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Give him back to me, or so help me god

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“For the last time,” Tony slouched back in his chair, clasping two fingers around the bridge of his noise in an attempt to ease the cluster headache he could feel mounting behind his eyes. “Err, no.”

         “And for the last time, Mr. Stark,” Ross glowered across the courtroom, his eyes burning. “That is not your decision.”

         “It’s my signature,” Tony shrugged, shoving his hands into his pockets in an attempt to appear calm. Even in his pockets they quivered with rage. “So it kind of is.”

         They had been going round and round in circles with the same argument for just over three days now. Ever since Ross had had the nerve to show up at the Compound with the latest version of the Accords, ready for Tony to sign. The changes made to the accords had been a joke. Ross's presence in the Compound, where he had so nearly cost Tony more than he could afford to pay, was not. 

         If Steve hadn't held him back Tony would have beaten the man to death. He was sure of it. And not even a little repentant. 

         He hadn't though. What he had done was hurl the accords into Ross's face and refuse - vehemently, and colourfully - to ever sign so long as Ross was the one running things. 

         Ross had filed a law suit the next day.

         A voice above them both cut Ross off before he could reply – or hurl himself over the desk and strangle the life out of Tony. With the colours he was turning, Tony thought he had about a fifty fifty chance with either.

         “Mr. Stark-”

         Tony swivelled his chair to glance up at the judge.

         “Yes, Honey-pie.”

         The judge levelled Tony a cool look. “Secretary Ross raises a valid breach of contract – you made a formal agreement to sign-”

         “-I made an agreement to sign before he tried to kill us.” Tony cut the older man off, pulling up in his chair to stare up at the judge fully. “A tentative agreement at best, that was dependant on certain amendments that Mr. Ross has not yet made.”

         “Secretary Ross.”

         For the first time since they had called the session in order, almost five hours ago, Tony looked up and met Ross’s eyes. The rage that had been quietly stirring in his chest throbbed, and then expanded. Gnawing through his organs, and then out to his very fingertips and toes. God those fingertips ached. Ached to claw those eyes out where the man stood –

         “Not for very much longer.”

         The words were not a shout – in fact they were softer than anything Tony had said so far – but they echoed. They seemed to rebound off of every wall, and catch in the very air. For a moment not even one of the hundred people room moved.

         Ross found his voice first.

         “You recounted your agreement – an agreement that kept you from being named an enemy of the state alongside the rest of the criminals you now house!” He screamed across the room, launching to his feet despite the warning hands of his legal council, a vein in his forehead throbbing with his every word.

         “At your request!” Tony thundered, on his feet as well, his chair – and poor attempts to seem unperturbed – abandoned. “And the request of congress!” He rounded on the judge. “And for the record – again – I did not recount my agreement to sign the Accords. When the amendments that were agreed to by the United Nations – which actually allow my team and I some basic, human rights – are made, and I am satisfied with them, I will sign.” He said, his voice rising to barrel right over the scoff that Ross let out. Tony fixed his eyes back on Ross, and again he had the fight the almost nauseating urge to launch across the tables that separated them and beat the life out of the other man with whatever he could find. “What I said was that I will never sign it, no matter how many amendments are made, while his name is still attached.”

         Ross rounded on the judge – his face now a wash with vibrant colours as he fought to hold onto what little decorum he had left.

         “That – that right there – is a blatant breach of contract-”

         Tony cut him off before he could really begin – he’d heard enough. He was done. He was so done. “You want to talk about a breach of contract – you sent an army to our doorstep!” Tony roared, and the veil of whispers that had fallen over the crowd in the last few minutes ceased. Even the judge fell silent. Tony barely noticed. His eyes were fixed on Ross – but as he stared the man faded away, and a small body, lying face down on an embankment, took his place. The sight, even two whole months later, threatened to bring Tony to his knees. “You attacked us in an effort to incite a rage that might give you the leverage you needed to pass the Accords how they are – to give you complete control over us, and anyone like us!” The small body disappeared from behind Tony’s eyes, and Ross came back into focus. A loathing, deep and guttural, settled in Tony’s chest. It was so heavy that for a moment it threatened to suffocate him. “Well congratulations Mr. Ross, you’ve incited rage.” Tony’s roar tapered off – swallowed whole by that pit of loathing in his chest that felt like it just might consume him. Completely. His words, now, were barely above a murmur – but the courtroom was silent. Every ear attuned to Tony. “And it is going to burn you.”

         Ross was trembling now – his own fury clawing to be let out. “Is that a threat!?” He bellowed across the room. He took a step towards Tony, but several of his officers, who had been called to give statements, pulled him back. Ross’s eyes never left Tony’s. “Is that a threat!?

         Tony’s feet moved to take a step forward as well – the cameras flashing all around suddenly meaning very little to him. He was going to kill him. He was going to beat the man to death with his bare hands, right here, right now and be done with–

         Something latched onto Tony, and held him in place. Tony tried to pry himself free – needed to reach Ross. He needed to feel him bleed

         “Tony – Tony.” A voice cut through Tony’s blind rage. The hands that had seized the lapels of his suit shook him roughly. After a moment Rhodey filtered into view. He was leaning over the fence that separated the crowd from the panel, holding Tony in place with steel like fingers. “Easy.” He hissed, his face inches from Tony. “You need to take a breath.” Tony did – and the screaming in his lungs let up. God it felt good. How long had he been holding his breath? Rhodey pulled Tony towards the fence that separated them, cutting off his line of sight to Ross. “Easy, Tony.” He said again – staring at Tony intently, watching him gulp down another few breaths.

         Across the courtroom Ross was receiving a similar talking too by not only the soldiers around him – but his council and the judge as well. He was still shouting, his arms waving wildly even as his men tried to calm him.

         “-is that a threat?! He can’t-”

         “Should it be?” Tony bellowed over his indignant cries. The man’s eyes shot back to him. Rhodey, now apparently satisfied that Tony was no longer going to launch himself across the courtroom, let go and the both of them turned back to face Ross. “Are we not threatened by you? Or very lives threatened by you?” Tony asked, fighting to keep his tone in check – to keep everything in check. He would not let Ross win. He would not let Ross win-

         “As I have already stated, I had no hand in the unfortunate attack on the Compound-” Ross bellowed, pulling his eyes away from Tony and turning to stare up the judge. Just as well. Tony wasn’t sure what he would have done if the man had had the nerve to lie right to his face.

         “We have evidence that proves your men were behind the breach. Witness statements, specialised gear collected at the Compound – a soldier himself who admitted it for Christ sake!” Tony said, his voice rising again. Rhodey’s hand settled on Tony’s back, resting over his left shoulder blade – out of sight from the rest of the courtroom. It wasn’t restrictive, or gripping, it was just there. A constant weight that kept him in the courtroom, and not by that damn lake

         “My men acted of their own volition!” Ross’s voice echoed through the room. “A grievous violation of my trust – and their governments’.” He said, shooting a look around the crowd behind him before settling his eyes on Tony. “And that statement was taken was taken under duress.”

         “Duress?!” Tony scoffed. “What duress? We asked – he told us.”

         “If I had a man like Steve Rogers towering over me in the middle of a battle-field, demanding answers, I’d tell him whatever he wanted to hear as well.” Ross sneered.  

         The words hit home.

         Ross had started speaking again – bellowing something up at the judge – but Tony couldn’t hear him. He’d heard enough.

         “-It was not a battle-field,” Tony cut Ross off. His words were soft, but somehow they carried – even over Ross’s thunderous cries. The courtroom fell silent again. Even Ross turned to stare, confusion leaking into his rage blinded eyes. Tony tore his own eyes away from the man. He couldn’t keep looking at him. It hurt. It hurt too much. The idea what his actions had nearly cost

         “It was a home.”

         Not a soul moved in the courtroom at the words – none but Tony.

         He pulled away from Rhodey’s hand, turning his back to Ross and the judge to look at the crowd instead. It had been a closed court – but even so there were over a hundred eyes staring back at him, and cameras in every corner that broadcasted his every word across the world. He’d felt them over his shoulder for hours now while he argued with Ross and the judge, but he’d never stopped to cast a look at them. Their faces were tight, and pale – their attention solely focused on Tony.

         “We’ve made mistakes,” Tony said, looking out over the faces, every single one. “I, and all of the others, are the first to admit that – but made them because, at the time, we thought there was no other way.” The crowd watched Tony in rapt silence. Even Rhodey – who was leaning against the railing that separated them, as if not quite sure whether he should vault over and stop Tony himself before he did something he couldn’t take back. But he didn’t. And Tony didn’t stop.

         “What we did cost the lives of thousands, and we know that – we live with that as best we can – but we did it to save billions.” Tony’s voice carried across the crowd. “I’m not saying we made the right choices. We were six people when New York happened – well, five people and one god – we made the only choices we could see, but that is the point of this!” Tony threw a hand behind him. To the table set up before the judge where the latest version of the Accords sat – unsigned. “That when aliens fall out of the sky the decision making isn’t left to six people – six people who are generally a little busy trying not to be shot or impaled to make a plan beyond living through the next minute, and trying to make sure others do the same. This-” Tony slid over the table he’d been trapped behind for hours and marched towards the Accords, yanking them off of the small table and holding them out for the crowd to see. “This binds us together – our best guns, our best fighters and our best minds, all working together to keep us safe. Because we’re not safe.” He roared. Pale faces stared back at him. “We’re not safe.” He murmured, sparing the Accords one last glance before throwing them back down on the desk. The entire courtroom jumped at the loud thud. “We don’t know what’s up there,” He said, waving a hand at the roof – and the vast expanse of the universe above it. “But, sooner or later, it is coming.” He went on. The pale faces staring at him grew paler. “You need us – and we need you. We can’t do this alone. Not any of us.” Tony heaved in a heavy breath. “What we don’t need is him,” He threw a hand out towards Ross. The man made as sound – as if he were about to speak – but Tony ploughed on over him. “A man who would strip us of our basic rights, and leash us to his personal agenda.” Tony hissed. “And not just us – because it’s not just us. It’s some of you. It’s some of your children.” Tony let the words hit home for a moment – because they sure as shit hit home for him. “Anyone who’s special or different.” He murmured, and before he could even try to stop it, that small, broken body lying face down in the river flashed across his mind again. The next breath he took threatened to choke him. And the sight of that small body refused to leave him. “It the kid at the end of the block – just a kid, whose maybe been given something that everyone else doesn’t have, but instead of using his abilities to get on the football team or impress girls, he’s out there trying to help.” The words were spilling out of Tony before he even knew what he was saying. “He doesn’t owe you anything. He doesn’t ask for anything. He’s just trying to help – because it’s the right thing to do.” Too many memories flooded through him – all at once. Every meeting. Every trusting smile, and nod. Every damn time Tony had told the kid to stay out of it. To be safe – to listen one goddamn time– “Because when the people who can do something don’t, when the bad things happen, they happen because of them.” Tony paused for a moment. No one spoke. Tony heaved out a sigh, nodding as he raised a hand to jab a finger at Ross. “Ross will take us, if you let him, he’ll take that kid – that kid whose just trying to do the right thing.” Even saying the words nearly gutted him. “He’ll take you, and your kids. He’ll leash them, if he thinks that they can help him, or he’ll put them down if he doesn’t. This-” Tony waved a hand down at the Accords on the table in front of him, “-how it is now – this isn’t unity. It’s dictatorship – and he’s running the show.” Tony said, nodding back over at Ross. “No.” Tony shook his head. “No.” He murmured, taking one last look out over the silent crowd. “He’s out – or we are.”

         A deafening silence met the end of his words. It fell over the courtroom like a mist, cloaking every single person in the room.

         Again, Ross found his voice first.

         “You can’t say that-” He said, his tone curt, but level. His eyes had never left Tony’s face as he spoke – and he didn’t look away now. His eyes bore into Tony’s, as if he could hollow Tony from the inside out without ever touching him. Tony refused to give to much mind to the irony that the man almost had – without even knowing it.

         “Just did.” Tony threw over his shoulder as he slid back over his desk, and sank into his plush chair with a flourish. “You’re out – or we are.” Tony threw his hands up in an animated shrug. “Oh, look at that, I said it again.”

         “Stark-”

         “-I think we’ll adjourn for today – we can pick this up tomorrow.” The judge’s voice boomed across the courtroom, cutting Ross off before he could spark another row. The just shot a stern look down at both parties. “Now both of you get out.” He growled, slamming his gavel with more force than was really necessary. “Before I kick both of you out of my court room.”

         The room erupted with noise. The crowd were on their feet. Yelling up at the judge, and each other – journalists screaming questions and civilians demanding answers.

         Tony pulled away from the desk at once, spinning to face Rhodey and get the fuck out, but before he could even begin to shove his way through the mob that was forming at the fence, Ross was beside him.

         He caught Tony’s arm roughly and pulled him close.

         Ross’s words were soft, too soft to be overheard, but they slid sickeningly along Tony’s spine. “I can see that this all a game of smiles an empty words for you Stark, but-”

         “It’s not a game.” Tony hissed, yanking his arm free and turning the rest of the way towards Ross. A few members of the crowd seemed to have noticed them – and watched with rapt attention – but the majority were still yelling at someone. Tony moved a little closer, pausing inches from Ross. “You nearly took something you would not have been able to give back.” Tony murmured. “This is not a game. It’s not a discussion or a debate.” Tony’s voice dipped, and that gnawing need to reach out and tear at the man across from his returned. “I warned you, when you first came to me about the Accords, that if you crossed me I would ruin you.” Tony tapped a soft hand on Ross’s crisp suit jacket. “This is the end of you, Mr. Ross.”

         “You can’t do this-”

         “You did this, Ross.” Tony cut him of venomously. “You brought all this down on yourself when you came to my house.” Tony paused, taking a moment to glance around at the crowd and pull himself back together. He didn’t look back over at Ross when he started speaking again – instead he kept his eyes fixed on the crowd, waving to a few familiar faces and throwing up his signature peace sign when cameras flashed in their direction. His words, however, were cold and empty. “You should be grateful – had that night ended a different way, you any I would not be here.” He said, taking great care to keep his words out of prying ears, but loud enough for Ross to catch every one. “We would be somewhere else. Alone.” His eyes darted to Ross for just a moment. “And you would not have been leaving.”

 


 

His out, or we are.

Tony's words echoed out of the phone Peter was clutching beneath his desk. Ned was watching over his shoulder - neither of them paying any mind to their Spanish teacher who was still speaking in rapid Spanish to Flash at the front of the class.

         “Best mic drop ever,” Ned whispered, eyes wide as he watched Tony march out of the courtroom, a flurry of reporters trailing after. Peter had to agree. With his head held high, and his signature smirk firmly in place, Tony was in his element. Even with hundreds of people swarming about him, screaming and shouting as he pushed his way through, he looked untouchable.

         Something deep in Peter sunk at the sight of the man.

         “Yeah.” He murmured, locking the phone and shoving it back in his pocket with swift fingers as their Spanish teacher started to move between the students.

         “That was so awesome.” Ned grinned, leaning back over to Peter as soon as the teacher had passed them. “Like shit, he told him.”

         Peter nodded, his eyes fixed on his worksheet – but not really seeing the different verb formations he was supposed to be working on. “Yeah.”

         “What’s going on with all of that?” Ned asked, clearly trying to keep his voice down – and failing. His excitement flooded through every word. Peter didn’t ask him to keep his voice down. His motivation to do anything else than stare blankly at his sheet was quickly dwindling. “I mean are the other Avengers back at the Compound? Are they on the run again?” Ned grasped onto Peter’s arm, suddenly alarmed. “Are you going on the run?!”

         “What?” That brought Peter out of his daze. “No, Ned.” He gave a small shrug. “And I don’t know.”

         Ned stared at him blankly. “What do you mean?”

         “I don’t know.” Peter said again, leaning further onto the table. Trying to make his brain focus on his sheet – and failing. “I haven’t spoken to any of them since it happened.”

         “But what about Mr. Stark?” Ned asked, sparing a look down at his own sheet when their Spanish teacher passed by again, and threw him a sour look. “Surely he knows what’s going on.”

         Peter’s stomached twisted.

         “Probably.” He muttered. Ned looked up at him – his hearing not quick enough to catch Peter’s words. “I haven’t spoken to him either.” Peter said, a little louder.

         “What?” Ned asked, his face scrunching up in confusion. “Why?”

         Peter tried to shrug again, but the movement caught in his tense shoulders and shot a bolt of pain through his back. “I called but – he just–” Peter cut off, shaking his head in a way that he hoped looked casual. If the growing line between Ned’s brows was any indication, he was failing at that too. “He hasn’t called back.”

         “Maybe you should call again?” Ned suggested, “I mean his a busy guy, he might have just forgotten-”

         “-I have called again.” Peter snapped – and immediately regretted it. Ned’s eyebrows shot up. Peter heaved out a heavy breath, his eyes falling down to the pen he was fiddling with in his lap. “I’ve called him a dozen times. And Happy a dozen more.” He said. “I called Stark Industries and his personal assistants – all three – and nothing.” He threw the pen down onto the table forcefully. It ricocheted off the desk and spun across the room, colliding loudly with the wall by the door and splintering. Spraying blue ink across the bland, white paint. Everyone looked up, and the whole room fell silent.

         “Who threw that!?”

         Peter and Ned ducked their heads.

         Their Spanish teacher marched across the room to the students sitting closest to the now blue wall. Peter waited for her to start yelling before he spoke again.

         “He’s avoiding me.”

         Ned’s face fell – all excitement fading away. “Why?”

         “I don’t know.” Peter said, but his heart wasn’t in the words. “I don’t know.”

He had a sinking feeling that he knew exactly why Tony wasn’t returning his calls.

         Ned stared at him for a moment longer before he leaned over and bumped his shoulder, shooting him a wide grin. “You patrolling tonight?”

         Peter’s eyes drifted back to his worksheet. “Maybe.”

         “Maybe?”

         “Yeah,” Peter said, moving back to start on his sheet, only to realize that he was now without a pen. And he hadn’t brought another. He shoved the sheet away, frustration taking hold again, and ran his fingers through his hair, then over his face. God. He was tired. “I’ve got a heap homework for history and that physics quiz on Friday so – you know.”

         Ned nodded slowly. “Well I’m totally around tonight so I am down – if you go out just call me and I’ll log on.” He said, his excitement mounting again. Peter couldn’t bring himself to dampen it, despite how miserable he felt. “I found this epic as vintage police radio and I’ve just finished tuning it, so we’re good to go.”

         Peter nodded and tried his best to summon a smile. Again, he failed.  

         “Cool.”


 

 

Chapter Text


 

There was something about New York when it was upside-down. Something that, no matter how many times Peter hung head first from the ledge of a building, he couldn’t quite wrap his head around. The buildings always looked as if they broken out from the ground for the sole purpose of clawing at the sky below. Occasionally scratching a silver peak against the horizon but never really touching the infinite black chasm.

The people, too, were different. There were no motives when the world was upside-down. No meaning at all. Only the desperate need to keep from falling.

A soft crackle sounded in Peter’s left ear.

“Guy-in-the-chair to Spider-man.” A rushed voice cut across the comm. “You copy Spider-man?”

With a small huff Peter began to untangle himself from the web he had strung up from the tallest ledge he could find on 47st.

Spider-man!?”

“Yeah – I copy, Ned.”

Ned’s choked voice crackled across the comm.

Dude,” He hissed. “Code name! Come on.”

“You know it’s only Mr. Stark who actually listens to this channel, yeah?” Peter said, a yawn butchering the last few words. “And he knows who you are.”

“Okay, gonna to skip right past Tony Stark actually knowing who I am – because that’s just too awesome to even compute right now–” Ned babbled, furious typing cutting across the comm. every now and again. Ned had set up his own microphone, which they’d found at a thrift store on 29th, but it was scratchy at best. Peter had to admit it was kind of soothing, though. Having Ned in his ear these last few weeks had eased the anxious pit that had taken up residence his chest since the attack on the Compound. Or, at least, eased a little. Peter couldn’t deny that the pit was still there. And growing. “But the code names are cool!” Ned’s voice cut across the comm. again. “And what if, like, some dude hacks into your server and starts listening?”

Peter laughed outright – surprising himself for a second. “What, like you are?”

Exactly!” Ned shouted – and then the word sunk in. “Wait – no.” His voice crackled over the comm. Peter pulled himself up onto the roof, and shot a glance over the city.

It was quiet tonight. Or as quiet as Queens ever got. He’d already broken up a fight in the Subway, caught a pick-pocket-er and helped a girl find her phone – which she’d left in Chinese restaurant in Middle Village. That had been kind of cool. She’d bought him dumplings after.

Ned’s voice crackled back through the mask. “What’s up with you?” He asked. “You haven’t moved in like the last half-hour.”

“I know. I’m just tired.” Peter said, stretching up on his toes and winding his arms behind his back until his shoulders cracked. “Mr. Prichard had me in school at six to make up for the calculus quiz I missed last week.” He shooks his arms and legs out gingerly.

“Eww.”

“Yeah.”

Peter moved up to perch on the ledge of the building, scanning over what he could make out of Sunnyside – and finding not very much. It was inching towards midnight on a Tuesday, and even in the city (and boroughs) that never slept, people tended to keep to themselves and wander home at a semi-reasonable hour on Tuesdays. A couple of people were spilling out of a bar down the street, on the corner of Greenpoint and 45th, and he could hear the distinctive thump of a dribbled basket ball, the tell-tale excited shouts of a game, at a small park a block over – but other than that the streets were pretty deserted.

“Well nothing particularly exciting is coming over the scanner,” Ned’s voice echoed through the mask. “You wanna call it a night?”

“Ugh,” Peter huffed, tilting his head from side to side to ease the stiffness in his neck. Oww. He really needed to stop sleeping in the webbing. “I’ll give it twenty more minutes then head home.”

With that he pulled himself back to his head, stretched his arms out to the side as far as they would reach in one last attempt to loosen the muscles in his back, and leapt from the building.

Cool air, and the all-consuming sensation of freedom, met him.

He shot a web out at the building across from him and rode it up and over the block onto 46th. He continued along the dark streets. Skipping between launching himself cleanly over blocks at a time, and stopping to swing down onto the sides of the buildings he passed – surveying the peopled still peppered along the sidewalks. No one seemed in need of him, so he kept moving. Bounding towards 48th street, and the cemetery just beyond it.

Ned’s voice crackled across the comm. again. “Does Mr. Stark really listen to these?”

Peter shot a web onto a particularly tall brownstone, and launched himself up and over it, onto 49th street. “I don’t know.” He said, coming to a running stop atop one of the buildings overlooking the cemetery. “He says he doesn’t – but sometimes he says stuff that I swear he could only know about if he did, and–”

Peter cut off.

Below him a black sedan had just pulled up by the cemetery gates – which on its own wasn’t overly suspicious – but Peter fell silent as he watched a man climb out of the driver’s side and step up onto the sidewalk. It was dark, and the man wore a scarf high up on his neck, covering a good portion of his lower face, but Peter could still make him out – even from across the street. He had a buzzed hair cut, military looking on one side, but the other looked as if it had been shaved clean by medical professions in a hurry, and never really grown back. The entire left side of his head was a mess of scars. They twisted wildly along the bare skin there – some disappearing into tuffs of hair that had grown back, and others snaking down onto the man’s face. One in particular ran all the way down, and across, the man’s cheek.

The sight of him was a little startling – but not what gave Peter pause.

No. Peter knew this man.

He just wasn’t sure how.

He’d seen that face before – he was sure of it. It wasn’t one he was likely to forget. He just couldn’t place him.

What he could place the tingling on the back of his neck as he stared down at the man. That was no muscle stiffness. Anxiety swelled up in Peter’s chest.

“-what?!” Ned’s voice cut back over the comm. “What’s happening?!”

“Not sure.” Peter murmured. As he watched the man threw a look over both shoulders and then moved up towards the cemetery gates. Disappearing inside.

Peter followed without a second’s hesitation.

“-what have you found?!”

“I don’t know-shh-” Peter hissed over the comm. as he leapt over the cemetery fence, landing behind a large tomb-stone and pausing there to watch the man stride down the path – deeper into the forest of graves.

Peter followed him a fair way into the cemetery, ducking behind trees and large gravestones whenever the man cast a glance behind him. Which was often. He was nervous about something – that much was clear – but Peter, no matter how many times he risked a glance over at the man, just could place him.

Who are you?” Peter murmured, mainly to himself, but Ned’s voice crackled across the comm. instantly.

“Who?!” He asked, furious typing sounding in the background. “If you’ve seen him I can hack the feed and search-”

Between one minute and the next everything clicked into place.

“Ross.”

The word slipped out of Peter’s mouth like a prayer – caught somewhere between horror and realization.

What!?” Ned’s voice thundered across the comm. The sheer volume of it making the crackling a hundred times worse.

“That’s where I’ve seen him before.” Peter murmured, sliding closer as the man continued through the cemetery. “He’s been at the trial.”

Peter – despite how much he’d been trying to seem indifferent – had watched every day of the trial so far. Every minute. And the interviews before it. And both Ross and Tony’s every appearance since the attack on the Compound – coffee runs and all.

It was as close as he’d gotten to speaking to Tony in the last couple of months.

At first, in the few days after the attack, Tony hadn’t left his side. Literally. Every time Peter woke – and he’d slept a lot in those few days, every inch of him aching and exhausted – the man had been there, either working, sleeping himself, or staring at Peter as if he might disappear any minute. It had been a little disconcerting.

Then the whole ‘death’ thing came out – and that had been a little more disconcerting.

As far as the details went, Peter really didn’t know a whole lot about that night. He didn’t remember anything past when the Compound was originally breached, and Tony had been reluctant to tell him any more.

You took a nosedive in the lake – drowned for a quick second – then Rhodey and I pulled you out and fixed you up.

The words hadn’t exactly cleared everything up, but no matter how much he prodded neither Tony or Rhodey would give him anything else.

Two days after he was given the ‘all-clear’ by medical – two days in which Tony kept him in Stark Tower still under medical supervision until they were definitely sure he was fine – Peter had been allowed to return home with May, who had reached a whole new level of anxiety when it came to the Spiderman thing, and Tony seemed to drop of the earth altogether.

Peter hadn’t worried the first couple of days. It was actually kind of nice to be home. May had hovered, but compared to Tony’s anxious need to always be moving, being home with May allowed him to really relax for the first time. And when he had, everything had come crashing down.

He’d died.

He didn’t know a lot – but he knew that much. He’d died. The doctors had shown him the x-rays of his chest, pointing out where the fluid that had settled in his lungs as he drowned was quickly disappearing, and which ribs to be mindful of – as some had been broken as he was revived.

Peter wasn’t sure exactly how to deal with that – so he’d locked the entire experience up in a box that he hadn’t dared to touch yet. A box that was only getting fuller – and harder to keep closed – the longer that Tony avoided him.

He just wanted answers. He needed to know what had happened? Why!?

He needed to know why Tony was dodging his calls – what Peter had done wrong.

“Oh my god!” Ned’s voice screeched. “Was he one of the men that attacked you?!”

Peter risked another glance at the man. “No.” He said, vaulting over a large headstone and taking cover behind another. “No, I don’t think so.” The man had left the path now, winding instead through the maze of headstones. “I think he’s like Ross’s assistant.” The man came to a stop beside an older looking headstone. Peter paused behind him, ducking behind a large stone angel. “Or whatever the military version of an assistant is.”

“A hit-man.” Ned hissed, not missing a beat. They both fell silent for a moment. “What’s he doing?”
            Peter shot a quick look over at the man. “…Waiting.”

“Waiting for wha-”

A sudden movement just to Peter’s right had him diving further behind the stone angel.

“Oh, shit-

Another man was making his way towards the first. This man was different though. Where the first had pushed through the cemetery with long, thunderous, strides, this man meandered down through the graves. If he had been any more relaxed Peter imaged he would have been whistling.

“What!?” Ned’s strained voice shouted into his ear. “What is it? What’s happening!? I can’t see anything.” There was a loud bang – and the distinctive sound of an error message. “Shitty computer-”

“Shhhhh.” Peter hissed as the new man passed right by the angel he was crouched behind. He needn’t have bothered. The man passed him by without even a glance.

“You’re early.” He called down to the first man, coming to a stop a few feet away from him and leaning casually against a headstone. “We’re just unloading the package.” He threw a nod in the direction he’d come. Peter threw a look behind him.

Four men were making their way through the dark graveyard – a coffin resting on their shoulders.

Ned’s voice crackled over the comm. “If they tip a corpse out of there I am one hundred percent going to spew-”

Peter didn’t bother to shush him. His attention had already turned back to the two men ahead of him.

“No problems getting it into the city.” Ross’s man asked. His voice was scratchy, and painful sounding. As if someone had torn out his vocal cords, dragged them along the road behind a car for a few miles, and then shoved them back in.

“Oh, no.” The second man chuckled. Now that he was in front of Peter, Peter could make out his face. He was the other man’s complete opposite. While Ross’s assistant was scarred and hunched, the second man was handsome and tall. From his crisp collar to his thousand dollar shoes, the man looked like he oozed money and charisma – in equal amounts. “With what we gave her – she slept like the dead.”

The second man’s lips twisted into a twisted grin.

Peter’s eyes snapped back to the coffin that was making its way past where he was crouched.

“I think there’s someone alive in there, Ned,” Peter whispered, no small amount of horror dripping into the words.

“Oh,” Ned murmured, apparently trying to wrap his head around everything that was happening. “Yeah – that’s a lot worse.” Both of them said nothing as the coffin made its way past Peter. The men baring it carried expensive looking box down to the two men waiting below. When they reached them they placed the coffin on the grass, just in front of the second man’s expensive shoes.

Ned’s voice finally came back to him. “This is taking a turn from creepy to downright terrifying.” He said. “Should I call Mr. Stark?”

“What – no.” Peter hissed, more forcefully than he really needed to if Ned’s sudden silence was anything to go by. “No, Ned. We don’t even know what’s going on.” Peter backtracked, craning his head to see through the stone angel’s arms in an attempt to stay out of sight.

“We know they have someone locked in a coffin – that’s something-” Ned argued.

“Just-” Peter sighed. “Just wait.”

Before Ned could argue any more the men had started speaking again.

“-Money.” The second one said – casting a blindly white grin at the other man.

“Not a chance.” Ross’s man growled. He nodded at the coffin. “Show me the merchandise first.”

Peter’s heart thudded painfully. Oh god.

The second man threw a glance at the men who had carried the coffin down, giving them a short nod. All at once they moved back to the coffin – running their fingers along the lid and sliding open several seals that were embedded in it.

“What’s the matter Knox?” The second man said – his grin growing. “Don’t trust me?”

Without any more warning the four men closest to the coffin swung open the lid. Together they reached inside and seized a hold of the small body curled up against the white satin lining. With rough hands they pulled the quivering body free and hurled it at the first man’s feat.

For a moment the girl – and it was definitely a girl, she’d been stripped down to her underwear, leaving her almost naked on the frost ridden grass – did nothing. Then she moved. Slowly. Her curtain of long, dark, hair fell away from her face.

And the Scarlet Witch looked up to meet to eyes of Ross’s deputy.  

“Holy shit.” Ned’s strangled voice echoed through Peter’s mask. “Holy shi-” Peter’s heart kicked into overdrive as Ross’s assistant reached down and seized a handful of the Witch’s hair, pulling her face up so to meet him. Ned was still panicking, his voice shooting to higher and higher pitches. “Holy shit!?”

Peter barely heard him. Ross’s man was speaking again – and his words rung like bells in Peter’s spinning head.

“-where did you pick her up?” Ross’s man asked, casting a look over the girl at his feet before shoving her back to the ground. She let out a small groan. Peter’s teeth clenched together painfully as he kept himself from calling out.

“Florence.” The second man said, taking a seat on a headstone near him, crossing his legs daintily and grinning down at the Witch. “Put up a good fight.” He shrugged, casting a pointed look at Ross’s man. “Satisfied?”

“Very.”

So was Peter. He’d heard more than enough.

He pushed himself up and over the stone angel he was crouched behind and shot a web directly into Ross’s man’s face. It hit home with a satisfying whack – and then all hell broke loose.

The second man jerked away from the headstone he’d been sprawled across, spilling onto the ground and scrambling away from where Peter at landed just across from him. The second man’s four henchmen reacted a lot more quickly.

One was on Peter before he’d even hit the ground – throwing himself across a headstone to catch Peter around the middle before he could plant his feet. The two of them hit the ground, hard, and skidded into a nearby headstone – cracking it in two.

“Shit!” Ned’s voice screamed in Peter’s ear as he threw the henchmen of – and into another headstone. “Oh my god, what’s happening? Peter!?”

Peter didn’t have time to answer before another man was on him. Peter ducked to his knees, and quick flick of his wrist the man was trapped in a coating of web. Already being spun into the next man – knocking him over like a bowling pin.

Ned’s hoots echoed through the mask.

Peter spun wildly, still on his knees. The Scarlet Witch. He’d lost sight of her as soon as he’d hit the ground, and panic soundly pounded in his chest. Christ. He couldn’t see her – he couldn’t –

A gun cocked and fired just to the left of him.

Peter clenched.

Oh god. He was going to die. Again. He was going to fail. Again

The bullet never hit home – or at least, not in him.

Before Peter could so much as shrink away from the roar of the gun there was a figure in front of him. Bare skin, almost glowing under the moon’s heavy light, was crouching over him. A flick of dark.

And then blood.

A spray of scarlet hit Peter right in the mask – misting over his eyes and casting a red hue over the cemetery.

Peter fell back onto the grass, fighting the sudden urge to vomit as he blinked through his blood-splattered lenses. Oh god. Oh god.

The gun fired again. This time the bullet hit something else – something red and glimmering that hung in the air.

Peter scrambled up onto his knees. The Scarlet Witch was kneeling just a few inches in front of him – her hands outstretched and glowing. In front of her was the last henchman, looming down at the two of them with a gun clenched in his hands.

The hairs on the back of Peter’s neck shot up.

“Look out!” The words ripped out of his chest, strangled and broken.

The man emptied the rest of his clip at the two of them, and for a moment bullets rained down on them – but each and every one, like the second, hit the red mass that was pulsing, and growing, in the air between them and the man.

Once the last shot had been fired the gun clicked empty, and a silence fell over the cemetery. The man took a shaking step back.

“What the fuck are you?” He whispered. The red glow still shimmering between them reflected in his eyes. Mixing with the terror already settled deep within them.

The Witch barely spared him another glance before twitching her fingers, just slightly, and sending him crashing into the side of a nearby mausoleum. He hit he wall with a dull thud and fell to the grass below – not even twitching.

As quickly as it had appeared, the glowing red right disappeared, and the Witch rounded on Peter – one hand clasped against her side. Blood was oozing out between her bone-white fingers.

Her eyes flashed a vivid red.

“What the hell are you doing here?”  

  


 

 

Tony threw his keys into the sleek silver bowl sitting atop the table beside the front door of the Compound. They slid around the side of the bowl before skidding over the top and cascading to the floor.

Tony watched as they fell. Not moving a muscle.

God, that summed up his day.

He left the keys on the floor – too drained to even bend to the ground and collect them – and started stripping of his suit jacket, slipping his arms out of the silk lined sleeves and pulling the whole thing off of his back. He dumped that on the floor on top of the keys.

He’d been stuck in the courtroom for another nine hours today – majority of which he’d spent listening to Ross scream that yesterday’s impromptu speech from be removed from testimony. Then scream a little more about Tony’s breach of contract, and even the Accords themselves. His leniency. How he’d compromised.

God Tony needed a drink. And a hatchet.

Not in that order.

He wandered into the open kitchen, not bothering to flip on the light, and pulled open the fridge. He’d reached the point of hunger where you really weren’t hungry anymore – and the food inside just made him queasy. A small movement in the darkness to his right had him letting out yelp and staggering away from the open fridge.

“Jesus, Cap.” Tony breathed, his eyes falling on Rogers as the taller man stepped into the small light cast by the still open fridge door. “You been waiting in the dark to scare the shit out of me, or something?” Tony sighed, stepping back to the fridge mainly so he’d have something to look at that wasn’t Rogers.

“No,” Steve said quickly, throwing an arm out to the open glass door behind him – which led out to what was left of the deck. “I was out the back. Just heard you pull in.”

“Lights, Fri,” Tony said, slamming the fridge door closed and opting to open the nearest cupboard instead in the hope of finding something eatable that didn’t make his stomach churn. Soft light spread across the kitchen.

“A bit past your bedtime, isn’t it Cap? Tony grumbled. In all honesty he’d stayed in the city longer than he’d needed to, setting himself up with a hoodie and a back cap in a dilapidated diner just inside Hell’s Kitchen, hoping to avoid this very conversation.

“I wanted to hear how it went.” Steve said, leaning up against the only counter left in the spacious kitchen. The rest had been too damaged to be salvaged. Renovations after the attack had been moving steadily – but vast majority of the Compound was still under construction, meaning that Tony and the other inhabitants were far closer on a daily basis than he would have liked.

“Then turn on the TV.” Tony murmured, pulling a loaf of bread from on top of the microwave and moving towards the opposite end of the counter, as far as he could get from Steve. “I’m sure it’s on every channel by now.”

Steve hesitated a moment. “It is.” He finally nodded. Throwing a glance at the TV behind him. His eyes were back to Tony a second later. He paused again. “I wanted to see how you were doing.”

Things with the Cap had been…strained. He was trying. Tony could see he was trying. He’d sided with Tony the night of the attacked, and after everything went down he’d stayed by Tony’s side as he’d rushed Peter to a hospital and set up in the waiting room for the longest night of his life. He’d called May when Tony’s hadn’t been able to quell the shaking in his fingers long enough for him to pick up his phone. And after he’d picked up the pieces. The renovations were sailing largely due to him. He’d taken point on the whole re-build, everything from the construction workers to the design. Tony had video proof that he spent majority of his day outside with the builders – literally lending a hand in helping get some of the more damaged buildings off the ground, which Tony couldn’t deny he was eternally thankful for. God knows he barely had enough time to catch a couple of hours of sleep these days before he was being summoned to somewhere or someone. He knew Cap wanted to do more too – but with the team on lockdown at the Compound there wasn’t a lot more to be done. They really were getting along. Really.

But the unspoken elephant in the room sometimes felt like it was sitting on Tony’s chest when the two of them were alone.

Barnes.

Neither of them had brought him up – and Tony was beginning to think neither ever would. It was an odd balance that they’d formed, but it was working. Neither of them were falling.

“Me?” Tony shrugged, twisting the plastic bread bag open and reaching in for two slices. “Chipper. Tip-top-”

“-Tony.”

The word wasn’t loud. Not even really loud enough to cut Tony off – but he stopped speaking none the less.

Tony threw his two slices on bread down on the bench.

“What do you want, Steve?”

Steve intertwined his arms across his chest, his eyes never leaving Tony. “I want to make sure that you’re okay.” He said, heaving out a breath. “God knows I’d be inching to hit something if I had to spend a few minutes with the man – let alone hours.”

“Hey – I was all for violence when he turned up here.” Tony said, pulling open the cutlery draw beneath the cool bench top and pulling out a butter knife. “You’re the one who couldn’t let me kick the crap out of him.”

“We can’t stoop to his level, Tony.” Steve moved to the fridge Tony had abandoned, swung it open and pulled out the large jar of raspberry jam resting in the door. He set in down in front of Tony. “That’s not how we win this.”

Tony stared at the jar for just a second before he scooped it up and yanked off the lid. “How do we win this?”

Steve’s eyes fell for the first time. “I don’t know.”

Footsteps coming down the hall saved Tony from having to reply.

Rhodey stepped into the kitchen a moment later – his eyes widening just slightly at the sight of Steve and Tony at the bench. Tony dropped his eyes before Rhodey could shoot him a look. He was far too tired to deal with any of this.

No sooner had Rhodey stepped further into what was left of the kitchen then more footsteps could be heard echoing down the hall. Sam and Clint clambered into the room a second later.

Christ. He was definitely too tired for this.

Tony ignored Clint and Sam, who had respectively situated atop the counter and on the only other free stool, for the moment, turning his attention to Rhodey instead.

“You shipping out, Pooh-bear?” Tony asked, scooping out no small amount of jam and spreading it across the two slices of bread.

“Not tonight.” Rhodey said, leaning over to steal a slice of bread out of the still open bag and biting into it as it was.
            His words caught Tony off guard, his knife pausing above the jam soaked slices. “I thought you had a summit thing-y in DC in the morning?”

“Yeah – I pulled out a few days ago.” Rhodey shrugged, still gnawing on the bread. “They’ll survive without me.”

Tony barely held in a huff. Barely. “So can I.” He said, shooting a look over at Rhodey. “Just for the record.”

Rhodey glanced up at him, raised his brows, and proceeded to shove the rest of his slice of bread into his mouth. “Hmm.” He murmured.

“I don’t need to be baby-sat.” Tony scowled, letting the hand that was holding the butter knife rest against the table as he used the other to gather up a jam soaked slice and bring it to his lips. “I am an adult. Quite a capable one too.” He chomped down on his own piece of bread. Careful to enunciate every word so that Rhodey got a clear view of the red, gooey mess that his bite was being reduced to. “Genius. Millionaire. Can conjure a pretty sweet suit of armour, with some pretty sweet firing power, at the flick of a wrist. Perhaps you’ve heard of it-”

“The man tried to kill us, Tony.” Clint cut in from where he was perched on the bench just beside Steve. “We all need to have someone watching our backs right now.”

“Speaking of babies,” Sam stared before Tony could snap at Clint to get off the bench. Or push him himself. “I haven’t seen the kid about for a while. What’s with that?” Everyone’s eyes found their way to Tony again. “Everything alright?”

“Yeah, Tony,” Rhodey’s firm voice echoed in the otherwise silent room. “What’s with that?”

Tony shot him a cool stare.

“The kid is fine.” He said sternly. Taking a vicious bite out of his slice of bread.

“Really? You know that? You’ve checked on him-” Rhodey went on, completely ignoring Tony’s stony looks. Tony went cut him off, but Rhodey ploughed on over him. “-Personally.”

That cut Tony’s reply short.

Tense silence fell over the room.

As per usual Clint broke it – with a sledgehammer. “I’m sensing a little bit of tension.” He drawled, casting looks between Rhodey and Tony. The others were cautiously doing the same.

Tony threw his half eaten slice of bread back on the bench.

“No, you’re right.” He said, flippantly. “I should definitely invite him over – because that ended so well last time.”

Steve’s confusion expression softened. “That wasn’t your fault Tony-”

“I asked him to come out here, and he got hurt.” Tony said. “He got-”

“Yeah, he did get hurt.” Rhodey cut in. His stern tone so much better than Tony’s. Damn him. “But cutting him out now isn’t going to fix that.”

“I’m not cutting him out.” Tony finally snapped, slamming the hand still holding the butter knife down onto the bench with a satisfying thwack. “Happy checks in with May every few days, and the school every week. I’ve got an alert on him, on my server, so that any street cameras that catch a glimpse of him get sent through to me – and his suit sends every bit of data it collects to my personal server. Everything.” Tony thundered in a single breath, leaving him panting. “What time he goes out, what time he gets home. Where he goes. Who he meets. What he does. What he and his little friend talk about when he hacks into my comms. Everything.”

Another silence fell over the room.

Again Clint broke it. “So essentially you’re stalking him.”

Tony growled in Clint’s direction, but didn’t reply. He really had no comeback for that.

Rhodey saved him from having to find one.

“What about him, Tony?” Rhodey asked. “You can’t just leave the kid out in the dark.”

“It’s not like I can just call him. Or turn up at his place.” Tony said, meeting Rhodey’s searching gaze head on. “Ross has subpoenaed my phone records – and not just mine, all Stark Industrial personal – you know that.” He scooped the sopping mess that was left of his slice of bread and hurled it into the trash. “And I can barely leave this glorified crater without the paparazzi all over my ass – none of us can.” H cast a look around the kitchen. “Pretty sure the press would have field day if I got caught chatting with some random fourteen-year-old.”

“He’s fifteen.”

Tony’s hand, which was still clutching the butter knife, snapped back up – pointing the steel threateningly in Clint’s direction.

He threw in down on the counter a moment later.

“He still has a life. School. Family. Friends.” Tony hissed. “A future.” His voice went hollow. The anger that had seized him a moment before suddenly fled, and he was left even more exhausted then before. “All of that goes away if Ross finds him.”

Another silence fell – this one stretching long enough for Tony to shove the jar of jam back inside the fridge and throw what remained of the loaf of bread back on top of the microwave.

“Fine.” Sam finally spoke up, pointing a finger over at Tony. “But once we’ve sorted all this shit out, he’s coming over. He beat me two out of three in our last spar, and that just can’t stand. I have a reputation uphold. Can’t be loosing to little punks in my own goddamn house-”

“Sir,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. cut Sam of mid-rant. “One of the pre-prescribed search-alerts have been tripped on Mr. Parker’s mobile.”

“Christ.” Clint barked out a laugh, “You’re monitoring the kid’s phone as well.”

“Shut-up.” Tony snapped. “Which one, Fri?” He asked, running a hand over his stinging eyes. God he needed to get some sleep. “I swear to god, if he’s googling how to hack his suit again I am going to blast 80’s pop through the internal speakers for a week.”

“He is not, Sir.”

Tony threw his head back and smacked his hands down onto the bench.

“Then what’s he googling?”

F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s response was instant – and stripped Tony of every last vestige of exhaustion.
 

How to sow up a bullet wound, sir.”

Tony’s chest hollowed. “Call him.” The words tore out of his throat before he’d really thought them through. Before he’d thought anything beyond no. No. “Call him right now.”

  


 

 

            “Sorry-” Peter breathed, the word spilling out of his mouth as he pushed through the front door of the apartment – kicking it open with his foot and helping the Scarlet Witch in ahead of him, accidently brushing against her still bleeding side in the process. “So sorry.”

            Ned was in the lounge-room waiting for them. He shot up as they stumbled inside. His eyes widened, and then zeroed in on the still dripping wound on the Witch’s side.

            “Oh my god,” Ned screeched, “Oh my god-”

            Peter cut him off before he could spiral into full hysteria. “Ned – the first aid kit.” Ned eyes moved from staring blankly at the growing red stain beneath the Witch’s fingers, to staring blankly at Peter. “Get the first aid kit – in the cupboard-” Peter said again, pulling the Witch through the kitchen and lounge and into his bedroom. May wasn’t due home from her shift at the hospital for another few hours – but Peter wasn’t ready to risk her having a quiet night and getting off early only to find an Avenger bleeding out in her living room. She was no not okay with the Spiderman thing as it was, and Peter wasn’t ready to add any more fuel to that particular argument.

            Ned was nodding at dizzying speed. “-above the mirror in the bathroom, right.” He stumbled from the living room in the direction of the bathroom “On it.”

            Peter maneuvered himself and the Witch the rest of the way through his bedroom door, coming to a stop on the floor by his bed and lowering her the rest of the way to the floor. She’d managed to stay on her feet – technically – their entire trek home, but as the blocks slid by, and her wound continued to bleed steadily, she’d become more and more unsteady. She let out a low hiss as she sank onto her knees, her hands clenching into fist.

Peter’s hands flapped about in the air around her – not quite sure what to do. “I’m sorry-” He murmured again. He’d been saying the words over and over as they made their way to the apartment – so much that he really wasn’t sure what he was sorry for anymore. Sorry he’d gotten her shot. Yeah – he was definitely sorry about that. Sorry he wasn’t sure exactly what to do now he had. Yeah. He was sorry about that, too. Sorry he’d messed up and nearly got himself, and her, killed.

Yeah. He was sorry for that a lot these days.

            Ned stumbled back into the room – his hands empty.

            “Peter-”

            Peter was on his feet already, moving to the door.

            “What – what is it?”

            Ned turned and hightailed it back into the bathroom, and Peter followed. Spilled across the bench was every single piece of first aid equipment that he and May owned. It really wasn’t a lot. Ned snatched up a packet of jumbo band aides.

            “Ugh, I don’t really – I mean – I don’t think that these are going to work.” He held them out to Peter, who took them only to throw them back down on the bench. Ned was right. He scanned over the rest of the bench but there was nothing even remotely close to what he assumed they needed.

            “Right.” Peter breathed, suddenly feeling very lightheaded. He yanked off the mask and ran a hand through his hair – only to realize that his hand was soaked in blood, and leaving scarlet streaks across his face and hair. Oh god. “What else do we have?”

            “Uh,” Ned glanced around, clearly panicking. He jumped at something sitting on the sink and held it out to Peter. “Floss?”

            Peter gaped at the small container. “Floss?” He repeated – his voice hitting a pitch that he did not know his voice could hit.

            “Yeah, floss,” Ned said, his words spilling out of his mouth so quickly that even Peter was having trouble catching them. “They use it in movies all the time-”

            “What movies?!”

            “I don’t know!” Ned yelped, dropping the floss to the floor and bringing his hands up to rest against either side of his head, as trying to keep it from exploding. “Don’t yell at me, I’m very stressed-

            Peter held out a steadying hand. Or at least he hoped it looked steady. He could feel it quivering like a leaf – but god he hoped Ned couldn’t notice. “I’m sorry-” He said, sucking in a large breath. “I’m sorry.”

            Ned did not take a breath of his own. He continued on the upwards spiral to hysteria, “-this situation is very stressful! I think it’s time to call Mr. Stark-”

            That suggestion helped Peter find his voice. “No” He said, voice hard. “I can handle this – we can handle this-”

            “We cannot handle this-” Ned stressed, watching as Peter pulled out his phone from the special pocket in the suit and started typing. “What are you doing!? Are Googling this!?”

            Peter looked up from the screen as it loaded.

            “Do you have a better idea?”

            Ned’s eyes had widened to the point that Peter was a little worried they might pop out of their sockets altogether.

            “No!” Ned cried, sinking down to sit on lid of the toilet seat.

            “Okay – apparently the dentil floss thing is a thing.” Peter said, scrolling through the sites breathlessly. Oh god. Oh god. “Or just normal thread – I think we have that. May has a sowing kit – somewhere – if I – shit!”

            Before Peter could do anything more than begin to wrap his head around their shit storm of a situation the phone began to ring. Peter let go of it as the vibration startled him, and it clattered across the bathroom tiles.

            Tony’s name flashing up in bold letters.

            Peter and Ned glanced at each other.

            “I think we should answer it-” Ned started, his eyes still at risk of jumping out of his skull, but before Peter could make a decision the phone shorted – a long stream of code flashing over the screen – and then answered itself.

            Tony’s voice flooded across the line before Peter had really grasped what was going on.

            “Peter?” He demanded, booming from the phone on loud-speaker. “Peter-”

Peter’s brain short-circuited.

           “Mr. Stark?” He said slowly, his brain having more trouble that it really should have keeping up with what was happening. Though considering what had happened tonight – finding the Scarlet Witch, nearly being shot, the Scarlet Witch being shot and now Tony calling him – he really should have expected that his brain would just cut out at some point.

Hi.” Tony’s voice echoed, even through a phone Peter could make out the fury dripping from it. “What are you to?”

Peter’s brain was still not up to computing words. It had gotten as far as Tony was calling him – Tony was actually calling him – and no further.

What?” Peter breathed down at the phone, his eyes meeting Ned’s again. He looked no closer to understanding any of this – and inches away from puking.

“Doing anything fun?” Tony’s voice rang out again – not even leaving a second for Peter to answer. “Googling anything interesting?”

Quite suddenly, and jarringly, everything snapped into place.

“Oh.” Was Peter’s genius reply. Yeah. Ned definitely looked like he was going to puke now.

Oh.” Tony thundered over the phone. “We have been over this kid, if you are hurt you go to a hospital, or me-

Ned was rapidly turning paler. “-no, this isn’t what it looks like – sounds like – I dunno-” He stammered, eyes wide as they stared at Peter.

Peter barely noticed. An all-consuming rage had come over him at the sound of that voice – that voice he’d been practically begging to hear for months now –

You!?” Peter roared into the phone. Ned jumped to far backwards that he slammed into the bathroom counter. Scattering items from the first aid kit across the floor as he stared, dumbfounded at Peter. Tony must have been doing to same from across the phone because, for the first time since Peter had met the man, he didn’t have a come back. “Come to you?” Peter screamed, his fury only growing with each word. “Care to share the secret of how to do that?” Peter was sure the neighbours could hear him. Hell the building next door. “Or is that another one of your stupid tests?!”

Black spots were definitely encroaching on his vision now – threatening to swallow him whole. His breaths were coming in short pants that were never quite enough to satisfy. He needed – he needed –

It took Tony a full minute to respond, his voice barely above a whisper when in finally floated through the phone. “Kid-”

No. No.” Peter cut him off, screaming right over the top of him. “You don’t get to exist when it’s convenient for you.” There was something wet spilling over Peter’s cheeks. Tears. They welled in his eyes, the crop of his months of waiting – months of worrying – all born from his moment of failing. “I did call! I called-

“Peter-”

Peter never heard what Tony had to say. Before the older man could get more than the one word out Peter had seized up the phone and hurtled it so forcefully at the wall that it splintered on impact. And so did majority of the wall. The plaster crumbled in on itself – a perfect phone sized hole in the centre.

For a moment neither Peter nor Ned said a word. All they did was breath, stare, and wrap their heads around what the hell just happened. Neither seemed to be having much luck with that last part.

They were saved from having to try for too long when the scrapping of a window nearby, and a rough tumble, broke the silence. Their eyes met – and both of them sprinted from the room.

Peter was ahead, he careened around the corner, back to his bedroom, and threw the door open.

The Scarlet Witch was gone – a bloody hand print across Peter’s windowsill the only proof that she’d been there at all.

“Shit.”

Peter really wasn’t sure which of them said it – but it summed up the night pretty nicely.

Chapter Text


 

Peter spooned a clump of cereal out of his bowl, contemplating it sombrely before tipping it back into the grey mess below.

Two hands appeared on either side of Peter’s cereal. Or what was left of his cereal. “You do know it’s not actually going to dissolve no matter how much you play with it.” Peter glanced up from the sopping mess to find May leaning across the kitchen counter, staring at his with a raised brow. Peter ducked his head back down to his bowl – but he was already too late. “What’s up?” May asked, leaning down on her elbows and actively searching for Peter’s eyes.

            Peter swallowed the lingering anxiety that had been eating at him since last night – the fight, the call and the bleeding Avenger that had slipped out of his window without a trace despite Peter spending the rest of the night (and morning) searching for her. He plastered a smile on his face and prayed it didn’t look as painful as it felt. “Nothing.” He said, widening his eyes innocently – oh god. He hoped she couldn’t see how red they were. He was exhausted. Beyond exhausted –“Really – it’s just-” Peter shrugged. “Been a long week.”

            May shot him an odd look. “It’s Wednesday, Pete.” She said. Peter groaned, and flopped his head down onto the bench. May chuckled, running her fingers through his hair. It felt nice. The tension that seemed to have cemented in his shoulders eased – just slightly. “Does this have anything to do with the hole in my bathroom wall?”

            And just like that the tension was back – with a vengeance.

            “I’ll fix that!” Peter blurted out his head snapping up. “I swear – don’t even worry about it. I’ll go by the hardware shop on my way home and-”

            “Hey – hey,” May shushed him. “It’s fine. Accidents happen. Don’t worry about it, we can fix it up on the weekend – a little bit of plaster and paint and it’ll be good as new.”

            Peter nodded slowly, his head sinking back down onto the bench.

“You’re sure it’s nothing?” May asked, her hand sinking back into his hair. Peter nodded into the bench, doing his best to stay awake and quickly failing. “You know you can come to me, right – no more secrets.” May’s hand paused in his hair.

            Peter looked up, forcing a smile back to his lips.

“Yeah – I know.”

            May ran a hand through his one hair more time. “Okay.” She nodded, clearly not convinced, but letting it go regardless. God, Peter loved her. She gave his head a couple of quick pats like he was golden retriever, pulling a sad chuckle from Peter’s lips, before leaning her elbows against the bench and resting her chin on her entwined hands. “You should get moving, don’t you have decathlon practise before class?”

            Peter glanced over at the microwave behind her head – and the red time stamp blaring on the screen.

“Oh shit.” He muttered, throwing his spoon down and snatching up his backpack from the floor. He launched over the couch and towards the front door.

            “Have fun – don’t study too hard.” May called as he stumbled into the hall.

            Shit. Shit. Shit. The word echoed in his head as he flew down the stairs – not willing to even spare the seconds it would take for the elevator to reach their floor.

            MJ was going to murder him.

            Peter busted through the building’s front door and took off in the direction of the subway – slinging his backpack over his shoulder as he went. He tore across the road to a symphony of honking horns and through a nearby alley – scaling a wire fence and skipping over the dumpster below. He darted back out onto the street, narrowly avoiding a cyclist, before breaking into a sprint again. Okay. Practise was in twenty minutes. If he caught the train scheduled to leave in two, he’d be there in thirty minutes. Twenty-five if he pushed it – or less even if he ducked over the music building. The school would be empty, no one would see –

            Peter had just leapt off the curb when a sleek, black car pulled in in front of him – barely giving him enough to skid to a stop before he was sent flying over the hood. As it was he collided with the side of the car with a loud thunk.

            “Oh, god.” Peter scrambled over to the driver’s tinted window. This was exactly what he didn’t need this morning. “I am so sorry! Serious I-”

            The window slid down – and Tony’s face appeared.  

            “Get in.” He said sharply, nodding to the passenger side.

            Everything in Peter froze at the sight of the man. Never mind that he’d seen him almost everyday on television for the last week – or that in the weeks before that he’d watched more YouTube clips of Iron Man spotting’s than he would ever admit to – seeing Tony in person was like having cold water thrown over the cloud that had been his life for the last two months. All of a sudden it was like everything that had happened since then, every decathlon practise and Lego-building extravaganza with Ned, faded away and Peter was right back in that night. Cold. Confused. And terrified.

“No.” Peter said shortly, his rage from last night returning. No. The man couldn’t just show up when he felt like it. That wasn’t how this worked.

Peter stepped back onto the sidewalk and walked away. Or tried too. The sleek, black sedan was in front of him again before he could take more than a couple of steps.

Tony was fully leaning out of the window as his eyes flashed over at Peter.

            “Get in.” He said slowly – lengthening every syllable as if Peter hadn’t understood him the first time. Oh – he understood.

            “No.” Peter thundered, side-stepping the car. “ If you want to talk you can pick up the damn phone when I call you-”

            The driver’s side door flew open, and Tony launched out. Cutting in front of Peter faster than he had thought the older man was capable of moving. Peter jerked to a stop.

            “Get in!” Tony hissed pulling the black cap sitting atop his head a little lower as a couple passed them by. “We need to talk and we cannot do that on the street, unless you want Ross to get a nice picture of us hand-delivered to his desk.” Tony stared over at him pointedly and Peter’s heart plummeted into his stomach. Tony must have been able to see the threat hit home in Peter’s expression, because a second later his eyes were suddenly much softer – and the hand reaching out to rest on Peter’s shoulder was no longer clenched in a fist. “Please.” Tony murmured. “Please, just get in.”

            Peter was already allowing himself to be lead to the passenger door as he continued to argue – but his voice was low, his heart no longer in it. No. That particular organ was still somewhere around his lower intestine. “I’m late for decathlon practise.” He mumbled.

            Tony heard. He held the door open for Peter. “I’ll drop you off.”

            Peter released a heavy breath through his teeth, but folded inside the car without another word – shoving his backpack down at his feet.

            He threw a glance around the interior of the car as Tony made his way back around the car to the driver’s side.

            “Is this a Civic?” Peter asked as soon as Tony had slammed the door closed behind him. He threw another glance around the car – as if it’s modest décor might morph into Italian leather with second look. It didn’t. “Why do you own a Civic?”

            Tony pulled the car away from the gutter, cutting into the morning traffic with ease. “So I can be incognito when I have to drive all the way out to Queens to talk to a punk-ass kid who hung up on me.” He said, yanking off his cap and hurling it into the back seat.

            The words rung in Peter’s brain – holy Jesus he’d hung up on Tony Stark – but he refused to let them take hold. He wasn’t going to feel bad about it. Even if the man was his hero – kinda. Maybe. Completely. The man was being a dick. And Peter was feeling more than a little petty.

            “Where do people think you are?” He asked. Glancing around the people passing them by.

            “Happy’s cutting a couple of laps around Midtown.” Tony said. “We’ve probably got an hour or so before anyone gets suspicious.” He sank back in his seat – throwing a cutting look in Peter’s direction. “So, to kick us off, have you been shot in the last twenty-four hours?”

            Peter threw his head back against the headrest. “No.”

            Tony’s voice took on an uncharacteristically sharp edge. “Look at me.” He said, and Peter did. He was angry – but that voice left no room for petty arguments. When he finally met the older man’s eyes they were boring into his own.

No.” Peter said again. Dragging the word out.

Tony stared for a moment longer – eyes searching – but eventually nodded.

            “Has Ned been shot?” He asked, raising an eyebrow questioningly at the road ahead of them as they slipped between cars.

            “What – no.” Peter breathed.

            Tony nodded again before fixing Peter with another pointed look. “Then why…?”

            Peter threw his arms up. “We were just…being stupid.” He said lamely. God. Tony was going to see right through him. He was going to know. He was going to know that Peter had followed Ross’s man – even when Tony told him to keep clear of everything Ross related – and he was going to know that –

            “Okay.” Tony said, and Peter’s eyes flashed to him. He was nodding slowly to himself – the tension that Peter hadn’t noticed in his shoulders was ebbing away with every short nod. “Good. That’s settled.” Tony’s eyes settled on something on the other side of the windscreen – far away from Peter’s cautiously searching eyes. His next words though left Peter spinning. “I’m sorry I’ve been dodging you.” Tony murmured – Peter staring at him openly now, mouth hanging open. That was…not what he expected. He’d thought Tony would deny everything. The avoidance. The calls. His surprise folded to fear – god Peter did not want to address this. Did not want to talk about why Tony was refusing to speak to him. To let him help –

“The truth is this thing with Ross has spiralled – well spiralled further than I thought it would, and I didn’t want to freak you out.” Tony cut off Peter’s wild thoughts.

            Peter’s brain shuddered to a halt. What? “What do you mean?”

            Tony shifted awkwardly, pulling his eyes away from the road ahead of them to steal a glance at Peter. Gaging his reaction? “He’s monitoring my calls.” Tony said slowly, watching for any shifts in Peter’s expression. Peter kept his jaw tight and his eyes fixed – but his heart was racing. “The people I visit – the people I talk to.” Tony went on. “Probably the goddamn UberEats kid who delivered my Pad-Thai last night.”

            Peter’s heart was thundering in his ears. “Why?”

            Tony let out a long breath. “If he can prove that I’m in bed with someone, or something, even remotely unsanitary he’ll be able to push for a subpoena that will force my hand with the Accords.” Peter knew his face was getting paler by the minute – but there was little he could do with the terror that was currently strangling his vital organs. “And if I sign how they are now, I wont have a leg to stand on when it comes to amendments – and the others will have to either sign as well, or be labelled enemies of the United Nations.” Tony gave a small shrug that was not nearly as casual as he probably intended it to be. It caught halfway, morphing into a cross between some kind of nauseated shiver and a muscle spasm. “Essentially our year long dance since Germany will be over – and Ross will have won.”

            That something that had been wrapped around Peter’s internal organs clenched suddenly – and then tore them all out. Leaving Peter hollow and cold.

“Oh.” He said lamely.

            “Yeah – it’s a bit of a shit-creek situation.” Tony said, running a calloused hand through his hair –managing to make his hat hair even worse. “But it’s not the point I came to make. All you need to know is that – we – well we can’t talk right now.” Tony’s fidgeting hand stilled as he spoke. His eyes re-focused on Peter. “Not with Ross looming over us.”

            “Yeah,” Peter said quickly, shoving the swell of crippling disappointment down. “Yeah – no – I get it.” And he did. He did. Tony was in such a precarious position already – he didn’t need to be worrying about Peter as well. “Why – I mean how did all this happen?” Peter found himself asking before he’d really thought the question through. “Is this all because of what happened at the Compound?”

            Tony opened his mouth to answer, but faltered. His lips clamped shut a moment later. “In a sense.” He murmured finally.

            “What sense?” Peter breathed.

            Tony stared at the road stonily for a moment before answering. “In the sense that I might have told him he could shove his Accords somewhere unspeakable,” Tony said. “And then tried to kill him – kind of. A little.” He added – just as an after thought.

            Oh.

            Peter knew his eyes were as wide as saucers – but he couldn’t beat down his astonishment long enough to fix them. “Why?”

           The next look Tony fixed on his was not light. It was no glance either. The older man’s eyes shot to him and stayed there. Taking in every inch of him – and Peter found himself staring back into them. They were tight, and tired, but there was something in them – something deep, and gutting churning just out of Peter’s reach –

And then it was gone. And so were Tony’s eyes.

Tony’s eyes snapped back to the road, casting a glance over the too crowded roads and crawling cars around then before flicking back to Peter casually. “You’re good though, right?” He said, flippancy returning with a flourish. “All’s well in the neighbourhood – and with your little friends?”

            “Ugh – yeah.” Peter said, the whiplash of Tony’s mood change throwing him for a second. “Everything’s good.” He added – plastering the same smile he’d given May across his lips.

            Tony’s eyebrows rocketed to his hairline. “Wanna try that again with a little more feeling?” He asked dryly. Peter scowled. “I meant what I said, kid,” Tony went on, pausing until Peter’s eyes had glided back to him. The older man’s face was hard – not an inch of uncertainty in it. “Ross is never going to get anywhere near you – that might just mean that we can’t talk for a while.” Tony said, lips pulling into a hard line. He pulled off the road a second later – gliding into a park on the street. “And if we loose – well – maybe for a long while.”

            That hollow feeling in Peter’s chest returned. “Do you think you will?” Peter asked quietly – not really sure he wanted an answer. “Lose?”

            “I don’t know.” Tony said, honestly, turning in his seat to face Peter head-on. He clasped a hand around Peter’s closest shoulder. “But you’ll be alright. You’re smart – most of the time at least.” Tony smirked. “Just use that too big of a brain of yours and you’ll be all good – yeah?”

            “Yeah.” Peter nodded, trying for the world not to show just how much that hand on his shoulder meant to him – and how he might crumble without it. “Ugh-” He fumbled. “Good luck.”

            Tony clapped his shoulder one last time before letting go. “Thanks, kid.” He chuckled. When Peter didn’t move the chuckle grew. “Aren’t you late for something?” Tony asked.

            Peter’s head snapped up – finally taking in something outside the car. They were only a couple blocks from the school now, Tony having gotten them there in record time. “Yeah – right, yeah.” He scrambled to grab his bag from the floor, but didn’t get out. Now that he was here – with Tony – he wasn’t in a hurry to leave. Even at risk of death from MJ for being late to practise.

            “Here,” Tony reached into the glove box by Peter’s knees, pulling something small and sleek out. “I’m guessing the other didn’t survive.” A cell phone fell into Peter’s lap. He stared at it for a moment before picking it up gingerly. It felt expensive. “My direct line’s already in there – but emergencies only.” Tony went on – waggling a cautionary finger in Peter’s direction. “And by emergency, I mean real emergencies. Like I’m bleeding out in a Denny’s car-park kind of emergencies.” Peter nodded jerkily. The car fell silent. With that hollowness firmly set in his chest Peter pushed open the passenger door and pulled himself out. “And Peter,” Tony called to him – and Peter had his head back in the car so fast he nearly brained himself on the doorframe. “Keep the gruesome midnight Googling to a minimum.” Tony asked lightly.

            Peter nodded again. “Right.”

            Tony grinned. “Just search for porn, like a normal fifteen year old-” He called as Peter slammed the door shut.

            He waited on the curb as it pulled away and disappeared into traffic – the hollow feeling in his chest only growing as he lost sight of the civic. A crushing realization that that might have been the last time he would see Tony for – well – a long time settled over him, and left him frozen on the sidewalk. Desperately trying to quash the crippling feeling that he’d just lost something.

            He stood on the sidewalk for a long time, all thoughts of decathlon practise, school and MJ’s murderous rage forgotten. All swallowed by that hollow feeling in his chest.

            He wasn’t gone – not for good anyway. They hadn’t lost. They hadn’t lost – not yet – maybe not ever. All of this, it was – it was just speculation. They had no guarantees that anything would change –

            Something hard collided with Peter’s shoulder, interrupting him mid-freak-out.

            “Sorry – sorry,” Peter stammered, turning to face the warm body that had just walked right into him. God he was being an idiot – standing in the middle of the street freaking out over things that hadn’t even happened yet and –

            Glowing red eyes met his own as he turned.

            And blackness hit him a moment later.

 


 

 

Peter launched back into consciousness with nauseating speed.

“Nuuugh!”

He shot backwards, colliding with the back of the seat he was currently occupying – nearly toppling over – and thoroughly startling the old couple seated next him, who were now throwing him odd looks. Seated beside him? Was he in a restaurant? Throwing a wild glance around Peter confirmed this – the décor of a weathered Chinese place glaring at him – but the confirmation did nothing to ease his mounting confusion. What? How did – how did he – what?

            “Tea?”

            A voice broke his panic and Peter’s head snapped forward – meeting a pair of emerald eyes that were seated just across from him. The eyes were…odd. They were definitely green at their centre, but the outsides were rimmed with gold, which seemed to be creeping inwards towards the irises – mixing with the green and resulting in a striking topaz. The longer Peter stared into them, the more his head spun. God – he was going to puke.

“What?” Peter managed to rasp. The woman across from his held up a white and gold teapot, nodding at the empty cup in front of him.

            “Tea?” The Scarlet Witch asked again, Peter’s brain finally kicking into gear enough to recognise her. He could be forgiven for not putting it together immediately – after all she looked nothing like she had the night before. Gone was the dirt caked onto every inch of her bare skin, matted hair, and the blood that had haunted Peter all night as he’d imagined her bleeding out in an alley somewhere. She was still pale – and moving quite cautiously – but her clothes were clean, her hair brushed and the bullet wound hidden beneath a worn looking sweater.

            “What!?” Peter croaked again, throwing another wild glance around the restaurant. Older couples sat all around them, most of them chatting away in incomprehensively fast Mandarin, while staff wandered about the tables delivering wicker containers of food, stacked one on top of another. A sign for the Bryant Park subway entrance – on 42nd – caught his eye just outside the restaurant’s dusty windows. 42nd – oh god – was he in Midtown?

            Peter threw a wild glance down at his watch. 9:15. Oh god. May was going to kill him. MJ was going to kill him. He needed – he needed –

            The Witch merely watched, one hand still resting on the handle of the teapot that she had placed back on the table, as he began to hyperventilate. “How old are you?” She asked when his head had started snapping from one side of the restaurant to the other – because he could not be in Midtown. No. He was at school – he’d been – he’d been late. He was – he was with Tony.

            And then everything snapped into place. School. Decathlon practise. Tony. Tony leaving.

            Maybe for good.

            Peter’s words were a lot harsher than he really intended them to be – but he really had no idea how he’d gotten here, and to be honest he’d met his quota of things he could deal with today hours ago. “How old are you?”

            “Twenty.” The Witch answered without hesitation – those odd, gold and green eyes never straying from Peter.

            The honesty of the answer took Peter aback. “Fifteen.” The word left his mouth before he’d really considered it – god, his brain was still fuzzy. The Witch merely nodded though, lifting the teapot of the table once more.

            “Tea?” She asked for a third time – raising a single eyebrow in Peter’s direction. He nodded jerkily – though to be fair he would have nodded at just about anything she said in that moment, only catching every second word at best. There was a cloud in his head and he really wasn’t enjoying it. “I’m Wanda.” The Witch – Wanda – said once Peter’s cup was full and he’d stopped blinking every two seconds, everything slowly coming into better focus.

            “I know.” Peter nodded, the fog in his brain finally staring to clear. “Peter.” He said, before really considering whether he could. He tossed another quick glance around the restaurant. “H-how did we get here?” He scooped up his cup and took a long sip, his hands shaking slightly.

            “I brought us here.” Wanda said, taking a sip of her own mug with her right hand. Her left stayed firmly under the table, likely cradled against her side. Peter – with a sting of guilt – imagined it would be agony to move anything on that side at the moment, with the hole in her stomach so fresh. “I’m sorry for-” She waved a hand at Peter’s forehead. A red glow formed in her eyes for just a second, but faded quickly, “-but we needed to speak alone.”

            Peter didn’t know what to say to that – or how to react – so he filed away the apparent confirmation that she could essentially kidnap him at any time for closer reflection (and subsequent freak-out) at a later date.

“How did you find me?” He asked instead – gulping down his tea despite that it burnt its way down his throat every time. Wanda poured him another cup when he sat his empty mug back down on the table.

            “You did take me to your home.” Wanda said, her opinion on the stupidity of that particular move clear in the dryness of her voice. “You know – where you live. With your mother.” She pointed out.

            “Aunt.” Peter correct automatically. Wanda’s single raised brow rose even higher – in real danger of disappearing into her hair as he only gave more away about himself. “She’s my aunt.” Peter muttered. God, he really needed to shut up now.

            “You’re Stark’s kid.” She said, still eyeing him up and down as they sat. “You were with him in Germany.”

            “You were with the Captain.” Peter shot back – his clear distaste for that particular choice clear.

            “I was.” Wanda said, her voice even. Not a hint of emotion in the words. No trace of how she felt about that particular decision.

Peter and the Captain were on relatively good terms now – what with the Captain hanging around the Compound every time he’d been over before the whole Ross debacle. They’d trained together. Watched a couple of movies together. The Captain had even taught him how to make an omelette without burning it six ways from Sunday – okay. They were friends-ish. Peter liked him. Ish.

            Okay – he really liked him – but every so often the image of Tony, on a med-evac from Siberia, beaten to an inch of his life, flashed across his eyes.

            Yeah, he liked Steve. But he’d chosen Tony. And if this was about to come down to another choice, he would back Tony.

Peter would likely back the older man to the day he died.

            “How did that work out for you?” Peter couldn’t help but asking. The topic was still sore – even over a year later – and Peter always seemed to respond to it with scathing sarcasm. The others – even Tony – usually took the time to say something distinctly adult-like and frustrating like it’s complicated, kid or it’s wasn’t that simple. Wanda did not.

            If Peter’s words had been the bark – Wanda’s reply was the bite.

            “How has Ross worked out for you?”

            Peter’s stomach dropped heavily – leaving a sickening feeling in the empty crevasses of his gut. He didn’t reply. Even if he could have gotten the words out, which he doubted he could, he had nothing to say. She had him, and they both knew it.

            Wanda filled his cup again.

“I didn’t bring you here to argue.” She murmured, cutting through the silence that had settled over the both of them.

            Peter curled his suddenly cold fingers around the steaming cup. “Why did you bring me here?” He asked his eyes fixed on the swirling contents of the cup. Not ready to meet those golden, green eyes that seemed to stare straight through him.

            “I need you to get something to Stark for me,” Wanda said. “It can help him – he’ll know what to do with it.”

            Peter’s eyes shifted away from his tea and back up to Wanda. “Why?” He asked, brows furrowing.

            One of her eyebrows lifted again. “Because I took a bullet for you – I think it’s fair to say you owe me a favour.” She said, pointedly.

            “No.” Peter shook his head. “Why would you want to help Mr. Stark?”

            More so than any other the question seemed to catch her off-guard. She pulled back slightly, as if the words had stung a little, and Peter suddenly found himself wondering if he’s pressed on something that went deeper than whose sides they’d picked in Germany – but before he could take the words back she spoke.

            “Because I can,” She murmured. Those topaz-streaked eyes drifted down to the table – suddenly lost somewhere very far from a Chinese restaurant in Midtown. “And because he’s done nothing to deserve the way I’ve treated him.” The words were so soft that Peter barely caught them. A moment later her eyes were back – and the ghosts in them shoved back into their cages.

“They’ve been looking for you.” Peter said. Not really sure what to say – but not willing to let the moment pass. “All of them.” There was something haunting in her eyes that cut Peter to the bone. He had to admit he forgot who she was sometimes – an orphan, and refugee, of a city turned to ash – so overwhelmed by what she was.

            “I know.” Wanda said. “But I’m not done yet.”

            “Done what?”

            “Righting my mistakes.” She said. “As much as I can, at least.” A tight smile crept across her face, not reaching her eyes. “I’m not like them – not like you, I don’t think.” She said, nodding at him thoughtfully. “I didn’t get into this for the right reasons,” Her eyes fell down to the now cold tea clutched tightly in her hand. “And now I don’t know my place in it – or if I have a place.” Even the forced smile fell. “If I deserve one.” Those eyes crept back up – the topaz in them blinding. “I guess I’ll find out when I’m done.” The hand that had been wrapped around her mug disappeared into the folds of her black jacket, pulling out a hard-drive and setting it down on the table between them.

“Please, give this to Tony.”

Peter dropped his eyes to the hard-drive for just a second – taking in its unusual slimness and lack of any noticeable brand – but it was long enough. When he glanced back up Wanda’s seat was empty.


 

Chapter Text


 

 

Tony fiddled with his cufflinks for the billionth time ten minutes. They had been stuck in traffic for over half an hour now on the way to the Supreme Court. He’d dropped the Civic off at a garage in Chelsea, and then slid into the Rolls Royce that Happy had pulled up to the curb in a deserted side street.

The car lurched forward again, skipping a few feet closer to the Court – Tony could see it through the window now, but the mass of media littering the streets was making it almost impossible to reach. Tony threw his head back onto headrest. He was struggling to stay awake – which was not a new sensation, but he was steadily finding that the kind of sleep-deprivation that stemmed from working all night in the lab, and the bone-weary exhaustion of sitting up all night with the image of the kid bleeding out in an alley somewhere, were very different. One left him with itchy eyes, but a sense of achievement that tended to override the discomfort of being awake for forty plus hours. The other reduced him to an aching, nauseated, mess that – despite his exhaustion – just couldn’t stop shaking.

The door across from him swung open despite the still crawling car.

“Wha-” Tony breathed, pulling back in his seat and throwing a look up at Happy, who sat at the wheel. The sudden thundering of his heart calmed almost immediately when a familiar set of leg braces began to fold themselves into the back seat beside him.

“I meant the baby-sitter comment, you know.” Tony scowled as Rhodey slammed the door closed behind him, cutting off the camera flashes that had caught his every step into the Royce. “I can sit in a courtroom all on my own – despite what you and the Captain seem to think.”

            “Oh, I have no doubt.” Rhodey said, glaring out the tinted windows at the paparazzi that were all but pressing their noses up against the car. “I’m here to protect Ross more than you.” He pulled at his uniform, straightening out the creases must have formed during his shoving match to get to the car. “And I think Steve’s just getting a bit antsy, locked up in the Compound all day.” He added. “He’s nervous something’s going to happen when he can’t be there to help.”

            Tony huffed, his attention turning out to the paparazzi as Rhodey’s eyes drifted over to him. “It’s Steve now is it?”

            Without even sparing a glance in his direction Tony knew that Rhodey was throwing him a pointed look. “Fresh slate – that’s what we said wasn’t it?” Rhodey said. Tony shrugged. “Besides – even you call him Steve occasionally.” Rhodey went on, clearly prodding for a response, his eyes boring into the side of Tony’s face.

            “Yeah, well, it’s petty if I hold a grudge.” Tony moaned zealously, pulling at his cuff links again. “Which is why I was reliant on you – my best-est, and oldest friend – to hold it for me, but I see how it is.” Tony huffed. A smile was pulling at one edge of Rhodey’s lips as he shook his head in the corner of Tony’s eye. “Brawn over bros.” Tony grumbled. “At least the kid still attempts to hate him – in that puppy-like, adoring, I would literally eat my web-shooters if you asked me to, Steve kind of way-”

            The shadow of a smile had disappeared from Rhodey’s lips. “You’re babbling.” He said, not an inch of room for Tony to argue. He was too experienced with Tony’s brand of bullshit. “What’s up?”

            “Nothing,” Tony shrugged, eyes still firmly fixed on the photographers blocking their way to the court stairs, and not on Rhodey’s searching gaze. “Just looking forward to another wasted day of staring at Ross’s face and waiting for it to spontaneously combust – I think I got close last time. Just a few tweaks of the ‘force’ and I’ll be able to-”

            Rhodey cut him off.

            “-Happy said you went to see the kid.”

            Tony’s eyes pulled away from the chaos outside the car to glare up at the back of Happy’s head.

            “Traitor.”

            Happy’s eyes flashed to the rear-view mirror – his silent judgement wafting from the front as the privacy divided rose up, secluding Rhodey and Tony in the back seat.

            Rhodey was still waiting for an answer – and would keep waiting until Tony got his shit together and started talking, if past experiences were anything to go by.

            Tony bit the bullet.

            “Yeah, we talked.” He murmured, leaning back in his seat as the car started up again and they inched forward.

            “And?”

            “And he hasn’t been shot, which is always a win.” Tony answered without pause. The media storm pushed in close against the car as it moved, jogging to keep up as they slid towards the courthouse. Rhodey waited for him to elaborate. The silence stretched until Tony couldn’t take it anymore. “There’s not much to say – I laid it out for him, you know.” Tony went on, aiming for casual and missing the mark completely.

            “And how did he take it?” Rhodey asked.

            “Like a trooper.” Tony shot back. Silence met him again. “It’s not like he has much of a choice – none of us do.” Tony muttered, cracking under Rhodey’s probing silence and dragging his eyes over to meet Rhodey’s. “Keeping our heads low is the only way we’re going to get through this.”

            Rhodey nodded. “And after?”

            Tony’s eyes, which had been drifting back to the window, shot back to Rhodey. “What?”

            “When we’re through this – because Ross doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He knows it, and we’re going to damn-well ensure it,” Rhodey elaborated, a sternness in his voice that even Tony wouldn’t dare argue with. “What then?”

            Tony’s confusion only grew. “What do you mean?”

            Rhodey’s eyes softened. “You can’t push the kid away because he might get hurt, Tony.”

            Tony fidgeted in his seat to cover the almost painful spasm in his shoulders. “Pulling him close didn’t exactly do him any favours.”

            Rhodey’s reply was instant.

            “Then pull him closer.” He said. Tony’s eyes darted back over to him. Rhodey was openly staring now – considering every inch of him – and Tony had to fight the urge to shy away. Those eyes always saw too much in him. More than even Tony saw.

The Royce glided another few feet. Rhodey stayed silent.

“You know, he reminds me of this friend I had in college.” He said finally, just as Tony’s impatient leg bouncing had reached new levels – threatening to stamp a hole in the floor of the car. “Small, scrappy, kid with a heart and brain that were too big for his own good, dumped all alone in a world that did everything it could to swallow him,” Rhodey shot him a look as Tony shook his head – but couldn’t help the small smile that tug at the sides of his lips. “But he was not nearly as breakable as he looked – with a little bit of backup there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.” Rhodey went on. “Still isn’t.”

            Tony stared for a moment, and then lifted a hand and moulded it gently against the side of Rhodey’s face. “I think you just touched my soul there, Pooh-Bear.”

            With a roll of his eyes Rhodey ducked out of Tony’s hand. “That kid has imprinted on you like a duckling-” Tony huffed, starting to cut in, but Rhodey ploughed on. “And you know it.”        

            “A terrible decision on his part, really-”

            “We’ll agree to disagree on that.” Rhodey said before levelling Tony with a serious look. “Don’t leave him out there all alone, Tony. He doesn’t deserve it.” Rhodey’s eyes lingered. “And neither do you.” Tony’s irritated shifting softened – but Rhodey wasn’t done. No. He was saving the hardest hit until last. “Way I see it, if it weren’t for you, the kid wouldn’t have made it off that lake.” Rhodey added, the words lingering in the car as they finally pulled up at the courthouse steps. Apparently sensing Tony’s imminent meltdown – or simply watching the blood drain from his face as his eyes darted back up – Rhodey cut him off before he could even begin to argue. “-don’t say anything. Just consider it.” Rhodey said firmly as they pulled to a stop. “Consider for a minute, maybe, that you’re not the centre of the universe,” Rhodey shrugged, that ghost of a smile flickering across his face. It did reach his eyes though. “And that bad things just happen.”

            Tony’s attention darted to the window when a surge of movement outside caught his eye. Ross was standing atop the grand steps, and the paparazzi were stampeding up to record him as he preached out at the crowd – his arms waving and eyes fuming.

At the sight of his fury, Tony’s own loathing seemed to freeze in his gut. Solidifying into something cold, hard and consuming. It polluted upwards, into his chest, and along his every limb. Leaving them tingling.

“It didn’t just happen.”

 


  

“She legit kidnapped you?” Ned gawked up at Peter from his seat at the back of the computer lab. Peter was leaning over his shoulder, staring down at the computer screen and keeping an eye on the lab teacher who was making his rounds. “Like voodoo’d you all the way to Midtown.” Ned breathed, eyes wide and wistful. “You are so lucky-”

Peter’s fingers were rapping quickly against the desk – his eyes darting up to where the teacher was knelt down with another group of students.

“-is it working?” He asked.

“Give it a minute.” Ned said, fingers flying across the keyboard. “What ever is on this thing, it’s huge.”

“We’ve given it forty minutes.” Peter grumbled, his unease growing as the teacher moved a group closer. He leant a little closer, blocking the screen from view. “Can you tell what it is?”

Ned shrugged. “It’s a bit of everything, I think.” He said. “Video. Audio. Documents.” His fingers stilled, and a green loading bar appeared on the black screen. Inching upwards too slowly. Ned’s hands pulled back from the keyboard only to mash together – twisting erratically. “…Should we really be looking at this?”

The lad teacher suddenly moved away from them – called to the front by another group of students – and Peter’s anxiety eased, just slightly. He folded himself down into the chair beside Ned, pulling in close to watch as the loading bar crept up. “What do you mean?”

Ned’s erratic hand twisting increased. “Well, she said to give to Mr. Stark, didn’t she?”

“Yeah – but, he’s – you know – kinda busy right now,” Peter said, nodding up at the muted TV squirrelled in the corner of the room, playing live exerts of the trial. Tony was front and centre – staring blankly up at Ross as the man roared something out across the crowd. Peter’s eyes darted back to the loading screen. “And she didn’t say not to look at it, so-” Peter argued, Ned’s apprehensive expression only growing. “Besides, she said it would help Mr. Stark, so we have to know what’s on it.” Peter added, firmly. “We might be able to help.”

“How?” Ned asked. Peter was saved from answering when the loading screen finally came to an end and the hard-drive finally unlocked.

An endless line of files streaked down the black screen.

“Holy shit, what is all this?” Ned said, scrolling through the hundreds of files. He clicked on one at random, opening some kind of report. Both of them bent closer to the screen. “That is not English or Spanish.” Ned said as the two of them scanned over the report – well as much as they could. The whole thing looked like gibberish.

“I don’t think that is a language.” Peter said, “I think it’s coded.”

“Awesome.” Ned breathed.

“Open one of the videos.”

Ned did. He closed the report and scrolled down to the closest media file. The first frame had the two of them leaning in so close that their foreheads were in serious danger of smashing together. “Holy shit.” Ned croaked, eyes glued to the screen. “Is that Ross?”

It was. He was standing right in the centre of the frame – waiting. There was no sound for the video, but it was clear he was waiting for something.

He was pacing the expanse of a small warehouse, wooden boxes stacked all around him, checking his watch every few steps, and throwing furtive glances to something out of screen. He was out of uniform – no suit, no nothing – just him in slacks and a dark sweater with his hair smoothed back and his hands glued to his sides. After just a few seconds another man entered the frame – this man immaculately dressed, with a suit that practically oozed money and shoes that gleamed in even the low resolution of the video.

An uncomfortable tremble crept up Peter’s spine.

“That’s the man I saw last night.” He breathed.

“What!?” Ned hissed, his eyes darting between Peter’s face and the man on screen. “The guy who was…” His voice faded away as he watched Ross and the man speak.

“Selling Wanda.” Peter finished.

Something moved in the shadows behind the two men. A moment later three more men came into view, a dark coffin resting on their shoulders. They set it down slowly, but didn’t opening it.

“Oh god,” Despite already being at risk of popping out of his skull, Ned’s eyes widened even further. “Is there another person in there?”

Realization hit Peter like a brick to the solar plexus.

“He’s selling them.”

Ned’s bulging eyes swivelled to Peter’s face. “Selling who!?”

“Enhanced people.” Peter said, tracking the two men’s every move across the screen. “He’s selling them to Ross.”

Ned’s eyes darted back to the screen. “Holy shit.”

Everything fell into place. “She was setting him up,” Peter breathed. Ned’s brows furrowed. “Wanda,” Peter elaborated as both Ross and the well dressed man left the screen, the three coffin bearers hoisting the dark casket back on their shoulders and following suit. “She meant to be sold.”

Ned’s eyes jumped back to Peter’s as the video stopped on its last frame – the now empty warehouse frozen on the monitor. “Oh.” Ned said, chewing his bottom lip. “Whoops.”

Peter reached over and closed the video with a quick click, tabbing back into the hard-drive to scroll back through the seemingly endless list of files.

“How many are there?”

“What, videos?” Ned asked. Peter nodded as he scrolled. “Dozens.” Ned said, his eyes darting nervously between the screen and Peter’s face. “You think every one is a sale?” Peter paused for a second – and then nodded. “Shit.” Ned swallowed heavily, his pallor from the night before returning. “We need to get this to Mr. Star-”

Without warning the monitor flashed, and then went black.

“What the hell?!” Ned muttered, both he and Peter leaning back in towards the screen.

“What just happened?” Peter asked as Ned typed manically.

“It shorted.” Ned said, “-it just cut out-”

Peter’s stomach was churning, the hair on the back of his neck rising –

And then the lights went out.

The lab was plunged into darkness. Students all around them yelped, the sounds of chairs – and their occupants – tipping over echoed in the darkness alongside the teacher’s insistence for calm. A couple of students had the sense to stumble to the windows, yanking open the blinks to let a least a sliver of daylight into the room. It illuminated the startled faces of the rest of the class – and Ned’s terror filled one.  

“What the hell.” He panted as Peter threw frantic looks about the room. “What’s happening?”

There was something outside the lab that Peter could only just make out – a sound that rang out every few seconds, and then disappeared as soon as it came.

“Wha-” Ned began. He never got the chance to finish.

The fire alarm cut through the room a second later – echoing deafeningly – drowning out the strange sound that only Peter seemed to be able to hear. It didn’t matter though, because Peter had already figured out why it sounded so familiar.

Why the pop pop pop cut deep into his chest and stayed there.

Oh god. Oh god.

“Stay here.” Peter breathed, rising from his chair slowly, barely daring to breath as he strained to make out the gunfire over the fire alarm.

“Peter-” Ned started.

“-Stay here.” Peter hissed, moving through the room quickly. He couldn’t hear it. He couldn’t hear it anymore – not over the fire alarm.

The lab door burst open just as Peter reached it – startling him so badly that he jumped a full foot in the air and onto one of the nearby desks, crouching down and covering Ned – who had crept forward behind him – from sight.

No took any notice of him. The class were much too caught up with Flash, who had shoved the door closed behind him before falling to the floor, trembling.

            Before anyone could even ask what the hell was going on he spoke.

“They’re storming the school!” He shrieked, tears streaming down his cheeks. Several other students were crying as well, already huddling together and taking cover under the desks. Peter thought he might be sick at the sight of them.

The lab teacher moved towards Flash, starting to speak. Peter cut him off before he could start.

“Who!?” Peter rasped, leaping from the desk and reaching Flash before the teacher could take more than a couple of steps. Flash was shaking, his whole body convulsing as he fought to suck in even a single breath. Peter’s hands clenched around his shoulders, trying to ground him despite Peter’s own racing heart and rapidly deteriorating ability to speak. “A student? Who!?” Peter asked, shaking Flash just a little as he began to hyperventilate.

“I don’t know-” He gasped. “I don’t think so – they – they were wearing like military clothes-”

Peter’s hands fell away from Flash’s shoulders, letting Flash crawl beneath a nearby desk and curl up there, sobbing. The other students were not far behind his hysteria. Even the teacher had given up trying to comfort – he was busy pulling upturning desks for students to crouch behind.

Every face was stained with tears – but the only wailing came from the fire alarm. No one was making a sound.

No one dared.

Peter rounded on Ned who was still standing just behind him – paler than Peter had ever seen him, and clutching the hard-drive to his chest.

“We need to go,” Peter breathed, his heart clenching somewhere up in his throat. “We need to go right now.”

Peter didn’t give him a chance to answer. He seized him by his jacket and tossed them both towards the door.

            “No! What are you two-” The lab teachers voice echoed behind them as Peter shoved them through the door and slammed it closed behind them – snapping the metal handle clean off and tossing it down the hallway. There were no windows from the hallway into the lab – and the door was pretty sturdy. No one else was getting in. They’d be okay. They’d be okay.

            But what about everyone else?

“What do we do?!” Ned muttered rocking back and forth on his toes as he kept the hard-drive clenched against his chest. “What do we do!?”

“I – I dunno-” Peter breathed, dragging Ned down the hallway and shoving them both into the emergency staircase just a couple of doors down. The fire alarm was still going strong – but the gunfire was definitely getting louder. “I mean – if it’s Ross, he won’t really hurt anyone, will he?”

Ned didn’t answer.

Peter was clenching and unclenching his fists to quickly that his fingers were beginning to cramp. “We need to get it to Mr. Stark.”

“Yeah,” Ned nodded, his head bouncing so fiercely that it had to hurt. “Yeah-” He tried to push the hard-drive into Peter’s hands.

Peter pushed it right back.

“-You need to take it.”

What!?” Ned screeched – both he and Peter clenched a hand over his mouth. Another round of gunfire echoed loud enough to drown out the fire alarm. Peter and Ned jumped apart, slamming against the concrete wall. “No. No. No, no, no.” Ned was muttering, still trying to push the hard-drive into Peter’s hands.

Ned!” Peter hissed, seizing him by his hoodie and pulling them both down into a crouch. “You need to do this!”

“-I can’t!”

“You can!” Peter insisted. Ned’s head was still shaking. “You are the only one – I have to take care of the soldiers-”

Ned’s headshaking mounted to a whole new level. “No! No, Peter-”

Peter pulled him a little closer. “I trust you – more than anyone!” He hissed. “You can do this!” Tears were slipping from Ned’s eyes now, his very real fear cutting Peter to the bone. “You can do this!” Peter said again. A few more tears trekked along his cheeks, but finally Ned nodded. Peter nodded with him. “They’re coming – they’re coming from the gym.” Peter said, turning his attention to the intermittent gunfire and stamping boots that were making their way along the north wing to them. “Okay, you need to cut through the Chem. hallway to the back parking-lot – you know the one that leads into the Wendy’s drive-through-”

Ned was nodding dizzyingly fast now. “-Yeah.”

“Good – then you need to get to the SI building-”

“What, in Manhattan?!” Ned screeched. “Have you seen me? I’m wearing a Star Trek sweatshirt – and not even a Next Generation one, it’s Voyager! They’re not going to take me seriously!”

“You have to make them!” Peter said, pulling the staircase door open and pushing them both back out into the hallway. “You have to get it to Mr. St-”

No sooner had they taken a step then they were face to face with a black balaclava and the wrong end of an assault riffle.

Not that there was a right end, really. Not ever. But in this particular situation it was definitely the least desirable end.

Peter shoved Ned behind him with more force than he had ever dared use on his friend – but that gun was rising and Peter’s senses were shifting into hyper goddamn overdrive.

Ned stumbled back into the stairwell, tumbling down the flight of stairs closest to them. A pistol whip from the barrel of the riffle sent Peter tumbling after him – but Peter was only down a minute. Before the shooter could take more than a step inside the stairwell Peter was on him – one hand clenching around the mussel of the riffle and the other clenching around the man’s exposed throat.

His fingers wrapped around the flesh there, clenching hard. The action should have frightened Peter – he’d never gone the throat before. Not ever. Legs, and arms and even a torso occasionally, but never a throat – he never wanted to kill anyone. But something had taken hold. It had slid down from where it had clogged his throat – threatening to suffocate him – to the very corners of is innards where it churned and burned.

Terror.

He wasn’t Spiderman here. He wasn’t a hero.

This was school. These were his friends.

This was his life – his real life – and whomever this man was, who was currently reaching into a holster at his back for a pistol, he threatening that life. Threatening his friends – and with them everything Peter really was.

Peter’s fingers clenched even tighter. The hand still grasping the mussel of the riffle flexed painfully, and the metal cylinder groaned. And then bent. Peter ranked the riffle from the soldiers grip with everything he had – almost taking the soldiers’ arm with it if the cracking in his shoulder, and muffled cries of agony were anything to go by – and hurtled it over the railing.

With his now free hand the soldier grasped a hold Peter, glove covered hand finding purchase at the joint where Peter’s arm met his shoulder, and squeezing. It was Peter who cried out then.

Whoever he was, he was strong. Too strong. Enhanced strong.

Peter needed to end this – he needed it end it like yesterday.

The soldier’s hand finally fell upon the pistol at his back. He drew it before Peter could move, extending the arm, but the mussel never found its way to Peter. Instead it paused on Ned, still struggling to his feet a flight of stairs below them.

NO!

Webbing shot from Peter’s wrist, catching the pistol and propelling it back towards the wall.

But the gun had already fired.

Peter didn’t get to see if the bullet hit home.

The force of the webbing had thrown the soldier off-balance, sending him stumbling into the railing, and Peter – practically on top of the man now as he fought to keep a hand clenched around his throat – stumbled with him.

They followed the riffle over the railing and into a five-story free fall to the subbasement floor.

Peter hit the concrete first – his head smacking against the cool floor with the added force of two hundred pounds of super-soldier.

A moment later that same, glove covered, hand clamped around his throat. And squeezed. Black spots crept further across his vision. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t feel…anything. He couldn’t. He couldn’t –

And then, between one gasping attempt to draw in breath and the next, it was all gone.

 


 

 

“Objection.”

The Judge’s eyes dipped down to where Tony sat with his feet propped up on the table despite the Judge’s many warnings. His eyes narrowed.

“To what, exactly, Mr. Stark?” He asked, slowly.

“To the fact that we’ve been over this, and I’m really bored.” Tony said. His lawyer, who had been sat next to him for days trying to keep him from interrupting too much, threw his head back against the headrest of his seat in defeat. “And kinda hungry.” Tony added.

The Judge’s eyes narrowed so much that Tony doubted he could even see through them anymore. “Sustained.” He ground through his teeth.

“That, that right there, is the point I am trying to make Your Honour. Mr. Stark has no respect for our policies-” Ross’s voice cut across the court room again. Tony could barely make out words when he spoke now. His voice was such a common background noise that it was becoming almost synonymous with elevator music. Only less calming – through Tony had never really found elevator music calming. More perplexing. The ride was really only a minute long at most – anywhere – who decided that they needed a whole genre of music to fill that gap –

Buzz.

Tony’s phone vibrated deep in his jacket pocket. He ignored it. He’d already been scolded for looking at it this session.

He pulled himself up in his seat and cut Ross off mid-sentence. Or what he assumed was mid-sentence. The man never seemed to end his sentences, so technically there never was a mid section.

“I have as much respect for policy as anyone – what I don’t have respect for is time-wasters. We’ve been over this, extensively.” Tony pointed out, waving a lazy hand in Ross’s direction. “Yes, I call out an asshole when I see one, you know why? Because it’s my goddamn right in this country!” That earned more than a few hoots from the crowd behind him – and a scowl from Ross. “If that’s what we’re here about then you have subpoenaed the wrong person – your issue is with the constitution not me.”

Buzz. Buzz.

Tony’s phone vibrated again. He ignored it. Again.

“My issue is with your blatant disrespect for the institutions that make this country great-” Ross started back up.

        Buzz.

        God – that was getting really annoying.

        “No,” Tony cut in. “My blatant disrespect is reserved for you, and you alone.” He clarified. “Last time I checked you did not embody the American military service – and thank Christ for that.” He swivelled in his chair to get a better look at Ross’s pink-spotted face. “All offence indented, there’s a reason they never put your face on recruiting posters.”

        Ross’s teeth ground together so forcefully that Tony swore he could hear it, even over the bellowing laughter of the courtroom. “Slander-

        “-it’s only slander if it’s not true.” Tony insisted over the top of him. He threw a glance up at the Judge. “And I assure you his face has never been on a recruiting poster Your Honour, I checked.”

        Even the Judge seemed to be loosing his patience.

        “Mr. Stark-”

        Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

        Jesus Christ. Scolding be damned.

        Tony reached into his jacket and yanked out his phone. The screen flashed to life.

        And the entire courtroom froze.

        Tony’s eyes flicked up from the screen slowly – a haze settling over his vision. Over his everything.

        What he could see was the hint of smile that curved at Ross’s lips as he watched the blood drain from Tony’s face. There was no rage anymore. No frustration. It had all been a ruse. A distraction.

        Those lips moved a moment later – but no sound came out. It wasn’t meant to. This message was for Tony.

        Checkmate. They mouthed.

        Tony was out of his seat and halfway through the courtroom before the Judge had broken out of his stupor enough to call for him.

        “Mr. Stark! Mr. Stark – get back in this-”

        The double doors of the courtroom boomed as they were thrown open with enough force to dent the walls on either side.

        And Tony was gone.

 


 

                                           < Messages                              Less Hot Legolas                      Contact

 

 

Get to Midtown High.

 

Now.

 

Now Tony.

 

Now.

 

Right the hell now. 

 

Pick up your goddamn phone.

 

For FUCK SAKE PICK UP.

 

QUIT DANCING LIKE A GOD-FUCKING-DAMN-SHOWGIRL ON ONE OF CAP’S 40’S FUCKING-TOURS

AND GET YOUR OVERDRESSED ASS TO THIS FUCKING SCHOOL RIGHT THE FUCK NOW.

 

                                                                                                   


 

 

< Messages                     Least Favourite Arachnid                 Contact

 

 

 

Peter's gone.

 

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text


 

This was not happening. No. Just no.

No.

Tony’s brain hadn’t gotten much further than that in the time it took him to flee the courthouse and sprint down to the street below. The reporters were on him in an instant, but he ploughed straight through them – knocking several to the ground as he went – and they quickly scattered. Scrambling out of the way before they were the next victim to Tony’s shaking arms, which were just about ready to shove god out of his way and down the stone steps if it meant getting to his kid a second sooner.

The Royce was parked just off to the side of the courthouse with Happy leant up against it casually, a steaming coffee in one hand and the other pressing a phone to his ear.

“-look, I know what I said.” He was murmuring into the phone as Tony thundered closer. “I know – but I told you, I just can’t take time off right now – I know we told your parents we’d be there, but things are a bit of a shit-storm here right now so I can’t just take off-”

Happy’s eyes widened to twice their normal size when he finally caught sight of Tony, practically running now, coming towards him.

“Baby, I gotta go – I gotta go-

He pulled the phone away from his ear, shoving it deep into his pocket, and hurled his coffee into a nearby trashcan just as Tony reached him.

“Boss, wha-” He started, eyes still wide and frantic as he took in the paparazzi on Tony’s heels.

Keys,” Tony hissed, already pulling open the driver’s door as he shoved his hand out.

“What-” Happy started again, his eyes darting painfully fast as they shifted between Tony’s face, the paparazzi and the courthouse behind them all. “What the hell is-”

Keys!” Tony roared. Even the reporters a few hundred feel behind them jumped. Happy pulled back instantly, his eyes finally settling on Tony. Or what was left of Tony – he was pretty sure he’d left majority of his major organs back in that courtroom. He was hollow and shaking.

This was not happening. He’d said this would never happen. He’d promised.

Tony wasn’t sure what Happy found in his face, but it must have been enough because a moment later the Royce’s keys were in his hand and Happy was shoving him into the car – fending off a few stray reporters who were brave enough to edge forward. A moment later they were all leaping away from the car – Happy included – as Tony pealed away from the courtroom and into mid-afternoon Manhattan traffic.

“F.R.I.D.A.Y,” Tony called, settling his phone on the passenger seat as he wound in and out of traffic, at least twenty miles over the limit.

“Yes, Boss.” Came her automatic response.

“Midtown Tech – find me everything-” Before he could finish the AI had already started speaking.

“At approximately 1:12 this afternoon reports of shots fired at Midtown School of Science and Technology were filed with nearby authorities. A police presence arrived at the school at 1:26pm. No attempts for infiltration were made until a S.W.A.T team arrived on scene at 1:39 and stormed the school at precisely 1:43pm. After an initial sweep of the school failed to produce any active shooters S.W.A.T began to evacuate students and staff alike as further sweeps were conducted-”

“Peter – where the hell is Peter?” Tony cut the AI off, his hands clenching so hard around the steering wheel that his knuckles began to ache.

“After the initial evacuation staff conducted a role call of all students – Mr. Parker was noted as missing. Two further role calls have been conducted. Mr. Parker has been noted as missing for both as well.”

Jesus,” Tony panted, attempting to suck in a breath as he swerved dangerously fast onto the Queens Midtown Tunnel exit. The air just would come though. “Find him.”

“Through which networks, Boss?” F.R.I.D.A.Y asked without hesitation. “You made it clear that, due to the trial, certain legal grey areas were to be avoided-”

“All of them!” Tony roared edging dangerously close to the walls of the tunnel as he speed past several lanes of backed-up cars to a symphony of honking. “Hack the god-damn Russian satellites if you need to. Find him!”

“Searching.” Came the AI’s automatic response, and then silence. Silence that stretched long enough for Tony to make it all the way through the tunnel and shoot back out at sea level midway through Hunters Point Park.

When the AI’s voice cut through the car again a hope ignited in his chest before he could stop it. Her words, though, dashed that hope as soon as it had come.

“Less Hot Legolas is calling.”

The little air that was left in Tony’s lungs fled. “Answer.”

“-Tony, Tony?!” Clint’s voice echoed through the car.

“Where the hell is Peter?” Tony hissed in lieu of a greeting.

Finally!” Clint breathed, “Jesus, I’ve been calling for ages-”

Where the fuck is my kid!?”

“We don’t know-” Clint started, and Tony let out a long hiss of frustration. Inching his foot a little lower on the accelerator. “We don’t know, but he’s definitely not here. We’ve swept the place near a dozen times now-”

Tony was gasping for air now. This was real. Peter was gone.

He was gone.

“-Tony. Tony? You need to calm down – breathe-”

Clint’s words barely registered in the fog that had taken over. A spasm shot through Tony’s rigid arms, shooting the Royce towards the side of a brownstone as he jerked around another corner. “Shit!” He yanked on the wheel, pulling the Royce off of the sidewalk just in time to miss totally colliding with the brick-wall. He did loose a side mirror though. And majority of the paint on the Royce’s left side.

TONY!”

That was not Clint’s voice.

“Wha – Clint?” Tony voice was horse, and foreign to even his ears.

“Pull over and calm the hell down, Tony.” It was Cap. “Pull over, Tony!”

“You tell me where my kid is Cap and I’ll do whatever the hell you want, but until then-” Tony’s foot edged even closer to the floor. The Royce shot between cars to a melody of honking horns.

“He’s not here,” Steve’s voice thundered over the line. The force of it broke Tony out of his panic induced spiral – just for a minute. “He is not here, so getting yourself – or anyone else – killed trying to get here isn’t going to help him.”

Very slowly the words started to trickle into Tony’s brain, and even more slowly his brain began to make sense of them – or tried to. No matter how many ways he flipped the words he couldn’t make much sense beyond he’s not here. Fear had taken over, and refused to let any kind of logic in. Logic mean actually swallowing the fact that he’s not here. And Tony wasn’t prepared to do that. He’d promised.

He’d promised.

TONY!” Cap’s voice was thundering through the phone again – reaching a whole new octave when Tony continued not to answer. “Tony! Answer me – please – just-”

Tony hit the breaks with enough force to send the Royce skidding loudly as he swerved into an empty side street and ground to a halt.

JesusTONY!?” Steve’s voice slowly began to filter back through the haze. “Tony!? Clint – you need to – you need to track his phone-

Tony lost track of – well – everything. It all just slipped away. All torn from him and drowned beneath the realization of what he’d just done.

What he’d just lost.

“Ross has him.”

The absolute certainty of the words cut Tony to a core that he didn’t know he had. He’d thought that by now – after Afghanistan and Obie, and then New York and Killian and the absolute shit storm that was the Accords – he was beyond this feeling. This gutting sensation of having something so incredibly vital ripped from his chest. First in that cave when the weight of the car battery threatened to yank out what little of his chest he had left, then on his couch watching those familiar hands twist and tug.

And then all alone on the concrete floor, with a shield that he knew better than his own hands buried deep in chest.

“Ross has him.” Tony said again, the words taking more and more from him every time he said them. But he needed to say them. They were true.

He’d let this happen.

“We don’t know that-” Steve was saying over and over. “We don’t know anything right now-”

“I do.” Tony cut him off. He barely recognised his own voice now. The tension, and gut-clenching fear, that had bubbled in his throat since he saw Natasha’s message was gone now. Replaced by the dull, dead, empty tone of acceptance. “You didn’t see him.” Tony went on. Steve didn’t make a sound. “He knows.” The gapping pit in Tony’s chest, which had been threatening to consume everything last thing Tony had, finally won out. Between one minute and the next Tony’s world collapsed in on itself, and he was left shivering, cold and empty. “Ross has him.”

“Okay.” Steve heaved through his teeth – sounding almost breathless. “Okay.” He said the word again and again as he fought to swallow what Tony was telling him – and failed if his constant stream of muttering was anything to go by.

Tony began to slip away again. His mind – which was usually running so quickly that it left him a little nauseous and awake at all hours of the night – had ground to a stop. Completely. He felt weightless all of a sudden, but not the good kind of weightless. Not free. He felt…untethered. As if he might float away any second. Where? He didn’t know – and nor did he want to. He wanted to stay here. He wanted to stay here – here with Pepper and Rhodey, and fuck it all Steve, and all the other miscreants he’d invited into his house. With Peter. He wanted to stay with Peter.

All he’d had to do was hold on – hold onto Peter – and somehow he’d still slipped through Tony’s fingers. And now Tony was slipping away with him.

“-Tony! Tony!” Steve’s voice was still roaring through the phone. He sounded far away though. “Tony you need to breathe! Take a breath–”

Wasn’t he? Now that Steve mentioned it he really started to notice the burning in his chest. He could hear the whistling of his lungs as they fought, and failed, to bring in any air. But he couldn’t fix it – there was no air to breathe. It was all gone. He was falling through the darkness – real darkness. The wormhole behind him was closing, the nuke shooting ahead of him, but Tony was falling. There was no air. There was no sound. There was no light.

There was nothing – and inch by inch it took him. Inch by inch until he was nothing as well.

Without warning something seized Tony by the lapels of his suit jacket and pulled. Pulled until he was tumbling out of the front seat of the Royce and onto the damp side road.

The shock of the movement, and the shot of pain that flashed across his knees as they hit the road, was enough to kick start his brain. Just a little.

There were hands still grasping the front of his jacket. They flexed and then grasped at the crinkled material, using it to shake Tony hard enough to rattle his teeth – and clear a little of the fog that had settled in his brain and refused to leave.

TONY!” Steve was in front of him one hand still twisted in his jacket, and the other pressed up against his throat. Two fingers pushing down painfully hard where Tony’s pulse was thundering. “Tony! Tony you need to breathe!” Steve panted, his own chest heaving as he untangled his hand from Tony’s jacket and slid it up to rest on the back of Tony’s neck. The other hand stayed where it was, pressed fast against Tony’s neck. “I’m going to call an ambulance, but I need you to breathe, okay? Breathe – in for five, and out for five. Just like me. Okay? Breathe with me-”

Steve heaved in a couple of breaths as Tony watched. Probably a good thing – Steve looked like he needed them. Had he run all the way from the school?

Through the haze Tony heard his phone ring from somewhere inside the car, and Steve pulled away just far enough to scoop it from the front seat – his hand never leaving Tony’s throat.

“Tony? Tony!” Pepper’s voice flooded across the line.

“Thank god, Pepper–” Steve heaved out a shaky breath as Tony watched. “He’s here – I – he – I don’t-”

“-He’s there?” Pepper cut Steve off with a sharp hiss that always meant Tony was in trouble. Or had caused trouble. “Tony? What the hell!? Why is there a kid screaming for you in the lobby?! What the hell is-”

Faster than Tony had every moved in his god-damn life he had snatched the phone out of Steve’s hand and crushed it up against his ear.

The fog had evaporated – rushing out through his chest like a build up of pressure that he just couldn’t hold anymore. It left him aching, shaking but awake. Aware.

And once it was gone everything else snapped back into place.

PETER!?” Tony roared into the phone. “Is Peter there?!”

Steve’s hand had fallen from Tony’s throat to rest on his shoulder as he leant closer. Hanging off of Pepper’s every word, as Tony was.

“No. No he’s not.” Pepper said hesitantly, all the bite vanishing from her voice as soon as she’d heard Tony. Her every word was soft now. Gentle. But reserved. She had always been too observant when it came to Tony. She knew something was very wrong. “It’s another kid I haven’t met, Ted, or Fred, or something, I-”

Ned!” Tony breathed, eyes meeting Steve’s as he watched on with rapt attention. “Peter’s friend.” He explained. “What – why – why is he there? Where is Peter?” He croaked into the phone. Panic was gripping at his chest again. If Ned was there…and screaming…where was Peter?

“He won’t say,” Pepper said. “He won’t say anything – not until you get here. But something’s wrong. He’s bleeding – or he’s come into contact with someone who was bleeding – cause his sleeve’s almost soaked through-”

Despite Tony not believing it possible, that panic that had been settling in his chest actually grew. Grew to the point that Tony was a little concerned it might claw its way out of his chest alien style.

“I’m on my way.” Tony said, scrambling to get to his feet – and mostly failing. “I’m on my way. Take him up to the executive offices and don’t leave him alone. Get him – get him whatever he needs – whatever he wants – I’m – I’m-”

The phone was pulled from his hands as he struggled to make words and stumble to his feet, in that order. One of Steve’s hands was wrapped in the lapels of his jacket again, and he used it to heave Tony upright onto shaky legs.

“We’re on our way.” Steve murmured into the phone before disconnecting the call and shoving the phone into Tony’s jacket pocket.

Tony nodded, mainly to himself, as if the simple movement might set everything right again, and stumbled back towards the open car door. He had barely taken a step before an iron grip enclosed around the collar of his jacket and propelled him around the hood of the car. Before Tony could even process what the hell was happening Steve was already stepping around him and sliding into the driver’s seat, slamming the door closed behind him. It took Tony a minute to get his brain, which was already far beyond its capacity for the day, to catch up. When it did he scrambled the rest of the way around the car and shoved himself into the passenger seat. The car was peeling out of the side alley before he’d even closed the door.

“-he’ll be alright.” Steve was saying over and over as they wound through traffic, speeding through the busy roads that would take them back to Manhattan. “He’s a smart kid.” The Royce clipped the barrier at the edge of the tunnel that would take them back to midtown, sliding into traffic about twenty miles over the limit. Not fast enough. Not fast enough. They had to get there now. Now. Peter was – Peter was – “He’s a smart kid, he’ll be okay. He’ll probably get himself out of this before we even get the chance to. He’ll be okay – Tony? Tony breathe-” Steve’s eyes were darting over to Tony every couple of seconds, taking him in, before flicking back to the road.

Tony barely noticed him.

“I promised him this would never happen.” He wasn’t really speaking to Steve. Or himself. The words were just spilling from his lips because they had to. He had to say them. They were burning so hot in his chest that he couldn’t hold them in anymore. “I promised him Ross would never find him.” Steve’s eyes flashed to Tony again. “Never touch him.”

That nothingness was bubbling in chest again, threatening to drag him down.

Steve’s voice rung out through the speeding car, his voice garbled as if he was speaking underwater, but the words eventually made their way through to Tony’s brain. “Sometimes – no matter how we want to – need to – protect the people we love, we just can’t.” Steve murmured, his fingers clenching around the wheel so tightly that the wheel was in serious danger of disintegrating under his grip. “Sometimes they slip right through our fingers.” There was something raw in his voice that had Tony’s eyes flicking over to him. His eyes were back on Tony. The blue in them was burning. “But we’re going to get him back – and he would know that.” Steve ground out. “He would know we’re coming for him.” His voice was hard. “No matter what we have to go through.”

They both fell quiet for a moment, letting the rush of the car and the trail of horns that followed their wild dash across midtown fill the silence.

After a couple of moments Stark Tower came into view above them.

“I’m going to kill him.” Tony murmured as they sped across the last few blocks. Steve threw him a furrowed glanced. “Ross.” Tony added, looking over to stare at Steve head on. There was a calm settling over him with every word. “I’m going to kill him for this.”

Steve stared at him for a moment, his expression unreadable, and then turned back to the road. He said nothing.

 

 


 

“Tony!”

Tony shoved his way through the glass lobby doors, Steve on his heels, and spun immediately at Pepper’s voice. She was pushing towards him from where she’d been waiting nervously by the elevator doors. Tony was halfway across the lobby before she’d taken more than two steps.

“Where is he?” Tony breathed as he reached her. She fell into step with him immediately.

“Executive conference room.” She said slamming a hand down on the elevator call button and turning to take her first real look at Tony. He must have looked god-awful because as soon as her eyes landed on him, they couldn’t pull away.

The elevator doors slid open and Tony forced himself between them, Pepper and Steve follow close behind, and then they were rising – Tony’s leg tapping against the gleaming floor. He was the first out of the elevator, and, without waiting for the others, set off at a near sprint down the hall.

He burst through the conference room door at the end. Ned was across the room faster than Tony had thought a kid with legs that short could move. Within a couple of seconds, before Tony could really take a step into the room, he was just a foot away. And hyperventilating.

“I’m so sorry!” He heaved out in a breath that sounded disturbingly difficult to expel. He was shaking so hard that, despite wrapping his arms tightly around himself, he was still quivering from head-to-toe. New and old tear tracks twisted their way down his cheeks from his red stained eyes. “I’m so sorry, we were going to call you – I swear we were – we just, we just-” He shuddered as he fought to get the words out of lips that were just refusing to move, and lungs that were clearly refusing to take in anymore air. Tony took a small step forward as he felt the others catch up to him, and freeze in the doorway. He reached out, but didn’t touch the kid. The scarlet stain that had spread across his left arm had quite painfully caught his attention. Tony stepped forward again, trying to get a better look at the cut underneath, because there definitely was one. He could see the torn skin through the ripped sleeve. Had he caught it on something? Had he been shot?

Ned plundered on despite Tony’s advances, barely noticing as Tony seized a hold of his bleeding arm and began turning it slowly to get a better look at the graze – and it was definitely a bullet graze. The fury deep in Tony’s gut re-ignited.

“We wanted to help – Peter wanted to help – we knew you were in trouble with Ross and everything else and we just – when Wanda found us – we wanted to make sure that what she was saying was true, and that it could actually help – and if it could, maybe we could help you with everything that was going on, and-” Ned’s words faded as the fight to bring in air got harder and harder, but he didn’t stop speaking. Tears were streaming down the tracks on his cheeks again, and each breath wheezing in and out of his lungs, but he didn’t stop speaking. Didn’t stop staring pleadingly at Tony. “Please, please, I’m sorry – we’re sorry – but please, please find him – I – please –”

Tony, who was not at all pleased with the graze, but satisfied that it wasn’t fatal, moved his hands up to grasp Ned’s shoulders and push him gently back to a nearby chair at the empty conference table.  

“Stop, stop-” Tony cut off Ned’s ramblings, steering him into the chair and kneeling in front of him despite his aching knees. “Breathe.” Tony ordered when Ned continued to heave in non-existent puffs of air. “And tell me what happened?” Steve moved to stand at Tony’s shoulder, but hesitated a few steps back so as not to spook the kid.

Ned was no closer to a deep breath. If anything his breathing was getting worse as his word vomit became word begging – which cut Tony to his core in a whole new way that he hadn’t imagined. “Please, please, you need to find him – I – we –”

“I’m going to find him,” Tony cut the kid off again. “I’m going to find him – but you need to tell me what happened so I can do that.”

As he spoke Steve had gravitated a little closer.

“Did you say Wanda?” Steve asked softly. When Ned’s panicked eyes cut up to him Steve sank down onto his knees beside Tony. “As in Wanda Maximoff?” Steve added breathlessly. Tony knew that Steve had taken her disappearing act pretty hard. He and the others had been searching for her for months without a single lead. It kept Steve up at night. It kept Tony up too. He’d been running a background tracer on her since the others had turned up without her, but so far no luck – not that Steve knew that. Or needed to know. He didn’t need to know that Tony had this sinking feeling sometimes, when he’d been awake too long and his mind tended to wander to the places he didn’t want to dwell, that the reason she hadn’t come back was him. They’d never gotten along per say. The ‘he-kind-of-lead-to-the-death-of-her-parents-and-brother’ was the unavoidable elephant in every room.

“She’s here, in New York.” Ned heaved in a heavy breath, his eyes finally starting to focus on Tony as his hysteria gave way to focus. “When you called, the other night, it was her.” Ned’s eyes fell as he sucked in another deep breath, and Tony and Steve shared a confused glance. Ned caught the end of it as his eyes rose back to Tony’s. “She’d been shot – we were, Jesus I don’t even know what we were trying to do, we were so far out of our league and then she climbed out of the window anyway and we couldn’t find her – even though Peter stayed out all night –” Ned’s words started to slur together as his anxiety started to rise again.

Tony inched forward, ignoring the screaming in his knees, and clasped his hands around Ned’s shoulders. “Slow down.”

Ned did. Just. “He didn’t want to call you. You’ve been in so much trouble for everything that happened, and I think he felt bad. He didn’t want to pile anything else on you. You’ve done all this stuff to protect him – he just wanted to help you-”

Tony cut him off again when the words reached hyper-speed. “Help me how, Ned?” Tony pressed. “What did he do?!”

Ned’s brow crinkled as he stared over at Tony – as if his guilt was literally weighing on the space between his eyes. “He kind of walked in on one of Ross’s goons buying Wanda from some creepy-ass dude in a cemetery – and then things kind of spiralled from there.”

 


 

 

Something cold and hard collided with Peter’s face, breaking him out of the fog that had settled over his entire body. He was up and on his feet before his brain had a chance to catch up. A tingling on the back of his neck had him lunging for the corning of the room and bracing his back against it even as his brain was still processing – still trying to clear the fog that that felt like it had made a home in every inch of him. When it finally started to clear, and the solid concrete room he was in stopped spinning, his brain began to process a long whistling sound coming from behind him. Peter’s eyes snapped towards the thick, metal door and bars that stood at the other end of the cell. And it was a cell. Cool concrete walls, a short bench and bars on the solid, steal door.

Before Peter could dwell too much on that disturbing realization the sight of a man standing just on the other side of the metal bars came into focus.

The low whistle that Peter’s foggy brain had picked up earlier was coming from the man as he watched Peter back himself further into the corner.

The last of the fog in Peter’s brain fled as Secretary Ross stared lazily at him through the bars.

“They told me you were fast,” Ross said, his eyes still rooming over Peter with a calculating coolness that left Peter’s insides churning. Even as Tony and Bruce had run all the tests they could think of when he’d first fessed up the whole bitten-by-a-radioactive-spider-thing, he’d never felt as much like a science-experiment-gone-wrong as he did under Ross’s gaze. “But I must admit it’s hard to imagine until you see it for yourself.” Ross’s eyes finally dropped as he leant casually against the metal door, raising an apple to his mouth and taking a vicious bite. Peter’s stomach twisted.

“Where am I?” Peter whispered, unable to help himself. The concrete walls were finally starting to get to him. He hadn’t done well with enclosed spaces since his unfortunate close-encounter with a few thousand tonnes of warehouse. The hairs on the back of his neck felt as if they were ripping themselves from the skin.

Ross looked back up at him as he took another deep bite.

“Far from home.” Ross’s lips twisted upwards just slightly as those calculating eyes roomed over Peter once more. “Little spider.”

Peter’s insides twisted so painfully that he nearly threw up where he was standing.

“Get comfortable, Mr. Parker.” Ross drawled, throwing what was left of the apple into Peter’s cell – it rolled to a stop near the can of soda that had woken Peter so forcefully. “You’ll be with us for a long while.”

Without another word Ross turned on his heel and disappeared through a door at the far end of the room beyond Peter’s cell.

Peter was curled up on himself and shaking before Ross had even slammed the door closed. When he did a sob tore its way from Peter’s chest – and from that first sob came another, and then another, until Peter was fighting to breathe between the tears and the crushing weight that had settled on his chest, trying to suffocate him.

Some time later the lights in the cell shut off, and Peter was left alone, in the dark, with only his echoing sobs as proof that he still existed at all.


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

They didn’t find Peter that day. Or the next. Or the day after that.

Or in the four that followed.

“What do you mean you can’t find it!?” Tony roared at his monitor as he flipped through satellite images fast enough to make his already aching brain burn with the exertion. “It’s a giant, fucking tin can in the middle of the Atlantic! How do you loose that!?”

“The Raft fell out of satellite view at approximately 4:21am on the day in question and has not resurfaced according to data taken from satellites monitoring the region.” F.R.I.D.A.Y’s voice echoed through the lab.

“It must have.” Tony thundered slamming both hands down onto the metal desk in front of him hard enough to wake Sam from the soft-doze he’d been in for almost an hour now. The man shot upright awkwardly on the couch he’d been sprawled across shooting a glance at Steve – who stood completely rigid in the centre of the lab, as he had for the last day or so as their leads disappeared and Tony became more and more desperate – and Steve gave him a short shake of his head.

No.

No they hadn’t found him yet.

Tony was ready to break something – several some-things. Preferably the bones in Ross’s face. And then neck.

“They had to get him on-board somehow,” Tony continued to roar at his servers as he shoved away from his desk and towards another desktop he had running to get him access to a Chinese, un-manned, space station that swore up and down it had no surveillance technology on board.

Tony was about to dis-prove that claim, and then abuse that technology as much as he pleased.

“It’s the only place they could hold him – cells build for the enhanced, and Ross’s own men in charge, meaning no one with a moral compass who might have a problem with shooting up a school and illegally abducting a fifteen-year-old-”

“Have we heard back from the school?” Rhodey’s voice cut across the tense lab from his place leaning against Tony’s main working station, only a few feet in front of Steve, with his chin hung down and resting against his chest. Like Steve he’d been perched in the same place for almost two days now. Had it been anyone else Tony would have kicked them off the instant their but-cheek hit the gleaming stainless-steal, but having Rhodey over his shoulder was more comforting than he was willing to admit. He always had been. All the way from college to that night on the bank of the lake, with Peter –

No. No. He wasn’t going there. He couldn’t afford to panic.

Peter couldn’t afford for him to panic.  

The assassins hadn’t been back to the Compound since the day Peter had been taken. Both had slipped under the radar as soon as they’d established that Peter was long gone from the school, searching for him where Tony and the others couldn’t go. Steve had even gotten in touch with Scott, who had set out on his own to dig up something within hours of the school attack. With nothing else to go on, the rest of them had retreated to the half-built Compound to continue searching, but now, days later, even Tony had to admit that they were no closer.

Their shared frustration had sent Bruce upstairs to meditate hours ago. He hadn’t been back down since – the green guy brimming a little too close to the surface.

Steve nodded at Rhodey shortly. “No casualties. Minimal injuries.” He said, his voice deep but empty. Mechanical almost. Just like his every movement in the last few days. Where the others seemed on the edge of slipping into a coma from exhaustion, Steve seemed to be shutting down internally. As if he were saving energy – or trying to bury something so deep down in his chest that it could never find its way to the surface, no matter how much it tried.

Tony was more than familiar with that feeling from the last few days. It was like a gnawing hole, buried deep in his gut, but never truly gone. Every moment it threatened to swallow him, churning so forcefully that Tony thought he might throw-up despite not having eaten anything solid since he’d fled that courtroom. Rhodey had forced a protein shake on him every few hours after the first day – threatening to cut power to the lab if Tony didn’t drink it.

“Just as intended, I imagine.” Vision’s voice was soft, and even – as it always was – but there was something in it that Tony just couldn’t pick. Tension?

Fear?

Tony, in the few moments between each world-ending calamity, had found himself wondering what the extent of Vision’s experiences on earth were – how he processed? If he felt things like they did? Vision had had no qualms in answering Tony’s arguably prying questions, concluding that he did feel, but not, as he imagined, Tony did. No less – just differently.

Tony had begun to doubt that analysis over the last few days. Fear – he was beginning to suspect – Vision felt just like them all.

Every crippling inch of it.

“F.R.I.D.A.Y any hits on Wanda?” Tony asked as he punched in a few last keys to get access to the Chinese space station. He set it searching in the area where the Raft had last been spotted, and then set about getting access to it’s video logs.

“None, Boss.” F.R.I.D.A.Y’s voice answered.

“I have found none either,” Vision added from his place on the floor, in the far corner, by Tony’s holographic servers. His purple skin was awash with blue light, leaving him almost pale looking. “Nor anything on young Mr. Parker, or the man he saw at the cemetery.”

After Ned had finally calmed down enough to coherently piece together what he and Peter and stumbled into, it had been all Tony could do to keep himself from reaching out and strangling the still sobbing teenager. When they found Peter – and they would find him, or so help god – Tony was going to kill him.

Walking into dicey, government funded, human trafficking deals. Attempting to sow up bullet wounds at home. Opening stolen, government encrypted, hard-drives at school. Yeah. There was a stern conversation in his future. Peter had to be the only recorded teenager in history who was colour-blind to the colour grey – because these were so far from the grey area situations they had discussed that it wasn’t even a little bit funny anymore.

The hard-drive, he did have to begrudgingly admit, was a goldmine. Every shady deal of Ross’s was there in perfect picture. If Tony had had it days ago he would have leaked the whole thing online – and sent along a few videos in personalised emails to a couple of senators who would be none to pleased with Ross’s extra-curricular activities.

As it stood now though, he could do nothing. Not without risk of retaliation. Ross would have retaliated before – without a doubt – but before that would have fallen on Tony, and Tony alone. Now, he was almost certain it wouldn’t. What could Ross do to him after all? Use his political strings to make his life hell? He wouldn’t be the first Politian to target Tony, nor likely the last. And with his career in disgrace from the leaked hard-drive, he would barely have a leg to stand on.

But Peter? Even disgraced and under investigated Ross could hurt Peter. Could keep him. Keep him from his home. From his friends and May. From Tony.

Releasing the hard-drive wasn’t an option now – and he was almost certain Ross was counting on it, though he couldn’t be entirely sure as, yet another person they had been unable to track down, was Ross himself. The man seemed to have dropped off the earth after Tony fled the courtroom, and was now publicly unavailable, and privately un-fucking-traceable. If Tony had to put money on it he was willing to bet that Ross was hold up on the Raft with Peter, and the very idea churned in his stomach.

“Sir,” F.R.I.D.A.Y’s voice cut across the lab as Tony spun away from the computer and back to his workstation in the centre of the room. “May Parker is calling.” Tony dropped into his chair just a foot or so from where Rhodey was leaning against the desk.

“Answer it.”

May’s voice flooded through the silent room.

“Stark-”

Tony cut her off before she even got the question out. There was no point waiting for it. They both only had one question at the moment – and every minute he spent answering it was a minute he wasn’t spending solving it.

“I haven’t found anything yet.”

Behind Tony Steve was still standing in the middle of the workshop, his parade rest becoming more and more tense by the minute.

Shit.” She breathed across the line. She sounded as exhausted as he felt. “Maybe – maybe I should call the police. Officially report him as missing, I-”

“No.”

May fell silent for a moment. “No.” She repeated, her voice so cutting that Tony felt himself hunching over his keyboard, as if he could somehow use his shoulders to brace against her fury. Her absolutely justified fury. “That’s all you have. No.” She thundered over to line, her voice rising with each word. “Why the hell not?” She demanded. “He is missing! Maybe the police can-”

“The police can do nothing.” Tony deadpanned. “He’s not missing.” Those words were met with absolute silence. Not May, nor the men spread around hurricane that was Tony at the moment, made a sound. “We know exactly where he is – the problem is that that place is in the hands of a filthy-fucking senator with a quickly diminishing life expectancy-”

“The police can’t help him May,” Rhodey cut over the top of Tony’s violent ramblings, and brutal keystrokes as he continued working despite them all. “This will be easier without a media fan-fair watching our every step.” Rhodey went on. “I know this is hard, but you need to trust us.” May said nothing. “We’ll find him.” Rhodey murmured in that calm, assuring kind of way that had even Tony believing him. Just a little.

They would find him. They would find him. He would-fucking-find him.

The line stayed quiet for such a long stretch that Tony almost thought she had hung-up, but after a full minute of silence the distinct sound of a call cutting off sounded without May offering another word.

The tension in the room didn’t ease. If anything it grew. Tony’s keystrokes were beginning to severely endanger the structural integrity of the keyboard.

“Someone should go check on her,” Steve’s voice rung out behind Tony.

The distinctive sound of stiff joints cracking at the very back of the lab announced Sam’s battle to free himself from the small couch there. “I’ll go.” He said, moving into Tony’s peripherals where the Captain was still modelling the tensest parade rest Tony had ever laid eyes on. Steve gave him a short nod. “Call me if you find anything.” Sam murmured, running a hand over his blood-shot eyes and sparing the lab one last look – as if he might find Peter hiding behind one of the cluttered desks.

“Take your gear.” Tony said without looking away from his screen, where he was back to coming through Peter’s suit’s recordings. “When we find something, we’ll be moving quickly.” He added, aiming for harsh and falling far short. He just didn’t have the energy anymore – and the idea that they might be giving up already only drained that energy more.

He would-fucking-find him. Tony would dig up the goddamn earth, alone, if it came to that.

“F.R.I.D.A.Y why the hell didn’t I get an alert as soon as the suit got a good look at Wanda?” Tony snapped, doing his best to block out the movement behind him as Sam set about gathering up his suit. Steve moved to help him. “Is there a malfunction in the facial-recognition-”

“There was no malfunction.” F.R.I.D.A.Y’s voice cut him off. “There have been no sightings of Wanda Maximoff in the Itsy-Bitsy mark 2 suit.”

Tony’s frustrations with Sam and the others vanished for a second as confusion washed over him. “I am looking at her-” Tony said, watching the camera footage he’d downloaded from Peter’s suit. He’d been over and over the cemetery footage. She was right there. Completely exposed and clear as day – a little too exposed for comfort even. You could have cut the tension in the lab with a knife when they’d first watched her be tugged from the coffin and thrown, half-naked, into the mud at Ross’s man’s feet. “I am seeing her all on my own – with my eyes – and I can see it’s her.” Tony went on, pulling up the suit’s coding – and F.R.I.D.A.Y’s for good measure – to try and find the problem. Was it in his coding? No. The suit hadn’t had any problem with facial recognition for anyone else – “How the hell can you not-”

“Her eye colour has altered.”

Everyone in the room paused.

Tony’s head snapped up to Vision – who was still sitting cross-legged on the floor watching the holographic screens. His eyes never left them.

“What?” Rhodey asked, throwing a look between Vision and Tony.

“Her eye colour has altered since original facial imprints were taken,” Vision clarified in that frustratingly calm and logical voice, as if he weren’t just throwing something out there that wasn’t possible. Shouldn’t be possible – “As face-recognition takes a great deal of its primary markers from the retina, it is now unable to recognise her.”

“Eye colour does not change – not that much.” Tony muttered even as he pulled up the cemetery footage again and enhanced as far as it would let him. What he found did not make him feel better.

He froze the footage as Wanda hit the dirt at Ross’s thug’s feet, her face turned away from the man above her and towards where Peter had crouched. From that angle the footage caught a clear view of her eyes – her very not-green eyes.

The once green irises were now clouded at their centre with a striking ring of topaz.

“What the hell is that?” Tony breathed as he fought to clarify the footage and enhance it even more.

Across from them Vision had not moved an inch from his place. His eyes had not strayed from the holographic screens – but his voice was softer when he spoke again. Hesitant. “I am not sure.”

That was a problem. A mildly disconcerting problem.

But not a problem for right now.

“F.R.I.D.A.Y scan images 8213 and 8214 for identifying facial markers and then start the search again. Work backwards and close – start yesterday in midtown. Find her and Peter, and then track from there. I want to know everywhere she’s been in the last few weeks.” Tony barked, trying to push the discomfort in his gut down as he re-focused on the problem at hand. Find Peter. “And you know, where she is now. That would be preferable to everything else,” Tony added. “But using the last few days as a reference point, I doubt the universe it going to be that kind to us.”

“Searching.” F.R.I.D.A.Y’s voice echoed across the lab. With that they all settled back into the tense silence they’d inhabited for the last few days – Rhodey leant against the desk, Steve taking up parade rest behind Tony once more and Vision still unmoving by the holographic servers.

After a few moments Sam became the only source of moment in the room other than Tony’s vicious keystrokes.

“I should get going.” Sam said, pulling his bag – with a compact model of his wings crushed inside – higher on his shoulder. “Call me when you find something.” He murmured.

Tony would typically have taken the words as a jab, and done so in his stride, but when his eyes darted up to meet Sam’s for the first time in days he found a sincerity he hadn’t expected.

“Happy’s outside.” Tony said, his attention falling back to his screen. “He’ll take you – he knows the place.”

Tony watched Sam give a short nod in the reflection of his monitor. He turned to Steve, who offered him one of his own, before moving to the elevator. He barely made two steps before he was jerking to a stop with the rest of them as F.R.I.D.A.Y’s voice flooded through the lab.

“Sir, I have a real time match.”

What?” Tony breathed, throwing himself back to his monitor. “On who?!”

The A.I’s response was immediate. “Secretary Ross, sir.”

Something froze in Tony’s gut. “Where is he?”

“He is currently letting himself into the main recreation room, just off the lobby.”

Tony’s every limb locked in place.

Steve took the smallest of steps forward, now only inches from Tony’s chair. “He’s in the Compound.”

“He is.”

 


 

 

Peter’s eyes adjusted to the dark – eventually. He’d crawled into the furthest corner of the cell what felt like weeks ago, and had barely moved from it since. The lights hadn’t come back on since that first day when Ross was waiting for him. No one else had visited him either. For the first few days that had been a relief, but now, having been in the dark for so long that he was beginning to worry what might happen if he ever saw light again, he would welcome a visitor. Anyone. Ross. A serial killer. Adrian Tombs. Literally anyone. He’d do anything to turn the lights back on.

But no one came.

The sensations that came with the lack of light almost made the cell worse. Every now and again Peter could swear he felt it moving. Almost jostling, as if the building he was in were being battered by wind. And then, arguable worse, were the times when he felt like it was sinking. He could feel it in his ears as they popped and protested the change of altitude – but it could really be sinking. Right. Buildings didn’t do that.

Maybe he was going mad.

Peter let his head fall back against the wall behind him. The pain was a welcome release from his otherwise sensationless state.

He was almost at the point where he was prepared to start running head-long into the walls with as much force as he could – just to see if he could spur a reaction from someone. He never got to test the theory.

Right as he reached the point of desperation where he was willing to give it a go, something loud echoed through the wall where his head was rested. Peter was on his feet within seconds.

It was the first noise he’d heard beyond his own voice in weeks.

A moment later it echoed through his cell again. A loud, painful sounding thunk.

Every bone in Peter’s body – which seemed to have gotten heavier and heavier with every passing day stuck in the cramped cell – suddenly felt as if they were lighter than the stale air around him. Humming with anticipation.

It was Tony. It had to be.

He’d come for him.

A shout followed the next thunk, but it was cut short by the thunk after that. They were definitely getting closer. Peter could feel the cell shake more and more every time.

He crushed himself back into the far corner of the cell – he’d seen Tony’s repuslors up close and had no desire to get any closer – hands pressed against the walls, ready to throw himself out of the cell as soon as it opened.

The next thunk was so forceful that it almost shook him free from his corner. The entire cell veered to the left – the leftmost wall somehow dipping down as the floor rose beneath him. What the hell.

Another thunk rung out, and again the cell tipped. The left wall dipping so drastically that it almost took the place of the floor.

Was he…rocking?

Peter has assumed he was locked in a basement somewhere. Locked under tonnes of concrete in some black-site on a hidden continent, or something along those lines. But in his experience concrete did not tend to sway like that. Or at all.

It certainly hadn’t when a solid 10 tonnes of it had fallen on him in that garage.

The most vicious thunk yet rang out – followed by a blood-curdling scream that Peter tried not to focus too closely – and the cell dipped with enough force and speed to throw Peter from his corner.

Somewhere between hitting his head on the metal bedframe and crashing down to the right wall – which had now fully taken the place of the floor – Tony’s voice trickled to the front of his mind.

“Well, it isn’t exactly a long list of people who could hack into his glorified, floating, soda can.”

They had never really discussed Ross to any great extent. Tony had a habit of shutting him down every time he broached the subject – deflecting with a nothing you need to worry about, kid – but he had mentioned his facility once or twice, just in passing.

Floating soda can.

Floating soda can.

As swiftly as it had dipped, the cell righted itself, hurling Peter back into his corner.

Floating. Floating.

Oh shit.

Without warning the cell righted itself, sending Peter spiralling back towards the metal bedframe. He collided forcefully with the base, his head smacking against the frame again, but felt nothing. The unsettling sensation of something warm, and sticky, trickling down the back of his neck hit him a minute later.

And then the gas started. Peter could feel it pouring in through the small vents at the top of his cell – flooding the small space in seconds. Soon he wasn’t sure if his eyes were spinning from his forehead’s close encounter with the bed, or the gas.

Or maybe the room was actually spinning.

His brain was still occupied trying to compute the implications of that when the lights flashed and then turned on.

Oh God. God it hurt.

Peter let out a guttural cry as the harsh fluorescence cut through his now light-sensitive eyes burned. It was blinding. The light, and the pain that came with the light, took every inch of awareness he had. The light whited out his sight, and the pain took everything else until he was curled on the floor, his head clutched tight between his hands, in an attempt to block it all out. The light. The cell. The weeks in the dark.

He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t go back to the dark – but god the light burned.

He couldn’t – he couldn’t.

He just wanted to go home. He wanted to screw his eyes shut so tightly that this had to be a dream. That any minute now he’d wake up in his bed with May leaning over him – because she always came. No matter the time, or how many times Peter had already woken her, she was always there when Peter came thrashing out of a nightmare. And she always stayed. They’d curl up together on the bottom bunk and watch Peter’s favourite Star Trek episodes. After that night at the Compound, when Peter had first come home from the MedBay at the Tower and Tony was still calling him almost on the hour to check up on him, May had stayed with him almost every night. He’d fallen asleep with her fingers running through his hair, smoothing his curls, as Trouble with the Tribbles played over and over.

“Peter!”

God. Where was May? Was she here? Had they taken her too? Or, had they done nothing? Left her alone, with nothing, to look for him. And she would. She’d look for years – and she would be, because Peter was gone. Stranded in the dark for so long now that he’d never be able to leave. Never be able to open his eyes to the light.

Peter!”

Something seized a hold of Peter’s arm, yanking him away from the bed and out onto the open floor. The movement caught him so far off guard that it startled him into opening his eyes – a movement he regretted almost as soon as the light hit his retinas – but the light was no longer blinding. It was still too bright, and far too much, but in the light he could see shapes. Colours.

Red.

“Peter you need to get up! We need to go!”

Slowly, far too slowly for Peter’s comfort, the shapes gave way to a face. Wanda was leaning over him, dressed head to toe in black, blood oozing from a cut across her forehead. A couple of stray droplets fell to Peter’s face, leaving a scarlet stain across his check, but he barely noticed.

Her eyes had finally come into focus, and they were consuming.

They whirled with more colours that Peter had previously thought existed. The amber in them that he had noticed on their first meeting had given way to a churning mass of light.

There were whole stars being born in those eyes.

PETER!”

“Wanda?” Peter’s mouth was slow to co-operate, and his voice even slower. It had been so long since he’d spoken. Really spoken – to another person. “Wha-what’s happ-”

“We need to go!” Wanda was pulling him again, but this time upwards. Towards the cell door – or where the cell door used to be. There was no door now. There was barely a cell. Half of the small space had been blown away, scattering debris out into the observation area outside the cell, and the cells just beside.

Wanda managed to get an arm underneath him and used it to yank him upright. His still spinning brain did not appreciate the sudden movement – sending them both tumbling back down to the metal floor. Peter groaned. His head was really starting to hurt now. He’d changed his mind. He wanted to stay right here – right on the cold metal floor where nothing hurt.

Wanda had other plans.

As soon as they hit the floor she was scrambling upwards, digging her hands into Peter’s sides and hoisting him back up. God. Why wouldn’t she just leave him? Couldn’t she see that he was broken? Too far beyond repair to leave this place now.

The sound of stampeding footsteps echoed down the hall.

A blinding flash of red across the cell and out into the corridor beyond – causing Peter to screw his eyes closed as the light burned his eyes. He was kind of glad he did too. He wasn’t sure he wanted to see what was happening to the men just beyond the observation room – he’d never heard screams like that.

As soon as it had come the red light faded. And the sound of footsteps with it.

“Come on, get up!” Wanda hissed at him as she dragged him out of the cell and through the small observation room. His legs were under him – barely – but they still refused to move. Wanda all but dragged him into the corridor beyond his cell and the observation room.

What they found there nearly made him want to turn right back around.

The guards who must have been running to stop them were frozen in narrow, metal corridor. A red mist hovered around their eyes, tinting the irises a vivid scarlet. Their expressions were vacant – except for some, their faces seemed to be caught in a silent scream that never ended. It was as if time itself had stopped, as the men stood in complete stillness all over the corridor, their weapons and purpose forgotten.

Wanda dragged Peter through the forest of stationary soldiers, seemingly careful not to touch them, but none to worried about the noise they were making as they stumbled along the metal walkway.

Not a single soldier noticed.

They staggered through corridor after corridor – winding and twisting their way through the maze of metal walls of vacant soldiers.

The silence was almost worse than the sight of the soldiers. Gone were the thunks that had left Peter’s cell swaying. Now there was only their uneven footsteps, and the ominous creaking of metal.

Eventually the corridors came to an end and Peter found himself at the railing of a lookout from which he could finally see extent of the situation he had gotten himself into.

Tony hadn’t been kidding. It was a giant, floating soda can.

“Holy shit.” Peter breathed, leaning heavily on the railing as Wanda pulled away. He could see every level – and there had to be at least ten of them. Peter found himself wondering if they were all full of cells. Hundreds upon hundreds of tiny, dark, cells ready for people just like him.

Suddenly the gaping whole in his head, and blood trickling rhythmically down his neck, were not the main reasons he wanted to vomit.

As his eyes made their way up Peter found himself fixating at the roof – or more specifically the two panels of thick looking metal that joined directly in the middle. An opening.

A door.

They were leaving.

“How the hell are we supposed to get up there?” Peter croaked, turning to see where Wanda had gone – not nearly as concerned as he probably should have been by the fact that he’d forgotten she was there at all for a second.

“There’s an emergency staircase in case of malfunction,” Wanda panted, just behind Peter. He threw a glance back at her. She had a hand raised to the steel wall before her. The sound of protesting metal grew and the wall began to vibrate. Or maybe that was just Peter’s eyes. Everything was still a little blurry in the light.

He took a step forward but paused when something cold dripped onto his forehead – mixing with the blood there before running along the length of his nose. What the? He looked up and another droplet hit him just above his left eye.

“Ugh,” He started, staring up at the sealed gates in the roof. “Wanda?”

Wanda turned, pulling her hands away from the vibrating wall and looking over at him. The wall stilled.

The sound of groaning metal didn’t fade.

Peter tore his eyes away from the roof to meet hers.

“I don’t think that’s good.” Peter said, his voice nearly lost to the almost deafening groaning now.

Another drop hit home on the very top of Peter’s head – lost in his hair as soon as it made contact – and then the groaning stopped.

And the roof gave way.

RUN!”

Wanda had already latched onto him, and started hurtling along the walkway, before she really got the word out.

Peter’s brain was a still a mass of basically non-functioning tissue, but his legs seemed to catch on to the severity of the situation, hurtling alongside Wanda as a thousand tonnes of water cascaded into the dome.

They were at least four stories up – and thank Christ for that as the first two levels had been washed away in seconds – but the water was rising quickly, and with every inch it gained the floating soda can became a sinking soda can.

Peter’s legs – finally awake – overtook Wanda in just a few seconds, but those seconds were precious. The first door along the walkway he found he tore open, and then shoved them both inside.

Water was already trickling in when he shoved the door closed.

“What do we do?!” Peter stuttered, almost tripping in the pool of water by the door as his limbs trembled. His spider-sense was screaming at him. Run. Run!

Run where?

The door he’d sealed had already begun to groan under the pressure of the rising water.

Wanda had pulled away as soon as they’d lurched into the corridor, sprinting along the line of thick metal doors and yanking on each. Only one opened.

“Get in!”

Peter stumbled inside after her and yanked the door closed.

It was a storage room – barely big enough for the two of them – but Wanda didn’t seem to care. She shoved him as far back as he could go and then started on the door. Red sparks striking the sides and bending the metal of the door back against the wall. Sealing it.

She was still going when the boom of the door just beyond them giving way sounded, and water began to trickle in through the unsealed gaps.

After a couple more seconds Wanda lowered her hands – one hanging heavily at her side while the other curled around her torso, hand clenched over where the bullet had hit her when they first met.

“What do we do?” Peter said again, his whisper barely audible over the sound of trickling water as it dribbled in through the cracks in Wanda’s work. It was already up to their ankles – and rising.

Wanda leaned heavily against the door, her skin pale and eyes drooping closed.

Blood was dripping through the fingers clenched around her side.

“I don’t know.” She whispered.

Peter found himself nodding slowly as the water inched past his knees. “Okay.” He said, eyes darting around the small room as if a door that he hadn’t noticed might suddenly appear. “Okay.” None did. “I take it this wasn’t part of the plan?”

A bitter laugh broke out of Wanda’s chest, sending her into a coughing fit that only left her more pale and gripping her blood soaked side like a lifeline. “There was no plan.” She murmured.

“Then why come?” Peter found himself asking. The freezing water was licking at his sides now – no time to be tactful. “Why risk it? You were free.”

Those swirling topaz eyes flicked up to him. “You weren’t.” She said, as if it were the most simple of answers. She sighed and then straightened a little, groaning, as the movement must have pulled on her side, to avoid the water now rising over her chest. “Ross is watching the others – their every move – they had no chance.” Her eyes slid closed.

“You do.”

The words escaped Peter’s mouth before he’d realized they were there – but he meant them. God he meant them.

Wanda’s eyes opened slowly and flicked back to him, confusing clouding them.

“Deserve a place with them.” Peter elaborated, her words from the Chinese restaurant echoing in brain.

The water had inched high enough to touch his chin.

“I don’t think that being innately good at blowing things up should be an automatic qualifier.” Wanda said, arching her neck to keep her head from sinking into the freezing water.

“It’s not.” Peter nodded, working to keep his lips above the water line. “Doing the right thing is – even when it hurts.” Her eyes locked onto his, and didn’t waver. “They miss you.” He stammered through the water that was licking his lips. “You have a place – when you’re ready for it.”

Her lips twisted into the ghost of a smile. “And you’ve found yours already.” She murmured, the words all but swallowed by the water.

Peter’s hand found hers in the swell of water as they both gasped their last breaths.

He clasped onto that hand like it was life itself as the water slipped over their heads.

 


 

 

“Tony!”

Something clawed at the sleeve of Tony’s hoodie as he thundered up the stairs, but he threw it off – almost tumbling right back down to the lab in his effort to do so. Steve and Sam thundered ahead of him, their shoes disappearing from sight up the next flight.

TONY!”

Rhodey appeared in Tony’s very red tinted line of sight, his bionic legs shooting up the stairs beside Tony to come to a stop right in front of him. Blocking his way up.

“Move.”

There was enough venom in the word to kill a reasonably sized house pet.

“No.” Rhodey thundered, reaching a hand out to rest on Tony’s heaving chest. Keeping him in place. Or attempting to. Tony was three seconds away from shoving straight through it. “You need to think about what you’re about to do-”

“Oh, I’ve thought about it.” Tony hissed, pushing past Rhodey with everything he had. It worked, for a couple of steps at least. “In great, graphic, detail.”

Rhodey lunged in back in front of him, his metal braces slamming against the stairs as he parked himself on the step above.

“Attacking Ross now is not going to bring Peter back.”

Tony stopped barely an inch away from him.
“I’m not going to attack him.” Tony said, voice even and firm. Of everything that had happened in the last few days, this was the one thing he was sure of. “I’m going to kill him.” Tony breathed through his teeth. “And then I am going to kill the next person who gets in my way, and the next after that until I have my kid back.” He took another step forward, bringing him nose to nose with Rhodey. “Do not test me on this Rhodes.”

Rhodey didn’t move. Didn’t step back or aside – but didn’t push him away either. He let Tony stand there, and seethe, as he watched with that too calm face. Too understanding eyes.

“You cannot kill a United States Senator in your lounge-room.” He said eventually – but for the first time he sounded unsure. And he had right to be.

Because that was exactly what Tony was about to do.

Fucking watch me.”

Tony pushed past again and lunged up the remaining stairs to the landing, with Rhodey barely a step behind him. He threw open the door to the ground floor and thundered through the hall, twisting and turning in a blind rage until he found himself at the glass door of the recreation room.

Steve and Sam stood just inside the door, shoulder to shoulder, staring down at Ross who was spread across the three-seater couch like he hadn’t just waltzed into his own execution.

Ross’s eyes darted up as Tony slid inside.

“Stark.” He called, a smile twisting at his lips. His eyes ran Tony up and down with no small amount of pleasure. “You’re looking a little run down – something keeping you up?”

Despite Tony’s crippling need to lash out it was Steve who got the words out first.

“Where the hell is he?” Steve’s voice echoed in the almost silent room. He hadn’t spoke loudly, but he really didn’t need to. Even Tony had to fight the urge to take a step back at the force of that voice.

Ross apparently didn’t, as he remained lounging across the sofa – only his eyes lazily flicking towards the Captain.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He shrugged, that twisted smile growing. It curled at the sides of his lips – crinkling the skin around his eyes.

“Don’t play with us.” Steve’s voice cut across the room again. “This is not a game.”

“It is to me.”

“Then you’ve already lost.”

The words were out of Tony’s mouth before he realized he was speaking – but they were true.

He would ensure that much.

Ross didn’t seem to agree. Those lazy eyes drifted back to Tony, fixating on the tension emanating from every inch of him, and basking in it.

“No, Stark.” He said. “You have.” He gave the coffee table just in front of him a nudge with his foot. Atop the table the Sokovia Accords slid further forward. “Accept it.” That smile hardened. “Sign.”

Tony’s eyes dipped to the Accords.

He wanted to march across the room, seize the 3489 page document and beat Ross to death with it.

But if it got him Peter back…?

“And if I do?”

A small chuckled slipped through Ross’s smile. The sound burned deep in Tony’s chest.

“Then I’m almost certain that everything will work out for you.” Ross shrugged again. His eyes focused more heavily on Tony, taking in every inch of him. “And whatever you may, or may not have, miss-placed might crawl its way back home.”

Tony threw himself across the room.

He would have done it. He was so close. His hands were only inches away from the Accords when Steve’s iron grip latched onto both of his arms and wrenched him back.

Ross leapt to his feet – backing against the couch – but his smile didn’t fade. If anything it grew.

He was enjoying this.

“Go on.” Ross said, reaching forward and snatching the Accords off of the table. “What else do you have to loose?” He threw them down at Tony’s feet. Steve’s grip tightened.

Somewhere in the room a phone started to ring – Tony barely noticed though as he fought to pull away from the iron grip Steve kept around his arms.

Tony watched as Ross pulled a phone from the breast pocket of his jack and raised it to his ear, that same smile boring down on Tony as he did.

The smile faded, however, when whoever was on the other line began to speak.

Faded completely, until it was gone. Replaced with wide eyes and a pallor that had to match Tony’s.

Those wide eyes flicked up to Tony.

“What the fuck have you done?”