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None of this is supposed to happen.




Today was supposed to be an easy mission, according to Tony, real easy;  all they had to do was zap a few of the aliens, just enough to scare them off. Nothing should have happened. It should have been a walk in the park.




None of this is supposed to happen.




Peter definitely isn’t supposed to jump in front of an alien weapon to protect Tony.




The first part of the fight actually went really, really well. The aliens weren’t great at fighting, okay, they actually kind of sucked ass (as quoted by Sam), to the point where it was actually getting a little boring. Clearly they weren’t a threat to begin with, and their fighting skills had to show for it.




Until.




One of the aliens, their leader (the one Peter identified as the big, ugly blue one), gets up shakily to his feet, and lifts his gun, pointing it straight at Tony.




The base of Peter’s skull begins thrumming wildly, screaming frantically at him to do something because dangerdangerdangerdanger. His head whips around, eyes locking on the threat.




Tony’s not looking. Tony doesn’t see it.




Tony is standing mere feet away from the mouth of the gun.




Tony’s name has left Peter’s lips subconsciously, but Peter already knows it’s too late. Tony’s reflexes are fast, but he’s still a human underneath all the armor. A human with normal human reflexes.




Peter, on the other hand. Not human. Enhanced reflexes and agility.




So Peter makes a choice here. Let Tony take a bullet to the face at near-point-blank, or do something.




He thinks it’s a fairly easy decision.




Peter’s legs are in motion before he even realizes what he’s doing. He springs into the air, leaping with all the force he can muster, and slams into the alien with his entire body.




Both Peter and the alien go down. Peter hears the shot ring out first as they hit the floor, and then he hears the gun clattering as it falls from the alien’s hand.




Now Peter waits for the mind-numbing pain of the new bullet in his face to register.




It doesn’t.




Peter opens his eyes shakily, not even having realized that he’d squeezed them shut in anticipation of the hit. The alien is squirming underneath him, shouting incoherent things in an unknown language, but Peter can’t focus on anything other than what just happened? What the hell? What the hell?




He swears he heard the gun go off. His ears don’t ever lie to him, ever. So why…?




And then he sees the cloud.




It looks like a puff of dust around his face. A thin, wispy black smoke that’s hovering around his mask. Peter blinks at it dumbly.




“What the hell,” is all he says, because, seriously , what the hell? Did the alien really just shoot smoke at him instead of a bullet? That was anticlimactic.




Peter dismissively waves a hand through the hazy black and it fades into the air, dissolving into nothingness. He gets off of the alien.




And then his entire body is jerked backwards, something hard slamming into his torso.




Peter lets out a startled yelp, his entire upper body twisting and limbs flailing uselessly in the air. He skids to the floor, the giant metal suit practically straddling him, and he winces, sitting up.




“Mr. Stark, what the hell?!” Peter demands, voice rising embarrassingly high, but Iron Man swoops down on him again, grabbing him by the shoulders.




“Where’d you get hit?!” Tony’s yelling at him. “How bad is it?”




Peter squawks as Iron Man’s gauntlets frantically search his own body for injuries, blood, anything. “What are you—”




“The bullet, Peter, where’d it hit you?”




Why is he yelling? “It didn’t,” Peter gasps. “I didn’t get hit— ow ow ow, Mr. Stark, you’re crushing my legs please get off—”




Iron Man stumbles backward awkwardly, giving Peter space to breathe. Peter sits up and rises to his feet. In the distance, he can see the Avengers standing in front of the retreating aliens.




Peter’s never seen Tony this— this scrambled before. He’s usually all bark, all joking and sarcastic. But Iron Man’s movements are almost spastic now, each one uncalculated and wildly violent, and it’s so uncharacteristic that it makes Peter’s head spin.




Iron Man’s head bows a little as he examines Peter, his gaze scanning from Peter’s feet to the top of his head. “You’re not hurt at all?”




“No, I’m fine,” Peter says. “He just shot some weird smoke at me, no harm done.”




“Then what the hell were you thinking?!”




The thunder in Mr. Stark’s voice makes Peter startle and shrink back. Tony rounds on him, somehow looking furious even with the faceplate still on, his fingers curling into fists at his sides.




“You just threw yourself in front of the muzzle of an alien weapon. Do you realize that?”




“I wasn’t throwing myself in front,” Peter argues, “I threw myself at the alien, there’s a difference—”




“Right, and you just thought you’d take a bullet for me, because no big deal?”




“I wasn’t going to take a bullet, I was just trying to disarm him! There wasn’t even a bullet in the gun!”




“That doesn’t matter! There could have been and you would’ve been dead in a single instant, Parker, bullet to the brain and you’d be gone. Wiped off the face of the earth. Do you even realize that?!”




“I saved your life, so,” Peter huffs, “Mr. Stark, it’s not very polite of you to—”




Iron Man slams his foot down. The noise is so loud that every muscle in Peter’s body goes frigid and he jumps a little, gut dropping in pure fear.




Iron Man takes a step forward and Peter takes one backward. Iron Man has never looked so utterly terrifying before.




“This isn’t a fucking joke, Parker,” Mr. Stark growls. “That should not have happened. I never, ever want to see you do anything like that again, do you understand?”




It’s not funny anymore it’s not funny anymore. Holy shit.




Peter swallows. His throat feels dry and cracked. His shoulders tense a bit, and he tries to find the words to agree, but hesitates.




Iron Man must sense Peter’s reluctance, because he jerks forward violently, making Peter stumble back. “ Do you understand, Parker?!”




“Yes—!” Peter cries out, voice terse and frightened. His eyes begin to sting, legs feeling wobbly.




Iron Man takes a half-satisfied step back, looking over Peter once more, before he turns on his heel. His boot jets activate and he spirals into the air. Peter’s vision blurs as he watches Tony disappear into the sky.




Tony is— he’s never rough with Peter. He always becomes gentler, softer when handling Peter.




Tony’s never acted like this around him.




Peter’s legs threaten to give out under him. He’s starting to feel nauseous, starting to sway a bit.




Clint lands beside Peter and places a comforting hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Hey, are you alright?”




“Yeah,” Peter says, but his voice still sounds watery and shaky. “I’m fine.”




“What the hell’s wrong with Tony?” Steve asks, walking over to them.




“That was extreme,” Rhodey agrees. “Even for Tones.”




Peter’s glad his mask is still on, because he’s blushing so furiously he knows his face is the color of a tomato. Everything about this is humiliating somehow.




“Don’t cry, Pete, he’s just being a dick right now,” Clint says.




“I’m not crying!” Peter protests defensively.




Wanda touches Peter’s hand affectionately. “Cheer up, myshka,” she tells him. “I know what’ll make you feel better.”



















“It’s not my fault,” Peter says with a pout. “Like, I wasn’t even trying to do anything, I just wanted to knock the guy over!”




Peter licks at his ice cream cone angrily. Wanda watches him, nodding carefully from across the round yellow table.




“You know he’s protective of you,” Wanda says thoughtfully, unwrapping her cone. “He probably just had a freakout because he thought you were gonna get hurt because of him.”




“I know, but I’m okay,” Peter insists. “And I hate that he’s protective of me.”




“Hmm?”




“It’s embarrassing. Like, he doesn’t treat any of you guys the way he treats me! Like I’m incompetent. The way he acts around me, like I’m a kid.”




“You are a kid, myshka .”




“I know,” Peter mutters defeatedly. “But none of the other Avengers throw hissy fits when I try to help out.”




Peter sulks as he chomps on the remnants of his ice cream cone. Wanda watches him with a fascination and endearment that he doesn’t notice.




“He‘s not usually this bad,” Peter says sullenly, “But he’s been acting weird around me ever since…”




Peter thinks he can form the words, but he can’t. Just thinking of what happened makes his gut drop. His eyes fall to the table.




“Tony, he only acts like that because he feels like you’re his responsibility,” Wanda reasons calmly. “He just wants to keep an eye on you.”




“There’s a difference between wanting me to be safe and flipping out on me!” Peter says indignantly. “It’s, it’s humiliating , Wanda, how he yelled at me today— I always do whatever he says. And what do I get for it?”




“He’ll apologize,” Wanda says. “You just have to wait. He just needs time to let it sink in that everything’s okay now. I think he really thought he’d lost you today.”




“Well, I’m fine,” Peter says bluntly. “I am perfectly, completely, 100% fine.”



















When Peter wakes up the next morning he does not feel anywhere near fine.

 

Chapter Text

Peter’s lived in New York his entire life and he’s never, ever been this cold.



When he first wakes up he thinks he must’ve slept without his blanket on, but when he blinks his groggy eyes open, he’s wrapped into the mattress like a burrito. His entire body is quivering, his teeth chattering; the cold is biting and painful and unforgiving.



“May?” he calls out, his voice split. “What’s wrong with the air conditioning?”



“Nothing’s wrong with it, why?”



Peter rolls ungracefully onto his feet, still clutching the blanket tightly around him with trembling fingers.



“It’s cold,” Peter says.



Across his bedroom door, he can see May crossing the kitchen, frowning. She’s wearing a tank top and a skirt.



“Honey, if anything, it’s warm in here.” Something clatters into the sink. “Are you getting the chills? It’s almost June.”



“No,” Peter lies. “No, I’m fine. I think a draft just came through my bedroom window, is all.”



“Are you sure? You feeling okay? Do you have any headaches, any body ache, any other symptoms?”



“May, I don’t have any symptoms,” Peter says as he drops the blanket to his feet. Instantly, the cold worsens, and Peter curls in on himself in a desperate attempt to keep warm as he retrieves his Midtown sweater from his closet. “Symptoms are for sick people. I’m not sick.”



Peter finishes dressing and grabs his backpack. Before he can make his escape to the door, May steps in front of him, her brow furrowed.



She places the back of her palm on Peter’s forehead. Peter cringes away.



“You don’t have a fever,” May observes. “Are you sure you’re okay, honey? I don’t want you going to school sick.”



“I’m not sick—!” Peter protests. “May, it’s not even flu season.”



“Did you eat anything weird?” May grills him.



“No.”



“Did any of your classmates sneeze or cough around you?”



“No, May.”



“Did anything weird happen to you on patrol?”



Peter’s about to say “no” without a second thought, when suddenly his mind finds and sticks on an image.



The cloud. The puff of weird smoke that came from  the alien gun, that lingered in the air in front of his face in wispy tendrils of black.



Panic begins to rise in Peter’s chest. No. That couldn’t have possibly been more than just a fake-out weapon, right?



No. No. It was just smoke. It couldn’t have been more than that.



“No,” Peter lies. “I’m fine, May, I just woke up kind of cold. I already feel back to normal. Bye!”



“You’re not going to eat breakfast?”



“Not hungry.” Peter doesn’t tell her that he thinks he’ll throw up if food makes contact with his mouth.



“Peter, you need to eat,” May urges. “Remember what happened at school the last time you skipped breakfast? You—”



“I’ll be fine,” Peter tells her as he puts a foot behind the door, “love you, May!”



“Peter—!”



He closes the door.



He’ll be fine .






















Peter’s search history looks like this: a Google search of what feels wrong in his body right now, littered with typos, and the crappy online diagnoses for each problem.



The list unfortunately expands throughout the day. It starts with him typing “ i woke up freezign cold this morning whst xoes this mean” into the search bar. This proves to be way too vague when Peter gets an absolutely useless diagnosis of a fever, which May had already dismissed him of earlier this morning.



Fifth period is when he has to add another symptom into his web search. Dizziness. He only really notices when the board goes out of focus and never really returns to normal. When the bell rings, he’s left sitting at his desk in a state of total lightheadedness, trying to blink the blurriness from his vision.



“Peter,” Ned says from beside him. “Come on, we’re gonna be late for gym.”



Peter blearily glances around. There are two images of Ned leering in his vision, and only now does he notice that all of his classmates have already disappeared. Even Ms. Pearson is gone, having left through the back door of the classroom after the bell.



Peter attempts to stand up from his desk and involuntarily careens into Ned, who squawks indignantly and backs up, leaving Peter’s head to thunk onto an empty desk. Peter doesn’t bother trying to lift his head, even though the wood is cold against his already freezing forehead, and this is the moment when Peter actually realizes he feels like absolute shit.



“Um,” Ned says. “You good, Peter?”



“Never been better,” Peter mumbles into the desk.



“You’ve been pale this whole day,” Ned says. “Are you sick?”



That finally gets Peter to whir into motion, driven by his insistence that there is nothing wrong with his body: “I’m not sick!” he says defensively, and as if to prove his point, he forcefully sits up and plants his feet down onto the tile.



His head swims instantly from the sudden motion, and on top of the dizziness, a wave of nausea crashes into him so hard he thinks he’ll actually fall over. Worth it. Peter manages to straighten himself, regaining his balance.



“What’s wrong with you?” Ned asks as they walk down the hall to gym. “You can hardly even stand up straight.”



“I can too. Look at me right now. I’m fine.”



“You’re wobbling.”



“I’m not!”



“Are you concussed again? Did you get hit in the face?”



“No, Ned. Can you just drop it?”






















“Did you have a stroke? Did you—”



“Ned, shut up!” Peter says exasperatedly. “Please!”



They’re doing their routinely sit-ups in gym now. MJ is sitting on the mat beside Peter, her nose buried in American Psycho .



“Peter, why won’t you tell me what’s wrong?” Ned whines in his kicked-puppy voice.



“He’s probably concussed again,” MJ comments.



“I’m not!” Peter exclaims at the same time Ned says, “He said he’s not!”



“Probably the flu, then,” she says thoughtfully.



“It’s not flu season,” Peter says, trying to sound irritated, but his voice only comes out as flat and tired.



“You can still have the flu if it’s not flu season, dumbass,” MJ says.



“No you can’t,” says Ned.



MJ’s eyes instantly dart towards him threateningly. “Are you an idiot?” she asks seriously.



“Why would they call it flu season if you can get the flu all year round?



“Because flu season is when the epidemics increase in the United States. That doesn’t mean you can’t get flu just because it’s not flu season.”



“Okay, but you’re still more likely to get flu during the flu season—”



“I literally never said otherwise, loser.”



“You did though!”



Their conversation slowly gets drowned out by Peter’s head buzzing. Peter tries to distract himself from the painful throbbing in the back of his skull, from the coldness engulfing his arms, by focusing on each sit-up. Ned is absently holding his feet in place, but MJ and Ned are completely focused on each other now, the two of them at each other’s necks like hounds.



Peter tries to focus on his breathing, which is probably a bad idea, because his breaths are starting to become short and irregular.



And then the lights start to flicker, and his mind floats away, and everything is black and it’s finally not cold anymore.






















“—eter— Peter…?”



Peter’s eyes squeeze shut as he winces, spots of light dancing under his eyelids. He makes a small noise of discomfort and shifts on the icy tile of the school gym.



“Hey.” That’s Coach Wilson’s voice. “Give Parker some space, alright?”



Peter opens his eyes just as he hears the squeaking of tens of sneakers against the gym tile. He sees every single one of his classmates, all staring at him with wide eyes, reluctantly backing away but by no means losing interest. Flash is staring at Peter amongst the crowd of faces with a stupidly delighted grin breaking across his face. “Wow,” Flash says. “I never met anybody who fainted before.”



MJ and Ned are the only two who don’t back up. MJ is squinting suspiciously at Peter, while Ned is fretting at Coach Wilson’s shoulder:



“Um, this happened to Peter a couple months ago, remember? I think he just needs to rest for a minute and I can walk him to the office to go home,” Ned’s saying.



Coach Wilson frowns, looking over Peter with a bored expression. “Parker, you’re not faking this to get out of sit-ups, are you?”



“He could never do that,” Flash scoffs from behind them. “He’s a crappy liar.”



That’s not true. Peter grimaces as he sits up, his face glowing with embarrassment. He wishes they’d all just disappear— he wants to curl into himself until he becomes so small that they won’t be able to see him anymore. Even worse, this isn’t the first time he’s fainted in front of his gym class, except the last time was because he came to school the day after Doctor Octopus punched him in the face with a metal arm so at least it was less embarrassing. Because, come on, Doctor Octopus sucks ass as a villain, but at least he was more of a challenge than some shady alien smoke.



Peter instantly shakes that thought off. No. He doesn’t even know for sure that whatever that black stuff was is the cause of all of these— these weird things that keep happening in his body. First the shivering, the cold, and then the dizzy spells, and now this, blacking out in the middle of gym class with no warning? Peter’s no doctor, but despite what May, Ned, and MJ have speculated, he’s pretty sure the three of those combined with his gut instinct are not the flu.



“I’ll take him to the office,” Ned offers again, a nervous edge to his voice. “I’ll come right back, Coach Wilson, but I think Peter just needs to go home.”



Coach Wilson purses his lips and stands back. “Alright, take your time. Feel better, Parker.”



Ned helps Peter to his feet.



“I’m going with them,” MJ says.



“No, you’re not,” says Coach Wilson.



As Ned and Peter walk out the gym, MJ follows them. Coach Wilson watches her exasperatedly but decides against calling her out.



“Liar!” Ned hisses at Peter as soon as they’re out of earshot from Coach Wilson and their classmates. “You said you were fine!”



“I am!” Peter protests.



“It’s actually kind of insulting,” MJ says, “that you don’t trust us with whatever’s going on with you right now. I’m pretty sure we can handle whatever you’re gonna tell us.”



“I’m telling you, nothing is wrong.”



“Peter,” Ned and MJ both put in.



Peter slumps, all the fight draining out of him. “I’m telling the truth,” he says, his voice wavering. “I seriously don’t know what’s wrong with me.”



Ned and MJ finally quiet, exchanging nervous glances when they think Peter’s not looking. Peter steps inside the office glumly.



“Thanks for walking me, guys,” he says tiredly.



“If anything’s wrong,” Ned says cautiously, “tell Mr. Stark, Peter. He’ll know what to do. Promise me you’ll call him.”



Peter’s lips part slightly and his gaze falls to his feet, burning a hole in the floor. He tries to swallow around the lump in his throat.



He just can’t do that for some reason. Can’t make that promise.



“I’ll see you guys at school tomorrow,” Peter says.



That— that was actually not intended to be a lie. Peter doesn’t know that he won’t be at school tomorrow. Or the day after that. He won’t be at school for a while.



He closes the office door.






















“And you’re sure you feel fine right now?”



“Yup,” Peter says. “Totally fine.”



He’s not sure how many times he’s exhausted that phrase of its meaning today.



The nurse nods at him. “Okay,” she says, “It seems like there’s nothing wrong with you, then, but you might want to see a doctor if one of these episodes happens again.”



“I will.” He won’t. If he went to the doctor every time he blacked out, the hospital would be his second home.



The nurse hands him a phone. Peter takes it, blinking, and looks at her blankly.



“Call someone to take you home,” she tells him, before walking out of the room and back into her private office.



Peter’s alone now. He pulls his legs up on the nurse’s mattress, staring dully at the telephone in his hand.



Ned’s words are ringing in his mind. Every fiber of Peter’s being knows that Ned’s right. Mr. Stark always knows exactly how to approach every problem, always knows how to help Peter when things like this happen. Peter’s memorized Tony’s number by heart now. His fingers hover over the telephone buttons.





“Okay, open your eyes.”



Peter’s eyes flew open eagerly. He blinked a few times, Mr. Stark’s face coming into his vision, and then his gaze fell down to his own wrist.



His eyes widened to the size of saucers. “Whoa,” Peter breathed. “What?!”



Mr. Stark had fastened a pretty metal bracelet around Peter’s wrist. It looked like a silver band, with the Stark Industries logo imprinted in the center.



“A bracelet!!” Peter exclaimed giddily. “Thank you, Mr. Stark!”



Tony arched an eyebrow. “It’s not just a bracelet,” he said, sounding almost offended. “Look. Give me your hand.”



Peter extended the wrist with the bracelet. Tony’s face split into an amused, affectionate grin.



“The other hand.”



Peter extended the opposite one. Tony took Peter’s scrawny fingers in his own and guided them to the back of the bracelet. Peter felt the click of a button under his finger on the underside of the wristlet, and instantly a flexible metal bar shot out of the compartment.



Peter’s jaw dropped in astonishment. “What.”



“Now,” Tony said with a satisfied smirk, “pull the bar over your hand.”



Peter did as told, and instantaneously, an Iron Man gauntlet assembled itself over Peter’s hand. Peter felt like he could faint on the spot. “Mr. Stark,” he said, choked up. “This… this is…”



“In case you ever run into trouble,” Tony explained. “Which, unsurprisingly, seems to happen to you quite a bit. But whenever things are looking real bad, I want you to use this. You can just flick out the bracelet, and it’ll equip you with one of these things and send an alert to all of my systems.”



“A panic signal,” Peter said.



“Exactly.”



Peter swallowed back the tears that felt tight in his throat. “Mr. Stark,” he said, “I…”



“Peter,” Tony said gently, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I want you to know that if anything happens to you, anything, no matter how small you think it is, you can always come to me for help. I want you to talk to me and call on me when something’s wrong. You can always, always count on me, okay?”





Peter’s eyes fall distantly to his right wrist, where the bracelet is still hugging his skin tightly. He takes a deep breath through his nose and begins typing out the first three digits of Mr. Stark’s phone number when he realizes.



That was four months ago. That was before— before any of this happened. Before Thanos, before Titan, before Peter died in Tony’s arms. Before Tony yelled at Peter yesterday.



Before he scared Peter yesterday. Because he did scare him. A lot.



Something’s off now. They’re not the same anymore. In these four months, everything has become weird and uncomfortable between the two of them. Tony used to put his hand around Peter’s shoulder like it was nothing.



Tony hasn’t laid a hand on Peter since Titan.



So Peter erases those first three digits and decides on the number he always falls back on.



“Hello?”



“May, it’s me.”



“Peter? What’s wrong, honey?”



“Can you pick me up at school?”



“Why?! What happened?”



Peter could always talk to Tony about superhero stuff, about injuries he sustained on patrol that he was unsure about. With May, none of that was fair game.



What’s he supposed to say to her now?



I lied to you this morning, I actually might have contracted some kind of unknown disease when I shoved Mr. Stark out of the way of an alien smoke gun yesterday. Also, I have no idea how to treat myself because, well, I’m not an alien! Ha.



Peter’s eyes flutter shut.



God, he hopes he wakes up feeling back to normal

tomorrow. If he doesn’t he’s screwed .



“Nothing, nothing happened. I just fainted during gym class. You were right, I should’ve eaten breakfast this morning.”



Out of all the things Peter should have done differently, eating breakfast is the least of his concerns.

Chapter Text

Tony isn’t pretending Titan never happened.

 

He’s choosing not to think about it, sure, pushing it as far to the back of his brain as he possibly can— but that doesn’t mean he’s denying it. There’s a difference.

 

He doesn’t think about the fight. He doesn’t think about losing. He definitely doesn’t think about the things they could’ve done differently.

 

There are a lot of things he could’ve done differently.

 

And everyone moves on. Everyone’s happy with the outcome.

 

We won. It’s over.

 

When will it be over?

 

Tony doesn’t understand how everyone is so… okay with what happened. How it suddenly doesn’t matter because everything turned out okay in the end.

 

Winning doesn’t undo what happened on Titan that day.

 

Tony closes his eyes and he sees ashes.

 

Tony lifts his coffee mug to his lips and takes a sip. It’s lukewarm and bitter.

 

He should’ve drank it before. He waited too long.

 

When his mind slowly unfurls around the blur of regret, his ears prick at the sound of his ringtone. He shifts in his chair and pulls his phone out of his pocket, placing his mug back on the table.

 

It’s Wanda. That’s new. Tony raises his eyebrows— Wanda never calls him, ever.

 

Unless something’s wrong . Something's always wrong. That’s the problem.

 

Tony fights back the sudden, oncoming urge to slam his head into his table and throw his phone as far as he can. He wants to smash his fist into his mug and shatter it into pieces, wants to feel the pain of the ceramic shards digging into his skin. He’s so angry he can feel the heat rising off of his own shoulders, and he doesn’t even know why. He hates this— hates Wanda for calling him, he hates how the Avengers are suddenly back together again after all this mindless time, hates how there’s always something wrong. He hates that burning feeling in his heart, the numbness in the pit of his stomach that hasn’t left since Titan. He hates that everyone else is okay and he has to pretend.

 

Tony inhales deeply through his nose.

 

The boiling fury simmers down to a quiet, crackling hum. He lifts the phone to his ear and clears his throat.

 

They won. Everything is just fine now.

 

“What’s up?” he asks, his voice completely cool.

 

“Where are you right now?” Wanda asks him.

 

She doesn’t even greet him. Rude. “Um.” Tony glances half-heartedly around himself, at his surroundings. “My kitchen…?”

 

“You’re in the tower.”

 

“Well, I don’t own many kitchens elsewhere.”

 

“Who’s with you right now?”

 

Tony frowns. Wanda usually doesn’t interrogate him like this. She never asks questions. It feels strangely invasive, but he still answers, “Just me.”

 

“I think you should come down here,” Wanda says almost nervously. “You’ll want to see this.”

 

“Where’s here?” Tony’s already standing up. He trusts Wanda, she’s stronger than him and most of the team members, but she’s still younger than all the rest of them, and the anxious tone in her voice is enough to set Tony on edge.

 

“You know how we fought those aliens on Monday?” Wanda asks tightly. “Remember that?”

 

“Monday— that was two days ago, of course I remember.”

 

“Okay…” Wanda sucks in a breath. “Do you remember that giant hole they drilled into the ground before we got there? The buildings they raided?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“What was it they were looking for again?”

 

“A Chitauri heating core….? Wanda, why—”

 

“And where was the heating core?”

 

“Is that a trick question?” Tony says. “The Chitauri never left one here.”

 

“Wrong answer,” Wanda says. “They were right. We found it in the pit.”



















Tony’s wearing his suit when he arrives at the mouth of the hole. As he lands, Peter takes a breath subconsciously and becomes suddenly interested in the dirt at his feet.

 

“Good morning,” Wanda says to Tony without missing a beat, her gray eyes wide open. She’s still dressed in her pajamas, Peter remembers, a gray sweater with pink checkered sleeping pants. He’s not sure how she’s wearing warm clothes without literally dying — he’s already starting to sweat and he’s wearing a suit that was designed to regulate his temperature. It’s unusually hot out, especially considering how early it is.

 

Peter dismisses it.

 

“Morning,” Tony says in a mockingly perky voice. “You know, it’s funny, I don’t recall you telling me that the ‘ we ’ you mentioned on the phone was just you and Spider-Man.” Tony tilts his head to one side, casting a look at Peter.

 

Peter’s fingers curl into fists at his sides. Wanda steps to the side a little so that she’s shielding Peter, like she can protect him somehow from the bite in Tony’s words.

 

“I didn’t think it was important,” Wanda says breezily. “Why don’t you say hi?”

 

Tony decidedly ignores her. “Why are you here with him?”

 

“We were just hanging out,” Peter speaks up, “we were walking by the cleanup site and then I—”

 

Tony’s head swivels around, eyes boring into Peter’s coldly. “Was I talking to you?”

 

Peter’s mouth snaps shut. He stares so intensely at Iron Man’s faceplate he swears he could burn a hole straight through it. He wishes he wasn’t wearing his mask so Tony could see him glaring.

 

“He can speak for himself,” Wanda says slowly, carefully eying Peter and then glancing back to Tony. “We were just hanging out, we were getting breakfast together.”

 

“So that’s a thing now. You two just hang out on the regular?”

 

“Maybe you’d know if you actually talked to us,” Peter mutters.

 

Instantly, Tony’s head jerks towards him almost mechanically. “What’d you say? I don’t talk to you?”

 

“Oh, you’re right, my bad!” Peter croons. “You do talk to us. How could I forget all the meaningful scoldings you give us?”

 

Wanda shoots Peter a warning glance, but Peter’s blood is on fire. He doesn’t care what she thinks, and he definitely doesn’t care what Tony thinks.

 

But before Tony can retort, Wanda cuts in, “Yeah, we’re gonna stop now. Alright? Can we focus on fixing the bigger problem here? There’s still an alien power source buried in the middle of this hole.”

 

Tony gives a careless look at the pit. “I don’t see anything down there,” he says. “You guys do know we have the cleanup committee, they take care of stuff like this. I’m pretty sure if there was anything to be concerned about in that hole, they’d have found it by now.”

 

“No,” Wanda says. “They didn’t notice it because it looks just like all the other metal shrapnel down there.”

 

“I know it’s there,” Peter offers. “I— my senses… they’re warning me about danger. And it’s down there.”

 

Tony stares straight at Peter for a long time. Neither of them say anything. Peter knows Tony wants to just dismiss him and ignore his warnings like he always does, but this time Tony knows there’s an actual risk if he doesn’t listen this time.

 

Iron Man’s boots kick up, whirring into motion, and he lowers himself into the hole. Wanda levitates herself down and Peter follows.

 

“It’s this one,” Peter says, bending down and pointing to the glimmer of metal sticking out of the dirt. Peter carefully reaches out and brushes the dirt off of it— the core is cylinder-shaped, about the size of a refrigerator, but it’s buried so that only its circular face protrudes from the soil. Tony examines it for a moment.

 

“Okay, here’s the plan,” Tony says. “We’re gonna get this thing out of the ground, and Wanda, you destroy it once we’ve got it out.

 

“Are we sure it won’t explode or anything once I demolish it?” Wanda asks cautiously.

 

“No,” Tony says confidently. “We only have to worry about that if it turns on, and this thing is ancient. It won’t wake up anytime soon.”

 

Wanda nods tersely. Peter looks at Tony, kind of sideways.

 

“So, uh,” Peter says, “do you want me to try and pull it out, or—”

 

“Oh, you’re not doing anything,” Tony tells him bluntly. When Peter blinks, Tony adds, “These guys are.”

 

At that moment, two drones launch out from the back of Tony’s suit— they’re circular and glowing blue and they look like bugs as they latch onto the top of the cylinder. The heat core instantly begins to groan as the robots slowly pry it from its place in the ground, the metal shuddering.

 

Peter gapes. He’s always admired Tony’s technology, but right now, he hates it more than anything in the world. He feels absolutely useless watching the bots do everything, but when he looks back at Mr. Stark’s stony face, he realizes that that’s exactly how Mr. Stark wants him to be. He wants Peter to do nothing. Every single time.

 

“Easy peasy,” Tony says over the creaking metal.

 

And then the lines along the surface of the metal core suddenly start to glow blue.

 

“Is that supposed to happen?” Peter asks.

 

The creaking is getting worse, turning into long, agonizingly loud humming sounds, and Peter knows something’s wrong. Tony backs up a little and Peter knows that Mr. Stark wasn’t anticipating this either.

 

Wanda puts her hands out and a red haze dances around her fingertips. Scarlet tendrils engulf the heat core.

 

“What just happened?!” Wanda’s shouting.

 

“What’s wrong?” Tony yells back over the groaning.

 

“Turn the drones off,” Wanda says. “Turn them off! Now!”

 

Instantly, the nanobots retract and fall back into Iron Man’s suit compartment. The crimson dancing around the cylinder is the only thing keeping it from plummeting back into the dirt.

 

Peter stares, bewildered. What just happened…? How did it turn on? He looks to Mr. Stark, who flips his faceplate up, but the older man looks just as baffled as Peter feels. That shouldn’t have happened just now.

 

And then Peter’s brain connects the dots.

 

“Mr. Stark, is there any kind of Chitauri technology in those drones of yours?” Peter asks.

 

Tony looks at him and blanches slightly.

 

“Only in the batteries,” he says faintly. “I—”

 

“Is it possible that the batteries could have activated it…?” Peter says. “It could have been woken up by familiar wavelengths. Chitauri tech does that.”

 

Tony’s lips purse, his eyes lighting up, and Peter knows he’s just solved the mystery.

 

“I thought that thing was dormant!” Tony says, finally shaking himself from his stunned stupor. “I didn’t even know it could turn on anymore!”

 

“Well, it did,” Wanda says through gritted teeth.

 

The core still doesn’t stop glowing. Wanda starts to grimace with effort, her hands beginning to shake.

 

“Peter,” she gets out, “Peter, can you hold it—”

 

Peter instantly obliges, moving forward and bracing his hands under the circular face. “You can let go,” he tells her. When she hesitates, Peter repeats, “Let go, Wanda.”

 

Wanda drops it. The metal slams into Peter’s open palms and Peter’s knees shake a little under the weight. He sucks in a breath, adjusting his hands so that it’s easier for him to hold up, because holy shit, the thing is heavy.

 

And hot . Now that it’s activated, it’s giving off a wave of heat that makes Peter feel almost dizzy. He was already hot before, but this, this is more than just hot. This is a sweltering fire— this is literally hell .

 

At least Wanda looks more relaxed, though her glowing hands are still out in front of her and her gaze is focused on the core.

 

“What are you waiting for?” Tony barks. Peter can feel Mr. Stark’s panic radiating like the heat radiating from the core— intense, frantic, painful. “Destroy it, Wanda!”

 

“I can’t—!” Wanda says through gritted teeth. “I’m keeping it from combusting— if I let go to put pressure on the outside, the inside will explode!”

 

“Shit,” Tony mutters.

 

Peter’s body is starting to ache from holding up the core. He gives Tony a look. “You know, if you’d just let me help in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this position right now.”

 

The scared look instantly drops from Tony’s face as he makes eye contact with Peter, his brow furrowing. “What’d you just say?”

 

“I could’ve helped if you just let me!”

 

“Remember the last time you helped, Parker? Remember the Staten Island ferry?” Tony snaps coolly. “Because after that it’s kind of hard for me to trust you to help anymore.”

 

“Really, guys? Right now?” Wanda shouts.

 

Peter’s head is spinning. God, it’s hot. His hands are on fire from the direct contact with the metal and he’s sweating buckets.

 

He definitely does not need Tony flaming him on top of it.

 

“I also saved your plane when you didn’t even know it got hijacked,” Peter says. “Did you forget about that, or?”

 

“Yeah, that was really heroic. Especially the part where you got your ass kicked doing it. Crashing the whole plane onto the beach, really effective—”

 

“You guys,” Wanda hisses. “This is not the time. We need help, and we need it now.”

 

Tony turns away. Peter lifts his head, letting his eyes slide shut as his arms start to tremble. He doesn’t know if he can hold this thing much longer before his arms give out and it smashes him into a spider-pancake in the dirt.

 

“What’re you doing?” Peter hears Wanda say.

 

“Calling someone.” Tony presses a hand to his ear. “Pick up, pick up, pick up, you annoying bastard…”

 

Peter’s breathing is becoming shallow. Each time he takes a breath it sounds like a rattle in his chest, and he’s starting to gasp for air. His entire body is shaking with effort now, his arms screaming in pain, and the heat really, really isn’t helping. It’s so hot. It’s suffocating him, flames licking every corner of his skin. He’s gonna pass out. He’s gonna throw up. His throat feels too dry. He can’t, he can’t, he can’t. He hears Tony talking but Tony’s voice sounds like he’s underwater, all warped and distant.

 

And then he hears a different sound. It sounds like a knife cutting through the air.

 

Peter peels open one eye.

 

“Mr. Doctor Strange Master of the Mystic Arts Timekeeper sir!” he gasps out in delight, in spite of the strain on virtually every cell in his body.

 

Strange emerges from a sparkling orange portal, his wise eyes instantly scanning the scene. They finally come to a stop and linger on Peter, and his expression softens all while turning concerned— it’s weird, but comforting.

 

God, Peter’s missed him. He didn’t even realize how much he missed him until now.

 

“How’ve you been doing, Peter?” Strange asks in a gentle voice.

 

“Good!” Peter says. His voice is two octaves too high— it’s definitely the overheat— but he can’t find it in himself to care. “How about you? So much has happened these last couple of months, school’s been—”

 

“Can we catch up later, Pete? You look like you could use a hand.”

 

Strange lifts his hands out. He places one in front of him and draws the other one back, and another orange, circular portal opens up next to Peter, creating a passageway to a snowy landscape. Peter involuntarily lets out a shuddering croak of relief, and it sounds horrible and guttural even to his own ears.

 

“Toss it in there, Parker,” Tony says impatiently, and for once Peter has no issue obeying his orders. He practically dumps the heating core through the mouth of the portal. A few seconds pass before he hears it thunk against the snow. Strange seals the portal just as quickly as he had opened it.

 

Wanda’s hands drop. She places them on her knees, taking deep, steadying breaths.

 

Peter’s entire body seems to collapse into itself, his muscles losing all feeling from exhaustion. His trembling legs finally buckle and he falls, limp as a rag doll, to the floor.

 

Tony catches him before his head hits the ground. He’s still wearing the Iron Man suit, and it’s arguably even worse than the dirt, all clunky and uncomfortable and— and cold, Jesus. The metal is freezing, chilling Peter even through the suit, and his whole body shudders.

 

“Yeah, that looked heavy to me, too,” Tony’s saying. “You can rest now.”

 

Peter winces. Every part of his body is throbbing, is too hot, too cold. He feels like absolute shit , and Iron Man’s icy, distant touch isn’t doing much to relieve him.

 

“I don’t need your help ,” Peter spits, pushing himself away from Tony with weak arms.

 

This is all Tony’s fault. If Tony had just listened to him, if Tony would look at him, if Tony wasn’t so weird about everything all the time, none of this would have happened in the first place. The anger burns through all the body ache and the exhaustion and the misery.

 

Tony’s lips purse, and he regains his composure. His brow furrows. “Just when I thought we were done with the tantrums.”

 

“I’m not—” Peter starts, but his head begins to swim again, and this time it feels somehow worse than before. The ache in his muscles has wound down to numbness. Now everything just seems

 

to

 

slow

 

down.

 

His ears are ringing. His senses are screaming, warning him that something’s about to happen. Something really, really bad.

 

“Parker, look at me,” Tony says. “Hey.”

 

Tony retracts the gauntlet from around his hand. He places the back of his palm against Peter’s masked forehead and Peter flinches back violently.

 

Don’t touch me,” Peter manages to gasp out.

 

Something’s wrong. Peter slowly registers himself blinking once. Twice.

 

Something’s wrong.

 

Something’s—

 

“You’re burning up,” Tony tells him, as if he doesn’t already know. “Even through the suit. Parker, what’s going on? Are you sick or something?”

 

Peter can’t hear him anymore. The only thing he can hear is the pounding at the base of his skull. Danger. Danger. Danger.

 

Tony’s lips are moving. They form his name.

 

...sick or something? Sick? Are you sick?

 

Oh, shit.

 

It wasn’t just the heating core. Peter really had a fever.

 

Shit. Shit.

 

Panic sets in, blinding and fast and all at once, and it grabs a hold of Peter’s heart, makes it beat five times too fast. He takes deep, labored breaths while he contemplates how royally fucked he is.

 

So, maybe he’s sick after all. Ha.

 

And then, Peter’s mind just— it just— drifts away, the way a balloon would on a summer breeze. The scariest part is that it doesn’t even feel bad anymore. He’s only vaguely aware of his body jerking forward, and that his face making contact with the ground, but he doesn’t feel anything.

 

His body isn’t functioning anymore. His brain is absolutely silent. The world goes silent. He sees nothing, hears nothing, feels nothing, but somehow he distantly recognizes that his body is seizing. That’s not good. That’s, like, really not good.

 

God, this sucks.

 

Blackness swallows Peter’s vision. Everything disappears and fades into nothingness.

Chapter Text

The first thing Peter becomes aware of is the buzzing feeling in his head. There’s no pain. Just a distant, drilling sensation at the base of his skull.

 

He hears voices, but only in short fragments, and they sound warped and garbled in his ears. He tries to make out what they’re saying, but his senses are failing him miserably, only allowing for bursts of phrases at a time—

 

—get him— need to— he’s—”

 

“—fever— never seen— off the charts—”

 

“when— how did— 107–”

 

Peter’s head lolls to one side. He’s not even sure if he’s standing upright or lying down. He could be hanging upside down by his toes and there’d be absolutely no way for him to tell. Everything is disoriented and fuzzy and the only thing he can focus on is the exhaustion lined in every edge of his bones.

 

And then he hears one clear voice, ringing out among the others. He doesn’t know who it belongs to, but every word is coherent:

 

“I don’t think he’s gonna make it.”

 

Nice , Peter thinks, because he’s too tired to figure out how he feels about that right now.

 

He lets that last grasp of reality simmer in his mind as he allows himself to drift back into blissful unconsciousness.



















Strange doesn’t think he’s ever seen Tony this unraveled before. Even when they were waiting for Thanos, Tony was snappy, articulate, and characteristically so— but this is unlike him. Tony, pacing back and forth across the med bay, Tony, raking hands through his hair over and over and over and over again.

 

Strange is seated in one of the med bay chairs, watching as Tony asks one of the nurses, “What’s his temperature now?” His voice is clipped and raw.

 

“Still 107,” the nurse tells him. “It’s on the rise. Mr. Stark, he’s not looking too good.”

 

“Shit.” Tony places a hand against the side of Peter’s bed railing. His face looks pale and papery. “Shit—”

 

A new nurse walks up to Tony and places a hand on his arm. He instantly flinches away, but she reaches out for him again, carefully pulling him from the bed railing.

 

“Mr. Stark, I think you should step outside for a moment,” she tells him in a small, timid voice. “It’s not good for the patient to be in the presence of high stress levels. You can take a moment to gather yourself and—”

 

“I can do whatever I want,” he snaps at her, and she instantly tenses up, her wide, glassy eyes falling to the floor. “I’m staying here until the kid wakes up, and I don’t care about your psychological bullshit .”

 

The young nurse’s lip wobbles, and she looks like she’s on the verge of tears before Strange cuts in, “Tony, she’s right.”

 

Tony’s head instantly swivels toward Strange at a neck-breaking speed, his eyes dangerous and fervent. They lock on Strange’s, daring him, challenging him.

 

“The kid has enhanced senses,” Strange reminds Tony, “so any forms of distress around him— that can easily affect him, especially in an unstable state.”

 

Tony opens his mouth to argue, his face contorting with different emotions: anger, denial, pain, refusal, and— regret?

 

And he shuts his mouth.

 

“I’ll take him outside,” Strange tells the young nurse, and she nods at him gratefully.

 

It takes Strange having to coax Tony out of his stupor with a guiding arm to get him out the door. They step outside of the room together, Strange hovering over Tony like a watchful hen, and he sits the two of them down the hall in the Tower’s lounging chairs. The chairs are more comfortable than Strange would like to admit.

 

“I should be there,” Tony says finally, and he says it in a strange, hollow tone of voice. His eyes are stormy, fixed at the bottom of the wall in front of them. “This isn’t— god, how did this happen?”

 

“It’s normal, you know,” Strange says. “I don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about.”

 

Tony looks at him with piercing dark eyes. “Oh, it’s not anything to be concerned about, huh? Strange, he had a seizure— he had seizures . As in multiple. I’d say that’s pretty concerning.”

 

Strange bites his lip to fight back the oncoming retort that desperately wants to escape his lips, because god, Stark deserves it. Every time he thinks he’s starting to like Tony more, he reminds Strange how much of an actual asshole he is at the roots.

 

But then again, Tony’s more scattered than Strange has ever seen him before. Strange looks at him and he wonders where his head has gone.

 

Strange feels mostly the same as he did before the war, before everything, happened. But he looks at Tony and he knows there’s something wrong, something slightly amiss in the way he carries himself that wasn’t quite there before.

 

Tony doesn’t talk about what happened in the time after Strange faded until the moment they all came back. Those are the missing lines, like a stupid fill-in-the-blanks section of a newspaper game that Strange can’t quite figure out. He contemplates, he speculates, but there’s no way for him to ever be sure.

 

“I just meant,” Strange says, “when people contract very high fevers, a common bodily reaction is to seize. He probably went out with a fever, and the heating core must have worsened it, and, well. Whatever happened happened.”

 

Tony takes a deep, shaky breath. He looks up at Strange, his brow furrowed.

 

“Are you saying this isn’t serious? You don’t think he’s gonna die?”

 

When Strange shakes his head, Tony lets out a sigh that’s somewhere between relieved and frustrated and puts his head in his palms. “Then why are all my doctors saying bullshit about how he might not make it?”

 

“Because they don’t know him,” Strange says simply. “They look at him and they just see a sixteen-year-old kid with a rising fever of 107. That would be a grapple with death for any other human child. But he’s not human, Tony, and he’s a tough one— he’ll be okay.”

 

“Okay.” Tony inhales deeply through his nose, his shoulders straightening a bit. “Okay. You’re right. As much as it pains me to say that.”

 

Strange gives him a sideways smile. The two sit like that for a long moment, and for a split second it feels vaguely like they’re friends.

 

Maybe they are friends. It’s not something you ask someone; no one ever goes up to someone and says hey, are we friends now? Real friends? It just goes unsaid. But it’s hard to tell when it goes, and Strange doesn’t have a clue how to be Tony’s friend.

 

They fought a war together. That has to count for something, even if Tony’s war doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to over.

 

Quiet, drowned out music suddenly fills up the heavy silence in the air. Strange’s ringtone.

 

Strange pulls out his phone and lifts it to his ear. “Hello?” Beside him, Tony scowls.

 

“Is that Tears For Fears?” Tony scoffs.

 

“How dare you,” Strange says, “It’s A Flock Of Seagulls. What are you, uncultured?”

 

“What’d you just say?” the voice on the phone goes.

 

It’s Wong.

 

“Why is your phone on speaker?” Tony says judgingly, and Strange ignores him, quickly turning his attention back to the phone. “Hi, how are you— I wasn’t talking to you, sorry.”

 

“Stephen, where are you right now?”

 

Strange casts a quick glance at Tony and replies casually, “I’m just hanging out with, uh, with Stark, you remember him?”

 

“I remember. I thought you didn’t like him.”

 

Tony’s jaw drops in mock-betrayal as his face whips around to face Strange. He places a hand over his heart, feigning hurt, and Strange wants to smash his head into the wall at the situation.

 

“I never—” Strange clears his throat, the words dying somewhere in his lungs, because yeah, he definitely did at some point. He resorts to pulling away to take the phone off of speaker mode, before returning it to his ear; beside him, Tony snorts as Strange tries to recover. “Wong, why are you calling me, exactly?”

 

“I’m going out, you need to guard the Sanctuary while I’m gone.”

 

“Out? Where?”

 

“My mother is sick at home,” Wong says. “I’m going to visit her.”

 

“Right. You know, I’m visiting a sick person too, so I should get to stay out—”

 

“Strange, you get to leave way more than I do,” Wong huffs angrily. “I’ve been around longer than you have, but you still get more off-days than me. I—”

 

“Okay, okay! I was joking,” Strange puts in quickly. “I’ll be there, okay?”

 

“Thank you.” Wong doesn’t sound very thankful at all. “Bye.”

 

He hangs up before Strange can say it back. Strange is left holding the phone to his ear, listening to total emptiness. He slides it back into his pocket.

 

“Tony,” Strange says, “I have to go, I—”

 

“It’s fine,” Tony assures him. “Seriously, I don’t care what you do.”

 

“You know, when you say you don’t care like that, it really just sounds like you do care and you’re just saying you don’t so I—”

 

“Just leave already,” Tony says, exasperated.

 

Strange stands up. He places his hands out in front of him and draws one back; a circular portal extends itself in the middle of the hallway, right in front of him. He has one foot inside before he stops suddenly.

 

He turns back, looks at Tony straight on.

 

“Tony,” he says seriously. “If things get worse, I want you to call me.”

 

“I thought you didn’t care about the kid,” Tony muses to himself.

 

“Unlike you, I don’t find it hard to admit my affections for people,” Strange says coolly, and Tony mouths, ouch. “So, yes. I do care about Peter.”

 

“Okay, that’s fine. I just remember you saying something about, what was it… oh, yeah!” Tony clears his throat, and puts on an embarrassingly bad impression of Strange’s voice. “‘If it comes to saving Peter or the time stone, I’d kill Peter in a second because that’s how little I value his life.’”

 

“I never said that.”

 

“You did, though.”

 

“Tony.”

 

Tony presses his lips together and nods tightly. “I’ll

call you,” he promises. “If it gets worse.”



















Mere minutes after Strange leaves, a new face arrives.

 

Tony’s sitting in the hallway chair, hands folded across his lap, staring at the wall. He’s staring at the white painted wall, listening to the deafening silence, when suddenly there’s the sound of a sliding door and then it isn’t silent anymore.

 

Heels click against the floor frantically; muffled voices slowly come into focus. Tony looks to the side and sees her, striding forward with intense eyes and pursed lips. Beside her, his clerk is desperately tailing along.

 

“Excuse me,” his clerk is saying, “ma’am, you’re not allowed to be here, I—”

 

May comes to a forceful stop in front of Tony. Her eyes bore into his and he feels his gut drop.

 

“Stark,” she says.

 

Tony’s clerk looks, wide-eyed, at Tony. “I tried to stop her,” she says, breathing heavily, “I—”

 

“May,” is all that comes out of his mouth. His voice is smaller than he’d like it to be.

 

Beside him, his clerk’s jaw drops. “Sir, you know her?”

 

“You’re dismissed,” he tells her. “Thank you. She’s with me.”

 

She looks like she’s about to say something, but ultimately decides against it in favor of scurrying away like a scared mouse, leaving Tony and May saying nothing opposite each other.

 

Finally, May speaks:

 

“Where is he?”

 

Tony swallows hard. He tilts his head toward the med room. “In there. He’s okay, he just has a fever.”

 

“I’ve been calling him,” May says. “I’ve been calling you, Tony. All day. I told him to stay home. He fainted at school just yesterday, I told him I didn’t want him going out and—”

 

“Wait, he fainted?” Tony asks. “He never told me that.”

 

“He didn’t tell me he had a fever,” May counters, levelling her gaze. “He kept saying he wasn’t sick.”

 

“Looks like he’s kept both of us in the dark, then.”

 

May watches him closely, eyes narrowing. “Wait, you didn’t know any of this was going on, either?”

 

Tony shakes his head. May looks tense, but slightly more relieved that she wasn’t the only one Peter lied to.

 

Peter does that a lot, too. The lying thing.

 

The door to Peter’s room opens, and a nurse sticks her head out. Her eyes land on May, and then flick to Tony.

 

“His temperature’s stable now,” she announces. Beside Tony, May visibly relaxes, her shoulders slumping with relief. “103. Huge improvement. He’s awake now… are you May Parker, by any chance?”

 

“I am.”

 

“You can come inside,” the nurse says. “He’s still feverish and pretty worn out, but he’s been asking for you.”

 

May stalks toward the door without a word. Tony stands up from his chair and goes to follow her, when the nurse steps in front of him, cutting him

off from the doorway.

 

“Actually,” the nurse says. “He doesn’t want to see you right now, sir.”

 

Tony’s frown deepens. “He what?”

 

Even May stops now, her face turning toward Tony, her brow knit in confusion.

 

“He said he doesn’t want to see you,” the nurse repeats without hesitation.

 

Okay, that— that stings. It stings like Tony’s just fallen off of the top of a ten-story building and plummeted into a lake. It draws an involuntary breath of air from his lungs and leaves him with no words left to say.

 

He’s not surprised. Peter’s May’s kid after all, so it makes sense he’d only want her, especially in a half-conscious state. But the fact that he specifically didn’t want Tony? That hurt for some reason.

 

Tony distantly thinks of the time when he gave Peter the Iron Man bracelet, when he’d promised Peter he’d be there for him no matter what. Where were they now? Where was Peter? Where was Tony?

 

May lingers, almost like she’s waiting for Tony to say something. Tony straightens his shoulders and looks at her.

 

“Okay,” he says. He looks up at May and nods at her faintly. “Go ahead.”

 

Tony doesn’t know how many times he has to say “okay” until it’s okay.



















A hand gently squeezes Peter’s. It’s cold but somehow inviting all the same; Peter shifts, wincing, and peels his eyes open unwillingly.

 

May is seated beside his bed. Her image is blurry, hard to make out, but he knows her by the way she’s sitting, the outline of her hair. Right. He asked for her. Her eyes rest on his face and she gives him a watery smile.

 

It doesn’t comfort him. Guilt settles heavily and sinks in his heart, the knowledge that she’s just faking cheeriness for his sake making him want to fall back asleep again more than anything.

 

“Hi,” Peter says. His voice is hoarse, edging the verge of cracking.

 

“How are you feeling?” May asks him.

 

“Fine.” Peter licks his lips. They’re dry and chapped.

 

“Your fever’s gone down,” she tells him. He doesn’t really care. “You—”

 

“I should’ve listened to you,” Peter blurts. His voice is a little too slow, his words a little too slurred, but she clings to them like it’s music to her ears. Peter tries again, this time with a pathetic attempt to make his feverish drawl sound more clear: “I should have stayed home, May. You— you were right. I was sick.”

 

“You knew it yesterday morning, didn’t you?”

 

May’s eyes survey him closely. Peter hesitantly nods, shame flooding over him like a wave when her jaw sets and her eyes darken visibly.

 

“Peter,” she presses. “Why did you lie to me?”

 

He knew this was coming, but it still hurts all the same. It hurts like an old knife wound being reopened. It makes him sink defeatedly into his mattress, it closes his eyes and it tastes like regret.

 

“Didn’t want you to worry,” Peter breathes out, slumping in his bed. She squeezes his hand painfully, but he’s too tired and too guilty to tell her to stop.

 

“Peter,” she says, and her voice is hardly soft or warm anymore. “You shouldn’t have done that. You know I don’t like it when you try to hide things from me. Especially when those things concern your health and safety.”

 

“I know,” Peter mumbles, his head dropping and turning to one side involuntarily.

 

“What’s gotten into you lately? I thought we already had a talk about this, Peter,” May says, disappointment lining her voice. “You know you can tell me anything, so why would you lie about something like this?”

 

Peter opens his mouth to respond, but the only thing that comes out is a small creaking sound. He instantly closes his mouth again, his throat constricting.

 

Tears well up in his eyes.

 

“Oh, Peter,” May coos.

 

“I’m sorry,” Peter tells her honestly as tears trickle down his face in tiny droplets, tracing lines across his cheeks. His face twitches, and he sniffles hard. “Please don’t be mad at me. Please, don’t be mad.”

 

“I’m not. Oh, honey, I’m not mad.”

 

May clicks her tongue and leans forward, pulling Peter into her chest. He stifles a sob and lets his tears soak into her shoulder.

 

“I’m sorry,” he whispers to her. “I’m sorry, May, I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s okay, Peter. Shhh.”

 

“You were right. I should’ve listened to you. There’s— there’s just so much going on right now, and— and these past few months have been…”

 

“I know,” May says. “I know, Peter, I’m not mad. I understand. Everything’s gonna be alright, Peter. I’ll take you home later tonight, okay?”

 

Peter nods tersely. His fingers curl around his sheets as he swallows.

 

“You know I love you more than anything,” May tells him. “I just want you to be safe. So you need to tell me if there’s ever something wrong, okay? No more secrets.”

 

“No more secrets,” Peter agrees tiredly.

 

May’s arms tighten around him. Her hand gently strokes his hair as she holds him in her arms, and his eyelids flutter shut so that he only sees black.

 

Black.

 

“Wait,” Peter says suddenly, pulling back. Dread creeps into the edges of his heart, yanking him down, putting a vile taste in the back of his throat

 

May blinks unknowingly at him.

 

“There’s something else I haven’t told you,” Peter says cautiously.



















“I told you, I ran all of his diagnostics, everything was working fine.”

 

“You’re telling me nothing was wrong? You didn’t even find a virus?”

 

“The only sign of illness is his temperature,” Bruce says. “Other than that, he’s perfectly healthy.”

 

“That’s not possible,” Tony tells him flatly. “I’m not a doctor and I know that’s not possible.”

 

Bruce crosses his arms. “You can look at the diagram yourself, but I’m telling you, I can’t find anything, and the med team couldn’t either.”

 

Tony walks to where Bruce is standing and peers at the holographic diagram that illuminates the air before them. It’s a 3D visual of Peter’s body— Tony’s seen this before when Clint got really sick a couple years back, and he knows the drill. Viruses, harmful bacteria, anything out of the ordinary is dotted in red.

 

The diagram is completely empty. Nothing.

 

Tony frowns. Bruce stands back triumphantly.

 

“It probably has something to do with his abilities,” Bruce says. “Maybe his body has already healed and the fever is just a sign of that. Who knows?”

 

“Strange said that earlier.” Tony scrubs at his eyes. “He said that the whole ‘enhanced body composition’ thing is probably helping him out, that there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.”

 

“Stephen’s a doctor,” Bruce reminds Tony. “So he probably has a point.”

 

“Mm-hmm.”

 

“So why do you look skeptical?”

 

Tony stands back a bit, leaning against a desk. “I’m just… I don’t know. I’m worried, okay? The kid was seizing on the floor, had a temperature of 107– it’s hard for me to believe that everything’s suddenly better, he’s stable now, he’s good to go

home, he’s perfectly healthy. It doesn’t make any sense.”

 

“Tony, not everything has to make sense. Peter’s literally a spider-human, you can’t expect his body to act like any other normal person.”

 

“I’m not . But I’m also not expecting him to magically recover from an illness in less than an hour.”

 

“Tony,” Bruce says in a soothing tone. “The med team’s got everything under control, his body’s perfectly healthy, you just need to accept that everything’s gonna be okay now.”

 

For some reason Tony gets the feeling Bruce isn’t just talking about today.

 

“There’s no reason for you to be worried,” Bruce continues with a breezy smile, “unless you think he has some kind of alien virus that we can’t detect. Kid’s gonna be fine.”

 

Tony stares at Bruce. His eyes go wide, his jaw tightening. His face pales a bit.

 

“Bruce,” Tony says distantly. He hardly hears his own voice over the pounding of his heart.

 

Bruce must notice the stricken look on Tony’s face, because instantly all of the joking and amusement dissipates from his features, replacing itself with fear. “What? What’s wrong?”

 

“Bruce, on Monday,” Tony’s saying. “The aliens, Bruce, you remember— he jumped in front of one of their weapons and they shot something at him. He said something about— about some kind of black smoke— do you think that could’ve…?”

 

“Wait, wait, hold on— what?!” Bruce shrills, eyes the size of saucers. “Tony, you— the kid— I— you— he— what?!?”

 

“Stop freaking out, Bruce, you’re making me freak out!”

 

“I have every reason to be freaked out!” Bruce shrieks. “I was just joking, Tony, and you— you mean he seriously got gassed by some aliens and— and neither of you bothered to say anything until now?!”

 

“I didn’t think about it until now!” Tony protests. “I— shit, Bruce, is it possible or not?! Do you think the gas or whatever those bastards shot at him is affecting his system now?”

 

“Well, I certainly don’t think they would fill a gun with black smoke just for kicks, if that’s what you’re asking!” Bruce exclaims. “Tony, this is bad, this is really, really bad!”

 

“I know that!” Tony snaps. “I— shit. Shit!”

 

“I don’t know what we’re supposed to do.” Bruce is rambling now. “Tony, if he’s infected by some kind of alien plague, how are we supposed to identify it? We don’t have the kind of technology to do that, and if we can’t do it, no one can! We’ve got the most advanced technology on earth, and even we don’t know how to cure that kind of—”

 

“No,” Tony says suddenly. Every muscle in his body freezes up.

 

Bruce squints at him like he’s just grown a third arm. “What do you mean ‘no’?”

 

“We don’t have the most advanced technology on earth.” Tony is already walking towards the door. Bruce follows after him like a rabid dog, jaw dropped and eyes huge.

 

“I’m confused, Tony, what are you saying?”

 

“I’m saying that there’s one place that’s smarter than we are,” Tony says. “And maybe, maybe they can fix—”

 

“Tony!”

 

Bruce and Tony both turn their heads to the opposite side of the hall. May Parker has appeared at the long doorway and is fast-walking towards them with a fearful expression knit into her features.

 

“Tony,” she says slowly, “Do you know what Peter just told me? He said that on Monday he—”

 

“I know,” Tony says. “I know, and we’re gonna fix it, okay?”

 

“Wait, what— Tony, get back here!” May says impatiently as Tony turns, walking as quickly as he can towards the med bay. May and Bruce both bound after him, at his heels.

 

“We’re gonna take the kid,” Tony says as May and Bruce struggle to keep up with his long strides, “get him on the jet, and get him to a place where they might actually be able to treat whatever he has.”

 

“What do you mean? Where are we going?” May asks.

 

Tony turns the corner of the hallway sharply. They need to hurry. They’ll need all the time they can get. They don’t even know what Peter has, much less how long it’ll take for them to treat him— if they can treat him.

 

Tony squares his shoulders as he comes to a stop in front of Peter’s room.

 

“Field trip.”

Chapter Text


Peter is still asleep by the time they carry him onto the jet.

 

May goes in after him. Tony presses his lips together firmly— he’d already told Bruce to stay back, that he wanted to keep this a short, small trip so not to draw attention to the absence of Spider-Man, but he was never in any place to refuse May’s presence.

 

He doesn’t know what to say to her. He never did. So he lets her climb up the stairs to the jet to her son.

 

This’ll be fine, Tony thinks, just the three of them. He’s only taken his first step onto the jet when he hears a voice from behind him:

 

“Tony, wait!”

 

Tony turns around. He watches with skeptical eyes as Wanda races forward, a blanket still wrapped around her shoulders. There are deep lines circling her eyes, but they’re still wide with alertness.

 

“Let me come,” she says breathlessly. “I overheard Bruce talking to one of the nurses— I want to go with you.”

 

“No,” Tony says easily, and Wanda doesn’t flinch.

 

“You put me to sleep,” Wanda accuses him. “Why don’t you want me seeing him?”

 

“Wanda,” Tony huffs exasperatedly. “I had them put you to sleep because you overexerted yourself. You needed to rest and recover. I’m not hiding him from you.”

 

“Then let me go with you,” Wanda says, her eyes narrowing with determination. “Tony, he’s— he’s like my little brother. I can’t lose him too, Tony, I want to be there with him the whole time. I need to.”

 

Her lip begins to wobble, and guilt weighs down on every corner of Tony’s heart. God, he can’t do this. Pietro ruined her, traumatized her. And he knows exactly how she feels about Peter and…

 

“Fine,” Tony caves. “Alright, but just you, okay? We can’t afford to have the press find out about this. We’re already lucky enough they didn’t see the little show he put on down at the pit.”

 

“Thank you!” Wanda gasps with relief. “Oh, thank you, Tony, thank you.”

 

Tony shrugs. “It’s nothing, you—”

 

Wanda rushes forward without warning, launching herself into his arms. Tony blinks, trying not to stumble on the steps, but eventually allows himself to relax, hugging Wanda tight. She smiles into his shoulder before pulling back.

 

“You are a good man, Tony Stark,” she marvels aloud, before walking past him and climbing up the stairs into the jet.

 

As Tony follows her up, he starts to doubt that.



















Shuri is sprawled out on her comforter and watching videos on her hologram watch when the door to her room bursts open.

 

She makes a loud noise of alarm, her legs curling up defensively— “Did no one ever teach you to knock?!” she demands. “Idiot!”

 

T’Challa frowns at her. “Are you watching the Snapchat?”

 

“I’m watching vines, brother,” Shuri scoffs. “I was watching vines until you broke into my room.”

 

“I didn’t break into your room, the door was unlocked.”

 

“What’s so important that you have to burst in here like a maniac?” Shuri interrogates him.

 

T’Challa straightens, lips pursing.

 

“We have guests arriving,” he tells her.

 

Shuri turns off her watch and stands, frowning.



















“You know,” Shuri says, “when I heard Peter was coming, I thought he just wanted to hang out, like normal friends do?”

 

Beside her, Tony shrugs and folds his arms. “Yeah, well, you two aren’t exactly the most normal teenagers.”

 

Tony watches as Shuri crosses the room. She waves her hand and holographic diagrams materialize in the air in front of her. Tony squints, trying and failing to hide the fascination on his features— there’s no form of transmitter visible on her, no device that could have signaled it— how did she trigger that motion? Tony sits back in the chair in the middle of Shuri’s lab, pretending not to be envious.

 

“This is a nice little crib you’ve got,” Tony observes. “How old are you again? Sixteen? Seventeen?”

 

“I’m almost seventeen,” Shuri tells him absently, her eyes scanning the glowing blue holograms. “I’m four months older than Peter.”

 

“Right,” Tony says. “Did you ever go to high school?”

 

Shuri gives him a skeptical glance. “I received the education that you would refer to as ‘high school’ when I was about seven years old,” she says, like it’s the most logical thing in the world. “Then I decided to quit private schooling to study technology on my own.”

 

“Impressive,” Tony comments. Shuri ignores him, swiping past a few diagrams with a flick of her wrist and then finally settling on one, zooming in on it.

 

She turns back to Peter’s unconscious form on her lab table, and then walks over to a desk and slides open a drawer. She gingerly pulls a plastic object from the desk before approaching Peter again.

 

“That looks like an oxygen mask,” Tony says.

 

Shuri blinks, looking up at him. “It is,” she says flatly. She straps it around Peter’s sleeping face, and without looking up says, “An oxygen mask is an oxygen mask, whether it’s American or Wakandan, Mr. Stark.”

 

“He’s having difficulty breathing?”

 

“Just a bit. I noticed it when we first brought him in and it’s gotten slightly worse,” Shuri tells him breezily.

 

Shuri steps back a bit, taking another glance at the diagrams. Tony couldn’t read them if he wanted to— and he does want to— they’re all written in foreign characters that he doesn’t understand. Shuri settles into the chair beside Tony, folds her hands over her lap, and looks at him expectantly.

 

“Okay,” Shuri says. “Tell me everything you know for sure about his condition.”

 

Tony takes a breath, eyes fixed on his hands. “Alright,” he says carefully. “On Monday, we were fighting some aliens. I don’t know what species. One of them had a gun, and they shot at Peter, but no bullets came out. Just… I didn’t see it, but he said that they shot a cloud of black smoke at his face. The next morning May said he woke up cold, and at school he fainted during gym class. And the morning after that he woke up with a fever. He was making direct contact with a Chitauri heating core and then started seizing. It lasted about three minutes, and then stopped for one, and then he had another one, same length.”

 

When he looks up, Shuri is staring at him like he’s grown a third eye.

 

Tony’s brow furrows a bit. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

 

Nothing you just said makes sense,” Shuri says bluntly. “Okay, wait, let’s back up a bit… so you think all of these symptoms are coming from the smoke? Is there any other thing that could have caused this?”

 

“Nothing,” Tony tells her. “I considered every other option but none of them are possible. Everything leads back to the smoke.”

 

“But that’s not right,” Shuri says, “no illness works that fast, or has symptoms that dramatic. I don’t understand.”

 

“That’s because it’s not like anything we’ve studied or seen before,” Tony says. “We don’t know what race the aliens were. We don’t know what kind of diseases they’ve developed.”

 

“I know that,” Shuri says. “Obviously it’s going to act differently than any human disease, but I’d expect an alien disease to have different symptoms, not reaction rates.”

 

“Your educated guesses aren’t really of much use when it comes to something you’re not educated in,” Tony points out.

 

Shuri’s jaw sets and she squints at him, and for a second Tony actually thinks she’s going to smack him, or at least chew him out. It’s a bit off putting— he wasn’t even trying to be snappy or rude, but she looks like she wants to throw hands with him right here and right now.

 

She finally just settles for an indignant huffing sound and stands up from her chair, turning her back on him to face Peter. Tony’s head spins. She’s… definitely a character.

 

Peter is one extreme. He’s nervous, awkward, jumpy, dorky— when he gets scared or uncomfortable he shuts his mouth and says nothing. Shuri, on the other hand, is the polar opposite of him. She’s confident, self-assured, assertive, skeptical— and apparently has no trouble talking to adults like she’s not scared of them. And she’s not. She treats Tony like he’s her age, like he’s one of her peers, and seems to expect him to respect her just as much as she respects him. Anything less than that gets her blood boiling, as far as Tony can see, and it’s absolutely fascinating.

 

He’s not experienced with kids, and definitely inexperienced with teenagers. After spending so much time with Peter, Tony’s idealism of what a teenager is became shaped around Peter’s behavior and personality, but Shuri is nothing like Peter.

 

Tony wonders how in the universe the two are friends. Really good friends.

 

Shuri presses a code into one of the floating holograms, and a flash of blue shoots out from the metal arrangement above Peter’s head, scanning over Peter’s body from the top curl of his hair to his toes. A new diagram of Peter’s scanned body appears next to her.

 

“Okay,” she says coolly. “You can go now. I’ll look at him and see what I can fix.”

 

Tony stares at her. “Are you giving me cold shoulders right now, kid?”

 

“Don’t call me a kid,” Shuri says, turning to him with a stoic expression. “I know more than you, Mr. Stark, and I don’t appreciate you patronizing me.”

 

Tony raises his eyebrows. “I’m patronizing you, now, am I?”

 

“You just did it again!” Shuri says, glaring. “You’re in my lab, Mr. Stark. I am the scientist here. That means that you respect me like you’d respect any other colleague of yours.”

 

“I called you a kid because you’re a kid, Shuri,” Tony tries to reason with her, “not to— to patronize you. You’re not even seventeen yet. I call Wanda a kid, and she’s way older than you are.”

 

“Well, you should quit making a habit out of it,” Shuri says boldly, staring him down. “I know Peter doesn’t seem to care what you call him, but you will only refer to me as Shuri as long as you’re in my laboratory.”

 

“Right, my bad. You want me to call you ma’am, too?”

 

“I don’t know how Peter likes you so much,” Shuri wonders aloud.

 

Tony freezes up at that. His eyes flick over to Peter, lying limp on the metal table, and he thinks, really thinks about what lead him here.

 

Yeah. He’s not so sure about that right now.

 

Shuri must sense Tony’s discomfort, because her expression instantly softens. “I’m sorry,” she tells him. “I— sorry. Brother says I get too passionate sometimes and I don’t really think before I speak, I—”

 

“It’s okay,” Tony assures her. “You’re right. You’re a smart ki— I mean, you’re smart, Shuri. I trust you, alright?”

 

Shuri purses her lips, her gaze falling guiltily to the floor.

 

“Thank you, Mr. Stark,” she says. “Just seeing Peter like this, it’s stressing me out a lot , I’m just a little on edge right now…”

 

“I am, too,” Tony says. “Hey, don’t worry about it, alright? Seriously. Don’t worry about it. All you need to focus on is finding that virus, okay? We’re not smart enough to do it. We’re counting on you.”

 

“I’ll do my best,” Shuri promises. She smiles at Tony, and Tony realizes she and Peter do have something in common.



















From across the room, Wanda can see Peter’s mother pacing back and forth. She only stops when finally, a door slides open, and T’Challa comes out.

 

“Where is he?” Peter’s mom asks instantly. “Is he okay?”

 

“He’s just fine,” T’Challa says, giving her a soft smile. “He’s with my little sister now. She’s the smartest scientist— and doctor— we have. She will keep him safe.”

 

“Can I see him?”

 

T’Challa grimaces. “Shuri works best alone,” he says. “I think it is vital for her to focus right now without the distraction of others.”

 

Peter’s mother visibly deflates, but smiles and nods at him all the same. T’Challa turns and disappears again past the sliding door and Peter’s mother slumps back into her chair.

 

Wanda watches her carefully for a moment, before walking over to the seat next to her and settling down. Peter’s mother doesn’t flinch or even stiffen, she just lets Wanda sit.

 

“I don’t think we’ve met before,” Wanda says. “I’m Wanda.”

 

Peter’s mother turns to her now, and Wanda can see her face. Her features are creased with age, but her eyes are still brilliantly light, and she is beautiful.

 

“I’m May,” she says. “Nice to meet you.”

 

“You’re his aunt,” Wanda realizes. “His Aunt May. He talks about you a lot.”

 

May nods, smiling. “Does he really?” she laughs.

 

“He does!” Wanda tells her. “He talks about your cooking. And he tells us about you two going to karaoke together, and to the grocery store, and to the ice cream shop…. he loves you so much, May.”

 

May laughs, her eyes glassy, and she looks at Wanda like she’s hung the stars. “I love him,” she says breathlessly, like the mere thought of Peter has taken the air right out of her lungs. “I’m his aunt, but it feels like he’s my own, I’ve had him for so long… his parents passed away when he was only a toddler.”

 

Wanda nods intensely, clinging onto each of May’s words. When May falters, Wanda nods fiercely, urging her to continue.

 

May takes a shaky breath. “They left him with me and Ben, and, well. When Ben… you know….” May clears her throat, brow furrowing. “From then on it’s just been me and Peter. And…”

 

May’s fingers curl into a fists in her lap. Tears well up in her eyes, and she tilts her head, biting her lip.

 

“I’m supposed to protect him from things like this,” May forces out with a shudder. “He’s my kid. He’s my kid and— and I couldn’t keep him safe.”

 

“May,” Wanda breathes. “Oh, May, no, no, no.”

 

Wanda reaches out, taking May’s quivering hands in hers comfortingly. May doesn’t meet her eyes.

 

“This is not your fault,” Wanda assures her. “Peter, he’s a good kid, but he can be stupid sometimes. He knew something was wrong and he didn’t tell you. He didn’t tell any of us. There was nothing you could have done to prevent this.”

 

May nods tearfully, looking grateful, but unconvinced. Wanda presses her lips together, staring at May’s face.

 

“Can I tell you a secret?” Wanda says.

 

May glances at her now, her eyes lighting up with sudden interest. She nods.

 

“Your kid’s my favorite on the team,” Wanda tells May. “My favorite, out of all the Avengers.”

 

A dumbfounded, joyful grin instantly splits out on May’s face, and she laughs. “Wanda!”

 

“It’s true,” Wanda says through a smile of her own. “He’s different than anybody else I’ve met. There’s no darkness in him, no bad intentions— everything he does, he does for the good of the people around him.”

 

Wanda lifts May’s hands in hers and squeezes them tight.

 

“You raised him well,” Wanda whispers.



















When Peter opens his eyes, he instantly recognizes where he is.

 

And then his mind registers the uncomfortable thing that’s strapped around his face. He grimaces, lifting his hands to it. An oxygen mask. What the hell? Why does he need an oxygen mask?

 

He glances to the side as he attempts to pry it off of his face with stiff, trembling fingers. A figure is hunched in the corner, hands hovering over holographic blue images, and he knows that figure anywhere.

 

“Shuri!” Peter cries, unable to conceal his excitement.

 

Instantly, Shuri lets out an unholy squawk and leaps into the air, limbs flailing comically. She turns, eyes blown wide in surprise.

 

“Oh my god!” she screeches.

 

“Hi!” Peter says giddily. Then: “Can you help me with this thing? It’s not coming off.”

 

Shuri rolls her eyes and makes her way to the table. “It’s good to see you awake, Peter,” she says, and then says, “It’s not designed to come off. I know how you get all fidgety, and I don’t want you messing with it.”

 

“What?!” Peter’s hand frantically scrabble at the mask. “You’re saying this thing is locked onto my face?”

 

“It’s childproof,” Shuri explains. “Spider-proof. You were having trouble breathing.”

 

“I’m fine now.” Peter tries again to peel the mask off his face to no avail. Shuri watches him, amused, and he turns to her with a reddened face. “Shuri, come on, help me out!” he whines.

 

“I’m having too much fun watching you struggle,” Shuri snorts.

 

Peter glares. He tightens his fingers around the mask, and then yanks on it as hard as he can.

 

It comes flying off, the reinforced strap snapping in half. Shuri makes a startled noise and rushes forward.

 

“You just broke it, idiot!” Shuri cries. “Peter!”

 

“I thought you said it was spider-proof,” Peter remarks.

 

Shuri snatches the mask from his hands. “You’re lucky I can fix this easily,” she tells him, walking past him to put the mask onto a desk.

 

Peter cranes his neck around, watching her.

 

“How did I get here, exactly?” he asks her.

 

“Mr. Stark took you on his jet,” she tells him. “He also brought your aunt. And Wanda.”

 

“Right.” Peter fiddles his thumbs as Shuri returns to the holograms, swiping through them with a calculated hand. “So do you have any progress on what’s wrong with me, or…”

 

Shuri stiffens. She stands up a bit straighter.

 

“I’m sorry, Peter,” she says. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”

 

“Oh,” Peter says.

 

“It’s just that— I was thinking about your symptoms,” Shuri says, walking back to the table. Peter swings his legs around so that he’s sitting, and Shuri jumps up to sit beside him. She takes his hand and squeezes it tightly, and Peter squeezes hers back.

 

“I was trying to line them up. Find a pattern. First you had a temperature drop, then dizzy spells, a blackout, temperature spike, and then seizures— in the span of 24 hours.” Shuri clicks her tongue thoughtfully. “I don’t understand it. Mr. Stark pointed out that alien diseases don’t work the same way as human ones, but even so, symptoms are always directly related to each other no matter how fast a disease spreads or what part of the body it affects.

 

“So I tried to think of how your symptoms were related. The seizures definitely could’ve been fever-induced, but it makes no sense that your body temperature was low the entire day before that. The fainting thing also doesn’t make sense to me— it just seems like it’s not a disease that could have been transmitted through your nasal passages. The smoke entered when you inhaled the smoke, and yet you don’t have any nasal or oral symptoms.”

 

Shuri pats Peter’s head and frowns at him. “Have you had any runny noses?” she asks. “Any mucus, bile, any bodily fluids?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

Shuri rests her head in her hands and groans loudly.

 

“This doesn’t make any sense ,” Shuri says. “I don’t get it. I don’t get how it got worse so fast. And I don’t get how you’re perfectly fine now when you were having fever-induced seizures yesterday. Even your temperature’s back to normal.”

 

“Maybe I’m healed,” Peter suggests.

 

Shuri looks at him. Her eyes are glassy. She lets out a shaky breath and rests her head on his shoulder.

 

“I don’t think so,” Shuri says. “I don’t know. I’m doing everything I can, Peter. The only thing left that I can do is try to locate the virus and then work from there.”

 

Silence.

 

“Why can’t we just hang out like normal kids our age?” Shuri sighs. “You only visit me when there’s something horribly wrong with you.”

 

“We’ll hang out after this is over,” Peter promises. “What do you want to do, anyway?”

 

Shuri ponders for a moment. “Go to a movie theater?” she says.

 

“Yeah,” Peter says. “But you can do that with any of your friends here, you know that, right?”

 

Shuri frowns at him. “I don’t have any friends,” she says. “I hardly get to go outside, and it’s not like I go to school or do any normal activities like other teenagers. I guess I could go with my brother, but he’s been so busy ever since he became king.”

 

“I don’t have many friends, either,” Peter laughs, hoping it’ll comfort her. “Actually— I’ve got two really great friends, MJ and Ned? You should meet them sometime. They’d love you.”

 

“Mm.”

 

“We can go to Disneyland,” Peter muses. “Or Coney Island.”

 

“What’s Coney Island?”

 

“Amusement park. It has the coolest rollercoaster in the world.”

 

“Yeah, let’s go there,” Shuri agrees.

 

“We can go on a road trip.” Peter pauses. “We can… make Spotify playlists and… and sing karaoke, and…”

 

Shuri pulls back and looks at him seriously, her brow furrowing, eyes locking with his.

 

“What’s happening to you, Peter?” she asks quietly.

 

Peter swallows. His eyes fall to his feet.

 

“I have no idea.”

Chapter Text

Shuri’s laboratory door finally slides open after what feels like an eternity.

 

Peter’s feeling alright, she tells them, though Tony would much rather hear the words coming from Peter himself. They can see him now, too, apparently.

 

May runs into the lab like the world is ending. Wanda is close on her heels. Tony stays back a bit, keeps his boundaries, but follows the two into the room.

 

He shouldn’t, and he knows he shouldn’t. Peter doesn’t want to see him. He didn’t want to, and there’s no reason why he would now. But Tony needs to see for himself that Peter’s back to normal.

 

Peter’s sitting up on the table when he comes into Tony’s line of vision. Shuri is standing beside him, arms crossed— her face is drawn into a smile, though it seems a bit unsure.

 

May throws her arms around Peter and hugs him tight. “Oh, Peter,” she cries out, “are you okay? Are you feeling better? Are you hungry? Do you need anything? Is there anything I can do for you?”

 

Peter blinks, patting her carefully on the back and stifling a laugh. “I’m fine, May,” he tells her. “I feel fine.”

 

May backs up. Her eyes already look glassy. She gives him a watery smile. Wanda moves forward, stroking the curls that sit atop Peter’s head with great care.

 

“I’m glad you’re well,” she tells him, and plants a kiss on his head. Peter smiles and wraps his arm around her waist in a side-hug.

 

Tony clears his throat awkwardly, avoiding eye contact with Peter. “So,” Tony says. “What’d you find, Shuri?”

 

Shuri’s eyes dart across the room, locking with his. She swallows, shifts her feet a bit, before leveling her shoulders.

 

“I didn’t find anything,” Shuri says in a low voice, almost guiltily.

 

Tony’s lips pull into a frown. He stares at her. “Hm?”

 

“I didn’t find anything,” Shuri repeats, her expression hardening. “There’s no signs of a virus anywhere in his body. It’s just… not there. It’s like whatever happened is completely gone.”

 

“Which is a good thing,” Peter adds, glancing at Shuri nervously. “It means I’m probably healed. Right?”

 

Shuri purses her lips, not quite meeting Peter’s eyes. “I can’t think of any other explanation,” she says.

 

“Are you sure?” Tony speaks up. “There was nothing abnormal? His body temperature, blood sugar, heart rate, everything is normal?”

 

“Yes,” Shuri says confidently. “I checked and I double checked and I triple checked. I looked at everything for hours and I couldn’t find anything. And he’s perfectly fine right now, look at him.”

 

Beside her, Peter nods along breezily, flashing a dorky smile.

 

“You don’t think it’s possible?” May asks Tony, her head turning to face him. “You don’t think he’s recovered?”

 

“I didn’t say that.”

 

“I know.” May sets her jaw, her gaze pleading. “I’m asking you to say it now.”

 

Tony takes a breath, shoving his hands in his pants pockets. “It’s possible,” Tony says after a beat of silence, and relief washes over May’s features. “And Shuri’s one of the smartest scientists on the planet, so I trust her if she says she can’t find anything.”

 

Across from Tony, Shuri crosses her arms smugly. Her gaze shifts to the distance, her lips unable to suppress her smile, like she’s picturing that in her mind: Shuri, the smartest scientist on the planet.

 

“Alright,” Tony says, “I guess we can start packing up to go home.”

 

“You all can stay the night,” Shuri offers. “We have plenty of room here, and it’s late. You can leave in the morning. Tomorrow I’ll run a last diagnostic test, and then Peter can leave.”

 

“Thank you, sweetie,” May says. Before Shuri can respond, May pulls her into a tight hug.

 

Wanda nods at Shuri. “Thank you, Princess.”

 

“Don’t mention it,” Shuri wheezes, and May finally releases her, allowing her to breathe.

 

The sliding doors of the laboratory open, and T’Challa walks in. He gives a quick wave to greet everyone, before stalking to Shuri and placing a hand on her shoulder.

 

“You did well today, Shuri,” he tells her, and looks at Peter. “Mr. Parker, I’m glad to see that you’re better.”

 

Peter’s ears turn a bit red and he laughs a little too loudly, his wide eyes falling to the floor. “A—ahh. Thank you, Your Majesty King T’Challa sir.”

 

T’Challa shakes Shuri’s shoulder gently. “Go to bed,” he advises her. “It’s late. You worked hard today.”

 

Shuri’s jaw drops. “Since when do you give me a bedtime? I am not a toddler, brother.”

 

“Last time I checked, I am the King,” T’Challa says, “and that was an order. You need the rest.”

 

“Ohh, I’m so scared of the King.”

 

T’Challa looks unamused. “I’ll call Mother,” he threatens.

 

Shuri’s mouth snaps shut. She glares at him, before turning to the rest of them.

 

“Goodnight,” she says to them. “I hope you all sleep well.”

 

Shuri walks out of the laboratory. The doors slide closed behind her. T’Challa turns to May, Peter, Wanda, and Tony. “I will show you to our guest rooms,” he says generously. “Come with me.”

 

May, Wanda, and Peter begin to follow after him, but Tony grabs Peter’s shoulder, pulling him back. Peter flinches violently, whirling around to stare at Tony with a confused expression.

 

“The kid and I are gonna hang back a bit,” Tony says. “I just wanna have a quick word with him.”

 

T’Challa nods. May ruffles Peter’s hair and plants a kiss on his cheek and Wanda says goodnight before the three disappear past the sliding doors.

 

Peter pulls his arm carefully out of Tony’s grasp and takes a cautious step back. Tony straightens himself, standing up a little taller. Across from him, Peter does the same, stretching himself out as if to feel bigger.

 

Tony clears his throat. He waits for Peter to say something. Peter seems to wait for him to say something.

 

More awkward silence ensues for another painfully long moment. Neither of their eyes leave the other’s.

 

At last, Tony’s the one to break up the silence:

 

“You shouldn’t have done what you did on Monday.”

 

He’s only half-surprised by what comes out of his mouth. He’s not sure what he was planning to say, but this apparently isn’t a great start, because Peter’s eyes narrow and he looks like he wants to rip Tony’s face off right now.

 

But he doesn’t lunge forward, doesn’t attack, doesn’t even raise his voice. “I knew it,” is all Peter says, and he even laughs. He laughs dry and hollow, with no humor whatsoever. Somehow it hurts more than any of the formers. “I knew it. All you want to do is lecture me some more.”

 

“You don’t think you deserve to be lectured?” Tony asks.

 

“I don’t think I deserve to be lectured by you,” Peter spits.

 

“Really now? You’re too good for me or something now? Is that it?”

 

“I’m starting to think I am.”

 

That catches Tony off-guard. He knows it’s true. He’s known it’s true since the day he met Peter, that Peter was too good, too pure for Tony, but he never thought he’d hear Peter agree. And it stings like a mother fucker.

 

Tony can’t even find words to say. His mind is a scattered mess. He just stares at Peter, mouth agape, incapable of thought or speech.

 

“Okay,” Tony says slowly. “Okay. You’re right, kid, you are too good for me. And that’s exactly why you shouldn’t have thrown yourself in front of that gun for me.”

 

“You don’t get to control what I do!” Peter exclaims.

 

“When it concerns me? Yes, I do.” Tony crosses his arms. “I’m the adult, here—”

 

“Yeah? Well, maybe you should act like one,” Peter says. “You always say you’re the adult, you always act all high and mighty, but all you do is throw hissy fits whenever I try to do anything!”

 

“I’m the one who throws hissy fits. Are you listening to yourself right now?”

 

“I’m done talking to you,” Peter says coolly. He turns on his heel and starts to take a step, but Tony grabs his wrist and yanks him back.

 

“Damn it, Peter, we are not done!” Tony yells. “When will you understand that this isn’t a big fucking joke?!”

 

Peter lets out an involuntary squeak of fear that dies somewhere in his throat, and only then does it occur to Tony what he’s just done. He releases Peter immediately, and Peter yanks his wrist back defensively.

 

When Tony looks at Peter, the only thing he sees is fear. Fear, written on every feature.

 

“Peter,” Tony says, softening, guilt and shame instantly washing away all of the fight left in him. “Shit, Peter, I—”

 

“Mr. Stark,” Peter says shakily. “You’ve really been a pretty shitty mentor for the past few months, you know that?”

 

Tony’s breath hitches. His brow furrows. “What are you saying?”

 

“You’ve been a big jerk to me ever since Titan,” Peter accuses. “I only put myself in danger because I wanted to save you. I saved your life, and all you’ve done is scream at me for it.”

 

“Because you shouldn’t be saving my life,” Tony says exasperatedly. How many times does he have to explain this before it makes sense for Peter? “I should’ve been the one who got infected by— by whatever it was that you had, Peter. You’re my responsibility.”

 

“And you don’t think you’re mine?” Peter huffs indignantly. Tony wants to smack himself in the forehead, it’s so ludicrous.

 

“No, I don’t, actually,” Tony says flatly. Before Peter can argue, Tony continues: “Peter, you’re a minor. You just turned sixteen years old. Me, I’ve been alive for a long time now. And that means I have to look out for you, so you can live as long as I have, alright? I’m supposed to be protecting you, not the other way around.”

 

“If you’re in danger and I have the option to stop that,” Peter says, “I will take that option. Every single time. I don’t care what you say, Mr. Stark.”

 

“Peter, you have to care!” Tony says, voice rising with frustration. “I— damn it, Peter, you don’t ever listen to me!”

 

“I do listen!” Peter shouts. “I listen to you all the freaking time, but you’re wrong! You have been wrong for two months— every time you’ve ignored me, or benched me, or scolded me, you were wrong!”

 

“I only do that because you keep throwing yourself headfirst into danger!” Tony argues. “You don’t even think about the consequences! You don’t even think about how it’s going to affect you, or how it’s going to affect me! You just threw yourself in front of an alien weapon without thinking—”

 

“And you don’t think I’m paying the price for it?!” Peter screams.

 

Tony’s voice dies out. He stares. Peter’s breathing  heavily, glaring at Tony with so much passion that Tony can feel the heat rising from him.

 

“You know,” Peter heaves, “I don’t like being bedridden all the time either. I didn’t like waking up freezing cold in my bed. I didn’t like fainting in the middle of gym class. I didn’t like waking up with a fever the next day and I didn’t like having seizures in the bottom of a pit! This hasn’t been fun for me, Mr. Stark, this has sucked, and you’re just— just—”

 

“Just what?”

 

“You’re making me regret it!” Peter screeches. “Maybe I shouldn’t have done this for you. Maybe I should’ve just stood back and let you go through all of this so I wouldn’t have to, because all you’ve done is yell at me for it!”

 

Peter takes a breath.

 

Tony steps back. He looks over Peter, his eyes dark.

 

“I’m not going to let you run around throwing yourself headfirst into your grave,” Tony says sharply. “The next time you pull a stunt like that you’ll be gone. Wiped off the face of the earth. No matter how many times I say that you don’t understand it. I’m trying to help you but everything I say just seems to go right over your head.”

 

“You’re not helping me!”

 

“I don’t really care what you want to call it! I’m just keeping you safe!”

 

“No,” Peter hisses. “No. May keeps me safe. Wanda keeps me safe. Shuri keeps me safe. Ned and MJ and the other Avengers, they all keep me safe. All you’ve done is just make everything harder for me.”

 

“Fine, what else do you want me to say?” Tony demands. “Hate me if you want, I—”

 

“I do!” Peter screams. “I do hate you!”

 

Tony watches Peter’s face for any twitches, any falters, any sort of regret. But Peter just fumes, his gaze locked with Tony’s.

 

“You know what? That’s okay,” Tony says in a low voice. “You think I care what you have to say about me? I’m just looking out for you and you’re just being a stupid, annoying, stuck-up brat.

 

“Just leave me alone then!” Peter yells. “If you can’t stand me so much then stop trying and just leave me alone!”

 

“Oh, I will,” Tony snaps. And reflexively, he adds: “You can ask Shuri for a ride home.”

 

He knows he’s gone too far, but so has Peter, and neither of them are shallow enough to take a step back. Both of them just stay there like that, covering their regret with white-hot fury.

 

“Fine, I will!” Peter says finally. “Go away! I don’t need you!”

 

Tony bites his lip before he can say anything else and storms off in the other direction. Stupid kid. Stupid. Stupid. He never should’ve let Peter come along on their little missions. None of this should have ever happened. None of it.

 

Tony doesn’t say another word before he stomps out the door.





















The doors have just slid shut when Peter feels a knife stabbing into his gut.

 

The pain is so sudden, so intense that Peter’s knees instantly buckle. He manages to grasp onto the metal table before he goes down in a heap, but his arms shake violently and he collapses onto the cold tile floor.

 

What the hell is this? There’s a horrible, agonizing burning sensation in Peter’s stomach. It feels like every cell in his body is being set on fire, being ripped to shreds.

 

Peter’s back arches against the hard ground. He bites back a scream, trying to muffle it into his palm. Oh god. Oh god. It hurts. It hurts.

 

Peter clutches at his stomach. Maybe if he pushes his guts inward, they’ll stop trying to explode. Oh— oh man, it hurts a lot. Peter’s been shot and stabbed and he’s never felt pain this bad.

 

He curls on his side. A new flare of pain shoots up his abdomen and he lets out a pathetic whimper, gasping.

 

He’s dying. He has to be. There’s no way anyone could be feeling this much pain and not dying.

 

Tears leak out of the corners of Peter’s eyes. He needs to call for someone. Oh god. He’s all alone. He needs help. He needs help now or he will die.

 

Peter opens his mouth to shout, but his throat constricts suddenly. His head falls to the floor, sweat beading his skin, and something comes out of his mouth that isn’t a call for help.

 

He gags once, almost like a warning, and then he vomits. It burns his throat and his whole body shakes as he forces it out. It’s so painful that he can’t even suppress his sobs; he squeezes his eyes shut and prays that it’ll be over.

 

When he opens his eyes, his heart drops into his stomach.

 

Instead of a puddle of sick, his vomit isn’t really vomit at all. Inky black liquid is pooling on the ground where he’d retched.

 

Shit.

 

Peter’s eyes roll back into his head. The last thing he hears is the sound of a sliding door and muffled voices.

Chapter Text

By the time they reach Peter, he’s already sweating and shaking and sobbing.

 

Tony doesn’t even know what to make of it at first. He’s never heard Peter crying like this before, at least not consciously, and that’s when he realizes Peter’s only half-conscious. He has no idea where the other half is.

 

Tony’s almost afraid to touch him. He reaches out, grabs Peter’s shoulders, and pulls the kid into his lap.

 

“What happened?!” he shouts at T’Challa— as if T’Challa would know. The king is definitely wondering the same thing, and for the record, Tony should be the one who has a better idea. Tony was the last person alone with Peter.

 

But that Peter he was with only moments before, that was not this Peter. That Peter was sad and angry and maybe even regretful, but his eyes were glittering with fury and he stood his ground.

 

Reduced to this, a child spluttering and gasping in Tony’s lap. Tony doesn’t even know what to do. He looks at T’Challa, who just meets him with bewildered eyes and a slightly agape mouth.

 

“I’m going to get Shuri,” T’Challa manages to say, before turning and sprinting back through the doors.

 

Tony’s hands shake like mad as he carefully cards his fingers through Peter’s damp hair. Peter whimpers, his head lolling to the side, and Tony’s eyes fall to the ground.

 

To the black puddle on the floor.

 

Tony stares at it. His lips part slowly.

 

Below him, Peter chokes on a sob.

 

Tony hardly hears the doors slide open again, but when he comes to his senses, Shuri is beside him, reaching for Peter.

 

“What’s going on?!” she all but screams.

 

Peter gasps for breath. He claws weakly at Tony’s arm, finally seeming to become aware of the situation.

 

“Shuri,” Peter manages. “M—Mr.—”

 

“Peter,” Tony blurts. “Peter, what’s wrong? Look at me, kid.”

 

Peter’s eyes squint and widen over and over, like he’s trying to focus on something far away and failing. His breaths are short and ragged.

 

“It hurts,” he finally says after an interminable amount of time.

 

“What?” Shuri begs. “What hurts, Peter?”

 

Peter looks like he’s thinking, like he’s unsure exactly where the pain is coming from. His brow furrows. “I—”

 

He splutters once. His head turns to the side and he retches onto the floor and it’s more of that inky blackness Tony saw earlier.

 

That— that is definitely not normal.

 

“Holy shit,” Tony says.

 

“What the fuck?!” Shuri shrieks, and it’s exactly what Tony’s thinking right now. “What the— what— I don’t— what?!”

 

“Shuri, calm down,” T’Challa urges from beside her. He reaches out to place a careful, steadying hand on her shoulder. Shuri flinches violently away like his touch burns her and curls in on herself. Tears streak down her face.

 

“What the fuck is going on?!” Shuri’s crying. “He was okay! He was supposed to be okay!”

 

“You need to calm down,” Tony hears himself say to her. He realizes he’s talking more to himself than to Shuri, but it doesn’t matter. “He needs your help. Now.”

 

“I can’t,” Shuri sobs. Her hands yank manically at her hair.

 

“You have to,” Tony begs.

 

Shuri takes a shuddering, awful breath and wipes furiously at her eyes. When she looks up again, her expression is stony and determined.

 

“Get him on my table,” she orders sharply, and Tony knows she’s going to be alright now. She allowed herself a single breakdown, and now she’s right back to business, to being a scientist. Tony’s never been more impressed in his life. Shuri presses her lips together and he almost doesn’t notice the way they tremble.

 

She doesn’t have to tell them twice. Tony grabs Peter’s shoulders, while T’Challa scoops up his fragile legs. Peter’s head falls back limp against Tony’s chest.

 

Peter’s mouth moves, flapping open and closed like a fish out of water. His eyes are half-lidded, barely open, and they find Tony’s face. He forces out an awful, guttural noise that sounds only vaguely like Tony’s name.

 

“Shh,” Tony says. “Don’t talk, kid. Please don’t talk for once.”

 

Shuri’s already walking across the room, holograms surrounding her face. Her hands fly to work at them as she runs Peter’s diagnostic. Her eyes are intense, incredibly focused as her fingers move, navigating the maps before her.

 

“Mr. Stark,” Shuri says in a forced, stoic tone of voice. “What were you doing with him before this happened?”

 

“I was— we were….”

 

Tony clears his throat. He thinks for a moment as fragments of their conversation slowly piece themselves together in his mind, fitting in like puzzle pieces.

 

And he remembers.

 

And—

 

Oh, god.

 

“Shit,” Tony says in a small voice.

 

This alarms Shuri. Her eyebrows raise and he can tell that it’s taking every muscle in her body for her not to lunge at him.

 

“What?” she demands, fear and dread evident in her voice in spite of her struggles to cloak it. “What happened?”

 

“I— he got mad at me,” Tony sputters. “I got mad at him, I— I can’t remember what came first, but— but we got mad and, and we yelled and I— oh my god I yelled at him and that could’ve been my last fucking conversation with him—”

 

Everything turns white.

 

All noise becomes muffled. Tony can’t see, can’t hear, can’t feel anything. He’s not sure he’s breathing. He’s not even sure he’s alive, but he must be, because dead people can’t feel pain in their lungs like he’s experiencing now.

 

He can’t think. He doesn’t even— he doesn’t know his name anymore.

 

He doesn’t know anything. He just knows white.

 

Only white.

 

It goes on forever. White engulfs his vision, engulfs everything, so that he just drifts for a while.

 

And then he knows a voice.

 

“Tony!”

 

He doesn’t know who that is. He doesn’t know.

 

“Tony, you have to listen to me— breathe, okay? Breathe.”

 

He forgets how to breathe. His mind has stopped working. He can’t.

 

“You can. You have to, Tony. Follow my breaths, okay? Listen— follow my breaths.”

 

He hears a deep, steady inhale. He attempts to mimic it with a rickety one of his own. It burns his lungs and hurts his throat, but he forces himself to.

 

He hears an exhale and he follows it like a dog. He releases the painful breath. Relief floods into his lungs, fresh and sweet.

 

He follows the next breath in. And then the next one out. He does it until his breaths stop hurting.

 

The next things Tony becomes aware of are his fingers being pressed together. His palm, placed over steady lungs.

 

He slowly blinks the white away from his vision, still heaving for air. Wanda’s face comes into focus in front of him, her brow knit with worry.

 

“Tony,” she says. “Are you okay?”

 

“Fuck,” Tony says breathlessly. The room becomes visible to him now. They’re still sitting in the laboratory. His back is against the wall, with Wanda crouching in front of him. T’Challa is gone. Shuri is still frantically analyzing diagrams while May is hovering over Peter, clasping his hand. Tears run freely down May’s face.

 

Peter’s hooked up to an IV and a heart monitor has been wheeled to his side. It beeps quietly, underlying the panic and confusion clouding Tony’s mind.

 

“How long— how long did it last?” Tony gasps out to Wanda.

 

“About ten minutes,” Wanda tells him. “You—”

 

Tony gently pushes her hands away, standing up.

 

“Tony!” Wanda squawks, scrambling to her feet. “Tony, you shouldn’t—”

 

“I’m fine,” he tells her, despite the fact that his heart is beating out of his chest and he feels like he’ll fall over and faint at any moment. Wanda doesn’t look convinced, but he ignores her, turning away. He forces his feet forward until he’s standing beside Peter, next to May.

 

“May,” Tony says. She doesn’t look up.

 

“May, I’m so sorry.”

 

Her eyes are still fixed on Peter’s face. Tony lets his gaze drop down to Peter. His eyes are closed now, but he’s shivering violently, and Tony can’t tell whether or not he’s conscious.

 

“It’s not your fault,” May whimpers finally. She sniffs once, and then chokes back a wail.

 

Tony opens his mouth to say something, but another voice beats him to it.

 

“Killed them,” Peter says lowly.

 

Tony’s head snaps towards him. Peter’s head lolls to one side, his eyes squeezing shut tight. He makes a small noise of discomfort.

 

“Killed them,” Peter whispers again. “You killed them.”

 

Tony’s brow furrows in confusion, lips parting. He turns to May for an explanation. She reaches under her glasses lenses to wipe at her eyes.

 

“He’s been like this for the past ten minutes,” she tells him. “He’s delirious.”

 

“Agh—!” Peter cries out suddenly, his back arching as his body jerks violently to one side. His heart monitor begins to grow louder and more frantic.  “You— you killed them—!”

 

“Peter,” Tony says carefully.

 

“You killed them all!” Peter gasps wildly as his heart monitor picks up and blares. “No— no, no, they’re my friends!”

 

Tony watches Peter’s face contort with pain and grief that he doesn’t know. Peter sobs, tears leaking out of his eyes.

 

“All dust,” Peter babbles. “They’re all dust, I— no—! No! Don’t kill me!”

 

Tony’s breath hitches. The gears click into place and he realizes just what Peter’s talking about.

 

“You’re okay,” Tony promises Peter. He reaches out, carefully taking Peter’s shaking fingers in his. He runs a finger over the metal bracelet he’d given Peter in what seems like a lifetime ago. “Hey, kid, you’re alright. It’s over now. They’re not dead. You’re not dead. We’re all fine.”

 

Peter’s fingers curl around Tony’s hand. The monitor slows down to its usual quiet beep.

 

“Ben?” Peter asks.

 

Beside Tony, May takes a step back. He hears her whisper, “I can’t do this,” as she turns and hugs her arms tightly around herself.

 

“No,” Tony says. “No, Peter, I’m not Ben. I’m Tony. Mr. Stark, remember?”

 

“Mr. Stark,” Peter parrots back to him.

 

“Yeah. Mr. Stark.”

 

Peter sighs longingly. His face almost seems to relax a bit, his grip loosening around Tony.

 

“I miss Mr. Stark,” Peter says.

 

Tony swears his heart misses a beat.

 

Tony carefully wets his lips, unable to form thoughts. He just squeezes Peter’s hand in his and says the only thing he knows to say.

 

“I miss you too, Pete.”

 

He says it quietly, a secret that only the two of them can share. He wonders if it even matters.

 

Tony wishes he was strong enough to say it when Peter was awake.



















Time passes by sluggishly. May weaves in and out, paces back and forth. T’Challa re-enters the room and examines Peter carefully, speaks a few quiet words to Shuri only for her to shoo him off. Shuri doesn’t leave her position, her feet glued to the spot before her monitors and holographic computers. She works and works and works and doesn’t stop. She doesn’t let anyone talk to her.

 

Tony finds himself sitting with his back propped up against the wall once more. He stares at the ground.

 

He has nothing else to say.

 

After some time, Wanda reappears in front of him. There are dark smudges under her eyes that tell Tony she’s been crying too, but he doesn’t question it. She says nothing as she sits down beside him.

 

“I called him a brat,” Tony says finally.

 

Wanda’s gaze remains fixed on the back wall. He glances at her, expecting her to look confused, but her expression flickers only slightly.

 

“Do you think that’s true?” is all she asks.

 

It’s not the question Tony was expected to hear, nor is it one he’s prepared to answer. He frowns, turns his head.

 

“I don’t know anymore,” he admits. “I thought I was right. I thought he was wrong. I was just trying to keep him safe, but…”

 

“I think he can be a brat,” Wanda says.

 

Tony’s head swivels toward her, incredulous. “What?”

 

Wanda manages an uneasy smile. “I think he can be a brat,” she repeats, “sometimes. He… you know, he just doesn’t think sometimes. He’s not perfect. He’s only sixteen years old, after all.”

 

“I know.” Tony clasps his hands together. “I just… I don’t want him to be perfect. I just want him to be safe.”

 

Wanda nods. Tony lets his head thunk back against the wall. He stares up at the ceiling.

 

“None of this was supposed to happen,” Tony says thoughtfully. “I wish I could take everything back. I wish he was a second late and I got gassed in the face and I was the one in his place. I’d trade places with him in a heartbeat.”

 

“I know you would,” Wanda says, watching his face.

 

A sudden thought strikes Tony. He frowns, turning to Wanda.

 

“Hey,” he says. “I never said thank you. For, you know.”

 

“Don’t mention it.”

 

“How…” Tony clears his throat. “How do you know how to deal with panic attacks?”

 

A smile tugs at the corners of Wanda’s lips. She looks at Tony with bright, pale eyes.

 

“Steve taught me,” she says. “He taught all of us who didn’t know, just in case, you know…”

 

“Huh.” Tony fights hard to suppress a smile, despite it all. “Steve. I’ll keep that in mind.”



















A little over an hour later, Shuri finally drops into her seat and swipes all of her holograms off.

 

T’Challa, May, Tony, and Wanda all surround her. They lean forward in anticipation of news, any news.

 

Shuri just lets out a breath and her head droops down towards her lap. She doesn’t meet any of their eyes.

 

Teardrops spill from her lashes.

 

“Shuri,” May begs. “Shuri, do you have anything?”

 

“It’s not there,” Shuri says, her voice a mixture of frustration and all-out exhaustion. “I looked yesterday. I looked today. I looked everywhere. I tapped into every single one of his systems.

 

“He threw up black fluid. I took a sample of it and tried to analyze it but it doesn’t match up with anything in our system, not even blood samples from the aliens that attacked us during the war.

 

“This disease of his, it’s like it’s running away from me. It’s impossible to catch. Just when I think we’ve got rid of it, it comes back twice as severe, and there’s no way for me to capture it.

 

“I looked at all his symptoms. None of them have matched up. I scanned all of his systems, all of his organs, all of his blood cells. Every single one is healthy. There’s not a single disruption. It’s like the virus is invisible, but it’s not. I’m telling you, it’s not there.”

 

“That’s not possible,” Tony says, and he knows everyone else is thinking it. Shuri looks at him with narrowed eyes.

 

“You can look all you want but you won’t find anything,” she growls. “Do you want to look yourself, Mr. Stark? You think you’ll find something I can’t? You—”

 

“Shuri,” T’Challa says gently.

 

The princess turns to her brother and buries her head in his shirt. He strokes her hair with one hand while her tears soak his front.

 

“I trust you, Shuri,” Tony says cautiously. “I already told you I trust you more than anyone. Just… help us understand. Please.”

 

Shuri turns back to them, rubbing her eyes with the back of her palm.

 

“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” she says finally. “Trying to understand what’s wrong with him. Trying to understand the disease. And— and I think I’ve come to a solution. It’s not logical, but it’s the only thing that explains everything that’s happened.”

 

“And what’s that?” May asks, her voice wavering.

 

Shuri takes a breath.

 

“I don’t think there’s a plague in his body at all.”

 

Wanda blinks. “Huh?”

 

“Are you saying he’s healthy?” Tony asks.

 

“I’m not saying that he’s healthy,” Shuri says fiercely. “We all know he’s not. I’m saying that the disease might not be in his body.”

 

“Yeah, you said that, but what the hell is it supposed to mean?” Tony says.

 

“I don’t know, but I’ve seen gods, and aliens, and wizards, and magic.” Shuri takes a deep, steadying breath. “So maybe it isn’t so impossible that this illness could be somewhere else inside of him.”



















Tony’s stepping away before he even realizes what he’s doing.

 

“Tony?” Wanda calls after him. “Tony, where are you going?”

 

“I’m not going anywhere.” Tony reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone. His fingers frantically dial in digits that he’s unsure when he memorized. He types in the wrong number twice before he finally gets it right, and he lifts the phone to his ear.

 

Pick up. Pick up. Pick up. Please.

 

“What’re you doing?” May asks.

 

“Calling a friend.”

 

The ringing finally stops and Tony allows himself to take a breath. He’s so relieved he thinks he’ll pass out on the spot. It's the first time he’s not embarrassed to swoon over this asshole.

 

“Tony?” the voice on the other line says.

 

“It’s worse,” Tony says. “It got worse.”

 

“What are you talking— is this about Peter?”

 

“Yeah.” Tony nervously bites at his thumbnail. “Listen. We’re in the Wakanda palace right now, in the laboratory. I think we need your help. I.. I think you’re the only person who can help.”

 

The line goes dead.

 

Tony’s hand drops. He shoves his phone in his pocket.

 

“He’s on his way,” Tony says. He’s not sure how he knows this. He just feels it somehow. “He can get here in seconds.”

 

“Who?” the others all ask in unison, wearing expressions with varying levels of confusion.

 

As if on cue, a loud crackling sound cuts through the air behind Tony. He turns around. They all stare as the bright orange circle burns itself into the air.

 

Strange steps out. His hair is messy and unkempt. He’s wearing his pajamas, with his cloak strewn messily over his shoulders. It’s the most ridiculous and beautiful thing Tony has ever seen in his life.

 

Strange’s icy eyes fall over everyone, flicker to Peter, and finally come to a stop in front of him.

 

“Tony. Nice to see you again.”

Chapter Text

When Peter opens his eyes again, the pain is gone, replaced by complete exhaustion in every cell of his body. Even though it’s preferable to the mind-numbing agony he’d experienced earlier, it’s still not pleasant.

 

Tony, May, and Wanda are standing on one side of the room. Tony’s talking to them, gesturing, and the two watch him with some interest. T’Challa and Shuri are gone.

 

He notices a soft beeping sound beside him. He turns his face and sees the heart monitor by his side, humming along steadily.

 

Peter turns his head back to the other side and his eyes flutter, focusing on the face closest to him, the one hovering gently by his bedside. A new face.

 

“Mr. Doctor Strange Master of the Mystic Arts Timekeeper sir,” Peter says. His voice comes out a harsh, raw whisper.

 

Strange’s familiar pale eyes don’t leave his face. A smile tugs at the doctor’s lips. “Hi, Peter. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to see you again so soon.”

 

“Thanks, I missed you too,” Peter mumbles, his eyes giving in to the exhaustion and sliding shut.

 

Peter can’t see Strange’s face beneath his eyelids, but he has a feeling that the older man is smiling. “You know what I mean.”

 

It takes more effort than Peter expects just to turn his head so that he’s facing the ceiling.

 

“When did you get here?” Peter asks. His mouth feels like it’s stuffed with cotton. His head buzzes. “How long was I out of it?”

 

“I just arrived, but I’ve been told that you’ve been asleep for about two hours now.”

 

Peter’s eyes dart up when he sees May and Wanda approaching with Tony.

 

And, shit.

 

Tony.

 

He instantly peels his eyes away, training them back on Strange’s face. Out of his peripherals, Peter watches May open her mouth, and he already knows what she’s going to say— what all of them are going to say.

 

“I’m fine,” Peter says loudly, and it’s only now that he realizes just how sick and tired he is of saying that over and over. He’s become a broken record, repeating that over and over like a mantra, and it sucks because it’s rarely ever true.

 

But the truth is even harder, so he hides it away.

 

None of them look satisfied with his answer. He can’t even blame them at this point because he’s not satisfied either.

 

His eyes slowly find themselves back to Strange. “So, um.” Peter swallows. “You guys decided to call another doctor…”

 

“I did,” Tony says.

 

Peter promptly ignores him, looking back to May instead.

 

“Mr. Doctor Strange Master of the Mystic Arts Timekeeper sir, have you met my aunt—”

 

“Don’t worry, I was here long enough for the introductions,” Strange assures Peter. “None of it’s important. I think we could use a doctor’s appointment right about now, don’t you?”


















Strange’s hands hover over Peter’s shoulders. They sparkle orange, his fingertips glowing, illuminating the dark room as he carefully lowers his hands and touches Peter on each arm.

 

Peter isn’t sure what he expects, but it’s definitely not this. He half-expects it to feel like a flu shot; he can’t even remember the last time he got one of those.

 

But it’s just… weird. There’s no other way to describe it. It feels like Strange is… like… Strange is reaching through Peter somehow, squeezing his soul. It’s not painful, but it’s not exactly a pleasant feeling, either. Peter can’t place exactly where the sensation is. It just is. It’s just there, somehow.

 

And then something strange happens.

 

Peter starts to feel this drifting sensation. Suddenly he’s a balloon, caught in a breeze, and he feels so faint he’s going to float away at any second and— and then—

 

And then he’s back, much more abruptly than he’d left. He startles a little, shaking the table he’s sitting on.

 

“What,” is all he says.

 

Strange lowers his hands, his brow furrowing in concern. “Peter, are you alright? Did you feel any pain at all?”

 

“No. No, I’m fine, just…” Peter takes a deep, shuddering breath. “What exactly did you just do?”

 

Strange cocks his head to the side, frowning a little. “What did it feel like?”

 

“It felt…” Peter cautiously places a hand over his own chest, breathing in the feeling of physical contact. It tethers him back to reality, and he blinks slowly a few times. “It felt like you reached inside of me.”

 

The room suddenly falls silent. His words echo into the quiet, reverberating against the walls. Only now, now that it’s noiseless, does Peter realize how creepy that sounded; judging by the looks on the others’ faces, they’re just as spooked as he feels. It scares him too now that he actually thinks about what left his lips. That definitely could’ve passed for a line straight out of The Exorcist.

 

Strange is the only one who looks undisturbed. He just nods. “That’s normal,” he says. “I just looked inside your soul, Peter.”

 

Peter blinks dumbly. “You looked inside my what?”

 

“Your soul,” Strange repeats without missing a beat. “Your spirit, to be more precise.”

 

Strange stands up. He rests a hand on the table, and turns himself so that he’s facing everyone else. He looks over them with confident eyes.

 

“As you all may know, my duty is to protect realities,” Strange explains. “I deal with a lot of different things that can be difficult to understand sometimes. Things that are often unexplainable. The mystic arts are incredibly complex; reality isn’t just one thing. The reality we know and live in now is just one of infinite.

 

“In between our reality is a different plane. This plane, the one we’re in right now, is the physical plane. It’s tangible and very simple. We can see everything and feel everything. This, as far as we can see, is where our bodies reside.

 

“There are three parts in a human being: the body, the mind, and the spirit. So, the body resides in the physical plane and the mind resides in the cognitive plane. The spirit lies in the astral plane.

 

“Out of the three, the spirit is definitely the most delicate and the most dangerous one to deal with. It’s not constant or stable like the others; it’s always changing, weakening, moving. It’s elusive. It’s hard to capture, incredibly hard to understand.

 

“I shifted my matter distribution only for a moment so that my own existence could filter into Peter’s astral plane. I can’t stay there for more than a few seconds, or my phase could shift again and create catastrophe in the divergence of our astral planes.”

 

Strange finally takes a breath, his eyes darkening. He swallows before speaking again. “But I saw it.”

 

“Saw it?” Tony chirps. “Saw what?”

 

“The plague,” Strange says lowly. He glances at Peter; Peter hopes he’s doing a good job of concealing the horror from his face.

 

“You… you saw it?” May asks, her brow furrowing. “What did it look like?”

 

“It was more of a feeling,” Strange says almost nervously. “It’s… unusual. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it before.”

 

“Do you know how to treat it?” Wanda asks anxiously, covering her mouth with her sleeve.

 

“I think so,” Strange says. He straightens, regaining his composure. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s dark, and it’s festering on his soul. All of his symptoms— they only happened because the disease flared, and his body is trying to purge it from his spirit. Whatever it is, it’s spreading. I think we can stop it.”

 

Strange turns, looking at Peter. Peter’s whole body goes rigid, freezing under the doctor’s icy gaze.

 

“But I want to talk to you alone first.”


















Strange waits for everyone to be cleared out of the room before turning back to Peter.

 

“Pete,” he says carefully. “While I was examining your… you know, your issue, I saw something else.”

 

Peter blinks his innocent owl-eyes up at Stephen. “Hm? What?”

 

Strange clears his throat. His eyes fall to the ground— for some reason, he feels more guilty talking about this than he probably should.

 

“Have you and Tony been…. I don’t know… fighting recently? Anything like that?”

 

Peter’s expression crumples. “You…”

 

“I didn’t see— I mean, I just felt it for a second when I was in your astral plane. I didn’t think…. I don’t know, I—” For once, Strange can’t find the right words to say. “I felt the… you know. I felt everything.”

 

Peter doesn’t look like he understands. Strange hardly understands any of it, either. But Peter bites his lip, looking down at his feet.

 

“I don’t know,” Peter says in a small voice. “I… I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. This whole week has— it’s been…”

 

“Horrible,” Strange finishes for him. “Miserable. Awful. All of that.”

 

Peter’s breath hitches. He looks up at Strange, wide-eyed.

 

“Peter, your spirit is weak right now,” Strange says. “I don’t know why. I don’t know if you know why. But I do know how you’ve been feeling recently, and it’s devastating. It’s destroying you somehow, Peter, and only you can figure out how to fix it.”

 

Peter’s lip wobbles. His eyes turn glassy. “Mr. Doctor Strange Master of the Mystic Arts Timekeeper sir, I—”

 

“Stephen.”

 

“I don’t know what to do,” Peter says, his voice cracking. Twin tears escape from his eyes and he quickly wipes them away with the back of his palms. “I need… I just need you to save me. Please.”

 

Strange moves forward before he even realizes what he’s doing, and then he’s hugging Peter. He’s holding the kid to his chest. Peter’s hands curl into Strange’s shirt, and Peter sniffs; Strange pretends not to notice the tears soaking into his midsection.

 

“You don’t need me to save you, Pete,” Strange tells Peter. “You can do that on your own.”


















Strange doesn’t tell Peter anything else when he pokes his head back out the doors.

 

In the hallway, May, Wanda, and Tony are all standing outside the doors. Strange takes a breath, collecting himself, and steps out.

 

“Tony?” he calls.

 

All three look up. Tony locks eyes with Strange.

 

“I need you in here,” Strange says. “During the procedure.”

 

Tony nods wordlessly. May furrows her brow.

 

“Stephen,” she says, “I’ll go with you too. I need to be with my kid when you—”

 

“You can’t,” Strange says ruefully, holding up a hand. May’s lips purse and she frowns, looking at him with confused, pleading eyes.

 

“What?” she says. Strange can tell it takes every ounce of willpower in her body to keep the fear and hurt from showing in her voice.

 

“I’m sorry,” Strange tells her. “But what I’m about to do on Peter is extremely dangerous, and it requires his energy to be as isolated as possible. The only reason I need Tony to be near him is because there’s… a minor irregularity in Peter’s astral wavelengths. I need you and Wanda to wait out here and not let anyone in while Peter undergoes the procedure— it could cost him his life.”

 

May’s jaw drops a little. Her eyes widen in shock and fear, her face paling. “I— but he—”

 

A hand gently tugs at May’s sleeve. Wanda looks tiredly up at May.

 

“Peter needs you to stay here now,” Wanda begs May. “He needs both of us to be here.”

 

May looks like she wants to argue. Her face contorts with a variety of different emotions, but finally settles on defeated and miserable as she sits down beside Wanda.

 

Tony steps beside Strange. He’s silent for once. The two turn back towards the door when May calls out:

 

“Stephen?”

 

Strange casts a backward glance at her. May looks on the verge of tears.

 

“Take care of him,” she whimpers. “Please.”

 

She sounds so much like Peter. Or maybe Peter sounds just like her. Hearing them both begging Strange for Peter’s life tugs at Strange’s heartstrings.

 

He’s not sure if the procedure is going to work, but he does know he’ll do anything to keep the kid alive now.

 

Strange nods hard. “I will,” he promises.


















Peter visibly tenses at the sight of Strange and Tony alone, walking into the room. His eyes instantly dart to the side, avoiding direct contact with Tony— he’d done that earlier, too, but Tony just pretended not to notice. He pretends not to notice now, too.

 

He also pretends not to notice how Peter’s heart monitor starts to beep a little faster and a little louder. It’s so slight that Tony almost misses it, but too logical for him to ignore.

 

“Alright,” Strange says. He goes to stand before Peter. Tony notices that Peter’s eyes are slightly puffy, bloodshot, like he’s been crying. Peter turns his gaze to Strange and his eyes zero in on the doctor; he watches Strange with more focus and awe than Tony’s seen in a long time.

 

Maybe Peter used to look at Tony like that, too. It felt like just yesterday.

 

“Everything’s gonna be okay, Peter,” Strange says softly. Tony doesn’t think he’s seen Strange so gentle before. Peter nods fiercely and Strange takes Peter’s hands in his own. He turns Peter’s wrists over and runs a finger over Peter’s metal bracelet.

 

The bracelet Tony had given him. Tony swallows hard. Peter instantly draws his wrist back a little, not looking at Tony.

 

Tony can’t help but wonder, when did this happen? Why? How did things get to this?

 

“Tony,” Strange says. Tony looks up, meeting the man’s eyes. “I’m only letting you stay here because… because Peter’s spirit is drawn to you. I saw the way to cure it, and you need to be here next to him the whole time.”

 

“Drawn to me?” Tony echoes. “What do you mean?”

 

“I’m not entirely sure,” Strange says slowly, “but I think… I think the disease is feeding from Peter’s spirit’s connection with yours.”

 

Tony looks at Peter. Peter makes the mistake of looking up and they lock eyes for a moment, before Peter’s eyes instantly flick to the other side of the room, his lips pressing into a thin line.

 

Strange watches them, frowning. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you two,” he says. “Both of you. But whatever happened between you guys doesn’t matter right now— it can’t. Okay? Peter’s life depends on it.”

 

Peter doesn’t respond, but Tony nods. “I’ll do whatever you need me to do, Doc,” Tony tells Strange. “Just say the word. How can I help?”

 

“You can help by sitting there,” Strange says dismissively, “and doing absolutely nothing.”

 

Tony grudgingly sits down in the chair beside Peter. Peter doesn’t turn to look at him.

 

“So how’s this gonna work?” Tony asks. “What are you gonna do?”

 

“I’m not going to be doing anything,” Strange says. He walks until he’s standing in front of Peter, and places his hands on Peter’s shoulders. Peter looks nervous, but he meets Strange’s piercing gaze.

 

“Pete,” Strange says softly, “I believe in you, alright? You can do this. You’re tough kid. I know you can do this.”

 

“Wait, what’s going on?” Peter asks, fear creeping into his voice. “What— what do I have to do?”

 

“I just need both of you to trust me right now.” Strange releases Peter’s shoulders and takes a deep, quiet breath. “Just trust me, no matter what. Okay?”

 

Peter and Tony both fall silent. Strange gives each of them a sharp look, and they parrot small “okay”s back to him.

 

Strange sighs. He looks over Peter one last time, and then lifts his hands. They begin to glow as he raises them, and places them in front of Peter’s chest.

 

“This is your fight now, Peter.”

 

Tony doesn’t even have time to register what Strange is doing until he strikes Peter with both hands—

 

And Peter’s heart monitor flatlines.

Chapter Text

Tony stands up so fast that his chair clatters onto the floor.

 

The room goes deadly silent, save for the horrible, prolonged beep of the heart monitor. Tony’s eyes flick to the screen— where there’s supposed to be activity and fluctuation— and all he sees is a single, stick-straight line.

 

He can’t even comprehend what just happened before him. His mind refuses to work until Strange just steps back a little with a heavy sigh, like this is all just part of the job.

 

Like he didn’t just murder a child.

 

Tony looks at Peter first. Peter, whose eyes are closed peacefully, like he’s just sleeping.

 

Peter. He waits for Peter to wake up. For the heart monitor to start working again.

 

It doesn’t.

 

Tony’s eyes slowly push upward until he’s staring at Strange. Strange looks back at him. Horror floods into Tony’s heart, followed by white-hot fury.

 

“You killed him,” Tony says slowly.

 

That phrase tastes so much more bitter when he actually exercises it out loud. It hurts. It rips into him like a knife, tears up his soul. There’s nothing worse, nothing more painful than saying that phrase out loud.

 

“You killed him,” Tony repeats, as if saying it enough times will bring any sort of sense to it. This time his voice breaks. “You— you fucking killed my kid —”

 

“Tony, I didn’t kill him,” Strange says tiredly, “I—”

 

“What the fuck have you done?!” Tony screeches. He barrels forward; Strange lets out a small yelp of surprise as Tony’s hands fist in his shirt. Tony shakes him back and forth aggressively. “You fucking bastard—”

 

Tony doesn’t get to finish. Cloth wraps around his mouth, and he’s forced backwards. Strange slowly brushes himself off, looking mostly unfazed, and it makes Tony want to rip his fucking face off. He looks down— Strange’s cloak has muffled his face, keeping him from talking, restraining his arms.

 

“Tony, you need to listen to me,” Strange says calmly.

 

Tony jerks sporadically, struggling against the cloak. He screams obscenity after obscenity but it’s all lost in the scarlet cloth.

 

“I didn’t kill him. He’s not gone, Tony. I projected him into his astral plane— his spirit is no longer in his body, but he’s out there, and he’s fighting. I’ve done it before. I left my own body and my heart stopped, but I was able to return safely. He’s going to be fine, but we need to do all we can to ensure that he wins that battle— and that means you need to be quiet. And you need to be calm. Get it?”

 

The cloak releases Tony, returning to its place around Strange’s shoulders. Tony takes a wild breath, scrambling backwards, and places a hand on Peter’s bed to steady himself. The heart monitor is still humming quietly, a consistent, single note singing into the silence.

 

Tony raises a finger and jabs it toward Strange. It might be more threatening if his finger isn’t shaking like mad. “You’re sure he’s not….” Tony swallows, unable to finish the sentence.

 

“Tony, I swear it,” Strange says. “I don’t have enough power to kill anyone that way if I wanted to. Tony, why would I ever hurt him?”

 

Tony thinks of Strange— thinks of the looks he gives Peter, thinks of Strange asking him to call if Peter got worse, thinks of Strange comforting him in the med bay— and, okay. Okay.

 

So Strange does care about Peter. A lot.

 

Tony picks his chair up carefully from the ground. His hands are still trembling. He sits down hard in the chair and places his head in his hands, exhaling shakily.

 

Strange is sitting next to him in the next moment. Tony feels Strange’s hand gently touch his shoulder. He flinches a bit before relaxing, letting Strange pull him into his side.

 

“God, how’d this happen?” Tony whispers brokenly. Strange squeezes his shoulder comfortingly.

 

“He’ll be okay,” Strange promises. “He needs you right now.”

 

Tony looks at Peter. His face is relaxed, his long eyelashes at rest. Completely lifeless.

 

Tony reaches out, to where Peter’s hand lies limply on his mattress. He strokes Peter’s soft hand carefully and thinks about everything he loves about Peter and wonders how he ever took this kid for granted. His fingers trace over the wrist gauntlet he’d given to Peter.

 

“Peter,” Tony says quietly. He hangs his head, lets his own eyes close too.

 

He has a million things to say, and yet only one thing leaves his lips.

 

“Fight hard, kid.”



















Peter opens his eyes to inky blackness.

 

Panic is first instinct. He blinks a few times, but nothing changes. All he can see is pitch black.

 

He opens his eyes. Closes them. Opens them again.

 

Black. Black. Black.

 

He lets out a small noise of alarm, stumbling backwards. He has no idea where he is and— and he’s blind. He can’t be blind. This can’t be happening.

 

He looks down— he sees his hands, glowing amidst all the darkness.

 

Relief floods into him and he gives a small gasp of relief. His vision is still okay; everything around him is just black.

 

And then he remembers he’s alone, and he has no idea where he is. The relief isn’t very sweet anymore.

 

Peter turns around. He sees nothing, no one. The only comfort he finds in the darkness is looking down, seeing himself, reminding himself that he’s here despite it all.

 

“Mr. Doctor Strange?” he calls out cautiously. His voice echoes throughout the space, vibrating across the silence. The quiet magnifies the sound.

 

He turns again. More quiet, and more darkness.

 

No response.

 

He swallows hard. He hesitates, and then:

 

“...Mr. Stark?”

 

Silence.

 

Something about the way that name rolls off his tongue gives Peter chills. Something about the fact that he hasn’t willingly called for Mr. Stark in so long strikes a chord in him.

 

Peter’s eyes sting. His legs begin to wobble. He chokes back a sob.

 

“Mr. Stark,” Peter whispers again, like if he says it one last desperate time, his mentor will magically appear before him to save him from himself. Like maybe they can get a second chance, even though everything seems beyond repair now.

 

“You won’t find him here.”

 

Peter looks up, alert. He swipes at his eyes quickly, straightening, and turns around.

 

“Who said that?” Peter calls into the darkness.

 

“You did.”

 

Peter turns around.

 

And he sees himself.

 

A mirror image of him, standing right here before him.

 

It’s himself, it’s Peter Parker, but somehow it’s also not. This Peter Parker has dark, dead eyes, with tired circles under them. His hair is disheveled, his skin pale, and a perpetuous frown upon his face.

 

“What the hell,” Peter says aloud. “You’re— you’re… me.

 

He circles his mirror image carefully. It watches his every move. Peter squints.

 

“You’re me,” Peter repeats, “but…. darker.” His eyes light up. “Peter Darker.”

 

The doppelganger narrows his eyes. “Never say that again.”

 

“Where are we?” Peter asks.

 

“Your astral plane,” Dark Peter says.

 

“This is the place Mr. Doctor Strange talked about earlier,” Peter realizes. He wishes he listened better when Strange had been breaking it down, but it’s too late now. “It’s so… dark down here.”

 

“It wasn’t always like this,” Dark Peter tells him. “It used to be white.”

 

Peter stares into the darkness, trying to imagine that. It seems so impossible that this space could have been pure white before when everything is inky black now.

 

The color of deep ink. The same color as the puddle he’d gagged up. Peter feels suddenly nauseous.

 

He frowns, turning back to Dark Peter. “Mr. Doctor Strange said that… that my astral plane was infected,” he says slowly. “That the alien plague is— it’s here. Are you.. are you an alien or something?”

 

“I’m not an alien. I’m a figment of your own conscience.”

 

“Wait, so you’re me?”

 

“Not exactly. I’m parasite on your spirit.” Dark Peter surveys him closely. “When you were first infected by the gas, I was small. But I grew stronger.”

 

“You’re not supposed to be here,” Peter says slowly.

 

“You know, it was pretty easy to take over this place,” Dark Peter sneers. “Look around you, Peter. This is your astral plane now. I feed off of guilt, and anger, and regret— you have a lot of that. I turned your astral plane into this in days.”

 

“Is that supposed to scare me or something?” Peter demands. “Look, I’m here now.”

 

“And what are you going to do?”

 

“Kick you out.” Peter takes a step back, settling into a fighting stance. “Get rid of you once and for all.”

 

Dark Peter rolls his eyes. “You’re an idiot, Peter Parker. You think you can kill me?”

 

“I do, actually,” Peter says. “You’re just me with a bad attitude. And I’m not that hard to beat.”

 

Peter lunges for Dark Peter. His feet have just left the ground when suddenly everything just seems to slow down.

 

Time becomes sluggish. There’s a horrible, blinding pain in his heart— it feels like he’s being stabbed there over and over again—

 

Peter’s knees hit the floor.

 

He shudders once as he falls over, his body going limp as he collapses to the ground like a deadweight.

 

“What…” Peter slurs. His head pounds. His hands fist in his shirt over his heart, trying to make the ache stop. “What’re… you doing… to me?”

 

“I have control over you now,” Dark Peter says. “You’re weak. I’m stronger than you in every way.”

 

Dark Peter flicks his wrist. Peter’s head slams into the ground violently and he gasps in pain.

 

“I thought you would learn after the first time,” Dark Peter muses, “but you didn’t. You have Stark to thank for that.”

 

“Stark…?” Peter drawls, confused. “Mr. Stark? What does he have to do with….”

 

I feed off of guilt, and anger, and regret. You have a lot of that.

 

“Do you understand, Parker?!”

 

“Yes—!”

 

The biting cold.

 

“Call someone to take you home.”

 

“May, it’s me.”

 

The fever.

 

“I don’t need your help. Don’t touch me.”

 

The seizures.

 

“I do! I do hate you! If you can’t stand me so much then stop trying and just leave me alone!”

 

The vomit.

 

All of it, every single clue clicks into place now. They all fit together perfectly, each piece of the puzzle, and Peter feels like a complete idiot for not noticing sooner.

 

Every single symptom— everything that went wrong happened after he and Mr. Stark clashed. Every single one of them. This is the reason why he’s sick. It’s been making him grow worse and he hadn’t even realized it.

 

“It’s all connected,” Peter gasps out. “You’ve been using Mr. Stark and I’s arguments to invade my astral plane.”

 

“You two make a horrible pair,” Dark Peter says. “Nothing has been the same in two months. Since you died on Titan. Neither of you are the same anymore.”

 

Dark Peter circles Peter’s weak, struggling form, his eyes observing carefully. “I guess you two will never be able to fix it,” he says, and he almost sounds sad for a moment. “You’ll be dead before you get the chance.”

 

“Mr. Stark,” Peter groans, “he—”

 

“What has he done for you?”

 

The space around them suddenly shifts. Peter winces, blinking, and looks up as the darkness slowly reveals images. Moving images.

 

Memories.

 

Peter glances at one. It’s him and Mr. Stark talking on the boardwalk. Mr. Stark, yelling at Peter. Peter cowering as Mr. Stark demands the suit back.

 

There’s another one of Peter, alone and trapped under the collapsed warehouse, crying and screaming himself hoarse for help. Another of Mr. Stark rounding on Peter, screaming that he could’ve gotten hurt, screaming at him to never do that again.

 

There’s one of Mr. Stark and Peter yelling at each other from opposite sides of the laboratory. One of Mr. Stark benching Peter to take care of a mission.

 

“You see?” Dark Peter says thoughtfully. “All Stark has done for you is push you out. You said it yourself. He’s been nothing but a shitty mentor.”

 

Peter closes his eyes. The images disappear, concealed behind the comforting darkness of his eyelids.

 

He thinks of Mr. Stark.

 

Mr. Stark, who’s been distant these past two months. He thinks of how he clung to Mr. Stark’s arms as he faded, his body pillaring into dust on Titan, and he can practically feel the ghost of the older man’s body holding him, telling him that he’s going to be alright.

 

For every bad memory he has with Mr. Stark, he can think of a thousand good ones.

 

He thinks of Mr. Stark giving him the wristwatch gauntlet. “You can always, always count on me, okay?”

 

He thinks of meeting Mr. Stark in his bedroom. “You’re this… Spiderling. Crime-fighting spider. Spider-boy?”

 

Mr. Stark and him sitting on his bed. “I’m gonna sit here, so move your leg.”

 

Mr. Stark telling him he did a good job in the car. “Your nephew did a great job at the Stark Internship.”

 

Mr. Stark calling him to congratulate him for his feat in DC. “What I’m trying to say is, you did good. I’m proud of you.”

 

Mr. Stark asking him to join the Avengers. “I’ll introduce the world to our newest recruit.”

 

Mr. Stark and him fighting side-by-side in New York. “Hey, kid, what’re you doing out here?”

 

Everything they’d done together had lead up to that single moment on Titan. That single moment when Peter had lost Mr. Stark and Mr. Stark had lost him.

 

But that wasn’t where it ended.

 

“You’re wrong about Mr. Stark,” Peter says.

 

“I’m wrong?” Dark Peter echoes skeptically. “Everything I’ve shown you is a reflection of your own conscience—”

 

“I’m wrong, then,” Peter says levelly. “I’ve been wrong. Mr. Stark has been there for me through everything.”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Dark Peter says. “None of that matters anymore. You’re already mine. I know every single move you’re going to make. You’re weaker than I am.”

 

Peter starts to rise, but Dark Peter lunges downward, pinning Peter’s wrists to the floor. Dark Peter shoves his knee hard onto Peter’s ribcage, forcing him back to the ground. Peter feels his ribs crack under the weight and he lets out a cry.

 

“I have everything you have,” Dark Peter hisses. “Your strength. Your speed. Your intelligence. You have nothing that I don’t. All you have is guilt, regret, anger, self-destructiveness, fear, and insecurity. You have no worth. You just create habit by habit, each one more destructive to your spirit than the last.”

 

Peter gives a shaky, pathetic grin. “Let’s kick those habits.”

 

Dark Peter lowers his knee. Peter’s injured ribs shift painfully and he grimaces. “It’s too late for you to do that now,” Dark Peter says.

 

“You’re right,” Peter grinds out breathlessly. “You’re right about those things, you know.”

 

Dark Peter tilts his head to the side. His eyes glint curiously. Peter coughs weakly.

 

“I do have a lot of regrets,” Peter says. “And a lot of guilt, and anger, and all those other things. And I am weaker than you. I will always be weaker than you.”

 

Dark Peter squints. Peter can feel his heart constrict painfully, like a hand is squeezing around it. He manages to gasp out, “But you’re wrong about one thing.”

 

“What’s that?” Dark Peter scoffs.

 

“I’ve got one thing you don’t.”

 

Peter smiles tiredly. “Mr. Stark’s on my side.”

 

Peter yanks his wrist free just for a single moment. His other hand flies up, activating the button on his wrist bracelet, and he pulls the metal bar over his hand. The Iron Man gauntlet instantly assembles itself over his open palm, glowing amidst all the dark.

 

“See ya,” Peter says.

 

He raises his hand to Dark Peter’s face.

 

He fires once.

 

Everything dissolves into white.



















Peter’s eyes fly open. He sits up with a gasp and his heart monitor begins beeping wildly.

 

His pupils are blown wide, unfocused, but he still claws around frantically. “Mr. Stark,” he gasps out, and Tony reaches out for him, gently taking his hand.

 

“I’m here,” Tony promises firmly. “Kid, you’re alright. You’re alright.”

 

“Tony,” Peter says.

 

And then, without any warning, tears spill from his eyes.

 

He lunges forward, his thin arms wrapping around Tony’s midsection as he yanks him forward into a crushing hug. Tony holds the kid to his chest, stroking his soft curls and patting his trembling back.

 

“Hey,” Tony says. “Hey, kid, you okay?”

 

Peter doesn’t release Tony. He just lets out a breathy laugh that’s nearing a sob, and curls his fists into the cloth of Tony’s shirt. Tony’s heart swells.

 

“We won,” Peter says.

Chapter Text

“We won.”

 

Those two words have never sounded sweeter to Tony’s ears. He doesn’t even think he felt this alive when they saved the world after Thanos. Peter’s clawing desperately at his shirt, latching onto him like he’s afraid Tony will leave if he doesn’t. As if Tony would ever make that mistake again.

 

“I’m sorry,” Peter whimpers into Tony’s shoulder. Tony shakes his head fiercely, even though he knows Peter can’t see from his position.

 

“Don’t apologize,” Tony orders him. “I’m the one who’s sorry, alright, kid? This is all my fault. All of it.”

 

“Not your fault,” Peter says. “It’s mine.”

 

Tony’s about to argue, but he feels like they’ve played this game before. The blame game in which they both respectively blame themselves, and achieve nothing. This time it feels different though.

 

Tony chokes back a laugh. “You know, just two hours ago we were at each other’s throats trying to blame each other for this mess.”

 

“So you admit it’s my fault.”

 

“I never said that.”

 

“You didn’t object when I did,” Peter points out.

 

If he’s being honest, Tony could care less whose fault it is. The only thing in the world that matters right now is that he’s okay.

 

Strange clears his throat and the two of them instantly flinch. Peter’s arms drop to his side and he looks up. His eyes glitter, awestruck, as he stares up at the doctor.

 

“Should I bring in May and Wanda?” Strange asks Peter. “I think you should be good to see them now—”

 

Peter grabs Strange by the hand, pulling him closer to the side of the bed before throwing his arms around Strange’s neck. Strange fights hard not to smile as he hugs Peter back.

 

“I love you, Mr. Doctor Strange Master of the Mystic Arts, sir!” Peter chirps gleefully.

 

Strange glances over Peter’s shoulder, meeting Tony’s eyes. He mouths, He likes me better than you .

 

Tony’s mouth drops open. He feigns jealousy as Strange innocently turns back to Peter and ruffles the kid’s hair affectionately. “Yeah, love you too, Pete.”

 

Peter pulls back and attaches himself to Strange’s arm. He hums happily. “Mr. Stark, can you let in the others? I’m busy hugging Mr. Doctor Strange for eternity.”

 

“Is this punishment or something?” Strange asks with a scoff. He pretends to scowl while Peter rubs his head against Strange’s elbow, smiling wide.

 

Tony swears he sees Strange’s facade break for a second, light illuminating the doctor’s eyes as he stares down at Peter with wonder, and then the fake bored expression returns to his face.

 

“Unlike you, I don’t find it hard to admit my affections for people.”

 

Tony can’t keep the stupid grin from spreading across his face. My fucking ass , he thinks.


















“So everything worked? Everything, everything’s fine?”

 

May wrings her hands together. At Peter’s side, Strange places a hand on the kid’s shoulder and nods confidently.

 

“Completely dispelled,” Strange says confidently. “He’s not going to have a single problem from now on.”

 

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Peter mumbles, muffling it behind his sleeve. Thankfully, no one hears it.

 

May looks frantically from Strange to Peter. Strange. Peter. Strange again.

 

“You’re sure?” she repeats for about the hundredth time. “Because, you know, because last time we called the shots early…. and the time before that, he ended up not being okay. I don’t wanna have him on a jet halfway to Queens and he suddenly starts puking black—”

 

Peter grimaces thinking about it. “May,” he says, his voice sounding whiny even to his own ears. “May, that’s over. It’s over.”

 

May looks at him with tear-filled eyes. She bites her bottom lip hard, hands shaking at her sides.

 

“You’re still going to be grounded when we get home,” she warns him. “For not telling me anything sooner.”

 

Peter thinks about everything he still hasn’t told her, everything he still hasn’t told her or anyone else. Everything about Tony. Everything about exactly what he saw in his astral plane.

 

He still hasn’t even told Doctor Strange. Granted, it’s only been about an hour, but he glances back around the faces that surround him— May, Wanda, Strange, Shuri, T’Challa, Tony— these are people he trusts.

 

And somehow he still feels like this is something he doesn’t want them to know about. It feels a bit personal, oddly personal. The only other person who knows exactly what’s been going on between him and Tony is, well, Tony.

 

It’s hard to remember that they’re okay now. Because are they even okay? That’s not something you can really clarify at any given point. Peter hugged him, sure, but Tony could still be angry at him. Tony could still yell at him. Tony could grab his wrist hard, sharp bouts of pain shooting up his arm, Tony could scream his face blue, how is Peter supposed to know where they’re at now?

 

What if nothing’s better? What if nothing’s even changed?

 

“—understand? No Spider-Manning for two weeks either!”

 

Peter looks up at May. He blinks a few times. When he looks at her, she’s glaring him down. She looks furious. She looks like she’s finally decided to blame him for everything that he’s done wrong in his life, for everything he deserves to be blamed for.

 

“That’s okay,” Peter hears himself say distantly.

 

May bursts into tears. She sobs, grabbing his shoulders and yanking him forward. He tumbles ungracefully into her arms, right in front of everyone.

 

He should be embarrassed. He should be so embarrassed. He looks around and sees every pair of eyes in the room, staring.

 

“You stupid kid,” May whispers. “God, you stupid, stupid kid—”

 

“Yeah,” Peter laughs. Tears spill down his own eyes and he hadn’t even realized they were there before. “Yeah, I’m a stupid kid.”


















There’s a short period of celebration that precedes everyone’s departure. Strange watches Peter fall into hug after hug. Shuri gives him a fist-bump which escalates quickly into an overly-elaborate handshake that the two share, and then she ends up tackling him into yet another hug anyway. She shouts at him that he’s the boss man. They howl with laughter. Wanda pinches Peter’s cheeks and calls him myshka a thousand times. T’Challa puts a mere hand on Peter’s shoulder and Peter looks like he’s going to faint.

 

When the commotion has mostly died down and everyone simmers away to converse, Peter slinks behind a wall into the open hallway when no one’s looking. Strange observes him.

 

So maybe Strange doesn’t really trust Peter to be completely honest about anything anymore. And maybe that just means Strange has to be more… attentive.

 

He walks into the hallway.

 

Peter’s standing hunched over, one hand against the wall. His face is contorted in pain and he’s wincing, his other hand pressed to his side.

 

“Pete.”

 

Peter looks up like a deer caught in headlights, eyes fearfully locking onto Strange’s. He instantly takes his hand off of his ribs, dropping both of his hands to his sides and straightening, his face regaining its usual cheery expression.

 

“Mr. Doctor Strange Master of the Mystic Arts Timekeeper sir!” Peter says with a smile. “I didn’t see you there—”

 

“You can stop with the act, Pete,” Strange says, and Peter’s smile falters. “What’s wrong with you?”

 

Peter swallows. He shifts his feet. “I just, I—”

 

Peter’s voice suddenly hitches and he makes a small noise of discomfort. His hand flies to his side again. Strange steps carefully forward, fear thrumming in his heart.

 

“Mr. Doctor Strange sir,” Peter says lowly. “I, uh…. so I got a little banged up, in the spirit world or whatever, but I didn’t think…. well, I thought that was just my spirit. I didn’t think it would still hurt in real life.”

 

“How bad?”

 

“I think I might’ve cracked my ribs,” Peter says sheepishly, his eyes falling. “But— but they feel fine, y’know? They just hurt every once in a while, I don’t get it.”

 

“Phantom pains,” Strange explains. “When you get injured in the spiritual world, that pain still exists in your other plane. It’ll pass in a few weeks.”

 

Peter nods somberly. Strange goes to stand beside him, back leaning against the wall.

 

“You always have the answer,” Peter says quietly.

 

Strange turns his head. Peter is looking at him with wide, glittering eyes, his expression completely awestruck.

 

“Mr. Doctor Strange, you know, I’m really glad I have you as a friend? I mean, I can’t even imagine…. if we never met, I’d be dead right now.”

 

“Don’t say that,” Strange says.

 

“I— sorry. Sorry. That’s not— I’m not trying to say…” Peter swallows hard, takes a deep, steadying breath, and looks up again fiercely.

 

“Thank you,” Peter says hoarsely. “For always having the answer. You…. you saved me, you know? You saved the universe, and then you saved me.”

 

“Peter,” Strange says, but Peter keeps talking.

 

“I’m sorry,” the kid repeats. “I— I know I ramble a lot. And I know I’m not the easiest to be around, y’know, I’m really annoying sometimes and I talk too much and… and I know that drives you and everyone else crazy, I’m sorry if this is too awkward, I just wanted you to know that I—”

 

Peter doesn’t get to finish his sentence. Strange has wrapped him into a hug.

 

“Pete, it’s over, alright? You can breathe a little. There’s nothing you need to apologize for,” Strange says. “You’re an incredible kid. I’m proud of you, know that? I’d do all of that again— I’d do all of that for the rest of eternity if it meant saving you.”

 

Peter is silent for once in Strange’s arms. Strange smiles softly into the kid’s shoulder.

 

Finally, Peter speaks:

 

“Remember when you said you’d kill me without question if it came down to me or the time stone? Because I do, and I think about that a lot, Mr. Doctor Strange, and I—”

 

“You and Tony will never let me live that down, huh?”


















They’re going home.

 

Just before they leave, Peter walks into the main room and sees Tony and May sitting on the couch together, whispering. He listens and hears their quiet conversation:

 

“They really didn’t have to.” May.

 

“Yeah, but they did, and they’re gonna skin me alive if he’s not there.” Tony. “May?”

 

“Alright, sure.”

 

Peter steps into the room. Tony and May both swivel their heads around comically to look at him.

 

“Hey, kid, speak of the devil!” Tony says jovially. “Ready to go home?”

 

Peter forces a smile and a nod.

 

Tony and May are both evil, conniving mother hens at heart. The two scheming together is not a good sign.

 

Peter pretends it isn’t suspicious at all as they get onto the jet.


















May gets dropped off.

 

Peter tries to get out of the jet with her, but Tony’s hand is at his shoulder, gently pulling him back.

 

“Actually, I already told May, but I think I’m gonna need your help at the lab tonight.” Tony gives Peter a smile. “What do you say, kid? Wanna spend the night at the compound?”

 

Surprisingly, it’s not an easy choice. Peter wants nothing more than to curl up in his apartment bed and sleep and sleep and sleep , as much as he enjoys being at the compound. But he finds himself saying yes anyway.

 

Peter climbs back into his seat beside Tony. May waves at Peter.

 

“Tony will drop you off tomorrow, sweetie,” May calls. “Love you!”

 

“Love you too,” Peter says as the jet doors close, sealing May’s face off.

 

He stares at the door for a long moment. Beside him, Tony huffs out a sigh and folds his arms over his chest. Wanda’s still asleep in the back of the jet.

 

“How are you feeling, kid?” Tony asks finally.

 

Peter shifts awkwardly. He smiles. “Fine,” he says flatly.

 

The two are silent the rest of the way back to the compound. It’s a short, half-hour ride, but it feels like it lasts a lifetime.

 

A lifetime, sitting here next to Tony Stark, listening to the sound of the jet whir softly as it glides along the clouds.

 

This would be a good, good life.

 

The jet finally lands at the compound. Peter’s ridden on this thing enough times to have grown used to it, but he still tenses up every time the wheels hit the floor and rattle the plane. The jet slows to a stop, and Tony’s already standing up. He gently shakes Wanda awake.

 

Peter follows both of them out. Wanda and Tony talk quietly to each other as Peter keeps a good distance, not bothering to try and listen.

 

They walk in through the main entrance, and Peter trails after Tony and Wanda into the elevator. They watch the elevator doors close together.

 

“So, uh, Mr. Stark,” Peter says. “What was it you needed help with again?”

 

“I have some test drones I wanted you to take a look at down in the lab,” Tony says casually. “Y’know, nothing big. I know you’re pretty good at robotics and stuff, so I thought you might be able to help me out.”

 

Peter nods absently as the elevator goes up. And up.

 

Suddenly his brow furrows.

 

“Wait, Mr. Stark,” Peter says. “The lab is on the second floor.”

 

The elevator dings, stopping at the third. Tony looks at Peter and says nothing as the elevator doors slide open. Beside Tony, Wanda snorts slightly into her sleeve, and Peter doesn’t understand what she’s laughing at.

 

And then he turns his head.

 

The team is standing there, spread out across the room. All of them. Clint, Nat, Steve, Thor, Sam, Bucky, Rhodey, and Bruce— they’re all standing in front of the couch, balloons strung together on either side of them.

 

Peter’s eyes lock on the banner above their heads. Welcome Back.

 

“What?” is the only thing Peter manages to say.

 

“Surprise!” the Avengers say, all out of order and out of sync. Peter can see where multiple balloons have popped and are lying deflated on the floor, can see every spot where the banner has torn and been taped over.

 

This is the best thing he’s ever seen.

 

“What— what is all this?” Peter asks, as Tony and Wanda whisk him into the room. “No, seriously, what is this?”

 

Thor strides forward to grab Peter, lifting him off of his feet in a painfully tight hug. “We are honored to have you back alive, Spider!” Thor booms.

 

Peter squirms, laughing hysterically in the god’s embrace. “What?” he repeats. “I— what?”

 

“It’s a surprise party,” Nat informs Peter with a small smile. “Tony’s been keeping us updated. We thought you might like this when you got home.”

 

Peter has no words to say. Thor puts him down and he just stands there, looking on in awe at the rest of the Avengers. For once in his life, he’s absolutely speechless.

 

Bucky’s the first to finally grimace. “Is it too much?” he asks. “Petey, you can be honest…”

 

“No!” Peter squawks, way too loud. He straightens, regaining his composure, and clears his throat— “I mean, no, it’s— it’s perfect. I… I love it, guys. So much.” His throat tightens and he smiles wider than he has in a long, long time. “Thank you.”

 

It’s the first time in while where everything just seems to make sense. The first time since the war when everyone finally seems to have come together again. Peter is so glad, so glad for Tony, so glad for all the rest of the team and for Shuri and for Ned and MJ and May— he’s so glad, and so unequivocally happy that he has no idea how he even forgot how happy he was in the first place.

 

How could he ever have forgotten how much he was loved?

 

The room falls silent. Finally, Clint breaks it:

 

“Don’t thank us yet,” he says. “We haven’t even given you any of our presents.”

 

“Presents?!”