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They say that whoever the Devil smiles at becomes his favourite. 

The Devil looks after his own, and cradles them with hands full of sin till you drown in the blood you spilt doing his bidding. 

Quentin Beck wouldn’t stop smiling at you. 

“Do you understand now,” he spoke, soft and quiet, and you could feel his eyes tracing over your dishevelled visage. “Why I had to do what I did? Stark…he took and he took. My work, my livelihood. He destroyed me. What kind of man does that? What kind of hero does that? I can give this world a better one, a better protector. I want you by my side when that happens.”

He let his words hang in the air between you, and you stared at your hands silently, stared at his ring too. 

A part of you did understand.

To have everything you’ve achieved in your life to be taken from you was an awful thing. Inconceivable. It left a bitter taste in your mouth that Tony did it in the first place. 

But.

You also knew Tony. 

“So all this,” you croaked out, your voice like crushed gravel. “All this…just so you could get back at a dead man?”

You heard Quentin’s crisp steps draw closer to where you sat curled on the floor, and he squatted before you, his fingers hovering over your shoulder but you jerked back before he could touch you. His hand dropped heavily, and you heard his frustrated exhale. 

“Stop acting like a child,” he remarked coolly, “This is important—”

“You killed him,” you snarled, fury shaking your limbs and your breaths laboured, manic, “He was a kid—he was just a kid! Y-You monster. All this because of your ego—”

“Calm down,” Quentin chided, still calm, but you saw how his mouth tightened. You told yourself that the minute trace of worry in his voice was carefully faked. “You can still hurt yourself in here.”

You bared your teeth at him; a savage, mocking act that made his expression smooth into a taut mask. “Take it,” you hissed in raw fury, and practically tore your own finger off in the process of removing his golden ring. You threw it right at him, trying and failing, to mask your surprise when it hit his chest instead of sailing through him like you expected. The dull ping of metal hitting the floor was deafening. “Take it, and keep it. Because I don’t want it, or you. You—I will never forgive you for this.”  

The look in his eyes was cold, burning, expression eerily calm but he showed no other reaction. 

“Anger is not distance, it’s not indifference,” he told you softly, almost sympathetic, “Anger is passion. You’ll see that soon enough.”

The world around you twisted, faded and he was gone with it.

. . .

Voices.

Quentin was not working alone. 

Though you could not trust your own senses, sometimes when you focused just hard enough you could hear distant murmurs. He never allowed anyone else near you, constantly keeping the illusion up, changing it up just when you started getting accustomed to whatever he made you see. 

You expected him to scare you, to use his power over reality itself to hurt you somehow. 

He didn’t.

He showed you fields and mountains, beaches and parks. Like trying to keep a wild animal placated. 

You’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve tried to escape, and hurt him in the process too. Every time you did, he simply faded into green mist, his smiles faint and indulgent. 

He believed you would see the metaphorical light he was pushing you to see. 

He believed you were meant to stand by his side. Simple as that. 

Distantly, you wondered just how far he would go to see this vision of his fulfilled. 

“Why not kill me?” you finally asked after an endless silence between you. He seemed happy to sit back and simply watch you. It made sense—after all, he no longer had to pretend to be a tortured hero. Now he was just liar with a sharp, charming smile. “Why bother with all this?”

He exhaled dramatically, and you felt your eyebrows twitch in annoyance when you glanced up at him. 

You were sitting in a field of wildflowers. He sat opposite to you, the bright rays of the artificial sun giving him a halo that made you want to rip into him with your bare hands. 

“I’ll be honest,” he began like you two were discussing the weather, “That was my first thought. You weren’t supposed to be there. Do you know how carefully I planned everything? So that there would be no Avenger interference? Fury and his rabid guard dog were already hard enough to fool. As far as I knew you were still back in the US helping with the formation of the new team. Yet there you were. I had to improvise, and the rest of the plan came together easily. You ended up being Fury’s last-minute miracle,” he explained with a small scoff. 

You glared at him from the corner of your eye as you listened, and his expression softened into something playful when he noticed you were finally looking his way. 

“Is it really so hard to believe that I actually like you, honey?” he wondered, a sly undertone bleeding through, “The world needs someone to be the new Iron Man. I can provide that. And every hero needs a reason to fight. Of course, I can’t have just anyone with me. But you—you’re special, you’re just too used to living in the shadow of those deemed greater than you. Just like me. You see it, don’t you? How alike we are. Always overlooked. Always taken for granted. But I see you (Name). I saw you from the moment I first laid eyes on you, and I like what I see.” 

“If you killed me,” you rasped slowly, your glare unwavering, “Someone else would have turned up. One of the Avengers. Someone who would not be so easily fooled. I may not be a genius but don’t think that you’re the only one who can see things clearly now.”

His grin was slow coming, wicked, “There’s that too,” he hummed pleasantly, staring at you with something hot and consuming in his blue eyes. “It won’t matter soon though.”

“What?”

Dread tickled your stomach and you froze when Quentin shifted to kneel before you. A shiver crawled up your spine when he leaned closer—so close that for a moment you thought he was going to kiss you. 

“When this is over, and Mysterio’s name is worshipped around the world,” he whispered to you like a secret; a lover’s intimacy lacing the low timbre of his voice. “We can start again. With time, you’ll see, I know you will,” he murmured, touching the top of your head before he leaned in and kissed your forehead.

He lingered for a moment, inhaling deeply, and your shock finally fading, you jerked back from him. He caught your hand before it could connect with his face, and he bared his teeth in a cold smile. 

“I’ll be back for what’s mine,” he promised you quietly, his free hand brushing against the edge of your jaw. His eyes pointedly moved towards your chest, and you gritted your teeth at the way he still made your heart jump. “Don’t miss me too much now.”

The sun behind his head burned so fiercely your eyes watered, and Quentin faded from your sight with an amused smile.  

. . .

You tried to tell yourself that it was a lie.

That Peter being gone could not be true. 

That kid was tenacious and even more gifted than he probably realized. He would never give up, would never allow bad things to happen unless…

Your heart stung every time the memory of his awkward, happy smile came to mind. 

He was only sixteen

He had his entire life in front of him. 

If Quentin really believed you would ever forgive him for taking Peter from you, then he was even more gone than you first suspected. 

You had hoped that Quentin was simply lying to you. But Peter would have come for you even if he hadn’t found Fury, you knew that. He was already antsy about the idea of you going alone. 

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

You weren’t sure who you were directing your apology to. Maybe May, perhaps Tony, and even Peter himself.

You had failed them all. They trusted you, and if only you’d been good enough to see the earlier signs that something was wrong, then none of this would have happened. Too many things didn’t add up about Quentin from the start, but you chose to ignore them.

You failed them all because you were too blinded by the idea of love to see. 

Because of your selfish hope for something good—for once—the boy you swore to look out for and always protect was dead. 

And you knew, deep down, that whatever Quentin had planned next would be equally as terrible. He believed it was his right to be the next Iron Man, and now you knew he would do and sacrifice anything to achieve it.

“We’re just alike, you and I, and I take comfort in that.”

“You see it, don’t you? How alike we are.”

Your fingers tightened till you could feel your nails biting into the skin of your palms, and you reminded yourself to breathe. 

Just alike indeed.

Quentin Beck may grow to regret that comparison. 

. . .

You screamed from the top of your lungs. 

The sound was loud and shrill against the peaceful illusion of a sunny park with a pond full of ducks. 

Your eyes were squeezed tight, jaw clamped shut as you screamed again, twitching on the floor. 

The silence that lasted only a few seconds filled with distant murmurs—like a far-reaching sound from underwater. 

You screamed again, louder, more pained. 

Murmurs drew closer and you gritted your teeth trying to focus on them. 

After all, how effective can an illusion be if you can’t see it? 

“What the hell is happening?”

“I don’t know but shouldn’t we do something?”

Male and female. 

Oh, you had been right. Quentin didn’t let anyone close to you but someone else was watching over you while he was gone.

Good. 

“He said that if anyone touches—”

You convulsed on the floor, whining in pain, and the shuffles drew even nearer. 

“He also said that if anything happens to this one, he will have our heads. You want to take that risk after his earlier stunt?”

A shuddering breath, clearly terrified.

“No.”

You curled tighter into a ball, straining your ears over what the illusion was telling you, you should be feeling and hearing. 

“Then kill the image for a sec. We’ll check everything’s okay and won’t tell others about this. And especially not Beck. No one has to know.”

A wet whimper trembled your lips when you felt the barely-there pressure of the heavy illusion fade. 

They approached you silently, cautious, and you continued playing along, shivering and crying in your spot on the floor. Mentally, you tried to recall all your training, everything about visualisation of the enemy position, and all the weak spots in a human body. 

“Hey, you—”

You struck out, vision swimming from the suddenness of the movement, and heard something crack followed by a cry of pain. Your fist drove into the second individual’s leg, crippling them immediately, and you rolled, scrambling on your feet and wrapping your arms around the woman’s neck. 

The man lay prone on the floor, clutching his injured face as he scrambled away from you. 

The woman squirmed wildly, and your arms tightened painfully, dangerously, around her neck. 

They may be smart people, but they were still just civilians. 

The man stared at you in terror, and when you spoke, you hardly recognised your own voice, as twisted by grief and betrayal as it was, “Where is he?” 

. . .

If Quentin believed—wanted—to be the hero, did that then mean that your desire—need—to stop him made you his villain?

You thought about Peter. 

You thought about a boy with a too-wide grin, awkward mumbling and a good heart. The boy who did right by the world simply because he believed in it, a boy who snored in his sleep, who used to walk with a giddy bounce in his step whenever Tony trusted him with some cool technology he was working on. 

A boy you found just before Tony’s funeral, silent and pale, with hands shaking and eyes red. A boy who was barely holding himself together after losing someone else yet again.  

A boy who was dead because Quentin had to prove a point. 

Because he had to play at being a hero. Because he desired that slippery, raw thing called power more than anything.

If he wanted to be a hero, that’s fine.  

If he wanted to create tornadoes just so he could save the world from them, that’s fine.

As long as you could, you would fight to stop him.

You would make your own tornadoes—just for him

And for Peter. Because you owed that boy at least this much.

Being Quentin’s villain was just an inevitability. 

. . .

They gave you the location, and they gave you Quentin’s plan too. 

But by the time you managed to get to the Tower Bridge, his operation was already in full swing. 

The Storm Elemental was bigger than the previous ones, causing twice the destruction and even though you knew there were civilian lives at stake—innocent lives, lives you should be looking to save and protect—you beelined straight for Quentin’s location. 

Cut the head of the snake. 

It was a blur. 

Of destruction and chaos and when you saw the Elemental—the illusion—starting to fall apart, there was only one thought in your head. 

Someone knew. 

Someone else had figured it out. 

Quentin would have made sure everything worked to perfection, that there were no faults in the execution of this plan, especially not with how likely it was that Fury was watching this from somewhere close.

You had tried ringing him, and Hill too, but there had been no reply from either. 

And then you saw him

Your steps staggered to a stop. 

In front of you was a sea—a wall—of white drones. 

But kneeling in the wreckage, mumbling to himself was—

The familiar figure froze, his head lifting and the air in your lungs burned.  

You stumbled forward, your hands shaking and heart beating so loudly it felt like something was coming loose inside you. 

Even if he was an illusion—just another cruel illusion—it didn’t matter.

The figure jumped to their feet, raising their hand and waving it frantically at you, “Wait, stop, tell me something only (Name) would—”

Your arms wrapped around him tightly, body knocking into his, and you allowed the strangled exhale rattle free from your lungs. 

Solid. Warm

“Peter—”

Your voice cracked, and you felt the younger boy huff softly—in relief, in happiness—and you felt his body relax as he squeezed you equally tightly. 

“Oh—okay. It’s you, you’re real, it’s really you,” he mumbled, a touch frantic against your ear and you only held him tighter, “Okay, I’m getting a weird sense of Deja Vu right now.”

It was hard to speak. It was even harder to think.

The relief you felt at seeing Peter was almost enough to crumble your spine to dust. 

“He told me you were dead.”

Peter pulled back, and you heard him swallow audibly, “Almost,” he admitted and your blood boiled at the exhausted, soft edge of fear in his young voice. “He told me that I was a burden to you. To everyone. That—that if I’ve just been better Mr Stark would still be alive—and—”

Your nails sank into Peter’s shoulders, “This is not on you,” you stated, your tone firm. “Do you understand? This is just Beck—Mysterio—trying to get inside your head. You could never be a burden to me, kiddo. And Tony’s death was not your fault, you know that. He made his choice. He chose to protect people he loved the only way he knew how. It was his choice, Peter, and his alone.”   

Even though you could not see his face, you could still feel the slight tremble of his frame as you gripped onto him. A part of you was terrified to let go in case he really was just another elaborate illusion. 

“Okay,” was his quiet, shaky response, “Okay. I need—I need to stop him. I have to.”

“Why do you think I’m here?” you questioned idly, coldly, and saw Peter straighten. “No more tricks. We end his performance now before anyone else gets hurt. Any ideas?”

Peter nodded his head, hesitation clear in the way he held himself that told you he was desperate to ask you what happened on your end. But that could wait till later. 

“Yeah, but I dunno if you’re going to like it.” 

“Try me, kiddo. And make me a window to sneak past those things too if you can,” you asked him, moving your gaze around to find a suitable blindspot to use. “We hit him from two fronts. And if you get caught in an illusion, close your eyes. The effect is not as powerful if you do. Be careful. You fake die on me again, I’ll kick your ass myself.”

Peter laughed breathlessly, nodding his head, his attention focusing on the drones as he looked around, calculating his trajectories. He was already slipping into battle mode, the state in which everything was honed towards only one thing: victory. 

It was hard to ignore the lump in your throat when you saw him picking up the Tower Bridge sign, wielding it like a shield and a piece of technology that looked eerily similar to Tony’s arc reactor. 

You could almost hear Steve’s voice in your ear as you watched the younger boy, “Being an Avenger isn’t in the title, it’s in the willpower to do what’s right.”

They would be so proud of you, kiddo. 

. . .

BANG

“You can’t trick me anymore.”

You stumbled to a stop, eyes wide as you took in the scene in front of you.

Quentin with a gun aimed at Peter’s head, and the boy holding it to the side as an illusion of another Quentin faded on the floor. 

He tried—

Peter dropped Quentin’s hand harshly, grabbing EDITH glasses and you watched as the man stumbled back, falling to the floor with a heavy thud. 

It was then that he noticed you.

You strode past the mess of destroyed drones in your path, and felt Peter’s eyes turn to you when you moved past him, kneeling before the still smiling Quentin.

“Hello, dearest,” he rasped with a familiar sly grin, “I was thinking we could grab dinner later—”

He groaned in pain, and your eyes moved down towards his bleeding chest, the dark colour spreading rapidly. 

“I hate you for what you did,” you whispered sadly, your words soft and frayed. “I hate you. I hate you.”

You repeated the words again, and again; a wall, a weapon against what you really felt tearing your heart apart.

“It—you—were real,” he breathed, his words low and heavy, and you could see the life draining out of him right in front of you. “You were real.”

You stared at the blue of his eyes, knowing full well that these were his last moments, that soon you would have to live in a world without him in it. 

Liar.”

He chuckled weakly, the sound wet and gurgled as he reached for you with shaky fingers. His thumb swiped under your eye and you felt your silent tears come harder, blurring your vision. His hot blood stained your skin, but you still leaned into his hand, allowing yourself one last moment of weakness with him. A silent goodbye to what you could have been.   

“See, you do care,” he said with a weak, but still smug smile. “Knew it.”

Your lips trembled when his hand slid away from your face, and you caught his fingers before they could hit the ground, cradling them in yours. 

Real,” he breathed once again, softly, forcing something into your hand before his fingers relaxed against yours.

And then he was still.

Gone. 

And there, sitting in the palm of your hand and covered in his blood, was Quentin’s golden ring.

It was hard to determine how much time passed before you felt Peter kneel beside you.

“Are you—I mean—” his voice was cautious, thin. 

“Is this real?” you whispered faintly, your voice hoarse, cradling the ring in your hand. 

Peter hesitated. “Yeah, it’s real.”  

Nodding your head, you pointedly looked away from the body in front of you, swiping the heel of your palm across your face. 

“Are you okay?” you demanded sternly, turning your gaze onto him. “You look like—”

Peter leaned closer, wrapping his arms tightly around you and you shuddered, closing your eyes. Your arms wrapped around him too, and you chose to make no comment about the dampness you felt against your neck while he trembled in your arms. 

“It’s okay, Peter,” you hushed him. “It’s going to be okay, kiddo. I promise. It’s going to be just fine.”

You mumbled the words repeatedly—a litany of reassurance that made your heart ache.

The words repeated until your voice thinned to nothing more than a tiny mumble in the air between you. 

After all, you needed to convince him as much as yourself of their sincerity.  

. . .

Fury stared at you blankly, coolly, “What’s this?”

You worked your jaw, your fingers tracing the curve of his ring around your finger.

“Not my resignation, if that’s what you’re wondering, sir,” you told him stiffly, your eyes focusing elsewhere. ”I will be back but I’m...stepping back for a bit.” 

“What happened between you and Beck—”

“With all due respect, sir,” you cut him off for the first time since you started working for him. “You have no idea what happened. And what did happen, isn’t the only reason why I chose to do this. I need time away from everything. I’ve needed it since the battle but I put the team before myself. I—I need this, sir.”

Fury’s expression was hard, gaze scrutinizing every twitch you made before he sighed and leaned back in his chair. “I haven’t given you permission for this.”

You suppressed a slight smile, suddenly remembering all the times Tony told you how you should tell Fury to take a hike. It was very tempting right now. 

“I wasn’t asking for one.”

Then you turned around and walked out of the room. 

He didn’t stop you. 

And for the first time in a while, the smile curling your mouth was a private, joyful thing full of overwhelming relief.

. . .

“Where will you go?”

You tilted your head, letting the sun warm your skin, and peeked at Peter from the corner of your eye. “Iceland first since always wanted to visit there. Africa after that. It’s beautiful and rich in with culture you don’t encounter every day.”

Peter stared at his chicken nuggets with a silent frown. 

“What is it?” you questioned, noticing the way he was suddenly scowling at his food. 

The boy next to you sighed—a sound of pure exhaustion, and cleared his throat. “I just—I kinda wish I could come with you. It would be nice to get away from everything for a bit.”

Biting back a sad sigh of your own, you nudged him with your elbow, causing him to glance up at you. “The neighbourhood must be missing their friendly spider by now, no? Besides what about your girlfriend?”

The tips of Peter’s ears went red, and he looked away from you, making you laugh under your breath. 

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Sure she isn’t,” you teased, winking at him when he glared at you without any real heat. “I like her, kiddo. She has a bite.”

A comfortable silence fell over you both, and you sat together peacefully, watching children play football across from you. Despite the attack just yesterday, people were already going back to their daily lives. 

“Tell you what,” you proposed, watching his head turn curiously in your direction. “If you ever need to really get away from it all for a week or two, you know how to reach me.”

His lips twitched into a faint smile but genuine happiness lingered in his doe-like eyes. “Thanks, (Name). What about you though? Are you sure you’ll be okay? Y’know, by yourself?”

You tried very hard not to look at the ring on your finger. Any thought of him was still too raw and hurt too much. You imagined it was going to be that way for a while. 

You raised your McDonald’s paper cup in his direction, and Peter fumbled with his, hurriedly tapping his against yours with a dull thud. 

“I’m going to be just fine, kiddo.”

. . .

The hotel door opened with a click and you grinned at your phone screen, dropping they key card on the table.

Don’t drool on MJ on the flight home. ;)

You hit the Send button with a slight smirk, knowing that there were only minutes left before take off, most likely leaving Peter with just enough time to see the message but not respond to it. 

You dropped your bag in the corner, turning towards the bed and froze. 

“Hi honey,” he purred with a cutting grin. “Missed me?

Quentin sat in the armchair, legs crossed and his long fingers drumming restlessly against the armrest. He was clean-shaven, making his features look more gaunt in the low light. His eyes drilled into you, unblinking, and for a moment you thought he was a ghost, coming back to haunt you from beyond the grave. 

How?” you breathed, the word practically tearing itself out of your throat and your heart hammering in your chest. “I saw you die.”

Quentin laughed, low and delighted, his fingers slamming against the armrest with a thoughtful hum.

“Oh, dearest,” he started in a sing-song voice. “Did you really think I went into this without contingency plans? After I’ve been planning this for years? No, no, see you don’t win this type of game without always being the smartest guy in the room. What you saw on that bridge was exactly what I wanted you to see.” 

“As will others,” he added, tilting his head to look at you with a hint of an ironic smile. 

You didn’t move a muscle, remembering the feeling of his blood on your face, of his quivering breath. How?

“What are you talking about?” 

He turned his head from side to side, a little thoughtful, and with a pondering expression on his face, “Ideas are contagious little things,” he explained unhurriedly, like he wanted to make sure you were taking it all in. “But really, I should be thanking you. You’ve been such an inspiration to me, honey. I would go as far as to say I have only you to thank for everything that’s about to happen.”  

The barrel of the gun pointed at his head, and you stilled your trembling hand, levelling it on his curious features without hesitation. 

“What did you do?” you demanded angrily, recalling the fear and chaos he had unleashed just 24 hours ago. 

Suddenly, you couldn't help but feel like the biggest idiot ever for even thinking about mourning someone as rotten as him.

Quentin sighed, rolling his eyes, “Please, don’t shoot,” he stated dully, shaking his head slightly. “Come now, you’re smarter than this. Of course, I wasn’t going to drop by without taking precautions.”

Your breaths turned more shallow as the realization sank in fully. Noticing your grim understanding, Quentin stood up slowly, stretching his arms wide like he wanted to coax you into a hug. 

“As for your question, dearest, I did exactly what needed to be done,” he told you with a small scowl. “Everyone made mistakes left and right because they’re, well, idiots.”

His hands lowered and he moved closer towards you, grinning lightly at your angry expression. He stopped halfway across the room, pointing his finger right at you. “But you want to know what mistake you made, honey? Your mistake was thinking that I was lying to you on that bridge. I wasn’t. And now, we will get to see the fruits of my hard labour together.”

You couldn’t linger on his words, you couldn’t—

A distraction. You needed—

“What did you do Quentin?”

He moved closer, and you loosened your grip on the gun, diving towards the phone on your table only to find it gone.

You jerked around, aiming your gun at him but there was nothing. 

No Quentin, and no hotel room—just darkness.

Your hand was empty too. 

“Well, it’s just like you said,” his voice echoed from all around you, and you turned in every direction trying to find him. Green mist exploded around you, making you cover your face but it was gentle, lapping around you like a cacoon. 

Quentin emerged from the twisting green calmly, and you held back a flinch when he took your chin in his hand, his thumb lingering against your parted lips. His expression was full of ravenous sort of longing as he examined you intently.

He met your stare steadily, and you watched how his mouth stretched into an unholy, victorious smile.

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he never existed.”