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"Spidey On Ice"

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When Flash Thompson has pantsed you within the first four minutes of you stepping foot on campus, you know it’s going to be One Of Those Days. You’re not sure if it makes you feel worse or better that you know about thirty-two ways you could’ve avoided or prevented this latest public embarrassment (including but not limited to dislocating both his shoulders in under three seconds, totally going Jackie Chan on his obnoxious bullying behind, or putting his head through the nearest window). But no, you have to just let him do it, because the last thing you want or need is anyone looking at you sideways or having a reason to get the rumour mill going again about how Spider-Man goes to your school. Besides, you’ve been feeling a little under the weather this last week--not really sick, just kind of ache-y and sluggish--and you really don’t feel like making a scene. So you keep your head down as you fix your clothes and gather up all the books and papers that spilled out of your bag when Flash’s cronies yanked it off your back, tightening your belt another few notches for good measure.

At least you’re wearing your lucky dark blue boxers today instead of the pink and purple polka-dots or the ones with the little dinosaurs on them, you console yourself.

Only when you reach your first-hour Science class do you remember that today is Field Trip Day. Your class has been studying classical mechanics, Newton’s Laws, F = ma, simple straightforward stuff really. So you’re not sure why, exactly, a lesson on friction requires a trip to the skating rink since you’re pretty sure no one is really going to be paying attention to science outside the classroom, especially since half of them never even pay attention inside the classroom. It’s asking too much of far too many exceptionally short attention spans to place them in that sort of environment and expect them to learn rather than just goof off and have some fun. But that’s okay, because you’ve known the material since you were in elementary school and you definitely don’t mind the chance to have a little fun yourself.

Plus, it’ll give you more time with Mary Jane, which is always a good thing in your book. Well, except when there are bad guys around, but that’s different. That doesn’t count. That is footnoted in your book as the exception to the rule of always a good thing. But this is a high school field trip, just a bunch of kids going ice skating. There are no banks nearby, no museums with priceless artifacts, no superhero headquarters, no state-of-the-art laboratories, no important government buildings, and therefore absolutely no possible reason for any supervillains to show up and crash this trip. The only ‘bad guys’ you should have to worry about are Flash and his gang of oversized knuckle-draggers, and they’ll probably be too busy goofing off and/or tormenting other kids to bother with you. You’re just a regular high school kid going on a regular school trip who is going to spend a regular, laid-back day with his heart-stoppingly beautiful girlfriend. There could even be smooching involved…then again maybe not, since you are kinda not-really-sick and sniffling or having to take a break to blow your nose during a make-out session isn’t anyone’s idea of romantic. But still, as you settle into your seat on the bus and MJ takes your hand and smiles that dazzling smile of hers at you, you feel like nothing in the world could possibly go wrong today.

--

In retrospect, you probably should’ve known better than to let yourself feel like that. Since when has the world ever cut you a break, after all? Since never, that’s when.

Which is why, despite your previously hopeful outlook, there’s a large part of you that isn’t surprised at all when the Avengers suddenly show up out of nowhere to crash your (until that point, at least) regular day.

The pair of heavy and exceptionally ugly dull-brown rental skates the bored-looking pimple-faced college kid behind the counter gave you are about three sizes too small, and judging by the guy’s obvious and astronomical levels of apathy, exchanging them doesn’t look like too likely of a prospect. Luckily for you, MJ has a similar problem, only hers are too big. Unluckily for you, the skates she’d been given are white with sparkly pink laces. Maybe, you think as you hold them up to stare at them with resignation, just maybe your pants will be long enough to cover the laces—

—And that’s as far as you get before your ears pop from what is unmistakably a sonic boom, and you have just enough time to think of course and then oh great NOW what before Iron Man walks in through the front door. Followed in short order by Hawkeye, Wolverine, Thor, and Captain America himself.

Your jaw drops, as do the ice skates in your hand, the latter of which land on your right foot pretty painfully. The deathly silence that had swept through the room when Tony Stark walked in gives way to whispers, which gradually shift into murmurs, then loud and excited chattering; within seconds, it’s bedlam. Crazies everywhere demonstrating exactly how many screws they have loose. Worse than the mall on Black Friday and midnight on New Year’s in Times Square and both parties’ National Conventions and the crowds after a Lady GaGa concert all put together.

“If everyone could please remain calm,” Cap says above the brewing riot-slash-mosh pit, holding up his hands in a soothing, reassuring manner as you reel your jaw back into place and massage your painfully-throbbing toes. “I assure you, there’s no need to panic. For reasons we’re not at liberty to discuss, we’ll be staying here to keep watch on you for the next two hours.”

“Yeah, okay, that’s enough, thanks for the public service announcement,” Tony cuts in wryly, stepping up beside and a little in front of Cap before snapping the faceplate of his armour back to dazzle the room with one of his killer smiles. “Look guys, we’re not here to cramp your style. Everybody just keep doing whatever you were doing, we’re just here for the party. And I mean, really, let’s face it…you kids just scored the coolest, most bad-ass chaperones on the planet. Am I right, or am I right, huh?”

Tony easily gets the laughter and applause and cheers he’s looking for, the shock and sudden tension from moments before ebbing noticeably as the president and CEO of Stark Enterprises works the crowd and sends everyone back to their previous tasks.

“Right. Now you all should just—pretend we’re not here. Go have fun. Maybe learn something. Remember to try to fall on your asses, not your faces. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. And don’t do a lot of things that I would do. Unless you’re 21, which none of you are--except maybe that guy over there with the full beard and the mullet and the Pearl Jam tattoo--so trust me, don’t. Look, just follow the skating rink rules, don’t die, don’t kill each other, and we’ll all be fine, okay? Okay.”

Half the class (mostly girls of course, you note with an inward roll of your eyes) take that as their cue to crowd in and form a tightly-packed cluster around Tony, who just smiles even wider at all the attention. Posting his fists on his hips, he good-naturedly shoots off clever split-second answers to the never-ending flood of eager questions peppering him, demonstrating an easy precision that proves just how much experience he has with dealing with the PR side of things, as well as how little he cares about what anyone else really thinks.

Personally, you’re dying to know what’s going on. If they knew there was going to be a problem here, why didn’t they contact you? That’s what being part of a team is supposed to mean, isn’t it? You may only be a provisional or part-time or non-permanent member or whatever for now since you’re still in high school, but you’re still a member, and this is your school’s field trip, so you still feel like they owe you at least an itsy-bitsy amount of professional courtesy. But all things considered, you can’t exactly not-trust them, though you’re not sure if you can completely not not-trust them either. And for that, you blame Nick Fury. You blame Nick Fury for a lot of things these days, it seems. Of course, he totally deserves it most of the time. And what he doesn’t totally deserve—scratch that, he probably totally deserves all of it. For real. Like, if it somehow turned out that Nick Fury was chief of The Powers That Be behind global warming and El Niño and the hole in the ozone layer and the Roswell-cover up, none of it would surprise you in the least. He is one of those people who Gets Things Done, regardless of how or why or when or what it might cost others or himself, and to be honest you’re not sure if you’re more impressed, suspicious, or just flat out pants-wettingly terrified of the guy. It’s kind of all three at once, although one thing you do know for certain is that you are VERY glad that he’s on your side. Or…what you think is your side, at least, which is not a very comforting thought when the guy in question is about twenty times tougher than Chuck Norris.

Right now, more than anything, you want to go over there and talk to them, to Cap or Tony or even Thor. You know from experience that Hawkeye and Wolverine would most likely just be sarcastic at you, so they don’t make your list of People To Talk To In A Minor(?) Crisis. You’re almost desperate to find out what’s up, why they’re here, if you could--or should--be helping them with something, if you need to suit up. But it’s impossible to get close to them right now without arousing suspicion, and you don’t want one of them blowing your cover on accident, and you really are feeling pretty tired and maybe a little too warm and sort of out of it today, so you just act like nothing’s out of the ordinary and focus on tying the laces of your pretty little princess ice skates.

You catch MJ’s stare out of the corner of your eye and glance up to find her giving you a meaningful look. There’s a wan, greyish cast to her face, you think, and for a moment you wonder if maybe she’s caught whatever this bug is that you might have. Keeping steady eye contact, you give her a tiny and decidedly negative headshake. This doesn’t change anything, you murmur a minute or so later, once you’re sure everyone’s either heading for the ice or too busy swarming Tony to bother with anything you might say. They’d get us all out fast if it was something bad. So…what do you say we have some fun?

Giving your laces one final, satisfied tug, you smile and offer MJ your hand. She arches an eyebrow at you, and as long as you’ve known her, you can literally see her going Star Wars on you and thinking I have a bad feeling about this. And well, to be completely honest you do too, but it’s not your spider sense, it’s just that pit-of-your-stomach oh-no-it’s-Assessment-Day-in-P.E. get-ready-to-run-three-miles-and-then-puke-up-your-guts dread. Totally normal high school fare in the Fear Department. Or maybe your not-really-sick is finally turning into actually-definitely-very-sick, but that still isn’t anything Spidey-related.

It’ll be okay, you say, knowing deep down that she’s not sick at all--just remembering being kidnapped and threatened and almost-dying. Which…isn’t so ‘just’, really, and is actually probably a lot worse than being sick.

Her other eyebrow joins the first, and you can tell she’s less than convinced. But she’s MJ. Without really missing a beat, she exhibits one of the plethora of reasons that you find her so amazing, and why you’re so utterly and hopelessly in love with her and can’t imagine yourself or your life without her around. Despite everything, she stays with you, she takes your outstretched hand and returns your smile, if a little hesitantly at first.

But you change that soon enough.

You haven’t even made it halfway around the arena before your rear introduces itself to the cold, hard, unforgiving surface of the skating rink.

Forcefully.

MJ bites her lip, then gives in and bursts out laughing, and although your delicate little derrière is still smarting from the fall and your head has been spinning ever since you got out on the ice, you can’t help but smile up at her. She has a great laugh, honest and open and full of life, an artlessly joyful sound of pure and unmalicious amusement. And you really can’t blame her for laughing--you do look pretty ridiculous. Especially considering that you’re supposed to be a superhero, and instead you’re almost flat on your back on the ice in a skating rink. (And the sad fact is, you know you’re actually a lot better at skating now that you’re Spider-Man. Before you couldn’t even manage to stand upright on skates outside the rink, much less in. Still, perfect balance or not, all bets are off in a near-frictionless environment like this, and they’re even more off when you’re not feeling quite at 100%. Which means maybe you’ll learn something today after all.)

With some difficulty, three tries, and MJ’s help, you manage to clamber back up onto to your feet. After that you keep an awkward death grip on the wall--with both hands once you wipe out a few more times--at least until you’ve completed a full circuit of the arena without falling again. On your successful completion of another lap, still sticking close but now without clinging to the boards, you decide (pretty prematurely it turns out) that you’re getting the hang of this, and push away from the wall to glide with surprising poise and elegance towards the center of the rink. This isn’t so bad, you start to think when one of your skates hits a deep grove left in the ice by another far more experienced student, and your backside promptly takes the opportunity to reintroduce itself to the ice. Without the wall there for you to use to pull yourself back up, you’re not sure how you’re ever going to get back onto your feet. MJ is hovering nearby, but she weighs a lot less than you and you don’t want to risk pulling her down with you, so you insist on fighting it out yourself, scrabbling about until you regain your (supposedly perfect) balance—and then swiftly losing it again as your spider sense tingles a warning and Flash Thompson barrels into you from behind.

This time there was really nothing you could have done to avoid his attack, aside from some web-slinging, which isn’t even an option in this situation. Flash shoulder-checks you like a pro hockey player, and you almost literally eat ice, sprawling face-first onto the frozen surface. You know there’ll be a rug-burn-like abrasion on your cheek and chin, but you still manage to look on the bright side of things. Flash hadn’t smashed into MJ. You’re pretty sure you didn’t break anything that wasn’t already broken from falling on your fanny upwards of five times. Now that you’re not skidding along any more, the ice actually feels kinda nice on the too-hot skin of your face. And hey, at least the way he hit you knocked you closer to the edge of the rink. With just a few more feet of awkward-looking crawling, you’ll be able to reach the boards again—

“Hey now, I thought I warned you guys about not falling on your faces.”

You bite back the smart-mouthed Spider-Man retort of Oh look, here comes the cavalry. What took ya so long, Wyatt? ‘Cause in case you didn’t notice, things are not so okay at the O.K. Corral and keep your head down like you have zero self-esteem. Like the helpless geek you used to be, and still feel like you are more often than you like. You don’t really need to look up, though; Tony Stark’s voice is unmistakable, as is the sound of those repulsors in his gloves thrumming as they keep him effortlessly aloft over the ice. For just a fragment of a fraction of a second, you allow yourself to hate him just a little for how easy he makes everything look. He doesn’t even have to bother with a secret identity, because he’s so completely convinced that he’s so completely awesome that no one can or will ever lay a finger on him outside of actual superhero fights. Though it probably helps that he doesn’t have any immediate family left alive to protect, or anyone in the world that he loves more than himself, which is a sobering enough thought that suddenly you’re not quite so jealous any more.

“And, you know, I’m pretty sure that I also warned you—” Tony’s attention shifts to Flash, whose smirk has shrunk noticeably from the full-blown toothy predator’s grin it was a second ago “—That killing each other wasn’t allowed. And come on, really? The Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes who are--if you don’t mind my saying so--unparalleled scions of justice and do-gooding, are watching your every move…aaaand you decide the best course of action is to pick on the little guy for no reason. Really? What do you wanna beat up on a guy like this for anyway, huh? I mean, what do you even get out of that? Trust me, there’s nothing impressive about that, about bullies. You wanna prove you’re a tough guy, you do it by doing something that’s actually tough. Find a cure for cancer, defeat Ultron once and for all, single-handedly achieve world peace, build an awesome suit that makes your extremely good-looking and exceptionally intelligent but still totally normal human self into one of the world’s strongest superheroes, so on and so forth. You get me?”

Flash, who looks decidedly green at this point, just ducks his head and mutters something sullen-sounding under his breath and moves off, toadies in tow. Iron Man looks over at you as they go, and you can tell that he wants to offer to help you or maybe just help you up, but you cut him off before he can say or do anything more.

Thanks, you growl as you use the wall to haul yourself back up to your feet yet again, thank you so very much for intervening in an extremely public way and making me number one on Flash’s humiliation list for the rest of my high school career. Your face is burning with both embarrassment and anger, because—you could have handled it. You were handling it, in fact, even if ‘handling it’ in this case meant just taking the punishment yet again. If you’d wanted to handle it differently, if you were Spider-Man right now, if you were allowed to use your powers in your everyday life, you could have taken care of everything in seconds. Instead, everyone had to watch you get rescued like some pathetic loser, which you sort of are but only because it’s a good cover identity. Mostly.

MJ sidles up to help you out of the rink proper and onto the nearest player’s bench, and you’re vaguely surprised that Tony doesn’t toss some sort of snarky quip at you as you go, or try to hit on MJ, or do anything at all really except watch you leave. Once you’re off the ice, your balance is back in full, making MJ’s assistance unnecessary; still, you’re not about to pass up that good of an excuse for a little bit of close contact, even though you could do a gold-medal-worthy Olympic-level gymnastics floor routine in those ice skates now that you’re back on a normal surface. (Okay, maybe only bronze-medal-worthy since you’re still feeling too warm and sorta dizzy and lightheaded, not that you don’t feel that way around MJ a lot of the time, but this is decidedly different and much less pleasant. Also, you think your nose is starting to run. Perfect.)

She sits with you for a while, but you’re already tired and not feeling so hot and don’t want to go back on that ice for anything, and you can tell she does, so you wave her away good-naturedly. You’ll be fine, the Avengers totally have your back so Flash won’t try anything (for now), and you’re bruised but nothing’s really broken except maybe (definitely) your pride and sense of self-worth. You’ll live. Despite the fact that Tony has apparently taken over the sound system, and what sounds a lot like Ke$ha’s latest tooth-gratingly annoying hit single is pumping through roughly fifty sets of speakers all through the building, which is almost enough to make you wish your crushed self-esteem was terminal, and direly so.

MJ is reluctant at first, but you know it’s mostly for your sake, so you insist that she should go have fun already, and before long she’s out there in the middle of the rink with Liz Allan and Gwen Stacy. It’s a pretty picture, watching the three of them skating backwards and making long, gracefully-sweeping turns and laughing together as they dare each other to try a spin or two.

Nice as that is to watch, though, you can’t keep yourself from sneaking an oblique look at the Avengers. Hawkeye and Logan have vanished from sight, you notice that much right away and it sort of makes you feel a little paranoid, knowing they could be anywhere right now…like, really anywhere, including the rafters overhead or lurking in the shadows right behind you right now. Your neck itches a little at the thought, but it’s a completely human reaction, not the DANGER, hit the deck or die a needless and messy death! classic-rock piece your spider sense regularly riffs up your back with your spine as the lead guitar, so you do your best to shrug it off.

Thor is standing in the doorway like some oversized mail-clad security guard, watching the antics of your classmates with open amusement. Tony is already back in the thick of things, chatting people up and answering a question a second and generally showing off. Black Widow and Hulk haven’t shown up at all, so they must be keeping watch outside, or maybe they’re on another assignment altogether. And Cap is…giving you a meaningful sideways look and heading off down a side hall, which the sign posted on the wall nearby states leads to the bathrooms and the staff-only tech room.

Huh.

Aww, isn’t that cute, you think before you can stop yourself. Maybe he wants to go make out. Which is…a mental picture you could’ve done without, actually. Man. Sometimes even you hate your sense of humour.

Still inwardly kicking yourself a little, you head for the hallway, clumping along the way Cap had gone and keeping your balance in the skates so easily, it feels as if you aren’t even wearing them. The hall is only very dimly lit towards the end--it looks like several of the overhead lights have burned out and no one bothered to replace them just yet--and you pause to check back over your shoulder to be sure no one’s following you before passing the bathroom. You’ve already started to reach for the door to the tech room when you notice with an unpleasant jolt of surprise that Clint Barton is standing right there, in the darkest corner at the end of the hallway.

He’s leaning back against the wall, brawny arms crossed over an equally brawny chest, and as always he looks thoroughly unimpressed and maybe just a little annoyed by you, and it suddenly makes sense why so many lights just happened to go out at the end of this hall. You also can’t help but notice that he’s standing close enough that he could’ve reached out and grabbed you by the throat without moving anything other than that one arm. After that enlightening split-second realisation, it takes considerable effort not to jump out of your skin, or at least a foot sideways, or maybe both--if you didn’t know him, if you weren’t who you really are, you wouldn’t have seen him at all. He hasn’t moved a muscle, that perfectly still statue-like sort of motionlessness that only exceptional martial artists or experienced hunters can really pull off.

Suddenly the back of your neck feels really itchy again. You fight down the urge to scratch it, though only with difficulty.

Clint--Hawkeye, really, is who you should probably be thinking of him as, that’s more professional, right?--finally moves when you make eye contact: he smirks. “Damn, kid. I know Fury said you were young, but you really are twelve, aren’t you?” he says with a bit of a sneer as you push your way through the staff-only door. “Better call home and ask your mommy if you can come play with the big kids today.”

You have the perfect comeback quip, a classic ‘Your Mom’ response followed by a jab about Hawkeye being old to match his jab about you being young (yeah, how about I call YOUR mom instead? She told me last night that she hoped I would. And don’t throw out your hip trying to punch me for that joke, grandpa--you old people have no sense of humour), but…someone passing by the hallway might hear you and wonder why you’re mouthing off to a superhero. Especially after most of the class already saw and possibly heard you mouthing off to Iron Man for saving you from Flash Thompson and the Idiot Brigade. You just can’t bring yourself to risk that sort of familiarity again right now, so you bite back your snarking and promise yourself you’ll get him twice as good next time. But you can’t worry about next time right now, and all thoughts of Hawkeye fade away the instant you step through that door, because now…now you’re facing down Steve Rogers, Captain America himself.

You’ve met him before, of course, even worked with him a few times when the Avengers needed some extra help, and once totally by coincidence when your paths happened to cross while you were out patrolling the streets, but he’s still intimidating and awe-inspiring and man oh man part of you still sort of wants to ask him for his autograph. And so, naturally, the only thing you can do is make a joke.

You know, just FYI, you really should’ve at least passed me a note so I could check the ‘yes, I want to go out with you’ option before you dragged me off for our first tryst. Because this is just presumptuous, you chirp with forced levity as you let the door fall shut behind you. Of course, I’m already in a committed relationship, so even if you had asked, I would’ve had to turn you down, sorry. Don’t take it too hard, okay? It’s nothing personal, honest.

Cap doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t even crack a smile, not even one of the fake-but-polite ones you get so often from people with no sense of humour. As he continues to just stand there and look at you, you start to think that you’ve seen friendlier-looking rocks, and you’re not just talking about Ben Grimm, either. Good as you are at maintaining a manic, relentlessly cheerful attitude--and you are a ninth-level black belt at that, thankyouverymuch--you can feel your crooked smile crumbling beneath that no-nonsense stare. Maybe it’s just the ‘Cap Effect’, but you start to feel kinda ashamed of yourself, like maybe you’re not doing everything you should to help people or living the American dream or being all you can be. Or maybe you’re self-conscious because you’re just not dressed nice enough, you think, staring down at the worn cuffs of your slightly-too-short jeans and the grey scuffmarks on the toes of your Barbie-esque rental skates.

(Or maybe you really are sick. Like, really sick. And if that turns out to be the case, you just hope you don’t end up throwing up on Cap’s boots, ‘cause if you did, you think you might literally die of embarrassment.)

Look, uh, all jokes aside, you…really can’t be here, you say, and intimidating as being in Cap’s presence is, you discover (a little unexpectedly) that you’re angry enough about this unexplained intrusion that it’s still a struggle to keep your voice down. You have nothing but respect and admiration and a lot of other good, positive, friendly feelings and things for Steve Rogers, but that doesn’t change the fact that a very important uncrossable line has definitely been crossed here. This—this is my life! My real, non-superhero life. And my real, non-superhero self can’t have the Avengers chaperoning my real, non-superhero field trips.

It might just be your imagination, but you think Cap’s face actually softens just a little at that. “I know,” he says, his voice that strong, rich, but somehow also remarkably gentle tenor you remember so well, “and I’m very sorry about this.” He sounds like really he means it, and you give yourself another inward kick because it’s Cap, so of course he really means it.

Okay, so… you hedge after another few seconds of suddenly-awkward silence pass with Cap still just Looking at you. Do you wanna tell me why you guys are here? Or did Nick Fury give you guys more orders to ‘protect me’ by not telling me anything that’s actually helpful, so I can be totally in the dark if-slash-when things go terribly wrong and have NO idea how to defend myself from whatever or whoever it is he’s worried about this time? ‘Cause that is totally the best way to keep me safe.

One corner of Cap’s mouth might have twitched upwards just a little at that, which you take as a huge personal victory. (You will get a real smile or even an honest laugh out of him someday, you promise yourself that much right then and there.) That Look he’s giving you becomes a tad more contemplative, and you can tell that what you said makes a lot of sense to him, regardless of what kind of orders he might have been given. Cap is big on following orders, but he also knows that The Rules aren’t infallible, and that sometimes bending them is necessary, even The Right Thing to do.

“…You’re right. You do deserve to be told what’s going on.”

You suddenly realise that you’ve been standing at attention--shoulders back, feet together, arms at your sides, chin up--this whole time, and as those clear blue eyes continue to weigh on you, your posture only stiffens, despite how much the rigid stance makes your already-aching body ache even more.

“The reason we’re here—”

Predictably, before he can say another word, your spider sense goes absolutely nuts. By now reacting to it is reflex; without even thinking, you grab Cap by the arm and jerk him along after you as you dive to the side and roll to press both of you flat against the wall by the door.

And not a moment too soon. Half an instant later, the whole outside-facing wall all but explodes in a shower of sparks, brick-dust, and drywall.

You cough and choke on the dust, wishing that you were wearing your mask, then as the dust settles, you can make out a huge, grey-streaked-with-drywall but still decidedly green arm lying maybe two feet away from the tangle of limbs that is currently you and Captain America. That’s when you realise that you’re all but on top of Cap--your arms are kinda around his ribs, and if you laid your head down right now it would rest comfortably on that star in the center of his chest--and he’s looking up at you like he’s grateful for the save but still not quite sure why you aren’t moving away already. Which is embarrassing for more than one reason, especially after all your joking earlier. Leaving further joking as your only real recourse.

Uh…hi, you venture after a beat of rather uncomfortable silence. Come here often?

His blink is a little confused now, but you’re not paying attention to that any more, because at the moment you’re more worried about getting free of him and the remnants of the wall and the still-sparking electrical system without accidentally jamming an ice skate somewhere unfortunate. By the time you’ve managed to disentangle yourself from everything and everyone (including yourself, since the blade of one of your skates had gotten caught in the ragged edge of the other leg your jeans), Hulk has recovered as well and is moving again, which…undoubtedly means further property damage and/or falling building pieces, so you’re not entirely sure that’s a good thing.

(On the bright side, at least the sound system isn’t working any more. Because honestly, if you’d had to endure one more minute of “Take It Off”, you might’ve done a bit of Hulk-smashing yourself.)

Before you can voice any of that aloud, though, Cap’s earpiece crackles, and close as you’re still sitting, you hear Black Widow’s voice loud and clear as she informs Cap that they’re under attack.

Uhm, yeah, you wheeze out, coughing into your shirt sleeve as you watch Hulk pry himself loose from the wall and the floor and all the buzzing, smoking consoles, then snarl and hurl himself back out the hole he’d just made, I think we got that much, thanks.

“SitRep now, please,” Cap says briskly, ignoring your customary wiseass comment. “What’s going on out there, Natasha?”

“About what we expected. We’ve got fifty or so Doombots, 1237, closing in from all sides, over.”

“Copy that. Hold your position, I’ll come back you up.”

Doombots? Seriously? you find yourself saying, your tone incredulous. You’re serious. Doombots are attacking New York City.

“No,” Cap says over his shoulder as he climbs out through the skating rink’s new extra-wide back exit, courtesy of Hulk Demolitions Inc. “Not New York City. Just here. Stay inside for now, and protect the kids,” he calls back, that last sentence addressed mostly to Hawkeye, who is unperturbedly surveying the wreckage from the doorway and looking none too pleased at the idea of continued babysitting.

Hawkeye quirks an eyebrow at you as he turns to head back down the hallway. “Well, what are you waiting for, kid? For someone to yell ‘Avengers Assemble’? Suit up!”

You try to hurry after him, but you’re still in your skates, which makes navigating the piles of rubble between you and that doorway challenging; your ears are still ringing and the room doesn’t seem quite stable either, which makes ‘challenging’ into something closer to ‘impossible’. Unfortunately, just taking the skates off isn’t an option; you weren’t really paying attention to what knots you tied when you were putting them on, and thanks to your three-and-a-half years as a Cub Scout, now the laces are hopelessly knotted in about six different ways. Each. Your eyes don’t want to focus on them anyway, what with the way the room is spinning, and while you’re wearing your suit under your clothes like usual, you have to get your mask out of your backpack before you can fully suit up anyway. And your bag, if you’re not mistaken, is safely stowed in one of the skating rink’s rental lockers.

Plus…you can’t get your skates off, which means you can’t really get your pants off either. And while a full-body stocking might not exactly be the height of fashion, wearing jeans over that full-body stocking is definitely not the look you’re going for. But first things first, and getting your mask is the first thing in this situation. Anyway, if push comes to shove, you know full well that you’ll choose saving people over your personal pride, and you’re still Spider-Man, jeans or not. (You just really, really hope that no one gets lucky and snaps a picture of that fashion faux pas. Because that is definitely not something that needs to be immortalized, and absolutely not something that you want to see on the front page of the Daily Bugle beneath another of J. Jonah Jameson’s snarky headlines.)

After a quick stop in the bathroom to clean off the worst of the plaster-dust and grime, you finally manage to stumble your way back to the lobby area of the skating rink…just in time to hear Tony making another announcement.

Part of you--the part that isn’t feeling too sluggish and tired to care about anything anymore, which you’re not entirely sure is most of you at the moment--is glad to see that all the Avengers present didn’t simply rush outside to face the Doombots. Thor is gone, but you’re surprised to see that Wolverine stuck around, and Hawkeye is standing there just a little in front of you (beside you, once you take a few more hobbling steps). Iron Man stayed too, but that doesn’t surprise you; Tony loves an audience, and would never willingly miss out on a chance to play the Ringmaster in the off-the-wall Bizarro Circus that your life insists on being more often than not lately.

“All right guys, everybody looking up here. C’mon, just for a minute let’s have no cell phones, no video games, no iPods, no canoodling. All eyes on me please, that’s really not such an unreasonable request. Look—look right here—do I have all those eyes? Good. Great. Beautiful. Okay now, listen up. Once I’m done talking, you’re all gonna go put your shoes back on and get your stuff together, no questions asked. With as little talking as possible, please. We’re getting you all out of here in five. And if you’re worried about that explosion a few minutes ago—don’t be. The Avengers are on the job, people. We’re handling things, so do yourselves a favour and don’t panic, because there’s nothing to panic about.”

“Yet,” Hawkeye mutters under his breath next to you.

You kind of want to say something sarcastic to him, if only because that’s what you always do, plus you still owe him that ‘next time’ from before. But right now your head is spinning way too much for you to really see straight, much less think straight, though you still have enough presence of mind to recall that you can’t risk being overheard by your classmates.

Besides, you have a locker to get to and a mask to retrieve.

Tony’s stopped talking (wonder of wonders) and your classmates are now milling around the room, half-excited, half-terrified little clusters of people flitting here and there. Under the watchful gaze of Hawkeye and Wolverine, they all move with a forced sort of calm to retrieve their backpacks and trade in their rental skates for their street shoes. You fall in at the end of the line going for their bags, and before you know it, you’re the only one there in that particular (distinctly secluded) section of lockers.

The locker area is even more deserted by the time you manage to get the key in the lock and turn it the right way and pull the door open all at once; usually it would be no problem, but your head feels heavy and your eyelids are feeling even heavier and it’s no easier to focus now than it was earlier. Maybe you got a concussion or something when you almost got Hulk-smashed a few minutes ago—your ears are still ringing from it all, and you muffle another cough in your shirtsleeve.

But finally the locker is open and your bag is in your hand and you’re in here alone now, so it seems like the perfect time to sit down for just a second, try to clear your head, and work out exactly what is happening right now and why.

You’d tried to figure all of this out back in the bathroom as you cleaned yourself up a little, but you’re still at a loss. You have no earthly idea why Doom would want to attack a skating rink of all places, but then again since when does anything Doom does really make sense if you think about it? The guy is clearly more than one flying buttress short of a cathedral, and even judging by what little you saw of Latveria when you ended up there last month on a mission with the Avengers, there are a lot of cathedral-esque buildings in there to be missing buttresses.

Heck, the fact that this place was named ‘Richards Skating Rink’ might’ve been enough to set him off, who knew.

“…Not interruptin’ anything, am I, kid?”

You give a start and try to spin around at the sudden voice speaking almost right behind you, your turn so quick and violent that you wind up sprawled on the floor. Even once your body’s stopped moving, the world stays a blur for a few seconds until you force your eyes to focus, at which point you find yourself looking up into the ruggedly calm and decidedly cynical face of Wolverine.

The floor feels so gloriously cool against your back, and for an instant or two you fight the urge to just close your eyes and let your head fall back onto the tile, because--because hell, the Avengers are already here and you’re pretty sure they can handle whatever-this-is equally well with or without your help. You haven’t even fought anything yet and already you feel like you’ve spent the whole day hauling runaway trains to a stop, plus you’re still dizzy and are starting to feel way too hot and almost uncomfortable in your own skin, and you’re pretty sure no one will notice if you just sit this one out. Still, some innate instinct, some inborn, unconscious sense of self-preservation keeps you from lowering your guard completely around someone like Wolverine, who is undeniably a Predator with a capital P. So while you do let the back of your skull rest on the floor for now, you keep your eyes open.

Just five more minutes, Mom, you say (or slur, morelike, though it can’t be that bad because Logan doesn’t pick up on it).

“What the hell’s wrong with you today, webhead? Not that somethin’ ain’t always wrong with you.” He’s looking at you very closely, one eyebrow quirked, and he’s tilting his head just slightly to the side like he’s listening for something; a second later you can hear him sniffing suspiciously, and if he’s checking for drugs or alcohol then he is SOL because you don’t touch any sort of either one of them, you are now and always have been squeaky-clean. Super-senses or not, you doubt he’ll be able to smell much other than metal and rust and sweaty socks and maybe a half-dozen different kinds of cheap cologne and aftershave--a bunch of highschoolers just came through here, after all. And what the heck does a cold (which is probably what you’ve got, unless it’s the flu which would suck since midterms are coming up) smell like anyway?

You realise just a little too late that your mouth is doing that thing where it moves without really checking in with your brain first—which is fine during a fight when you want to rile the other guy up, but is probably not nearly so helpful in terms of prolonging your life expectancy when it’s directed at one of your teammates. Specifically one with a very short temper and very long claws, and little to no compunctions about putting those claws to use on people who annoy him.

But even knowing all of that isn’t enough to keep you quiet for once. Are you accusing me of lying down on the job? you hear yourself say, and if you could convince any part your body other than your eyelids to move right now, you’d probably kick yourself outwardly every bit as hard as you are inwardly. (Seriously, at this rate your inner self is gonna be sporting an impressive collection of bruises by the time the day’s over.)

Wolverine snorts, his eyes narrowing, and now you think you know how an antelope feels the instant before the lion’s teeth close around its neck. “This ain’t the time to try bein’ cute--which, by the way, you are not. At all. Ever. So shut up and get onto your feet and into your goddamn suit already.”

Uhhh, about that, you start, and before long you’ve explained your situation with the skates, and thus your pants, in full. Through it all Logan’s skeptical expression has only intensified, moving from vague disbelief to outright irritation.

“Kid,” he growls, and you can’t help but notice how his fists have clenched at his sides, and also how that makes all of those very visible muscles and tendons and blood vessels on his arms stand out even more than usual, though understandably your attention is for the most part focused on his knuckles. “If you’re so goddamn helpless that you can’t even show a fuckin’ pair of pants who’s boss, you ain’t never gonna make it as a superhero. Ya hear me?”

Yep. And I also heard that you owe the swear jar three quarters. At least.

Your heart--or was it your stomach, or maybe it was both--gives an unpleasant lurch at that chilling and all-too-familiar snikt! You’re momentarily frozen in place, unconcealed wide-eyed horror on your face as Wolverine steps towards you, one claw out on his bloody right hand, and in the half-second it takes you to shake off that mindless terror, he’s already got ahold of one of your ankles.

H-HEY! Wait a minute—! you start to stutter, wondering if your imminent grisly death will hurt more or less if you struggle, and if you have any chance whatsoever of escape or if that’ll just make him angrier than he is already, and also wondering why the hell your spider sense didn’t see fit to warn you about this.

“Don’t get yer panties in a twist, Webs,” Logan grunts, and the sheer number of teeth in the lopsided smirk he flashes you makes it far from comforting. “Ain’t gonna hurt ya if I can help it. Just be sure you hold real still…”

--

Denim vs. adamantium is no contest. At first you’re so irritated with Logan, you almost think you might spontaneously combust from the sheer force of your annoyance, though ultimately you decide that losing your jeans but keeping your pride (well, sort of) and your life is an acceptable exchange. The only downside is that you’re still stuck in those ever-so-pretty ice skates. Which is more than a little exasperating, because you’d kind of really totally expected the skates to go the same way as your pants. And yeah, okay, you’d hoped for it a little, too. You were relieved, convinced it was going to happen, until Hawkeye had appeared just as Logan (who was being surprisingly careful, almost gentle) was finishing up cutting your pants off of you.

“…Oh, God. I did not need to see this. You know he’s like, twelve, right? Is this why you hang around that upstate boarding school so much?”

“Shut yer yap, Barton, or you’ll be next.”

“There is no way in hell I would ever let you cut any piece of clothing off of my body.”

“That right? Well, the way you’re actin’ lately, bub, I wouldn’t cut a straitjacket offa you if you were on fire in the middle of the desert at high noon.”

Just then the final few inches of denim still lopsidedly holding your jeans up had separated, and you’d pulled on your mask and pulled off your t-shirt—and by that time, Clint was grumbling something about everyone shutting up and getting a move on as he vanished back out into the lobby of the skating rink, Logan close behind tossing back a “Sorry kid, outta time,” over his shoulder as he went.

You know that he probably could’ve made time if he’d wanted to, but the wolfish smile Logan had flashed you as he left warned you that complaints would not be well-received, that he was leaving you to deal with this particular mess yourself. You got yourself into this one, kid. So let’s see you get yourself out.

You spend a few minutes wrestling with those knots, or even just trying to slip your feet out of the skates without untying them at all, but to no avail; the laces remain a hopelessly tangled mess, and they’re drawn too tight and the skates themselves were a little small to begin with, so you can see that it’s a lost cause.

By the time you give up and go join the others, the whole place has already been cleared out. The Avengers have already whisked the other students off and dropped them off in groups at the nearest subway stations, since the Midtown High buses you came in were totaled by Doombots (which is bad, unless they were insured, but still--Doombots destroyed your school bus, how cool is that).

There’s a text on your phone from MJ, and another from Gwen, both saying that they’re safe and on the subway and halfway home by now, but they expect to hear from you later this afternoon to be sure you’re okay. Tempting as it is to call right now, you smile a goofy smile at the screen and tuck your phone away. Focus, you tell yourself as you step outside and swing yourself to the roof across the street, on the lookout for both Doombots and your teammates; when you catch sight of Thor and Tony heading in the same direction, you tag along. Be an Avenger now. Do the dorky teenager-in-love thing later.

You’re still desperately hot, even in your thin body-stocking, but your head is a little clearer once you leave the skating rink behind, maybe thanks to the cool, (relatively) fresh outside air. Plus, you also get the once-in-a-lifetime chance to smash a leftover Doombot or two (or five) to bits with your ice skates, which is pretty epic even for you. You’re feeling almost cheerful afterwards, if still way more sluggish than usual, but you don’t have much trouble following the others to the top of a nearby building to regroup. The only trouble you do have can be blamed on your (+15 to Doombot-trashing, -40 to wall-climbing) ice skates, but you still manage, even if you are the last one there. And as it turns out, you swing yourself over the edge of the roof just in time to hear Hawkeye say, “Yeah, so why should we have to stick our necks out for Typhoid Mary over there?”

The main thing you know about Hawkeye, aside from just how good he is with those trademark purple arrows of his (and just how much of a jerk he can be when he wants to, which is most of the time as far as you can tell), is that he likes to argue. He especially likes to argue with authority figures. And out of every authority figure out there in the whole world, most of all he likes to argue with Cap. Heck, you’re not even on this team full-time and you’ve still seen him try to pick fights with Cap about things like…which side of the street they should walk on. Or whether ‘real New Yorkers’ cheered for the Yankees or the Mets. Or whether ham or turkey was better. Really, really ridiculous stuff like that. That’s not to say the arguments never made any sort of sense, but aside from being super-strong and super-tough, Cap is also super-smart and an excellent tactician to boot, so he almost always has good, logical reasons for pretty much everything he does when it comes to Avengers missions.

“Technically you can’t call him that,” Tony comments with deceptive nonchalance. He likes to argue, too, but mostly he just likes to prove people wrong, or piss them off by proving he’s right, or (best of all) both. And someone like Hawkeye, whose temper gets the better of him pretty often, is an easy mark for someone like Tony, who only thinks clearer and gets snarkier when someone makes him mad. “Kid looked pretty sick back there, after all.”

“…What?”

“ ‘Typhoid Mary’,” Tony says in what is obviously his overly-patient talking-to-idiots voice. “It actually means the person is a disease carrier, and isn’t sick themselves—”

“Not important,” Black Widow cuts in, shooting Tony a flat look that you can’t quite call a glare, but only because it’s so devoid of any real emotion at all. “The report says he’s not contagious.”

“Oh, well then, of course that makes it totally true.”

Hawkeye freezes as Black Widow shifts her level stare from an appreciably subdued Tony over to him, and for a second or two it’s almost like a staring contest, though after all the years you’ve known MJ, you know how this goes. Sure enough, Hawkeye looks away after less than three seconds (ohhh yeah, who called it?), and though he still doesn’t look all that happy about things, he stays quiet. For now.

“Hawkeye’s got a point,” Logan admits, angling a speculative look up at Cap. “Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. and in my case the whole damn government ain’t got such a great track record when it comes to tellin’ the truth so far as I’m concerned. If the kid ain’t contagious, why the hell is Doom after him?”

Black Widow does a slow scan of every face in the circle; her eyes find you last, and stay there, much to your discomfort. “Fury is a hard read, but from what I can tell, he’s not really certain that Spider-Man isn’t contagious.”

Cap nods his agreement. “Which means Doom could be playing one of his mental chess-games again. He knows that if we knew he was going after Spider-Man, we’d all rush to protect him…and get infected ourselves in the process.”

There’s one of those long stretches of silence where everyone just sort of looks at each other, like they’re checking to be sure that everyone else heard the same thing they did and they aren’t just going crazy. You still don’t even know what’s going on or what anyone’s talking about at all, except that it’s plainly something big and just as plainly something to do with you, Doom is after you, and you’d ask about it but your mouth is so dry, it might as well be stuck together with crazy glue and suddenly you’re feeling really dizzy again. Finally—

“That doesn’t make any goddamn sense,” Hawkeye grits out, gloved fists clenching at his side hard and sudden enough to make the leather squeak audibly. “If that’s true, why the hell would Fury send us here?! Chess-game my ass—I’m not gonna just sit here and let him move me around like some sort of brainless pawn. I didn’t sign up to babysit, I signed up to fight, and that’s what I’m gonna do!”

A prickly sort of too-hot sensation has crept up over your whole body by now, which makes it almost impossible to think or process anything that you’ve heard, so you’re still not 100% certain what’s going on here, but even so, you can sense trouble brewing. Tony’s always looking for a chance to mess with people, and the tightness around his mouth and that line forming between Cap’s eyebrows are sure signs that the First Avenger has had just about as much of Hawkeye’s insubordinate attitude today as he can stand, which means that Clint is in for a stern talking-to that will doubtless lead to a mutual bawling out. You’re pretty sure that neither option will help the teamwork factor, and since there are probably still Doombots around...that’s just not gonna fly.

So you decide to say something before Tony or Cap can. Doesn’t particularly matter what you talk about, you know, so long as it distracts the others long enough for that perfect Hawkeye-nailing moment to pass by.

And so you pipe up to helpfully point out that well, maybe there isn’t really any plan like that at all. Maybe Doom just wants you to think there’s a plan, when there actually isn’t, so you’ll all start fighting and not work together or pay attention, thus leaving his target (which is apparently you) alone to be snatched away or whatever. Or...maybe Doom has just lost his marbles. Again. And he probably doesn’t even have a bag to keep them in, considering how often that seems to happen. So there’s a great gift idea for whoever gets him for Secret Santa next Christmas.

You shut up after that, and not because you can really feel that unnerving Black Widow stare boring into you, or because Logan’s already rolling his eyes and giving you that unmistakable look of jeez kid, don’t you ever shut up? Okay, maybe it’s a little to do with that, but mostly it’s because everyone is looking at you now and these are the Avengers and you’re standing there in your pink-and-white rental ice-skates cracking jokes while they just stare at you, almost seeming to look right past you.

You start to open your mouth to say something else, hopefully something stunning and brilliant that will win their trust and ensure you a spot on their team in a few years, but all that comes out is a low, startled oof! as Captain America--Captain America pinch yourself no you’re not dreaming--suddenly tackles you full-force.

Part of you wonders if this is payback from you tackling him earlier, because it’s like being hit with a sledgehammer, or a freight train, or maybe a freight train loaded with sledgehammers, and for that half-instant that you see stars and can’t seem to remember how to breathe you almost feel a little sorry for all those HYDRA mooks Cap’s always trashing. In the next half-instant, a veritable hailstorm of bullets and laser-beams and chips of brick from the walls fill the air, and you realise that they all were, in fact, looking right past you, but not because of anything you’d said. They were staring at the next oncoming wave of Doombots.

We’ve really gotta stop meeting like this, is what you find yourself saying to Cap the instant you remember both how to breathe and how to talk, and for a few seconds your dearest wish is to cram your own foot into your mouth, skate and all, because even that could not be nearly as painful as making an utter ass of yourself in front of Cap this many times in one day.

Cap doesn’t dignify that with any sort of response, or maybe he just didn’t hear you, focused as he is at the moment on—

—On flinging you a good fifteen feet through the air what the hell (helloooo, Fastball Special!) straight at Iron Man, who snatches you up with practised ease and drapes your limp body over one of his shoulders like a beach towel. You feel one of those metal arms clamp tight over your waist, pinning you in place before you can even think about struggling free, and even the half-mechanized voice his suit gives him can’t hide the chuckle in his voice or his far-too-cheerful tone as he says, “Hold on, kid!” You do so automatically, and are just starting an attempt to turn around to give some sort of smart-aleck-y reply when Tony throws his suit into high gear, or whatever he calls it when he makes it go really, really fast. Like, sonic-boom fast. At which point it’s all you can do to hang on and not wet your pants or throw up down Tony’s back and be glad that going this fast means that this can’t last for too long.

…Unless Tony’s supposed to take you somewhere far away from New York City. You decide in a hurry that you’d better not to think about that right now, because Tony’s started rolling and dodging and weaving for no good reason that you can figure out (other than maybe just his general need to show off and troll people), and suddenly hanging on is the only thing you can let yourself think about.

--

You’ve been to the Baxter Building before, of course--it’s a standard field trip location for elementary school kids, after all--but never quite like this. Since becoming Spider-Man, you’ve been up to these top-secret levels a few times and gotten to see where all the cool stuff really gets done, but this time is way different even from that. Before, you’d always been outside of the giant glass test-tube; it had only ever been MJ or Gwen or one of those freaky clones of yourself on the inside.

Now, you’re the test subject.

Tony had dumped you off and left with hardly a word, though first he’d submitted to a decontamination shower just in case, and you’ve been standing in here waiting ever since. Your backpack and your mask and your suit are already gone, though you’d managed to keep a hold of your cellphone long enough to call both MJ and Aunt May; the former had told you that yes, she and Gwen and Liz all got away 120% safe and were all at her house right now for an impromptu sleepover, and the latter gave her hesitant permission for you to stay out extra late tonight since you’re ‘busy working on a special project with some friends.’

You’d only just told her that you love her (and promised to call her if you end up staying the night at someone else’s house) when one of Dr. Richards’ hyper-extended (gloved) hands had gently pried the phone away. Which had left you utterly alone in this miniature isolation ward-slash-oversized test-tube, which was not at all surprising since that’s the whole point of isolation wards in the first place.

To make things even better, with your suit gone you’re also naked, save for your lucky dark blue boxers, which you’ve decided can’t possibly be as lucky as you once thought they were, though they are still less embarrassing than the pink and purple polka-dots or the ones with the little dinosaurs would have been, so you’re glad you wore them today anyway, lucky or not. On the plus side, they did finally get those friggin’ ice skates off you, and with no fuss either. When her husband had moved in close to double-check your vitals, Sue Storm (or…technically it’s ‘Sue Richards’ now, right, or is it ‘Sue Storm Richards’), just snatched a pair of normal office-supply-store-issue scissors from a nearby desk and passed them to Dr. Richards, and within a few seconds you were free, and oh my GOD if you ever get out of here, you are absolutely going to kill Wolverine for leaving you in those ridiculous things like that.

Well. Kill him, or web his butt to the pinnacle of the Empire State Building and leave him there for a few hours, either/or. Maybe both.

Anyway, it looks like you’ll have plenty of time to make up your mind about that, because you’re definitely not out of here yet, nor do you have even the most remote idea when (or if) you will be. After maybe five minutes, you decide that you don’t really like this kind of ‘alone time,’ because now that you’re not being tackled, shot at, pantsed (which now that you think about it actually happened twice, thank you so much Logan), bodily flung through the air, semi-kidnapped, or almost-Hulk-smashed, you finally have the time to take stock of your current physical condition. Which immediately makes you wish you hadn’t, because you’re really not feeling so hot. Or actually, you are feeling hot, which is a big part of the problem. You can see some of the computers’ readout screens from where you’re standing (…okay, half-sitting, half-slumping back against the glass wall of your test-tube), and you’re no doctor, but you still know that 40.5° C/104.9° F is Really Not So Good.

Finally, after you've been in there long enough to have lost all sense of time, Dr. Richards comes back. You get a decontamination shower just like Iron Man’s, then as expected you’re poked and prodded and have all sorts of painful and unpleasant or just mortifyingly awkward samples taken, and then you’re asked a bunch of questions. You do your best to answer, though part of you really wishes you could be on the other side of the glass, because you’ve never gotten your fill of looking at all these machines and this is the closest you’ve ever been to them, so it sorta sucks that you can only see so much from where you are.

What’s the prognosis, Doc? you try to chirp, though you’re currently feeling way more light-headed than light-hearted. Dr. Richards looks up from taping down an IV needle and gives you a reassuring smile.

“It’s nothing to worry about, Peter. This solution should rehydrate you somewhat, as well combat the virus itself. We ran every test we could think of, and it turns out you aren’t contagious to other humans or most superheroes as far as we can tell. It looks like it’s a much more species-specific virus than that, so interestingly enough, you never even have been contagious to most people…but since it’s a Doom Virus, we thought it best to err on the side of caution for now, which is why you’re still in this tube.”

DOOM VIRUS? you yelp inwardly, but can’t find the breath or the energy to say aloud before Dr. Richards finishes checking your IV and disappears from view. So it turns out that you aren’t not-really-sick or even actually-definitely-very-sick, because you don’t have a cold or the flu or strep or mono or anything normal. No, you have a VIRUS OF DOOM. Oh. Well, great. That definitely sounds Full of Safe. Nothing to worry about at all, really, just a small case of DOOM!

You’re not sure whether you want to laugh or cry, it’s just so ridiculous-sounding, but you’ve just about settled on laughing when whatever kind of drugs Dr. Richards added to your IV drip kick in, and you kind of check out for a few hours.

--

When the world swims back into full-focus, the IV is gone, and you’ve got a Donald Duck band-aid over the place where it used to be. There’s Pluto and Goofy ones further up your arm, another Donald Duck on your side over a cut you don’t even remember getting, and two more over those scrapes on your cheek and jaw from the skating rink; you can’t really see what’s on those ones, though judging by the vague reflection in the glass, they’re either Mickey or Minnie. For maybe a minute, you just stare at them in disbelief before it clicks as to why the Fantastic Four would use band-aids with cartoon characters on them: oh, Franklin and Valeria. Right.

You’re still alone in that jumbo test-tube, and there’s no one around outside so far as you can see, but although you’re still not feeling all that good, according to the readouts you can actually see, your fever’s gone way down, back to normal levels. Now that your body’s not trying to cook itself from the inside out in an effort to fight off that Doom Virus, you realise how cold it really is in here. And that makes it feel like time is passing even more slowly than it does in study hall when you’ve already done all your homework and worked ahead and MJ’s absent or else sitting too far away to pass notes to. Ugh. Boring. So you try to amuse yourself with some super-serious and highly scientific ways of passing the time. Like…counting the number of consoles. Counting the number of buttons and dials on all the consoles. Counting all the visible screws in all the consoles and estimating how many more you can’t see. Sighing really loudly and hoping someone is listening and will come let you out or at least give you blanket and talk to you about what the hell is going on. Reconfiguring the build of your web-shooters in your mind to allow them to hold more web fluid. Sighing really loudly again. Seeing how far up the smooth glass walls of your ginormous test-tube prison you can get before slipping and sliding back down to the bottom. Another sigh. Another fifty-eight failed attempts at climbing to the top of your curved-glass cage. Studying your fingertips and memorising each arch and whorl in your fingerprints.

Fascinating as all of that is, at some point you happen to look up…and find Cap standing there on the other side of the glass.

For a second you don’t really believe it--maybe your fever’s back or suddenly got way worse and you’re hallucinating, or maybe you dropped off to sleep again--but the former IV site at your wrist and the crook of your arm where they drew all that blood twinge when you raise your hand to press it against the glass, and you blink and Cap’s still there.

You blink again, reflexively opening your mouth to say something obnoxious like hey there, how you doin’, but this time Cap beats you to the punch.

“Peter. I know you must have questions—”

Yeah, well, if wanting to know what’s going on means someone’s gonna throw the Hulk at me again…I think I’ll pass on that, thanks you say. You’re feeling more than a little snippy, because according to that wall clock you’ve been here for about seven hours now and not only is it cold, you’ve had what feels like a good fourth of your blood drawn and you were already feeling dizzy before that, and the blood loss is decidedly Not Helping. Plus you’re hungry and tired and even if your temperature is normal now, having a fever as high as you did for as long as you did still really took it out of you. And cool as the idea of a one-on-one heart-to-heart chat with Cap is, right now you just want to go home.

…Okay, actually, you want your stuff back, and an extra-large pepperoni pizza, and a hot shower that doesn’t involve decontamination foam, then you want to go home and sleep for a year. Getting home via some safe and comfortable method of transportation that you don’t have to pay for or pay attention during would be nice too, but after the day you’ve had, you don’t dare get your hopes up that much. Even the pizza is probably pushing it.

Cap doesn’t take offense, though it’s probably pretty hard for a seasoned war veteran to get seriously mad at a skinny, half-naked sick kid stuck in a humongous test-tube who’s sporting half-a-dozen band-aids with Disney characters on them. He just gives you a contrite, deeply apologetic look, then turns to Dr. Richards, who seems to have suddenly appeared out of nowhere, which is weird because you thought that was his wife’s trick, not his.

“Not contagious, and well on the way to recovery,” Dr. Richards pronounces after taking and examining one last blood sample. “Nothing to worry about.”

So they finally let you out of the gigantic test-tube, and Sue’s right there to give you some clothes to change into (Johnny’s, judging by the profusion of Abercrombie and American Eagle labels as well as the scent of the cologne still clinging to them) as well as a mug of hot broth. It’s not an extra-large pepperoni pizza, but hey, it’s warm and free and you’re a teenager and you are starving. You’ll take it.

After that, Sue and Richards both quickly clear out, leaving Cap alone with you and your supposedly-not-contagious-to-humans Doom Virus and all those machines.

Yet again there’s an awkward silence, but this time you actually manage to not fill that conversational dead space with totally-joking-but-still-inappropriate pick-up lines that would definitely only further bewilder Cap, and also probably make you wish Dr. Richards had placed you in some sort of serious lock-down quarantine for the rest of your natural life, or that the Doom Virus--or is it ‘Virus of Doom,’ because either way sounds equally melodramatic and therefore terrible--had proved mercifully lethal.

You can see from his expression that Cap really wants to apologise, but at the same time he above all people knows that actions speak louder than words, and after all the actions taken around you or done to you today, a simple I’m sorry isn’t going to do much for anyone. Instead, he simply bows his head slightly and starts explaining.

He tells you that Doom was attacking New York City in general and Queens in particular because he wanted a sample of the virus you’re carrying—a virus you’d happened to pick up when you’d helped the Avengers on that mission to Latveria the month before, when you’d very literally crashed one of Doom’s more sketchy-sounding laboratories. Dr. Richards’ tests had confirmed that it was a virus that only affected arthropods…or in this case, anyone carrying arthropod DNA.

(…You take a second to think that over, because let’s see, that means you, and Jessica Drew, and probably not Eddie, and gosh, who else, Carol Danvers and that one kid from the Young Avengers and Noh-Varr and Captain Marvel and holycrap the whole Kree Empire, what the heck was Doom planning here and did anyone else make this same connection, surely they must have, though even if they didn’t maybe it’s not so important anymore since soon this virus will be gone from your body…uh, at least you hope it will…)

As Cap goes on about month-long incubation periods and cross-species transmission and antiviral drugs and virucides (since it is a virus, and therefore antibiotics won’t work on it) and Doom’s apparent plan to get a blood sample from you and then probably take a page out of Stryfe’s book and create something similar to the Legacy Virus (for the Kree, you add silently), you just listen without a word and fight back any and all sense of disbelief, because this is Cap. Nick Fury might lie to you to protect you or if it furthered one of his plans or it if kept someone else safe, and Tony might lie to you to be funny or sneaky or just because he felt like it, and even Dr. Richards might lie to you if Nick Fury told him to; but Captain America isn’t going to lie to you, of that you are wholeheartedly certain. Which means everything he’s saying about averting possible future pandemics and the Avengers (read: Bruce Banner and Hank Pym) not being able to find a treatment for the virus that didn’t have a chance of turning you big and green and angry or else just big and then small and then big again (which is why, thankfully, you’re here with Dr. Richards instead) and even about Doom specifically targeting you…is absolutely and unequivocally true.

…Ohhh yeah, the Bizarro Circus is totally back in town. You really don’t know why anything surprises you anymore.

“…So since we couldn’t treat you, but Fury told us that you weren’t contagious--don’t ask me how he figured that one out, I doubt either of us really wants to know--we thought we’d have to wait for you to beat this thing on your own. We’d just have to keep Doom away from you until you had, or else bring you here if it looked like you weren’t getting any better.” The skin around Cap’s eyes relaxes visibly, his gaze softening just slightly. “You have Tony to thank on that one. He’s the one who decided you were really looking rough, and that bringing you here was your best bet.”

Ahh, the bromance. Well, if Cap and Tony could get to be BFFs after the kind of rocky start they got off to, maybe there’s hope for you and Hawkeye yet. (…And Cap and Hawkeye, and Tony and Hawkeye, and…well, mostly just Hawkeye in general, though he seems to get along well enough with Dr. Banner and Thor. And Natasha too, but then, what healthy red-blooded male wouldn’t try his best to get along well with her?)

You allow a few moments of silence to descend on you while you make doubly sure that you understand everything and have put all the pieces into place before you look up at Cap and slowly say, Okaaaaay, so…why all the secrets? Why didn’t you just tell me all this from the start?

“Most of us wanted to, but Nick Fury was decidedly firm on the point of…‘Letting You Live Your Life’,” he says with an obvious pause and even more obvious skepticism. You can hear the quotation marks and capital letters in those last five words, and it’s easy to tell they’re Fury’s, not Cap’s.

…Reeeeeally now, you deadpan, looking at him sideways as your eyebrows make a pretty impressive attempt to hit your hairline. ‘Cause you know, crashing field trips is not exactly ‘Letting Me Live My Life.’ You’re careful to keep those way-obvious quotes and capital letters in that phrase as well, and it earns another of those corner-of-the-mouth twitches as Cap (no, right now he’s not just a teammate, he’s a friend, and what’s more he’s your friend, so he’s ‘Steve’) fights the urge to smile. So you decide to go in for the kill.

I mean, it all came out okay this time, so there’s no hard feelings. But I draw the line at you guys showing up for ‘Bring Your Most Involved Relative-Slash-Guardian To School Day’ or the Science Fair. Any and all dances are strictly off-limits too. Even Prom. ESPECIALLY Prom. And don’t get any ideas about any of the school plays, either. I know you guys can’t help but love me and want to be around me 24-7, but please, try to contain yourselves.

Steve stares at you askance, eyes wide and startled, and you can almost hear those mental gears turning as he pictures himself and the other Avengers casually showing up at your high school’s various social functions—

I don’t go to any of the sports teams’ games, you continue on, still talking so fast you’d make that guy in the old Micro-Machines commercials cry with shame and envy if he could hear you, but that’s probably a good thing since Hulk might get angry if we were losing and EVERYbody gets justifiably upset at the highway robbery that is every concessions stand ever and he’d take up way too many bleacher-seats anyway, and people might get mad at him for green not being one of our team colours or for blocking their view of the court or field or whatever.

—By now you can practically see the smoke curling out of Cap’s ears as his brain short-circuits, so you hide your grin and deliver your deadpan coup de grace with a completely straight face:

OH--and parent-teacher conferences? Are right out.

For a second or two, you almost think he’s choking. Maybe being trapped in that iceberg for half a century had done something weird to his lungs and he has some sort of top-secret health issue, like pneumonia or bronchitis or—but no, that’s not right at all, because you’re almost certain that it’s…a laugh. It sounds almost unwilling at first, half-strangled and plainly unexpected, but the rust of disuse quickly falls away, swelling and ripening and growing deep and hearty, and it’s a lovely sound. You can’t help but gape a little at the sight of Cap--er, Steve Rogers, that is--clutching his sides and letting his head fall back as he continues to laugh, that eternally grim and serious face of his almost unrecognisable now that it’s sporting an unabashedly ear-to-ear grin. His laughter is contagious though (plus the idea of any pair of Avengers showing up in full costume for a little chat with your homeroom teacher is snicker-worthy at the very least, though the thought of Tony and Clint coming in together is literal laugh-out-loud material and would take every cake in every bakery in Queens), and awed and taken aback as you are by what you’re seeing--what you caused--you can’t quite repress a grin of your own.

Well. There’s one of your life’s goals that you can cross off your list already. Wow.

He’s still chuckling a little as he looks over at you, blue eyes twinkling, and all of a sudden you feel extremely self-conscious, because this is Cap. You duck your head a little, but the heat flooding your cheeks actually feels kind of good, not feverish or unpleasant at all, just...warm.

“Fair enough. No more unexpected superhero chaperones in your real, non-superhero life,” Steve says, a smile in his voice as well as on his face. “But we’ll still be looking out for you, just in case.”

Still smiling, he reaches out and rests a hand on your shoulder in what feels very much like a fatherly manner, almost exactly the same way Uncle Ben used to, and at that thought tears prickle at the back of your eyes and you almost stop breathing for a second because this can’t be happening, this can’t be real.

The rational scientist part of you knows that it’s hero-worship plain and simple, but another, decidedly more childish part of you wonders if this is how other kids felt when they were, like, six, and sincerely believed that their dads were perfect, that they could do absolutely anything. That they were heroes.

Yeah, well, you manage, the words a sheepish half-mumble. I doubt Nick Fury would let you guys do anything less.

Shockingly enough, Steve promptly tells you precisely what Nick Fury can do to himself, and in language colourful and contemporary enough that you suspect he must have picked it up from Logan. “—Especially if he thinks one of his own people can be thrown into the breach at his every whim, but can’t be trusted with information that directly concerns them and their welfare, under-age-eighteen or not.”

Those robin’s-egg-blue eyes have gone glacially cold, his grip on your shoulder tightening in a manner you could almost interpret as protective, and you can tell that Cap is Not At All Pleased by Nick Fury’s involvement in today’s escapade. His expression softens again when you give an involuntary flinch at his ominous demeanor, though, as does his voice.

“And as for you, Peter…you should stop saying ‘you guys.’ That makes it sound like you’re not part of the team.” Cap raises an eyebrow, mock-serious and stern. “Understood?”

Fighting an insane urge to snap out a salute, you endeavour to keep your voice as steady and somber as possible as you reply with a solemn, “Yes, sir.” You’re feeling pretty proud of yourself, because those words (all two syllables of them) actually came out properly for once, not squeaked or stuttered, even if the totally and embarrassingly goofy smile you’re sure is plastered across your face probably ruined the effect somewhat.

That hand on your shoulder gives an affectionate squeeze, then with the faintest trace of a smile and a fond smack to the side of your arm, Cap heads for the door, leaving you alone with what’s left of your whacked-out Doom Virus and all of Dr. Richards’ machines and your thoughts, which really doesn’t sound so alone when you think about it that way.

You find yourself smiling and absently touching your shoulder, and as the memory of that kindly warmth and reassuring pressure fades from your skin, you can’t help but admit to yourself that crazy as it was, maybe today really hadn’t ended up being One Of Those Days after all.