Chapter 1: Nightmares
With Arms Wide Open - Creed
His identity wasn’t a secret anymore. Not to the Avengers. It was a decision Peter made without much thought after he assisted them in battle. The only reason he assisted them in battle was because when the trouble began, he was walking home from school and saw everybody running. Tony knew this and gave the kid a call, asking if he’d like to join, which Peter so obviously did. When the battle was finished, Steve requested that Spider-Man stay for the debriefing so they could all discuss the battle. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? What could they improve on in the future? What should they avoid from now on? Nobody asked to know his true identity, and that’s probably why he gave it away. This was the first time meeting them since the battle over the Accords. Nobody seemed to harbor any negative feelings over that, and everybody got along so well. Tony had even laughed at stuff Steve had said despite their issues in the past. There was some tension in Tony’s eyes, but he did seem more at ease than Peter ever saw him before. So, casually, as if his identity wasn’t meant to be a secret, he had pulled his mask off and wiped some of the sweat off of his face. That’s how the Avengers, minus Tony, learned who Spider-Man was under the mask.
It hadn’t taken long to develop some sort of relationship with the rest of the Avengers. It seemed that day opened a whole new realm of opportunity because Tony started inviting him to either the Tower (which, he soon found out, hadn’t really been sold. Tony had fabricated that story in order to have a place of residence for the Avengers should they ever be allowed in the country – or should they ever have to sneak in) or the compound upstate. More hands-on training ensured. More missions he was invited on. He hadn’t known what caused it, but Tony seemed more intent on bringing Peter around.
The first night Peter slept over with the Avengers wasn’t planned. It was Friday which meant that Peter had spent until three in the morning on patrol, snuck in four hours of sleep, went to school for eight hours, fit in a few more hours of patrol, and then swung by the Tower an hour before dinner. He finished up his homework for the weekend before dinner was finished, and after he ate dinner, he joined Tony in the lab. Friday evenings were spent working on Spider-Man suit upgrades. There wasn’t too much either could think to work on just yet, but Peter came up with a couple different web settings to add. After that was finished, Tony had tried to send him to home to sleep because he knew how little sleep Peter fit in because of patrol, but Peter had shrugged off the suggestion and instead set about on replenishing his dwindling supply of webs. That didn’t take long at all and soon, Peter found his head laying on the table as he dozed off to sleep.
Tony had been keeping an eye on Peter and watched as he got more tired, and once he finally fell asleep, he hadn’t been surprised at all. Instead, he let the kid sleep for about forty minutes or so to ensure he was in a deep enough sleep to be moved. He would never admit his next actions to anybody, but once assured by Friday that nobody would see him, Tony carefully picked the kid up and carried him to the elevator and then straight to bed. He slipped off his shoes and pulled the blanket over him before pushing the hair out of Peter’s face and leaving him to sleep. He sent a text to May, promised her that no, Peter wasn’t hurt from patrol (he ended up sending her a picture of the kid fast asleep, to which she responded with heart emojis), before heading back to his lab. Just because Peter was sleeping didn’t mean Tony would be, too.
Peter could vaguely remember being lifted. He remembered bits and pieces: a pressure on the back of his knees, his head resting against something soft yet hard and defined, and a hand on his head. He was so emerged in sleep, though, that he hadn’t questioned any of it and instead chose to remain as he was.
Nearly two hours into his impromptu sleeping session, Peter woke up, and when he woke up, he woke up screaming. He woke up in hysterics. He woke up halfway off the bed and searching for his web shooters because Aunt May screaming in his dream continued even after his initial screams woke him up. He woke up tangled in his blankets which only fueled his terror because my shooters, where are my shooters, why can’t I get to my shooters, oh my god, Aunt May, I’m coming.
Someone grabbed his arm, and he jerked away. Those weren’t Aunt May’s hands, he knew, so they were a threat. They were a threat to her safety. She was screaming, calling for his help. She knew he could save him. She had faith in him that he’d come. Nobody hurts Aunt May. When the hand returned, this time on his shoulder, he blindly grabbed them and effortless threw them across the room. He never used his full strength because most people weren’t superhuman, but her screams were dying out which could only mean she was dying.
“-eed to calm down. It was just a dream.” He knew the voice. Who was that voice? And what did the voice mean when they said it was just a dream? What was just a dream? He wasn’t dreaming, was he? Aunt May getting hurt didn’t sound like such a good dream, so this must have been a trap. Right?
“Where is she?” he heard himself ask, but he couldn’t remember saying the words. He was still trying desperately to get out of his bedsheets, but then he grabbed the blanket and ripped it in half, making it so he can escape and reach his – wait, bedsheets? Why was he in bed? Wasn’t he just in the lab with Tony? Was he? Why would he be able to hear Aunt May while in the tower? Was someone in his head, messing around with his memories?
“Where is who?” the voice asked, speaking slowly and carefully. Was it the same person he threw against the wall? Wouldn’t they be hurt by that? Why was this person cautiously approaching him? Wouldn’t villains just try to hurt him now while he was confused?
“May, where is, where is she? I don’t, I don’t…” Things were coming back to him. He remembered putting his head down on the table to rest his eyes for a few minutes. Hadn’t he just finished supplying himself with more spider webs? Tony was there. He had told Peter to go home and sleep for the night, but Peter had refused. He must have fallen asleep in the lab. Somehow, he had to have ended up in the room kept there for him. A nightmare, then? That must have been what woke him up.
“She’s alright. She’s fine. Whatever you were dreaming about wasn’t real. Do you know where you are, Peter?”
Peter closed his eyes to think. He knew he was rather smart, so he had to use his brain, at least as little of it that still worked at that moment. He had been in the home of the Avengers, which meant he likely wasn’t in danger. If he had been, he would have heard it long before and felt it even sooner. This person was a friend, not an enemy. He had thrown this person across the room, yet they remained uninjured. Steve and Bucky were superhumans. Natasha wasn’t, but she might as well have been for how well she handled her injuries. Tony would be up just as quickly simply because it was Peter in distress. It had to be one of them. The person was a man. It couldn’t be Natasha. Tony would have taken a more hands-on approach, so he was out as well. Bucky likely wouldn’t have gotten close enough to be thrown, which meant it had to be Steve.
Thinking more clearly, Peter opened his eyes and saw that he was right: it was Steve. The entire ordeal couldn’t have lasted even a minute, but that was a minute too long now that he realized he made a fool of himself in front of Captain America himself. “Oh, gosh, Captain. I’m – I’m sorry. I hadn’t, I didn’t realize-”
“Relax, Peter. It’s okay. You didn’t hurt me. Not at all, okay? I swear.”
The panic attack seemed to be pushing itself front and center now that he didn’t need to worry about protecting Aunt May. He felt his breaths coming in faster no matter how hard he tried to push it down. He couldn’t have a panic attack in front of Captain America. He hadn’t even allowed himself to have a panic attack in front of Tony, and he was the closest thing Peter has had to a father in a long time. “I’m sorry. I-I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
Before Steve had the chance to say anything in response, Tony came rushing in. He obviously had run the entire way there. Friday had likely warned Tony about the nightmare. Steve had somehow beat him there. “Peter, everything okay? Cap?”
“Under control,” Steve said, using a calm voice to rival Tony’s worried one and Peter’s terrified one. “Peter, again, you didn’t hurt me. You were scared, and you felt that you were defending yourself from danger. That’s good that you are capable of self-defense, especially in the middle of panic. You did a good thing. Don’t feel bad for doing so.”
“I could have hurt you,” Peter blurt out. “If it was someone else, I could have-”
“There are a lot of ‘what if’ moments, Underoos,” Tony cut in. “There’s never any use focusing on the ‘what ifs.’ If you want to focus on that, though, focus on this one: What if it had been someone out to hurt you instead? Never apologize for defending yourself, even if it turns out you didn’t need protection.”
“I’ve had to deal with that, too,” Steve said. Apparently, neither were about to let him continue his worried and self-deprecating rambles. “You know how to control your strength. That’s something I don’t think fifteen-year-old me would have learned until a few years later. It took me some time. I still slip up sometimes if I’m worked up, especially to your level.”
“You’re smart, Pete. Fight or flight. Ring any bells? You were prepared for a fight. It’s adrenaline. You had a nightmare, right? Whatever you were dreaming about kicked in your fight or flight instincts which released adrenaline. Adrenaline can make normal humans experience more strength than they thought they had. It’s not different with you except for the fact that you’re already stronger than normal humans should be,” Tony explained. Hearing an explanation for his reaction, even though he wasn’t a stranger to what Tony was saying (it was hard to think logically at that time, though), made it easier to calm down, albeit slightly. He had a feeling that’s why Tony was semi-sciencing to him. Tony did everything deliberately. “You reacted the same as others have. You already have to keep your strength in check at the best of times. You’re expected to slip up sometimes. Nobody can fault you for that.”
“I’m sure you and Tony can talk about this in more detail tomorrow,” Steve said once Tony was finished. “Actually, I’m sure you already know all about adrenaline. But, for now, I think you need to sit down and relax your mind.”
Peter did as suggested and took a seat at the edge of his bed. Tony is the one who moved to sit beside him. “I, uh, ripped my blanket in half,” he said lamely. “I’m scared to look. Is there a dent in the wall?”
“So not important,” Tony said as he brushed it off.
“That’s a yes then. Gosh, Tony, Steve, I’m-”
“And we’re done apologizing.”
“Tony’s right,” Steve said, much gentler. “You don’t need to be sorry.”
“This is going to happen again,” Tony said. Peter looked at him with wide eyes. He’s had his fair share of nightmares before, but he had stopped screaming about them when he was seven and he had yet to damage anything other than himself during nightmares. He had a bad habit of biting his hand when in distress, and he was a bit of a sleep walker so walking into things happened quite often. Throwing people against the wall, screaming bloody murder, and tearing a blanket apart as if it were a piece of paper? He did not want that to happen again any time soon. Tony looked down at Peter and sighed. “I know, that doesn’t sound promising, but it’s true. It comes with the line of work, unfortunately enough. We all get them every once in a while, putting it lightly. It’s going to be hard to deal with. Some nights are going to be worse than others. Letting it eat you, though? That’s only going to make it worse. Accept that tonight has happened. Look at that big hole in the wall until I have someone fix it tomorrow. Remember that dream you had. And then tomorrow night when it’s time for you to sleep again, whether it’s here or with your aunt, take a deep breath and put it behind you. Don’t ignore that it happened or pretend that it didn’t, but don’t dwell too hard on it. Put it somewhere behind your main thoughts. It happened. It’s okay that it happened. It’s okay that it could happen again.”
“Believe it or not,” Steve said after Tony was quiet for a few moments, “that wasn’t the first time I’ve heard Tony give that speech. It’s all true, too. I like to keep a journal of my nightmares. I’ll read through them on the bad days, but I’ll read them on the good days, too. Not every day, of course. We don’t need to overwhelm our minds with our fear, but I’ll read it sometimes. It’s a way of reminding myself what’s done and over with. If I go to sleep the next night hating myself for how I’ve reacted the previous night, it’s only going to amplify my fears and likely cause me to react worse.”
Peter let himself have a few minutes to consider those words, and neither Tony or Steve interrupted his thoughts. He looked up at the gaping hole in the wall – thankfully, it was only one side of the wall. He hadn’t thrown Steve into the next room – and winced, but he didn’t look away until he had absorbed the fact that hey, he did that. When he was done, he looked between Tony and Steve. “I think I’m ready to try sleeping again.”
“You’re already one up everybody in the tower,” Tony said, grinning as if it was such an accomplishment and something to be proud of that he was going to sleep again. “We all find something else to do with our time.”
“If you can’t sleep, try finding one of us. We usually congregate on the sleepless nights, so it wouldn’t be a bother.”
“Okay. I appreciate it.” More softly, he added, “Thank you.”
“Anytime, kiddo,” Tony said, ruffling his hair before standing up. “Alright, Betty White, let’s leave Spider-Kid alone to sleep.”
“Betty White? That’s a new one. She’s an actress from my time, I think. I heard that somewhere,” Steve said as he followed Tony out, giving Peter a goodbye wave. “Is this a way of making fun of my age again?”
The last thing Peter heard from the two of them was Tony laughing carelessly down the hall. He grabbed a smaller blanket from off of the chair before getting comfortable in his bed once more. It took him a long time, but he started drifting off into a dreamless sleep.
Chapter 2: Starvation
The thing about eating is that you have to do it. There’s no real way around it, either, minus a feeding tube, although a feeding tube still gives your body the impression of eating, so as stated before, there’s no way to get around eating. Bodies will actually inform the mind that they’re hungry, and when that fails, the body will inform anybody within a five feet distance that they’re hungry by making a loud and unexpected gurgling noise. Not eating is generally a choice when people have food readily available to them.
For Peter, however, not eating was just an unfortunate mistake. Really.
It started on a Tuesday. Don’t let Tuesdays fool you. Tuesdays were just as horrible as Mondays. Worse, sometimes, because everybody knew Mondays sucked, so bigger school assignments were usually due Tuesday. If a test was going to be at the beginning of the week, it was a Tuesday. Paper due after the weekend? Tuesday. Research assignment due? Usually a Tuesday. It was like a conspiracy of the school, so Peter didn’t like Tuesdays either. Tuesdays were also bad because Aunt May worked her longest shift of the week on a Tuesday. Most shifts were eight-ten hours. On Tuesdays, her workplace had a shortage of employees, so May ended up working about fifteen hours which was absolutely horrible for both May and Peter, especially since she had to be there by five in the morning those days.
He hadn’t slept Monday night, go figures. He had been out late on patrol, per usual. He had meant to return home around ten, a whole two hours before his curfew (which he, unfortunately, ignored more often than not). He still had a four-page history paper on Nationalism he had to write which he hadn’t started on yet even though he had gotten the assignment two weeks prior. He had three chapters to read from A Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne that he would be given an exam to write about in class. It wasn’t a bad book, to be honest, but he never got into books the way MJ did. Sometimes he wished he could sit down and enjoy books for pleasure on a daily basis, but he still had his movies. Then, on top of that, there was a cumulative Spanish test worth twenty percent of his grade. He planned on finishing his work. He didn’t get the chance to get home until nearly four in the morning, thanks to an endless cycle of bad guys he had to fight. He barely finished his paper by the time his alarm went off for school, and he had to skim the reading as he got ready and while he was on his way to school. Studying for the test would happen in between and during class periods, which meant he couldn’t sneak in a few minutes of sleep until lunch.
By the time he got to lunch, he was dead on his feet. It was normal for him, however, so he hadn’t felt too awful. He laid his head down on the table, not even having brought a lunch to school because of his plan to sleep. Ned noticed how tired Peter had been and, when questioned, Peter admitted he hadn’t slept the night before and explained why in short words before squeezing in a thirty-minute nap.
After school, Peter had promised himself a two-hour nap before preparing dinner and starting his first round of patrol. The plan from then was to return home to actually eat the food once May finished her shift and then leaving for his second round of patrol that he would definitely end early to catch in at least eight hours of sleep. What ended up happening, though, was a fatal bus accident on his way home. The bus was carrying middle schoolers, and it had been packed. So, Peter changed quickly into his Spider-Man suit as he tried not to remember the screams he heard from the children on board before witnessing the horrendous crash. As Spider-Man, he swung to the bus to work on getting the injured children out first (thankfully, not of the fatalities were the children – the fatalities came from the car that had rammed the bus. There was nothing he could do for them, but he could do a lot for the children. Most of them hadn’t been hurt too seriously, though one definitely had a concussion). Ambulances arrived within minutes and other first-responders. Soon enough, the bus had been emptied of children, the bodies of the car victims had been recovered, and the bus driver allowed himself to be looked after since the children were safe (he only had minor injuries).
Peter figured that since he was already out as Spider-Man, he might as well continue patrolling. Nothing matched up to the adrenaline rush he had while saving those children, though, so soon enough he found himself wishing for his bed to appear just so he could take a quick nap. About an hour before May was due to return from work, Peter set off to make it home. On Tuesdays, Peter prepared dinner so May wouldn’t have to worry about it. His cooking skills weren’t up to par, matching up with May’s rather nicely, so he had just stuck a pizza in the oven instead of looking up step-by-step guides on the internet.
When the oven beeped, he took the pizza out and left it to cool while he laid down on the couch. He only intended to shut his eyes for a few minutes before going to cut the pizza and grab a few slices. What ended up happening, though, was him waking up to a blanket being placed over him. “May?” he called out tiredly, forcing his eyes open to see if it was really her who had covered him.
“Did I wake you?” she asked, kneeling next to the couch and feeling his forehead.
“No,” he said as an obvious lie, though he was too out of it to really think otherwise. He was tired. “What time is it?”
“About 9:30,” she answered. Peter woke up fully at that. May had gotten home around eight. She would normally go to sleep around this time after a long day which meant that he had missed out on spending some time with her.
“May, I’m so sorry,” he apologized, sitting up and accidentally forcing May’s hand away from him. She must had been checking for a fever. “I didn’t think I’d fall asleep. I planned on having dinner with you.”
“Don’t be sorry. You looked like you needed it,” she said, raising to have a seat next to him. “Everything okay? You don’t normally take naps unless you’re sick, but you don’t feel warm.”
“It’s been a long day,” he admitted, and then he gave a short explanation of the bus crash he witnessed. Ever since she found out about Spider-Man, he became more open about his experiences. He kept most of the bad stuff out, of course, and May knew he did, but she never called him on it.
She gave him a sad smile before pulling him into a tight hug – a much needed one. “I heard about the crash, but I didn’t hear anything about you being there. I’m so proud of you.” She normally told him she’s proud of him whenever he talked about what he did when he put on his suit. “I’d be tired after a day like that, too. Why don’t you head on to bed? I was just heading to bed, too.”
He had to admit that sleeping sounded good. Spider-Man could take a night off. He’d be no use, being as tired as he was. It’d take a big event to give him the same adrenaline rush he had before. “Yeah, alright, May. I think I’ll stay in tonight.”
“That’s my boy,” she said proudly, patting his cheek lightly.
His stomach growled once he had changed his clothes and gotten into bed, causing him to realize he hadn’t eaten anything yet. He made no move to go grab a slice of pizza, though. He was too tired for food.
Wednesday wasn’t much better. There was less death for him to deal with, only a little bit of school work to do, and he was able to spend much more time with Aunt May, but he still managed to forget to eat. He skipped breakfast because he slept in, which wasn’t exactly all that surprising considering how tired he had been the day before. He spent lunch getting an early start on an assignment due in a week (he was responsible sometimes). He sat down to eat dinner with Aunt May, but there had been an argument amongst some of his neighbors. He and May went to play mediators, and by the time that situation calmed down a bit, Peter hugged May goodnight before heading out as Spider-Man, dinner forgotten on the table.
Thursday, he had an unsettling feeling in his stomach. It felt like a trap. He was hungry, but he felt as if he would throw up anything he ate. Definitely a trap. He declined breakfast from Aunt May who reminded him that he hadn’t eaten the night before, but he shrugged her off on us his out the door. He conveniently (read: purposefully) left his lunch at home and refused to get what they were serving at the school that day. He missed dinner while out on patrol as he dealt with a hostage situation. He called May to let her know. She sighed sadly but hadn’t argued. Peter felt guilty, extremely guilty, but it was a hostage situation. Domestic violence. There was a kid in there. He returned home in time to say goodnight to May, but then he went back out to squeeze in two more hours of patrol before bed. He ended up staying out until three before making it home, but thankfully he had no school work to take care of.
Come Friday, Peter almost took a sick day. He was weak, shaky, and dizzy. The world was a mesh of colors as if he hadn’t slept in a week and standing up took about three minutes too long for somebody who could bench press a car. The heat of his shower only made him feel worse. He felt muggy and clammy, but he was shivering at the same time. It felt like he was getting sick, but he didn’t think he could catch the common cold anymore. He had to remember to talk to Tony about that. He, again, skipped breakfast, but May hadn’t been awake yet to warn him not to. At lunch, he went straight to the library because he had developed a migraine and sensory issues were becoming more prominent. Anything quiet and void of too much going on was a welcomed replacement to the lunch room. While at the library, he finished the homework assigned over the weekend for the first half of the day. After school, he saw Happy’s car waiting for him in the parking lot which meant that Tony was currently at the Compound instead of at the Tower. He waved goodbye to Ned, got in the car, texted May, and settled in for the too-long car ride.
He surprised himself when they made it to the compound without incident. He was surprised by this because his stomach was now fighting to escape his body. Happy squinted his eyes at him when they got out of the car. “You okay, kid?” he asked, not sounding as if he cared in the slightest. Peter knew better. Any other day, he would joke that Happy really did like him, but this day he wasn’t feeling the greatest and instead chose to leave the teasing for next time.
“I’m all good, Happy. Thanks for the ride,” he said, dismissing the worry before walking (not running as usual) into the building.
Peter hoped that there would be no Avengers in the living room when he made it there. Parker luck made it so that there were many Avengers in the living room. Clint was lounging on the couch with his phone in his hand. Steve was sitting at the end of that couch, narrowly avoiding Clint’s feet, while Bucky sat on the nearby chair. Wanda was sitting on the floor in front of the couch and she was reading a book. So, not only did Peter have to deal with Avengers when he felt so bad, but he had to deal with the Rogues. He wasn’t angry at them or anything. He wasn’t uncomfortable around them and he didn’t fear them. He just hadn’t gotten the chance to really get to know them personally like he had with Tony. He even had a decent relationship with Rhodey and Vision. The others, though? Not so much. Peter may had been Spider-Man, but he was even socially awkward around superheroes. He and Steve seemed to get along much better ever since the whole ‘I threw Captain America into the wall and left a Captain-American-sized hole’ fiasco, though, so there was that.
Clint, facing the door thanks to the position he was laying, gave a lazy wave as Peter walked in the room. “Hey, kid. We stealing you for the weekend?” Peter slept over so much more often after that first night. He trained personally with the other Avengers those days.
“Looks like it,” he responded, tempted to throw his bookbag onto the spare chair but thinking better of it. He made the much better decision to leave it sitting next to the doorway on the floor. “Is everybody having a lazy day, or something? I’ve never seen all of you sit so still at once.” He was trying with the conversation. He usually at least made an attempt.
“There’s not much to do,” Wanda answered, using her magic to turn the page. There was absolutely no reason for that, Peter thought, but it was always cool to witness.
“Are all adults this bored when they’re not at work?” Peter inquired. “If so, I think I’m gonna stick with being a sophomore high school student for the rest of my life.” That was a fair amount of words, Peter rationalized. He shouldn’t have to try too hard to get a conversation going anymore. If it didn’t pick up, then they just wouldn’t have a conversation at that time.
Clint hummed in response. “It’s rare we get down time, so at least you picked the right occupation to avoid boredom.”
“Bucky and I generally use our time to catch up on pop culture,” Steve explained.
“Nothing sounded too interesting right now, though,” Bucky finished.
“Have you watched Star Wars?” He knew nobody would be surprised by him asking this. If anything, they’d groan at the mention of his favorite series. Again.
“One of the first things we’ve watched since coming back, if we’re honest,” Steve answered. “We asked Tony for recommendations, and that was the first thing he said.”
Peter probably would have blushed at that because Peter knew that Star Wars was nowhere near Tony’s favorite movie, so he recommended it for Peter if it hadn’t been for the fact that blushing would have likely knocked him down. He really wanted to sleep for a little bit before dinner or working with Tony in the lab. “How’d you like it?” Peter asked instead of vocalizing his need for rest and probably a trashcan if his stomach didn’t chill out.
“It was interesting,” Steve answered at the same time Bucky admitted it was confusing.
“How was it confusing?” Peter asked, trying not to sound judgmental.
After Bucky was silent for a few moments – he did that sometimes when he wasn’t totally comfortable with the conversation – Steve answered for him. “He was still trying to relearn the world in the present. Fiction movies, especially Sci-Fi, make it difficult to understand what’s real and what isn’t.” Peter knew that Bucky had been awake all those years, but when he questioned Tony more about him, he learned that his memories became jumbled up during the brainwash. He could have such vivid memories of things that never happened or existed.
“It’s easy to recognize Lightsabers as a fictional weapon,” Wanda continued, still lazily flipping through pages of her book, “only if you have lived in the present time.”
“I could see how that’d be confusing,” Peter said, nodding at the explanation. “I can try to make a list of movies that are mostly non-fictional and without weird technologies if that will help. Trust me, I’ve seen, like, a gazillion movies. I’m sure I could think of a few.”
“I would appreciate that,” Bucky said softly, looking like he meant the words completely.
Peter went to say something. He knew he went to say something even if he couldn’t remember what exactly he planned on saying. He remembered opening his mouth to say words and then he remembered blinking up tiredly at the ceiling. Clint and Steve were on either side of him. They were also saying words that Peter wouldn’t remember. Something was ringing, or was that his ears? It felt like he could feel the entire Earth spinning beneath their feet – or, well, underneath his body, because he had somehow ended up laying flat on his back.
“Ow,” Peter managed to so eloquently say as he reached up to rub his head. His migraine seemed to intensify.
“Are you okay?” Wanda asked, leaning nervously over him from behind Clint.
“Um – yeah?” he answered more as a question. Was he okay? What had happened?
“You passed out for a few seconds,” Steve informed him as if he read his thoughts. “Do you have any injuries that you’ve neglected to tell anybody?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Everything was still spinning so it was hard to tell for sure. His head didn’t feel right.
As he went to sit up, a hand landed on the center of his chest and firmly kept him down. “Not so fast, kiddo. You just passed out. Take a few minutes before you think about moving,” Clint said. He kept his hand on Peter’s chest even after he nodded a confirmation. “When’s the last time you slept?”
He took a moment to think about then. When was the last time he ate? He hadn’t felt well the day before. Wednesday ended up too busy for him to eat. Tuesday was just a bad day. “Monday?” he answered, and while it sounded like a question, he was pretty sure that was the case.
“That explains the passing out,” Steve sighed. “Why haven’t you eaten anything?”
“I’ll go prepare dinner,” Wanda said. Before she walked away, she reached down to grab his hand and squeeze it tightly.
“It’s been a long week,” Peter said vaguely. It had been the truth, though. That week had been a little hectic and never seemed to want to end. “I didn’t realize how long it’s been. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about apologizing,” Clint said. He had moved his hand from Peter’s chest and was instead checking his pulse. “I’m willing to bet we have about thirty more seconds before Tony gets up here. No doubt that Friday let him know that his kid fainted.” Peter had wanted to correct Clint and say that he wasn’t Tony’s kid, but he kind of was. It wasn’t official or anything. He never called Tony dad, nor did Tony call him son, but there was definitely a relationship going on there that felt so much like a father-son relationship that it sometimes hurt Peter’s heart. He liked it, though. He had a feeling Tony did, too. “Let’s get you moved to the couch before he makes it up here. Give him a little less to be worried about.”
Bucky came around to replace Clint and grab Peter’s arm with Steve on the other side. They helped him slowly rise to his feet before walking him over to the couch where he was forced to sit. Bucky took a seat beside him, but Steve remained standing. Probably for Tony, he thought. Sure enough, only moments after sitting down, Tony came running from the elevator. His face seemed calm enough, but his movements were wild. He visibly relaxed when his eyes landed on Peter’s. “Kid, you okay? Friday said you passed out.”
“Only for a few seconds,” he defended.
“Kid hasn’t eaten,” Clint explained. “He’s not hurt. Wanda was able to stop him from hitting the floor.”
“I’ll be sure to thank her when I see her,” Tony mumbled, taking the seat on the other side of Peter. “What’s up, bud? Why haven’t you been eating? It’s dangerous enough for normal people to go without eating. You need it more than others. You know that.”
“I didn’t realize how many days have gone by.” He reached up again to rub his head. Now that he recognized that he hadn’t eaten in a while, he couldn’t understand why he had been feeling so nauseous for the past couple of days.
“Why don’t you walk me through your reasoning for not eating.” To his credit, Tony hadn’t started yelling which was something everybody had expected. He didn’t do well with emotions. It was a tear between removal and yelling. When it came to Peter, it usually ended up with yelling.
“There never really was much reason for it,” he admitted. “I was too busy, or I was sleeping whenever it was time to eat.”
“Good to know that this ‘not taking care of yourself’ thing didn’t include not sleeping,” Tony cut in with a light voice. He still looked worried, probably more shaken up than Peter was. “Let’s hear it.”
While Wanda prepared dinner, the rest of the Avengers present listened to Peter rattle off the details about his week, trying to defend his accidental starvation. He knew he needed to eat. Shoot, he had been the one to tell Tony that if he went too long without eating, he got disoriented and his healing slowed down. Sometimes all it took was skipping breakfast and lunch to have him misjudging leaps and ending up with a bruise that lasted a day instead of a few hours. “You need to take care of yourself,” Steve said once Peter finished speaking. “I know this wasn’t intentional, but you need to find at least a few minutes of your day to get some food into you.”
“Starving for people like us is more dangerous,” Bucky warned. “I don’t even have the same advancements as you, but I need to eat a lot to keep up. It must be nearly double for you.”
“No kidding,” Peter snorted. He had to eat so much. He and May weren’t exactly hurting for money, but they didn’t have enough left over to spend on all the extra food he needed. He made do. While he was more often hungry than not, he never went starving or was seriously affected. Coming to the tower had been an improvement. With so many superhumans around, there was plenty of food. “This was a one-time thing. I swear. I won’t let it happen again.”
“You better not,” Tony said, and while his voice was serious, he still threw an arm across Peter’s shoulders.
Chapter 3: Aunt May
What was he honestly expected to do? Well, he wasn’t really expected to do much…but he still felt like he had to do something. He had no other living relative. Or, at least, no other living relative that he had met before. The hospital needed a legal-aged adult, not some fifteen-year-old who tried to act like an adult, to handle the body. Plus, they had already called Children’s Services to have him placed somewhere. Somewhere probably far away surrounded by people who didn’t care and wouldn’t appreciate Spider-Man suddenly popping into their lives. Not to mention the fact that they weren’t Aunt May and would never come close to being close to anything she was. She was perfect.
Aunt May was dead. A bad stroke. An unfortunate accident. There was nothing anybody could have done to save her.
He needed Tony.
Tony answered on the first ring which wasn’t unusual. He usually answered the first ring, the last ring, or wouldn’t answer at all. “We don’t need you for this one, Underoos. Take some time off,” he said, foregoing any form of greeting.
“’This one’?” Peter repeated in question, already jumping to his feet with his bookbag and running down the hall, leaving May’s body behind in the morgue. He had been sitting on the floor outside of her room, not having it in him to look at her dead body more than he already had but not wanting to be far from her corpse. She was already dead. There was nothing he could do to help her, but there were things he could do to help his teammates and any others in potential danger thanks to whatever evils the Avengers had been fighting. He could help all of them. He ignored the people calling his name as he ran, the ones who were supposed to be watching over him until CPS arrived. He was just a child. He wasn’t supposed to be left unsupervised.
“Oh, you weren’t calling because of – never mind. What’s up, kid? Who’s calling your name?” Peter could hear noise in the background on Tony’s side. Sounds of battle. Metal against metal, screaming, the sound of the blasters.
“I’m on my way,” Peter said, hanging up suddenly and pointedly not answering either question Tony aimed at him. Once safely outside of the hospital and away from the staff who had no doubt began chasing him, he turned down some alley and changed into his Spider-Man suit as quickly as possible. It was still day-time. People might notice if he took too long. He grabbed his backpack and, without really considering it, slid his arms in the straps before heading out. He was going to have to go into battle with a bookbag, probably pointing himself out as a child. He didn’t care too much. Not at that moment. He had Karen pull up a map to where the battle was taking place. It was near the Avengers Tower, go figure. It would only take him a few minutes to swing from the hospital to the tower. According to Karen, the Avengers hadn’t required assistance. Not at all. Peter, however, was the one who needed help. That’s why he was jumping into battle. He needed a distraction. He wasn’t yet ready to mourn.
By the time Peter made it to the battle, his tears had dried up and subsided. Karen automatically connected his suit to be able to communicate with the others, something she did any time he joined them in battle. Communication was key. “One day you’ll listen to me,” Tony grumbled. He didn’t sound too angry. There was that, at least.
“Maybe tomorrow.” Peter started swinging around buildings, kicking the bad guys, and keeping an eye on everybody. He could handle this. He could handle fighting. As long as he was fighting and protecting at least one person, he didn’t have to grieve. He didn’t have to accept her death. He didn’t have to remember her body laying lifeless on that table, naked under the covers. He didn’t have to remember the way her body just stopped working moments after she got home from work. He could just be Spider-Man for the moment. Peter Parker wasn’t Spider-Man. Peter Parker lost his aunt, but Spider-Man was right where he needed to be.
He couldn’t remember the fight. Not really. That was a problem. He knew that was a problem. He didn’t even know who or what they had been fighting. He knew he took a hit early on. It wasn’t a hard hit, but Tony had yelled his name all the same in what sounded like fear. Peter knew he got back up and helped them take down whoever or whatever they were fighting. He knew he had Sam’s back, but he didn’t know what the danger had been. His brain had gone to mush, and he assumed he had been going into shock. Non-medical shock, at least.
He remembered that when Captain America verbally said the fight was over, Peter swung to the ground and just stood there. He didn’t remember anybody talking to him or calling his name until he blinked and suddenly Tony was out of the suit and standing in front of him. “Are you hurt?” he was asking. Peter wondered how long those words were coming out of his mouth.
And then Peter cried. He fell to his knees in front of Tony and buried his masked face into his covered hands as he cried. A hand was on his back, and when Peter looked up, he saw Tony kneeling with him and staring at him with worried eyes. “I’m sorry, Mr. Stark,” he said, reaching up to pull his mask off.
“Leave it,” Tony said, his free hand covering Peter’s before he could remove the mask. “We’re in public. Somebody will see. Let’s head to the Tower. Up, kid, don’t make me do all the hard work.” He was trying to keep his voice light as if seeing Peter reduced to tears for no visible reason didn’t shake him up, but he looked scared and concerned.
The words were said so quietly that Tony thought he misheard him for a second, but then he saw Steve’s head snap up. He was only a few feet away and, having enhanced senses, had heard Peter. “Your aunt?” Tony asked because who else would it be? Peter nodded. “She’s gone as in missing or gone as in…”
Peter’s tears stopped once more. With his voice void of emotion, he said, “I’m not old enough to handle funeral arrangements.”
“Aw, hell, kid. Come on.” He was pulled to his feet and then he was walking. They were probably walking towards the tower. He heard Tony talking to the rest of the team about postponing debriefing for a couple of hours, and the next thing he was aware of was standing in the elevator of the tower. His mask was pulled off by Tony which was what brought him back to the present. No words were said until they got off and went to the common area. Everybody, excluding Peter, had a floor. Peter stayed Tony’s floor whenever he was over ever since he started spending the night more often. He had his own room there.
A glass of orange juice was placed in front of where he was sitting at the counter. Tony took the seat beside him. “What happened, Peter?”
“She had a stroke,” he answered. His finger was circling the top of the glass, but he made no move to drink anything. “I did everything I thought I should. I caught her before she fell, dialed 9-1-1, and I tried to keep her talking. I don’t think I did anything wrong, but she still ended up…The doctors said there was nothing more than could be done. They said that even if she had that kind of stroke in the hospital, there was little anybody could have done to save her.” He looked up at Tony, fresh tears in his eyes once more. “Everybody I love ends up dying. I’m scared that you’ll be next.”
Well, that was something. That was a big something. That was something Tony never imagined he’d hear Peter say. He ignored the second part of that statement for the meantime. There were other things they had to talk about. “I need to know what you want. I will do everything I can to make sure you end up wherever you want to, but you need to tell me.”
“People are probably looking for me already,” he informed him. “The hospital called CPS to place me somewhere. I don’t want CPS to place me anywhere.”
“We don’t need to worry about CPS right now. Where do you want to go?”
The tears fell. “Can I stay with you?” And if Tony’s heart didn’t shatter at the utter brokenness yet hopefulness of Peter’s voice…
“Of course,” he answered without hesitation because he didn’t need to think the answer through. He’d do anything he could for Peter and more. “Don’t worry about anything. I’ll have it all taken care of, okay?” He already thought of Peter as a son, so nothing there had changed. But now, knowing he was going to have full legal rights over him, he felt a strong urge to just hold the kid. His kid. That’s what he did then. He reached over and wrapped his arms around Peter who returned the gesture just as quick.
“I’m not ready to live without May,” Peter said, the tears being palpable in his voice.
“I know, kiddo, but you’ll make it. You always do.”
As reluctant as Tony was to leave, he knew he had so much work to do. An endless array of paperwork. Meetings until the end of time with his lawyers and the court. Funeral arrangements. He didn’t want Peter to be alone, though, so when he asked the kid who he wanted to come sit with him until he got back, he said it didn’t matter. So, Tony called up whoever was most readily available and waited until Natasha and Sam strolled in. Nobody knew about May’s death besides Tony and Steve. In the meantime, he wasn’t going to say anything unless Peter wanted him to. They’d have to know soon since Peter was moving in, but it could be put off for a few days.
With Tony gone, Peter was tentative about crying openly, so he halted his tears and drank his orange juice instead. Sam stood on the other side of the counter watching him before leaning forward to lean against it. “Are you injured?”
“No, I’m not hurt,” he whispered in response.
“I know we’re not Tony. None of us could ever be Tony. But if you need to talk about it, we’re all ears.”
“Sam’s right,” Natasha added from somewhere behind him. She was probably sitting on the couch. Actually, she was probably sitting on top of the couch and facing the wrong way because Widow didn’t follow normal sitting rules. “We won’t pester you about it, though. This is your open invitation to talk about it. If you decline, we won’t mention it again.”
Peter knew they’d end up finding out. “I lost someone very close to me today,” he said, eyes raising to meet Sam’s before he lowered them once more. He reached his hand up to wipe a stray tear that seemed to force its way from his eye. “I’ll be okay. Always am, right?”
“Right,” Sam agreed, though he sounded more unsure. “Was it Spider-Man related?”
“No.” A humorless laugh escaped his throat. “No, this would have happened even if I wasn’t Spider-Man.”
“It was your guardian.” Natasha said it as a fact, not a question. To be fair, he only had a couple of friends. A grand total of two who weren’t Avengers. She had a one-in-three chance of being right. However, had one of his friends died, he’d probably be with his aunt. Deduction gave her the answer. Peter didn’t need to confirm it. “Tony’s going to take you in, isn’t he? That’s where he went to just now.”
“Hope you don’t mind a teenager moving in,” Peter said. It was almost a joke, but he was concerned enough about the answer that it was a serious inquiry.
“We could never mind that,” Sam said, his hand on resting on top of Peter’s. “Was it today?”
“An hour or two ago. Maybe three.” Hysteria rose in his chest. “I-I think I just want to be alone right now. In my room. Is that okay?”
“It’s perfectly fine,” Sam assured him.
Peter stood up shakily and walked into his bedroom before shutting the door. He wanted to lock it, but he figured that nobody would appreciate learning that they’d have to break down the door to get in. He threw his bookbag onto the bed before changing out of his Spider-Man suit into some pajamas Tony had bought him to keep over on those nights he stayed. They were Iron Man themed which was a huge joke. Tony didn’t need to know that about half of his pajama pants collection at home was Avengers related. He dug around in his bag to find his phone. There was a certain kind of comfort you could only get from your best friends, similar to the fact that there’s a certain kind of comfort you could only get from your parents, or your guardians, or anybody who is supposed to watch out and protect you. Peter needed to talk to his friends.
It took only a few seconds to decide to call Ned over MJ. MJ was pretty awful with emotions, similar to the way Tony was most of the time. MJ would have wanted to help but been unsure of how to. Ned had been there for him when his Uncle Ben died. It was only right to go to him over Aunt May. Ned had answered on the second ring. “Dude, I saw you on the news! How’s it feel to be fighting with the Avengers? Someone got a recording of you on the ground. Are you okay? You weren’t hurt, were you? Because I told you it’s dangerous being Spider-Man. I guess you can’t be too hurt if you’re calling me now, huh? Maybe I worry for nothing. Nice save on Falcon, though! Are you friends with him? I guess you’d have to be if you’re-”
“Ned,” Peter said, voice tense.
“Peter? What is it?” Ned’s voice was serious now. Serious and worried. “Are you really hurt?”
“No, it’s-it’s May.”
Silence, but only for a few seconds. “What happened to her?” Judging by the sound of his voice, Ned knew exactly what happened to her.
“She was the only family I had left.” His body shook as the sadness overcame him.
“Shoot, Peter, where are you? I-I can come over. Or you can come over here. My parents can come pick you up right now,” Ned was rambling. He sounded sad, too. He liked May. Everybody who knew May liked May.
“It’s fine, Ned,” Peter said, sniffling. “I’m at the Avengers Tower right now. I think-I think Tony is going to try for custody. I, uh, sorta ran from the-from the hospital. They were waiting for CPS to get there to take me.”
“Why’d you run, dude?”
“I didn’t plan on it. I called Tony because I needed-I needed him.” He let a sob out before covering his mouth. “They were already fighting. And just because Peter lost his aunt didn’t mean Spider-Man could slack off, you know?”
“Peter, you are more than just Spider-Man. You can’t have one without the other, but that also means one isn’t more than the other, either. Now, I am coming over. Avengers Tower? I’ll be there. I need you to come down and get me, okay, because I’ve never been there before.”
“You don’t have to-”
“You’re my best friend. I don’t care how close you are with any of the Avengers, but that is never going to change. You can’t get rid of me that easily. I’m on my way. Please let me in.” And that was it because Ned hung up right after.
It took Peter a few minutes to calm his breathing and make his face look presentable before he could leave his room. Sam and Natasha were still sitting in the living area. The TV was off, and they were both reading a different book. “I, uh, my friend. I called him. He invited himself over. I tried to say no, but he’s my best friend, and he’s, uh-”
“You’re allowed to have friends, and they’re allowed over. Do you trust him?” Natasha had asked.
“With my life.”
“Then he’s welcomed over. We’ll warn Tony about the guest.”
“What’s his name?” Sam inquired. “Does he know about Spider-Man?”
“Ned, and yeah. I didn’t tell him, but he was in my room when I came back. I crawled in the window. There really was no getting out of that one. But it’s okay. He’s my best friend. My ‘man in the chair’ like he calls himself,” he said. Rambled. Talked about nothing too important to avoid talking about something super important. “Back when we took the plane down, he was on the phone helping me. He’s, uh, he’s a pretty solid dude.”
It didn’t take all that long for Ned to arrive to the Tower. Peter was waiting on the ground level, and soon enough, he saw Ned emerge from his mom and dad’s car. He stared up at the Tower in awe for a moment before hurrying inside. Once the two made eye contact, Peter basically threw himself into Ned’s arms, once again crying. This time, he didn’t think the tears would subside so quickly with will power. They stood in the lobby of the tower for too long while Peter cried, and Ned pretended not to cry with both of them holding on to the other for dear life.
“I don’t think I can go through this again,” Peter admitted. “I can’t sit through another funeral.”
He remembered his parents’ funeral a little too clearly considering he was only about six years old. There were bits and pieces of his memory that he couldn’t recover from that time, but he remembered standing next to his aunt and uncle by the caskets. They were both closed. He never knew the specifics of that accident, but he knew it was brutal enough that they couldn’t leave the bodies visible. There was a lot of crying and a lot of strangers giving him a hug. He remembered hating that and preferred to hold hands with Uncle Ben. He had told Peter to keep his chin high and be strong. Death, he had said, is us leaving this world for another one, but the ones who love us never truly disappear from our lives. Then, when it was time for Ben’s funeral, Peter was much older. He remembered more details. He remembered how hard he cried. He held on to Aunt May. When it was time to greet the visitors, he calmed himself down because he had to be strong for his aunt. He had to let her cry while he greeted everybody and thanked them for coming. The guilt had been eating him alive. He could barely look at Aunt May for the week leading to the funeral. Now, he was going to have to sit through another one. He didn’t know how he would be able to hold himself up.
Ned suggested a little while later that they head upstairs away from prying eyes. Peter led him to his room, briefly introducing him to Natasha and Sam, before shutting his door and throwing himself on top of his bed. He wanted to stop crying. He knew he should have stopped crying. But the pain was intensifying as time passed. The more time he went without May, the more tears he shed. Ned had apologized for the fact that there was nothing he could to say take the pain away, but Peter had assured him that his presence was more than enough.
The tears lasted on and off for about an hour before Peter calmed down. He felt empty, but he also felt resigned. It was like death was just a part of his life. He cried the entire night over Uncle Ben. He felt guilty when his tears stopped by themselves, but he knew it was because he was no stranger to burying family. “Tony asked me where I wanted to go from here,” he said, the first words spoken in that hour of crying. “I told him I wanted to stay with him. Do you think I made a stupid decision?”
“Why do you think it was stupid?” Ned asked, confused.
“I-I know Tony cares about me. I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but Tony likes me, but I know that his life is hectic enough without a teenager to worry about. I mean, he’s Tony Stark. Iron Man. He has a company. There’s…sometimes, when I’m over, he gets called away so suddenly.” He sighed in frustration, sitting up and unintentionally knocking Ned’s hand off of his back (when had he put that there?). “I know he would drop everything for me if I asked, but I don’t want to have to ask. I don’t want to make his crazy life even crazier.”
“If he takes you in, it’s because he wants to. You know that, right? You know that you’re not just some charity case…right?”
“Yeah, I know. I don’t want him to care about me, though. I mean, of course I do. He’s a great man, absolutely nothing like how the media portrays him. I’m lucky to have him in my life, and that’s not even because of the suit or anything. He’s just such a good dude. I just…”
“You don’t want to be the reason for his life to go nuts?”
Peter let out a dry laugh at Ned’s attempt at humor. “Pretty much, yeah.” The two sat in silence for another few minutes as they mulled over their thoughts. “My parents, Uncle Ben, and now Aunt May. If Tony is next, I don’t think I’d come out on the other side alive.”
With that, the rest of their time together was spent in silence, sitting side by side. Another forty minutes went by before Tony returned back to the tower. He walked into Peter’s room and, upon seeing Ned, offered him a ride home or a bed to stay in for the night. Ned chose to leave, and so Tony had Happy drive him home. Before they left, Happy give Peter a squeeze on his shoulder and Ned hugged Peter as tight as he could. “Text or call me tomorrow, okay?” Peter nodded in response.
He didn’t really feel better after Ned left, but he hadn’t expected to. Not really. He didn’t regret his decision to call Ned, either, and he was as grateful as he could be at the time that Ned invited himself over so stubbornly. Nothing would ever be the same again and he wouldn’t be okay for a long while, but Ned was his best friend, and nothing would change that. They were close enough that they could have been brothers. Ned would mourn Aunt May for a long time, too. Aunt May was such an aunt, even to people she hadn’t noticed. Always there, waiting to be wanted or needed. Ned probably considered her an aunt or a second mom. To Peter, though, she was a mom. The better half of his life had been spent with her.
God, he missed her, and it hadn’t been a day yet.
Tony seemed to have gained confidence in his comforting ability the moment he agreed to take Peter in because he didn’t look or feel out of place as he took a seat on the bed next to him and threw his arm across his neck. And Peter seemed to have lost any embarrassment of needing comfort (from multiple people, too) as he laid his head on Tony’s shoulder. “Can you tell me what’s going on?” Peter asked. He wanted to know what, exactly, Tony had been doing.
“We can talk about that later, kiddo,” Tony said. It seemed like his voice even got softer in the couple of hours he had been gone.
But Peter was nothing if not stubborn. “I know you’re trying to protect me, but later will turn into tomorrow, and tomorrow will turn into the next day, and that day will turn into next week, and suddenly I’ll just be in a new situation with no idea of what’s going on.” He took a shaky breath before raising his eyes to look at Tony who had already been looking down at him. He didn’t move his head away from Tony. “Please don’t keep me in the dark about this. I need to know what to expect.”
There was nothing to be said to counter any of that, so Tony spoke. “I pulled my lawyers into a meeting, after I contacted children’s services to let them know you ran to me. They, by the way, aren’t the happiest with you for running the way you did. I can’t say I blame you.”
“I didn’t mean to run from the system. I mean, I was calling you so you can come get me instead, but I didn’t plan on just leaving.”
“I know that, but they don’t know you came to fight with me as Spider-Man.”
Tony gave him a sad smile. “No need to apologize. I talked you out of trouble. Some people run while mourning. They understand. They agreed to grant me temporary custody over you instead of you going to a foster home. It was a pain to prove that I was involved in your life, but thankfully it’s on paper that you intern for me. Phone records proved that you come over for more than just the internship. Since I am who I am-” Tony smirked, and Peter gave a small eyeroll “-I was able to erase any messages that would hint to you being Spider-Man. They want to talk to you tomorrow, make sure you’re on board with this plan, and the next step would be taking it to court.”
“And what about…what about May?” Gosh, even saying her name hurt.
The smirk on Tony’s face was long gone as he answered. “I’ll call the funeral home tomorrow when they’re open. Make arrangements. I’ll need special permission from the courts for the hospital to release her to me, but I’ll have that by tomorrow. Now, the rest can wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow we’ll talk about the funeral and figure things out. Tomorrow I’ll call your school. She had me as an emergency contact for you, so I’ll be able to call you out for a couple weeks and set up a plan for you to make up your work.”
“Thank you, Tony,” Peter whispered. He reached up to wipe his eyes, but a sob accidentally escaped. “I’m so-I’m so grateful for you.”
Tony didn’t respond. He didn’t even comment on the fact that the kid finally called him Tony instead of Mr. Stark. He only pulled Peter closer and held him as he, once again, cried himself out. Surprisingly, he hadn’t cried himself to sleep by the end. He just cried himself out.
It took minimal coaxing only because Peter didn’t have the energy to argue, but he agreed to go eat some dinner. Steve cooked, Tony promised, which meant at least the food would taste good. Peter stumbled beside Tony on the way to the kitchen on the common floor. They took the stairs at Peter’s request. He hadn’t been calm enough to get in such a small and confined space. Had he been more aware before when first arriving or when retrieving Ned, he would have taken the stairs then, too.
The whole team was sitting in the kitchen eating dinner when they made it. Tony made a move to pack some food, probably planning on the two of them eating in privacy, but Peter pointedly took a seat at one of the three empty seats at the counter. There was a moment of silent communication passed between them two before Tony nodded to himself and took a seat next to Peter. The remaining empty seat on his other side caused his heart to drop as he remembered that Pepper hadn’t been around to know what was going on. She’d join them for dinner and know that something was wrong, but she wouldn’t know that a kid would be moving in with them.
Pepper and Peter liked each other well enough. Really well. They got along, and she cared about him as much as the rest of the team cared about him. Tony had no doubt in his mind that she’d agree without second thought about letting him into their lives, but he probably should have still talked to her about the decision. He would have said yes even if she refused. There was no way she would refuse, though. Tony knew he didn’t deserve someone like Pepper in his life.
The good thing about the team was that they understood that some days weren’t going to be good days. The bad thing about the team was that they knew Peter. That itself wasn’t a bad thing, but they knew that even on Peter’s worse days, he was still a bubble of excitement, positivity, and optimism. Peter displayed none of those things, and everybody cared too much about him to let him go. Natasha, Sam, and Steve all knew what was wrong. The rest of them? They didn’t. That meant they were going to ask. Subtly wasn’t any of their strong points. The fact that they were a team generally meant that if one person knew a problem, the rest of them did, too. Privacy when talking about serious events was rare which meant nobody saw a problem with addressing the obvious depression in front of the entire team.
“What is on your mind, Peter?” Wanda asked. The emotion coming from Peter was so strong it almost physically hurt her. “What has happened?”
Steve jumped in before Tony could tell her exactly where to shove that fork she was holding. “It’s being handled,” he said, giving Tony a gentle warning look. Don’t take out your sadness, frustration, and worry on the innocent, Tony the look said.
Rhodey, who knew the kid more than the rest thanks to the fact he was able to spend more time with him (though less than Tony) met Peter’s eyes. They stared at each other for a long second before it dawned on him that something terrible happened. He wouldn’t be so sad if he was hurt. He wouldn’t be so sad if something happened to him personally. He wouldn’t even be that sad if that girl he liked fell for someone else. He would, however, be that sad if someone was hurt other than him. Peter and Rhodey had barely known each other at the airport fight. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that he discovered Spider-Man was a kid. He made Tony promise not to get a kid involved in superhero business anymore, but that obviously fell through when Peter refused to listen, and ever since then they had become friends. When they first met each other face to face, shortly before the Avengers came back together, Peter was shaken up thoroughly over the fact that Rhodey had acquired damage during that battle and they had barely known each other.
That look was similar to the look he was wearing now, except not so much. It was tremendously worse.
Things were quiet at dinner for a short while. It all felt so…domesticated. That was probably at least partly the problem. The Avengers were like a family. A family to an orphaned kid. About ten minutes into dinner and awkward conversation, Peter had to excuse himself before he burst out crying again. He lost track of how many times he had cried that day. Five, maybe? Six? He didn’t know. It didn’t matter. He didn’t want to increase the total. He promised to return in a few minutes. Nobody went after him at first.
Clint was the first to speak once they were sure Peter was out of range, though he still whispered in case. “What’s going on, Stark? What happened to Peter?”
“We don’t need to talk about that right now,” Tony said, shrugging as if the fact that Peter was obviously in pain didn’t bother him.
“The kid just walked out almost in tears. What the hell happened?” It went without saying that they were all a little protective over Peter ever since they met him personally without the mask separating them.
Natasha stepped in, glaring at Clint and anybody who would meet her eyes. She never used that tone of voice with him. “Drop it, Barton. Right now.”
Normally nobody would have to be told twice to heed a warning from Natasha, but as mentioned before, they were protective. “I can’t just drop it.” He sounded frustrated, and he was. “How do you know what happened? Does everybody?”
When the argument started breaking out, Bruce got up and calmly went to follow Peter. He couldn’t find him. He wasn’t anywhere on that floor nor was he in the lab or his own bedroom. Panic started to build up minutely, but he pushed it down. Had Peter needed any assistance, Friday would have let them know before anything could happen. When Friday entered his thoughts, he asked her for Peter’s whereabouts. She told him he was in Tony’s bedroom. The unexpectedness of that only made him worry more.
He knocked lightly on the door before entering. There hadn’t been anything he was expecting to see, but he still found himself caught off guard. Peter was lying under the covers of Tony’s bed. There were no tears. That meant little, however, because the empty look on Peter’s face seemed to be more concerning than the unshed tears he had in his eyes as he left dinner. “They’re all concerned about you, Peter,” Bruce said quietly before moving into the room and shutting the door behind him. He had no idea what the problem was, but he did know a little about Peter. Ever since becoming Spider-Man, he admitted to having sensory issues. This could have been a case of that, so he spoke as quietly as he could manage just in case that was the problem. “Why are you laying in Tony’s bed instead of your own?”
“Because it’s Tony’s,” Peter answered, only he didn’t really answer much.
That must have been a sign that Peter wasn’t ready to answer the question fully. “May I sit?” he asked, to which Peter shrugged. He took a seat at the edge of the bed, angling his body to be facing the kid. “I’m not going to say anything important to you, okay? We don’t need to talk about this. You don’t need to talk about anything. I’m going to talk, though, if you don’t mind. I have been struggling with something I’m working on. It’s easy to work through something after I’ve talked it out. Maybe you’ll be able to help me if you’re up to talking?”
“Shoot,” Peter said, blinking tiredly at Bruce, but Bruce could see Peter rewiring his mindset from whatever was bothering him to work in some science equations.
Bruce hadn’t required the help. He didn’t have anything to figure out, not at that time, at least. Sometimes, he found it easier to get through the day when he was able to escape in something as concrete as science. Tony was the same except he was always more abstract with creating new things and not working entirely with science yet also not entirely mechanics or robotics. Peter’s escape seemed to be Spider-Man but going out at that time wasn’t an option. Science seemed like the next logical solution.
They talked for a short while, maybe only five or so minutes, before Peter had moved himself into a sitting position. He made no move to quit his intense discussion with Bruce or get out of bed fully, but he was no longer almost completely hiding under the covers of Tony’s bed. He would count the small victories. By the end of the next five minutes, Peter sighed and told Bruce he was ready to return. “Thanks,” he added as they left the room. “I know what you did there and…and I appreciate it.”
The rest of the team had stopped arguing after only a couple of minutes. Nothing had changed in the end. Clint was still frustrated and worried, as was the rest of the team (some more quietly than others), and the people who knew the problem weren’t speaking up. Tony was checking his watch every minute or so as he waited for Peter to return. He considered going after Peter when five minutes went by, but Bruce’s empty seat comforted him. Bruce was with Peter. His kid wasn’t crying or mourning alone.
Dinner continued awkwardly after their return. Peter continued to keep quiet and nobody was giving up any explanations as to why. Bruce had texted Tony shortly after their return and warned him of where he found Peter hiding out at. Tony almost had to excuse himself next to get a grip before if that didn’t break his heart, then he didn’t have a heart to break. A kid, his kid, was laying in his bed as opposed to his own, and Tony was willing to bet it stemmed from the entire orphan thing. Peter barely ate anything. In any other situation, Tony would have forced Peter to eat because of the accidental starvation situation they had a few weeks prior, but he couldn’t blame him for not being hungry. This once, he would let it go.
“I need to tell them something, kid,” Tony told Peter shortly after dinner ended and they returned to their floor. “Not specifics, but they need to know you’ll be staying with us. I can tell them it’ll be for a little while until you’re ready to say more, or I can tell them why and let them know you’re staying indefinitely.” He paused, watching Peter’s face for any reactions so he knew which choice to go with in case Peter lied about which he preferred. Instead of getting a reaction for either of the options, he got a reaction to ‘indefinitely’. “You know you’re staying with me until you’re ready to leave yet, right? Because I’m not taking you in until you find other arrangements. I’m taking you until you’re at least eighteen, and then you can stay for the rest of your life if you want, I don’t care, but you’re gonna be stuck with me until you’re at least eighteen and then ready to move out. I’m not making this a temporary offer.”
“I know,” Peter sighed, shakily sitting on the couch and resting his face in his hands tiredly. “I know.” There was no reason to repeat the statement, but he did. “It’s just…you know. I’m scared.”
“You should be,” Tony said instead of telling Peter there was nothing to fear. Other people probably would have gone that route, but Tony wouldn’t. It would be lies. “There are no guarantees. Anything could happen at any time. There’s a lot to be scared of. When-” he took a deep breath, ready to feel the pain he was accustomed to when thinking about death “-my parents died, it was all pretty terrifying. I had someone to take me in, someone who would later try to kill me, but before that, it was still scary. It’s been years and it still unsettles me to know that they were taken away as suddenly as they were.” He took another deep breath, shaking off that part of the conversation now that he said what he had to say regarding his parents. “That fear isn’t going to go away. Not when you turn eighteen, not when you go to college or move out, not when thirty years go by. For us it’s worse. Any day could be the last. For you, for me, for anyone else in this tower. You’re scared that I’m next. Rational fear. You’ve had bad luck and I put myself on the line more than any sane person does. You should be at least a little concerned.”
“This is some pep talk you’re giving me, Mr. Stark,” Peter said, though there was no malice. He seemed calmer. Having someone talk to him and be up-front was appreciated instead of the false hope. ‘I’d never leave you’ or ‘Nothing will happen to me’ would not help him.
“The pep talk is coming, just wait for it,” Tony said, drawing a weak laugh from Peter. “The point I’m trying to make here is this: we both know that anything could happen. It’s good to be aware of that instead of convincing ourselves it won’t happen. That doesn’t mean you need to focus on that, though. Live in the present rather than in the future you’re worried could happen. I’m here now, you’re here now, and that’s what matters. You hear me, kid?”
“I hear you,” Peter whispered back. In a small moment of something, he reached over and grabbed Tony’s hand. Without hesitating, Tony gripped Peter’s back, and they sat there in silence for a little while.
Maybe Tony wouldn’t be too horrible at this ‘father’ thing.
In hindsight, it wasn’t actually a shock to find out that Peter had anxiety attacks. There were more than enough potential causes, and that was only of the stuff they knew about. It was also just as believable that Peter wouldn’t tell anybody about these because the idiot didn’t want to appear weak. Considering the fact that every one of the Avengers – minus Peter, of course – thought he was one of the strongest people they knew, they felt it was only justified to refer to Peter as an idiot.
Peter was officially moved in three days after Aunt May’s death. On that day, Peter had requested that he and Tony drive to his old apartment and pack. They did just that and Peter cried, but he cried minimal tears. Too soon, the apartment was in boxes. The boxes on the left were being sent to be donated – Peter’s idea – and the boxes on the right were being kept by Peter and taken to the Tower which would be his main residency, being so close to Queens. Maybe not ‘so close,’ but it was close enough. A fifty-or-so minute drive that seemed to be worth it to Peter if it meant he could stay at his school. If school started near eight, somebody would need to take Peter around seven. If Peter had been able to swing to school, it would only take about fifteen minutes, but Tony promised that there would always be someone available to drive him. That worked for Peter, so it worked for Tony, too.
Once everything was moved into the Tower, Peter agreed that the rest of the team could know. He had asked Tony for silence, instead just staying at the Tower for a few days and ignoring the questions as to why. There was no need for that once he was moved in. That night at dinner, Peter stuttered his way through an explanation. Tony offered to do it for him so Peter didn’t have to hear the words said out loud, but he felt it was something he had to say for himself. To make it real. “So, um, I’m, uh…I’m moving in. Mr. Stark – Tony – he’s, uh, he’s adopting me. Taking me in and all that. I’m sorry we haven’t told most of you sooner. I haven’t been ready to talk about it, but it’s something you all need to know since, you know, you have a teenager living permanently under your roof. I’m sorry if this isn’t ideal for everyone, but…but I have nowhere else to go, so…”
It was rough to say the words out loud, seeing as he only had to say it to Ned before. He told the lady from children’s services that he wanted to move in with Tony, but they had been aware of that already. Natasha had discovered it out for her and Sam, and Steve seemed to have assumed that’s what was happening. Saying the words out loud made it feel too real for him, but he plowed through with minimal stuttering and no tears. Progress is progress.
May’s funeral was five days later, and he made up for the lack of tears when telling the Avengers he was moving in by crying more tears at the funeral. None of his extended family came, though Peter didn’t expect much. They were so distant that they were hardly family, and none lived nearby. Ned must have informed their Decathlon team of what happened and when the funeral was because the entire team was there for him, even Flash. It was touching. The Avengers were there, most of them in disguises, and Pepper held his hand the entire time. Tony wouldn’t let Peter greet people like most did at funerals. Instead, Happy handled that job.
Peter’s first panic attack happened two nights later. Well, it wasn’t his first panic attack. He’s had them throughout the years. He distinctly remembers his first one happening when he had that bad friend/babysitter named Skip – even thinking about him made him break out in a sweat and look around nervously even though it had been about seven years. He had a few before Ben, had more after Ben, and panic attacks were common enough in big buildings after the Vulture. He worked through them, at least he did when he got older, and it wasn’t too debilitating. In the moment, they always sucked, but he didn’t let them get him too down. He still had a city to protect.
This panic attack was the first panic attack he had after May’s death. The thing about that, though, was that the panic attack wasn’t because of May. It was because of Tony. It was stupid, he knew, and anybody would be able to see how paranoid he had become thanks to his last relative dying unexpectedly.
Peter had taken a break from Spider-Man. It hadn’t been too long, only a little more than a week, but it had been long enough, and he wasn’t returning to Spider-Man anytime soon. Just because Spider-Man was taking a break didn’t mean that Iron Man or the rest of the Avengers were taking a break. When Tony came in and told Peter what was going on, he made the kid promise not to get involved. Peter saw Tony pretend to not be surprised by the fact that Peter didn’t argue with this decision. It wasn’t an intense battle, but it was on the other side of the world. They were going to be gone for a while, but Pepper was staying with Peter, and Happy was going to take them to the Compound if there was any sign of danger at the Tower. Tony had ruffled Peter’s hair, stopping short of hugging him, before he left to meet up with the rest of the Avengers.
Pepper invited him to spend the evening together, just the two of them. They didn’t need to go anywhere to have some bonding time. It started out with her ordering some take out for dinner. Which was probably a good thing, if he was being honest, because he wouldn’t have eaten otherwise.
His appetite died with Aunt May.
“We need a movie night,” she declared before Peter even fully had the thought to isolate himself in his bedroom for the rest of ever.
“A movie night?” he echoed in response because really? Movie nights had been a rarity in his life for a little while. There were occasional movies, but ‘movie nights’ ended when he hit eighth grade. Not for any particular reason, though. It had just stopped, so the fact that Pepper declared a movie night brought him back to when he was young, and things were okay for just a second as he processed the idea.
“Yeah, a movie night. What movie are you feeling?”
“No, you at least have to give me a genre. Team work.”
Sometimes, Peter thought, she was too much like Tony for her own good. “Family friendly? I don’t know. Anything light-hearted. Disney or Dreamworks is good.”
“Have you heard of Coco? We can watch that.”
He had been wanting to see that. When it came out, MJ went to see it and she had recommended it. Strongly recommended it. He had agreed to watch it when he could, but it had been so chaotic ever since meeting the Avengers that he rarely had free time. “I’ve been meaning to see it,” he admitted. Maybe spending time with someone instead of hiding away would be a good thing. He knew he was isolating himself. Everybody was worried, but he didn’t think it was a big problem yet. Better to knock the problem sooner rather than later, though.
The movie was beautiful, by the way, and he definitely cried. The design was perfect, the story made him emotional, and by the end of it, he was singing along to Remember Me.
The panic attack came later. Pepper kissed the top of his head after saying goodnight and Peter went away. Things were okay. That was, of course, until he remembered that Tony was out on a mission. It took him a few minutes to get himself calm enough to realize that Tony was Iron Man, mostly protected in a metal suit. Still, he was out on a mission without Spider-Man there to watch his back. Not that Peter was the savior of the team, but it calmed Peter’s nerves to know he was there should he be needed.
Two calls went by without answer and that’s when Peter’s panic attack started. He sat on the floor, only inches from his bed, as he curled into a ball. What if Tony was hurt? What if he was worse than hurt? What would Peter do next? He loved Tony before May died, but that love intensified the second Tony promised to take him in. He couldn’t go through it again. He just finished burying May and that was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life, and his life was on the bad side. Tony always answered his phone. Well, maybe not at first, but things had changed dramatically since then. Something had to be wrong. He knew it. His spidey-sense was tingling at the base of his skull.
He barely made it to the bathroom before he threw up all the Chinese takeout Pepper ordered for them.
There were voices surrounding him shortly after that, but he hadn’t been able to tell who it was. Friday and Pepper, he knew deep down, but that wasn’t at the front of his mind. All he could think about that Tony was out there somewhere. He could have been hurt. He could have been dead. Someone’s hand was on his back. He wasn’t the one who needed comfort. He needed someone to make sure Tony was okay. He tried to vocalize these thoughts.
It wasn’t long before Tony’s voice filled the air around him. It was like Tony’s voice caused the oxygen to return because he suddenly wasn’t suffocating anymore. “Underoos, I’m gonna need you to breathe. I don’t know what’s running through your head right now, but we can work it out, right?”
“Are you okay?” he heard himself asking. “Tony?”
Tony’s heart stirred because Peter only called him ‘Tony’ when he was worked up. “God, kid, yes, I’m okay. I’m gonna need you to lift your head up so I can see you and you can see me. Okay?” Peter did as instructed, unaware that he had his face hidden after he finished throwing up. He saw Pepper kneeling there with a phone in her hand. The screen was facing Peter. Tony was there, obviously inside of the suit still. “I can’t talk for long, so I need to know you’re listening. Can you nod for me?” He nodded. “Good. I’m okay. Everybody here is okay. This is an easy mission, like, stupid easy. Like, pre-billion-dollar-suit-Spider-Man easy. But me? I’m worried about you, kiddo, and we are so having an intense conversation about this when I get back, but for now? For now, I need you to let Pepper help you. She’s great at this sort of thing. She used to be not-so-great, but she got better. She might as well be my therapist at this point, and I wish I was kidding. You see me, right?” Another nod. “So, you know that I’m okay?” One more nod. “Great. I’m sorry, I need to go. I’ll call you the second this ends, I promise.” And when Peter gave his final nod, Tony’s face disappeared from the screen, leaving Peter to stare at his own reflection.
Pepper wasted no time in drawing Peter in for a hug. “You need it,” she said simply.
“I’m sorry you had to see that, Miss Potts,” Peter said, hiccupping at the end of his sentence as his body continued to struggle to find the right pace to breathe again.
“Pepper,” she corrected, “and you shouldn’t be sorry. Happens to the best of us, right?”
“Right.” He didn’t sound so sure about that.
“Do you have these panic attacks often?” she asked, reaching up to push his now-sweaty hair away from his forehead. It was probably a curly mess. A shower was definitely needed, like, yesterday.
It only took Peter a few seconds to decide to answer with the truth. “Not as often as you’re probably thinking, but I have them enough. They’re never that bad, though, so please don’t be too worried.” He added that last part quickly. He wasn’t lying at that, either; his panic attacks rarely got so bad that he threw up and was unresponsive.
“Have you been having them since you moved in?” she asked. He had appreciated her before, but that appreciation only increased when she said, ‘moved in’ as opposed to ‘your aunt died’.
“It hasn’t happened since before,” he answered. “I’m sorry. I, uh, I’m okay now. Really. I got it out of my system.” That was also true, though he neglected to mention that the panic was now replaced with embarrassment and sadness. “I think I’m gonna shower before Mr. Stark calls me back, and then I’m going to go to bed. Sleep it off and all that.”
“If you need anything, you just need to have Friday get me, okay?” she said, grabbing his chin gently yet firmly so make sure he saw she was serious. “I’m not a mind-reader. If you need something, you need to get me. It won’t be a bother, I promise. Okay?” She made him promise to call if he needed anything. He promised, but he hadn’t needed anymore help for the night. Tony gave him a long monologue about the panic attack and how sorry he was, and then Peter went to sleep. He slept for fourteen hours.
The thing about panic attacks was that they were unpredictable, but even though they were unpredictable, Peter knew enough about them to figure out how to avoid triggers, work through the panic, and when it was time to hide himself away because some panic attacks just needed to be rode out. Peter knew that if he was going to be in a giant building, he had to keep his suit on under his clothes just in case and to stay near the windows. The exception for this was, of course, Avengers Tower, because he knew Tony built it and he knew Tony prepared for literally everything. He knew if he was going to be within fifty yards of a lake or other body of water, he had to avoid falling from high altitudes to prevent almost drown in his parachute. He knew, thanks to someone from his past, that he absolutely hated anything to do with Einstein, which meant he knew to avoid his work as much as possible (which also meant that when he came to his theory of relativity, he wasn’t as up to par as the rest of his peers).
Peter knew what he had to avoid and what to prepare for. But Peter also knew that he couldn’t always avoid, and he couldn’t always prepare. Some panic attacks came without reason, or the reason was just so unavoidable that there was little to be done about it.
After that first panic attack, he started to have them more often than before. His next happened shortly before the team came back the following day, and his third happened only hours after they returned. The constant panic attacks made it harder for him to recover and it only decreased his chances of avoiding them. There were some that he could understand. Ned taking three hours to text him back when he normally would respond immediately? Something could have happened. He understood his worry even if he knew it was more paranoid than anything. Controlled explosions in the lab thanks to Bruce? Peter hadn’t known they were controlled at the time. His panic was reasonable. On the other hand, there were some he couldn’t get. Panic attack while listening to music and trying to take a nap? Panic attack while re-watching Coco? Panic attack while brushing his teeth in the morning? He could not find an explanation. He was starting to think there were no explanations. He was probably just losing his mind.
Not only did his appetite die with Aunt May, but his sanity must have, as well.
The team didn’t know of these panic attacks. Friday had agreed not to say anything, though that deal came with a few compromises. First, if the panic attack became too severe like the one he had when Tony was gone, Friday was to report it to the nearest Avenger and/or Pepper. Fair is fair. Second, Peter had to promise that he would talk to Tony about it in the near future unless the panic attacks stopped. If they did, Peter wasn’t obligated to admit the panic attacks to anybody. Friday would also keep quiet. A month was their agreed upon length of time. The third compromise was the one that worried Peter. Friday said she could not lie to Tony, so if Tony directly asked her if Peter was having panic attacks, she would say yes.
Well a month was enough time to kick the anxiety, and all he had to do while he kicked the anxiety was act like he didn’t have any anxiety. That way Tony would never have to ask about it. He could handle it. Which was a lie. Because he most certainly could not handle it. Not even a little.
He went back to school a few days after the panic attack. It was a Monday. A new week. He had caught up on all the work he had missed in the two weeks he had been missing. People knew of the death, though he knew the people at his school wouldn’t say anything. They were mean and bullies, but they weren’t cruel, not even Flash. Flash had even texted Peter on the day of May’s funeral that he was sorry for his loss. There was no doubt in his mind that school would be relatively easy for him for at least a week, probably two. No bullies to deal with. Teachers would be lenient. Win-win. Only it didn’t feel like a win because Peter was living his life while May wasn’t. The panic attack that morning was almost severe enough for Friday to report.
It was nice to see Ned and MJ again. MJ had even given him a very brief hug, saying that she would have hugged him at the funeral if he had had a moment alone. The three of them stood in silence after that until the homeroom bell rang. Ned and MJ were waiting to see if mention of the funeral would cause Peter to break down in tears while Peter was trying to remember when to breathe for it to seem natural.
When he had a panic attack during chemistry class, Ned excused the two of them from the room. “We both forgot that the guidance counselor wanted to speak to us. She wanted to check in on Peter and ask me a few questions. Sorry! We’re already late,” Ned said, making up a decent-enough excuse before anybody began to notice that Peter was shaking and breathing too quick. He was dragged into the bathroom and the door was locked behind them once Ned made sure nobody else was in there. “Dude, what the hell? Are you hurt? Should I call Mr. Stark?”
“No,” Peter said too quickly. “No.” He repeated it for good measure. Calling Tony was out of the question. He still had more than three weeks before his month-long deal with Friday ended.
“What is this? What’s going on?”
Ned’s presence made it easier to work through the panic attack. He pulled himself into a ball on the dirty bathroom floor, rested his head back on the dirty bathroom wall, and willed himself to breathe the dirty bathroom air. The fact that Ned kept a hand on Peter’s shoulder the entire time made it easier. He could ground himself in that as opposed to whatever dangers his mind decided to try to bring up. He could tell his spidey-sense that he was safe with Ned. It wasn’t his shortest panic attack ever, but it still only lasted a few minutes before Peter was able to open his eyes and semi-function through the rest of the day. First, he had to semi-function through his unavoidable talk with Ned addressing his problem.
“Please don’t tell Mr. Stark,” Peter settled with saying before Ned could speak.
“Was that a-a panic attack?”
“Yes, Ned, please don’t say anything. I’m fine. It’s okay. You helped me, thank you, but we can go back to class now. I’m okay.”
Two panic attacks in one day? He was tired. He took a nap on the car ride with Happy back to the tower.
A couple of weeks went by without much improvement in the anxiety attack department. Quite the opposite, really. It seemed like he was always running on fumes, only panicking more during his panic attack recovery. He was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to sleep for a week and build his strength back up. Because he was genetically enhanced, his body ran differently than most others. Without sleep, they would just be tired and slow and all the normal things. When Peter didn’t have sleep, his increased metabolism would have nothing to draw the energy from, leaving him practically dead on his feet. He got a paper cut a few days back. A paper cut. It was still visible on his skin.
It was Bucky who found out about the panic attacks before anybody else. Since he moved in, Peter grew a little closer to everybody, but the person with the most improved relationship was Bucky. Peter enjoyed his silent but noticeable presence, and when Bucky did talk, it always either got Peter thinking or got him laughing. Peter wasn’t the only one who benefited from the relationship; he made things feel real to Bucky, or at least that’s what he had been told by Steve one day. He didn’t understand how, but he wasn’t going to argue.
Homework was a dull activity most of the time. Peter knew he was smart, he never tried to say otherwise, and he found the work they did most of the time to be boring. When they started a lesson he wasn’t familiar with, he learned it quickly. He never over-exerted himself at all when doing homework because of this, so his panic attack was random. He didn’t know that there was anybody nearby when his panic attack started. He was only doing his homework, not really an activity that required a babysitter. When his panic attack started, he didn’t bother running from his and Tony’s living room to the privacy of his bedroom or his bathroom. He had been alone, he thought, so there was no reason to hide. The panic attack was likely caused by either stress or him losing his mind. It was hard to figure out which. Both felt equally likely.
The panic attack made him lean forward off the couch with his head on his knees. He squeezed his hands on the couch cushions as much as he knew he could before accidentally putting holes in them. His chest ached. He was hyperventilating. The lack of breath caused his vision to blur which made him close his eyes to prevent throwing up from the dizziness.
“If you sit up straight, you’ll be able to breathe easier.” The voice made him jump up, turning around in shock. He didn’t bring his hands up in defense, though. He recognized the voice to be friendly before he recognized the voice to be Bucky. “Didn’t mean to startle you even more, kid. I’m sorry. Sit back down before you faint.”
“What are you-” Peter was gasping now and he took Bucky’s advice by sitting and keeping his wide eyes focused on him. He also sat up straight instead of folding in like a lawn seat. His breaths got a little easier after that.
“Don’t talk. Save your breath for this next thing.” Bucky took a seat on the couch next to Peter, but he kept his distance. He was close enough to offer support and companionship yet far enough away to avoid unwanted touch. “I’m gonna need you to do a couple things for me. I need you to keep your eyes open. Five things you can see. Can you list them?”
“Five things you can see. There’s plenty to choose from. Can you give me five?” Bucky spoke with practiced patience, he knew, because he wasn’t the calmest member of the Avengers by any means. Which means he must have had practice dealing with people panicking as badly as Peter was at that moment.
“I-uh, okay, you.” Just saying the one took too much breath out of him and he had to wait a moment as he tried to force enough air into his lungs to allow him to speak. “The-the couch. Three, uh, the TV. My homework. Um. The floor.”
“Good. Now, can you tell me four things you can feel?”
“The couch. My clothes. My-my…my shoes? Um. My breath?”
“And three things you can hear?”
“Hear? I don’t understand-”
“Can you try it anyways?”
“Okay. You. Me. Tony’s music.”
Bucky didn’t mention the fact that Tony was in his lab too far away for most to be able to hear the music. “Two things you can smell?”
“Dust…Iron?” He looked down at his hands and saw that at some point, his nails had cut the palms of his hands enough to make him bleed.
“One thing you can taste?”
“Salt.” That also didn’t make sense. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and discovered that he also started crying. He had no idea when that happened.
His first thought was no, he didn’t feel better, but he took a quick mental check of his body. He was still shaking, but it was just barely. He couldn’t hear his heart beating quickly in his ears anymore. His vision wasn’t blurry to the point of nausea. He chest didn’t hurt from trying too hard to bring in air. “Yes. Thank you. What was that?”
Bucky seemed to relax, too. His shoulders dropped. He let the tension out of his muscles. “My therapist taught it to me,” he admitted. Peter was too shocked by the fact that Bucky had managed to calm him down secretly to really take in the fact that Bucky mentioned he had a therapist. “It’s an easy way to trick your mind into calming down. Gives you a sense of control on a situation. One of the main reasons many people panic is because they are uncertain of something. Allowing yourself to take stock of the environment around you gives you the impression that you’re in control, and soon, you start to believe it, too.”
“It usually helps with panic attacks, then?” he asked. Now that he was semi-calm, he brought his knees up to his chest and laid his arms on top of them. Then, he rested his chin on his arms. “If this happens again, that should calm me down?”
“That’s always the goal. Do you want to talk about it?” Bucky’s approach to situations was so much different to how others approached. Pepper hugged him. Tony would always ask what’s wrong. Nobody really gave him much of a choice on if he wanted to talk about something or not. “I’m not going to force you,” Bucky continued while Peter mulled over his thoughts, “but sometimes it’s best to get it out in the open, even if you say the problem out loud to yourself. Hearing your thoughts make it easier to understand and work through them.”
“Have you needed to use that technique on yourself?”
“For different reasons, but yes, I have,” Bucky answered. He was silent for a few seconds, obviously debating, before he elaborated. “You know about my relationship with Hydra, right? Just in general?” Peter nodded. Bucky had been used in the Winter Soldier program, brainwashing him to become an assassin. He learned most of his skills through that, though he wasn’t fully conscious during it. He had learned from passing mentions of it that he still carried the memories with him, but he also knew that memories would get jumbled up from what Hydra wanted him to know and what Bucky had known before. It was a giant mess. “Sometimes, I get confused because of that. That technique keeps me in the present and keeps me away from the past. I use it to keep me where I am instead of my memories. You can use it to help you breathe. Panic attack, right? We’ve all had them.”
“Do they ever go away?”
Bucky gave a humorless laugh, and Peter knew he wasn’t about to like the answer. “Truthfully, kid, not really. At least not for most of us. We know how to deal with them, though, so it never really poses much of an issue. It’s part of the territory. You can manage it. Work through it. Control it so it doesn’t control you. But sometimes…sometimes that panic is going to be there whether you want it to be or not.”
“I don’t always know what causes them. I mean, some of it makes sense. Big buildings scare me sometimes, or water, or bullies, or scary-looking people. But then there’s these ones; the ones I don’t understand because I don’t know what scared me so bad. Those are the scariest.”
When Bucky raised his head to meet Peter’s eyes, he saw understanding. “It’s okay to be scared. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yeah…but it feels like I’m wasting my fear on nothing.”
The two stared at each other for a long time before Bucky spoke again. “How often would you say these panic attacks happen? Is it often enough for it to be a problem?”
He wanted to say no. He wanted to say it was a one-time thing, or at least it was something that only happened occasionally, and it was all under control. Or he wanted to say that Tony had it handled, or anything that wasn’t the truth. But it felt hard to keep lying about it. It had only been about two-to-three weeks since the constant panic attacks began, but there seemed to be no end in sight. Even so, going through it alone was exhausting. “It’s only getting worse, and it’s already been bad.”
“Is it an everyday problem?” Bucky asked, and Peter just nodded. “Does anybody know?”
“Friday agreed to let me deal with it. I had a month deadline to talk to somebody about it before she would tell Tony. A friend from school knows a little, but that’s only because I had one at school.” He felt like he should be hesitant admitting this problem, but now that he had started talking about it, he didn’t want to stop. It was like he held it in for too long and now the floor of words and admissions were taking over. “Pepper saw me have one and she called Tony, but they don’t know it’s been happening more.”
“Thank you for telling me,” Bucky said, and he even smiled at Peter. Smiled. “We can work with that. There are options. I know you may not want to, but I believe telling Tony is best. You’re his kid, after all.”
Peter knew he was Tony’s kid long before May died. Even if she had been alive and he was living with her, Tony would still want to know about anything such as that. “He still hasn’t let me return as Spider-Man. I want to tell him, but I think if I do, he’ll keep me from that even longer.”
“It’s because he knows that too much of that will only hurt you more. You understand that, don’t you? You’re a smart kid.”
He sighed because he did understand it. “I get it. Really, I do. But just because I get it doesn’t mean I have to like it. I miss being Spider-Man. It feels like I’m trapped in this endless cycle of panic and mourning, and I just want to feel…I want to feel like me again.”
“Try telling him that. Tony is overprotective and always concerned, but he’s still sensible. I promise, if he thinks that allowing you to be Spider-Man will help you more than it will hurt you, he’ll be right on board with it.” Hearing those words from Bucky made Peter breathe out in relief. He hadn’t noticed how much the lack of Spider-Man had really been bothering him. “Tell him about the panic attacks, too. He’ll find a way to help you with that and with the need to be Spider-Man again. If it’s one thing Tony is good at, it’s fixing problems and finding solutions.”
The trick Bucky used with Peter is actually a trick a camp counselor told me, and if you haven't heard of it before, it actually works really well for me. Whenever you're overwhelmed, it's a good way to calm yourself down
Being Spider-Man again was a blessing in every possible way. It got him out of the house, brought him back to life, and gave him something to think about rather than think about his aunt, his uncle, his parents, and this new life he had to adjust to and would eventually lose because the world was just that cruel. Tony set him up to speak with a therapist once a week. That took some time for Peter to agree to because Peter wasn’t ready to risk his identity just yet, but Peter finally agreed to see the same therapist as Tony. If Tony trusted her, Peter would, too. It got better. Things weren’t suddenly cured, though. He didn’t stop having panic attacks. He still had nightmares. His paranoia over Tony’s safety only seemed to get worse every day. May never left his mind and it hurt him so bad. But, there were improvements. That’s all that really mattered.
It took only another week after Peter went to Tony about his panic attacks to finally be allowed to go out again as Spider-Man, and it never felt better.
He wasn’t allowed to go out on his own just yet, which Peter grumbled about, but he didn’t argue. Tony had promised that Peter could come with them on any Avengers-related mission in the meantime. Once he felt he was ready, Tony would let Peter go on patrol again. It was a compromise that worked.
Something that wasn’t part of the compromise was Peter getting hurt only minutes into his first battle as Spider-Man in nearly a month. He had been training extensively, so he wasn’t unprepared. If anything, he was more prepared than ever before. It was just a case of Peter being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was an explosion that he sensed seconds before it went off, but it was a big enough explosion that he couldn’t get out of the blast entirely. Or at all, because where would he be without some good old-fashioned Parker luck?
He knew he screamed through the explosion, but he wasn’t sure if he was heard at all. He barely heard himself over the noise. He wasn’t in the building that had been blown up, but the blast was large enough to take out the buildings on that block completely. The bomb wasn’t made by Stark industries, but his design had been used. That’s what drew them to the battle in the first place. As he went flying through the sky with the heat of the fire threatening to break through the suit, he had the passing thought that Tony was going to hate himself for this. A Stark Industries copycat bomb that hurt Peter? Tony would never forgive himself.
He lost consciousness briefly through the explosion. When he came to, only a few seconds had passed. He was still in the air, still in the fire, and still being blown to somewhere unknown. When he hit the ground, he remained mercilessly awake the entire time. He felt bones break under the impact: a handful of his ribs, for sure, and he crushed his entire arm. The likelihood of a bone remaining intact in that arm were slim-to-none. The fire was strong enough to break through his suit from the back, so he landed flat on the burns he just received. His ears were ringing thanks to how loud that explosion had been. The ringing must have begun after he lost consciousness for those few seconds, because he was sure he remembered hearing the explosion. Heightened senses made explosions like that immensely louder. He wouldn’t be surprised if he ruptured his ear drums.
Karen was a blessing. He never knew he would need an AI until the AI appeared in his suit. She was amazing. She always knew exactly what Peter needed. She must have been talking to him before realizing he couldn’t hear because words appeared on the screen. Mr. Stark didn’t see you go down. Your communication to the team has been ended. Shall I call someone? It took him a few seconds too long to fully understand the message, confirming to himself that he had a hefty concussion. “Call him. Call Tony. Can Tony hear me? Tony? Karen, can he-can he hear me?” You are back on the line. Mr. Stark is flying to your location. “Tony-I, I can’t hear anything. That was super loud. Like, super-” He cut himself off with a heavy cough. He had landed inside of building that was now on fire. That was something he wished he noticed sooner. He swore out loud as he forced himself to roll over. He probably only managed it thanks to the adrenaline now rushing through his body. “Fire. Fire everywhere. Okay, Spider-Man. Just some fire. Not a lot. No big deal. It can’t burn you.”
It wasn’t just some fire, and it most definitely could burn him thanks to his already burned suit, but he liked to lie to himself. Even if he couldn’t actually hear the words he was saying.
“Karen, everything’s too bright. ‘s too bright. Turn down? Please?” The blast sent his senses into overdrive, probably trying to make up for the lack of hearing. He stumbled through the building, squinting to lessen the amount of sight coming in. He tore his way through the smoke, looking for a window or something to get out of. When he found nothing, he let fear take over and he punched a hole through the wall, which, okay, ow. He ripped the wall surrounding the hole off until it was big enough to get outside. He walked a couple feet away from the fire and took in as much of his surroundings as he was willing to.
There were soldiers everywhere. They weren’t as dangerous as Hydra, Tony promised, but they were terrorists. That normally wouldn’t warrant the Avengers paying a visit, but since the weapons were highly technical and too similar to Tony’s own, they went in. That was probably a good thing. Had anybody not super-human like Peter get caught in that blast, there’d be much more serious injuries. Or worse. When one of the soldiers caught sight of Peter, he had enough sense to request a taser web and shoot it at him before falling to the ground himself. “Get Tony,” he was saying because all he needed right now was Tony.
It was Sam who made it to him first. He wished he knew how to read lips because Sam was saying a lot of words that Peter just couldn’t make out. Though, his head was basically mush. Deciphering lips even if he had that skill would have also been difficult. He is asking if you can walk Karen translated for him. He had been able to walk out of there, so yeah, but he also fell only seconds later, so no. He decided not to answer. It didn’t matter, though, because Tony finally appeared, landing behind Sam and exiting his suit. He wanted to tell Tony to get back in the suit and protect himself. When he tried to speak, Tony put out his hand in a ‘stop’ motion. He and Sam exchanged words for a few more seconds before Sam took off, leaving Tony to care for Peter. He watched Tony get back in the suit before kneeling beside Peter, wrapping one arm behind his shoulders and the other under his legs, and then they were flying away.
“I can’t hear, Mr. Stark,” he said. He had reached an arm up to hold on to Tony’s suit – the arm that hadn’t been broken. It took too much energy. “I can’t breathe.”
Tony had carried him back to the jet where he was laid on the floor. He stepped out of the suit and pulled Peter’s mask off followed by the top half of his suit. He tried not to, but when Tony went to pull the suit from his broken arm, Peter let out a pain-filled scream and tears came to his eyes. He didn’t need to be able to read lips to know that Tony apologized over and over again because just because Peter screamed, it didn’t mean Tony could stop. Peter understood that the suit needed to come off because Tony needed to know his injuries, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt. Tears may have also happened.
It didn’t take long for Peter to pass out.
When Peter did, Tony lost his mind. He was all-but crying as he tried to wake him, but nothing worked. He had a pulse, but it was fast. They had taken a look at Peter’s normal heartrate, blood pressure, etc. so they had something to compare it to, and his already-fast heartbeat was so much faster. His breathing was labored, but Tony saw the obvious broken ribs and attributed it to them. The burns on his back were horrendous, probably bad enough to leave scarring if they didn’t get it taken care of immediately. “Friday, open a com,” Tony said. He waited a second for Friday to do as requested before he spoke again. “He needs help.”
“How bad?” Steve asked.
“He’s out. His arm is ruined, and I don’t know how many ribs aren’t broken. Obvious head injury. I think his lung is collapsing. I’m gonna have to fix it.”
“I’m on my way,” Bucky said.
“Have you ever done this before?” Sam asked.
Tony thinks he might have laughed at the question, but he can’t know for sure. “I know how to do it. Learned in college, relearned a few years ago. Never thought I’d need to do it. Bruce hulked out?”
“He hulked out as soon as that building went down,” Steve answered. “None of us saw Spider-Man go. He wouldn’t have hulked out if we had.”
Even while conscious, Peter made a terrifying wheezing noise as he breathed that only got worse each breath. “Bucky, ETA?”
“Here.” Tony looked up to see Bucky running into the quinjet. A normal person would have been out of breath, but Bucky didn’t even look affected by his sprint. “Grab me the first-aid kit, quick.” Tony wasn’t one to take orders from anyone outside of battle, but his kid needed help and he wasn’t going to waste time by arguing. Once he had the kit, Bucky pulled out a syringe and a stethoscope. After listening to Peter’s heart and breathing, he felt for one of the nonbroken ribs and placed the needle on top. He pressed the needle in and then pulled back on the syringe. As soon as he did that, Peter woke back up coughing.
Tony was kneeling by his head in an instant. “It’s okay, kiddo, you’re fine,” he was saying, unsure if Peter could even hear him but not wanting to stay quiet.
“We need to get him medical attention,” Bucky said, directing his words to the team. “It’s not looking good.”
“Think he’ll be fine if I fly him back?” Tony asked, looking at Bucky.
“I’ll call ahead for medical assistance,” Tony said, stepping into his suit before picking up Peter again.
In the end, Peter was more than a little lucky. Well, it was bad luck to begin with, but as far as bad luck went, this wasn’t the worst of luck. He had a moderate concussion which was worrisome. The doctors wouldn’t know much more until he woke up. The scans of his brain looked clear, though, which was promising. The burns on his back looked horrible, but they weren’t all that bad. No scarring. The pain would suck for a few days as his body worked to heal itself. The broken ribs had begun to mend themselves only hours after the initial explosion. The lack of hearing he had experienced was expected to have just been from the sound of the explosion.
Even though everything was looking well, Tony still worried. Peter was unconscious for sixteen hours. The doctors didn’t know if he’d wake up in hours or days. Of course, there was some concern that he wouldn’t wake up. Head injuries were unpredictable. Doctors said, though, that chances of him never waking up were so slim that it shouldn’t have mattered. Though, the chances that Peter would lose both his parents as a child, get bitten by a radioactive spider, lose his uncle, ‘join’ the Avengers, basically be a child genius, lose his aunt, and be adopted by the one and only Tony Stark all in the same lifetime had also been incredible low, yet that still happened. Tony wasn’t one for the odds in this case.
He calmed down the first time Peter woke up. That meant that he would be waking up and not be stuck in a coma for the rest of his life. Peter hadn’t even said anything when he woke up at first, instead choosing to stare at Tony for an unknown length of time. When Tony looked up from his phone, he saw Peter staring blankly at him. Tony smiled and started speaking to Peter, asking how he felt and all the general things to say to patients who just woke up. Peter mumbled out some sounds that were probably meant to be words, but Tony couldn’t decipher it. Peter fell back asleep seconds later.
When Peter woke up, for real this time, the first thing he noticed was that the room he was in smelled horrible. Or maybe it was him. It was hard to tell, but something smelled gross. In the back of his mind, he knew it probably wasn’t that bad. Super senses meant things were stronger to him. Sometimes he could smell the school lunch from down the block depending on how horrid it was that day. He pushed the bad smell aside and worked with what else he had, the first of which was also a smell, though this one much less gross than the last: antiseptics. Had he been hurt? There was a faint memory of pain. He was in some sort of bed with no restraints, so the likelihood that he was in a safe space was high. He could hear beeping which he recognized as one of those monitors to measure heartbeat and other medical things. His thoughts that he had been hurt were mostly confirmed then. A hospital, he deduced. Or the Tower. Probably the Tower.
He couldn’t tell if he hated the fact that he, even when half-awake, felt the need to take stock of what was around him to make sure if he was in any danger or if he was relieved he had that skill. Being an Avenger/vigilante came with risks. Waking up some place with no memory of how they got there was a constant danger.
There was pressure on his hand. Someone was holding it. He put all he had into squeezing that hand back. Granted, there wasn’t a lot in him at that moment, but the hand he was holding moved which likely meant he succeeded. “Peter? Can you hear me?”
That voice he knew. He’d never forget it. “M’s’er S’ark?” he said. Or, at least, he attempted to say. He was slurring and mumbling all at once. Never a good combination. “’a ‘app’n’d?” Those were words. They were close enough to words.
“Can you open your eyes for me, buddy?” Tony asked, and Peter knew he had to at least try. It took too much concentration and willpower, but soon, Peter was staring at Tony, or as much as he could be staring in the dark and through squinted eyes. Tony was standing beside the bed, holding onto Peter with one hand and holding the bed railing with the other. He looked messy and tired, but he was smiling brightly enough for it to feel like the whole room wasn’t encompassed in darkness. “There you go. How you feeling, kid?”
“Sleepy,” Peter admitted, frowning immediately at his choice of words. He was fifteen, not five. “Head. Hurts.” He was waking up a bit more and was grateful his words began to sound like words. He was less grateful for the headache that accompanied wakefulness. “You-are you-?” He made the ‘okay’ symbol with his free hand.
“I’m okay. Everyone is okay. You’re the only one who got hurt. You’re okay, too, by the way. I’m glad you decided to ask about your own well-being.” His words were hard, but they held no malice. Tony’s sarcasm was real, but he wasn’t angry. “What do you remember?”
“Kaboom.” There were definitely better ways to say that. “Um-building. Exploded. Sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
The laughter that escaped Tony’s throat was like music to Peter’s ears. He tried not to flinch because of how loud the sound was. He mostly succeeded. “Gosh, kid. You’re gonna make me go gray. Believe it or not, gray is not a good look on me. Believe me, I know. I went gray when I was only a few years older than you. I don’t want to have to up the amount of hair dye I use to keep me looking young.”
It was Peter’s turn to laugh. He only chuckled. Laughter hurt. “How long?”
“Not even a day,” Tony answered, knowing exactly what Peter had asked with his sparse words. “You’re already healing. Do you want to hear the rundown?” He waited for Peter to nod before he went into a detailed explanation. Peter was old enough to hear about his own injuries after all.
“Wow,” Peter said when Tony finished. “Buildings suck.”
“Yeah. First, one crushed you. Now, kaboom.”
He shouldn’t have wanted to laugh at that. He should have been scared because, yeah, that’s twice he almost died because of a building, but Tony knew how to keep him from freaking out by making him want to laugh. “You’re okay?”
“That’s the second time you asked that.” Tony was serious again. “I’m fine. Everyone is fine. Are you fine? Do you remember asking me that the first time?”
The concussion. Tony was worried about the concussion messing with his memory. “Yes,” he answered, and then said more words than he wanted to. This way he can assure Tony he was fine. “Worried about you. Want you to be okay.”
The seriousness drained from his face and it was replaced with understanding and caring. “I’m okay. Save your worry for a later date. Right now, the important thing is that you’re okay.”
“They’re fine. Why those two in particular?”
He wasn’t asking if they were okay. He wouldn’t call what he had a full memory exactly, but he felt as if there was some interaction with them when he got hurt. “Were they there?”
“Sam was the first to make it to you after we got your call,” Tony said. He sat down in the chair he had obviously pulled up, but he kept his hand in Peter’s. “Karen called the line, and we heard you talking about how you couldn’t hear anything. She filled us in. Sam was on the outside of the explosion, so he was closer to you. Bucky came after I got you out of there. Remember how I said you had a punctured lung?” He went to nod, but that hurt, so he gave a thumbs-up. “Bucky was the one who fixed that before we got you to the hospital. You were out for that, but you woke up after. You probably saw him then.”
“Sorry. Scared you.”
“You did scare me. You scared all of us. I want so badly to say you’re not ready to be Spider-Man again. That you need more training.” Peter wanted to argue, but he just stayed silent. That was an argument he knew he’d have when talking wasn’t painful (he probably should mention to Tony that his chest hurt, too). To his surprise, Tony went back on what he just said. “I’m not going to do that no matter how much I want to. We reviewed the footage. All of us did. There was no indication that the building was going to explode like that. What happened to you could have happened to any of us. It’d be unfair of me to punish you for that.”
“Felt it,” Peter said. He was getting more tired the longer than conversation continued, but he pushed through. “Spidey-sense. Too late.”
“It isn’t always going to be spot-on,” Tony said with a sigh. “We saw that, too. Your heartrate spiked, and you moved to leave. Which, I must add, is probably the smartest decision I’ve seen you make in that suit. Getting the hell out of a bad situation is not something you’re known for.”
“Funny.” Peter tried to move a little to get more comfortable, but he was becoming more familiar with the pain on his back. He made a face a muttered, “ow,” as he readjusted.
“Do you need your meds upped?” Tony asked, reaching for the call button. Peter stopped him by pulling on the hand he still held. “It’s okay to need more, Peter.”
“No. ‘s okay.” He was close to falling back asleep anyways. No need for more medicine just yet. “Promise. Tired.”
“You get back to sleep then, okay, kiddo?”
“Couldn’t get me to leave if you tried.”
One day I'll be better at writing action scenes. That day is not today, and it's probably not tomorrow, either
Chapter 6: Peter Helps
Nobody expected the fifteen-year-old orphan to save the day (even only partly), but that’s exactly what happened. It wasn’t Spider-Man, the vigilante and Avenger. It was Peter Parker, the kid who was adopted by Tony Stark and lived with an arsenal of scary people who should never be messed with and should never need the help of anybody, let alone a nerdy teenager.
Funny how some things worked out.
It was a weekend which meant Peter was home because if he wasn’t at school or patrol, he was at home. Specifically, this week, he was at the Compound home. He wouldn’t hang out too much with Ned anymore outside of school, but they would talk all the time on facetime and through text. Since moving in with Tony, Peter felt uncomfortable when he wasn’t near him. He felt safe in the Tower or Compound knowing Tony was nearby. Though, it was more of an emotional safety than a physical safety. He felt safe both ways, but specifically emotionally when around Tony because he liked knowing everybody was alive.
There was no reason to be training other than the usual ‘there’s always room for improvement,’ but that’s what Peter was doing. He was training with Natasha, something that was a common-enough occurrence for the two of them. They were in the gym, practicing his hand-to-hand combat, which meant he didn’t need his suit. He always needed work on hand-to-hand battle since he relied so-heavily on his webs and ability to duck away on instinct alone. She was stern when training, but she smiled at him whenever he finally learned whatever she was trying to teach him that day, so that made it all worth it to him. Once she even patted his back for doing such a good job.
There was a feeling that came so suddenly that it actually took the breath away from Peter as he ducked a blow. “Fri, sound the alarm!” he yelled out, jumping up from his crouched position in order to tackle Natasha. She went down willingly, thanks to the trust that they shared. They all trusted each other. When one said jump, nobody asked how high, they just jumped. She went down to the ground with him and he ended up on her back, protecting her body with his and keeping his hands over her head just in time for the explosion to go off throughout the building.
It was a large explosion, larger than what was probably expected for the compound. It rang his ears, though not nearly as badly as the explosion while he was out as Spider-Man. He was still able to hear after it happened. It lasted a short amount of time before Natasha threw him off of her. He checked her over for injuries, but she looked unharmed. She was doing the same to him, grabbing his shoulders and looking him up and down. She moved her finger in front of his eyes. He followed it, knowing he was meant to. “Never do that again,” she said, glaring at him. “Always protect yourself first, you understand? You could have gotten hurt. You got your suit?”
He came ready with his suit just like he always did for training. He left it in his bookbag against the wall just in case. “No time,” he said, running with her to the doorway. It was surrounded in debris, as was the entire gym. The ceiling was about to cave in which, okay, don’t think about that right now, Peter. He slid his hand into his bag and pulled out his mask and backup web shooters – the ones he made on his own. He kept them with him all the time.
Karen greeted him immediately. “Hello, Peter. Where is the rest of your suit?”
“No time,” he repeated. “Call Mr. Stark.” All he could think about was Tony. Where was he when the explosion went off? Was this an attack on him or the Avengers? Was he in the lab and made a mistake? What happened?
Tony answered on the first ring, probably about to call him at the same time. “Are you hurt, kid?”
“No, I’m not. Are you hurt? What happened?”
“I’m fine. I don’t know what happened just yet. Friday hadn’t noticed anything, so there might have been an accident somewhere or somebody snuck past her. Great weekend for everybody to come down, don’t you think?”
“I’m with Nat. She’s fine. We’re gonna go look for everybody. We’re on the stairs by the gym.”
“Get that suit on. We don’t know what we’re dealing with.”
Peter ended the call then because he existed out of the suit, too, and he really didn’t have the time to put it on. “Start calling some of the Avengers, Karen. We need to know if anyone is hurt. Let me know if you can’t get ahold of someone.” Natasha and Peter had made it up to the common floor, but there was nobody there. It was absolutely destroyed. It didn’t seem like any part of the explosion had reached there, but the way the building shook caused the damage.
“The explosion must have happened on the other end of the building,” Natasha said, voicing his thoughts.
Before he could answer, Karen alerted him that Clint was stuck in the elevator. Since there weren’t that many floors in the building, he probably hadn’t fallen from a great height if the elevator had crashed to the ground. That was promising. He ran to where the elevator was and opened the doors. He looked down the shaft and didn’t see the elevator, but he saw it above. He ran for the stairs, knowing Natasha would follow, and ran up two flights to get to the elevator doors there. He opened them before lowering himself down with a web. Natasha stayed at the top, looking prepared to jump if given the signal. When Peter landed as easily as he could on the elevator, he saw the top open up. Clint was staring up at him with blood running down the side of his face, but otherwise he didn’t look too bad. It was evident that he was shaken up, though. “You all good?” Peter asked, reaching a hand down for Clint to grab.
Peter effortlessly lifted Clint out of the elevator. “You’re strong for a twig,” Clint commented. An eyeroll ensured. If Clint could bully Peter, he was fine. “Gotta say, it’s hard to take you seriously when you’re wearing your mask and a t-shirt that tells me the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’.”
“I like this shirt,” Peter defended. He grabbed a hold of Clint with one hand and shot another web to the top with his other. His web shooters weren’t exactly the greatest, though, which made it hard to retract himself to the top. “When we get a little closer, I’m gonna have to throw you.”
“You’ll be fine. Natasha is up there.” Peter swung forward so he could bounce off the wall, gaining some speed to help with the momentum. “Ready?”
“I’m gonna be thrown by a twig,” Clint said, eyes wide in disbelief moments before Peter actually threw him. It was only a few feet away, thankfully, and it was amusing to hear Clint scream before he caught on to the floor by Natasha.
When Peter exited the elevator shaft, he heard the unmistakable sound of the Hulk roaring. Judging by the way Natasha and Clint’s faces’ hardened, they heard it, too. “Glad to know Dr. Banner is okay,” he said hesitantly. Another roar startled him before he took off running in the direction of the noise. When he realized where the sound was coming from, he relaxed. “I think he’s in the lab.”
“Good to know it was just a lab accident,” Clint said. He sounded relieved, too.
“Stay here, Peter. You haven’t dealt with Hulk before.”
That was mostly true. The only time Peter ever had to deal with Hulk was during battle, and when they were in battle, Hulk was always on his side. He knew, though, that if Bruce hulked out outside of battle for any sudden reason, he wouldn’t always be so friendly. Peter hadn’t interacted directly with Hulk ever. He was friendly enough with Bruce for him not to be too concerned. “And let you two handle him by yourselves? Not a chance,” Peter said, taking off running quicker towards the labs before either of them could argue with him. They were all a team. Peter wasn’t going to be scared of Hulk. The bad thing about the situation was that Tony had explicitly told Peter that if he was ever around Hulk outside of a fight, he was to leave the situation was quickly as possible and avoid all contact. Tony wasn’t scared of Hulk, but he was wary enough to try to make Peter scared of Hulk. He didn’t exactly want to disobey Tony when he had been so adamant about it, but he wasn’t going to leave anybody else alone with Hulk.
Hulk was stomping around the lab, looking very bothered. The lab was almost nonexistent thanks to all the damage. The explosion definitely happened there, and there was a strong smell of something. It would probably be best to get out of there soon. Chemicals were dangerous. “Peter, stop,” Clint demanded, making a reach to grab his arm before he could run in, but Peter easily dodged.
“Hulk!” he shouted, his voice squeaking. “Hulk, hey, hi, buddy. You okay?”
“Stupid Banner.” His fists were clenched, and that glare could rival MJ’s.
“No, no stupid Banner,” Peter said, waving his hands in a ‘no’ manner. “Banner just made a mistake. We all make mistakes, right, buddy?”
“Hulk make no mistakes. Hulk smash.”
“Hulk doesn’t need to smash right now, right? We all know each other. We’re friends, aren’t we?”
“Sure, buddy. Friends. I like you. We all do.”
He seemed to calm down for a moment before his anger grew. “You want Banner back.”
Hulk’s fist swung, though he wasn’t aiming for anything in particular. Peter took a step backwards in case. “No, we don’t. We don’t need Bruce right now. We need your help.”
“Peter, it’s important to get out as fast as possible,” Karen cut in. “There’s an unknown mixture of gases in the air.” If he didn’t already know that, it would have really freaked him out.
“I need your help getting Black Widow and Hawkeye out. Bruce accidentally caused dangerous chemicals to get out. It’s dangerous for-for puny humans like them. Hulk help get them out?”
“You need to come with us if there’s chemicals,” Natasha said before anybody could leave.
“I have an air filter in my mask. Go, it’s fine.”
Once the three of them were gone, Peter had Karen call Tony. “Everything okay on your end?” Tony asked as his way of a greeting.
Peter ran away from the lab, having Karen show him a thermal camera so he could see if anybody was around. “Bruce had a mishap in the lab, so we’re not under attack or anything. So that’s good, I guess. Have you found anyone?”
“I’m missing Natasha, Clint, and Bucky. I heard Hulk before, but I haven’t been able to find him. The less important people were nowhere near, so they’re all out and accounted for. Minor injuries among the more important people.”
“Hulk is helping Natasha and Clint get out. I was with Natasha and we found Clint in the elevator. Nobody’s too hurt.” A pause. “Also, nobody is more important than anyone else.”
“Okay, back up. You were with Hulk?”
“He’s nice to you if you’re nice to him,” Peter said shortly. “I’ll look for Bucky. You know about the chemicals?”
“Friday mentioned something about that. You’re still not in your suit.”
“I have my mask. It’s basically a gas mask. I’m fine. Everybody out?”
“Yeah, kid. Going back in for Bucky now. Get yourself out.”
“After we find Bucky.”
“One day you’ll listen to me, and that day will be the best day of my life.”
Peter laughed at that and closed the line. He saw a blob of thermal energy that was different from the environment surrounding it, so he was willing to bet it was Bucky. It wasn’t moving. He took off in that direction, using up some of the webs he had even though there wasn’t a lot to waste. Halfway there, he finally took note of all the smoke surrounding him. He glanced up at the ceiling and found the sprinklers, shooting a web at them in the hopes it’d set them off. Surprisingly, it worked, and water started raining down.
When he found Bucky, he was just waking up from what was an obvious head injury. Considering the roof had caved in, he couldn’t be shocked. “Bucky?” Peter said cautiously, wanting to be sure he wouldn’t get attacked by a confused Bucky.
“Are we under attack?” Bucky asked, forcing his way to his feet much-too easily for someone with a head injury. The movement jostled some of the wreckage around them, but nothing seemed to be threatening to crash down on top of them.
“There was an accident in the lab. No attack. Everybody is okay. We gotta get out of here, okay?”
“You hurt?” He grabbed Peter’s arms, looking him up and down for any obvious injury.
“No, I’m okay,” he said, shaking Bucky’s arms off of him and leading him out. “We need to hurry. Chemical spill. We don’t know what it was yet.”
After a quick call to Tony, Peter helped Bucky out of the building. He was moving mostly by himself, but Peter kept an arm around him just in case. Head injuries were dangerous, though he seemed to be fine. Peter was fine, too, but he was just exhausted by the end. From the time of the explosion to finding Bucky, it was only about five or so minutes, if that. Still, the adrenaline faded quick and he was ready for the nap of the century.
Outside there were specialized personnel dealing with the remains of the explosion. People who Tony trusted to be around the Avengers and who knew how to handle chemicals. Bruce had de-hulked and sat there looking guilty with one of those heavy blankets that paramedics usually gave to people in distress. There were no ambulances, but the medical team who dealt with the Avengers were there.
Peter walked Bucky to one of the medical staff before stepping back to catch his breath. He had been in more intense battles but having something like that happen so suddenly in a place he was supposed to be safe in was a little terrifying. “I hate buildings,” he said to himself, bending over to put his hands on his knees.
“You all good, kid?” he heard from behind him. It was Tony, obviously, because of course it was.
“Yeah, fine,” he mumbled in return. Before getting as close as he had to Tony, he would have stood straight up and made some sort of joke, but they were close enough now that he didn’t have to make himself look one way. After all the times Tony saw Peter cry, this was really nothing. Shoot, Tony consoled a teary Peter after he got a C on a test. They were well past ‘I’m totally not okay, but I’m gonna pretend I am’ territory. “Just need to catch my breath.”
He felt Tony’s hands on his back for a second before they moved to take his mask off. “It’s easier to breathe without this on,” Tony said, letting it fall to the ground. “Too much going on? Or is there another reason you’re gasping for air?”
It took him a moment to catalog what was going on. His heart was pounding and he couldn’t breathe, but he didn’t think it was a panic attack. He wasn’t hurt or anything, though, so it probably was a panic attack, or maybe not an attack and just the panic. “That was a lot,” he finally settled on saying.
“You did good. You made sure we got everyone out, not to mention you handled Hulk like a champ,” Tony said, now kneeling in front of Peter so they were face to face. Peter raised his eyes to look into Tony’s. “I say, as far as bad situations go, this could have ended up so much worse.”
“Yeah I-I know. It’s just, you know, bad things happen to the people I love, and buildings hate me for some reason.” He managed a deep breath, focusing on getting his breathing steady again. “I’m tired. I don’t want to do anything for a week.”
“Well, it’s gonna be a long car ride back to the Tower. I think Happy would appreciate it if you were sleeping that entire time.”
That drew a laugh out of Peter. “Happy loves me. Don’t let him tell you differently.”
Tony’s face turned serious – not too serious, but serious enough for Peter to sober up as well. “Will you be okay if I stepped away to deal with all of this while Happy is on his way to take you home? I can’t send anyone else because Pepper isn’t here, and Steve isn’t exactly most popular Avenger these days to deal with PR and all that junk.”
“Sure. You go ahead. I’ll be fine.”
“You sure? Because I can wait if you’re not comfortable with that yet.”
One thing that changed about Peter and Tony’s relationship ever since May died was the fact that Tony acted so much like a…like a dad. He obviously did his fair share of reading parenting books, and he always had Peter’s best interest in mind. If Peter asked him to shut down Stark Industries and destroy all Avengers suits tomorrow, Tony would comply today. Peter really was Tony’s number one priority. He could honestly say that Tony was his, as well. “I’m sure. You go clean this mess up, boss-man.”
Tony’s smile was always softer when it was directed towards Peter. He ruffled up his already messed up hair. “You got it, kid. Make sure you get checked out by medical. I know you’re fine, but it’s always best to be safe, right?”
“Right. Did you-”
“Already done,” Tony answered before the question escaped Peter’s lips.
After he finished letting medical look him over (surprise, surprise – he was fine), he went to take a seat next to Bucky. Bucky was sitting on the ground against a van that either belonged to the medical crew or the chemical crew with a bandage around his head. He took a seat beside him and rested his head on the man’s shoulder without saying anything, and Bucky wrapped his good arm around Peter in response. “You okay, bud?” Bucky asked.
“Yeah. I’m good.”
“Nat give you a rough time today in training?”
“When doesn’t she? But I’m getting better.”
“She told me you protected her.” He shrugged in response because what was there to say? What of it? “She’s grateful. Don’t let her rough exterior get to you. We all just like you too much.” He still didn’t say anything, instead reaching up to wipe his wet eye which came as a shock to him. It came as a shock to Bucky, too. “Hey, what is it?”
“I just really don’t want to lose any of you.” He put a hand over his mouth to stifle any sobs that would threaten to escape. He hadn’t planned on crying, hadn’t even thought that he might. There were no hints that he would cry. The minor panic was done and over with, and that was to be expected, but everybody was fine. He had no reason to cry, yet there he was.
Bucky looked down at this kid; this smart, brave, smile-inducing kid who didn’t hesitate to put his life on the line for others and was now crying over fear of losing his make-shift family that somehow worked really well together. He may had been this amazing superhero named Spider-Man, but he was still just a teenager. A teenager who just watched his second home get blown up and had to search through the rubble to make sure the people he cared about were still alive. A teenager who had been living with them only for a few months since his aunt died unexpectantly and was still terrified of the people he loved joining her. A teenager who kept his cool more than most adults would in situations as such and was crying the emotions he probably pushed away until the end of it all. “We’re all right here,” Bucky said, because what else could anybody say to a kid with justifiable fears? “You did great today. Might have even saved a life or two.”
“What if it’s not enough in the future? What if something happens and I-”
“Our lives aren’t in your hands. Never feel that type of pressure. If anything bad happens to us, it won’t be because of you.”
Peter closed his eyes and leaned deeper into Bucky. “You guys are my family. All of you.” They all already knew that, but Peter had never said those words before, at least not to any of them. It warmed Bucky’s heart as it was. Then, Peter added more. “You guys were my family before Mr. Stark adopted me.”
Happy was there only to take Peter back. The rest of them would return to the Tower later. They were going to go through the damage and find what wasn’t broken. The drive back to the Tower was quiet. Happy checked him over to make sure he wasn’t hurt before confirming with Tony and then medical that he wasn’t hurt before they got in the car. By the time they pulled up to the Tower, Peter was barely awake. “Pepper should be up there waiting for you,” Happy informed him.
“You not coming?”
It was obvious that the answer was that he wasn’t because he hadn’t gotten out of the car or made any move to turn it off, but his answer must have changed when he met Peter’s eyes in the rearview mirror because he turned the car off and got out. “What makes you think I’m not?” he challenged.
“No reason,” Peter said, getting out of the car with his mask. Tony promised to grab the rest of the suit before he flew home later that day.
Pepper hugged him as soon as he was in her eyesight. “Are you okay?” she asked once she let go. She smoothed his hair down and kept her hands on his cheeks. He nodded a yes to her question. “Tony warned me that you were a little worked up when he left. You all better now?” Another nod. “He also said you helped everybody. I know this may not be a big feat for you since you go out as Spider-Man and save people all the time, but I don’t think any of them really knew how it felt like to require help from you. Thank you.”
Once the blushing from her praise subsided, Peter laid on the couch with his head in Pepper’s lap. Happy was sat on the chair nearby, silent as he flipped through the channels to find something good to watch on the TV. He didn’t fall asleep, tired as he was, but he did finally relax after the big day. There was no villain trying to kill them, nobody was too hurt from the explosion, and he was back at home. It was crazy that that was his life, he knew. He imagined going to school on Monday and telling Ned that the Compound, his home, just blew up, and not even be too upset about it because he still had the Tower and he still had the Avengers. Summer vacation was coming up in a couple of weeks, and he was about to spend the entirety of it with the world-saving Avengers who were now his family. How did his life become so crazy that any of that made sense?
A lot of things about his life sucked: his parents died, his uncle died, his aunt died, his first real crush ended up having a father who tried to and almost succeeding in killing him, he was a magnet for danger, he had some mental health issues, and he was still just a dorky teenager who wasn’t exactly liked by his peers. But, despite all that bad, he still had a relatively happy life. He was adopted by Tony Stark which is cool in and of itself, but the fact that Peter knew him personally made it that much cooler, and Tony fit into his life as if he was the missing piece to Peter’s happiness. He lived with the rest of the Avengers and got to know them all personally. He knew things about them from their favorite colors to some of their biggest fears. He had the best friends anybody could ask for in Ned and MJ. He was a real-life superhero who went out and protected the world against supervillain attacks and protected New York City from anything from giant robot invasions to a bike stolen from a child.
His life sucked in a lot of different ways. But it was okay because he had the Avengers now. He looked after the Avengers and they looked out for him, and that’s all he could ever really ask for.