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Back to Where You've Never Been

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Chapter 1 - Fracture

<<<>>>

Tony's CEO goes on her (long-planned, desperately needed, beyond deserved, probably much too short) vacation. Which means Tony is in charge.

He was CEO of Stark Industries for years before he handed the company off to Pepper. He can handle the company for a month in her absence. And he can handle the upgrades to his suit, and Sam's wings, those arrows he's promised Clint, and the other various bits of weaponry and tech the team needs. He has an intern, now. Oh, and he can handle the "also doing the Avenger thing", no problem. It's not like his life is going to crash and burn, after all.

He's got this.

<<<>>>

Peter bounces into the lab as he usually does, face not-quite-flushed from his rush to get back to work. He isn't late, but he likes to get in early, read through updates from the night staff. It's so nice being out of school now, only beholden to the hours that May's requested he spend at home. At least until college. In the mean time, he gets to spend free time at his internship here in Tower, with his favorite person mentoring him.

"Hey, Mr. Stark!" he calls out. He lets his backpack fall to the floor with a dull thud.

Mr. Stark's in a zone, working on re-configuring some nanites that are out of calibration. One shocks him and he hisses. "Hey," he says vaguely, not even looking up from his work.

"Were you able to look over my modifications for Sam's wing pack?" Peter asks, pulling up his specifications.

"No," Mr. Stark answers. He presses his watch and another set of lenses flip over his goggles and he leans in closer to his work.

Curious, Peter ambles over, leaning down as well.

"Gonna need some space here, kid," Mr. Stark mumbles, still not looking at him. "Can't work with you breathing down my neck."

"S-sorry," Peter says quickly. He goes back to his work station and closes out the wings, pulling up the modified arrows for Clint instead. He and Clint have talked about getting a version of Peter's webbing into an arrow that Clint can use to incapacitate just like Peter does. But the compression is different and Peter needs to play around with the formula.

He runs through variations and the schematics of the most likely designs for the arrow heads. He's dancing around, like he does when he gets in his own zone. He snaps his fingers as he runs simulations, tapping his foot when one shows promise.

"You wanna knock the noise off?" Mr. Stark calls to him. He looks over to see the man looking at him with an unimpressed expression. Peter hates to see that expression directed at him. It makes him feel about two feet tall, like he's fourteen again.

"Sorry," he says quietly. "Just got in a zone."

"Yeah, well, I need to concentrate," Mr. Stark says shortly, turning back to the nanites.

Peter ducks to grab his Stark Sound Pods out of his backpack and slips them in, asking JARVIS - quietly - to run his playlist through them. He hears the opening of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and grins. He dives back into his work, progressing along until he hits a point where he needs the man's input. He pulls a pod out. "Mr. Stark?"

No response.

He looks around. Mr. Stark's not even in the lab anymore.

Peter frowns. Mr. Stark's never just left without saying something before, even if it's just a not-so-teasing "don't wreck my lab, Kid." Peter shrugs and checks the time. He's been here for over eight hours. It's pushing 2am. He checks his phone's schedule; May is pulling a night shift at the hospital, so he won't have to worry about waking her up.

He decides to leave his backpack in the little locker that Mr. Stark's assigned him and grabbing his phone, leaves.

He suits up so he can sling back home, and once he crawls into his bedroom, falls face first on the bed and sleeps.

<<<>>>

Mr. Stark's in a mood, the next day. His eyes are blood shot and there are dark circles around them. There's an abrasion on his upper cheek and he looks dead on his feet. His usual anthems of AC/DC and Black Sabbath are nowhere to be heard. He's hunched over his work table, just like he'd been the previous day.

"All right, Mr. Stark?" Peter asks, immediately concerned.

"Just a mission that went to hell and back," Mr. Stark mutters, pulling up the wing design Peter's been working on.

"Is that where you went, yesterday?" He steps closer, ready to answer any questions about his proposals Mr. Stark might have.

"Yeah, sorry I didn't update my schedule for you to nose at," Mr. Stark says dryly.

"I could have helped," Peter says. "It's not like I have school in the morning."

Mr. Stark rolls his eyes. "If we'd needed you, we would have called you. We've been doing this a lot longer than you."

"But I-"

"You messed up on the wings, by the way," Mr. Stark interrupts. "I highlighted the mistakes. Fix them." He swipes the blueprints over to Peter's station and pulls up his own work, effectively dismissing Peter. Mr. Stark delves back into the world of his nano tech and Peter, chagrined, studies Mr. Stark's notes to see where he went wrong.

His calculations weren't wrong, he sees, just incomplete. He wouldn't have known to account for nanite compression and expulsion, since neither Mr. Stark nor Sam had mentioned anything about expanding the nano-tech into the wings. He figures this is Mr. Stark's way of letting him know? There are a few places where he spec'd the tolerances too tight, which, okay, that's fair. But it's the way that Mr. Stark's notated some things that have him flushing in upset. This is embarrassing, Kid... Is this your first time or what? ... RE: Tolerances for Dum-E

Mr. Stark can be exacting, but Peter had been proud of his design, especially for a first go-round.

He shrugs it off and goes to work. Have to make mistakes to truly learn, after all. It'll be good for him, he's sure. By the time he finishes making his corrections, it's nearly 11pm. His stomach is protesting in hunger.

"Go home."

Peter looks up to see Mr. Stark shutting down his station. Was he actually leaving at a decent hour?

"Mr. Stark, did you want to grab dinner or something?" he asks.

"Just grab something on your way home," is his answer.

"I can stay," he protests. "It's summer. And JARVIS said you haven't eaten today." And he really wants to get back to the arrow design for Clint; he's so close to a breakthrough.

"It's past your bedtime. Go home."

"B-but-"

"Go home. Sleep. I can't babysit tonight, I have a board meeting tomorrow."

"I don't need babysitting!"

Mr. Stark levels him with a glare. "Sure you don't."

"I'll see you tomorrow," Peter sighs out.

"Yep."

Peter stops at a favorite Chinese take-away place that's still open and spends more than he should have. It's only when he's sitting at the kitchen bar that he realizes he's ordered Mr. Stark's favorites instead of his own. He pulls out the offending ingredients as best he can and eats. He stops long before he's actually full; May's not going to feel like cooking when she gets home.

<<<>>>

"Hey, Mr. Stark!" Peter managed a whole three hours of sleep before his senses woke him up and had him slinging off five blocks east to help evacuate tenants from a blazing building. But he feels good. He likes to be useful. He's going to need to fix the suit, though.

Mr. Stark finally looks up from the wrist unit he's tweaking, SSP in his ear. "You're late."

"Sorry," Peter says. He discretely checks his watch. He's an hour early, since he was up and May had already left for her shift. "Did my hours change?"

"You tell me."

"I-I don't, w-what-"

"Look, either you can do this, or you can't," Mr. Stark snaps. "Don't give me excuses." He turns around and Peter finds himself wondering just what he did wrong. He would have remembered if his hours had changed, because he would have told Aunt May.

"Mr. Stark?" He's not sure how to approach him. "I think the suit is going to need some repairs. I was mostly clear of the building before it collapsed so-"

"What do you mean "mostly" clear?" Mr. Stark asks. He sits up and strides over to Peter. "What the hell were you doing?"

"There was a fire early this morning. I woke up to go help evacuate the tenants. Like I said, I was mostly clear, but something must have gotten jostled when the rubble hit me because the HUD went wonky and-"

Mr. Stark looks like he's trying very hard not to yell.

"It's okay, everyone got out safe and the bruises were gone when I checked so-"

"Leave the suit and I'll see about fixing what you broke," Mr. Stark says before he can finish. "You have got to start being more careful," the man chides.

"I'm sorry," Peter says, reflexively. Because he doesn't think he's done anything wrong. He was helping, saving people. That has to count for something.

"Whatever. Look, I got another meeting I have to handle. You done with the arrow designs yet?"

"Not yet," Peter tells him. "I was fixing the schematics for Sam's wings. There are four prototypes I want to build to test out with the web fluid."

"Go nuts," Mr. Stark tells him. And disappears for hours before coming back in one of the worst moods Peter's ever witnessed the man have. Peter keeps to himself, doesn't ask questions, and builds three of each prototype for testing.

He's about to send a message to Clint to ask him when he's available to start testing when Mr. Stark actually throws a tool across the lab. Something clatters, something shatters, and Peter is... kind of afraid, if he's honest with himself. He's not in danger, because his senses aren't freaking out, but still.

He forgets to send the message to Clint.

<<<>>>

The mission sucks.

It isn't a disaster, it just goes on for longer than any of them would have liked, bad guys included. He isn't sure just how AIM always manages to have such poorly executed (yet often kinda smart) plans, but it is getting old. He wishes he had the arrows finalized for Hawkeye (since Mr. Stark it seemed could whip things up in a matter of hours) but the archer had been out for solo missions and hasn't had a chance to test them. There's no way Peter is letting unvalidated tech into the field.

Mr. Stark had stared him down when he boarded the quinjet to leave with the team. "Uh, what are you doing here?"

"Cap called me," Peter had said. He'd managed to keep his face neutral, even though he was excited to be on a proper mission, again.

"Yeah, we're good-" Mr. Stark had started.

"We need him, Tony," Captain had interrupted. "Pietro is still recovering and with him out Peter's the fastest we have. You saw the footage; we need speed."

"He's my intern."

Peter had not wanted to preen at that. Definitely not.

"He's an Avenger," Cap had said with finality. And a chill went through him because even though he knew Cap would later say that it's a temporary thing (like he always does after any mission Peter's called for), it's what he's been wanting for years. Spider-Man is - for this mission at least - an Avenger.

Peter is super fast as he slings around, webbing up the drones as he catches up with them. Wanda's slowing them down with her red magic stuff and Peter strings them together for Hulk to smash and Mr. Stark and Rhodey to blast while Steve, Sharon, and Nat square off with the lackeys on the ground. Sam and Clint are providing air support and visuals while Scott dives in and out of the lackeys' gear with joyful abandon as weapons become useless. Hope does the same as Scott, just with actual dignity and some ass-kicking.

At one point a stray stream of energy shoots up and Peter finds himself hurtling through the air after Iron Man pushes him out of the way, taking the blast himself. Peter crashes into a building hard enough to cause Karen to have to restart. Hulk doesn't like that Mr. Stark's been hit and isn't shy about letting the source of the energy know it. With the Hulk on a rampage, containing the extra damage is not easy. When Nat is finally able to get away enough to calm him down, the drones are destroyed, and the team is ready to turn it over to the local authorities.

"I'll catch you guys later," Mr. Stark tells them as he fires the suit up. "I have an acquisition meeting I have to be in Jersey for." He flies off.

"I will be damn glad when Pepper gets back," Rhodey comments to no one in particular.

"He hasn't seemed that bad," Steve says "At least, not as bad as I was expecting, given the last time Pepper was out of the office."

"Peter, have you noticed anything different?" Rhodey asks. "You spend the most time with him."

Peter freezes at that. "No, no, he's been fine. Just stressed." He decides to change the subject before anyone can pry further. No need for the team to think he can't handle whatever this job throws at him, from AIM's plans to take over the world to Tony Stark in a Mood. Because he can handle it. He can. "Who's up for post-battle pizza?"

<<<>>>

It's been little over two weeks.

He's starting to dread going into the lab. No matter what he does or says, Mr. Stark seems to find fault. He nearly had his head chewed off for wearing his SSPs the previous day, because he hadn't heard Mr. Stark asking him a question the first time. He's either too loud or too quiet. He resorts to twitching his fingers to expel stress, since finger snapping and knuckle cracking have been - and he's quoting Mr. Stark - "yeah, I'm just going to forbid that."

He knows Mr. Stark's under a lot of stress, with temporarily running SI and not to mention all of the recent 3rd-rate villain pop-ups (that are small enough that Spider-Man isn't needed, but major enough to warrant Avengers response?) happening. When he'd started his internship, for real this time, Peter had been warned by Bruce, Pepper, and Rhodey (and Steve, Natasha, Sam, Clint, Wanda, Pietro, Sharon, Scott, and various lab techs) that Mr. Stark could get into moods while working, that he never meant anything by it, but that it was just unpleasant to deal with. So he tries not to take it personally, but having who is probably the person he looks up to the most snapping at him is hard. He doesn't complain, just tells himself that this will pass and that things will eventually go back to normal.

He hopes.

When August 10th dawns though, he's determined to make it a good day. He and May went out for dinner the night before, and at midnight, May wished him a happy birthday with a little cupcake. He's 18 now. Not a kid. MJ and Ned are planning on taking him out to eat and see a comedian they all like. He's been looking forward to this for so long.

He slips into the lab, careful not to make too much noise, since yesterday he'd stumbled into the doorway after nearly running into Dum-E and Mr. Stark had snapped out "Okay at this point, I want you barely seen and definitely not heard!"

He keeps his head ducked and pulls up his drafts for some new web shooters he's been mulling around. He'll need them, if Mr. Stark ever decides to give him a nano-tech suit. From his calculations the web-fluid would be incompatible with the nanites, so he'd have to go back to wearing the shooters separately, but he's not terribly concerned.

He keeps to himself as he works, braving the SSPs so he can be notified of any messages from MJ or Ned. It's time for what's supposed to be his stopping point - even if he usually blows past it. He pulls out his phone to text MJ and Ned that he'll be on his way shortly when Mr. Stark's voice stops him.

"Going somewhere? The Widow Bites need some more tweaking."

"It's uh-" Peter starts.

"What? You got something more important than fixing tech for your teammates?" Mr. Stark asks. He, per usual these days, looks like hell. The bags under his eyes are worse than ever. He's lost weight and his beard isn't up to his usual standards. "Well?"

"No, uh, it's not important." Peter wants to kick himself. It's his birthday. He's 18. He's supposed to have the night of his life. He sends a text to MJ and Ned. Sorry, Avengers stuff came up. Guess I have to start adulting already. We'll do something this weekend, I promise! Have fun at the show. He shuts down his phone because he knows MJ and Ned both will raise hell.

"Okay then," Mr. Stark says. "Get back to work."

There's a small part of Peter that hopes it's just an act, that Mr. Stark's messing with him. That Mr. Stark hasn't actually forgotten his birthday.

But as he finally climbs into his bedroom at close to 3am, he admits to himself that sometimes, just like the others had warned, Mr. Stark is just a jerk.

At least the Widow Bites turned out great. Natasha herself had swung by to check on them and her fond ruffling of his hair had sent a flush to his cheeks while Mr. Stark rolled his eyes.

<<<>>>

The next day starts off with a hell of a thunderstorm.

Peter woke up and turned on his phone. As expected, he was met with a barrage of texts from MJ and Ned. Some were angry (MJ in particular had threatened to "disembowel that capitalist weapons-pushing pig."), some were sad ("its ur BIRTHDAY, man!") and a few were worried. ("R u sure this internship is good 4 u?")

Of course he's sure. The internship is great! He's learning so much and Mr. Stark's a genius! He gets to see the Avengers and go on missions and it's everything he's ever wanted since he became Spider-Man. If he has to deal with Mr. Stark being in a shit mood for a few weeks, or hell, even if this is Mr. Stark's true state, then fine. It's worth it.

It has to be.

Peter doesn't even bother trying to suit up and sling his way over to the Tower before his work day is supposed to start. He takes the subway and huddles under his rainproof hoodie as he exits the stairs and walks the block and a half to the building. He's cold and tired. And honestly just wishes he could use the "I'm sick" as an excuse for not showing, but that won't work because Mr. Stark knows all about Peter's healing factor and the fact that Peter hasn't been sick once since that damn bite four years ago.

Except he's Peter Parker and his uncle Ben had taught him better. "You don't run, Peter," he had said. "To bad weather, good face." Then his uncle had chuckled. "At least, that's what Carmen at the office likes to say." He'd laid a hand on Peter's shoulder. "Whatever your problems are, you need to face them. That's how you grow."

So here Peter is, shucking his hoodie off and storing it in his locker, ready for another day of walking on egg shells. He's determined to make it a good day. He's determined to not screw up.

Three hours in and it's one of the worst days of his life.

Mr. Stark fixes him with a glare.

He hasn't seen the man since arriving and now Mr. Stark's striding into the lab looking at Peter much like he did that day.

He'd been alone on the Brooklyn Bridge, trying desperately to keep two buses from plummeting into the icy January water.

The Legion Suits had actually shown up, along with the other Avengers, and had relocated the buses to safe streets near hospitals. And Mr. Stark's voice had come on in his suit telling him to get his ass to the Tower. That day Mr. Stark had laid into him, took his suit away. It was the second worst day of his life, after the day Uncle Ben had been shot in front of him. It had almost broke him.

But he'd managed to take down the Kingpin anyways, without a fancy suit. Just him, his hoodie and goggles, and web shooters he'd cobbled over a few days during chemistry. Just him, Peter Parker. A friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. A teenager the Avengers barely seemed to tolerate.

Sure, a building had collapsed on him and now he really doesn't like small, compressed spaces. And there are nightmares from that night, which he's convinced Aunt May are from losing Uncle Ben. But he'd survived and now Kingpin was behind bars. The Avengers even invited him to join on an as-needed basis. They weren't the most patient group, but he idolized them.

Mr. Stark had told him he was proud of him, given him a new, improved suit.

Hearing that Mr. Stark was proud of him was one of the greatest moments in his life, no matter what he'd had to go through to hear it.

And now that terrible look is back and once again directed at him. It's even worse given just how wrecked Mr. Stark appears. Had the man even slept in the past three days? Just how long was he going to be stressed like this? He's snapped out of his musings at the bite in Mr. Stark's voice.

"Wanna explain why Clint doesn't have his new arrow heads? It's been three weeks, kid."

Peter's mind blanks. Then a sick, sinking feeling stirs in him. He'd forgotten? He checks his email and sure enough, it's all typed out but he hadn't... he'd forgotten. "I d-didn't, I forgot..." he stammers.

"Yeah, I checked. You didn't send it. What the hell, kid?" Mr. Stark asks. "Is this some kind of game to you?"

"N-no, I swear it's not, I just-"

Mr. Stark stares him down. "Get out of here. Go home." He snaps his fingers when Peter stands, shocked. "I mean it, scram. I can't deal with you right now."

Peter grabs all of his stuff, relieved to see his suit is still in his backpack. At least Mr. Stark isn't taking it away from him. He braves looking at Mr. Stark. The man isn't even facing him, already back at his work station, looking through files that were encrypted unless one was wearing Mr. Stark's glasses. "M-Mr. Stark? When should I come back?"

"I'll let you know."

Peter leaves the Tower, the metaphorical tail tucked between his legs. He feels angry, sad, frustrated, ashamed, so many different emotions - all of which are horrible. He wants to sink down in a dark alley and just cry. So that's what he does.

He doesn't even process the lefts and rights his feet take until he finds an alley that his spidey-senses tell him is suitable. He ducks in and just falls to his knees. He's screwed everything up. He's going to lose his internship and get booted from the Avengers. He hadn't done a good enough job on Sam's wings. He'd completely forgotten to send Clint that message about the arrow heads. And Mr. Stark hates him, can't even stand to be around him.

That's what hurts the most.

Tony Stark, his mentor, the person he looked up to most in the world, wants nothing to do with him.

He's not smart enough. He's not good enough.

He's just a dumb kid from Queens with no business trying to be a hero.

Peter doesn't know how long he sits in that alley, in the pouring rain, crying. He knows he's going to have to pick himself up eventually and talk to May about what's happened. He looks up. To bad weather, good face.

Then his spidey-senses start freaking. out. He feels like his mind is on fire; something is wrong. And not wrong as in a mugging or a cat stuck up in a tree. No, this is... this is worse. All of the hair on his body is standing up and with a quick look around to ensure no one can see him, he strips and pulls on the suit. He shoves his clothes into his backpack and hides it behind the dumpster.

He starts climbing the building he'd been sitting against and then a strange sort of crackling rips through the air. Some kind of golden circle - portal? - thing opens and he thinks he's seen it before from that one doctor dude that Mr. Stark didn't like. It fizzles in and out of his vision before it pulls him in.

Then he's falling.

He's falling and it's dark and terrifying and all he can think is "I'm sorry, Mr. Stark."