Actions

Work Header

when I am...

Work Text:

Tony Stark stares at a flap of fabric, red and blue and white and brilliant and thinks, Should be faded by now . He knew it wouldn’t be, but it makes him feel faded. Makes him feel everyone of the doubleyears he’s earned since he walked away. He shudders, the strange, other-world air slipping through some crack he can’t see.

He doesn’t want to be here. He needs to leave. He did leave. He left, and the Master told him to stay gone. The Widow is going to murder him. Them. The baby in his arms yawns, shifts, and Tony tightens his hold, shielding this infant from the wind.

Another small hand pats his hip and Tony looks down at firewood-eyes and a crown of oaky curls. He shakes his head. He hates this plan.

Peter pats his hip harder, demanding.

Tony nods, and the kid, the boy who should’ve grown, takes off. Peter moves with ease, breaking into the shield Captain and the Wizard stitched around this place. He scuttles quickly in the shadows, climbs the poles and leaps, scoping out a path, scoping out a plan.

Tony shifts only when Peter’s fingers flicker in the night, Tony’s gloves glowing.

They move that way until Peter sits atop the Captain’s tent, head cocked and almost invisible. He finds a loose strip of cloth, climbs down it slowly, hanging upside down for a moment. His brows are furrowed. Tony doesn’t like that look. Peter’s never uncertain.

Peter opens his mouth to say something, but Tony’s mouth is suddenly covered by thick hands and he’s pulled into the tent, and it’s only pure instinct that protects the boy hidden in his arms.

The Captain holds a knife to his throat. “You shouldn’t be here, TinMan. The Master wouldn’t approve.”

“Cut the crap, Steve,” Tony sneers. “Even outside we’ve heard rumors the Master’s vanished.” The knife presses harder, and Tony feels more than hears Peter creep to his side. Steve glances at him, then behind him.

“You of all people should know the danger of rumors, Tony,” Captain says. On some invisible signal, he releases Tony, steps back.

Metal fingers curl too tight around Tony’s chin, jerk his face. They trace around his lashes, and a soft, raspy voice scoffs, “You’ve got lines around your eyes, Tony. I see the outside hasn’t been kind to you.”

Tony’s jaw is released, and beside him, Peter gasps as metal fingers yank him from the shadows. Tony steps, to get between them, but Steve’s back with the knife at his neck.

“The rules, Tony,” Captain speaks quiet and firm. “You leave, you don’t come back.”

“What you did to Liza was wrong,” Tony hisses. Peter flinches, perhaps at his tone, perhaps because of the Master’s bruising grip.

Tony gets quiet and the Captain stares him down. “The Widow said,”

Peter speaks then, his voice barely a whisper, “The Widow lied, and you all know it. Anyhow, Tony brought an offering.”

The Master studies Peter, too small, bruise-eyes ancient. “And you, Spider? What do you bring?”

“A curse and a promise,” Peter answers. “And maybe a solution, but that hinges on Tony’s offering.”

The Master finally releases him, eyes intent on Peter even as he owns his hands towards Tony. “Give me the infant. Tell me what you have.”

Peter shivers, watching Tony pass the small child over, watching Bucky cradle him gently. He forgets, sometimes, that Bucky lives inside the Master’s mind. That Bucky can be so careful, so caring.

“Clint. We named him Clint. He can’t hear, but the,” he stalls a second, eyeing the men around him, “ Wizard led us to him. I can,” Peter cuts himself off, glancing at Tony who nods. “Like before, shadows and warnings. Tony’ll fix the gadgets and the displays, and work on the shield. If we can find our way back, so can others. So can people who shouldn’t find it in the first place.”

Captain quirks his lips, already calculating their value and weighing it against the much larger risk. But he defers to the Master, if out of respect. “What makes you think Clint means anything to me? That he’ll buy your way back in?”

“Because the Witch already told you that he’s coming,” Peter slinks up to Bucky, taps his chest. “Your heart, a way out of the curse. She saw it comin’ after the Wizard told her where to look, and we’ve brought it to you, and you need us.” He looks at Tony, at the quiet anger radiating from a lined and thinning face. “More importantly, we need you, and you’ve never turned away anyone who needs you.”

No one speaks in the tent for a long time. Three faces study the Master, watch him as careful, fleshy fingers trace over pale skin. The baby, Clint , yawns a wide open thing, snuggles into Bucky’s metal arm and smiles a little. He opens blue-cotton eyes, and everyone holds their breath, but Clint just grins wider and reaches up to tug at Bucky’s tied-back hair.

The Captain can see the decision in the Master’s eyes, and he slumps against his desk with a heavy sigh.

“Take him to Amalia and Teddy. Leave him in a basket, with a blanket. Let them think… whatever they come up with. No one else knows how Clint arrived. You two get your old tent, and we’ll try to sort Peter’s age. Nothing can be done for you, Tony. Except maybe stopping it. But you two stay in the background, in the shadows. Don’t you dare touch Clint, don’t you dare affect his path.”

The Master hands the baby back to Tony and leaves, and that ends the discussion.

They argue over how best to leave Clint at the tent flap. Peter doesn’t think Tony understands his skills. Tony doesn’t want the baby in the cold.

“It’s not even winter yet!” Peter finally says, high and shrill, and he hates his voice, how young it is.

Tony looks at him, hard. “It isn’t like you to be cruel, Peter. Or am I speaking to the Spider?”

Peter steps back, hurt and shame hot on his neck and he kicks the dirt with his scuffed sneakers. “Look, you put him in the basket and I’ll do what I do. They’ll wake up, unsure of why, and when they go to investigate, they’ll find him. Trust me,” Peter says, “Teddy’ll investigate and they’ll take him.” He traces a finger over Clint’s ear, broken, like all of the Master’s toys are in someway. “He’ll have a fine home here, Tony. Better than us, anyway.”

Tony doesn’t respond to that. He leans down and begins swaddling Clint in the rose-colored blanket Peter stole for him. Steve has given them an old, woven basket, and Tony is pleased at how much space there is. The hay fills it nicely and Clint will be warm and comfortable until he is found. Tony glances up, and Peter is already gone, skittering across the tents.

Tony heads towards Amalia and Teddy’s home, uncomfortable at how little this place has changed in twelve-ish decades.

By the time he reaches their home, Peter is perched one tent over, crouched low and watching. He wiggles his fingers, and Tony’s gloves light up and his chest feels warm. An apology, then, not a signal. He ignores it. Peter can work off his timing for once. He slinks froward, silent in the night and carefully places Clint right against the fabric. He steps back, then thinks better and moves the baby back half a foot, just to be safe.

Tony’s not even win the shadows when Peter leaps across the open space and lands on the tent. The fabric barely rustles and Tony can see as he frowns. He must’ve meant to land harder . Instead he finds a support pole and balances on it. He arches on his toes and bounces, just a little. It’s enough. The whole tent frame rattles, fabric rustling heavy. Peter whistles high and sharp, almost silent, a long note he holds well past a bird’s call. His arm tingles, phantom sensation from the connection he shared with Peter, about the time the candle is lit below the Spider’s feet, glow echoing dimly through the fabric.

Peter goes absolutely quiet, slinks down until he’s stretched across the pole, upside down, watching the entrance. Tony watches both of them.

Teddy’s dark face peaks between it, and as if planned, Clint lets out a wail that spooks even Peter. He nearly loses his grip, but Teddy’s already picking the baby up, whispering to Amalia, and Peter flips, lands quietly, and seeks Tony out.

“He should be safe now,” Peter says, tapping Tony’s chest just to watch it glow.

Tony eyes the now candle-lit tent, watches the shadows moving about. Amalia gentley craddeling the boy he’s been carrying for weeks now. “No one is ever safe here, Pete. You should know that.”

“Better than anyone,” Peter says. He taps Tony’s chest again, until the older man’s skin crawls in shiny red and gold, “But we’re going to fix that. C’m’along.” He slips into the night, feet never having forgotten the path home .

It doesn’t take any time at all to stop Tony’s aging. After all, the Show was always meant to halt the aging at peak performance. They wait a few months, to see if maybe it’ll reverse some of the years.

It has before, they know. Or, the rumors claim it has. And rumors might be tricky but there’s always a splash of truth in the sour drink of whispers.

But Tony still wakes stiff each morning and his lined face only fills out some, because they finally have meals every day . Peter spits at the golden glow hidden in their tent. A Wizard’s spell in a Scientist cage; they were always warned that nothing on this earth was infallible.

“It’s because he stole it,” Peter curses. “The Wizard took from gods and made it mortal and this power shouldn’t be .”

Tony waves him away. “Everything can be fixed, Peter. Everything. We’ll sort you out. You’ll see.” He keeps his back to Peter so he cannot see his hands shake.

He isn’t lying. Not exactly, but he can feel Peter’s pulse in his chest, fidgety and fluttery and young in inexplicable ways. “We’re going to fix you, Pete,” he whispers, eyes already focused on the Master’s secret, the golden orb that keeps the show alive.

“It used to be green,” Peter says. Tony half glances at him, nodding.

“Was when we left, anyway,” Tony says.

“No,” Peter answers, “before that. When the Scientist,” He hesitates. He has secrets even Tony doesn’t know and he isn’t sure he’s ready to reveal them. Tony glances at him, so he finishes his story with, “the Scientist broke things first.” He hates the child’s voice, petulant and high, that leaves his chest. It should be deeper now.

A lot of things should be different now.

They aren’t allowed near Clint. That was one of the conditions. But the Master never told Peter to avoid the Widow.

“Bucky thought you’d be smart enough to do it on your own,” Tony snarks at him.

“You should refer to him as the Master. Playing with the Captain and the Master as if you know them, as if you are friends , is far more dangerous than spying on a grieving assassin,” Peter says. He’s hanging from a wire in their tent, spinning slowly, handing Tony tools.

“We are friends,” Tony tells him. He takes a screwdriver and stabs it into the light, watching the sparks change. Peter snorts and hands him a hammer and Tony rolls his eyes.

“You were friends. A very, very long time ago in a much, much different world,” Peter says quiet. He drops from his wire and heads towards the flap, towards his watch. His skin hasn’t stopped crawling in weeks, and he’s losing weight because of the nausea. But he has nothing to give the Captain, no lead for the Master yet.

“We all were, Peter,” Tony says. He taps his chest, the wires that keep him alive, that connect him to Peter glowing, tingling in the Spider’s chest. “Friends. We were all friends.”

He’s wrong, but Peter doesn’t tell him. He throws his sticky webbing at a tent and takes off, bouncing between curtains until he’s one tent from the Widow’s. He can hear her inside, snarling and ranting, can almost see the foam about her mouth. He whistles once, a split second noise, but she stills, head cocked.

Peter lingers on his perch until the sun peaks over the edge of the world. The Widow emerges from her tent then, as she has every morning they’ve played this game. She lifts a claw-tipped hand and waves at him, her smile bland and dreamy. But her fingers drip with black sludge, a cruel reminder.

Peter bares his teeth in a mock snarl, flips down to the ground when the silent bullet rings past his ear.

“You can’t watch me forever, Spiderling,” her raspy whisper drifts through morning air.

“I can try,” Peter warns her.

He can, but he still has his limitations. The Master knows this, and tells him as much when Peter tries to warn him. “You’ve not been sleeping, Spiderling. Not been eating. TinMan worries about you.”

“Tony worries about everyone,” Peter says, head bowed. “It’s what he does.”

The Master shrugs. He’s distracted, and there’s blood on his boots. Fresh blood, and Peter frowns. “Clint?”

He knows better than to ask, and metal fingers curl too tight around his throat. “He’s not safe here. What ever you and TinMan thought you were bringing, all you’ve ‘gifted’ me is a liability.”

Peter’s eyes water and he chokes. His fingers claw at the Master’s arm, then at his own chest.

His skin vibrates, Tony’s experiment rendering the Master’s arm useless. He drops to the ground gracelessly.
“TinMan has new tricks,” the Master hisses. He toes at Peter, curled on the ground, smearing the blood into Peter’s only clean shirt.

“The Widow,” Peter starts, but the Master steps on his chest.

“We took her Pet, her Scientist,” even the Master pauses, “the Show rejected her Scientist. She’s harmless.”

Peter spits into the dirt, mucus and disdain. “You’re just as blind now as you were before. She’ll turn on you. I can feel it.”

The Master digs his heel in, and Peter’s vision spots, but he says, “I’ve grown an inch. How tall is Clint now? It’s working, the boy. He’s bringing order back. But we still have to find the broken link, or it’s gonna bring us all down.”

He’s kicked from the tent, hard. Before his vision blurs out though, he taps his chest, the little implant, and curls up. Tony will find him. Tony always does.

Peter wakes with a start, skin on fire and clawing at his chest. Tony is on top of him, hands pulling at Peter’s wrist, pinning him to their cot and trying to hold him still. His mouth is moving, but Peter can’t hear anything. He can’t hear a goddamned thing.

His eyes are wide, tears staining the firewood gaze and when he can breath again he says, “It’s begun Tony. We’re too late. We’re all going to burn.”

His body aches. Not the growing pains he’s suffered the last few years. God he hates puberty worse the second time, but it’s almost done. Tony swears. He holds Peter, when Peter’s breathing slows and he can sit up without vomiting. Peter’s still shorter than him, smaller. But his shoulders have broadened and his weight is heavy.

Tony’s hands are hesitant across his back, and Peter sighs, crawls off the cot and heads towards a cage that glows a sickly color and picks up a hammer. “You said you were okay with it.”

Tony doesn’t leave the bed, watching Peter bang against a light that shouldn’t be solid. “I watched you grow up, Peter. And then I watched you grow… down. And now I’m watching you fill out again and it’s just… Christ, Peter.  For a long time you were a kid . People thought you were my son.”

“But I’m not!” Peter says. “I’m not your son! I’m your, I’m,” and his shoulders shake and he beats the Wizard’s light until he can’t lift his arm anymore. “Here’s the problem, Tone. We’ve a Wizard who stole from the gods and abandoned us. A Master who just wanted to be safe, to protect those he could.  A poison that hides in the daylight, and a relationship we can’t define because you took a deal you never should have.”

Tony stands up, walks over and places a hand on Peter’s shoulder, carefully pulling the hammer from his grip. “We are what we were when we left, Peter. Two kids afraid and alone, trying to make it. And I didn’t take a deal. I took a lifeline. Whatever it cost to save us both, I’d do it a million more times.”

Peter turns and stares into eyes as old as his. “But we aren’t kids, Tony. We haven’t been since the Show kicked us out.” He kisses Tony’s jaw, startling him, giving Peter a chance to push around him. “I need to go see the damage. You need to make that engine purr.” He taps his chest, turns off his implant and he hears Tony whine with loss. He knows how much Tony hates when Peter does that. But he’s been lost before, in a world much bigger than the Show. Tony’ll find him if he needs too.

Peter is always a half step behind the Widow. There to snuff the flames but not prevent them.

It’s Liza all over. He can feel her body in his small hands, can see her eyes go white and the black sludge spilling out of her mouth. He had too. He had too he reminds himself.

Because the Widow made Liza dangerous. Taught her how to dance between the acts and the crowds. Taught her how to be invisible even to the Master.

He can feel Liza’s fingers along his skin and hear her laughter bubble as the Show tilts sideways. The smell of flesh decaying, the sight of people throwing up their insides; he can’t tell what is dream and what is memory anymore.

He liked Liza. But he followed her and he saw what she was capable of and for months his skin crawled. Tony promised him the Master would sort it.

The Master didn’t. Peter did.

Now Peter crawls to the Master when the night is dark and Tony’s body is curled into the blankets.

“Would you make the same choice now,” the Master asks him when Peter pukes before his boots. “Knowing what it cost you?”

Peter’s hands shake and he offers a single scrap of cloth to the Master, ignoring the question. “She cannot burn. Liza could, did, but the Widow has made herself fireproof.”

The Master takes the cloth, turns it in his hands, twisting. “Clint suspects her too.”

“Clint asked questions he shouldn’t have,” Peter says. “Funny, your boy. Little Arrow, pointing towards…” Home. Hope. Something else.

“Is it true there is grey in Tony’s beard?” The Master asks. He helps Peter stand, offers him water to rinse his mouth, and his voice is soft, gentle, sorry .

“No. Well, yes. But only because he stopped hiding it. We’ve almost fixed the Wizard’s curse. But we’ve done all we can.” Peter eyes the Master, looks at him hard. “The curse has always hinged on you. Until you sort out this,” He taps the Master’s chest and isn’t at all surprised when he isn’t shoved away. “Until you do what the Wizard commanded, the Show is never going to be okay again.”

The Master sighs, bluegrass eyes fading in the moonlight, and he nods. “I’m working on it. You work on your thing.”

Peter nods and turns to leave. Before the flap shuts behind him he says, “I would. Because if you can do something, and you don’t, and then bad things happen…”

“It’s your fault.”

The fires keep burning and Peter’s hands are blistered on the palms and Tony’s afraid to touch him.

He makes a decision. “I have to go to the Witch, Tony.”

Tony goes very still, where he’s pounding away at an almost-green glow. “No.” His voice is firm.

Peter sighs. “I have to. There’s no other way.”

“She broke us, Peter. And if you go to her,” Tony’s voice doesn’t tremble but he’s clenching the tool so tight Peter wonders if the metal will bend. “You go to her and you don’t sleep in my bed tonight.” It’s a cruel ultimatum, but one Peter was prepared for.

“I need to watch the Widow anyway,” he says. He still leans up to kiss Tony’s stubble as he passes. Tony doesn’t flinch. He stopped weeks ago. He turns away from it though, hand pressed to his shirt, fingers digging in, and Peter feels their connection goes silent. That cuts more than being kicked from his home, but he was prepared for that too.

He walks to the Witch’s tent, instead of bouncing across tents. The air is cool and it’s nice, and he can see the impossible swirling stars above them. Part of him wonders how much the world beyond the Show has changed. He knows better than to ask that out loud, though.

When he reaches the Witch’s home he lets his steps go silent and slinks up to the entrance, fingers gently prying it open enough peer inside.

The Witch sits cross legged on a mattress she probably stole, her brother’s head in her lap. She’s quietly humming something, carding her fingers through his silver hair.

He has his face tucked into her stomach. Peter would think he was asleep if he couldn’t see the fingers sometimes dancing along her knee.  

He hates it, their casual intimacy. Hates the way it rots between the knobs of his spine, hates that Tony won’t with him anymore.

“It is rude, Spiderling, to spy on those unawares,” the Witch’s voice is amused and Peter lets himself be led too quickly into the tent. He can’t even tell Pietro has moved.

“You knew,” Peter intones. But he smiles and kisses her cheek, and Pietro’s just because.

“Why do you come, Spiderling?” Pietro asks, rubbing his cheek.

“I need your gift, Wanda,” Peter gently request.

She furrows her brows. “What illusion could possibly help you now, Spiderling?”

He shakes his head. Pietro sits up, pale skin gone grey. “No. You ask too much.”

Wanda’s hands glow red, but she doesn’t dislodge her brother. “I have not done the DreamSpeak since…”

“Since you broke me and Tony,” Peter finishes.

Pietro curses in his old language and Peter holds up his hands. “You did more to help us than we expected, and it mostly worked out. You warned us that kind of magic was not yours, and there were risks. And we took them.”

Wanda studies him, his ancient eyes and his fresh, acne-riddled face. “Did it work at all, Spiderling?”

Peter gives her a desperate smile, “We’re still alive, aren’t we?”

Pietro doesn’t seem interested in their reunion. “Why must she DreamSpeak for you?”

Peter shifts and Pietro is suddenly at his side. “You risk much, Spiderling, you and your TinMan. We are already unsafe, and you have us do this for you?” Pietro dances around Peter, a silver blur that’s making him dizzy. “Why should we?”

Pietro is suddenly caught in a red blur. “Brother, be kind to our friend. He has suffered much and he lets us be,” Wanda’s eyes are hard despite the softness of her voice. “I do this for you, Spiderling, because the Show demands it. But do not ask for this again.”

“I’m not a Spiderling anymore,” is Peter’s reply. “And I need to know what is real, what is the Show, and what is poison.”

The Witch nods at him, then motions to the mattress. “Pietro, if you would.”

“I want no part of this, Wanda,” he hisses.

Wanda bares her teeth, “We want no part in many things, but we do what we must.”

They have a conversation Peter can’t interpret, doesn’t even want to from the rage between their eyes, but Pietro slumps against the mattress, settles Peter’s head in his lap, held tight between his knees. He presses Peter’s shoulders into the blankets.

Wanda pulls a chair to her with the red glow and sits. Together she and Pietro begin a lullaby, melodic and low and foreign until Peter is caught between sleep and not, only a little aware of the hands on his skin, the glow about his skull.

He finds himself on a sunny beach, watching Tony laugh. Tony’s faceis soft, round, the beginnings of facial hair only just marring his tan skin. Peter wants to lick the sweat pooling in the hollow of his neck. He almost remembers the flavor, he thinks. But then something is off, Tony doesn’t stop laughing and Peter can’t move forward.

He knows, distantly, that the red-tinge about his world isn’t natural, but he doesn’t care. He can hear chanting, a heavy tongue, and he panics. Tony is blurring from his vision, the world is on fire.

He’s back at the Show, but the one from before. He and Tony are cowering in the dust, watching the Scientist's skin melt from his bones, watching the mottled-green flesh that takes its place. Everyone is screaming. His hands are in Tony’s chest, in it . Bone and muscle and fat gleaming as Tony gurgles. All they have are copper wires and flecks of tin. Tony is saying something. Peter knows the words, absently. He watches himself and Wanda stitch the hole in Tony with scrap metal and magic.

The image blurs, and Liza stands there, watching. Ice-eyes laugh and Peter frowns. Impossible . But she’s got the spark in her hands and the Scientist shuffled her away. Hides her away. His skin goes green, Jekyll and Hyde. He pounds his own excitement and the sparks dance and Peter holds Tony again, his chest ripped open.

Wanda makes him watch it again and again, until Peter can pull the two versions apart. Until he can watch a little ballerina set a spark, watch the Scientist’s horrified face even as he covers the tracks.

The world lurches. Peter’s in a park, fragrant snow falling. Not snow, petals. It’s cold. Two memories converged. Tony, older and Peter’s body shrinking. The red glow fades from Tony’s skin, pours itself into Peter and it hurts. He can’t find Tony. He lost him in the crowd, too small to keep his hand with bodie shoving him around. He needs the bench, the warmth, Tony’s oily, menthol smell. He feels his body arch and Pietro shove him down.

“Not there, Wanda,” Pietro says.

The work spins and Peter is watching the Scientist fall apart. The Master is there, aware of Peter in the shadow but uncaring. “You must choose. This life or that. You cannot go between them both. It makes you sick, breaks us.”

“She won’t let me take Liza,” the Scientist rasps. “And I cannot leave Liza here.”

Wanda says something and he jerks up in the dream world, too fast past the Wizard slipping through the shield. He tries to tell her to go back, but she’s speaking too fast, dragging him through his own memories. The Widow and Liza dancing, audiences going up in smoke. The Widow begging them to bring the Scientist back, begging him not to go.

Did she see Peter watching? Did she see him nod at Peter, permission to do the unspeakable.

Everything stops when a sixteen year old Peter dances with Liza under a new moon. He’s holding her close, lips pressed into brown curls. She doesn’t know, can’t know, won’t know , even as his gloved hand presses against the base of her spine.

Peter feels the pin-prick, dismisses it as a bug. He doesn’t feel it. She feels it. They feel it. And then she’s screaming, he’s screaming, Liza’s body contorts and bends, snaps, black sludge bubbling out of her mouth, her ears, her nose. Her eyes go white.

Peter watches the Master, sees the approval in bluegrass eyes.

The regret.

Wanda hisses, somewhere beyond Peter. The Widow grabs him. Or she did. Pulls him from Liza.

She looks so young, so innocent weeping over her daughter’s body.

Everything goes black. He can almost hear Wanda and Pietro arguing, but there’s a fractured glow.

This is not Wanda’s dream speak. He’s never been here before. Never seen this many colors. He follows it, even as he hears Wanda chanting, trying to call him back.

The Wizard stands in front of him, hands scared and hair greying. “Peter.”

“Wizard.”

He gets a small smile for his troubles. “The Show is in trouble.”

“It is,” Peter says. “Tony and I, we tried.”

“But you’re missing something,” the Wizard doesn’t so much ask as confirm.

“I thought if we found the Master’s other half,” Peter begins.

“He never needed his half the way the rest of you did.”

“Because of Steve. Does Steve have another half?”

The Wizard laughs and it’s not cruel, but Peter shivers. “He did once, but he chose this life. And she did not. And Bucky chose Steve. But that’s not really the point of this, is it? You risked yourself, getting lost in your own memories and dreams.”

Peter shrugs. Maybe. It’s hard to tell here. “Wanda is a good guide.”

“She has had very little training,” and that’s a warning tone. Peter is running out of time.

“So help me. Save what you helped build,” Peter is begging but he has no shame.

“You’ve always had the answer, Peter. You and Tony and the Master and the Captain. You built this show, you know how it works.”

That’s not an answer, Peter screams. He tries to. But the Wizard is vanishing, “Do what you know, Peter.” For a split second, four bloody palms appear, a bloodless body, a neck offered to a knife, a broken chest split open for another’s heartbeat.

He jerks upright on the bed, out of Pietro’s grasp and brother and sister watch him concerned and wary. Peter leans over and vomits, then slumps into the blankets, asleep.

He doesn’t dream.

He wakes before dawn, still in the Witch’s bed. Wanda is curled around Pietro in the dust and they don’t seem bothered, so he watches them from his nest.

They wake slowly, share their breakfast with him, and then Wanda says, “Tell me about the outside world?”

Peter doesn’t want too. He never wants to talk about it. But her eyes are bruised and her skin still shiny and grey. “It’s exhausting,” he says. “Overwhelming. So many places and places and flavors and things. The day and the night are filled. The show out there never stops until it’s sucked everything from your bones.” He remembers how loud it was, how the scents mingled, competed, made them sick. “But there are places to escape. Quiet and beautiful and,” his voice quivers, his eyes misty. “We found a beach once, white sand and frothy waves and the skin making our skin red. And a park with green grass that made our skin tickle and our noses itch.”

“And the people?” Wanda asks wistfully. Peter shakes his head.

“They are afraid. And they judge,” Peter says, the echo of glass at his feet and the tug of a rope about his neck too vivid to forget. “That’s why you stay, isn’t it?”

He stares hard at the brother and sister, the joined hands. “The Show doesn’t judge. Not like that.”

You don’t judge, Spider,” Pietro says.

“That’s why,” he hesitates. Wanda nods. She glows red, recreating the scene. Peter watches the woman, guided as if by spirits, approach them, hand them her baby and sob, bruises high on her cheeks, on her ribs, everywhere.

An after-image of Wanda approaches him, crooks her finger, and he and Tony follow it to the flap. “You protected us because we protected you?”

Pietro nods. “The Master, for all the myths, is still just a man at heart. He cannot do it all.”

They sit in silence for a bit, listening to the Show wake up, to the animals, to the wind.

“Spiderling is now a Spider. Is TinMan still Tin?” Wanda asks, curious as ever.

Peter smiles. He tells them about how Tony found a garage. A scrap yard. About the experiments and the electricity and the new metal. The nanotech. “He’s made a whole suit of it. And look!” Peter lifts his shirt, taps a tiny scar an inch long and a fingernail clipping thick. He taps it and his body lights up, Tony’s tech waking up, checking his vitals, connecting them.

“TinMan found magic ,” Pietro whispers.

“Science,” Peter says just as quiet. “The hold you put Wanda, it held for a very long time. Lifetimes almost. And then one day it cracked. And we had to choose. Tony gave me what he had left. But it didn’t work like that.”

Wanda shakes her head. “That wasn’t the design.”

“Could you feel it? When we fell apart?” Peter begs.

“Yes. But I had already found the baby. I just needed to move quicker,” Wanda shrugs.

Peter nods. That’s everything he’ll get from her. Maybe not everything he needs, but it’ll have to be enough. He stands and hugs hard, too tight. Pietro surprises him by gripping him tight, patting his back. “Please, Spider. Don’t be a stranger. Bring TinMan around.”

Peter promises, but he knows how easy those are to break. After all, he was never supposed to come back to this place. But he never should’ve been made to leave in the first place.

Peter drifts between the tents, tired and achy like he’s run a million yards, been awake a century. He doesn’t want to go back to Tony’s hesitant touches and gaping space and he doesn’t want to go to the Master, Liza’s broken body still heavy in his arms.

He finds himself hovering in front of Clint’s tent. He can see the boy, the almost-man inside. Clint stills, cocks his head like he’s heard something even though Peter knows he can’t. He doesn’t turn around, doesn’t release the arrow Peter can see drawn.

He moves with ease, comfort. Peter sort of hates him.

It’s not fair to the kid. It’s not his fault Peter’s world is broken.

Not as if his own is whole.

Peter doesn’t leave until the sun is warm on his shoulders and Clint is gearing up for a show.

He moves away from the tent, wanders aimlessly and finds himself back in front of the Widow’s tent.

It all hinges on her. On what the Master couldn’t give her, on what the show stole from her.

On what she did to cause it all to crumble.

“Tell me, Widow, did you ever love the Scientist? Did you ever want the Master? Or did you love what he provided. Did you want what he possessed?” Peter whispers his question to a black flap, watching the sparks inside dance, feeling the ash in his nose. She turns, like she has heard him, and Peter spins away, flips between the tents to Tony.

The implant has been silent, and he’s irrationally angry Tony turned his own off, sometime after Peter had.

Tony isn’t in their tent when Peter returns and it’s a little surprising, but he’s far too numb to question it. He collapses on their cot and dreams, Wanda’s voice still singing in his ears like it must for days.

Bucky’s bluegrass eyes are on fire, and he’s got his metal hand around Peter’s throat. “Now you spy on your friends?”

“It isn’t like that!” Tony cries, voice cracking. “Peter got a feeling. He doesn’t think we are safe yet!”

Bucky throws him at Tony’s feet. “We killed the girl, Tony. The Scientist left. How fractured would you see our family get?”

Peter coughs, eyes watering and mucus and spittle turning the dust a dark red. “Bucky. You know Liza didn’t do this on her own,” he rasps.

There’s guilt in Jamie’s eyes and Peter suddenly gets a cold, cruel feeling. This time when he coughs, it burns like acid. “You knew!” He accuses, finger in Bucky’s face. “You knew about her. You knew what she’d do if we made her as good a widow as her name and still you,” he shakes, “you,” leans over and wants to be sick. “You didn’t make me take Liza because there was no hope for her, you did it to punish.

Tony sucks in a breath. Steve steps forward and shakes his head. “It’s not like that Pete. Banner said,” he starts but Tony helps Peter stand, cuts him off.

“Banner didn’t want to deal with this so he left. Nothing he said matters,” Tony snarls. He sounds less human than he should, tinny voice echoing, rapping on the metal in his chest.

“Get out,” Bucky says quiet. “Get out, the both of you. Go home. Stop looking. Let it go.”

“No,” Peter snarls. “No you don’t get to do that, Master.” He spits the title. “You don’t get to demand of me what you did, and then kick me away. I’m not like the others. Tony and I, we aren’t just puppets in your show. We’re your friends.”

“Are you?” And it’s not Bucky’s smokey rasp, but the Master’s heavy, gravelly sneer. “I found you, brought you together. Brought you home. I honed your skills, taught you to use them. And all I asked was that you keep the Show safe. But you can't even manage that. Fine. You don’t like my generosity? I revoke it. You’re expelled. The Show has no room for you.” He turns away, dismissing them. Even Steve looks a little startled.

“You can’t,” Tony croaks. Peter turns. He can already feel the death sentence, the gun pressed to his head. He grabs Tony’s hand tight and gently tugs.

“You leave. You stay. Either way, you are quiet. If you stay, you can never leave your tent. If you leave, you have the whole world at your fingertips,” the Master says it quiet, like an offering. Like it’s all he has left for them.

“Come, let’s say goodbye before even that is stolen from us,” Tony says, watching Bucky’s fists clench.

Wanda is already outside the tent, eyes wild and Pietro holding her tight. Peter shakes his head. “A gift then,” she whispers, red glow lighting up the night.

“You aren’t ready,” Pietro chides.

“I can try,” she snaps at him.

The Show spits them out on a cobblestone road in a sooty borough, where snow falls and people step over two frightened boys as if they are invisible.

Peter wakes sudden and fully, sweating and gasping. Tony is there, holding him, hands against his shoulder. “S’okay Pete.  S’okay. ‘M right here.”

Peter grabs him, holds him tight and cries. “Don’t let me go again, please, don’t let me go.”

“Hey,” Tony says against his temple. He sets on the cot, pulls Peter into his lap the way he hasn’t since before , “hey no. I’m not, I’ve never let you go.”

“You did,” Peter whispers. “You did, on a beach, when you realized. You let me go and you never held me the same.”

Tony presses into Peter’s brown curls, buries his nose and inhaled the scent of man and hay and exhaustion. “I’m sorry,” he offers. It’s all he has, as he rocks Peter in his arms.

They stay that way until Peter’s stiff, until Tony’s arm and legs are cramping and Tony shifts. He’s ready to let Peter go, if only to stretch out his legs, but Peter grapples for him, firewood eyes warm and wild and panicked .

“Peter, I’m not,” Tony starts, Peter shoves him back, shoves him down into the hay they call a cot. He’s grown a lot since they came back. And he’s heavier now. Tony might be all corded muscle due to his tinkering, but Peter is lean and full of youthful energy. Boundless, heavy.

Tony’s years are no match for Peter’s.

“Don’t let me go,” Peter says. “Don’t you ever fucking let me go again.” For half a second he’s that boy, short, stubby legs, lost in the crowd. And then he’s a little older, lost in a market. And then he’s on a beach, warm and sandy and Tony is stepping away from him, horror peering through the curls of his dark beard.

Tony grapples for Peter’s wrist. “Never. Never again.”

Tony leans up and kisses him, hard, desperate, frantic. Tony pauses, a split second hesitation that makes Peter bite at his shoulder, bit until he taste tin and copper and iron. Tony shifts, tugs, gets his hands back and cups Peter’s face, calloused and burnt thumbs stroking over sharp, smooth cheeks. He kisses him, licks his own blood from his lips, grimacing. “Gross, Pete.”

“Shut up, Tony,” Peter sighs. He makes quick work of Tony’s vest, the shirt beneath it. Of the pressed pants and who the hell wears pressed pants at a circus and the leather shoes and wool socks. Tony lets him, watches.

Now Peter hesitates, staring at the dark fabric covering the last bit of  Tony.

Tony places large hands on cut hips. “It’s different now, isn’t it?” He asks. He’s not teasing, not exactly, but Peter scowls.

“Who holds that blame?” He snarls.

Tony closes his eyes, turns his face away. “You don’t get it, Peter. Five, six at best. I couldn’t.”

Peter leans back on his heels, peels his shirt off and makes quick work of his pants. He keeps his socks on, because his feet are cold, but he shucks his own dark briefs down and lifts his chin, defiant. “And now? Am I too young now?” He runs a taunting hand through the curls on his belly, down . He grips himself, strokes lightly, hissing ad the roughness of his hand. “Is this the  body of a boy too young?”

Tony’s chestnut eyes darken, and he licks dry lips. One hand moves forward, fingers trailing over a scar an inch long. “No,” he chokes out. “No, it’s not.”

Tony gently nudges Peter off of him, removes his briefs, and kneels over Peter. It’s been…

It’s been so long, he’s lost count. Some of it comes back easy. Oiling his fingers, Peters. Two digits, one thick and blunt, one long and slender carefully prying him open, pressing in, twisting. Between them, they get five in, Tony balanced on his knees and Peter below him.

He half watches Peter’s arm move, knows Peter’s stroking himself, and he hisses, impatient. He smacks at Peter’s hand, at both of them.

It’s harder, figuring out how to line himself up. Once, their bodies were similar. Now, Tony has decades of hard lines and old aches and Peter’s still just a bit sift in the belly, with all the stamina ever.

Peter sorts it out. He guides Tony down, down , slow and steady and not enough .

“Pete,” Tony gasps out.

Peter smiles at him, coy but timid. “I got you,” he says, quiet. Tony bottoms out, settled in Peter’s lap and they both hold for a moment, trying to remember.

It’s so different now. It feels brand new and so familiar and Tony lifts himself, ancient thighs trembling as they relearn and old rhythm.

Two false starts, Tony falling and knocking the wind from Peter. “God this used to be so fucking easy,” Tony says, half snarling.

Peter strikes his forehead, combs his fingers through grey-brown fringe. “Trust me?” He asks.
Tony nods, and in a surprising feat of strength and flexibility, Peter puts Tony on his back.

He checks, makes sure Tony’s alright, and then shoves until Tony presses one knee to his chest, the other falling to the side. He enters, quick swift, doesn’t let Tony psych himself out.

Peter sets a rhythm, frantic, desperate, needy, and he keeps one hand on Tony’s cock, half remembering to stroke as he thrust.

Tony still comes first, clenching tight around Peter, a noise, ringing and deep from his half-human chest.

It sends Peter over and he cries out, voice cracking just a bit.

They collapse against each other, sweaty and sticky and sated. “Different,” Tony mumbles.

Peter shrugs against him, fingers ticking against the plate in his chest. “We are, Tone.”

Tony holds him, fingers scratching between his shoulder blades, finding that itch Peter can’t ever reach. “We’ll adjust,” he whispers into a brown curl halo.

“We always do,” Peter answers. He touches where he bit earlier, dried blood flaking off under his fingers and a thought tries to shake itself loose, but Tony pulls a blanket over them, and he falls asleep before the thought is free.

DreamSpeak, like most curses, lingers far beyond what’s expected, and when Peter sleeps, all he dreams of is blood.

Four palms split over a promise, green instead of red leaving the Show. Black oozing from a doll-grin.

Red innocences spilled on silent glass. A hundred broken toys discarded in shadows and rings.

Fire consumes all of it, burns his dreams, his thoughts, clogs his lungs.

He wakes, stiff and crusty, but he doesn’t care as he holds his hands in front of his face. He grabs Tony’s hands, starling the older body awake and flips them back in forth in the dim light.

He barely remembers to pull pants on as he skitters to the Master’s quarters. “Your hands, yours and the Captain’s. Give ‘em,” he demands. And it says something, of his panic, of the dream still clinging to his curls, that he doesn’t even mind the knife.

Bucky must see something, because he lowers it, signals for Steve who emerges from the shadows.

“I need your hands!” Peter cries, “Now!”

They hold their palms out, and Peter traces the skin. Silver metal, unblemished. A palm rough from guns and grips, two hands thick and smooth, despite everything, knuckles punch scarred.

“Our hands,” Peter frowns. “There’s no scars.”

Bucky frowns, “Scars?”

“The first,” Peter begins to babble and distantly he can hear Tony entering, fully dressed and concerned, “The initial offering. We had to bleed,” Peter says.

Tony shakes his head. Steve looks at Peter like he’s looking at a breakdown. Bucky says, “No, we had to be willing. Had to show we would if we needed to.”

Peter is frantic, clawing at his face, his chest. He can’t breath, and it’s too hot, and nothing makes sense. “I saw,” he says, “I saw!” He screams.

But he didn’t, did he? That’s the risk of DreamSpeak. DreamSpeak can’t tell what’s real or not. It can only show what’s there, guide a dreamer through.

“Widow,” Peter hisses.

Because now he sees, three hands, not four. Small, delicate, masculine.

He explains it to them, in fits and starts, all the things he’s seen. “They though,” he says, rubbing his eyes. “Widow thought she could command the show, if she proved she was worthy. If she was willing to,” he runs his fingers over his own palm, rope burned and scarred, but unmarred by the blade.

“So the Show punished them. Split the Scientist, poisoned Liza, stole from the Widow,” Peter chokes out. “And the Show thought we would fix it, that we got it.”

“But?” the Master demands.

Tony shifts, settles Peter in his lap, “All we did was prove we no longer were willing to sacrifice everything. That even though we swore to always protect each other, we were willing to give up on each other.” He grips Peter’s hips too tight, too possessive.
The Captain watches them, and says, “The Show would never ask us to give up on each other, though. Wasn’t that part of the promise?”

Peter scoffs. “We were four teenage boys running from lives we couldn’t escape. What did we know of promises and loopholes.”

The Captain shakes his head. “Yeah, but that’s the thing. We were running and all we had was each other and we needed each other. We always have.”

The Master frowns. “And then I kicked you out.”

Peter scowls at him. Tony shrugs. “The Show needs to know that the family is okay. That we still have each other’s backs.”

Peter shakes his head, “No. The Show needs trust . It needs to know we would ,” He pauses, remembering a knife to a neck, hands inside a bloody chest. “It’s never about the blood , but the offering.”

“We left because we were running from monsters, afraid of the monsters we were capable of becoming,” Tony says slowly.

The Captain says, “It’s about knowing what you’re capable of, offering that to someone, knowing they could crush you,” his voice trails off, and the Master’s bluegrass eyes light up.

“And knowing they trust you enough to know you won’t,” He says.

Peter nods. “You and Steve haven’t ever had to prove that. Steve trust most everyone. But you, Bucky, you only trust Steve. Only Steve trust you.”

“Clint,” Steve begins but Tony interrupts.

“First we have to trust each other again, all four of us. And then Bucky needs to prove that beyond this family…”

The Master frowns. “I’m not involving Clint in this.”

Peter gives him a grin accompanied by hollow eyes. “The Widow already marked him, Bucky. He’s in this, whether you like it or not. But does he love you? Does he trust you?”

It’s quiet. So quiet they can hear Clint shuffling past the tent, pausing to study the red, blue, white stripes.

Bucky doesn’t have to answer, doesn’t need to voice his concern.

“The Widow’s going to burn him,” Peter says. “She’ll try. Wanda says, early. Save him, Bucky. Do what you must. But don’t bleed her until after . Soon.”

They still need time.

The Captain follows them back to their own tent and he watches as they move around each other, carless and easy. “You’ve found your song again,” he says.

“Hmm?” Peter asks.

“Before, Bucky used to get jealous of how easy you moved around each other. He said it was a dance, like the universe wrote you all a song no one else could ever hear. When you got back, he said someone must’ve taken it,” Steve nods to where Tony bends over Peter, fingers guiding as they adjust something he can’t see in the cage. “You found it, it seems.”

“It took some work,” Peter says.

“A little communication,” Tony adds.

“How’re we going to know this works?” Steve asks. He presses his own fingers into the glow, and Peter and Tony look like damn kids, excitement radiating as green as the glow when it gives a little. “We’ll know,” they say in unison.

Steve and Bucky argue over how best to do it. Steve wants a clean ending. Bucky wants her to suffer. Tony and Peter eye them, watching the explosive arguments, but this choice isn’t theirs to make. It’s not their relationship shifting, this time.

Peter’s head swivels suddenly, and he sits up right. Tony can feel the panic in his chest, their connection so strong it takes his breath and he holds Peter in his lap, hands soothing down his side as he says, “It’s time, Master. Things have begun.”

They hear footsteps and all their heads turn. Peter stands, “We have this. Out the back.”

The greet Clint at the door, and Peter aches for the innocence in his gaze. He signs to him, tells him about the arguing. He forgets Bucks proper title here.

Tony rest a warm, comforting hand on his shoulder, and corrects Peter’s blunder. Clint eyes them both warrily. He doesn’t trust them. Has no reason to, as far as he knows. They can see it, in his eyes, his wavering conflict.

But the Show has always been good to Clint, and Little Arrow returns to his tent.

Tony looks shaken, Peter wants to vomit. “He won’t burn,” Steve says behind them.

“We shouldn’t have to risk it,” Peter says.

Tony guides him home, holds him tight in his arms, pressed against the fabric of their home as they listen to a spark, to a flame, to an inferno.

Steve catches he Widow as Bucky rescues Clint.

They held her for days, watching Clint. They had to know he was okay before they did this. Before all their souls were just a little more tarnished. They had to know what he knew, to know he’d understand.

Steve confirms Clint’s suspicions and it’s enough.

Peter doesn’t want to be there, when the Widow is bled. But Tony says they need to do it together, to share the burden.

Bucky has her strapped to a wooden slat, mouth covered and eyes bound. Peter creeps forward and grabs her hand, tracing an ugly, thick white scar across the palm.

All she wanted was everything they had, and it seems almost unfair to punish her, just because it didn’t work. He flips her hands back over, eyeing the blisters and the soot under her nails, between her knuckles. “All you had to do was ask,” Peter whispers. “All anyone has to do is ask .”

Tony’s hands curl around his waist, his lips right behind his ears. Peter turns into him when the blade digs into her arms, blood draining into a bucket. The Master makes it quick, surprisingly, for the cruelty she’s dealt. But Peter glances back and wishes he hadn’t when he sees them staring at each other.

The Widow doesn’t even scream. She just looks at Bucky with an acceptance, one that says I do not forgive, but I understand.

She’s pale. So goddamned pale, and then she sighs, relaxes like she’s finally let it go, and the blood stops dripping.

Bucky cleans the blood off of her, dresses her in her mourning dress. He smears soot across her lips, under her eyes. Down her arms and over the open wounds. He piles her kindling and her flint and her fabric beneath her.

A warning. A promise. An apology.

He hangs her in the tent, because they need Clint to see, to make a choice. The Witch poked Peter’s dreams, one last time. “You cannot finish until Clint makes his choice. Only then can you fix what never meant to broke.”

Tony and Peter hide in the shadows, watching Clint stand, bound and blindfolded tight around his temples.

“Do you think he’ll take the step?” Peter asks.

Tony licks up his neck, fingers digging into Peter’s waistband. “Of course he will. You’ve seen how he looks at Bucky.”

“Like Amalia looks at Teddy.”

“Wanda at Pietro.”

“You at me,” Peter says, turning around. He traces his thumbs through sharp stubble, kisses heavily chapped lips. Tony smiles against his lips, and they hear the whistle of the blade through the air.

“Phase one,” Peter says.

They can’t be there for phase two. “I’ve got ways to occupy us,” Tony grins, leering.

Peter rolls his eyes, but he lets Tony lead them home.

Tomorrow morning, they’ll find out for sure. But the night is still theirs. One more, unburdened, untroubled.

Bucky rolls into Tony and Peter’s tent well after noon, bleary-eyed but soft. He’s got a bruise in the hollow of his neck, and a slow roll about his hips and even Steve can’t help but smile all smuggly.

“Shut the fuck up,” Bucky says. “How do we do this?”

Peter holds out a knife. The handle is wooden, the blade skinny but sharp. It’s as old as they are, a relic from a life they’d almost forgotten. “Do you ever miss the outside?” Tony asks.

Bucky and Steve pause, trying to remember who they were before the Show. “Are you ever curious about it?” He asks.

“No,” Steve answers without hesitation. “It has nothing for me. I want nothing more than what I have right here.”

And it’s always been that easy for Steve. Bucky looks at him, frowning. “Don’t you miss her?”

Steve shrugs. “I’ve never felt what you guys do. Never needed someone that way. Peggy was nice, was sweet. But I couldn’t ever be enough for her because all I want is all of this.”

“Jamie?” Peter asks, quiet and soft and so young despite it all. “Do you miss it?”

“No,” he says without hesitation. “I did, for a while, watching you two, but now…” his smile goes soft and dopy and he touches the bruise on his neck. “But I think Clint would have found us eventually anyway.”

“We just spared him some suffering,” Tony shrugs.

“Do you guys,” Steve begins but Peter and Tony shake their heads quickly.

“We didn’t want it the second time.”

And it’s enough, They step forward, hands pressed to the softening glow. The knife is snatched from Peter’s hand, and hovers over the cage, a question.

Steve is first, eyes close and wrist out. If the Show begs it, they will bleed out.

Tony is next, which surprises Peter. He gets a soft smile, a calloused and burned hand gripping his own, and Peter offers up his own wrist.

The knife rotates, twirls lazily. It’s waiting, the glow, the Show.

Bucky watches it, a million hurricanes in his eyes. Slowly, tentatively, he offers up his own wrist.

The knife zips down, around, skims across each of their offered arms. They can all feel the kiss of metal, but none of them bleed.

When the blade settles itself inside the cage, Steve gentle prods the green glow with his fingers. His hands move easily through nothing but light, and they all collapse in relief.

Bucky moves first, up and out, headed towards Clint. He pauses, smiles at them and says, “Glad you’re home boys.”

Steve snorts, but leaves, headed to his own chamber. Peter crowds Tony onto their cot. They curl around each other, not bothering with anything more than feeling each other, skin to skin.

For a long time they just watch the green light flicker and fluctuate.

“I hate having it in our tent,” Peter whispers.

Tony kisses below his neck, nibbles at it. “We’ll move it to the Widow’s tent. Start rumors about ghosts and hauntings and all manners of strange curses.”

“You think it’ll be safe there?” Peter asks.

Tony presses him into the sheets, stretches along him. “As long as we are here, where we belong, the Show is safe.”

“If I had chosen,” Peter begins, but then he quits.

“What?” Tony prompts.

“What if I had said I wanted to leave, to go back outside?”

“I’d have gone with you,” Tony answers. “Our choice, together and willing. I’d grow old, Peter, but only with you.”

Peter eyes him, tracing the lines of his face, rolling into the heat of Tony’s length. “The Show must’ve known that, right?”

Tony kisses him, hard and hungry and breathless. “Peter, doll, fuck the Show .”

But he’s the one breaching Peter, presseing long legs to the side, shoving in and punching out high, needy noises.  He’s the one fucking Peter wordless, watching ecstasy dance across his face, behind his screwed-shut eyes, slip in small huffs from his o-shaped lips.

Peter cries out, a full body release that takes Tony with it.

When they’re clean, skin to skin under a blanket and nearly asleep, Tony says, “The Show knew we’d pick each other, but it also knew we wouldn't have to. “When I am desperate, when you are lost, we need the Master and the Captain to temper our fear, guide us back. And when Bucky is monstrous, Steve vicious, we soothe their edges and find their balms.”

Peter hums into his chest, curls his fingers over a metal plate that hums like home, and drifts to sleep, blessedly dreamless.