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A Black Panther of My Very Own

Chapter Text

 

Peter swung his legs over the ledge of the Time Warner Center, peering out across the water with a sigh as his mask deactivated. He pulled out his phone, clicking through a few screens until his thumb hovered over “September 21, 2017." He paused, chewing his lip for a second. Squinting his eyes shut, he sucked in a breath and pressed play.

 

“Hey, kid, it’s me. Just wanted to check in, see how you’re doing, how’s school and all that jazz. I’m sure you’re busy with your friends and saving the world, no need to call me back.”

A pause.

“And Peter? I’m… I’m really proud of you. Just thought you should know since, err, no one really told me that growing up and, well, someone should tell you ‘cause you’re doing great things out there, kid. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll see you soon. Don’t do anything I would do, and definitely don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

 

Peter threw his head into his hands with a sob, threading his fingers through the hair he’d let get shaggy and even more unkempt than usual the past few months.

“Why is it so hard?” he yelled at the sky. “Why aren’t you here? I need you!”

Peter pulled his legs back from the ledge and curled into a ball on top of the building, hugging his knees to his chest. His breath came more rapidly as his vision closed in and he wheezed for air.

“Peter?” a tentative female voice asked.

“Yes, Karen?” he groaned, chest still tight and body shaking.

“Might I suggest you text one of your friends for support?”

“My friends?” Peter asked incredulously, sitting up. “My friends?! You mean M.J. and Ned, the ones who are five years older than me due to that damned snap? Ned’s busy with grad school, and M.J. is married with a fucking child while I’m sitting here still trying to graduate fucking high school as if everything is perfectly normal, Karen! Now that Mr. Stark’s gone, I don’t have anybody!”

“What about Aunt May?”

“Karen, you know she’s not feeling well, I’m not gonna put this on her.”

Peter sniffed and wiped his sleeve across his face.

“I’m sorry, Peter. I miss him, too.”

After rubbing his eyes for a moment, Peter pulled out his phone again and texted Ned anyway.

 

Hey man, what’s new at MIT?  

Playing with aaaalllll the newest gadgets and shit… jk just a literal butt ton of studying. Wish you were here.  

Me too.  

Midtown sucks when you’ve been to space.

Y do u always have to bring up that you’ve been to space?!?! XD  

XD  

I’m coming home next weekend. I’ll drop by?  

May’s not been feeling well, but she probs won’t mind

Tell her I say feel better soon! C u then!

 

“There. Happy, Karen?”

“You’re not crying anymore.”

“I’m still sad.”

“It’s okay to be sad, Peter.”

“I don’t want to be sad. I just want Mr. Stark back.”

With that, Peter’s mask rematerialized and he webbed back toward Queens.

Chapter Text

Two weeks later…

Peter webbed from building to building, adrenaline pumping in his veins as he rounded the corner.

“Woohoo! That never gets old! Any suspicious activity nearby, Karen?”

“Nothing noted.”

“Alright, well, time for a coffee break then. I gotta write that paper for tomorrow anyhow and I need caffeine.”

Descending into an alley, Peter dropped into a crouch and deactivated the suit, grabbed his backpack where he’d stashed it behind a dumpster, and took off toward the nearest Starbucks. As he exited the alley, he felt a weird prickle along the back of his neck and inhaled sharply. Peter turned; the tingling sensation migrated down his arms and he shivered subconsciously. Peter blinked slowly and stared into the seemingly abandoned alley.

“Um, hello?” he stuttered.

Cautiously, he walked a few steps back into the alley, peeking into and behind the dumpster for good measure. The sensation dissipated as suddenly as it had appeared.

“Huh…You getting anything unusual here, Karen?” Peter whispered, daring to deploy just his mask to activate scanning capabilities.

“Nothing on my scans or the nearest security cam.”

“Weird…”

Peter shook his head as his mask receded and clutched his pack tighter, heading back the way he came.

After an uneventful walk the couple of blocks to the Starbucks, he settled on ordering a “Hawkeye Mocha,” which was really just a red eye with a shot of mocha syrup. A few hours later he shut his laptop with a huff.

“Well thank God that’s over,” he muttered to himself. “Any more time writing about how the founding fathers influence our lives today and I’d be old enough to be one of them.”

“Am I supposed to find that amusing?”

Peter rolled his eyes as he pushed his way through the door.

“Are you eavesdropping again, Karen?”

“I would never.”

“If you get any snarkier I’m gonna have to start calling you JARVIS.”

“I didn’t think…”

“And before you say it, just because I never met JARVIS doesn’t mean Tony didn’t tell me all about him and his sarcastic comebacks. If this is my life now I might just leave the earpiece in the backpack,” he threatened.

“Hmm…” Karen answered, tone coy.

Peter chuckled to himself and sauntered on, hands in his pockets. He enjoyed breathing in the crisp fall air and feeling the warmth of the sun on his back. Hearing children laugh and watching couples hold hands as if the world hadn't been ending a few short months warmed his heart.

None of this would have happened without him, he thought, and he let the smallest of smiles slip onto his face.

Peter stopped suddenly in his tracks, feeling the same prickle at the back of his neck.

“Karen…” he whispered. “Someone’s following us…”

Peter cast out his hearing and spun slowly in place, eyes widening as he searched for anything out of the ordinary. Ordinary people going about their day, empty alleyways, a pair of squabbling squirrels… Then his eye caught a flicker of green in the bushes at a parklet across the block.

“There! Eyes!”

Peter checked his surroundings to be sure no one was watching, vaulted backward into the alley behind him, and webbed up to a low-hanging rooftop where he activated the suit and ditched his backpack. Then he dropped to the ground again and raced toward the bushes where the pair of eyes had been watching him. With a quick dash across the street, he leapt over the hedge and groaned in frustration as he landed in the dirt and also didn't find the culprit.

“Karen, what we got?” he huffed as he dusted off the suit, dropping into a crouch and surveying the area.

“I’ve got a few startled pedestrians, a dog sniffing another dog’s butt, and one excited child who seems to be heading your way. No suspects detected.”

“Karen, there were eyes. They can’t just be gone!”

Peter’s eyes closed as he listened for any sounds of someone making a hasty getaway.

“Fuck. Someone’s following me, Karen. Something’s not right.”

He looked around a few more times before backtracking to the alley and making his way home by rooftop. He warily observed the scenes below him, his senses even more hyper alert than usual. But he found nothing and no one out of the ordinary.

Chapter Text

Peter whistled to Ariana Grande as he strolled down the sidewalk, hands tucked into the pockets of his jeans. Today was Saturday, so other than studying for finals, he had the whole day to himself. Aunt May felt well enough to go to the store and even suggested she pick up take out for later from their favorite Thai place. It was the first time this week he didn’t feel like he had to worry about her. He smiled at the gentle warmth of the sun on his shoulders through his thinning white tee and let out a heavy sigh.

It’s so weird that this isn’t “current” music… he thought. It’s so fucking weird that all these people lived through five years that I just… missed.

His smile contorted into an almost-frown at the edges, his breath coming faster and more ragged. He pressed his fingers to the spot just between his eyes.

“5… 4… 3… 2… 1…” he whispered under his breath, then let his breath out slowly, bringing his hand back down to his pocket.

You’ve got this, Peter. Today’s a good day.

“Are you okay, Peter?” Karen’s voice asked softly from his earpiece.

“Yeah… yeah I’m… I’ll be fine.”

He focused on putting one foot in front of the other, pushing thoughts of missed time and Thanos and the Avengers and Tony out of his mind.

Today’s a good day.

He rounded the corner to the bookshop and swung the door open, nostrils flaring as he breathed in the scent of books old and new.

Ahhh… I love that even more since my senses kicked in .

“Ah, Peter!” exclaimed the shop owner from behind the counter, peering at him over a set of thick-rimmed glasses. “Are you looking for anything in particular today?”

“Nah, just looking around,” he replied, flashing her one of his Peter Smiles™ as he headed into the stacks.

Peter wandered through the rows of bookshelves, fingertips running along the spines, letting himself get lost in the titles. He reached toward a red book with gold engraving when he felt something brush up against his leg. 

“Gah!” he exclaimed as he jumped back, definitely catching too much air to look normal. “Um, uhh…” Peter smoothed his hair with one hand and checked to make sure no one noticed. He let out the breath he definitely hadn’t been holding when, as usual, the store was empty, the bookseller too buried in her own novel to notice his blunder. Peter turned his attention back to assailant at hand. Two shining emerald green eyes peered up at him, surrounded by a pile of thick black fur as dark as the night.

“Hi there,” he started gently, bending into a crouch, and extended his hand. “I didn’t see you coming. That’s… not usual for me. I’m sorry if I scared you.”

The cat gave a single sniff, so quiet Peter was sure a normal human wouldn’t have heard, and then looked pointedly away from him.

“What, don’t tell me I’ve offended you?”

The cat stared at a nearby bookshelf unblinkingly.

“Could I pet you?” Peter asked as he scooted closer, reaching out his hand just a little farther.

The cat didn’t approach, but didn’t move away either, so Peter reached up to its head and ran his hand along it with a single stroke.

“There, see? We could be friends,” he cooed, extending the scratches to the cat’s back.

The cat began to arch its back and purr quietly, leaning into Peter’s hand.

“You’re a real cutie!” Peter remarked.

A sheathed paw darted out and swatted at his hand, the cat hissing and backing away a few inches, eyes narrowed and staring at Peter directly.

“Um… I thought we were getting along?”

The cat began licking its front paw, eyes never breaking the stare, looking positively annoyed at Peter.

“Wait, you don’t like being called cute?” Peter asked incredulously.

The cat let out a loud mrrrooowwww in reply.

“Oh my God, you don’t like being called cute! Well, okay. You’re, uh, handsome, then? Does that work?”

A moment passed, and then the cat walked over and sat directly in front of Peter.

“I’ll take that as a yes then.”

“Peter?”

His head shot up as the shopkeeper approached, heels clacking against the floor in time with her steps.

“Oh, my goodness!” she exclaimed, hands flying up to her face. “Did you bring a cat in here?”

“Me, what, no!” Peter stuttered as he rose to his feet. “I thought maybe you adopted him? He just sorta came up to me while I was walking around in here,” he explained, pushing his hair (Aunt May was right, he definitely needed a haircut) back out of his face.

“Oh, heavens no! No animals allowed in here! I can’t even fathom how he got in…What if he pees on the books?! He’s got to go!” she shrieked. “I… I’m kind of afraid of animals… Can you help me get him out of here?” she asked more gently, touching Peter’s arm and looking at him pleadingly.

Peter hesitated for a moment, then stooped down to the cat that was still looking up at him with some sort of scrutiny.

“Okay, listen pal, you can’t stay here, but I’m gonna figure something out for ya, okay? You just gotta come with me right now. I’m gonna pick you up now, okay?”

Peter gave the feline a few courtesy strokes before scooping it… okay, well now he knew it was a him, whoops… up.

“Don’t worry Phoebe, I’ll figure something out for him!” he said as he started toward the door. 

Oh, wait, dang it, the book! he remembered suddenly. He stopped in his tracks abruptly and turned on his heel.

“But, uh, actually… there was this book I was looking at…” Peter stared at his feet and shuffled awkwardly in place, itching to run his hand through his hair again, but both hands were occupied with keeping Mr. Wriggly Cat contained. “Can I buy it before we go?”

“Oh, of course Peter honey! Actually, why don’t you just take it since your helping me with this here stowaway? It’s not like I don’t know you’ll be back again anyway,” she said with a wink.

“Really? Wow, thank you! Thank you so much!”

Peter dashed back to the stacks - well, as much as one could dash with a squirming fluffy cat cradled in their arms - and selected the red book he had had his eye on earlier. It had no title, but Peter felt drawn to it, and he usually just picked whatever looked or sounded interesting to him at the time anyway. He awkwardly shuffled the cat into one arm, plucked the book from the shelf, and nestled it under his free arm with a shrug before ambling back to the door. Pushing it open walking backward, he lugged the book and the less-happy-by-the-minute feline out the door with him and made a beeline for the nearest bench, where he set the cat down bedside him.

“Alright, Fluffy, what’s your play here?”

The cat just stared at him some more, looking wholly unimpressed, and began smoothing its fur where Peter had rumpled it. 

“Go home!” Peter tried.

Nothing.

“Do you have a home, buddy?”

At this, the cat ducked his head almost imperceptibly and looked away from him.

“You don’t, do you?” Peter whispered, reaching over to scratch behind the cat’s ears. “I almost didn’t have a home once, before May took me in… Ya know, I’ve never had a  cat before, but I really don’t remember cats understanding this much English.”

The cat met Peter’s eyes again, brilliant green converging with chocolate brown.

“Hey wait… those eyes…” 

Peter’s brain flashed back to last week at the coffee shop, the odd sensation of being followed, the green eyes watching in the bushes. 

You’re what’s been lurking around, aren’t you?!” Peter’s eyes widened. “Have you been looking for me?” 

The cat swiped a paw behind his ear nonchalantly, but his ears were trained on Peter.

“You’re a strange little fella’, I’ll give you that. But you don’t have a home and, well, I’ve got a home. So tell you what, cat. You can stay here and run around and do whatever it is cats do all day, or you can follow me and I’ll figure out some way to keep you. I’ll leave that up to you. Okay?” 

With that, Peter continued up the road, heading toward one of his favorite spots in Queens, a secluded park not many knew about and even less visited. It was one of the few places Peter could focus on reading without the usual smattering of sounds competing for his attention.  

Although if he focused he could hear the soft footfalls of tiny paw pads on the pavement, he kept casting glances behind him to double check, secretly hoping to see a moving puddle of black night trailing behind, and sure enough, the cat followed him at a short distance, tail high and waving.

“Are you sure this… thing… is safe?” a voice whispered in his ear.

“Karen, seriously, it’s a cat. My whole spidey-sense thing gives me a pretty good idea of the exact, um, cat-ness of him, and he’s 100% cat.”

“Your spidey-senses didn’t hear him coming.”

“Okay, well, I wasn’t exactly worried about feline threats in a bookshop,” Peter replied, offended. “Believe it or not I get distracted sometimes and stop noticing Every. Single. Thing.”

“Touche.” 

Sometimes I wish that would happen more often… and I could also really use a friend.

After glancing around to check for anyone nearby, Peter scrambled into a big oak tree at the edge of the park, climbing up high enough that he was mostly obscured by leaves and other branches, then looped his legs over a sturdy branch and let his body fall backward until he was hanging upside down with his knees wrapped over the branch. He untucked the book from under his arm and began inspecting it.

“Oh, hey there,” he called out when he heard the cat land next to him on the tree branch. “I’m just going to be reading for a bit, feel free to get comfortable.”

He ran his fingers over the gold filigree, tracing the swirls and lines that covered the entire surface of the book. 

Red and gold. Mr. Stark would’ve loved… Peter cut his own thoughts short, opening the book and searching for a title.

“Norse Stories and Tales,” he read aloud. “Huh. So, like, they’re the ones with all those old myths about Thor’s people and stuff, right?” he asked no one.

“Yes, Peter, you are correct, they are the ones with ‘those old myths about Thor’s people and stuff.’”

“Already knew that, but yeah, thanks!”

Despite the nice weather, but to Peter’s relief, no one walked by this part of the park today. But if they had, they’d have seen a boy dangling from a tree branch, unruly curls hanging down, enraptured in his book that looked like something out of a Victorian novel, occasionally making remarks to what appeared to be no one at all. And between his legs was nestled a cat, black fur draping over the boy’s knees, emerald eyes ever watchful as the boy read.

Chapter Text

Peter coughed as he kicked up dust dashing up the stairway to the apartment. The cat tucked under his arm had its inky black ears flattened against its head in clear disgust, glaring up at him thru emerald slits. Instinctively, he reached up and pulled out his earpiece, tossing it into his backpack. Reaching the door of the apartment, he pressed his ear to the door.

Fuck, Aunt May’s home,” he muttered under his breath. “There’s no way she’s gonna let me just show up with a cat, and even if I put you in my backpack she’s definitely gonna notice. If she figured out the whole Spider-Man thing, there’s no way she’s gonna miss a big fluffy black cat with an attitude…” he rambled quietly.

Peter jumped as he felt something prod his side. The cat let out a soft meow and poked him again with a paw, eyes glinting mischievously. 

“What?” Peter huffed. “I mean, just asking definitely won’t work, but not asking might be worse and…”

The cat wriggled out of his grasp and landed on the floor with a gentle thud. Silky fur brushed against Peter’s leg as the cat butted his ebony head against it, breaking Peter’s flitting thoughts. Suddenly, the cat clutched its paw to its chest and began softly wailing, dramatically limping as it weaved in and out of Peter’s legs.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to… but wait I didn’t even… are you… Oh my God you’re a genius!” Peter whispered, eyes widening in awe. “She can’t tell me no if she thinks you’re hurt! I mean, you even fooled me just now, you clever little bastard!”

The cat gazed up at him, standing tall, chest out and tail high. Peter rumpled the fur on his head, eliciting a quick purr before he scooped the cat up again. A half-hearted growl vibrated against Peter’s hand.

“Okay, c’mon, let’s do this!”

Peter rummaged through his pocket and withdrew a weathered bronze key, turning the lock and bursting in with “Hey May, it’s me, I’m home!”

“Hey, honey, how was your walk? Lovely weather today!” May called from the kitchen.

“Sure was! Ummm, hey, so…” Peter scrubbed the back of his neck with his free hand.

“Yes, Peter? Something wrong?” May emerged from the kitchen with a frown, eyes widening as they traveled from Peter to the obsidian creature bundled under his arm.

“So, uh… I found this cat and…”

“Peter!” May scolded, setting her hands firmly on her hips. “I’m sorry, but I’ve told you before, you know how I feel about us having animals, between my health lately and your…" she gestured at Peter's form, "well, your Spider-Man stuff…” Her eyes softened a little. “Honey, you know it’s not fair to…”

“But Aunt May, he’s hurt!” Peter cut in, setting the cat on the floor, who obligingly limped around wailing hysterically, eyes round as saucers, even falling to its side at one point with a loud yowl. “See? I couldn’t leave him like this! Since when did ‘helping the little guy’ only pertain to people anyways?”

The cat switched from tucking its paw up against itself to dragging it theatrically across the floor, unceremoniously flopping down against Peter’s leg with a final, pitiful meow. Aunt May’s eyes flicked from the cat, to Peter, back to the cat, and finally back to meet Peter’s own, pleading brown eyes that so reminded her of her brother-in-law. And of Ben. 

“Al...Alright. You can keep him till you get him patched up. But you’re using your own money if that thing needs to see a vet or whatever. Deal?”

“Um, yeah, totally! Thanks so much Aunt May!” Peter closed the distance between them and hugged her tightly. “Let me just get him settled in and then I’ll join you for that Thai food? You did bring Thai, right?”

“Of course I did! Take your time; I won’t start without you… and just for bringing a cat home I’m making you watch The Bachelor with me!” she called after him.

“You’re the best, May!” he replied over his shoulder as he dragged his backpack (not complaining) and his cat (definitely complaining) to his room and shut the door.

Setting the cat down, Peter tossed his backpack into the closet and flopped down cross-legged on top of his bed.

“Okay, buddy, you’re getting an Oscar for that one,” he quipped. “Not that I like lying to Aunt May but… how else am I gonna convince her I need to adopt a random-black-cat-sidekick?” Peter dropped his head back onto the sheets. “What even is my life?” he moaned, rubbing his temples. 

After a moment, he sat back upright. “Okay, so, first things first, what am I gonna call you?” 

The cat looked up from preening itself, pausing mid-lick with his tongue stuck to his paw before he slowly drew it back into his mouth and set his (nope, not injured) paw down daintily.

“Umm… let’s see… I could call you Panther, like the Black Panther… Is that too on-the-nose?” 

The feline sneezed without breaking eye contact.

“Okay, so not that… umm… could do something with black… Coal, Raven, Ebony, Shade, Shadow, Night…” 

Peter’s fingers tapped rapidly against the mattress as he continued listing names. Stretching lazily, the cat let out a long sigh.

“I know!” Peter brightened. “Salem!”

Jade eyes met his as the cat tipped its head quizzically. 

“It’s a reference. There was this witch Sabrina, in this show… well it was a comic, then it was a show, but I watched the show… anyway, she had this black cat named Salem, and he could talk, and he was actually a witch that was stuck in a cat’s body, and he’s really witty and funny, and he kinda wants to take over the world but ultimately he’s a good guy and… well you seem smarter than your average cat, and you're both black cats, and I think it fits,” Peter finished.

Fluffy shoulders rolled back in an almost-shrug as the cat let out a friendly meow .

“Salem it is then! Well, anyway, make yourself at home, don’t get into too much trouble, and after I finish up with May I’ll be back, okay?” 

Salem jumped onto the bed with a single, easy bound and curled up in a sunny spot, stretching his fore-paws out in front of him with a yawn.

“Wow, yeah, don’t be afraid to get comfy, geez. Careful or May’ll accuse you of being a lazy-bum-teenager-who-doesn’t-do-anything-to-help-out-around-here and tell you to 'get a job or something useful,'” he said with a wink as he unlatched the bedroom door.

---

Peter returned a few hours and several episodes of The Bachelor later to find Salem perched at his desk staring inquisitively at a picture of him and Tony Stark excitedly thumbs-upping the camera. Peter’s eyes immediately misted over as he picked up the frame, thumb brushing across the photo gently.

“That’s Tony Stark. Well, Iron Man, but to me he was just Mr. Stark. Tony. He was my mentor. He saved the whole universe and now… he’s gone…” Peter choked, wiping his sleeve across his face as he rocked back in the office chair (which was so much nicer and comfier once he upgraded it with the money he got when, well…), perching his feet on the desk. Salem let out a soft wail, turning to him with wide, round eyes. 

“He was amazing. He was so smart, and so kind, and I know he wasn’t always so nice to everyone, but really he just wanted to make the world a better place, and… I miss him so much…” Peter sobbed, tears streaming fully down his face now. “Sorry, I just…” Peter cut off with another sob. 

He glanced up and Salem averted his green gaze, swiping a paw over an ear. Peter buried his face in his hands, breath coming in ragged gasps between sobs that he tried his best to muffle. Calm down, calm down, calm down... Just think... Breathe in... Breathe out... Breathe in... Breathe out... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... His breathing slowed to deep sighs and he scrubbed his face with his palm before looking up again.

“It’s good, ya know, having someone to talk to,” he mused. “I don’t like putting all this on Aunt May when she’s already dealing with so much, and no one really… gets it… that’s not the Avengers, but talking to them just means we all get sad and so we all try to avoid it but then it’s all awkward and… it’s nice to just talk.”

Peter snatched a book off the desk and spun around so that his feet pitched upward and rested where his head should be, dangling his head over the edge of the desk chair. Salem leaped off the desk and settled on his chest, facing the book and keeping one eye half-open as Peter thumbed through the pages, his body rising and falling slightly with the boy’s breaths until Peter fell asleep and the book dropped quietly to the floor.

Chapter Text

Peter hung upside down over his bed, bare feet clinging to the ceiling, notepad in hand. He chewed his pencil as he worked through the more complicated equations. Reaching out a lanky hand, he tapped his phone. 

3:53pm

Sunday, June 2, 2024

 “Ah, good!” he exclaimed, dropping down onto the mattress with a flip, “I’ve still got time to make the rounds before dinner.”

Peter’s back gave a pop as he stood and he sighed with relief. He grinned as his nanotech armor responded to his thoughts and folded outward from his web shooters and over his body, gliding over his arms and down to his legs, outfitting him in red, black, and gold. He flexed his fingers as his eyes slid over himself in the mirror. A small pool of darkness wound itself around his legs.

“Oh hey, buddy, I’m gonna go out for a bit, ok?” Peter explained as Salem wove in and out of his legs, tail winding around his ankles. “You just stay here and I’ll be back before you know it. Oh! And if May comes in just… do your thing, alright?” 

Seeming satisfied, Salem curled up on his plush bed in the corner, courtesy of Aunt May. For all that she didn’t want a cat, she’d been insistent on buying the coziest looking bed in the pet store, and Peter loved her all the more for it. He snatched up his phone from the bed and snapped a quick picture of Salem with his tail curled over his nose and sent it to MJ.

Check it out, May let me get a cat!

… (Ok, so it found me and she let me keep it)

His name’s Salem.

With a final glance around the room, Peter ducked out the window, making sure to push it closed again until he heard the “click” of the latch. Old habits die hard, and he still relished the thrill of climbing out the window and pulling himself up, up, up before webbing across the city. 

He looped a corner, gaining speed as his web shooters worked as swiftly as his thoughts. Once he gained height, he threw in a couple back flips, letting out a “Whoop!” of delight, then threw himself toward a building where he landed perpendicular to the ground below. He pumped his legs furiously, racing along the side of an office building before throwing out another strand of webbing and gliding into the air. With a final strand of webbing, he arced his body up onto the roof of a low building and landed with a roll. Cautiously, Peter peered over each side of the building to check the alleyways where he knew a band of common street thugs often hung out. Finding the coast clear, he webbed his way down to street level, letting his tech melt off him until all that remained was his set of web shooters. He tugged down the sleeves of his lightweight shirt until they were mostly covered, and strolled out onto the street.

“Ack!” he yelled as he pitched forward, righting himself in a couple of steps. He glanced back to see what had tripped him up and gaped at the black furry animal peering up at him.

“Salem! What the… how the heck did you get here?!” he cried, scooping the cat up into his arms. “I must not have latched that window right, I’m so sorry, you could’ve been hurt…” 

Peter cradled the cat as he dashed back into the alley, letting his suit sweep over him as he took to the skies again, Salem letting out caterwauls of protest at the constant changes in pressure. 

---

“Okay, now, you need to promise me to stay here, ” Peter implored, checking the window latch for the third time. 

He dashed to his desk and quickly stacked his ever-messier collection of papers and books, tossing an errant pair of briefs into the laundry bin.

“May will literally kill me if she comes in here,” he muttered to himself as he locked the door from the outside, tossing the key into his pocket. His phone buzzed.

Omg, he’s soooo cute! Pleeeassseee tell me you named him after Sabrina?

Yup :)

That’s so awesome; I’m in love already <3

Peter tucked his phone back into his pocket and exited the apartment through the front door. His feet barely hit the sidewalk when he heard a faint meow from the bushes.

“What the?! Salem? Seriously?!” 

Peter groaned as he swept Salem up into his arms again and trudged back to the apartment.

“Seriously, cat, I don’t know what your problem is or how you get out of locked rooms, but this is getting ridiculous…” 

Peter paused when he realized the locked door was still latched tight. He set Salem down to turn the key and startled when opened the door and realized the window, too, remained locked. Scratching his head in confusion, Peter turned in circles in his room.

“No holes I can see, no gaps, exits are locked… how the fuck are you getting out?!” 

Buzzing from his pocket interrupted Peter’s outburst.

Call from 

Unlisted number

Peter scrunched his face and hit “ignore.” Immediately the phone began buzzing again. With a shrug, Peter tapped “accept.”

“Hello, Peter. I don’t believe we’ve met, formally. My name is Nick Fury, and I don’t appreciate you ignoring my call.”

Peter’s mouth hung open.

“Are you going to say something or should I assume I’m talking to your pants pocket right now?”

“Oh, umm… Mr. Fury, I… Umm… Hi. Sorry. I didn’t mean to ignore you, sir, I just didn’t know that…”

“Cut the pleasantries, Parker. I have a request.”

“Umm, sure… wait, how did you get my number?”

“I’m in the business of knowing things.”

“Oh, umm, okay. That makes sense. So, uh… this request?” Peter scrubbed a hand through his hair.

“I want you to come to meet me tomorrow at noon in my office. I’ll send you the address. Just go to the front and tell them you have an appointment with the director. They’ll know who you are. I’ll tell you more then.”

Peter’s breathing sped up, eyes wide. “But, um, Mr. Fury, sir. I have school tomorrow…”

“That wasn’t a request, Parker.”

“But you said…”

“I’ll tell you my request at the meeting. The meeting is not the request. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir…”

“Now do you want me to get school canceled for everyone, or do you think you can handle showing up for One. Single. Appointment?”

Peter took a breath and swallowed. “I’ll be there, sir.”

“Good.”

“Oh, wait, Mr. Fury! Sir!” Peter’s heart thudded through the pause.

“I’m listening?”

“Superhero suits? Or…”

“No. Just don’t show up looking like some sort of teenage embarrassment.”

“So that’s a no to the sleeveless hoodie look?”

The phone hung up with a click.

Chapter Text

Peter double checked the address against his phone, glancing up at the seemingly ordinary warehouse just outside of New York City. 

“No distinct features, no windows… yup, seems about right.”

Clutching his backpack tight against his spine with one hand (he was sure he heard a faint growl from inside), Peter pushed through the wide tinted glass door. A brunette in a sharply cut suit greeted Peter from behind a desk with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. 

“I’m, uh, here to see the director?” Peter stuttered, staring at his shoes.

The woman nodded. “Hello, Peter Parker. We’ve been expecting you.”

“So I’ve heard… I’m Peter; nice to meet you,” he said, extending his hand across the concrete counter-top with a grin.

She tipped her head to the side, ponytail sweeping along the base of her neck, before taking his hand. “Deputy Director Hill.”

“It’s an honor, ma’am,” he replied, flashing her a Peter Smile™ for good measure.

She retracted her hand and he folded his arms over himself, flushing red with embarrassment as he felt the sweat on his palms. He wiped his hands on the front of his pants as nonchalantly as he could and stared at the floor.

“Follow me, Parker,” Hill instructed, rising and turning on her heel. 

She led him across the otherwise empty foyer to an elevator where she swiped her badge, then leaned forward as something scanned her eye. The elevator opened and she stepped inside, gesturing for Peter to follow. He wondered silently if anyone normally manned the entrance or if today was a special occasion. The absence of chairs or really any furniture at all certainly suggested so. Peter blinked as he realized the elevator was moving down , even though he had entered on ground level and there were definitely floors above judging by the building’s exterior. He wrapped his arms around himself and perched one foot on the wall behind him. The elevator finally dinged and Hill escorted him down a long hallway. Peter hunched in on himself, feeling the presence of the thick cement walls on all sides. They passed several hangar-style doors before Hill stopped before a modest, single door, and hit the buzzer next to it. 

“Sir, Peter Parker here to see you.”

“He’s two minutes late,” a fuzzy version of Fury’s voice said over the speaker.

“I assure you, he was here on time,” Hill replied. Turning to Peter, she added, “Don’t worry, his bark is worse than his bite.”

“I heard that,” said Fury, whom Peter heard now from inside the room as the door slid to the side. 

“I know you did!” Hill called over her shoulder as she strode back toward the elevator. “Don’t make a liar out of me, Fury!”

Peter rung his hands together as he stepped across the threshold and the door shut behind him with a whoosh of air.

“Please, sit.” Fury gestured. 

He sat at a large wooden desk; it was almost old-timey, Peter thought. He pulled out a chair across the desk from the Director (hey, so this office actually had furniture) and set his backpack down beside it.

“As you may know,” Fury began, clasping his hands together on the desk in front of him, “the Avengers as we know them have disbanded.”

“Getting right into the meaty stuff, then.”

“When you’re in my line of work, Parker, you don’t have time for idle chit chat,” Fury said, over-enunciating the last words.

“Right, sorry, Mr. Director sir.”

“Anyway,” Fury continued with a nod, leaning back in his chair idly, “As such, Earth is without it’s so-called ‘Mightiest Heroes.’ After ‘The Blip,’” he emphasized with air quotes, “many known criminals and villains returned to empty, run-down prisons that we didn’t have the personnel to staff for five years. And some of them escaped. That’s where you come in.”

“M… me?” 

“Yes you. I want you and a select team of remaining Avengers - Falcon, Scarlet Witch, The Hulk - to recover these missing persons before they become a threat.”

Peter swallowed hard, worrying his lower lip and studying a scratch on the desk intently.

“I beg your pardon, sir, I really am honored, but I really don’t think I’m the one for the job. I’m just some kid from Queens trying to make the world a better place, looking out for the little guy.”

“Bitch please, you’ve been to space!” 

Peter flinched. “I didn’t want to! I was just doing what I had to do for my friends.”

“And this doesn’t count as doing what you have to do?”

“I dunno… Can’t you get, like, Dr. Strange, or Captain Marvel in on this?”

“Bigger problems to deal with, and off world. And before you ask, T’Challa has a country to run, the Winter Soldier and Hawkeye are both adamantly retired, Thor is off gallivanting with the Guardians, and Scott Lang is honestly even more capricious than you. Trust me, I’ve thought long and hard about my options. Tony trusted you. Speaking of whom…” Fury pulled open a drawer of his desk. “Pepper told me he wanted me to give you this.” 

He extended a small, black case to Peter, who sucked in a breath and accepted it with wide eyes.

“Don’t open it now. But please, at least think about my request. The world needs more heroes like you, Parker.”

“Thank you, sir. But, really, I need to finish school and…” 

Fury cut him off with the wave of a hand. “I can get the school to issue you a diploma. You’ve shown nothing but excellence in all of your studies and I am nothing if not influential. I could even promise to do it and keep your identity a secret. So what’ll it be, Parker? Are you gonna step up?”

Peter froze when he heard the thump of his backpack tipping over onto the floor. Fury rose and leaned over the desk, squinting at it. The bag began to wriggle and Peter winced as he heard the sound of claws scratching against fabric.

“Parker…” Fury warned.

“I can explain!” Peter practically shouted, grabbing his pack and unzipping it, revealing a fluffy black head. “My cat - this is Salem - literally follows me everywhere. If I try to leave without him, he just shows up, so it’s better if I just bring him with me in the pack. I’m sorry I brought him in here; I know I should’ve asked, but really he’s no trouble at all and…”

“Do you mistake me for a fool, Parker? That's an ordinary cat my ass."

“Huh? He is an ordinary cat, sir, I swear, he’s just a stray I found…” Peter rambled while Salem jumped out of the pack and onto the desk, strutting across it and waving his tail as if he owned it.

“I do not trust random cats that take a liking to superheroes, Parker. Get that thing off my desk immediately!” Fury demanded, pushing back from his desk and putting distance between them.

Peter scooped Salem up stammering, “I am so, so sorry, Mr. Fury. I’m really, really sorry…” 

Rubbing his hand over his eyepatch, Fury eyed the cat suspiciously, narrowing his good eye. “So you’re telling me this thing goes everywhere with you.”

“That’s certainly how it’s been working out so far, I mean…”

“So if you did say yes to my proposal, would it be going with you?”

“I mean, I could try to leave him at home, but…”

Fury threw his hands up in the air. “Great! So we’re trusting a teenage Spider-Man and his satanic black cat with keeping the world safe?! Maybe this was another one of Tony’s lapses in judgement. Happened often enough…”

“I’m sorry!” Peter wailed. “It was stupid to bring him and I wasn’t thinking and I’m sorry. But I’ll… I’ll think about your offer, Mr. Fury,” he added, blinking back tears and dropping his voice to almost a whisper. “I will. And I… I should go now. Can I keep…”

“Keep the gift, Parker. It’s not from me.”

“Thank you, sir. It’s… it’s been an honor to meet you, sir.”

“Never thought getting called sir would get old. You remember the way out?”

“Yeah, I think so…”

“The elevator will automatically take you back to the main floor. I’ll call you in two days and I will expect an answer.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And Parker?”

“Sir?”

“Don’t send me to voicemail this time.”

Chapter Text

Peter hurried to get home, cutting across back alleys and side streets and foregoing the Spider-man suit. Salem let out of few yowls of protest as Peter fumbled over curbs and fractured pavement. 

Fury wants me?! Me. To capture wanted criminals with a team of Avengers. This is not good…  This is all I’ve ever wanted. Oh my God, what do I do? If Tony were here he would… Dammit, you know what Tony would do. He’d fucking save the world again… I’m not Tony Stark. I just wanna be normal for once in my fucking life… 

The hairs on the back of Peter’s neck stood up and he felt a cold shiver run down his spine. As he blinked away the tears threatening to spill, he slowed himself to a halt and took in his surroundings. The alley before him dead-ended, pools of darkness beginning to gather despite it being just past midday. Dammit , Peter thought, pressing his back up against a building on one side of the alley. Took a wrong turn somewhere, stupid brain. He felt Salem’s fuzzy head poke out of the backpack.

“Shhhh…” Peter warned. 

He pushed his sleeves back, revealing his web shooters secure around his wrists.

“Hey, Karen,” he whispered. “I’m not deploying the suit yet, but be ready. Something doesn’t feel right here.”

Peter heard the scuffle of boots even before he saw the figure approaching, blocking his escape (well, his human escape. He figured he could always just web his way out, but if there was a threat to the city, he’d rather investigate than run away. Tony wouldn’t run away, even if he didn’t have the suit at his disposal…). The figure - a man - sported a tac suit and brandished a knife in one hand and a pistol in the other. He muttered something in another language, flipping his knife over in his palm. 

“I… I’m gonna warn you, sir. I need you to put down the weapons and then there won’t be any trouble. I can’t have you waving those things around in my city…” Peter swallowed as his voice wavered.

The man spat a reply Peter couldn’t understand, but his blood ran cold when the man finished his sentence, “Spider-man.” 

In a swift motion Peter deployed the suit and flipped backward into the air, just missing a bullet. His attacker rushed him, throwing a kick that Peter dodged. He threw out a web to catch the man’s foot, but his webbing fell harmlessly to the ground as the man threw himself backwards, caught himself by his hands, and pushed himself into a perfect backflip. His gun clattered to the ground. 

“Karen, what we got on this guy?”

“Assailant: Georges Batroc, hired assassin, enemy of Captain America. Last known to be in SHIELD custody.”

“Great.” Peter rolled his eyes beneath the suit.

With a kick, Peter sent the pistol into the air and then webbed it high up on a building facade. Batroc readied his knife when Peter heard a growl from behind him.

“Salem, no!” 

Peter spun as the growl deepened, Salem’s form shifting from feline to something distinctly wolf-like.

“What the fu-” 

Salem leapt at Batroc, fangs snapping. The knife bounced off Salem’s shoulder, nicking it lightly, but he barely winced. Batroc’s eye widened and he turned to run. Salem caught up easily. The wolf pounced, throwing Batroc to the ground and closing his jaws at the base of the human’s neck.

“Hey!” Peter yelled, running to catch up. “Don’t kill him!”

Salem’s head snapped up, eyes locking with Peter with a look of pure confusion. Batroc flipped onto his back and delivered a swift kick to Salem’s gut, shoving him back a pace. The wolf lunged again.

“Get out of here!” Peter spat at Batroc as he grabbed Salem by the scruff. “I don’t want to see you in my city again!”

Batroc’s legs found purchase and he scrambled away, footfalls echoing off the walls as he disappeared out of sight. As soon as Peter could no longer hear his footsteps, he turned on Salem, shoving the wolf away from him as his hood receded.

“Okay, what the actual fuck was that?!” he shouted. “What the fuck are you anyway? That is not normal and… and… and I trusted you! Are you here to kill me too?! How in the actual hell did my cat just…” 

A shimmer of green materialized around Salem’s form.

“Oh my God, what in the actual… What now?!” Peter moaned, pressing his fingers to his temples as he began pacing. 

“Allow me to explain myself.”

Peter’s eyes snapped up at the silky smooth, strangely-accented voice. A man stood before him in a green and brown… tunic? Did people still wear tunics? He had leather boots that reached to his knees and stood with a stance that was far too casual for someone who had most definitely been a wolf two seconds ago. Peter’s eyes drew upward to the mess of black hair that fell to the man’s shoulders - okay, someone seriously needed to give this guy a hairbrush and some dry shampoo - and locked with a gaze that had the same distinct shade of green as Salem’s. The man threw him a feline-like grin and a wave.

“I’m sure you have some questions…”

“Sure as hell I have some questions, mister! Two minutes ago you were a cat that’s been living with me for days , and then suddenly you’re some sort of wolf-dog-thing, and now some… some… some really old-timey looking person? Like, thanks for trying to help and all, but what the fuck is going on?!” 

“I assure you; I mean you no harm. But could we perhaps go somewhere less… well…” the man gestured to the dark alley, “this?” 

“Um, Peter?” Karen’s voice resonated in Peter’s ear. “I think you’ll want to know that Loki, Prince of Asgard, is currently dead but also standing before you right now.”

“What is my life!” Peter moaned.

“Well, fine, I guess this is as good a place as any,” Loki continued with a hiss of annoyance. “I am Loki, Prince of Asgard, Odinson, the rightful king of Jotunheim, and god of mischief.” He gave a slight bow. 

“You’re Thor’s brother,” said Peter, deadpan. “You’re dead.” 

“So I have been told.” Loki inspected his fingernails, flicking away an invisible speck of grime. “But, see, I am not from your reality. Your little friends the Avengers handed me the Tesseract, and with a little work, well, I found my way here.”

Shouts sounded from outside the alley and Loki vanished into thin air as some kids ran by. After a moment he rematerialized, looking incredibly unphased. 

“Umm…”

“You saw me turn back from a wolf and this confuses you?” 

“Okay, sorry, but this all confuses me! You followed me around pretending to be a cat for days, you kept so-and-so from trying to kill me, and now you’re telling me you’re from another reality. Honestly, what I really can’t figure out is why Thor’s bad guy brother from another dimension came to find me . Am I just that unlucky? Did you save me just so you can kill me yourself?”

Loki sighed, picking up Bartoc’s knife and vanishing it with a flick of his wrist. “By the Norns, do we really have to do this right now?”

“Yeah, actually, you’d better get to talking right now , because I’ve got Nick Fury’s number and I know he won’t be happy to see you around, so you’d better have a fucking spectacular explanation for why I’m talking to a dead guy from another planet!” Peter pushed himself into Loki’s space.

“Realm,” Loki corrected cooly. 

“Whatever! Just get to talking before I have all the Avengers here to lock you up for good!”

“And you think they could?” Loki laughed maniacally. 

Peter could hear his blood pounding through his ears and tried to still his shaking fingers. Actually, he wasn’t sure if they could, especially not without Tony and Cap. Nor was he sure he could call Fury in time if Loki decided to turn on him. Speaking of, why hadn’t Loki tried to insta-pulverize him, anyway? Wasn’t this the guy who tried to take out half of New York that one time? 

“I’m not planning to kill you, you know.” Loki stepped back from Peter to lean casually against the brick of a building. 

“And why should I trust you?” Peter spat back.

“Because of what I’m going to tell you. The Avengers came to my reality presumably to steal the Tesseract. I do not know all the details, but what I have witnessed since suggests it was to save this reality from the mad titan Thanos. Your reality’s Iron Man approached me and offered me an exchange. My freedom and the tesseract in exchange for your safety.”

“Excuse me?” 

Loki shoved up his sleeve, revealing a strange tattoo across his forearm littered with symbols Peter didn’t recognize. 

“These runes indicate the terms of our agreement. I was given the tesseract and thereby a means to escape the imprisonment I was sure to face for my actions under the influence of the mind stone. In exchange, I was tasked with finding a way to this reality, and am sworn to protect you from harm until you are ‘able to care for yourself.’” Loki emphasized this point with quotes. “Presumably at such a time, these markings will disappear and I am free to act as I choose.”

“But… but why? Why would Tony want you to protect me? Why would you even agree to it? You’ve never even met me, and I thought not liking people was kinda your thing.”

“Why would I? Spending a few years babysitting a Midgardian boy seems a simple enough price to pay for my freedom, don’t you think?” Loki quipped an eyebrow.

“Babysitting?! I don’t need a babysitter! And even though I could totally see him thinking that, I still don’t believe you that Tony would ask you to look after me! He’s got plenty of friends and I don’t remember you being one of them.”

“Neither do I.”

“Huh?” 

“You are not wrong to question, Peter.” Loki’s expression turned somber. “Neither do I remember being one of Anthony Stark’s friends or associates. The last I remember, he offered me a drink claiming to threaten me, and I threw him out a window. But the man from your reality, he gave me an Asgardian vow. Told me I was the only one he trusted to ‘survive what was coming’ and protect you. I have not lived through whatever existed between us after I tried to kill him and his precious Avengers. I, too, have asked, ‘why me?’ But who am I to question what the Norns require.” Loki closed his eyes a moment, face pulling into a sad frown.

“Prove it,” said Peter.

Loki sighed. “How do you wish me to prove events which have already happened in a reality which we are not currently in?”

“The Tesseract. You said you have it. Tony destroyed all the Infinity Stones, so it shouldn’t be possible.” 

With a sweep of Loki’s fingers, gold vambraces with elaborate engravings shimmered into place over his forearms. Each harbored a glowing gem, one emerald green and the other a brilliant blue.

“This is the time stone, and this,” Loki held up his arm with the blue gem, “is the space stone, the gem previously enclosed within the Tesseract. These gems, combined with my world-walking abilities, allowed me to step from my reality into yours. It was not without difficulty.”

Peter stared, transfixed. There was no mistaking the glowing gems for anything but the ones he had once held in the Infinity Gauntlet. His mind began racing at once. What if Loki was telling the truth?

I’m sorry, you’re saying there’s a multiverse?! I thought that was just theoretical. I mean, that completely changes how we understand the initial singularity. We’re talking about an eternal inflation system. And how does that even work with all the quantum? It’s insane!” Loki furrowed his brow. “Sorry… It’s really cool.”

“I am afraid much of your Midgardian language regarding your version of magic does not translate well with the All-Speak. But to answer your question, yes, anyone with half a brain would know the Norns spin multiple realities.”

Peter’s jaw dropped slightly. He jumped as his phone buzzed in his pocket. His eyes assessed Loki one last time. “I believe you,” he concluded, letting the rest of his suit retract into his web shooters. Loki’s armor shimmered away as Peter pulled out his phone.

Hey honey, don’t forget to run the dishes when you get home. I’m gonna be late at work.

“Oh, damn, we… um, I… well, I can’t be out when May gets home. She’ll know I missed school,” Peter blurted out, casting a glance at sun low on the horizon. 

“Very well, I shall simply return to my previous form so as not to rouse suspicion.” 

“You’re coming with me?”

“I thought I explained how I swore to protect you and now my life and freedom is dependent on keeping you alive until the Norns decide you are capable to handle yourself on your own.” 

“Oh my god, seriously, Thor’s ancient brother from another mother has to watch my every move now?”

Loki bristled. “You think I am any happier about the arrangement? Wandering around Midgard protecting an adolescent boy playing hero because I swore an oath to a man who threatened to kill me was not exactly high on my list of ways to spend this century.”

“Well no one asked you to.”

“Actually, your Anthony Stark did.”

“Well fuck him too! Just goes to show he never really believed I could be an Avenger.”

Peter thought he saw Loki’s face soften, but he spun on his heel, tears stinging at his face. The last thing he needed right now was sympathy from a thousands-year-old villain with a bad hair day. He heard feline footsteps behind him as he followed the route back to the apartment, wondering what exactly was his life that in the same day Nick Fury asked him to drop out of school to chase criminals with the Avengers, a literal god sent by Tony Stark himself showed up to keep Peter from somehow fucking up the entire planet or killing himself trying not to. Peter’s face fell further into despair when he opened the door to his room to see the Winter Soldier perched leisurely in his window, twirling a knife in his metal hand.

Chapter Text

SHIELD agents and Avengers heatedly stepped into each other’s spaces. Loki took two deliberate paces back. The muzzle cut cruelly into his lips, sweat-soaked hair clung to his face - reminders of the battle he had fought and… lost? Won? The answers were very blurry and he didn’t even know which outcome he truly wanted and… Loki was thrust out of his thoughts by a Midgardian colliding with his back.

“Vio ykkar I erior minn astir eor hollr innan sja lifdaggar eor urtan.”

Not All-Speak. Asgardian. “To you I pledge my love and loyalty within this life and beyond.”

Loki’s eyes widened, and he inclined his head slightly. A man in some sort of second-rate Midgardian armor pressed against him back-to-back.

“Look natural, Reindeer Games. We’ve got about 30 seconds before all hell breaks loose over there. I’m from the future. Something very bad happened in my timeline, and you’re the only one I trust to survive what’s coming. I need you to find a way to my timeline and…” the man swallowed audibly, “and protect a kid named Peter Parker if I don’t make it out. At least till he can look after himself. In exchange I’m giving you the Tesseract, because I’m stupid and sentimental and I think I have just a crazy enough plan to get it again anyway.”

Loki blinked. Reindeer Games? But that… Stark. Who placed himself next to Loki but stared pointedly in the opposite direction.

“What’ll it be, Loki?” he said with casual familiarity.

Who in the future would’ve taught Stark an Asgardian vow? Him? Never. Why would Future-Stark pledge his love and loyalty to the wayward Prince of Asgard? Who was Peter Parker and why was he important enough to risk an Infinity Gem? Especially if Stark’s realm was in danger?

“Any day now,” Stark hissed, eyeing him sidelong. 

The activity before Loki threatened to break out into an all-out brawl as hands from both sides grabbed at the case containing the Tesseract. The Tesseract. His way out of Odin’s and Midgard’s punishments for his crimes. A hefty recompense for protecting a… did Stark call this Peter Parker a child? And the challenge of world-walking to a future reality… His seior practically itched at the notion. He met Stark’s eyes with the slightest nod.

Stark narrowed his eyes. “Vow.”

Muzzle in place Loki could hardly make his oath aloud, but he closed his eyes and spoke into his magic, feeling his arm grow hot. He twisted his wrist around and pushed up his sleeve just enough to reveal the runes etching themselves on his forearm, wincing as the shackles scraped against his skin.  

Stark touched his earpiece. “Now, Lang.” 

Current-Stark clawed at his chest and fell to his knees. The briefcase containing the Tesseract shot across the floor. Loki tipped his head curiously, tracking the motion. How had Future-Stark known? Had he poisoned his current self? Future-Stark nonchalantly bent and grasped the briefcase’s handle. As he marched away from the commotion, he fiddled with the clasps on the case. “Good job. Meet me in the alley. I’m gonna grab a quick - woah!” Future-Stark slipped on… nothing? as Hulk smashed through the wall a few feet ahead. The case clattered to the ground and the Tesseract spilled out next to Future-Stark. He let out a frustrated noise and appeared to try to find his footing, nudging the Tesseract with his boot in the process. The stone skidded across the floor, stopping mere inches from Loki’s feet. Loki’s eyebrows shot up and his eyes darted from the Tesseract, to Future-Stark, to the commotion surrounding Current-Stark, and back again. Future-Stark locked eyes with him for a brief second, and Loki noted a strangely pained expression. 

Hulk roared from behind him, and Loki lifted the Tesseract from the ground. He felt the pull of its magic, so different from his own. Oh, I’ve missed you. And then he let himself compress through space. He closed his eyes against the intensity of light and color, felt his lungs squeeze as he flitted between the spaces within space itself. Sounds blended into a painful din before slowly fading out again. After the crushing feeling finally dissipated, he opened his eyes. Vanaheim. I’ve missed you, too.