. Will you listen?”

Peter’s voice cut through Tony’s thoughts and surprised him. Peter could sing? And was going to sing in front of this huge crowd? The crowd called out their approval, and Peter raised his hands again, nodding. Somehow Tony knew that he was smiling under his mask, even as Tony himself was.

From the large speakers on either side of the stage, the plucking of a guitar began playing a melody, slowly and softly. A drumbeat joined in, then a piano, and the noise of the crowded quietened as people strained to listen.

They saw Spider-man standing there, his feet together, his shoulders rising as he took a deep breath. Peter’s voice started softly after several bars of the music played, a high, pure baritone. The beauty of it pierced Tony’s heart like an arrow.

“You shout it out, but I can't hear a word you say. I'm talking loud, not saying much.”

Tony wouldn’t have thought the crowd could become quieter, but somehow they did.

“I'm criticized, but all your bullets ricochet. Shoot me down, but I get up. I'm bulletproof, nothing to lose, fire away, fire away. Ricochet, you take your aim, fire away, fire away.”

Peter’s voice grew stronger, changing to a tenor and hurling his words at the past as the music became more stirring, the drum beat faster.

“You shoot me down, but I won't fall - I am titanium! You shoot me down, but I won't fall, I am titanium!”

He paused, standing all alone there before them all as the piano melody continued, then quietened down once more. When he began to sing again, he’d dropped back into a baritone.

“Cut me down, but it's you who'll have further to fall, ghost town and haunted love. Raise your voice, sticks and stones may break my bones. I'm talking loud, not saying much,”

Tony shuddered, thinking of Westcott and the months of abuse that Peter had suffered. The months when his changed behaviour was screaming at them all, and they hadn’t heard what he was saying. Then Peter’s voice rose above them all again.

“I'm bulletproof, nothing to lose, fire away, fire away. Ricochet, you take your aim, fire away, fire away.”

Peter spread his legs, bracing himself as his voice soared over the crowd in tenor once more. He sounded so very young, so pure and yet so confident as he fought to overcome his trauma. He held the microphone in one hand, and spread the other as if to throw his words into the universe.

“You shoot me down, but I won't fall - I am titanium! You shoot me down, but I won't fall - I am titanium!”

“I am titanium - I am ti-ta-niummmm!”

Repeating the chorus, hurling the words out while staying perfectly in tune, Peter refused to allow himself to be broken.

The music quietened once more, and this time Spider-man motioned to the audience to join in. Thousands of people began to sing with him in hushed tones that rose after the first line. Tony tried to join in, but his throat was so choked up he could barely get the words out. Beside him, May had tears running down her cheeks as she sang along.

“Stone hard, machine gun, firing at the ones who run, stone hard, as bulletproof glaaaaass! You shoot me down, but I won't fall - I am titanium. You shoot me down, but I won't fall -”

The crowd repeated themselves as Peter paused, singing “You shoot me down, but I won't fall - I am titanium. You shoot me down, but I won't fall -” over and over.

A moment later, as the crowd kept singing, Peter’s tenor rose over them, singing “I am titanium, I am titanium …..” in counterpoint to their chorus.

Then the crowd stopped singing at some unseen signal, and Peter’s tenor continued alone, achingly young and vulnerable, but also strong, and confident, ringing out into the silence. Tony’s heart throbbed with the beauty of it.

“I am ti-ta-niummmm…..”

His voice died out with the music, and he stood, chest heaving as he caught his breath.

Absolute silence hovered for a moment, then Tony saw Peter twitch as the crowd roared at him. Cheers, whistles, screams and clapping, thousands of people reacting all at once.

Peter bent to put the microphone down on the stage, then waved at the crowd with both hands. The shouting and cheering reached a new level, and Peter took a few steps back. Tony tensed, thinking the noise was too much for his enhanced hearing.

But Peter bounced on his feet a few times, then ran forward towards the crowd and leapt out over them, twisting in the air as he flew. He landed on his back in the crowd, dozens of hands supporting his slight weight as he crowd surfed, his supporters screaming their love for him.

The noise around him echoed over Tony’s comm as Peter’s happy voice sounded in his ear.

“Isn’t this awesome Mr Stark?!!”

“You sure are kid,” Tony replied, wiping his wet cheeks. “You sure are.”




------------------------------------

 

They all celebrated together at the compound that night, in the newly renovated living and dining area.

New, far more luxurious couches were scattered around in various configurations, more than enough for everyone. Small side tables, coffee tables and lamps stood here and there as well, and over near the largest windows was the dining area. The single large table was gone, replaced by several smaller ones that could be joined up to make one huge one if desired.

Plants were scattered around the large room, and digital frames adorned the walls. An endless slideshow of photo’s played on them, of all the Avengers and their loved ones. Friday had a protocol directing that any photographs containing sensitive information – such as Peter’s identity, or any of the children of the Avengers, would be hidden whenever anyone not approved was in the room. The whole room was much homier and more comfortable than it had ever been before, a stark contrast to the minimalist and modern look it had previously had. Tony loved it, and so did everyone else. He was glad that they’d done it together, as a team.

All of the Avengers were present to celebrate Peter’s speech, as well as May and Ned. Ned was awestruck to be in the presence of his idols, and had retreated to a corner, staring silently at them all in wonder. Tony saw Nat take pity on him, and go and sit with him, gently easing him into a conversation.

Peter seemed in high spirits after his successful speech and song, like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He’d been nervous leading up to it, refusing to practise in front of Tony or anyone else except May.

Tony hadn’t even known he was going to sing a song until it happened. Nor had any of the others. He hadn’t even known that Peter could sing like that, and had already had Friday find the best recording online and save it safely in his private folder.

The choice of titanium rather than vibranium in the song was one he fully intended to tease Peter over at some point, however. Really. Titanium? Tony snorted to himself. Not yet though. It was Peter’s moment right now, not Tony’s. He could wait. There was time.

Now that the event was over, Peter seemed more like his old self, from before all of this had happened, than he had ever since it had all started. He was bouncing around, drinking more soda than usual, and even letting the others hug him. That was a massive step for Peter.

After the assaults had stopped and everything was out in the open, Peter had only been able to tolerate physical contact from Tony, May, Nat and Wanda for a long time. Tony wasn’t sure why he was any different from the other men in Peter’s life, but he hadn’t been about to question him on it.

He had just been grateful, selfishly needing the contact for his own comfort after watching Peter struggle for so long and struggling himself with all that had happened. Peter going missing, and the fear that he was dead had nearly killed Tony.

Even after that, when they’d finally found him, Peter had still nearly died – had died, just for a few moments. It had all taken a heavy toll on Tony, who’d lost weight himself even as Peter had. Never a good sleeper to start with, it had been even harder to rest at all during those terrible times.

Then to learn just why Peter had changed so much – learning what that monster had done to him over and over again, for such a long time. Tony shuddered as those feelings washed over him yet again, and he shook himself mentally, pushing the thoughts away. Peter’s safe now. It’s over.

Tony’s bedside vigil throughout those long days while Peter slept in his strange hibernation; and forcing himself to allow the others to sit by Peter as well at times had been hard, but he’d managed. Having Peter there then, and safe even if gravely injured, had made that time a little easier.

Helping Peter deal with his panic attacks and P.T.S.D. after he’d finally awoken had been tough for them both, but Peter’s ability to accept physical contact with Tony had eased it considerably, for each of them.

So they had found comfort in each other, and slowly, slowly started to recover from it. Tony hoped that Peter would never have to go through anything traumatic ever again. He knew though, if Peter did, that he was strong enough to handle it.

Tony would be there by his side. He’d make sure of it.

“All hail Peter, future King of Asgard!” Thor roared suddenly.

Tony looked over to see Peter holding Mjølnir up, somewhat self-consciously, as the others cheered and clapped. Ned looked as if his eyes might fall out of his head at any moment, they were so wide.

Oh god, Tony thought. I’d forgotten about that. He smiled at Peter as the boy blushed, standing there holding Thor’s hammer.

Tiger was crouched on his customary perch on Peter’s shoulder. Half-grown now, the orange tabby was in that awkward, gangly stage, no longer a kitten but not yet full grown either.

He rubbed his face against Peter’s ear, and eyed the hammer waving dangerously close to his head. A growl rumbled up through his throat at the hammer, and his eyes narrowed. Tony chuckled, as did several of the others. What did the cat think he was going to do, attack Thor’s hammer?

Tiger’s mouth opened wide as he continued glaring at the hammer, and suddenly several long tentacles shot out of it, writhing madly, grabbing the hammer and pulling it out of Peter’s grasp. He yelped and jumped to the side as Tiger leapt from his shoulder onto the ground, his tentacles still holding Mjølnir aloft.

The tentacles withdrew into Tiger’s mouth, taking Mjølnir with them, and it vanished inside him. The hammer was bigger than the half-grown cat, yet it was gone, swallowed away in the blink of an eye.

Tiger sat back on his haunches, licking his front paw nonchalantly as if he hadn’t just sprouted tentacles and eaten a legendary magical hammer that was bigger than he was.

Thor looked as if he was about to pass out, his eyes and mouth wide open. He wasn’t breathing.

Every person in the room was frozen motionless, staring at the cat in disbelief, then Tony, Peter, May all said the same thing in unison.

 

 

WHAT THE FUCK?”