To be fair, when Tony first designed the prototype for the perhaps unfortunately named Baby Zapper, he ran himself through an exhaustive list of potential repercussions before putting it in the hands of any teammates. Being in the company of a smart mouthed teenage vigilante with enhanced senses and no regard for authority was, admittedly, not one of them.
That aside, the whole idea of the Baby Zapper was a little — well, off-brand. Tony isn’t exactly a person in any position to justify breaking a party. Which is why he hasn’t put aforementioned Baby Zapper on any kind of commercial market, nor would he ever plan to — first off, it would be literal chaos, and probably super constitutionally unsound, and either parents would be up in arms about its existence or liberally abusing it and quite frankly Tony already has enough strangers yelling at him on a daily basis to deal with that.
See, the whole concept of the Baby Zapper (really, who lets him name shit so liberally?) is that once it’s activated, it emits a high-pitched, nearly inaudible shriek of a noise that compels anyone under the age of 18 to leave the area immediately. It’s not actually harmful to the punks, just irritating — and seeing as the under 18 set are the exact demographic of People Who Tend To Linger Around Dangerous Situations Despite Their Imminent And Impending Dooms (thanks for that, Chatsnap or whatever the hell it was kids were taking “Look at me, I’m in the middle of a disaster!” selfies for), it’s necessary as all hell.
Particularly today when, yet again, there is what appears to be a gang with super enhanced weapons tearing up midtown and literally every minor equipped with a cell phone has decided that now’s as good a time as any to test their mortality by getting super, duper close to it.
Tony activates the intercom on his suit.
“There are a few more on 32nd,” Rhodey reports, “taking care of it now.”
“See any more airborne?” asks Tony.
“Nah, just us. The hell with all these kids, man?” says Rhodey. “I swear to god they’re multiplying. I can’t get any clean shots.”
“School just let out,” says Tony. He blinks, wondering why he knows that, and then —
“Hey Mr. Stark! Incoming!”
Ah. There it is. He sees webbing cut through his line of vision before he actually sees the kid flying in behind them, just as he knew he would.
“Listen, Webs — ”
“How can I help?”
By leaving this to the goddamn professionals, Tony almost snaps, but last he checked he’s not exactly getting paid for this, either. Besides, there’s no point in telling the kid to leave — the best Tony can do is give him a task that will keep him out of the thick of things until the coast is relatively clear.
“Get your teenage brethren the hell out of here. Web up their phones if you have to. Can’t have ‘em in the line of fire.”
“On it,” says Peter, descending down to the street.
“I’ll help,” says Rhodey, without elaborating.
Tony watches out of the corner of his eye as the kid starts corralling his peers, then starts focusing on the armed goons that need neutralizing yesterday. He manages to fry at least one piece of tech before he’s interrupted by a graceless teenage squawk over the comm system.
“You okay, kid?”
“Um — yes, yeah, ah, but — shit, where’s that noise coming from?”
“The one that sounds like the screaming of a hundred thousand unholy — ”
“Tony, on your right!”
Tony doesn’t need the warning, he’s already got the guy on lock. One blast is all it takes for his tech to be reduced to smithereens; it’s a wonder to Tony that criminals even try this kind of shit at all. Are people really this desperate for attention? Tony has daddy issues the size of Texas, but even he’s managed not to debase himself as thoroughly as this.
“Wow, that shit works like a charm. The punks are out,” says Rhodey, as the kids start to file out of the two block radius where the action is happening.
“Nice work, Underoos.”
“I’m kind of a one and done on the praise thing, kid, so — “
“What?” Peter asks over the comm, louder this time.
“Need a hand? … Or a wing?”
Tony’s shoulders tense before the man even comes into his viewfinder — the Falcon himself, swooping in out of seemingly nowhere. Tony knew that he and Steve and the others had been released a few weeks ago and hasn’t exactly kept up with their whereabouts, but he wasn’t expecting anyone to show up mid-battle like Germany was just some weird collective lucid dream, either.
“Not really,” says Tony. There is a brief moment the considers softening the words, but the image of Rhodey plummeting from the sky is a little too fresh in his mind. “What are you doing here?”
“Light tourism,” says Sam.
“Could use an extra set of eyes over here, man,” Rhodey says to Sam over the comm.
“Wait, what?” says Tony, as another few men bust seemingly out of nowhere to keep up the fight. “Are you two just good now, or — ”
“Yeah, Tones, we talked a while back.”
“You’re making it difficult for me to nurse a grudge and you know how I treasure my grudges.”
“Someone taking care of the civilians?” asks Sam.
“Yeah, we got Sticky McGee on it down there,” says Tony.
“Oh, man. I didn’t hallucinate the whole Spider-Man thing?” asks Sam, looking down below.
“If only. Kid, you still good down there?” asks Tony. He can see the Peter moving down below, but there have been suspiciously few overeager interruptions over the comm, especially considering Sam’s emergence from the ether.
No answer. “Is his comm disabled?” Tony wonders out loud, zeroing in on another would-be attacker.
“All comm systems are currently online,” FRIDAY reports.
Tony squints down at the ground. Peter must just be distracted, then — he’s still ducking and weaving and herding some of the slower movers, but miraculously all of the younger set seems to have disappeared. Good. One less thing on their conscience in case this all goes to shit.
Between the four of them they manage to get the area cleared and the threat neutralized within the next few minutes. They all land where the men and women are clustered in a heap with their dismantled weapons in various degrees of groaning and unconscious, and Tony claps his hands together in finality.
“I’ll let you do the honors, kid. Web ‘em up. We can leave these guys to the NYPD.”
Peter is standing right next to him, but he doesn’t move, doesn’t even react.
“Hey,” says Tony, waving a hand in front of his face.
“DID YOU SAY SOMETHING?” Peter yells, turning to look at him.
“Uh, that was aggressive,” says Sam.
“Yeah, I said multiple things. Can you not …”
“SORRY, I CAN’T HEAR YOU — UH — COULD WE MAYBE FIGURE OUT A WAY TO STOP WHATEVER THAT NOISE IS?”
“What noise?” Tony demands.
For a second he feels a twinge of annoyance, thinking it’s some kind of joke, but Peter laughs a little weakly, like Tony’s the one joking. The slight movement gives him away — he’s gone completely rigid, his hands shaking.
“Whoa, is he alright?” asks Rhodey.
Tony walks in front of the kid, syncing Peter’s vitals to his view screen. The AI in Peter’s suit reports, “Peter is currently experiencing severe sensory overload, due to the initiation of Baby Zapper protocol.”
“Shit. Rhodey, did you turn on the Baby Zapper?”
“Um, did someone say Baby Zapper?” says Sam.
“Course I did, how else were we going to get rid of — ”
“Turn it off, now.”
A beat later Peter sags with relief, nearly stumbling to his knees. Tony catches him just before he goes down in a breathless, heaving heap.
“Oh thank god,” says Peter, trying to scramble for balance, pushing himself off of Tony. It doesn’t quite work — he’s still swaying enough that Tony has to reach out and steady him with two hands on his shoulders.
“Give yourself a second, kid — “
“What the — what hell was that?” asks Peter, his voice still a little too loud. “It felt like someone was excavating the inside of my ears — ”
He starts pawing at the seams of his mask the way Tony has noticed he does when he’s overwhelmed. “Not here,” says Tony. “Hold on a sec.”
He grabs him then and hauls him up to the nearest rooftop, where there won’t be any nosy eyes or cameras. He hears Rhodey and Sam follow and braces himself for what will no doubt be an extensive firing of questions.
“I’m fine, I’m good,” says Peter, wriggling out of Tony’s grasp the second he sees the rooftop edge. “And hooray we did it so I’m just uh, gonna go home now — ”
“Not so fast, kid,” says Tony.
“What the hell, man?” Rhodey is asking before he even manages to land. “You swore upside down and backwards that that system was harmless and it only worked on kids — “
“Yeah, well, apparently not so harmless to kids with supersonic spider hearing,” Tony mutters, reaching to pull off Peter’s mask.
Peter takes an unsteady step back, dodging him. “Nah, I’m fine, Mr. Stark, it’s good now — ”
“Wait, exactly how old is this punk?” Sam demands.
“Hold still,” says Tony, with enough authority that the kid freezes, maybe even winces a bit. He pulls off the kid’s mask and sure enough he’s whiter than a sheet, his pupils so dilated that they look like black moons. He blinks rapidly, trying to focus on Tony’s face but not quite succeeding.
“Hooooly shit,” says Sam lowly. “There’s a Teletubby under there.”
“Tony, are you serious?” Rhodey hisses. “He’s what, twelve?”
“Fifteen, and — and fine,” says Peter, turning a furious shade of red and grabbing the mask back from Tony. “I’m gonna go back to patrolling — “
“Oh, shit, the Teletubby’s bleeding.”
He is, and it’s kind of gruesome — there are twin trails of blood coming out of the kid’s ears. Tony grabs the kid by the chin and tilts his head to get a better look, Peter scowling as he does it.
“No you’re not, kid,” says Tony, “you’re coming back with me to get that checked out.”
“And you’re going to explain why we’re letting a child fight armed criminals with us,” says Rhodey, his eyes widening as he takes in the blood.
“And maybe why you let me and half a dozen other people kick Dora the Explorer’s ass in Germany?” says Sam, with a hint of worry breaking through his sarcasm.
Peter huffs out a laugh. “That ass kicking was not one-sided, if I recall — ”
“How can you, when you were born yesterday?”
Tony finishes a quick vitals scan of the kid and says, “How’s the sound hitting you now? Too loud? Too quiet?”
Peter shakes his head and says, “So fine, Mr. Stark, it’s the most fine, now can I — ”
“Can it, kid. Now where’d you stash your backpack? We’re going to the compound.”
Peter takes a few steps back, clearly embarrassed. “No we’re not, no we’re — I’m really fine, I’m sure it looks worse than it — “
“Whatever this is you’re doing right now, kid, I suggest you cut it out,” says Tony through his teeth. “You’re already on my shit list. You know better than this. If you’re in a situation you tell someone or you get yourself the hell out of there, you hear me?”
“Yo, Tony, maybe you should — “
“How am I supposed to trust you out on your own every night if I can’t even trust you to tell me when – ”
“Tony,” says Sam warningly.
Only then does Tony see that Peter’s eyes have abruptly crushed shut. A beat later he clamps his hands over his ears, looking like he might just go down a second time. “Sorry, Mr. Stark, sorry, could you just — it’s … still kind of loud.”
Tony deflates in an instant, punctured by his own guilt. “Yeah. Sorry. Shit,” he says, hovering in front of Peter a little uselessly, in case he starts to sway again. When he doesn’t, Tony turns to Rhodey and says, “Until further notice we’re shutting down the Baby Zapper.” Then he turns to Sam and says, “And you — if you’re gonna mercilessly tease an impressionable teenage boy, I expect you to be more creative than Nick Junior’s lineup. Do better.”
It’s the closest thing to acknowledging his apologies for Rhodey that Sam’s ever going to get, and he seems to understand that, offering Tony the slightest smirk and a careful nod.
“And you,” he says, lowering his voice, so it doesn’t irritate Peter’s ears any further than the cacophony that is the city of New York undoubtedly is. “We’re texting your aunt, getting your backpack, and we’re going upstate, no ifs, ands, or impertinent teenage buts about it.”
Either the pain or the general embarrassment finally makes the kid relent. “Yeah, okay,” he says. “My backpack — um — it’s webbed up in the alley outside of Midtown Comics.”
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that until I can be slightly kinder about it,” says Sam, saluting them both before he takes off. He pauses for a moment, taking stock of Peter. “Take care of yourself, Spidey.”
Rhodey is a little less generous, piping up after Sam departs. “This is all kinds of fucked up,” he says. “Also, for what it’s worth, sorry, kid.”
“Don’t apologize,” says Peter at once. “You didn’t know.”
“No, no, not about the Baby Zapper. I mean about having Tony as your … mentor, or whatever this is. I mean, damn.”
“You’re dead to me,” says Tony, as Rhodey shakes his head one more time and flies away. “Okay, kid. Got enough of your wits about you for a flight upstate?”
“Yup, ready as I’ll …”
There is no ever be, because in the next second the kid winces, slackens, and passes out so fast that only then does Tony realize he was fighting for every second of consciousness between Rhodey turning that damn thing off and this moment now. Tony catches him easily, glad for the kid’s sake at least that he doesn’t have an audience. He hooks one metal arm under his knees and the other under his head, securing him soundly before he reengages the thrusters.
"If you think that was bad," Tony mutters to the kid's unflinching form, "just wait for the earful you're gonna get from me later."
Of course, he knows he won't. It'd be the pot calling the kettle a stubborn loner with very little sense of self-preservation. Maybe this is karma for all the times Tony was bullheadedly determined to go it alone; whatever it is, Tony has a feeling tinged with no small amount of guilt that this is far from the last time the kid will be paying it.