193 days. Peter had been missing for six months. Tony had searched every day for where he could have been. There was no explanation: one day he just never came home from school. Tony was sure one of Spider-Man’s enemies had discovered his secret, but Toomes was still in jail and he promised he said nothing to anyone. Then Tony had wondered if it was because he could be linked to Tony, but no one ever came demanding money or weapons.
There was never anything. Not even a clue. Even the police had practically given up, listed Peter’s file as another cold case. And Tony couldn’t blame them. Hundreds of people went missing like this; they didn’t have enough manpower to continue searching for each missing person, especially months after they’d gone missing.
Most people thought he was dead. The school even had a memorial for him.
But Tony knew he wasn’t. He knew that if Peter’s light was extinguished from this world, then he would feel
But he didn’t. He still felt like Peter was here. So he didn’t give up. Neither did Rhodey or Happy. They helped him search every day since he went missing. Pepper helped keep May sane through it all. She had lost her husband, and now she thought she had lost her son.
But then they finally caught a break. Tony had gotten desperate enough to run every single person that worked in Peter’s school through his system. For anything. Nothing really clicked until he got to a janitor in Peter’s school lost his 3-year-old son a year ago. It was devastating to read about the toddler running into the street faster than his father could catch him. Nothing really clicked, even though Peter had the same big brown eyes and curly brown hair as the little boy had. Tony really didn’t think anything of it until Happy jumped up and said that he recognized him. The few weeks before Peter went missing, he saw him hanging a little closer around Peter after pick-up.
They didn’t have any concrete evidence, so they couldn’t call the police just yet. They waited for school to be halfway through the school day for them to storm his house. Happy put all of his weight against the front floor and it broke easily. “Three floors,” Tony said. “I’ll get bottom, Rhodey gets main, and Happy gets the top floor.”
He didn’t wait for them to go before he was running right to the stairway that led to the basement. He ran down the stairs, calling out Peter’s name. “Peter! Peter!” He stopped once he was in the basement and looked around at the room. It was painted light blue and there were tons of toys thrown around the floor. Tony hesitated when he saw it all. It looked like a toddler was still living in the apartment. “What the hell…”
There was a sound of chains clanking and his head whipped to follow the sound. And when he saw what he did, he almost cried. There was Peter. Peter was laying on the bed, with chains around his stomach, keeping him tied to the bed.
He hurried over to his side and fell to his knees. Peter was sound asleep...well, Tony hoped he was asleep. His hair was surprisingly soft as Tony ran his hands through his curls. It had grown longer since he’d been gone, falling into his eyes. He was dressed in pajama pants that reminded Tony of the Hello Kitty pajama pants Tony made him wear. Except, these were covered with some other cartoon with a matching t-shirt. That wasn't even the worst. The worst part was the pacifier he had stuck in his mouth.
Tony reached over and was about to rip it out of his mouth, but he hesitated. There had to be a reason why Peter hadn’t pulled it out. Was it rigged to hurt Peter some way if he took it out? Was it physically stuck somehow?
Taking a deep breath, Tony pulled on the pacifier. It didn’t come out easily, but it was because Peter was sucking back on it. Tony frowned and tugged on it hard enough to get it out. He threw it behind him, desperate to get it away from them.
Peter blinked his eyes open and Tony tried not to look as scared as felt. “Hey, bud… you know who I am?”
Peter just continued staring up at him.
“It’s Tony. It’s Mr. Stark.” Tony ran his hands through Peter’s hair, trying to get any recognition in his eyes. There was nothing. He cursed under his breath and pulled out his phone. He texted Rhodey and Happy letting them know he found Peter. They needed to get him out of here before the psycho came back. “You ready to go?”
Peter didn’t answer, but Tony started pulling at the chains around his stomach. He was still tugging at them when Happy and Rhodey came down the stairs. “Tony! Where the hell is he?” The two of them stormed down the stairs until they were at the bottom.
Tony glanced over his shoulder to see them. “He’s chained up. We need to get him out.”
Rhodey was the first to recover and hurried forward. “I don’t know where the keys would be. We’re gonna have to use one of the suits to cut it.”
“I don’t want to hurt him,” Tony said, his eyes on his Peter’s face. His eyes were closed again.
“We’re not. I’ll hold the chains away from him and you cut it.” Rhodey leaned over and lifted the chains away from his stomach. Tony had some of the nanobots from around his hand to make a gauntlet. He sliced through it with finger laser and finally, Peter was free.
“What the fuck?” Happy said, still standing still at the bottom of the steps.
“Hogan, get over here and help us get these off of him!” Rhodey shouted, yanking the chains off, careful enough not to hurt him.
Tony was cupping Peter’s cheek and he said, “Hey, buddy, you need to wake up. We’ve gotta go.”
Peter blinked his eyes open and frowned. “Potty?”
“What the fuck?” Happy repeated again, right behind Tony now.
Tony ignored him because he was just as terrified, but that didn’t mean he was going to show it. “Peter, we’re getting you free. You’re going home.” He lifted him up and Happy hurried to get the other side of him, but even with both of them holding his weight, his legs crumpled underneath him.
“Peter, you’ve got to walk,” Happy said, grunting as he tried to lift him up. He was much lighter than he should be, but still, his dead weight was hard to lift.
“Can’t,” he mumbled, his head lolling on Tony’s shoulder.
“God, how long have you been laying here, Underoos?” Tony asked, leaning down and lifting him up in his arms. Peter immediately wrapped his arms around his neck and his legs around his waist.
Rhodey started looking around the room. “Man, this is...this is some--.”
Tony turned to look at Rhodey and shook his head. Tony didn’t know what the hell went on here exactly, but he had an idea and he knew Peter would probably be embarrassed about it. Rhodey stopped short and continued to look around the room.
“Just get anything that looks like evidence,” Tony said. He hesitated before adding, “And anything we wouldn’t want anyone else to see. Or, Peter wouldn’t want anyone else to see.” Like him laying in a bed sucking a binky in his mouth.
Rhodey nodded his head. “You guys get him out of here. I’ll start looking and call this in. Just get him to the infirmary first. Don’t want anyone else stepping in to take over recovery.”
“Yeah, good idea,” Tony said. He planned on
knowing what the hell was going on unless they absolutely needed to know. These three, May, and Cho. No one else needed to know about it.
“Come on, Tony,” Happy whispered. “I’ll drive us back to the tower.”
Tony nodded his head, following Happy towards the stairs. He avoided stepping on any of the small toys strewn across the floor that he knew Peter never even touched. It was just for show. Some part of this sick man’s illusion. He took one last look at the room; now that a 15-year-old kid wasn’t chained to the bed, it actually looked pretty normal. Tony shivered before turning back around and following Happy all the way up the stairs.
For the first time in 6 long months, Peter was off that bed and out of that basement. Tony smiled and whispered close to his ear, “Good to have you back, Pete.”
Peter had fallen asleep the moment Tony had him on the bed in the infirmary. He had Cho alerted of the situation before he arrived so she was ready. She took his blood, ran a few tests, hooked some IVs into him and now he was fast asleep.
She had no answers for anything yet. It was too early. So all Tony could do was sit by his bedside. Until Happy came in. “We’ve got the sick bastard. Wanna come watch Rhodey interrogate him?”
Tony looked over at Peter one last time before standing up and following him out. “I’m not allowed in there, I’m guessing.”
“Rhodey doesn’t want you killing him. Even if he deserves it.” Happy huffed, not sounding any happier about it. He could pretend all he wanted, but Tony had been by his side since Peter first went missing and he was torn up by what happened. He loved Peter just as much as the rest of them did.
“He definitely deserves it,” Tony muttered as they walked into a small room with a one-way window that they could look through. He saw Rhodey standing by the table with his arms crossed as he glared down at the janitor. He was still wearing his uniform from work as he sat there and begged Rhodey to let him go.
“Please, sir! My son is home alone. He’ll get scared if I”m not back when I’m usually back.”
Peter. He was talking about Peter.
“Your son died, Mr. Wallace. He died seven months ago.”
Wallace shook his head frantically. “No! He didn’t!”
Rhodey smacked his hand against the table making Wallace flinch. “Care to tell me why you had a 15-year-old kid chained to a bed in your basement?”
“H-He’s three. He was born on July 13, 2013.” Wallace looked down at his lap, rocking a few times. “He’s only three.”
“He’s 15! You kidnapped him and chained him to that bed for six months!” Rhodey roared, smacking his hand against the table again.
Wallace whimpered and said quickly, “He wasn’t chained! He just can’t walk. There was an accident. He can’t walk, but I take care of him. I take such good care of him.”
Tony felt sick just listening to this. In another circumstance, maybe he would have felt sorry for the man that was so destroyed by the death of his toddler he’d gone insane. But not now. Not when he stole Peter from them.
Rhodey’s voice softened only slightly. “He died that day. Your son is gone.”
“No, no, no,” Wallace started to mutter. “He’s fine! Just let me go home and I’ll show you. He naps when I’m at work and then I get home. I need to go home. Liam is probably looking for me.” He looked towards the door and yanked on the chains around his wrists.
“His name isn’t Liam. It’s Peter. And he’s not your son.”
“N-No. Liam is fine. I saved him. I brought him home.”
Rhodey heaved a sigh and took a seat. “Fine. Let’s say that was Liam...can you answer a few questions for me?”
Wallace looked up again, nodding his head. “Of course.”
“Did you hurt him when he was in that bed? Did you hurt him in any way?”
“Oh, no! Of course not! I love Liam. Why would I hurt my son?” Tony believed him.
“Then would you care to explain why my team food small Tupperware filled with pureed food--.”
“Yes, I know. Would you like to explain why we found drugs in those foods? Why were you drugging your son if you didn’t want to hurt him?”
“I wasn’t drugging him! His doctor gave me those prescriptions. He said that they would help with the pain. And at first, Liam never liked sitting still. He always wanted to go run. But I told him he couldn’t go running again. Last time he went running, he got hurt. I mix the medicine with his food to help.”
his food to keep a kidnapped child from running away.” Rhodey said, shoving back his chair as he stood up.
“I have the prescriptions! Just let me go home and get them for you.”
Rhodey ignored him as he walked towards the door and out of the room. Wallace continued to scream and even cry for Liam. Tony shut off the audio when he couldn’t bear to hear it.
“God,” Happy breathed. “I’ve seen this shit on TV. Never thought it would happen in real life. Not to Peter.”
Tony wasn’t sure what to say, so he kept his mouth shut.
Rhodey came into the room, not looking as pissed and scary as he did in the room with Wallace. He looked crushed. “I never want to do that again. Poor guy lost his kid seven months ago and for all he knows, he just lost him all over again.”
“He kept Peter drugged,” Tony said in a low voice because that’s all his mind could focus on. Just the thought of Peter fighting that man. Holding back like he always did, especially because he knew the janitor. How did Wallace even get the drop on him? Did Peter ever get close to getting out of that basement before the man started drugging him three times a day? Did he wonder when Tony was going to come save him?
“Yeah...we sent the samples to Cho so she can figure out what they are exactly and how they affect Peter’s body.”
“He’s addicted to them,” Tony said, remembering his days of spending his nights with drugs and alcohol. “Every day for seven months? The poor kid is going to go through withdrawals.”
“Yes,” Rhodey agreed. “But he's going to get better. We have no reason to believe that Peter was physically or sexually assaulted in that basement. That’s a good sign.”
“He wasn’t assaulted, he was only chained to a fucking bed and treated like a fucking toddler,” Happy scoffed, rolling his eyes.
“I didn’t say everything was perfect. There are just two fewer things to worry about.”
“Well at least with those two, we know where to start with recovery. I don’t know the protocol for this one.”
“Just like any other recovery,” Tony answered, sick of listening to them argue. “We go in there and we just stand right by his side. We stand there and we stay until he’s better. We do whatever we need to do to help him feel better. There’s nothing else we can do.”
Tony hadn’t meant his words so literally, but that’s exactly what they did. They took turns sitting in chairs by his bed (May the only one constantly there) and waited for a sign of change. For days, Peter laid there and barely moved. On rare occasions, he would open his eyes and let out low whines.
Cho said they were trying to wean him off the drugs Wallace had coursing through his veins. It would take some time. They had a feeding tube in him, IV giving him water, and even a tube to handle the bathroom. Peter was barely doing anything for himself except fighting the withdrawals.
One night Peter woke the medbay with his screams. May attempted to console him as he thrashed in bed, ripping out a few IVs. Tony hated the relief he felt when he heard Peter screaming his name. He went over to his side, grabbed his hand and promised him he was right there and he wasn’t leaving any time soon.
He would make sure to keep that promise, even if it took another seven months before he was able to get out of this bed.
Thankfully, it wasn't that long before Peter was coherent enough to realize what was going on around him. He was still slower than normal because the drugs had muddled his brain good and he needed physical therapy to build up the muscles in his legs from disuse.
He seemed okay mentally though. A little too okay for Tony to believe. Cho told him that it was plausible. Peter's mind could have pushed away the memories or he could just not have remembered it because of all the drugs going through his system.
As the weeks passed, he slowly started to get better. He stopped whining when he needed something like food or to use the restroom. His stomach was able to handle more than light foods. He could walk around the infirmary without any assistance.
He still had nightmares every so often, but Tony wasn't surprised at that. He still had nightmares over things he went through.
Tony also still caught him raising his thumb to his mouth ever so often. When he was tired or anxious, usually. Cho said it was just the muscle memory of it, but Peter never pulled his finger out until he caught Tony staring at him.
Tony just wanted to understand what was really going on in Peter's mind during this recovery. But how he found out was not the way he wanted to.
Peter was out of the infirmary finally, but staying at the tower in his room. Peter still wasn't back to normal just yet and Tony hadn't even thought about the story they were going to tell. Peter was thought to be dead, they mourned him.
They needed some kind of excuse as to why Peter had disappeared and then reappeared. One that didn't involve Wallace. The only person that knew outside of their small circle and was sworn to secrecy was Ned. Tony had been hesitant, but Peter had begged and he caved. So far, the kid had kept their secret.
May had a room in the tower too, right next to Peter's. At first, she had camped out on the couch in Peter's rook night after night, but Peter after her not to. He wanted some space and privacy after everything that had happened. Tony couldn't blame him.
He was working in the lab until early hours in the morning and when he walked down the hall past Peter's room, something stopped him. Not physically. But something had Tony's mind saying:
go in and see him.
So he did.
He didn't knock because he assumed Peter would be asleep by now. However, when he opened the door and stepped inside, he heard him whimpering softly. Tony's heart broke and he wanted to run over there and comfort him, but he also didn't want to alarm him.
So he took slow steps over to him until he walked around the bed and was on the side Peter was curled up and facing. The light on Peter's bedside table was still on, so Tony could see his face clearly. His eyes were squeezed closed and his cheeks were glistening with tear tracks. He was biting his bottom lip so harshly, there was a small trail of blood dripping down his chin.
Tony opened his mouth to say Peter's name, but a memory had him snapping his mouth shut. A memory from one of the first nights that they had Peter home. He had woken up screaming from a nightmare and no one could calm him down. Not even May. Tony wasn't sure how he thought of the idea, but when he had tried it, it worked. His stomach turned and he had said in a soft voice, "Calm down, Liam. It's okay." And Peter settled down with only a few whimpers.
Tony hoped it wouldn't be like that this time. "Peter, are you okay?"
Peter's eyes immediately snapped open and he started to wipe the tears from his cheeks. "M-Mr. Stark, I didn't hear you come in."
Tony felt a wave of relief when he realized Peter was...Peter. “Just came to say goodnight. Did you have a nightmare?” He said on the edge of the bed and rubbed Peter’s arm gently.
“No.” Peter shook his head, going back to gnawing on his bottom lip.
Tony sighed. Did Peter really thinking he could fool Tony when he was still obviously shaken up from whatever was in his dream? “You don’t have to lie to me, bud. It’s okay to have nightmares.”
“No. I didn’t have a nightmare. I haven’t even fallen asleep yet.”
Peter was just laying here crying for hours. That was worse than the nightmares.
“Do you want to talk about what’s on your mind?”
Peter hesitated and for a moment, Tony thought Peter wasn’t going to answer him. But by some miracle, he did. “I remember it. Most of it is all scrambled from the drugs, but the beginning, I remember it all.”
Tony feared exactly that. He hoped it would stay repressed in his mind. “I’m sorry it took so long, Peter. We tried to find you, but we didn’t even think to look--.”
“It was so humiliating,” he whispered, his voice cracking. “He treated me like a baby. He wouldn’t let me talk besides for small words. He made me call him D-Dad. He called me Liam, his baby. I just had to lay there and let him feed me and carry me to the bathroom and wash me.”
Tony knew all of that. Everyone had a feeling about what happened in that room. No one told them, but they weren't stupid. They could put it all together from seeing Peter in that room and how he was acting. for weeks afterward. Tony knew he had to have gone through some shit, but he never knew for sure. “That wasn’t your fault and no one blames you.”
“It was so humiliating,” Peter sobbed, reaching out for his hand. “But after everything that happened-- even as it was happening, I still-- I still felt bad for him. I still do.”
Tony held onto him in the best attempt he could make at a hug while Peter was laying down and Tony was sitting up. “Because you’re a good kid.” Peter felt bad for every villain because to him, no one was ever evil without a reason to be. There was always something making them act on and Peter believed everyone could see the light again.
“No...I feel bad because I did the same exact thing that he did.”
Tony frowned. “Um, unless you’ve got a kid chained up in the basement to replace your dead son, you didn’t do the exact same thing he did, bud.”
“He lost his son. He was just trying to get him back,” Peter said. “He thought that replacing him would make it hurt less. I did the same thing to you. I used you to replace my uncle. How can I be upset at him when I did the same thing?”
Tony ran his fingers through Peter’s hair. His curls weren’t soft; they were sweaty and greasy. Peter hadn’t liked showering or bathing since he’d been back. They had to force him to most times. Tony wouldn’t be so quick to bathe if it just brought back memories of being washed by some stranger. “You did not do the same thing at all. Do you call me Ben?”
Peter shook his head. “No. Of course not.”
“Because you’re not acting like him. You know I’m not your Uncle Ben. You don’t try to force me to be someone I’m obviously not.” Tony continued to comb his curls methodically. “And I guess you could say I do the same thing.”
“What?” Peter looked up at him, his confusion distracting him from his lip chewing.
“I see you as my kid. You became my kid. Not the one I lost, but the one I never had.”
“Of course. You’re my kid. Which means that I want to help you. You don’t have to go through all of this alone. You don’t have to hide these feelings. It’s okay to go to someone for help. You went through a lot, Peter.”
“He didn’t even hurt me. I’ve been tortured as Spider-Man. This shouldn’t have knocked me down for so long.”
Tony picked the blanket up off of Peter and got into the bed next to him. “This was a type of torture in of itself, buddy. You went through hell for seven months.”
Peter curled up against his side and held onto him tightly. “I just wish there was a way to get him his kid back...for real. It’s not fair.”
Of course, the kid was more worried for Wallace. “We’re going to get him the help he needs, Pete. But let’s worry about you for now, yeah?”
“I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me.”
“I always worry about you, kid. But I worry even more when you’re suffering and you hide it.” Tony looked down at Peter and used the pad of his thumb to wipe the blood off of his chin.
“I don’t want to run and cry to anyone. I’ve been treated like a baby for the past six months. I don’t want you guys to think I’m acting like one now that I’m finally home.”
“You’re not acting like a baby because you ask for help, Peter. And I promise you that no one is going to treat you like a baby. You’re 15. Not 3. We all know that. No one blames you at all. We just want to help you.”
Peter hid his face in Tony’s chest as he let out another sob. “I’m just...really embarrassed.”
“You shouldn’t be. I’ve done so much worse on my own will. Just ask Happy or Rhodey.”
Peter shook his head. “They look at me different ever since.”
Tony couldn't deny that, but he also couldn’t blame them. Tony was having trouble himself with this entire situation. “Tomorrow we’ll talk to them and straighten all this out. But for tonight, you have to sleep. You need your rest.”
“I’m afraid to sleep. Every time I fall asleep, I feel like I’m back in that basement, chained to the bed.” Peter whispered.
“I promise you’re not back there. You’re never going back there. I’ve got you, bud.”
“Promise?” Peter’s voice was still a low whisper.
“Of course, I do, kid. I just got you back. I’m not losing you again.”