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home is behind (the world ahead)

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Everything went perfectly according to plan, right up until it didn’t.

 

Quentin thought the whole scene with the fire elemental went quite well, actually. It was theatrical, convincing, perfectly executed. And of course it was. Quentin himself had choreographed the whole thing. Even to his own eyes and ears, things felt impressively real—from the residual heat of the fire elemental to the broken concrete and twisted metal lying all over the place. Quentin couldn’t help but mentally congratulate himself. 

 

The Parker kid was taking it hook, line, and sinker. When the kid rushed over to where Quentin was lying on the ground with his cape singed and hair disheveled, his eyes were so wide with genuine fear that Quentin would have wanted to laugh under different circumstances.

 

“Mr. Beck! Mr. Beck, a-are you okay?” Peter’s voice was high-pitched with concern, pulling up his mask as he crouched on the ground next to Quentin.

 

“I’m fine, kid, no worries,” Quentin said with a reassuring smile. He sat up, grimacing as though it hurt, and was gratified when Peter’s expression twisted in sympathy.

 

“A-are you sure?” Peter helped him stand, looking him anxiously up and down. “Did we do it? Did we win?”

 

Quentin made a point to look around the scene as though it was new to him, as though he hadn’t designed every detail to make it look like a natural occurrence. “Yes, Peter,” he said, giving the words an emotional weight he knew Peter would pick up on. He smiled tiredly, laid a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “We won.”

 

Quentin had his next line on the tip of his tongue, about to suggest that they go and get drinks. The team would be in position by now, the illusions all set up just as seamlessly as this one. But the sound of slow clapping drew Quentin’s attention, and the ever-infuriating Nick Fury waltzed out of the shadows like he owned the goddamn place. 

 

“Nicely done, both of you,” Fury drawled. The tails of his long leather coat flapped in the cool night breeze, and he crossed his arms.

 

Peter brightened up marginally. “Oh, uh, hi Mr. Fury. Thanks, but Mr. Beck did most of the work,” he admitted, chuckling awkwardly. 

 

Fury made a noncommittal noise. Behind him, Hill was a couple steps behind, probably keeping lookout. “So, this is it?” Fury was looking at Quentin with his one hawkish eye.

 

Quentin stifled the flash of irritation he felt. Leave it to Fury to throw a wrench into his carefully coordinated scenarios. “Yes, the fire elemental was the most dangerous,” he affirmed. This hadn’t been in the plan, so he had to be careful about how much to reveal here. “The situation is under control, for now.”

 

Fury nodded. “I am impressed,” he admitted. “The planet is saved, yet again.”

 

“Well, this planet,” Quentin said with a tired smile. Fury didn’t appear moved, but out of the corner of his eye he caught the sympathetic look on Peter’s face. God, the kid was too easy to fool. 

 

“Right. Well, that’s good to hear.” Fury glanced toward Peter. “For the record, Parker, I’m sorry to ruin your vacation.”

 

“What do you—?” Peter was confused, but he didn’t even get a chance to finish his question as Hill fired off a suppressed shot from the pistol she was holding.

 

The dart struck Peter in the chest, its brightly colored fletching standing out against the black of his suit. He blinked, eyes wide. “W-what?” Already his eyes were turning glassy, and the kid put a hand to his head, swaying dizzily.

 

Before anyone could move, Hill turned and shot again, and the dart caught Quentin in the upper thigh, piercing through the green bodysuit with ease. Quentin could only stare, genuinely incredulous. This wasn’t part of the plan.

 

Quentin had the presence of mind to reach down and pull the tranq dart from his leg, but as soon as he moved from the spot, the whole world seemed to tilt on its axis. He stumbled and went down hard on his knees, breathing hard and trying to blink the black spots out of his vision. Shit. Shit.

 

Fury was saying something to Hill, but Quentin couldn’t tell what it was. He was lying down of a sudden. That was strange. He didn’t remember falling. He saw Peter stumble and fall, a vague outline against the flickers of fire left over from the elemental illusion, but after that, everything was just black.

 

 

Peter woke up with a throbbing headache. He groaned softly, squeezing his eyes shut against the bright light he could feel outside of his closed lids. Was this what a hangover felt like? If so, Peter never wanted to start drinking. The floor was hard and cold against his back.

 

Slowly, Peter forced his eyes open, squinting against the blur of white light that was his surroundings and feeling like he’d been sleeping like the dead. How long had he been out? His vision started to focus, and he realized the room wasn’t actually that bright, everything was just either white or gray. It was a small room with steel-gray walls on three sides, and the final side was what appeared to be a sheet of reinforced glass. Looking around, Peter realized he was lying in the middle of the room for whatever reason, but there was a narrow mattress in one corner, a steel toilet and sink in another.

 

It looked like a jail cell, Peter realized. Why would he be in jail, though? He hadn’t done anything wrong.

 

Peter sat up and found it more difficult than he’d anticipated. His whole body felt loose and heavy, uncoordinated and still sort of tired. Looking down, he realized he was dressed in a set of blue scrubs. His suit, his webshooters, everything else was missing. A chill went down Peter’s spine. “Oh, no. No, no no,” he breathed, finding his feet and pressing up against the transparent fourth wall of the cell.

 

“No, no, this can’t be happening,” Peter muttered to himself. He banged on the glass with a fist, intending to call out for someone, but his voice was cut off before it even began by a blinding jolt of agony that threw him to the floor.

 

Peter recognized the twitchy after-effects of electricity only afterwards, as he was lying on the floor and trying to drag air into his lungs, muscles twitchy and painful. The skin of his neck stung sharply for some reason. He reached up with one shaky hand to paw at his neck and found the cool metal of a collar encircling his throat.

 

What. The. Hell.

 

Peter felt at the collar with shaking hands, trying to calm his breathing. It was snug, but not so tight that he couldn’t slip two fingers underneath. Just the touch of the metal against his skin felt like the phantom sensation of being choked, though, and Peter pulled at it, desperately hoping that his enhanced strength could simply pull the collar clean off. It dug painfully into the skin of his neck, but Peter just pulled harder, holding his breath.

 

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

 

A familiar voice startled Peter, and he let go of the collar, eyes wide.

 

Fury was standing just outside the cell, hands clasped behind his back. His expression was grim, as always.

 

“M-mr. Fury?” Peter managed. He stood up shakily and went to the glass again, hesitant to touch but wanting to understand. “What’s going on? Where am I? Where’s Beck?” He had a million questions, but the look on Fury’s face made some vague dread curl up in Peter’s stomach.

 

“That’s not important right now, Parker. What is important is that you understand that this is a matter of national security.”

 

“What does that even mean ?!” Peter exclaimed. He was wound tight despite the headache and the aftereffects of the drugs, and his ‘Peter tingle’ was going haywire. “Mr. Fury, I was trying to help! Like you wanted me to! I… I don’t understand why…” He gestured around him, at the cell and the collar. “...why all this?”

 

Fury fixed him with a stony glare. “Try to see this from my end, Parker. I’ve got an interdimensional cape-wearing magic man telling me the world is coming to an end, and a teenage vigilante with super strength just running around doing whatever the hell he wants. I can’t just sit on my ass and do nothing about that.”

 

You asked me to come and be Spider-Man and fight these weird monsters!” Peter protested. “And--and Beck! He’s a good guy! He was trying to save our dimension!”

 

“Really? Are you hearing yourself, Spider-Boy?” Fury crossed his arms from the other side of the glass. “The Elementals might have been a credible threat, but I can’t just take his word about this multiverse bullshit. Until Beck’s story checks out, he’s not going anywhere, either.” 

 

Now that the world was safe from the threat of the Elementals (thanks to Peter and Quentin), Fury had pounced. Peter silently berated himself for thinking Fury could be trusted.

 

“Beck’s here, too?” Peter asked, trying and failing not to sound hopeful. There was some part of him that had hoped maybe Beck escaped, but the prospect of not being all by himself in this place was a small comfort. 

 

“Sure. And don’t get any ideas. This is the Raft, Parker, so I encourage you to get comfortable. You may be here a while.”

Chapter Text

Quentin resisted the urge to pace back and forth, if only because moving exacerbated the nauseating pain in his head. Whatever was in that tranquilizer had really knocked him on his ass. The dosage was likely calibrated for an enhanced human like Peter; Quentin was probably lucky they hadn’t killed him purely by accident.

 

He laid as still as possible on the bare mattress in the corner of the cell, trying to ignore the way his head swam and his stomach roiled with the slightest movement. About an hour ago he’d woken up disoriented, without his suit or any of his comms or tech, and wishing he’d killed Nick Fury sooner. 

 

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Quentin thought he’d had Fury convinced, though he supposed it was his own fault for assuming that the man trusted him just because he’d said so. This… this really threw a wrench into the timeline for his plan. Now, Quentin liked to think he was pretty good at improvising—even the best-laid plans required a little tweaking on the fly—but this was a hell of a curveball. 

 

No tech, no illusions. No team to back him up. This was, to say the least, turning into a complete shitshow. 

 

The fucking collar was just adding insult to injury, really. Fury, the absolute psycho that he was, thought Quentin was some kind of fucking dog that he could keep in a cage? It reminded him of someone else who had acted with impudence and thought he could do whatever he wanted with no consequences. Well, Tony Stark had eventually met his end. Fury would, too. 

 

Quentin attempted to sit up on his elbows and found that he was no longer quite as dizzyingly nauseous as before. That was a good sign. He managed to pull himself into a sitting position, leaning against the wall, his body feeling heavy and tired. 

 

There wasn’t much to do except wait, and thankfully Quentin didn’t have to do too much of that.

 

Fury showed up not too much later, with his second trailing close behind. Personally, he thought Hill might make a better SHIELD director. She was far less likely to go off half-cocked, less likely to pounce on a goddamn hunch that something was off.

 

“Now, I know what you’re thinking, Mr. Beck,” Fury began, and Quentin resisted the urge to sneer at him. “And trust me when I say it’s nothing personal. I just can’t have a superhuman from another dimension running around unchecked. I’m sure you understand.”

 

Quentin gave a wry smile. “Have I been a bad dog, Mr. Fury?” He tapped the collar around his neck for emphasis.

 

“Once again,” Fury said, showing little expression, “it’s nothing personal. Standard procedure here on the Raft.”

 

The casual mention of the place made Quentin’s blood run cold. The Raft was supposedly just a rumor, a SHIELD black site that for all intents and purposes did not exist on paper. He kept his expression carefully controlled. 

 

“I won’t say that we didn’t have such a place on my Earth, Mr. Fury, but this seems… extreme,” Quentin commented, glancing around. “What exactly did you think I was going to do after the Elementals were defeated?”

 

“That’s exactly my question, Mr. Beck,” Fury said with a pointed look at Quentin. “And I’ve got a few more, if you don’t mind.”

 

Quentin knew it wasn’t a request. He just chuckled, then raised his hands, palm out, in a gesture of surrender. “By all means.”

 

Fury pressed a button outside, and the glass door slid aside with a pneumatic hiss. It was Hill who came inside the cell and locked a set of vibranium cuffs around Quentin’s wrists, then led him out with a hand on his shoulder. Quentin almost wanted to laugh at how over-the-top the whole thing was. He considered it a plus that they still thought him dangerous, though.

 

In a small room with nothing but a metal table and a one-way mirror--along with the same bare steel walls as the rest of the place--Quentin was pressed into a chair with his hands cuffed behind his back.

 

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Quentin knew when someone was trying to intimidate him, and it wasn’t going to work. He just had to stay calm and stick to his story. They couldn’t exactly prove his claims false. It was just as likely that he was telling the truth as it was that he was lying. And with the illusions they’d already seen? From their point of view, Quentin’s story was pretty damn plausible, and he knew it. 

 

He just had to stay in character.

 

“Mr. Fury, I assure you that none of this is necessary,” Quentin was saying, flexing his wrists in the cuffs. His tone was a careful mix of exasperation and bemusement, keeping up the façade of a confused interdimensional traveler. 

 

“I’ll decide what’s necessary,” Fury cut in sharply. “You expect me to just believe your story about being from an alternate dimension? How stupid do you think I am?”

 

Quentin gave a crooked smile. “Stranger things have happened, on your planet and mine.” He decided not to answer that second question, as much as he would have liked to.

 

“Yeah, well, on this planet, we need a little more proof than that,” Fury returned, his glare piercing.

 

Quentin met his gaze steadily. He knew Fury was paranoid, but as of right now, his suspicions were unfounded. Well, as far as SHIELD knew. “What you’ve already seen isn’t enough?”

 

“What I’ve seen are some things I can’t explain. And all I have is your word that these Elementals are no longer a threat. Which I am pleased about, don’t get me wrong. But that leaves me with another problem. You.”

 

Fury walked a slow circle around Quentin, like a wolf circling a wounded animal, sizing it up. “You know anything about Stark Industries, Mr. Beck?”

 

Quentin looked straight ahead, betraying nothing despite the quickening of his heartbeat. “Not much besides the obvious. On my world, it went bankrupt years before the Elemental threat.” He knew Fury was looking for holes in his story, but Quentin was already way ahead of him.

 

“That’s interesting,” Fury remarked. Out of the corner of his eye, Quentin could see the man’s reflection in the two-way mirror to his left. “Because when I looked up the name Quentin Beck, results show that you’re a former Stark employee. Worked in altered reality tech.”

 

“I can’t claim to know what my counterpart in this dimension has been up to,” Quentin returned mildly. He knew all this sounded like utter bullshit. But given the invasion of New York by aliens and all the other shit that had gone down in the past few years, it was just bizarre enough to work. That was the beauty of all this. “But I think that’s beside the point, Mr. Fury. What is it you want from me?”

 

“I want you to tell me the truth, Beck.”

 

“I’ve already told you—” Quentin couldn’t finish that sentence, every muscle in his body seizing up as an agonizing shock coursed through him like a punch to the gut. He was breathing hard by the time it was over, muscles aching all over with the unpleasant burn of electricity. Fuck , that hurt. The collar felt warm against his neck.

 

Fury was playing with a remote in his hand, casually standing in front of the table. “I think I’ve already told you that it’s a bad idea to lie to me." There was a sharp edge to his voice now. No hesitation. 

 

“You’ve seen the Elementals yourself! I was trying to help you!” Quentin insisted, distress creeping into his voice. He jerked when the next jolt of electricity seared through him, the cuffs biting into his wrists. Even the echoes of the shock burned relentlessly, slow to fade into a dull ache, and Quentin bit the inside of his cheek until it bled.

 

“Well, on this Earth, it’s tough to trust anyone these days,” Fury remarked, his thumb playing with the switch on the remote. “You can’t blame me for wanting to be sure.”

 

 

“What’s your life like, Parker?” Maria Hill was leaning against the metal table in the center of the room, trying to appear casual, but her poise was all military.

 

Peter squirmed uncomfortably in the chair he’d been cuffed to. The room was so thoroughly soundproofed that it was unsettling, especially for Peter’s enhanced senses. The vibranium cuffs were heavy, and they were starting to pull at his shoulders. “Um, why?”

 

“Just answer the question, kid.” Hill kept her demeanor brusque and professional, but Peter thought he could see a hint of sympathy in her eyes.

 

He swallowed, not sure of what she wanted to hear. “Uh, good, I guess.” 

 

“Where do you live?” Hill continued, arms crossed. “What school do you go to?”

 

Peter supposed that there was no harm in telling her. It wasn’t as though SHIELD didn’t already know all this stuff, anyway. “I live with my aunt, in Queens,” he responded after a moment. “I go to Midtown High School.” He paused, looking up at her pleadingly. “Miss Agent Hill, can you please tell me what’s going on here? I-I’m supposed to be on a class trip, and my friends are probably worried and Aunt May’s gonna be worried too, ‘cause I didn’t call, and—”

 

“This is important, Peter,” Hill cut him off, though her tone wasn’t as harsh as Fury’s had been, earlier. “Do you like your life? Get bullied at school? Problems at home?”

 

“What? No, everything’s fine,” Peter said with a frown. “Aunt May’s great, and—well, there’s this guy at school who kinda picks on me, Flash, but he’s not that bad.” 

 

“Have you ever wanted to hurt him?”

 

“What?” Peter’s eyes went wide. “Of course not! I mean, he can be a dick sometimes, but I’m not gonna, like, fight him or anything. Wouldn’t be fair.”

 

Hill’s expression remained impassive. “Heard you punched him earlier in your trip.”

 

“That was an accident, I swear! Wait, what? How did you know that?”

 

“Just assume we know everything,” Hill said simply. 

 

“Obviously not, or I wouldn’t be here,” Peter mumbled, slouching as far as the cuffs would allow. He wished he could find a comfortable position in this chair. 

 

Hill’s expression softened, perhaps just a little. “This is for your own good, Peter. There are worse places you could be.”

 

“Worse than some secret superhero prison?” Peter shot back, sending a baleful look in Hill’s direction. Sure, he was scared, but he was also upset, and tired, and sick of people expecting him to be everything at once. “I was trying to be a normal kid! I was on vacation!

 

“You’re not a normal kid,” Hill said, not unkindly. “And that’s why you’re here. Trust me when I say I wish there was another way. But it would be irresponsible on Fury’s part, and SHIELD’s, not to bring you in.”

 

Peter stared at the floor. So he was being held in a secret prison for no other reason than because he had powers? For using those powers to try to help people? “I didn’t even do anything wrong,” he muttered, even though he knew it sounded childish. “I… I was just trying to help.”

 

“I know. And as soon as we get your agenda straight, and Beck’s, then you can go home,” Hill assured him.

 

“Can I see him? Beck?” Peter asked after a moment. It would have been nice to see someone, anyone he could trust. 

 

Hill shook her head. “No can do, Parker. Rules are rules, until we’re done questioning you both.”

 

Peter’s shoulders sagged a bit, but then he had another idea. “Can I at least call Aunt May? To let her know I’m okay?”

 

Hill patted Peter’s shoulder on her way to the door. “Don’t worry, kid. We’ll let her know.”

 

Despite the reassurance, Peter felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.

Chapter Text

It seemed like the interrogation took hours. Fury asked the same set of questions over and over again, trying to find holes or inconsistencies in Quentin’s story. It was exhausting, especially with the repeated shocks, and Quentin was aching all over with the soreness of muscle-aches left behind by the burn of electricity. It hadn’t been in vain, though.

 

Fury’s expression remained impassive. “I’ll admit that I’m impressed, Beck,” he said, the barest edge of frustration creeping into his tone. “You’re a good liar. Or at the very least, you know your story well.”

 

He damn well should have. He’d only gone over it a hundred times with his team, ironing out any inconsistencies and filling in details to make it seem as convincing as possible. At least all the preparation had paid off. “Have you considered that I am actually telling the truth?” Quentin asked, letting the exhaustion seep through in his voice.

 

“All I have is your word. That’s not good enough for me,” Fury said coldly. He looked like he wanted to continue, but there was a knock at the door just then, sharp and insistent.

 

Fury’s one-eyed glower shifted toward the door. “Wait here,” he said, as though Quentin was going anywhere.

 

Fury went to the door, his long coat swishing behind him, and in the reflection of the one-way mirror, Quentin saw that it was Agent Hill who had knocked. The two SHIELD agents stepped outside the room, but the door didn’t close all the way.

 

In the insulated quiet of the room, Quentin could pick up on their conversation just outside the door if he listened closely.

 

“The Parker kid seems clean, from what I can tell. Not that I expected much else; he’s a seventeen-year-old high school kid,” Hill was saying, her voice low. “What’d you get out of Beck?”

 

“Nothing, so far,” returned Fury’s low, distinctive growl. “Aside from the same bullshit as before.”

 

Hill let out a long breath. “Maybe we were wrong,” she offered after a moment. “I mean, it’s not entirely implausible.”

 

“I know a rat when I smell one,” Fury retorted, curt. “There’s something here that doesn’t add up. When you get back to intel, I want all the information you can find on Quentin Beck.”

 

“Will do,” Hill responded. “So what about Parker?”

 

“What about him? Beck and Parker aren’t going anywhere until I get to the bottom of this,” Fury said sharply. “...Besides, R&D has been nagging me about wanting to get some data on enhanced humans now that we’ve got a couple at our disposal.”

 

“I doubt they’ll agree to that.” Hill sounded vaguely surprised, but she didn’t voice any outright disagreement.

 

“I have my ways.” Fury sounded entirely too sure of himself, and Quentin felt a chill run down his spine, one that had nothing to do with the temperature of the room.

 

--

 

After being returned to the same steel and glass-walled cell as before, Quentin was already mentally dissecting his conversation with Fury.  No matter how Fury pushed, trying to trip him up, he hadn’t been able to make Quentin accidentally contradict himself or give up any more information. At least, none that he hadn’t already given freely before. Quentin had stuck to his story, providing at least plausible explanations for anything Fury could throw at him.

 

His past at Stark Industries? Attributed to his doppelganger in this world.

 

Why was he here? To save this world from the fate that had befallen his own, of course.

 

Why this dimension specifically? It was the only one that intersected his own at a point before the Elementals were too powerful to destroy. Obviously.

 

How did his powers work? Hell if he knew. He wasn’t a science guy.

 

Were there others like him? Not anymore.

 

Eventually Fury had grown tired of asking the same questions in different ways and getting the same answers every time. Quentin knew this wasn’t over, but he’d won this round, at least. It was almost worth the headache and all-over soreness of repeated low-voltage shocks. But now he had another problem. 

 

R&D was looking to gather data, Fury had said. Especially on enhanced humans. Which he believed Quentin was.

 

Quentin wished again that he would have killed Fury sooner. He needed a new plan, but was coming up a bit short on options at the moment. Sure, he could hold Fury at bay with a few well-spun tales about an alternate dimension and the multiverse and all that bullshit, but it would only be a matter of time before SHIELD started dissecting his suit and his tech and realized it was all a sham. Fury already smelled blood in the water.

 

So yeah, new plan. How to escape from what was possibly the world’s most secure prison, miles underwater? Quentin would have to do some serious thinking on that one. 

 

It wasn’t as though he wouldn’t have time, Quentin thought with a grimace as he glanced around the sparse cell.

 

It was very quiet. Noise-dampening construction underneath millions of tons of pressure from the ocean could do that. Which was why Quentin froze when he heard a voice. Faint, but it was there.

 

Hello ?” called the voice, echoey and hesitant.

 

A pause. Quentin listened intently, sitting up and trying to pinpoint the source.

 

Hello ?” There it was again! A little bit louder this time. “ Can anybody hear me?”

 

Quentin realized for the first time that there were narrow vent openings at the edge where the steel wall met the floor, and that the voice was carrying through the wall that way. He laid down on his stomach, trying to peer into the vent. Quentin couldn’t see anything, but the voice was definitely coming from there.

 

“I hear you,” he called out, then waited.

 

Mr. Beck? Is that you?! ” Peter’s voice went up an octave in excitement, the sound clearer now. “ Man, am I glad to hear from you! I was so bored in here!”

 

Jesus. The kid really had boundless energy. “Yes, it’s me. How you holding up, Peter?”

 

I’m doing fine. Uh, just kinda confused about… all this. Are you okay?

 

“I’m fine, don’t worry about me,” Quentin assured him, trying to sound confident. “Peter, I need you to listen to me. What did they say to you?” He needed more information if he was going to come up with a new plan. Peter seemed like a good place to start.

 

Um, not much. Agent Hill asked me a bunch of questions and said we had to get our stories straight before they’d let us go, ” Peter explained. “ I guess Fury thinks we’re gonna go rogue or something. I don’t know.” He paused. “ But we didn’t do anything bad, so they’ve gotta let us go eventually. Right?”

 

Quentin was continually shocked by Peter’s naivety. It was honestly kind of amazing how trusting the kid was. How much faith he put into people. It would have been endearing if it weren’t so utterly stupid. He thought about what Fury had said, about R&D wanting to gather data on enhanced humans, and his stomach lurched uncomfortably.

 

“Just… be on your toes, kid. Okay? We’ll figure something out.”

 

Okay. ” Peter’s tone was positive, even now, utterly confident that things would turn out fine. “ ...Mr. Beck?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

I’m glad you’re okay.”

 

Quentin didn’t know what to say to that.

 

 

Peter was very confused. First he was in jail, and now he was at… a doctor’s office? A pair of guards had taken him from his cell (holding him at gunpoint despite the fact that his hands were already cuffed, what was up with that?) and led him to another wing of the building. Peter had no idea where it was in relation to his cell; the maze-like corridors were throwing off his sense of direction.

 

But now he was sitting on one of those tables with some crinkly tissue paper as a bespectacled doctor made notes while the nurse took his blood pressure and heart rate. It was all very weird—the doctor and nurse in the room hadn’t said a word to him the whole time. They’d talked plenty to each other, but not one word was actually directed at Peter. 

 

“Um, is there something wrong with me?” Peter asked as the nurse was removing the blood pressure cuff. “I mean, I’ve had my physical this year already…”

 

The nurse merely glanced at him, then turned to the doctor. “Vitals are within range for a typical human.”

 

Peter blinked. That sure was a weird way of putting it.

 

The doctor glanced down at the tablet he was holding. “Your name is… Peter, yes? Peter, I know all this is probably a big adjustment for you. But I think you could really help us out.”

 

Peter stared at him, bewildered. “Uh… what?” This was not like any doctor appointment he’d ever been to before. “You’re the doctor. Aren’t you supposed to know more than me?”

 

The doctor seemed almost amused. “You’re a pretty special kid, Peter. With special abilities. Knowing more about those abilities would go a long way towards helping others like you.”

 

“Um, I don’t really know how my powers work, they just kinda do,” Peter admitted, awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck. “Sorry.”

 

“That’s what we’re here for. We’ll just have you do a couple tests, show us what you can do. Doesn’t sound so bad, right?”

 

“I guess not,” Peter admitted. Something about this was making his skin prickle with gooseflesh, but maybe that was just because it was kinda chilly in the room, and the blue scrubs weren’t very warm. Maybe if he cooperated with them, it would convince Fury to let him go home sooner.

 

They took him to a gym sort of area, had him do push-ups, sit-ups, lift as much weight as he could at once. All simple tasks for Peter. Then they attached some electrodes to his chest and temples, like for a stress test, and told him to run as fast and as far as he could on the treadmill.

 

If nothing else, it was kind of nice to have something to do. He’d been itching to burn off some energy, which was hard to do in an eight by ten foot cell. Peter let himself get caught up in the burn, focusing on the ache in his lungs and the burn of his muscles as he ran, relishing in the feeling of having a goal to direct his attention. 

 

He didn’t know how much time had passed when one of the observers--maybe he was a doctor--waved a hand in front of Peter, directing him to stop.

 

“Good job, Peter, that’s enough,” the man said with a nod, and Peter obediently slowed to a stop. 

 

“How far’d I get?” Peter asked between breaths, wiping sweat from his forehead and accidentally pulling off one of the electrodes. “Oops.”

 

“18 miles in 112.3 minutes,” one of the nurses responded. The three observers exchanged incredulous glances.

 

“Oh, okay. Not bad, then,” Peter said with a small smile. Not his personal best, but when he’d trained with the other Avengers at Stark Tower occasionally, he could even keep pace with Captain America. The memory seemed far away now, though, as if from another life.

 

One of the doctors chuckled, passing his tablet to one of the nurses. “Take that to Fury. I think he’ll be pleased.”

 

The nurse gave an affirmative nod, while Peter watched in confusion. 

 

“Why would Fury want to see that?” he asked, frowning.

 

“Because you’re pretty interesting, Parker,” Fury spoke up from where he was suddenly standing in the doorway, and Peter jumped, startled.

 

“Mr. Fury!” Peter exclaimed, both surprised and relieved. Fury could be reasoned with, he knew. “Okay, I’m really confused. You already know I’m Spider-Man and can do all this crazy stuff ‘cause I’ve got powers. But I’m not gonna like, blow up New York or something. Promise.”

 

Fury appeared unmoved. “You know, I have the same problem with you and Beck. All I have is your word.”

 

Peter frowned. “And you can’t trust me or something? Mr. Fury, I helped save the world! And so did Beck! It’s only ‘cause of us that the Elementals are gone!”

 

Fury tapped his eyepatch. “In this business, I don’t trust anyone. I don’t take anyone at their word. What I need is proof.”

 

“Proof that I’m not gonna terrorize the world?” Peter said, incredulous. “How does that even work?!”

 

“Now you’re catching on. It’s simple,” Fury said, crossing his arms. “You cooperate with us, and prove to me I can trust you. Right now you’re an unknown variable, Parker. And I can’t abide by that.”

 

“So what happened to letting me go, huh?” Peter challenged, angry now. “You said you’d let me go home !” His voice cracked a little bit on the last word, unwillingly.

 

“Once we ensure that you aren’t a threat to the safety of ordinary people, then yes,” Fury returned, his one-eyed gaze steely. “And in the time being, you can help provide us with some useful data.”

 

Peter quailed, feeling suddenly self-conscious under Fury’s hawkish stare. There was a pause. “So, if I do it, then you’ll let me go?”

 

“Once we get what we need.” That was as close to an agreement as he would get from Fury.

 

“What about Beck?”

 

“He’ll get the same deal I’m offering you.”

 

Peter stared at the floor, uncertain, then looked up to meet Fury’s unyielding gaze. “Okay. I’ll do it.”

Chapter Text

 

Peter stared at the huge tub of ice water in front of him, hesitating.

 

“Get in,” one of the doctors said, gesturing toward the water. It was a pretty big tub, definitely bigger than the one in Aunt May’s apartment back home, and Peter wondered if he would even be able to keep his head above the water laying down. 

 

“Uh, are you sure?” Peter asked weakly. The water was so cold that the sides of the container were dripping with condensation. This was… really not what he had been expecting.

 

“Yes. Take off your clothes, get in,” the doctor instructed again. His accent was maybe German, Peter thought. He was brusque, never said more words than he had to. 

 

Peter swallowed hard, glancing over his shoulder at the group of nurses and lab assistants who were observing. “Um, okay.” He awkwardly stepped out of his clothes, feeling intensely exposed under the gaze of the five people in the room. 

 

Peter tugged at the metal collar around his neck. “Uh, what about this?”

 

“That stays on.” One of the observers spoke, but Peter didn’t know which one.

 

Alright then. He was getting the sense they were impatient. Peter took a deep breath as he stepped into the tub, and it was so cold he couldn’t help but gasp. Even though the water was only at his knees, the cold was a shock, and Peter stopped being able to feel his toes after about thirty seconds. He didn’t know if he could make himself lie down in this.

 

Peter glanced at the doctor holding the tablet. “P-please, can I just—?” Something nudged his leg just then, enough to make his foot slip, and he toppled backwards into the icy water with a splash, fully submerged. The shock was almost painful, feeling like the air had been punched from his lungs.

 

Peter thrashed, gasping as soon as his head broke the surface, feeling like he couldn’t get any air. His limbs felt rubbery and numb already, and his clumsy attempts to haul himself out of the water were stopped by a lab assistant’s hand—gloved to the elbow—pressing down on his chest.

 

“No, this is perfect,” said the observing doctor, nodding his approval. “Just like that, Peter.”

 

Peter could barely breathe. It was so cold, cold like he had never felt before. He’d taken a couple dips into the Long Island Sound before—by accident, of course—but even that couldn’t compare to this. His skin seemed to burn with the temperature of the water, searingly cold against the warmth of his body. 

 

“C-can I g-get out n-now?” Peter managed, barely keeping his teeth from chattering. As much as he wanted to move, to thrash his limbs in the hopes of generating some kind of warmth, he couldn’t. The icy burn was slowly starting to fade, replaced by a bone-deep chill.

 

“Hold still, Peter,” was all the doctor said. 

 

Peter was entirely numb within minutes. That way it didn’t hurt as bad, at least. He could do nothing but stare up at the ceiling, shivering almost violently. He tried to think about other things. The class trip. Ned and MJ. Were they having fun on the trip, or were they worried about him? He didn’t know how long he’d been gone, or if Fury had passed on some excuse to Mr. Harrington about Peter’s abrupt absence.

 

Peter hoped that Aunt May wasn’t too worried. Hoped that she would assume he was off having fun in Europe, now that the Elementals were defeated. Peter could handle this. If Mr. Stark had entrusted him with being an Avenger, he could make it through this on his own.

 

And he had someone to help him with superhero stuff now. It was a lonely thing, having a secret super-identity. Sure, Peter was able to share with Ned, but even Ned couldn’t fully understand. Not like Mysterio could. 

 

Peter didn’t notice when he’d stopped shivering, when his breaths started to get shallow and weak. The collar was like ice against his neck, the only part of his body he could still feel above the water. Beck was a sensible guy, Peter thought. Maybe he could convince Fury to stop all this. He wished Beck were here now, to help him through this, like he’d helped Peter through the Elemental fight. 

 

The water was starting to feel nice now. Peter was sleepy, his body tired from shivering so violently for so long. How long had it been? He didn’t know. There were no windows, and the light never changed in this room. Maybe if he just… closed his eyes… just for a little bit…

 

Peter hardly remembered falling blissfully unconscious.

 

 

“What have you got for me, Hill?”

 

Down in the administrative sector of the Raft, where a team of SHIELD techs were devoted full time to information gathering and intelligence, Fury and Hill were standing off to the side, conversation backgrounded by the clacking of keyboards.

 

Hill leaned against the wall with her arms crossed. Unlike the rest of the place, this department always ran a bit warm thanks to fifty-some computers and limited space. “Beck was formerly employed by Stark Industries. He and Stark had some… creative differences, to say the least. Beck got fired, apparently held a grudge.”

 

Fury raised an eyebrow. “That’s nothing new, Hill. Stark had a long list of burned bridges, in his business and personal life. I need more than that.”

 

“It doesn’t end there,” Hill continued, as though she’d expected this reaction. She glanced left and right, as though someone might be listening. In a job like hers, looking over one’s shoulder was second nature. “Beck specialized in advanced projection technology. Augmented reality immersions so realistic, you couldn’t tell them from the real thing. Apparently Stark took over the project after they made a breakthrough, scuttled the team that was working on it, presented it as his own.”

 

“So what does this have to do with our alleged interdimensional mystery man?” Fury pressed, impatient. Even if Beck’s story lined up with what had happened with the Elementals so far, it was just too fantastic to be true. Or too fantastic not to be true. But Fury’s instincts were siding with the former option. Especially when Beck had a history like this.

 

“I think he’s lying,” Hill said simply, shrugging her shoulders.

 

“Well, no shit , he’s lying,” Fury said irritably. “We’ve all but established that, Hill. So where did another superpowered freak show up from, right under our noses?”

 

“That’s just the thing. I don’t think he has any powers at all.”

 

Fury’s brows furrowed. “The two elemental monsters that took out several historic European landmarks would beg to differ.” It seemed contradictory to what he and Hill had both seen with their very eyes, but maybe she was onto something.

 

“I had the guys in engineering take a look at Beck’s suit, and the tech we found in Prague,” Hill began, her expression serious. “It’s an illusion , Fury. Now, we don’t have all the pieces, but he somehow made it look like he defeated those monsters. Which may not have been real, either, but seeing is believing, right? From what we know about this guy, it fits. The illusions, at least.”

 

“How can you be sure?” Fury asked with narrowed eyes. On the off-chance that Hill had been misled, he was unwilling to underestimate Beck a second time. 

 

Hill crossed her arms. “He was out for seventeen hours after we tranqed him in Prague. We’re probably lucky he didn’t stop breathing en route. Same stuff we used on Parker, but we only had him unconscious for eight.”

 

“So you’re telling me that some disgruntled ex-Stark employee pulled the wool over our eyes, with a bullshit science fiction story and some magic tricks?"

 

“More like expert psychological manipulation and highly advanced holographic projection technology, but in summary, yes,” Hill affirmed with a nod. 

 

Fury was almost impressed. Almost. It wasn’t often that someone could outsmart him. But this little illusory goose chase had cost not only valuable SHIELD resources, but Fury’s time and attention. That made him a little irritated. And for that, there had to be consequences. 

 

He would get the rest of the story out of Beck one way or another. And Fury was certainly going to enjoy it. 

 

 

“Do you know what this is, Mr. Beck?” Fury brandished a syringe filled with a bluish liquid.

 

Quentin regarded the syringe with a carefully nonchalant expression, betraying nothing of the anxiety he felt tightening his chest. He quirked one eyebrow. “Should I?” 

 

“It’s just a little something to… loosen your inhibitions."

 

Shit. Quentin had really been hoping to avoid getting dosed with any more super-drugs. It probably didn’t bode well for his average human metabolism. But all he could do was simply keep playing the game.

 

“So forward, Mr. Fury,” Quentin remarked with a casual lightness he didn’t feel. “And here I thought you’d just slip something in my drink.”

 

Fury took a step closer with the syringe. Quentin’s hands weren’t cuffed this time, but he didn’t move from where he was seated calmly at the table in the center of the empty room. There was no way he could overpower Fury; he’d be foolish to even try.

 

Quentin remained perfectly still even as he felt Fury’s hand on his shoulder and the threatening glide of the needle against his neck, just above the collar. He hoped Fury couldn’t hear the frenetic quickening of his heart, like a rabbit in the claws of an eagle.

 

“You don’t know what’s in this,” Fury began, like he was making a nonchalant observation. “Could be fuckin’ antifreeze for all you know. And you’ve got some impressive powers, Mr. Beck. So why not use them?” It was as clear a challenge as any.

 

Quentin gave a thin smile, one he knew Fury could see in the one-way mirror. “What would be the point? You have all the power here. Especially with this.” His fingers trailed over the smooth metal of the collar.

 

Fury raised an eyebrow. “We’re alone in here. If your disappearing act is anywhere near as good as it was in Mexico, I’d say you have a chance.”

 

“And where would I go, even if I could get out of this room?” Quentin returned, keeping calm despite the sharp almost-prick of the needle at his neck. He knew Fury was goading him. Joke was on him, though. “I’m not stupid, Mr. Fury.”

 

The needle moved away from Quentin’s neck, and his shoulders relaxed ever so slightly. 

 

“That,” Fury said as he grabbed Quentin by the wrist, laying his right arm flat against the table, “remains to be seen.” He located a vein with surprising ease and pushed the needle in without a second thought.

 

Quentin hissed sharply through his teeth at the sting; Fury wasn’t exactly being gentle. The bluish liquid emptied into his veins, a cold sensation beneath his skin, and Quentin could already feel himself getting a little woozy. Or maybe that was just from watching Fury withdraw the long silver needle from his skin, leaving a bead of blood behind. Quentin had never much liked needles.

 

“Did you really think I wouldn’t find out?” Fury’s voice was icy now.

 

The world was starting to seem off-balance to Quentin. He blinked, trying to focus his thoughts, which had suddenly become fuzzy and hard to grasp. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he managed.

 

“Don't bullshit me. I had my people look into your suit and the tech we found in Prague. Wasn’t hard to put the pieces together once we knew a little bit more about you.” Fury scoffed. “Former Stark Industries? Projection tech? Honestly. Stark could have done better.”

 

Quentin felt a flash of rage just at the mention of Stark. How dare this second-rate SHIELD hack compare him to that egotistical man-child? How dare he insinuate that—that— 

 

Quentin lurched to his feet, intending to tell Fury exactly what had gone down with Tony Stark, but found that his legs didn’t want to support him, his balance nonexistent. He collapsed to the floor with a grunt, feeling dizzy and weak and maybe a little scared of what was going to happen next.

 

But Quentin never could leave well enough alone. “Stark had you fooled, too, thinking he was a hero,” he said with a little grin. “I was just doing him one better.”

 

That got a reaction. There was a glint of something vengeful in Fury’s one eye, and the vicious kick to Quentin’s midsection was enough to knock the wind out of him. Pain burned hot and sharp beneath his skin, feeling like his blood was heated beyond what his body could stand.

 

“I don’t like being lied to, Beck,” Fury said, and every word promised pain. “Now, I don’t know what all this was about yet, but trust me when I say I will find out.” 

 

Quentin wheezed with laughter even as Fury’s steel-toed boots impacted his ribs, twice more. Maybe it was the delirium of the drugs, or the pain making him light-headed, but it hadn’t quite sunk in yet. Fury knew Mysterio was a lie. That brought his whole carefully crafted plan tumbling down like a house of cards. 

 

That meant he was already dead. He wasn’t sure what had gone wrong, what had tipped Fury off, but it didn’t matter.

 

“Go on, then,” Quentin goaded Fury, his throat feeling raw. “Put a bullet in my head. You look like you want to.” God, everything hurt. More than it should have, given that Fury had barely touched him. The drug burned like fire in his veins, his whole body feeling like gelatin, like the stuff was acid eating him from the inside out.

 

Fury just smiled, the lines of his face stark in the room’s harsh light. “You might not know it yet, but you’ve really fucked up, Beck.” He placed a foot atop Quentin’s chest, making him struggle for breath. “But I’m not gonna kill you yet. Not while I can still get some use out of you.”

 

Quentin could do nothing but stare up at the ceiling and try to breathe, trying not to unravel under Fury’s hawk-like gaze. He felt naked despite being clothed, felt for the first time that the situation had truly slipped out of his hands. His power was in illusion, in deception. Mysterio was the pinnacle of all of that. And now that Fury knew that Mysterio was nothing more than a cheap trick? 

 

Quentin was just the man behind the curtain. He had nowhere to hide now.

 

“You’re a fraud, Beck,” Fury was saying, his foot pressing harder into already bruised ribs, and Quentin made a choked sound of pain. “And frankly, I’m embarrassed. That I fell for it, and that you thought you could keep up this smoke and mirrors bullshit.”

 

Fury’s one eye gleamed with something like self-satisfaction. “No, I’m not gonna kill you. But you’re gonna wish I had.”

Chapter Text

Quentin was curled up in the corner of the cell, eyes closed but not sleeping. He wished he could, but the feverish all-over ache the drug had left behind wouldn’t let him relax. It hurt to breathe, and he suspected that a couple of his ribs were cracked or maybe broken, if the deep purple-black bruises on his torso were anything to go by. There was nothing he could do about it, though, so he just tried not to breathe too deeply or make any sudden moves.

 

Quentin couldn’t help but feel entirely out of his depth now. He always had a plan. That was his thing. He was the guy with the plan. Ever since Tony Stark had pulled the rug out from under him and commandeered the project he had put years into developing, Quentin had sworn to himself that he’d always be one step ahead. People liked that about him, and they were drawn to him because of it. It was how he’d gotten his team together, the ones who had helped him orchestrate this whole thing. Helped to create Mysterio. 

 

And Fury’s suspicions had ruined all of it. Quentin had no backup, no contingency plan for that. 

 

For the first time in a very long time, Quentin had no idea what he was going to do next.

 

Alone with his thoughts, Quentin almost didn’t notice when the sound of footsteps approached from the left. He glanced up, felt his heart skip a beat when he saw two guards practically dragging Peter between them.

 

The kid was barely upright, his feet skimming the floor but unable to support his weight. He looked lethargic and sleepy, deathly pale, eyes half-closed. Peter seemed to come around when he noticed Quentin on the other side of the glass, though.

 

He squirmed in the guards’ grasp, eyes widening. “Mr. Beck…!” he called out, weakly. He might as well have been a newborn kitten for how much good his struggles did.

 

The guards tugged on Peter’s arms again, but Peter kicked his legs weakly. “No, no, p-please,” he said shakily, and the desperation in the kid’s voice tugged at Quentin’s heart despite himself.

 

“Please,” Peter said again, voice breaking. “I d-don’t want to be alone right now…”

 

The two guards—bored-looking young men who were probably used to doing a whole lot of nothing down here—exchanged reluctant glances, then shrugged. One of them tapped a keypad to open the glass door with a pneumatic hiss, then unceremoniously shoved Peter inside. 

 

Peter pitched towards the floor, his usual agile grace absent. Quentin sprang up before he could even think about it, ignoring the pain that shot through his ribs and managing to keep Peter from hitting the floor headfirst.

 

Peter practically fell into Quentin’s arms, and Quentin realized the kid was cold as ice and shivering weakly. His hair was damp, his lips tinged blue, and Quentin guessed he was damn near hypothermic. Peter clutched at Quentin, burying his face into the man’s shoulder, made a noise that sounded almost like a sob.

 

Peter was so light that Quentin could have picked him up and carried him under normal circumstances. Quentin’s ribs hurt too badly for that, though, so he simply helped Peter to the mattress in the corner of the room, let him sit down on something that wasn’t the cold metal floor. The kid’s breathing was shaky, and Quentin couldn’t tell if he was crying or just shivering uncontrollably.

 

“Peter,” Quentin said softly, trying to get his attention. He tried to put some space between them, so he could see the kid’s face.

 

But Peter clung to Quentin, still shivering. His skin was like ice. “‘M cold,” he slurred.

 

After only half a second’s hesitation, Quentin put his arms around Peter, rubbing the kid’s back to try to warm him up. “You’re worrying me,” he prodded gently. “I need you to talk to me, Peter.” He knew Peter probably wasn’t in serious danger, given his enhanced metabolism, but it was still concerning.

 

A few moments passed in silence while Quentin rubbed firm circles into Peter’s back, trying to warm him up, and Peter sniffled quietly, his whole body quivering.

 

“I wanna go home,” Peter said thickly, and something in Quentin’s heart twisted. It was easy to forget just how young Peter was, with him being Stark’s prodigy and a superhuman. But he was still just a teenager, not even out of high school yet.

 

Quentin had expected that dealing with Stark’s protégé would be a pain in the ass. When intel had suggested that Stark had passed on the controls to the project codenamed EDITH to a costumed teenager, Quentin had been incensed. To give such power and responsibility to… to some kid? Quentin had sworn that Stark was determined to vex him from beyond the grave. But Peter had to be a part of the plan nonetheless. He’d expected to meet some spoiled brat, some clueless kid with Stark’s infamous attitude. 

 

But Peter… he wasn’t like Stark at all. It was amazing, really. Peter was a lot of things that normal teenagers were: insecure, inexperienced, full of nervous energy. Really, Quentin could read him like a book. It was almost too easy to know what he needed to hear. 

 

He knew that Peter was haunted by the memory of Tony Stark. He could see it in the kid’s eyes, when he saw the murals and tributes to Iron Man everywhere. Everyone wanted a new Iron Man, and they were expecting this… kid to step up.

 

Big shoes to fill at seventeen. Quentin couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for the kid. And once again, resentful of Tony Stark, the selfish asshole that he was. Respect for the dead be damned.

 

In a way, Stark had taken something from Peter, too. His childhood. His sense of stability. Any hope of a normal life.

 

If Quentin was being honest, he sort of liked Peter. He didn’t want the kid to become collateral damage in the fallout of his plan, if nothing else. 

 

“You’re gonna go home, kid,” Quentin assured him, hoping it sounded convincing. Quentin knew Fury was out for blood, but not Peter’s. Peter was just an unwitting pawn in all this. He didn’t know anything. He shouldn’t have to suffer for Quentin’s mistakes.

 

Peter sniffled, sat back shakily against the wall. His normally graceful limbs were clumsy with cold, still shivering. “I just… I didn’t think my school trip was gonna go like this,” he said faintly, letting out a weak laugh. 

 

“I wouldn’t worry too much,” Quentin said with an easy confidence that didn’t match the hollow feeling in his chest. He smiled crookedly. “Fury can’t keep you here forever. Maybe you’ll still have time to go and meet that girl.” 

 

Peter’s smile was wobbly, and his eyes were shiny with unshed tears. God, Quentin hoped the kid didn’t start crying. He didn’t know how to deal with that. 

 

“I just… I don’t know what everyone wants from me,” Peter croaked. He rubbed at his eyes with the heel of his hand. “Fury said that if I did some tests and helped him out, then I could go home. I didn’t know what to say.” He paused, staring at the floor. “...Mr. Stark would have known what to say.”

 

Quentin felt a twinge of irritation. Even in death, Stark was still crippling Peter’s self-esteem. “You’ve gotta stop comparing yourself to him. You’re not Tony Stark. You never will be. And that’s a good thing.”

 

“I always wanted to be like him,” Peter admitted quietly, staring distantly at the wall. “Mr. Stark always knew what to do. And I just keep messing things up.”

 

“None of us make the right decisions all the time, kid.”

 

Peter looked at Quentin. The unbounded trust in those eyes was almost too much. “Did you know him? Mr. Stark?”

 

Quentin had to swallow back a bitter laugh. Instead, he was quiet for a second, biting the inside of his cheek. “No,” he said finally. “Not really. I’m not sure if anyone did.”

 

“Oh.” Peter went quiet for a moment. “I think he would have liked you.”

 

Quentin managed a thin smile. “Sometimes you don't know people as well as you think you do, kid.”

 

 

Time seemed to pass differently in this place. Peter had fallen asleep curled up against Quentin’s side not long after their conversation, and it seemed like only minutes before Hill showed up with two guards. 

 

“Fury wants to see you,” was all she said.

 

Quentin knew what that meant. 

 

He was reluctant to disturb Peter, who probably desperately needed some rest, but the two guards roused him without fanfare. Peter was needed in the lab, apparently.

 

It could have been minutes or days or hours since then. It was hard to tell.

 

Quentin didn’t know where he was. Well, he knew he was still in the Raft, but this specific room was unfamiliar. He wondered how long he had been like this, wrists bound with unforgiving metal cuffs, his naked body suspended from some kind of chain attached to the cuffs. He was strung up in such a way that his toes could just barely touch the floor, though if he really tried he could get his feet under him, standing on tiptoes to take some of the strain off his wrists and shoulders. 

 

That left most of his weight suspended by his cuffed hands, though, and the metal of the cuffs bit mercilessly into his wrists. Quentin’s arms were already going numb, and his shoulders ached with the strain. 

 

Fury had yet to show. For a few minutes Quentin dared to hope that this would be it, that Fury would simply think that the isolation would take its toll on him. Sure, it wasn’t comfortable, and his shoulders were going to hurt like hell when Fury finally decided to let him down from here, but Quentin wasn’t bothered by being alone with his own thoughts. Honestly, being made to strip naked had been the most uncomfortable part so far, simply because it was pretty chilly in this room. Although he had to admit that the sharp ache in his shoulders and back was starting to become persistent.

 

Quentin told himself he could handle this.

 

Well, at least until the door opened and shut again with an ominous thud, and Quentin recognized Fury’s heavy, purposeful gait. It was confident, but unhurried; powerful, but restrained. 

 

Quentin felt his stomach lurch with dread. But he’d be damned if he gave Fury the satisfaction of knowing he was afraid. He could feel Fury’s eyes--well, eye--looking him over like he was a choice cut of meat. 

 

“Got caught up in a meeting, Mr. Fury?” Quentin remarked sarcastically, though it took a bit more effort than anticipated. It was a little hard to breathe with his arms wrenched over his head like this. 

 

“I’ll be asking the questions here,” Fury reminded him, footsteps stopping behind Quentin. “But no, actually.” His tone was ominously casual, and Quentin was dreading finding out why.

 

“In fact, I was thinking about just what to do with you, Mr. Beck,” Fury said. He had started walking again, making a slow circle around Quentin’s nude form suspended from the chain.

 

Quentin huffed out a laugh. “Like let me go?” he suggested lightly. Even if Fury knew his story about being a superhuman from another dimension was a lie, he could still spin that to his advantage. “I can’t exactly terrorize the world with—how did you put it? Smoke and mirrors?”

 

“Is everything that comes out of your mouth a goddamn lie?” Fury sounded irritated. “I have to say I’m disappointed. I thought I told you it was a bad idea to lie to me.”

 

Quentin swallowed hard. Okay, so maybe it would be a little more difficult than he thought to talk his way out of this one. Fury seemed to be in a bad mood.

 

“For an ordinary guy with a grudge against Tony Stark, you have been an extraordinary pain in my ass,” Fury remarked, continuing to circle Quentin with a deliberate slowness, like a lion bearing down on wounded prey. “No powers, no tragic origin story to speak of--except for a little hissy fit with Stark that got you fired--but you’ve managed to destroy several European landmarks, terrorize several cities, and send the world into a frenzy over monsters that aren’t even real. You’re dangerous, Beck. I’d be an idiot to let you out of here.”

 

The edge of satisfaction in Fury’s tone sent a chill down Quentin’s spine. He sounded entirely too pleased about that.

 

“But,” Fury continued, his steps deliberately timed with the pauses in his words. “I don’t have the whole story just yet. My intel operatives are working on it, but I figured it might be easier for all of us if I just get it straight from you.” A slow, deliberate pause. “If you were to cooperate, tell me how you pulled it off and why, I might be inclined to be more lenient.”

 

Quentin couldn’t help but laugh, even if it left him breathless and almost wheezing. Fury really had no idea who he was trying to manipulate. Quentin could see right through this little scheme. Fury didn’t compromise, didn’t negotiate, and he didn’t show mercy. “You want me to be honest?”

 

Fury stopped in front of Quentin, pinning him with a hawkish stare. “Of course.”

 

“You must think I’m an idiot,” Quentin said. A nervous laugh bubbled up in his chest, and he was aware that he was grinning like a fool despite how fast his heart was beating with terror. Fury still didn’t have all the info he needed, but hell if Quentin was going to give it to him. That meant there was a chance Fury didn’t know about EDITH, about his team probably panicking in Berlin. Fury was going to torture him either way, but Quentin could at least make it difficult for him to get what he wanted. He shrugged his shoulders as best he could in his current position, which was to say pretty much not at all. “You’re pretty bad at this whole negotiating thing. It’s almost funny, really. You’re going to kill me anyway, and you think I’m going to answer any of your questions? Good one, Fury. Should have gone into comedy.”

 

Fury’s scowl deepened. “Don’t say I didn’t give you the opportunity.” He kept walking, out of Quentin’s line of sight.

 

“I’m going to get what I want, Beck,” Fury continued, and the leather of his gloves creaked as he was handling something Quentin couldn’t see. “One way or another, you’re going to tell me the truth.”

 

“You wouldn’t know the truth if you saw it,” Quentin retorted, hating himself for the breathless little quaver that broke through the easy, confident tone he was going for. His instincts were telling him that what was coming next was going to be terribly unpleasant, but he couldn’t tell exactly what it was. Didn’t want to guess, really, because it was almost guaranteed to be worse than he imagined.

 

Fury chuckled. “Then I suppose you’ll just have to convince me.” He was holding a long, slender bamboo implement about three feet long, thin and flexible and about the width of a finger. He trailed the end of the implement across Quentin’s bare back, watched him tense up at the touch.

 

Quentin had to force himself not to flinch. He couldn’t see what it was, but it was guaranteed to hurt. He swallowed, trying to make himself relax.

 

“You know, I’ve always been a little old-fashioned,” Fury remarked. The slender piece of bamboo made a sharp whistling sound as it cut through the air when he took a few practice swings. “I already said that I don’t like being lied to, Beck. Maybe this will help convince you that it’s in your best interest to start telling the truth.”

 

Quentin had a witty retort on the tip of his tongue, but the sharp strike of the bamboo rod across his shoulder blades caught him off-guard. It impacted his skin with a harsh thwack , and the pain burned in a hot stripe across his back, guaranteed to leave a deep, painful welt. He couldn’t help but gasp, jerking away from the pain on instinct.

 

“Y ou ever been caned before, Beck? Doesn’t look like it,” Fury said casually. “You’ve got nice skin, no scars. I bet we can fix that.”

 

Quentin had to choke back a cry of pain when the second blow landed, another burning stripe just below the first. He was already breathing hard, trembling with the strain of keeping his feet underneath him. 

 

“You know, R&D is collecting some data on the Parker kid,” Fury continued, almost conversational. “While I am disappointed that we can’t get any data on someone from a parallel dimension, they tell me that they still need a control group. A comparison. I think you'll do just fine for that purpose.”

 

The third and fourth blows landed in quick succession, and the searing pain was enough to knock the wind out of Quentin, even though he tried to tense up in preparation. “You’re insane,” he managed, hoarsely. He wanted to tell Fury to leave the kid alone, but trying to form a coherent sentence seemed beyond Quentin’s capabilities at the moment.

 

The fifth lash came in lieu of a reply, a particularly harsh blow, and Quentin couldn’t help but hiss through his teeth, trying to breathe through the pain. He was trembling too hard to hold himself up now, and his full weight sagged against the chains, cuffs digging into his wrists. He knew he’d probably have some nasty cuts, but his arms were numb at this point. Small blessings.

 

His breathing was shallow, ragged, and he was starting to wish that he would just pass out already. Maybe then it would be over faster. 

 

Quentin didn’t know how much time had passed before Fury was satisfied. He had lost count after around fifteen, and the rest of the blows were just a haze of pain. Even the sharp sound of the rod hitting his back, the bloom of hot, stinging pain that followed each blow all seemed to blur together. He wasn’t sure if he was bleeding or not. He didn’t even know if he’d cried out, begged, pleaded. He didn’t care, really. All he wanted was for it to stop.

 

Quentin’s back was a mess of raised red welts. Fury hadn’t stopped there, though. He’d laid a collection of red stripes as high as Quentin’s shoulders and as low as his upper thighs. He’d been careful not to draw blood, at least this time. The only places Quentin bled were where a couple stripes on his upper back had crisscrossed. Those hurt the worst, but the collection of welts ached and burned across his whole back like he’d been branded with hot metal. His breath was coming in short, shaky gasps, his mouth tasting of blood from where he’d bitten his tongue at some point.

 

The next thing Quentin heard was Fury saying, “I think that’s enough for today.” He sounded satisfied. 

 

The chains went slack suddenly, and Quentin fell to the floor with a cry of pain, finding that he was able to take a proper breath for the first time in hours. He felt dizzy with it. His shoulders throbbed with agony, as did his back, but the cold concrete floor was quite honestly blissful after the hours spent suspended by his wrists.

 

Fury’s boot nudged Quentin’s side, and he realized Fury was standing over him.

 

“Get up and get dressed,” the man ordered curtly. “I’ve decided to take it easy on you for today.”

 

Lying there in a haze of pain, thinking about what Fury might consider harsher than this, Quentin didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. 

Chapter Text

Peter sat with his knees pulled up to his chest in the corner of the cell, dreading when they would come for him again. There never seemed to be any rhyme or reason to it, no schedule that they were keeping to. He never knew what was in store for him until he got there. The cold water bath had been the worst, but the next time was just scans: images and x-rays of his body, his limbs, even his teeth. The doctors hadn’t said why, just told him what to do and praised him when he did it.

 

He had been terrified when the guards pulled him away from Beck, terrified that they were going to put him back in the ice water. But they didn’t. At least, they hadn’t yet. Peter thought that the waiting was almost worse than the actual tests. He was so… alone in here. His cell was absolutely barren of anything to hold his attention, so all Peter could do was either sleep or think about what was going to happen next.

 

Peter wished he could sleep. His sort of sixth sense (he was refusing to call it his ‘Peter tingle’) had been going crazy ever since he’d woken up in the Raft, and it wasn’t easy to relax enough to sleep with his body constantly telling him to be on high alert. He was so tired, but every part of his body felt wound tight like a spring, and he couldn’t take his eyes off the door.

 

Peter swallowed hard. He knew he needed to calm down somehow, or he’d spiral into a panic attack. That, and he was exhausting himself just sitting here and fretting about nothing. He took a deep breath, trying to let it out slow. His breathing was shaky, uneven instead of the smooth inhale and exhale his therapist had taught him, but at least it was something.

 

He wanted to talk to someone. Wanted to think about something else for a while. Peter glanced cautiously at the door, making sure there was no one passing by outside. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be doing this or not, so he decided to err on the side of trying not to get caught. He’d gotten the sense earlier that Fury wasn’t pleased he’d been allowed to see Beck at all.

 

Even so, this was better than nothing.

 

He laid down on the narrow mattress, so he was facing the wall with the vents. It was chilly this way, with the air circulating, but it was worth it if it meant he could talk to someone who wasn’t Fury or a doctor asking a bunch of weird questions.

 

“Mr. Beck?” Peter called out, as loudly as he dared, directing his voice into the vent. “You there? It’s Peter.”

 

He listened intently for a response. He had tried earlier, but to no avail. Beck had either been absent or asleep, Peter knew, but he couldn’t help the anxiety he felt. He hoped Beck was okay, and more so that he was still on the other side of this wall. The thought of being alone in this place was almost worse than the thought of more experiments.

 

“Peter? Everything okay?” A familiar voice drifted through the vent, and Peter was so relieved he felt his throat tighten and his eyes prick with tears. He swallowed back the tears, though, just happy that he wasn’t so alone anymore.

 

“Um, not really,” Peter said with a weak laugh. Inside, he still ached with cold, feeling like he’d never be warm again.

 

There was a beat of silence. “ Yeah, that was kind of a dumb question. But… you’ve gotta keep your head, Peter. Everything… everything’s gonna be okay.” Beck’s voice sounded tired, Peter thought, and there was a slight strain to the words that suggested he was in pain.

 

Peter immediately felt bad for sitting there and freaking out over a little cold water. He realized he had no idea what Beck might have been subjected to in the time they had been apart. “A-are you okay?” he asked, voice cracking. “Did they hurt you?”

 

Nothing I can’t handle,” Beck assured him, but now that Peter was listening for it, he could hear the strain in Beck’s voice, the effort it took for him to sound nonchalant.

 

Peter felt outrage and guilt mix unpleasantly in his stomach. He was going to give Fury a piece of his mind next time he saw the man. None of this was fair. It wasn’t fair that all this shit had to happen while Peter was on vacation, or that Quentin’s world had been destroyed, or that Fury was punishing the both of them simply for being who they were.

 

“I’m sorry,” Peter croaked. He couldn’t help but feel like this was his fault somehow. 

 

Hey, hey, you’ve got nothing to be sorry for,” Beck was saying, insistent. “ None of this is your fault.” He sounded so sure of himself.

 

Peter swallowed hard. He wished he would have been better. Smarter. Maybe he could have been more responsible, and Fury wouldn’t have locked them both up. Maybe—

 

I’m sorry, kid,” said Beck’s voice, cutting into Peter’s spiraling thoughts. The heavy, subdued tone was a contrast to his usual confidence.

 

“Sorry for what?” Peter asked, frowning. The long silence that followed made Peter’s anxiety start to claw at him again.

 

Finally, Beck spoke again, and Peter thought he sounded almost… sad. “ Whatever happens, I’m glad we met.”

 

 

Peter sat still and pointedly tried not to look when they drew his blood. He barely felt the prick of the needle, but he never liked to watch when he had to get shots or anything like that.

 

“You did very well yesterday, Peter,” one of the doctors was saying. “This data is quite honestly incredible. Your endurance and stamina are off the charts. Well, for an average human. We’re not sure where you stand in the hierarchy of the enhanced, but I’d speculate that you could have given Captain America a run for his money.”

 

Peter didn’t care about any of that. “I want to talk to Fury.”

 

The doctors exchanged glances, and one of them instructed the nurse to take the vials of blood down to the pathology lab. 

 

“Take me to him,” Peter insisted, even as he was shepherded out of the room by a pair of guards. No one spoke until they came to another room, one that reminded Peter a bit of the labs he saw at Stark Tower, except this lab was clearly not meant for machines. No, all the tools and machines that normally covered counters and tabletops were absent. In their place was a collection of medical and scientific equipment, all meant to be used on living things. 

 

Peter swallowed hard, wondering what they had planned for him now. 

 

Fury was there, surprisingly. Or perhaps not. The man seemed to be everywhere these days. 

 

Peter felt his anger come surging back, and he marched right up to Fury after wrenching his arm out of the grasp of one of the guards. “You hurt Beck.” It wasn’t a question.

 

Fury raised an eyebrow, looking down at Peter like one might look at a child who’s just spoken a dirty word. “What I did or didn’t do is none of your business, Parker.” There was an edge to his voice that was clearly telling Peter to back down.

 

But Peter had never been very good at quitting while he was ahead. “I said I’d cooperate, but leave him alone,” he said forcefully, hoping it came off as authoritative rather than pleading. “You’ve got me. Why do you need him?”

 

Fury actually laughed. Genuine amusement pulled his mouth into a grin, but there was a subtle gleam of vindictive satisfaction in the man’s one eye. “You don’t know, do you?”

 

Peter frowned. Fury clearly knew something he didn’t, and Peter hated to be kept in the dark. “Know about what?”

 

Fury chuckled and stood up from where he was perched on one of the empty lab tables. “I suppose he didn’t have to try very hard to fool you. You’re a good kid, Parker, but gullible.”

 

“What do you mean?” Peter asked weakly, his stomach in knots. His skin prickled again with gooseflesh. “What are you talking about…?”

 

“I suppose you shouldn’t feel too bad. He even had me fooled for a little while,” Fury said with arms crossed. “Beck made the whole thing up. All that bullshit about his dead family and being some superhero from another dimension? He lied. Plain and simple.”

 

“...What?” Peter’s throat felt dry. He just stared at Fury, shaking his head. “No. Y-you’re lying. You saw the Elementals! You saw him fight them! Saw us fight them!” There was no way! It… it didn’t make any sense. 

 

“He faked it all with some kind of holographic technology. I know it’s hard to believe, Parker, but Beck conned all of us,” Fury said with audible disdain. “Now, I don’t know exactly what he hoped to gain with all this, but it sure as hell wasn’t for your benefit or mine.”

 

“Stop it,” Peter said, his throat feeling tight. “I don’t believe you.”

 

Fury shrugged. “Ask him yourself. He knows the ruse is up. Besides, not like we could expect anything more from some ex-Stark Industries engineer with a grudge against his old boss. Tony sure knew how to piss people off.”

 

Peter stared at Fury with a mixture of betrayal and disbelief. “He… he worked for Mr. Stark?”

 

“Until he got fired for getting in Stark’s face over some creative differences.”

 

Peter felt like he’d been punched in the gut. He swallowed, finding his throat feeling like sandpaper. Beck… had lied to him? The whole time? It didn’t seem possible.

 

“How do I know you’re telling the truth?” he asked hoarsely. He didn’t want to believe it. He really didn’t. But the prickle of his sixth sense was back, and he dreaded its accuracy.

 

Fury shrugged, handing Peter a manila folder with a label that read BECK, QUENTIN J. “I could tell you that a search of SHIELD databases told us all we needed to know, but I think the fact that he hasn’t used any magic to slip out of here says volumes.”

 

Peter opened the file folder, looking in disbelief at the printouts within. It couldn’t be true… could it? His eyes skimmed over the papers. Beck had worked at Stark Industries. Made huge breakthroughs regarding advanced holographic projection technology. Got into a disagreement with Stark. Dropped off the map for several years, and the rest was history.

 

Peter’s throat felt tight, and he wasn’t sure if he could speak even if he had anything else to say to Fury. The folder dropped from Peter’s hands, scattering papers all over the floor. A lab tech took him by the arm, and he didn’t even put up a token protest as he was led to the reinforced glass doors of the experimental chamber. 

 

They shut him inside the room, which was lit with bright lights that made it almost impossible to see out, and all Peter could do was sit down against the wall, feeling numb. The temperature was starting to rise in the room, almost uncomfortably, but Peter couldn’t bring himself to care at the moment. The light was hot, and the room was quickly warming. Peter didn’t protest even though they were watching him from outside, and he sat with his knees pulled up to his chest while silent tears slid down his cheeks.

 

 

It turned out that Peter wasn’t as resistant to heat as he was to cold. He felt like he’d been in that heated chamber for hours, sweat pouring down his face and body. He was starting to feel dizzy and nauseous, but he never once protested or cried out. Peter just didn’t have the energy for it. He thought that if he had to move in any way, he’d simply pass out or spontaneously combust.

 

But they were monitoring his vitals, apparently, and finally pulled him out after 56 minutes of sitting in 140-degree heat and 90 percent humidity. Peter nearly cried at the sheer relief of the cool outside air against his skin, consciousness hazy even as he was manhandled onto a stretcher and taken to another room. The air felt freezing against his skin, though it was blissful compared to the heat. All Peter could do was lie there and pant for breath, staring with unfocused eyes up at the ceiling while distant voices spoke urgently around him. Inside, he felt like he was on fire beneath his skin, a molten heat that couldn’t be quenched.

 

He whimpered softly when he was lifted by the arms and legs, the sudden motion making his stomach do a sickening flip-flop. Peter saw the cold water bath out of the corner of his eye, and he barely had time to struggle.

 

“N-no, no, please—!” He begged, but they dropped him in anyway, and it was the most agonizing shock Peter could remember in his life. He couldn’t help it; he screamed, thrashing weakly in the water. It felt like deja vu, except now it was a thousand times worse, the shock of the ice water searingly cold against his overheated body.

 

Peter was aware that his chest was heaving, his breath coming in gasps but feeling like he couldn’t get any air in his lungs. He was shivering violently once more, and everything seemed to hurt despite that the cold water was masochistically blissful after the heat. 

 

“Just relax, Peter,” said the voice of one of the doctors, sounding far away. Someone took Peter’s right arm in hand, dried a spot of skin at his elbow and cleaned it with an alcohol wipe. He barely felt the bite of the needle when it entered his skin, and it didn’t take long before Peter felt the pain and terror drain out of him entirely.

 

It was still cold, but it didn’t hurt, and Peter stared up at the ceiling, quietly marveling at how nice it was not to hurt. He knew they must have given him something to calm him down, some drug, but he couldn’t bring himself to care at the moment. 

 

It was sort of strange, Peter thought as the lab assistants lifted him out of the tub of icy water and onto a nearby table. He knew that he should be afraid, knew that he'd been afraid before, but… he wasn’t now. He’d never had any real anesthesia drugs since he got his powers, and usually his enhanced metabolism burned through medication far quicker than a normal person.

 

Peter just laid there, distantly aware as the lab techs cut off his sopping wet clothes, gingerly dried him off with scratchy towels, and dressed him in a clean set of blue scrubs. He was so… relaxed. Even his sixth sense had stopped going off, and it was honestly a relief. 

 

He felt like he could just… fade away. 

 

Peter didn’t remember closing his eyes, but when he opened them again, he was lying in a hospital bed in a quiet white room, and Maria Hill was sitting in one of the plastic chairs next to the bed.

 

Everything still felt sort of fuzzy, but the world was more in focus now. Peter looked at her, blinking in sleepy surprise. “M-miss Agent Hill?” he tried, finding his voice hoarse.

 

“Just Agent Hill is fine, Parker,” she said. She broke the seal on a bottle of Gatorade and handed it to Peter, who took it gingerly.

 

Peter took a few cautious sips, and the liquid felt heavenly on his raw throat. He was tempted to chug the whole thing, but he was still pretty out of it thanks to the drugs, so he settled for taking it slow. “Um, what happened?” he asked after a few moments. He didn’t remember much besides the heated chamber, and then the ice bath.

 

“They pushed too hard, too fast,” Hill responded with a grimace. “You didn’t respond well to the heat, and they didn’t pull you out until you were almost critical. They had to cool you down quickly, unfortunately.”

 

Peter remembered the ice bath again, and felt a phantom shiver go down his spine. “I… don’t really remember anything else,” he admitted with an uncertain glance at Hill. “Did—did they do anything else?” He was almost afraid to ask, but he figured knowing would be better than wondering about it later, trapped alone with his own thoughts in the quiet of his cell.

 

There was a flicker of something like sympathy in Hill’s eyes, just for a moment. “No. Not yet, anyway. They gave you a sedative to let you rest. You’ve been sleeping for about twelve hours.”

 

“Twelve hours?” Peter repeated, surprised. Time didn’t seem to mean a whole lot down here, but it felt like a long time to sleep. “Wow.” He took another drink from the plastic bottle, reveling in the taste of something normal and familiar.

 

Hill surreptitiously glanced left and right, ensuring that they were alone. “I’d say you’ve got about ten minutes before the nurse comes back to check on you.”

 

Peter blinked. “Huh?”

 

It seemed like an odd non sequitur until Hill handed Peter a nondescript black flip phone. “You’ve got time to let your aunt know you’re okay.”

 

Peter’s eyes went wide, and he stared at the device in his hand, swallowing hard. He looked from the phone and then back to Hill, as though uncertain. “A-are you sure?”

 

“I’ll make sure. You’re wasting time, Parker.”

 

Peter opened the phone with trembling hands, dialing Aunt May’s number with unsteady fingers and holding the phone to his ear. It was one of the only numbers he knew by heart, the one he’d had memorized since he was a kid.

 

The line rang once, twice, three times, and for a terrible moment Peter was afraid she wouldn’t answer an unknown number. But then the line clicked, and a familiar voice came through.

 

“Hello?” said the voice of Happy Hogan.

 

“Happy? Happy, it’s me,” Peter said, eyes wide, breathless with surprise. “Wait, why are you answering May’s phone?”

 

“Peter? Holy hell, kid, you’ve worried your aunt half to death!” Happy said, sounding both relieved and chastising. “ Uh, she’s busy with some work stuff right now. A-are you okay? Where are you?”

 

Peter could have cried with happiness. “I’m okay,” he managed, voice breaking. “Happy, I-I’m not in Europe anymore. I need you to—” Suddenly the back of Peter’s neck prickled, and he slammed the phone shut, hiding it in one hand just before a nurse walked into view. His heart was pounding, but he made himself breathe normally.

 

“Oh, Agent Hill, I didn’t realize you were here,” the nurse remarked, eyebrows raised. “I thought I heard voices over here.”

 

“Just checking on Parker’s condition,” Hill said to the woman, unflappable as ever. Peter’s fingers flexed almost unnoticeably around the phone. “We had a near-miss down in R&D.”

 

The nurse grimaced. “I heard. Really, you should have someone from medical down there when you do these things.”

 

“You know that’s not my jurisdiction, Carrie,” Hill said with a thin smile. “Take it up with Fury.”

 

“I just might,” Carrie said as she checked Peter’s vitals with brisk efficiency. “Heart rate is a little high, but looks like he’s pretty much back to where we need him to be. How’re you feeling, Parker?”

 

“Uh, fine, I guess,” Peter said, resisting the urge to fidget. 

 

“Well, I’m gonna say he’s good to go, then,” Carrie said with a glance at Hill, and Peter felt his heart sink just a little.

 

“Thanks, Carrie.” Hill stood up, and in one fluid, surreptitious motion, she slipped the phone from Peter’s hand and into her pocket. She caught Peter’s eye, just briefly, apologetic.

 

Peter couldn’t blame her. She’d gone out on a limb to help him, he knew. He would just have to hope that it was enough.

Chapter Text

The silence was really starting to get to Quentin. It was so maddeningly quiet, with nothing but the quiet rumble of generators from deeper in the facility and the hum of air through the ventilation system. The place was incredibly well insulated, and he had to occupy his mind with counting ceiling tiles or the number of gaps in the air vents just to keep from focusing in too much on the sound of his own breathing or the minute flicker of the lights.

 

Quentin wished he could pass the time by sleeping, but everything hurt so badly it was impossible to relax enough to fall asleep. It was agony to lie down on his back, which was covered in stinging welts, and his ribs hurt too badly for him to lie on his stomach. All he could do was curl up gingerly on his side and try to close his eyes for a bit, hoping to get some rest before Fury returned to torture him some more.

 

He wondered if he would die here. Shot like a dog once Fury had no further use to him? Or perhaps he would simply succumb to his injuries after Fury’s tortures went too far? The thought that chilled him worse was that Fury wouldn’t kill him at all. There were fates worse than death.

 

He never could fully fall asleep, though. Maybe it was pain, or maybe it was the animal part of his brain unwilling to turn its back on a predator. Worry nagged at the back of his mind, too, about the kid. Peter had been gone for what seemed like a long time. There was no answer when Quentin called out for him through the vents, and he couldn’t hear anything but the quiet drone of the lights.

 

He was lying there, drifting between asleep and awake behind the darkness of his closed eyelids, when he heard Peter’s voice again.

 

“Beck? You there?” Peter’s voice was quiet, subdued. Nothing like the nervous energy he’d had before. He sounded… small. Tired.

 

A flicker of mixed relief and surprise went through him, and he was suddenly very much awake. Quentin sat up stiffly, moving a little closer to the vent. “I’m here, Peter.” 

 

Faintly, he heard Peter take a deep breath, or maybe sniffle. “Is… is it true what Fury said?”

 

Quentin felt his blood turn to ice in his veins. He should have known that Fury would tell Peter, just to hurt the kid, and yet… “What did he say, kid?”

 

“He said that you lied. About everything. He… he said that all the monsters and the multiverse your powers and everything was… some kind of an illusion.” Peter sounded hurt, confused, desperate not to believe it.

 

There was doubt there. Quentin could have seized that opportunity, played into the kid’s trusting nature. He could have spun some kind of tale about the collar suppressing his abilities, about Fury trying to turn them against each other and not to believe a word he said. And yet… Quentin hesitated. What good would it do? Fury already knew, SHIELD already knew, and that meant the ruse was up. 

 

There were no more lies left to hide behind. And didn’t Peter deserve the truth? Sure, Quentin had lied to him before, but only out of necessity. Those lies were part of something bigger, something that could have been greater than both of them alone. That plan, those dreams seemed far away now.

 

Peter had spent so much of his life being told half-truths, being deceived by those he trusted. Stark. Fury. The Avengers. The least Quentin could do now was give him something real. If this was how things were going to end, then Quentin wanted to at least be honest with Peter. For once.

 

Even if the kid would hate him for it. 

 

“Please say something, ” Peter practically begged. He sounded so hurt, so angry and sad. Betrayed. “Was it real? Was any of it real?”

 

“I… I’m sorry, kid. I lied.” Quentin felt like he could choke on the words. He didn’t want to say that none of it was real, but that was also pretty much untrue. He had always been so good with words, before all this, but right now he didn’t know what he could say that wouldn’t just make things worse.

 

Peter’s long silence hurt more than anything he could have said.

 

Quentin was starting to think the conversation was over when finally, Peter spoke again. “Fury said that you used to work for Mr. Stark. He… he said that you had a grudge.”

 

And there it was. Of course Fury had dragged out his past with Stark.

 

“Is that what he said?” Quentin couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his tone. He laughed, hollow and mirthless. “Hate to break it to you, kid, but you didn’t know Tony Stark. Not really.”

 

“I knew that he was a hero, ” Peter insisted, but it sounded desperate, like he was trying to convince himself more than anyone else. “He saved all of us!”

 

“Yeah? Maybe he martyred himself in the end, but did you ever consider that most of the problems he so nobly solved were his own damn fault in the first place?” Quentin shot back, venomous, the resentment that had simmered in his heart for years finally pouring out. “Tony Stark was selfish . Everything he did, he did for himself. Maybe you’re too young to remember when he was best known as the ‘Merchant of Death.’ StarkTech weapons fueled wars across the globe for years. And that was just the beginning.”

 

“And he stopped once he realized he was hurting people!” Peter said desperately. “Can’t you see that Mr. Stark was trying to change? That he was trying to help?!”

 

“I don’t think you get it, Peter.” Quentin’s voice was cold now, not because he was angry at Peter, but because even dead, Stark was absolutely fucking everything up. “He didn’t stop being selfish, or stop using people for his own gain. He just shifted targets. Stark took everything from me! Yes, I used to work for him, because I thought he could do something great with the amount of money he was pouring into ridiculous shit. I was doing something great. Stark took that from me. And for what? So he could make a few quips on stage and claim that the tech I invented and perfected was some pet project of his.”

 

“I… I don’t understand,” Peter said, almost pleadingly. “What did he do?”

 

Quentin smiled bitterly just at the memory. Standing backstage at that presentation, listening to Stark grandstand about an invention he’d had no part in, had been a betrayal in the worst way. “You want to know how I did it, Peter? How I made it all seem so real? I invented something revolutionary, and then Stark swooped in and took it out of my hands. I thought he’d shut it down—some bullshit about being too expensive to continue with the research—but then he… he walks out on stage and uses my life’s work as a prop for his ego. He took it from me, and renamed it—binary augmented retroframing. He liked to call it B.A.R.F.” He couldn’t help but laugh bitterly. “He named my life’s work BARF.

 

Peter was silent for a long moment. “So… you’re mad because he named your invention BARF?”

 

“No!” Quentin threw up his hands even though Peter couldn’t see him, exasperated. “BARF was the last straw, Peter. All Stark did was take. He used people. He took my invention, he took my opportunity to do something great with it. And then he used it to stroke his ego in front of a crowd, and tossed it away. I called him out on it, and he fired me. Had the nerve to call me unstable for claiming the rights to what was mine.”

 

Quentin paused, feeling an almost hollow sort of ache in his chest. “Tony Stark was selfish. Egomaniacal. Power-hungry. And the only things he did right, were in the name of trying to fix things he’d already done wrong.”

 

“At least he tried to make things right!” Peter’s voice was raw with emotion, and he sounded genuinely angry now. “Mr. Stark was trying to help people!”

 

Maybe it was a rude awakening for the kid, but he had to learn the truth at some point. ‘The truth hurts,’ was a phrase Quentin had heard a lot in his life. Peter, as naive and idealistic as he was, would have to learn that as well. “You didn’t know Tony Stark, Peter. Not really.”

 

“No, you didn’t know Mr. Stark,” Peter shot back, hurt and angry. “He did so much for me, and he was my… He was there for me! Why should I believe anything you say? Everything you told me was a lie…! I thought I’d finally met someone I could trust with all this stuff about… about saving the world and being a superhero and all that. But it was all a lie.” He sounded so devastated, so… disappointed. 

 

The words felt like a punch to the gut. Quentin desperately wanted to tell Peter that it hadn’t all been false, that he’d come to genuinely care for the boy in a way even Quentin himself hadn’t planned on. “Peter, I—”

 

“You lied to me,” Peter cut him off, voice breaking. “And I was stupid enough to fall for it.”

 

There was silence after that.

 

“Peter, please,” Quentin tried, as though he could explain, but what was he going to say? That he hadn’t meant for this to happen? That he’d only lied for a good reason? It all sounded hollow, even to his own ears. Even if it was true. “I… it wasn’t all lies.”

 

He couldn’t be sure if Peter was even listening anymore, but Quentin felt like he should say it anyway. “You and I are a lot alike, Peter,” he continued quietly. “And I think—”

 

“I’m nothing like you.” The venom in Peter’s voice took Quentin by surprise. “ ...Fury was right.”

 

Quentin had never been one to be hurt much by words—he’d said and done enough manipulative things in the name of his own goals that he was pretty much numb to it, but coming from Peter… The words cut deep, and he felt a wellspring of hurt bloom inside him, a wounded ache beyond the physical pain that was already there. 

 

Quentin couldn’t say he didn’t deserve it. 

 

It was like Quentin’s father had always told him, that the truth hurt and he had to face up to it like a man. The truth was an ugly thing, Quentin thought, and he wished that it didn’t leave him feeling so naked, so vulnerable and weak. He’d always worn deception like a cloak, and he wore it well. But all his lies had come crashing down like a house of cards, and he had no cloak left to hide behind, no more illusions to dazzle with. 

 

At least Peter knew the truth now. Even if it hurt. 

 

As the sound of footsteps approached from further down the hall, and Quentin’s stomach twisted with dread, he hoped that perhaps Peter would one day realize that not all of it had been a lie.

 

 

“Something’s wrong.”

 

“Well, no shit, something’s wrong.”

 

Somewhere in Berlin, a group of four people sat somewhat awkwardly around a table in a hotel dining room, sipping coffee and glancing intermittently over their shoulders. In total, Team Mysterio numbered around twenty, but that was too many people to gather in one place without arousing suspicion, so just a few of them had been chosen to meet at one hotel while the others tried to gather more information.

 

“We’ve been waiting for days,” continued the woman who’d spoken first, Valerie. She and Janice were in charge of costuming and design, making things look good.

 

“I know, I know. But what can we do? We’ve heard nothing but radio silence,” William responded with a grimace. He was just the drone tech guy. What the hell was he supposed to do? Beck was the ringleader of this whole operation.

 

“Maybe Beck went off-script,” suggested Sabine with a shrug. She was part of the team who’d helped design some of the key illusions, one of the original team members who’d worked with Beck in developing the illusion tech.

 

“Are you kidding me? Beck never goes off script,” Guterman put in, taking a sip of coffee. “Not unless he has to. And even then, he always radios us first.”

 

“Have you checked the GPS tracker in Beck’s suit?” Valerie asked.

 

“Of course. But it’s gotta be broken; it’s pinging from somewhere in the Atlantic,” William said with a shake of his head. They’d been trying to figure this out for days now. Beck had gone radio silent that night in Prague, had never shown up for the carefully planned scene in the bar, and they’d heard nothing since. It was like Beck had just dropped off the map. Team Mysterio had been in a holding pattern since, though they had moved to Berlin as scheduled, hoping Beck would surprise them and show up on time for the next event. So far, no dice.

 

Others on the team were spooked, and with good reason. Some of them had been talking about leaving, just flying home and abandoning the whole operation, but that was wishful thinking. They were all irrevocably implicated in Beck's operation, and if it were to go down now, the whole team would be going with it. They would have to see this thing through to the end.

 

“You think he ditched the tracker?” Sabine asked with a raised eyebrow.

 

“In the middle of the Atlantic?” William snorted. “We’re in Europe. It’s gotta be messed up somehow, or the signal’s getting scrambled.”

 

“But what if it’s not?” Valerie spoke up again, looking between the other three. “What if that’s really where he is?”

 

“Oh, come on, Val, he doesn’t actually have superpowers. It’s not like he could just disappear in a puff of smoke and reappear wherever he wants,” Guterman responded, unconvinced. 

 

Valerie shook her head. “No, no, that’s not what I meant. I mean, he was dealing with SHIELD. You guys know that rumor, the one about the secret prison the government operates to contain superpowered threats? Well, supposedly it’s—”

 

Please not the conspiracy theories again,” Sabine groaned, rolling her eyes.

 

“Will you just listen?! Supposedly there’s a secret prison, the Raft, that is operated by SHIELD without the public’s knowledge—”

 

“Can we please be serious about this?” Guterman said, annoyed.

 

“—and that prison is hidden under the Atlantic ocean, somewhere off the East Coast!”

 

Silence fell over the group, and the four of them exchanged glances. 

 

“See?” Valerie huffed. “I do know where I’m going with this.”

 

“Even I couldn’t make this shit up,” Guterman muttered.

 

William nodded slowly, glancing between Guterman and Sabine, who had similarly unsettled looks on their faces. “Do we still have that seismographic scanning equipment up and running?” If there was such a place, and Beck’s tracker was pinging there, it would almost certainly show up on their equipment if they scanned for it.

 

“Of course we do.”

 

William set down his coffee cup, resisting the urge to look over his shoulder again. This all seemed maybe a little bit far-fetched, but it wasn’t like they had any other leads to follow. “Let’s get somebody on that tonight.”

 

Chapter Text

Peter could never stay angry at anyone for long. It was just part of who he was; he couldn’t hold a grudge. Even when he knew he should be angry, knew that he was well within his rights to hold it against someone, he couldn’t. 

 

Peter wasn’t so much angry anymore as he was just… disappointed. Finding out that Beck had lied to him had been a shock. And Peter had been angry at first, but mostly angry at himself. Angry that he’d fallen for it, angry that none of it was real. Now, though? He was just hollow and aching, some childish part of him wishing that it could have been true.

 

He couldn’t help but feel betrayed. Peter had really thought that Beck was on his side, and the man had duped him. And he’d said all that stuff about Mr. Stark! Mr. Stark, who had made Peter’s suit, who had supported him and tried to give him advice about his powers and his life. Sure, Mr. Stark had done some questionable things, and maybe some people had gotten hurt over those choices, but… Iron Man had saved the world. Iron Man had brought back all the people who’d vanished in the Snap, including Peter.

 

That had to count for something. Peter was sure of that. 

 

He knew that Mr. Stark wasn’t perfect. He’d made mistakes in the past, and he had admitted as much to Peter. The world remembered Iron Man as a hero, and Tony Stark as a visionary. Peter had lost count of the murals and tributes and magazine articles he’d seen memorializing Tony Stark. They spoke of his accomplishments, his technological genius, his contributions to humanity that would be felt for generations.

 

Peter couldn’t help but think that those memorials weren’t written about the man. They were about the legend. About what Tony wanted the world to see. About Iron Man.

 

Peter had known Tony Stark, the man, or at least he thought he had. 

 

He thought that he’d known Beck, too. 

 

 

They took him someplace different this time. Peter thought he could hear the sound of rushing water, and he wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or not, given that this place was underwater. When the guards opened the double doors, of all the things Peter expected to see, an Olympic-sized swimming pool was not one of them.

 

Peter blinked, looking out across the length of the pool. There were platforms floating in the water, some tall and some short, some with uneven textures and others looking uncomfortably sharp. 

 

Fury and Hill were both there. That was odd, Peter thought. He was used to seeing them travel together, but in this place, they seemed to operate separately.

 

“You guys have a pool… in a place that’s underwater?” Peter asked slowly.

 

Fury looked less than impressed. “Your powers of observation are unparalleled, Parker,” he drawled sarcastically. “This is your next test.”

 

The guards uncuffed Peter at a nod from Fury, stepping back. 

 

Peter planted his bare feet firmly on the damp floor and crossed his arms. “No.”

 

“What do you mean, ‘no?’” There was a warning edge to Fury’s voice.

 

“I’m not doing this anymore,” Peter said, defiant. He forced himself to look Fury in the eye. “I want to call Aunt May, and I want to go home. You can’t keep me here. I haven’t done anything wrong, and so you have to let me go.” He honestly didn’t remember a whole lot from his AP government class—it felt like so long ago—but he remembered that it was illegal to hold someone without charging them with a crime.

 

Fury chuckled. “You wanna play that game, Parker? Alright then. I hope you know that vigilante conduct such as unlawful detention, seizure, and assault of an individual is illegal in the United States. As is the use of unregistered weapons technology like that of your suit. Given that you’re enhanced, those charges could be upgraded to terrorism because your very existence can be construed as a threat to human life. The Sokovia Accords ring any bells?”

 

Peter swallowed hard. “I’m not doing this anymore,” he said with only a slight waver to his voice, holding his ground despite his better judgement. He knew that Mr. Stark wouldn’t have let anyone push him around, not even Nick Fury.

 

Fury just shook his head. “I thought you might say that. Props to you for having the balls to say it, but nonetheless, I thought we might have this problem.” He snapped his fingers, gesturing to the men in the control room up above the pool, on the far wall. 

 

An army of previously cloaked drones suddenly detached from the wall, a swarm of sleek white machines with mounted ventral guns and an array of cameras on their fronts, like insectoid eyes. They moved in a sort of synchronized chaos, swirling in the air above the water and around the obstacles that moved in the water of the pool.

 

Peter couldn’t help but stare at them with wide eyes. “What the hell are those?”

 

“Another of Tony’s brilliant inventions,” Fury responded casually. “This particular model was never revealed to the public, but it serves our purposes here.”

 

Peter watched the drones, torn between being horrified and fascinated. He was sure they’d be incredible to look at under the hood, but he knew that if these machines had been made by Tony Stark, then they were ruthlessly efficient, and that didn’t bode well for Peter.

 

“And that’s supposed to make me want to do this stupid obstacle course?” Peter asked, remembering himself.

 

“No, but I think this might.” Another gesture from Fury, and at the opposite end of the pool, a lab tech pulled a white tarp off of a previously unseen installation, revealing a large glass tank with a human figure sealed inside. With his sharp eyesight, Peter could immediately see who it was.

 

Beck.

 

Peter felt his stomach do a sickening flip. Beck looked somewhat confused, squinting against the bright lights overhead and pressing his hands up against the glass. Maybe he couldn’t see Peter through the swarm of drones in the air.

 

“Whatever it is you want me to do, I’m not doing it.” Peter held his ground despite how his stomach flip-flopped with anxiety.

 

Fury raised an eyebrow. “I haven’t even told you what your task is yet.”

 

“I don’t care,” Peter said immediately. He struggled to close off his emotions, despite the dread weighing heavy in the pit of his stomach. “It’s not gonna work.”

 

At a nod from Fury, the lab tech flipped a switch on a control board, and the tank holding Beck began to fill with water from the bottom up. Beck startled, and he pounded on the glass, clearly alarmed.

 

Peter looked Fury in the eye. “Stop it.”

 

Fury glanced at his watch. “I’d say you got about five minutes until that tank is full. Though I guess it’s up to you if you want to adhere to that time limit.” 

 

The water was already at Beck’s ankles.

 

“Stop it!” Peter repeated, more forcefully now, desperation creeping into his tone. “Let him go!”

 

“You want him out? Then go get him,” Fury said simply, gesturing across the length of the pool and the drones swarming the air. “All you gotta do is get to the other side.”

 

“Why should I care what happens to him?” The words felt clunky and uncharacteristic coming from Peter’s own mouth—he’d never liked the callous act. It made something twist uncomfortably in his gut. “He—he tricked me. You told me yourself.”

 

“Oh, come on, Parker. You think we don’t know your MO?” Fury chuckled, as though anything about this was funny. “Spider-Man doesn’t kill. Not even by inaction.”

 

Peter grit his teeth, angry because Fury was right. Spider-Man didn’t let people die. Even the bad guys. But he couldn’t keep playing into Fury’s hands. Fury wouldn’t kill Beck. Not yet.

 

“I’m done taking orders from you.” Peter stood his ground, stared Fury straight in the eye even as his heart pounded, the back of his neck prickling with alarm.

 

Fury stared right back, and Peter couldn’t help but glance to the other end of the pool. The water was halfway to Beck’s knees now, and he was throwing his shoulder against the glass, trying to find a weak point. If Beck was speaking, Peter couldn’t hear him past the glass and the roar of a hundred drone engines and the swirl of water in the pool.

 

Peter had nearly drowned once, falling into a pool when he was little. He didn’t remember much of the incident, just the crushing pressure of the need to breathe, the sharp cold rush of water in his lungs, the terrible ache in his chest. It wasn’t a pleasant way to go. 

 

Fury’s gaze hadn’t left Peter when the boy looked back. “I’d say you’ve got around three minutes. Your move, Spider-Man.”

 

Peter’s fists clenched at his sides, his gut twisting, and as much as he hated himself for it, he’d already made his decision. Without another word, he ran and leaped as high as he could into the air, landing on one of the high floating platforms in the pool. The surface was slipperier than he’d expected, and he had to clutch at it to keep from falling as the perch rocked violently in the water. 

 

The drones immediately targeted Peter, and it was only the tingle of his sixth sense that allowed him to avoid the shots fired from the three drones on his tail. He slipped and slid to the other end of the surface, yelping when his feet slid out from under him, summarily dumping him off the edge of the platform. 

 

Peter hit the water with a splash, and he dove deep to avoid more shots from the drones circling overhead. Shit, were they firing real bullets? He wasn’t eager to find out. But he had to come up for air soon, and as soon as his head broke the surface of the swirling water, the drones were on him again.

 

“Shit!” Peter twisted behind one of the floating platforms, scrabbling for purchase against the side of it. There was a strong rip current in the water, trying to sweep him back to the other side of the pool.

 

Being sticky came in handy, even when soaking wet. Peter scrambled to the surface of the platform, and he stood up, soaking wet and panting. This particular platform was textured, allowing his bare feet to grip the surface as he got a running start and launched himself toward the next platform with a cry.

 

He made it, but only just, rolling out of the way as more drones zeroed in on his position. Peter yelped as a shot grazed his leg, sending him tumbling once again. He clung to the side of the platform, chest heaving as he tried to get his breath and tried to ignore the throbbing pain of the bullet graze in his leg.

 

Water dripped from his hair into his eyes, and Peter shook his head, blinking hard. This wasn’t working. He’d never make it to the other side this way, not with the drones after his every move. He was too exposed. 

 

And Beck was running out of time. Peter managed a glimpse at the far side of the pool, where the tank was more than half-full now. Beck was up to his waist in water, looking increasingly panicked, and Peter couldn’t blame him.

 

He looked up, searching for anything he could traverse other than the slippery wet platforms. He realized there was cargo netting stretching from floor to ceiling on the left and right of the pool, probably bounding the drones. He wouldn’t be able to swim it, but maybe there was another way.

 

Peter jumped up and grabbed onto the nearest drone, which swerved wildly as its rotors worked to compensate for the added weight and momentum. He let the drone’s flight carry him forward, its companions already zeroing in like birds of prey. His heart pounding, Peter just prayed that he was close enough and launched himself from the drone with a shout.

 

The drone exploded not a moment later as its fellows fired upon it, and Peter snagged the netting with one hand, grunting as the effort of holding up his full body weight jerked hard on his shoulder. Climbing the ropes was a piece of cake compared to the water platforms, and Peter let out an exhilarated laugh as he started to make his way across. It wasn’t quite like web-slinging, but it was close enough.

 

From his vantage point up high, he could see that Beck’s tank was nearly three-quarters full. Beck was treading water now, trying to keep his head above the surface, and Peter’s adrenaline was running high. He could do this.

 

He was more than halfway across when the collar activated, and the blinding shock made Peter’s muscles seize violently, his cry of pain choked off. He fell from the cargo netting and hit the cold water with a terrific splash.

 

For one terrifying moment Peter couldn’t move, his muscles locked to the point of pain from the shock. He felt a sickening jolt of panic, his chest aching with the need to breathe as he sank deeper beneath the swirling water. He couldn’t let panic overtake him, not now. 

 

Peter forced himself to relax, tried not to fight the tightness that kept his body rigid. He exhaled what little air was left in his lungs, felt his muscles loosen, and that was enough. He swam to the surface, gasping and coughing as he took in gulps of chlorine-scented air. Already the current was dragging him backwards, and Peter felt a renewed flash of panic.

 

No, no, no! Not when he was so close! Peter was starting to feel the strain of exhaustion, a heaviness pulling at his body when he tried to swim against the current, and he fought it with everything he had. The current threw him back against another platform, and Peter grabbed for it, hauling himself out of the water with shaking limbs.

 

Soaking wet and trembling, Peter’s muscles ached with the exertion. The water made things even more strenuous, and the current was treacherous. But there was no time to rest, even as his lungs burned with exhaustion.

 

From his current perch, fifty feet stood between him and the other side. Peter’s gut lurched with horror as he saw that Beck was nearly fully submerged in the tank now, less than a foot of space between the water’s surface and the glass lid of the tank. He got a glimpse of the look on Beck’s face, real panic in those expressive blue eyes.

 

The drones weren’t there to distract him, Peter realized suddenly. They were part of the game. 

 

It took only seconds for him to realize his next move. He leapt onto one of the drones, precariously balanced on its sleek white dome as it swerved wildly to one side. There were so many of them crowding the airspace that it was almost like dancing through the air, leaping like he was weightless across the field of drones.

 

They tried to intercept him, but Peter was quicker, much lighter on his feet, and his quick dodges and flips sent the attacking drones careening into one another. Once he figured out that their pattern was the same, their flight formation made according to rules, it was easy.

 

Peter took a flying leap off the last drone, tucking into a flip in midair before he landed on the opposite edge of the pool, panting.

 

Looking up, he realized with horror that the tank was nearly completely full now. Beck took a last, desperate gasp of air just before the water level reached maximum, and he was fully submerged.

 

Peter ran to the glass tank, eyes wide. On the other side of the glass, Beck was suspended in the water, almost otherworldly, looking out with wide, panicked eyes. He banged a hand against the glass, and Peter felt his chest constrict with the same panic.

 

“Fury! I did what you wanted, now let him out!!” Peter begged, shouting across the pool. But there was no response, no move to open the tank from anyone in the control room, and Beck couldn’t hold his breath forever.

 

In desperation, Peter punched the glass as hard as he could, only for the shock of the impact to reverberate painfully up his arm. Not even a crack. It must have been reinforced with something incredibly strong.

 

“No! No, no, no,” Peter begged, voice cracking, wishing someone, anyone would help. “Beck, just—just hold on, please…!”

 

Beck looked out at him with some kind of meaningful expression on his face, and Peter wondered what the hell he was trying to say in a moment like this. Beck pressed his palm up against the glass, and Peter looked at him with helpless terror, tears pricking at his eyes.

 

Somehow, Peter was reminded of the last conversation he’d had with Beck, before the truth came out. Remembered what Beck had said in those last moments that Peter had trusted him.

 

Whatever happens, I’m glad we met.

 

Beck’s eyes were starting to lose focus, bubbles streaming from his nose and mouth as he let out the breath he’d been holding for far too long. His hand slipped from the glass, eyes beginning to close, and Peter let out a choked cry of panic.

 

Peter began blindly pounding on the glass, over and over with as much strength as he could put behind the blows, even as the impact jarred his arm and split the skin of his knuckles. Hairline cracks began to appear in the glass, spiderwebbing outward. It was just enough.

 

With a wordless, animalistic cry, Peter drove his fist through the glass, shattering the pane and allowing the force of the water to do the rest. The whole glass apparatus shattered, and water rushed over Peter, knocking him to the ground.

 

Peter coughed as he sat up, gasping. His knuckles were split, his hand cut and bleeding, but that was the least of his concerns at the moment. 

 

Beck was lying on the ground a few feet away, soaking wet and unnaturally still.

 

Peter scrambled towards him, his heart in his throat. “Mr. Beck?” he croaked.

 

Beck’s eyes were closed. He wasn’t breathing.

 

“No! C’mon, please, please…!” Peter was babbling now, a stream of incoherent pleas, a sickening panic constricting his chest.

 

Peter didn’t know CPR, but he had to do something. Holding his breath, he delivered a sharp hit to Beck’s sternum, the way he’d seen people do on TV, and prayed to any god who was listening.

 

 

The convulsive agony that shot through Quentin’s ribs was enough to shock him back to consciousness. He was immediately reminded of his very pressing need to breathe, and there was a split second of panic before his lungs spasmed, and he was hacking up water, then finally taking in wheezing breaths of blessed air.

 

He didn’t even care that it hurt so fucking bad, his lungs burning and his ribs aching so badly he was sure they were broken. Quentin just laid there for a moment, just trying to get some air back into his burning lungs, curled up into a weak ball as pain radiated from his sternum. Shit, that hurt.

 

Quentin realized, vaguely, that he was lying on the ground, soaking wet and aching, and there was someone talking a mile a minute nearby. The raw wounds on his back stung sharply from the chlorine in the water, but that was the least of his concerns at the moment. The voice seemed distant, though that might have been just the oxygen deprivation making him a little bit woozy. He blinked a couple times, his vision slowly coming back into focus as each breath became slightly less painful.

 

It was Peter, Quentin realized distantly. Figured, since the kid could never shut up when he got nervous. Peter was also soaking wet, and he appeared to be on the verge of tears.

 

Quentin couldn’t find it in him to move just yet. He still felt hazy, like his mind wasn’t quite in sync with his body just yet, but he made himself look up at Peter, swallowing to try and lubricate his raw, aching throat.

 

His memories of the last few minutes seemed distant and unclear, but he knew enough to realize he’d probably scared the shit out of the poor kid, who was soaking wet and bedraggled and pale as a sheet, his eyes wide and scared, almost childishly so. Peter was still talking, somehow, and Quentin wasn’t really catching all of it, but he got the sense it didn’t matter.

 

“Hey, kid,” Quentin managed, hoarsely. God, he sounded awful. He forced a weak smile. “...Thanks.”

 

Peter burst into tears just then, and Quentin could not for the life of him figure out why.

 

Chapter Text

“You know you can make this stop anytime.” Fury’s voice was so calm, so casual, like they were just having a conversation.

 

Quentin felt a hysterical laugh bubble up in his chest, though he couldn’t have made a sound even if he tried thanks to the gag in his mouth, a thick piece of plastic that kept his jaw stretched achingly wide, its girth enough to keep him just on the edge of gagging at any moment. Fury’s sense of humor was just too much sometimes. 

 

He could hear but not see the man circling him with slow steps, like a goddamn vulture. Quentin was almost grateful for the blindfold keeping him in the dark, just so he wouldn’t have to meet the man’s eyes.

 

Quentin’s nude body trembled in the restraints, both from the chill of the room and the strain of maintaining such a position. His ankles were cuffed to his wrists, his body draped over some kind of table with a slope in the middle that forced him to arch his back. This put all his weight on his tender back, and it had been agony at first, being forced into such a position that pulled at the still-sore welts crisscrossing his back. It had been a mistake to fight back, even a little, and Quentin was sure that the wounds on his back were torn and bleeding from his struggles when they had first locked him into the restraints.

 

Now, though, it had faded into a constant background ache, a dull throb that felt like a physical weight pressing down on him. He had room to squirm just a little, to arch his back further and take some of the pressure off those wounds, but this meant he had to push his chest out and spread his legs even wider in what was already a painful and humiliating pose to maintain.

 

There was some kind of leash clipped to the collar now, and it was pulled just taut enough that Quentin was forced to keep his head tilted back and his throat exposed to keep from choking himself. The position left him completely exposed in more ways than one, pulled taut like a butterfly with its wings pinned to a board. 

 

Quentin felt like it had been hours that he had lain here trembling, but in reality it had likely been far less time than that. Fury had asked him ever so casually if he was ready to talk, while a pair of blank-faced guards forced Quentin to strip naked and then manhandled him onto the table. 

 

Quentin didn’t even remember what he’d said in return.

 

He’d laughed, until they gagged and blindfolded him. He briefly wondered what kind of information Fury was hoping to get from him if he couldn’t talk—the logic in that was pretty much nonexistent—but Quentin was getting the sense that this particular session wasn’t about information.

 

“Really, you’re doing it to yourself at this point,” Fury was saying from somewhere to Quentin’s left. “You’ve got no reason not to cooperate, Beck. The game is up. And I’ve done my research on you. You’ve got no family to speak of, no friends to wonder where you are. And that means I can keep you like this for as long as I like.”

 

It was difficult to swallow with the gag in his mouth, so Quentin was drooling from the corners of his mouth, like a fucking dog. He wished he had some kind of disarming retort at the ready, some quip to throw Fury off his game, but even if he hadn’t been gagged, he wasn’t sure he could have faked the bravado anymore. Everything hurt, he was naked and cold, and he felt like he was fraying at the seams.

 

His back ached, his ribs throbbed, and there was a hollow pain that went beyond the physical, one that hadn’t gone away since his last conversation with Peter. 

 

Quentin squeezed his eyes shut under the blindfold, taking a shaky breath through his nose. The cuffs bit into his already bruised and chafed wrists, pulling on his ankles as well. He wasn’t above begging, but to this man? Quentin didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. 

 

Quentin tried to keep as still as possible when he heard Fury approach, though this had the effect of only exacerbating the trembling in his limbs. A couple leather-gloved fingers prodded the purplish-black bruises mottling his torso, and Quentin made a choked noise from behind the gag as a sharp pain shot through his ribs, a couple of which were definitely broken. As much as he appreciated Peter saving his life, the kid didn’t know his own strength sometimes.

 

“I don’t know what you’re holding out for, Beck,” Fury commented. “The cat’s out of the bag, and even Parker knows it. He’d probably agree with Stark, god rest his dysfunctional ass. You’re nothing but a cheap trick. We all know it. So why not just cooperate?” He phrased it like a question, but Quentin knew it was rhetorical. Not like he could counter any of Fury’s points, anyway. The asshole probably just wanted to hear himself talk.

 

Quentin just tried to focus on breathing through his nose, pointedly trying to ignore the sensation of the gag on the verge of choking him. He thought that he must be getting lightheaded, that the pain must be getting to him, because Fury was starting to make sense.

 

Why didn’t he just give in and spill his guts already? Quentin supposed it had something to do with pride, his own stubbornness and his inability to give up the last pathetic measure of control he had over this whole situation. Yeah. Something like that. The information about how his illusion tech worked and how he’d pulled off his grand scheme (well, to a point) was the last card he was holding in a game he was already losing badly. If he let them have that... then what reason did they have to keep him alive?

 

And if he spilled to Fury about the tech, that meant that anyone who had worked with him on the project would become a target, too. His team would probably be rounded up by SHIELD, or at the very least arrested and questioned. He couldn’t do that to them, not after all they’d done for him. Sure, maybe they were difficult to work with at times, but he wasn’t going to condemn them to the same fate as himself—the fate he’d already unintentionally condemned Peter to.

 

And so he jerked away from Fury’s touch when that leather-gloved hand moved to his throat, defiant to the last. The man’s fingers hooked beneath the collar, just momentarily, like he was going to pull it tight, and Quentin felt a brief flash of panic.

 

But then the touch disappeared, and he heard Fury’s footsteps receding. “I’m gonna leave you to think about it for a little while.”

 

Quentin knew that Fury was trying to scare him, trying to make him desperate. But he couldn’t help the sickening lurch of fear that went through him at the thought of being left alone in here, and he jerked desperately against the restraints. Did this mean that Fury was leaving to torture Peter instead? He didn’t really know what they were doing with the kid, aside from the vague description of “collecting data,” but Quentin knew for a fact that it wasn’t anything good. Shit. Shit. If only he could speak… Quentin could have kept Fury’s attention a while longer, bantered uselessly or just annoyed him. Quentin knew very well that it was a bad idea to taunt Fury, but if it kept the man from turning his ministrations on Peter… it would be worth the pain. 

 

Quentin made a choked-off noise from behind the gag, squirming, but it wasn’t enough.

 

He thought he heard Fury chuckle just before the door shut with a heavy, final thud. 

 

 

“I gotta say, Beck’s a pretty tenacious guy,” Fury remarked.

 

From where she was standing in the doorway of Fury’s office, Hill raised an eyebrow. It was long past time for them both to be off-duty for the night, and even though there was no daylight down here, they were still supposed to remain on a designated sleep schedule. But Fury had been reading through SHIELD’s files on both Beck and Parker, meticulously scanning the information in between his… interrogations. Parker’s file was pretty extensive, detailing his involvement with the Avengers, but Beck’s was actually fairly sparse. The only reason he was even on SHIELD’s radar prior to all this was because he’d worked for Stark.

 

Hill sighed. “We’re off-duty, so I’m going to be frank with you. Sir,” she began, curtly. “This is starting to seem a little bit personal. Beck’s got no powers; he’s a common criminal. So send him up to Rikers and be done with it. The judicial system will take care of the rest. Terrorism and conspiracy charges’ll be pretty hard to get dropped.” 

 

Fury fixed her with a cold look. “You of all people should know it’s not that simple, Agent Hill. Right now, the world still sees Mysterio as a hero. If we try to prosecute him now, there will be riots.”

 

He did have a point, Hill had to admit. The stuff about the illusions and StarkTech being used in the Elemental attacks was a far cry from being declassified, which meant it couldn’t be used as evidence against Beck. At least, not yet. “Still,” she pressed. “What’s the point of torturing him for information when we can just wait for the intel guys to dig it up?”

 

She wouldn’t say it unless asked, but Hill was of the opinion that today had been entirely unnecessary. Coercing the kid, using Beck as leverage, the near-drowning? It all seemed like it was going a bit far, at least to her. 

 

Fury flipped another sheet of paper over with deliberate force. “I want to hear it from him.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because this time, I want to be sure I’ve got the right intel,” Fury said, perhaps a little too sharply.

 

Hill raised an eyebrow. “You’re taking this personally, aren’t you? You’ve been gone for five years, suddenly you’re not the expert anymore, and you can’t stand the fact that this guy got past your guard.” She knew Fury was a smart man, and a ruthlessly effective SHIELD director, but he was of the opinion that any number of false alarms were better than missed threats. And he didn’t care who got caught up in the dragnet.

 

Fury sent a one-eyed glare in her direction, but Hill wasn’t fazed. The two of them had worked together for years, and she knew what buttons she could push.

 

“I want to make sure he doesn’t have any more nasty surprises or traps set,” Fury said, flipping another page.

 

“Sure,” Hill said, not quite convinced. “Come on, Fury. What can he do? Same goes for the Parker kid, honestly. Why’s he still here?”

 

“Parker’s a wild card. He’s impressionable, unpredictable,” Fury retorted.

 

Hill looked unimpressed. “He’s a teenager who stops muggings in New York City, dressed in red and blue spandex. Not exactly future supervillain material, if you ask me.”

 

“And Beck was just some eccentric engineer working at Stark Industries, until he decided he wanted to spite Tony Stark,” Fury shot back. 

 

Hill decided not to argue further. Fury did have a point there, and he wasn’t going to let it go. “So what then?”

 

“There are certain assurances I need from the both of them, before I make any more decisions.” The look in his eye was sharp, calculating. “You and I both know that we didn’t get to where we are today without having a failsafe. Besides, I told R&D to get what they could out of both of them.”

 

“...Understood, sir.”

 

 

It seemed inordinately cold in the room.

 

Despite being unable to move, Quentin felt exhausted. Maybe it was just the steady ache of his back and his ribs, along with being contorted into an uncomfortable position, but he felt like he was ready to collapse. The silence, too, felt like a physical weight pressing down on him, and behind the darkness of the blindfold, Quentin felt almost claustrophobic despite the fact that the room was empty of anyone but him.

 

Everything felt taut, stretched to the breaking point, and Quentin couldn’t help but whimper behind the gag.

 

Quentin hadn’t slept since his near-drowning, however many hours or days ago that had been. They had barely given him time to dry off before bringing him to Fury for further ‘questioning,’ and even being left alone like this was no solace. Between the pain and the constant near-choking of the collar and the gag, Quentin had to work just to keep his breathing regular.

 

He couldn’t help but wonder where Peter was now. They’d had to drag the poor kid away from him, the boy a teary mess, and Quentin had been too stunned to do anything but lie there and watch it happen. Quentin had been convinced for a few brief, terrifying minutes that he was going to die, but Peter… After everything, Peter had been desperate to save him.

 

Quentin hardly knew what to make of that.

 

When the door opened again, Quentin felt a chill go up his spine. A few guards had come in and out before, never speaking but occasionally delivering a slap or a pinch to Quentin’s bare skin, usually his legs or his chest, just to see him squirm. A couple times, a pair of calloused fingers had roughly pinched Quentin’s nipple, and the sound he made, even gagged, was utterly humiliating. They never did more than that (or perhaps they had orders not to), but it was enough to fray Quentin’s nerves nonetheless. He was sure he’d have otherwise inexplicable bruises.

 

But there was only one set of footsteps this time, too light and quiet to be Fury’s. 

 

The footsteps stopped at his right, and Quentin couldn’t help but tense up reflexively. The cuffs bit into his already sore wrists and ankles at the slightest movement.

 

“Nod if you can hear me,” said the voice of Maria Hill.

 

Quentin managed a short, jerky nod, feeling the collar pull uncomfortably tight as he did so.

 

He felt her hands reaching around to the back of his head, and she unfastened both the gag and the blindfold, allowing him a blissful reprieve from the strain of both. His jaw popped as he was able to close it for the first time in hours, and he groaned softly at the overwhelming brightness of the light in the room, squeezing his eyes shut for a few moments. Even if everything else still hurt, it was nice just to be able to breathe properly again.

 

Hill had a very good poker face. She didn’t bother with pleasantries. “I don’t think you’re a terrorist. Or a supervillain. At least, not a very good one.”

 

Quentin squinted up at her, trying to discern her expression. “Did Fury put you up to this?”

 

“Let’s just say that at this moment, I’m not acting under any specific orders,” she responded coolly. “But I’ve got directives of my own. And I’m curious. Why’d you do it?”

 

Quentin couldn’t help but snicker. The very question that Fury had been trying to beat out of him for days. Maybe the isolation was taking its toll on him, but it seemed hilarious. “Not to topple governments or kill indiscriminately, if that’s what you’re asking.”

 

“Alright, so give me another plausible explanation.” Hill wasn’t swayed, not in the least, but she didn’t seem vindictive about it.

 

Quentin let his head drop back, taking some of the pressure off his throat where the collar was pulling. He observed the bare wall, upside-down from his current vantage point. “So when Tony Stark flies around in a flashy costume and shoots lasers out of his hands, he's a hero, but when I do it, I'm a threat to public safety?” It was only half a joke.

 

“So this is about your thing with Stark. That figures,” Hill said, though her tone wasn’t dismissive, just logical. She was rather more incisive than Quentin had expected, and he’d be lying if he said it didn’t chafe a little bit.

 

“I can’t tell if you believe me or not.” Quentin was starting to get lightheaded again, dizzy despite laying down.

 

“Hey.” Hill snapped her fingers in front of his face, and he blinked, looking up again. “Stay with me.” She glanced briefly towards the door, then back to him with the barest hint of a conflicted expression on her face. “You want to know what I think? I think you’re not worth SHIELD’s time. You or the kid. But Fury doesn’t like to take chances.”

 

Quentin just stared up at her for a moment, focusing in on what she was saying, really saying, latching onto the sudden clarity of the moment. “So why are you here?”

 

“What do you need?” Hill’s voice was low, serious. It was a seemingly simple question, but the implication was there, deadly, thrilling, a light at the end of the tunnel.

 

Quentin’s mind raced, already putting together pieces of a plan. Improvisation. It might be messy, but he could pull it off. “There’s a USB hidden in my suit. Get it. I need an hour at a computer terminal with security system access.” He paused. “And I need to talk to the kid.”

 

Hill’s expression was impassive the whole time. She was hard to gauge, even for Quentin, who was used to being able to read people like an open book. It was a bit frustrating, admittedly, but Quentin was otherwise out of options. He could take the leap of faith, trust Hill, or resign himself (and Peter) to an uncertain fate at Fury's hands. There was really only one choice.

 

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Chapter Text

Peter Parker didn’t really like to be alone. Sure, his enhanced senses got overwhelmed sometimes, and he liked to go someplace quiet, but complete silence and isolation was something he didn’t handle well. Having been born and raised in Queens, the hustle and bustle of life in a crowded city was something that had always been a part of his life.

 

He missed it desperately now. He missed everyone, anyone.

 

Peter sniffled quietly, blinking away fresh tears from his already red-rimmed eyes. They hadn’t even let him talk to Beck before the two of them were separated again, taken to different wings of the compound for god only knows what reasons. The last time he’d seen Beck was during the incident with the pool, and Peter couldn’t think about those terrifying few minutes without feeling the beginnings of panic twist in his gut.

 

The image of Beck lying motionless on the ground—the look in his eyes as he’d been drowning and Peter stood helplessly on the other side of the glass—both were seared into Peter’s memory. He had been so utterly terrified in that moment, an echo of what he’d felt at the end of the fight with the fire elemental, fearing the worst. 

 

Even if Beck had lied, even if he’d made up the whole story about the monsters and the multiverse and his powers… Peter didn’t want him to die. It wasn’t in Peter’s nature to be vengeful or to wish ill on other people, even when they had hurt him. And some part of Peter wanted to believe that Beck wasn’t all bad. Thinking back on the conversations he’d had with Beck, about life and responsibility and what he wanted to become, Peter couldn’t quite convince himself that it was all a ruse. 

 

He’d been replaying Beck’s words in his mind, over and over again, from their last real conversation. Peter had been so angry, so hurt, finding out that Beck had lied. But in here, there was really nothing to do except process his feelings, and the more Peter thought about it… the more Beck’s words made sense. Tony Stark was never perfect. He’d said as much to Peter himself. And people had gotten hurt because of that. It just so happened that it was no one Peter had ever known. At least until now.

 

Peter felt guilt constrict his heart when he remembered the last words he’d said to Beck. And now Beck was gone, and Peter didn’t know when or if he was coming back.

 

Sure, maybe Beck didn’t actually have superpowers, and he wasn’t really from another dimension, but he had listened to Peter. Talked to him like he mattered. Made him feel like he wasn’t alone.

 

That lonely hurt welled up in Peter’s chest again, and he blinked away tears, if only because his eyes were already sore from crying. It made him feel a bit pathetic, but Peter couldn’t help it. He was in way over his head here. He wasn’t an Avenger. He was just a kid in a costume, and he certainly wasn’t anything close to Iron Man. He wanted to go home.

 

He missed May and Happy, and his friends. He loved being Spider-Man, and saving people and making the world a better place, but he loved those moments when he could just be normal, too. But May and Happy and his friends were far away, and they didn’t even know where he was. Maybe they thought he was out saving the world somewhere, heroically vanquishing giant monsters alongside Mysterio.

 

As he curled up on the bare mattress near the wall and closed his eyes, Peter desperately wished it were true.

 

 

(Three days earlier)

 

May Parker frowned when she saw Happy on the phone near her desk with his brow furrowed. “Who was that?”

 

Happy put down the phone, looking like he’d seen a ghost. It wasn’t his phone, May noticed. It was hers. “Well…”

 

“Happy, what’s wrong?” May asked, insistent. She’d been worried for days since Peter had stopped answering his phone, what with all the crazy stuff going on in Europe, but life went on in New York City. She still had to go to work, even while the bizarre superheroes Mysterio and Night Monkey battled elemental monsters in Venice and Prague. 

 

“That was Peter,” Happy said after a moment. He’d stopped by to have lunch with her, waiting for her to finish up a couple things, but the subject of lunch was immediately forgotten the moment he mentioned Peter. 

 

“Peter?! Well, why didn’t you let me talk to him?!” May exclaimed, voice going up an octave. She threw down the papers she was holding, discarding them on a nearby desk. “What did he say? Is he safe? What’s going on with the trip?”

 

“I-I don’t know!” Happy said, putting up his hands as though in surrender. “He was only on the line for a minute, and-and then he hung up!”

 

“He hung up on you?” May frowned. That didn’t sound like Peter. Whenever he called her or Happy, he almost always made time to let them know how he was doing, even if he was in a rush. “Where is he?”

 

“I’m not sure.” Happy sounded uncertain, frowning. “He said he was okay, but he isn’t in Europe anymore.”

 

May stared at him. “What do you mean , he isn’t in Europe anymore?”

 

Happy took a step back, awkward. May was typically a pretty easygoing woman, but when it came to Peter, her only nephew—her son, really—she did not mess around. “I don’t know! Peter was only on the line for maybe thirty seconds; I think the connection was bad. Maybe he got on the wrong flight?”

 

“Well, I’m calling him back to find out!” May snatched up her phone and immediately went to the list of recent callers. She frowned upon seeing that the most recent call was not from Peter’s phone, but a number listed as UNKNOWN.

 

“Happy, that’s not Peter’s phone,” May said, staring at the screen. 

 

“What?” Happy looked over her shoulder, confused. “It was definitely Pete. Maybe he was calling from one of his friends’ phones. You know that kid can’t keep track of his phone for the life of him.”

 

“Maybe.” May tapped the UNKNOWN label and waited impatiently for the phone to ring. 

 

The line rang and rang, but no one picked up. There was no voicemail greeting, nothing. Just a click, and then the line went dead. May swallowed back her disappointment and put her phone back down on the table.

 

“What? No answer?” Happy prodded. “Was it one of his friends?”

 

“I don’t think it was anyone,” May said after a moment, glancing at Happy forlornly. “Maybe he called from a payphone or something.” She sighed, putting her head in her hands momentarily. “God, I just… I just want to know he’s okay.”

 

Happy placed a hand on her shoulder after a moment. “Peter did say he was okay,” he offered after a moment. He wasn’t sure if he entirely believed it, but he wasn’t going to say as much to May, who was already worried sick over Peter’s lack of communication with her. The whole mess of giant elemental monsters in Europe had thrown off the itinerary for Peter’s school trip, and although they were trying to bring the kids home as quickly as possible, booking for such a large group was proving nigh-impossible as other tourists were trying to flee Venice and Prague in droves.

 

“I’m just worried about him, you know?” May said, and her eyes were maybe a little bit wet when she looked up at Happy. “I know he’s in good hands, being on this school trip, and he’s a capable kid, but… Jesus, Hap, he’s my kid.”

 

“I know, I know.” Happy hoped it sounded supportive as he gently squeezed May’s shoulder. “And I’m gonna look into it, okay? I’m sure Peter’s fine and he’s just dropped his phone in the toilet or something, but I’m gonna look into it. I’ll get Pepper involved if I have to.” The last part was meant to be a joke, but he really would do it if push came to shove.

 

May let out a little laugh. “Oh, jeez, Happy, don’t bother Pepper. She’s a busy woman already, trying to manage the mess that Tony left for her.” Really, Tony hadn’t run Stark Industries for years, but his touches were everywhere in the company, some good and some bad, but all a bittersweet memory now.

 

“What I’m saying is that I’ll take care of it, no matter what,” Happy said, and May was gratified to know that he meant it. 

 

 

(Present)

 

Peter didn’t realize he’d drifted off until he heard the cell door opening. He scrambled to sit up, briefly terrified that he was going to be taken back to the lab, but what he saw made his heart skip a beat for an entirely different reason.

 

Agent Hill didn’t so much as glance inside the cell, her expression mask-like. She simply pushed Beck inside with Peter, then locked the door and left.

 

“Mr. Beck…!” Peter felt like he might start crying again, overwhelmed with relief. He scrambled to his feet and hugged Beck tightly. He was something solid, real. Warm and alive, so unlike how wet and cold and still he’d been when Peter finally broke the glass at the pool.

 

Beck stiffened at the touch, taking in a sharp breath through his teeth like he was in pain. “Easy, kid.”

 

“Oh! Sorry, sorry,” Peter apologized quickly, letting go and starting to take a step back, but he was stopped by the gentle pressure of Beck’s arms around him.

 

“Good to see you again, Peter,” Beck said softly, and Peter felt his eyes fill with tears all over again.

 

Peter couldn’t help but sniffle a bit, and he put his arms around Beck in a carefully gentle embrace. “A-are you okay?” he asked once he finally let go, stepping back to take a good look at Beck.

 

Now that he looked closer, Peter could see for the first time that they had done a number on Beck as well. His wrists were bruised and bloody, like he’d been shackled for a long period of time, and the dark circles under his eyes spoke of a lack of rest. Beck was holding himself sort of stiffly, and Peter wondered if he should be worried about internal injuries. 

 

Beck smiled tiredly. “Thanks to you.” He swayed, unsteady on his feet, and Peter hurried to put an arm around him. “...mind if I lay down?”

 

Peter felt a twinge of guilt and anger, directed not at Beck but at himself as he helped Beck to lie down on the bare mattress in the corner. He couldn’t help but feel so selfish for thinking that the lab experiments had been so bad, seeing the state Beck was in now.

 

“I’m sorry,” Peter said quietly, sitting on the floor next to Beck, who was lying on his side with one hand gingerly pressed against his ribs.

 

Beck frowned. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. This… this whole mess is my fault, really.”

 

“I don’t care about that,” Peter insisted. It didn’t matter whose fault it was, now that they were already here and both suffering the consequences. “I just… I could have stopped all this.”

 

“Okay, you might have super strength, but I don’t think even you could have stopped Fury from locking us up in the SHIELD version of Guantanamo Bay,” Beck returned, somehow both logical and dryly humorous. 

 

Peter couldn’t find it in himself to laugh, though. He noticed that there was blood soaking through the back of Beck’s shirt, and his eyes widened. “...what happened to you?”

 

“You mean aside from Fury’s less-than-stellar interrogation tactics?” Beck asked with a wry smile. “It’s nothing, kid.”

 

“You’re bleeding,” Peter said, worried. “Let me see. M-maybe I can help.” He didn’t really know what he was going to do, aside from maybe tear some pieces off his own shirt to use as rudimentary bandages, but he wanted to do something for Beck.

 

“Peter, it’s really not that big of a deal,” Beck tried to insist.

 

“Please just let me help,” Peter said, imploring. He really did want to help, after all Beck had done for him.

 

Beck sighed. “Alright,” he said, finally relenting. “But there’s probably not much you’ll be able to do.” He sat up, wincing ever so slightly, and Peter helped him to pull his shirt up far enough to expose the full extent of the wounds on his torso.

 

Peter couldn’t help but stare, horrified. Beck’s back… the marks looked like they were a few days old, but they still looked awful. The welts had mostly faded into deep, ugly bruises, though some of them were still raw and bleeding sluggishly. There were purplish-black marks and broken skin all over the expanse of Beck’s back, and Peter couldn’t imagine how much it had hurt.

 

“Did Fury do this to you?” Peter’s voice was tight with anger.

 

“It’s not as bad as it looks.” Beck sounded like he was trying to go for casual, but Peter could hear the strain in his voice. It wasn’t a denial.

 

The bruises on Beck’s front were almost as bad. His ribs and stomach were covered in even more painful-looking dark bruises, and judging from the stiff, uncomfortable way he was holding himself, Beck probably had at least a couple broken ribs. 

 

Peter remembered the near-drowning attempt, his clumsy attempt at CPR, and immediately felt a wave of guilt. He could have killed Beck without even trying... The thought chilled him.

 

Beck seemed to intuitively understand the look on Peter’s face, and he glanced down at his front, letting his shirt drop back down to cover the wounds. “Hey, don’t worry about it. This is Fury’s handiwork, not yours.”

 

Peter swallowed hard, pulling his knees up to his chest. He didn’t know how to say that he had been terrified of losing Beck, because everyone he cared about seemed to get hurt and he was too selfish to stop getting attached to people. He didn’t know how to say that he was scared of making things worse, and that he desperately wanted to be good enough, smart enough, strong enough. Or maybe just… enough. 

 

It was times like this when he didn’t feel like Spider-Man, web-slinging hero of New York City. No, he was just plain old Peter Parker, and he desperately wished that was enough.

 

 

Quentin just watched Peter for a moment, watching the lonely, tortured look in the kid’s eyes. It wasn’t just pain, but guilt. Peter felt like all of this was his fault, and somehow that made Quentin’s heart twist like nothing else. 

 

“So why’d you do it?” Peter asked quietly, staring at the floor. “All this? Why go to all the effort to make up a fake threat, and act like only you could stop it?”

 

The change of subject caught Quentin by surprise. “The world’s changed a lot, Peter,” he found himself saying. “People are scared. They need something to believe in. I… I thought I could give them that.” It sounded almost silly to say it out loud. The world needed something, someone to believe in, and Quentin had thought that maybe he could be it. Or at least Mysterio could. If the world had latched onto someone like Stark as a hero, then certainly Quentin could do it, too. Right?

 

The silence felt heavy between them, distant despite being close enough to touch.

 

“I was thinking, and… You’re kinda right, you know,” Peter said finally, and Quentin almost couldn’t believe it for a second. “Mr. Stark was a lotta things, and he could be all the things you said: selfish and full of himself and, well, kind of a jerk sometimes. He messed up. Like, a lot. But he wanted to be something to people. Wanted to be something they could believe in. Kinda like you.”

 

Quentin didn’t know what to say to that. He wondered if maybe he should be insulted, being compared to Tony Stark, but the kid clearly didn’t mean it that way. He didn’t sound angry. Just… sad.

 

Peter smiled faintly. “You told me before that I wasn’t Tony Stark. And you’re right. I’m not. And I’ll never be him. None of us will. Because no one can be like him.”

 

Quentin maybe felt a little bit bad. He hadn’t wanted to crush the kid’s self-esteem even further. “Peter, I didn’t mean that—”

 

“I know,” Peter cut him off with a glance in Quentin’s direction. “I was trying for so long to be like Mr. Stark, because I thought that was the only way I could live up to everyone’s expectations. But I’m not Iron Man. I’m just… trying to do something good. And I think you were, too.”

Chapter Text

 

At the Heathrow Airport in London, a group of kids from Midtown Science and Tech were waiting to board a flight to New York in what would hopefully be the final leg of their journey home. It had been a nightmare just trying to get this far, with delays upon delays as seemingly every other tourist in Europe was trying to fly home in the wake of the Elemental threat in Europe. 

 

They were all exhausted. Most were sleeping, taking up three seats at the airport terminal, or sprawled on the floor with hoods up and earbuds in, trying to pass the time of their four-hour delay. Poor Mr. Harrington was probably going gray from all the stress. Mr. Dell had taken three sleeping pills and had not stirred since. 

 

But Ned Leeds couldn’t even think of sleeping. He was sitting on the floor, leaning against a column with an outlet to charge his phone while his girlfriend of one week chattered endlessly in the background. It was an endearing nervous habit of Betty’s, to talk nonstop, but Ned was hardly even hearing any of it.

 

Ned couldn’t help but replay that night in Prague, over and over again in his mind. He and Betty had been terrified, trapped up there in the ferris wheel while Peter—well, Night Monkey—and Mysterio tried to fend off the monster. But that wasn’t even the worst part. Even after they’d been rescued from the ferris wheel, something had told Ned to stay and watch, just in case.

 

And that was how he had witnessed the kidnapping of his best friend, along with Mysterio, by SHIELD operatives. Or at least, their tactical gear had borne SHIELD emblems when they snatched Peter and Mysterio after tranqing them like escaped zoo animals.

 

“Ned? Baby, are you listening to me?” Betty frowned, nudging at Ned’s arm.

 

“Huh? O-of course, sweetie,” Ned responded with a queasy smile.

 

“I can’t believe those guys kidnapped Mysterio and Night Monkey,” Betty stage-whispered, eyes wide. “Should… should we tell someone?”

 

“No!” Ned exclaimed quickly. “I mean, uh, w-we shouldn’t do anything just yet. I—”

 

He was saved from having to say more by the arrival of one Michelle Jones, who looked down at him over crossed arms.

 

“Hey. Can I talk to you for a sec?” MJ asked, eye contact never wavering. The look on her face left no room for argument.

 

“Uh, sure,” Ned said with an awkward laugh. He glanced at Betty, who looked confused. “Be right back, babe.”

 

MJ walked with Ned away from the rest of their class, and Ned hoped it wasn’t obvious that he was sweating bullets.

 

“So. Have you heard from Peter lately?” MJ asked. He couldn’t be sure if she was implying something or if this  was just MJ being her normal no-bullshit self.

 

Ned gulped. “Um. Why do you ask?” he managed, internally cringing at how lame it sounded. He was normally great at covering for Peter, but MJ had eyes like a hawk and wasn’t afraid to call out whatever she found suspicious.

 

“He hasn’t been answering my texts or anything,” MJ responded, her expression characteristically thoughtful, observant. “Just wondered if something was up.”

 

“I’m… not sure,” Ned said after a moment. That seemed like the safest option. “Um, he hasn’t been responding to mine, either. Mr. Harrington said he was staying with family in Berlin instead of flying home with the rest of us.”

 

“I didn’t know Peter had family in Europe,” MJ commented, and from anyone else it would have been an innocuous observation. 

 

The two of them stopped to let a mob of deplaning passengers go by from the next gate. When they were gone, MJ was staring at Ned with an intensity that made him squirm.

 

“I know Peter’s Spider-Man.”

 

Ned nearly choked on his own saliva. “What?! No,” he laughed uncomfortably. “No way. Peter’s totally not Spider-Man. That would be, like… ridiculous.” His heart was pounding, his palms sweaty.

 

MJ’s stare was utterly unflappable. “Are you sure?”

 

Ned thought back to seeing Peter unconscious, dragged away to who-knows-where by those SHIELD guys. Mysterio, too. They could both be in trouble. He swallowed hard. He had to do something.  This was his chance. He grabbed MJ by the hand and pulled her behind a group of Chinese tourists standing near a tall stack of luggage.

 

“What I’m about to tell you, you can never repeat to anyone,” Ned said urgently, leaning in close to her. “Do you understand?”

 

MJ’s nose wrinkled, and her eyebrows went up. “...Why is your hand all sweaty?”

 

Ned quickly released her hand and wiped his palms on his jeans. “Sorry,” he muttered, awkward. “But seriously: do you swear not to tell anyone?”

 

“Depends on what it is,” MJ said with narrowed eyes.

 

Ned sighed, exasperated. That was as good as he was going to get from MJ. “Okay, okay, you’re right!” he hissed. “...Peter’s Spider-Man.”

 

“Wait, what?” MJ was staring at him with wide eyes. “...I’m right? I’m actually right? Because I wasn’t, like, a hundred percent sure.”

 

“Yes, you’re right,” Ned said, pushing away his guilt at having revealed a secret that wasn’t his to tell. There would be time to feel guilty later, when he knew Peter was safe. Right now, Peter needed all the help he could get. “Peter’s Spider-Man, and I think he’s in trouble.”

 

MJ leaned in close. “What kind of trouble?”

 

 

They were officially going off-script. Somehow, William had a bad feeling about it. Not that they had any other choice, though. Without Beck, they had no plan, or at the very least no way to execute it. 

 

Team Mysterio was packing up and shipping out back to the States, specifically back to New York City. They had packed up their base of operations at the disguised warehouse in Berlin, their equipment being shipped back via their small army of cloaked drones, to avoid any international mail fiascos. William had programmed the drones’ destination himself, so their equipment would be waiting safely in an abandoned shipyard once they landed.

 

It really was strange without Beck around to give orders. Sure, he could be bossy, and he was very particular about how he wanted things done, but the guy was a natural leader in a way that William was definitely not. Besides, this whole thing was Beck’s idea. His brainchild. He was the one who knew how all the pieces fit together perfectly.

 

Well, that, and he knew how to keep people interested. Motivated. The whole team was unsettled by Beck’s disappearance, and William had zero idea of how to fix that. He knew how to operate a nuclear reactor, how to program an army of self-guided drones, but the whole charisma thing? Not his strong suit. Guterman had said something about needing “heroic and extroverted qualities in a suitable protagonist,” but William hardly knew what that meant.

 

But they had some time to work, now that they were on an eleven-hour flight from Berlin to JFK airport in New York. They weren’t all traveling together, of course, to avoid suspicion, but William had thought it a good idea to split the team into their subdivisions, so they could all be working on something.

 

“How’s it looking?” William murmured to the woman next to him. Sabine had been diligently working on pinpointing Beck’s location and seeing if it lined up with their seismographic data.

 

“Well, there’s something there,” Sabine said, frowning at the screen. “Beck’s tracker has been pinging from that same location in the Atlantic the whole time, and our scans show some kind of significant mass in that area.”

 

“So Val was right?”

 

“It’s not that simple,” Sabine said with a grimace. “Could it be a secret underwater prison? Yeah. But it could also be a reef, or a shipwreck, or just a big fucking rock.”

 

“But you said that tracker has been sending steady signals from the same location, every single time?” William asked after a moment. That suggested that there was nothing wrong with the tracker. It was functioning as intended, and it seemed highly unlikely that Beck could have ditched the tracker in such a place without actually going there. And why would he want to pry the GPS tracker out of his suit, anyway? Keeping in range for radio communications and drone signaling meant it was critical that the team knew where he was on the map.

 

“Yeah,” Sabine admitted, glancing at him. “But William, let’s be real here. Even if Val’s right and Beck is trapped in some secret SHIELD prison underwater, what the hell are we gonna do about it? How would we even begin to look for a place like that, let alone get in?”

 

William couldn’t say he had answers to those questions at the present moment. But he also knew that as long as Beck was in SHIELD custody, maybe being interrogated or whatever, that the rest of them were not safe. He couldn’t imagine that Beck would rat them out, but the whole team was already guilty by association. That was the logical reasoning, at least. 

 

There was also the fact that Beck had found all of them at the lowest point in their lives, after being tossed out by Tony Stark, and given them new purpose. There was a measure of loyalty involved there, too. William might have been just a regular guy, but hey, he had standards, and leaving Beck to rot in jail after all he’d done for the team didn’t seem right. After working with Beck for five years, William didn’t think he was all that bad. Just a little… obsessed. And perfectionistic. And a bit of a workaholic. But he was also a goddamn genius, and if there was anyone who could find a way to fix this whole disaster with SHIELD and Mysterio and the fake Elementals, it was Beck.

 

Beck was the one who led them into this, and hopefully he would be the one to lead them out.

 

William met Sabine’s sharp gaze, shrugged. “We’re gonna have to improvise,” he admitted.

 

Sabine sighed, sank down in her seat. “You know Beck hates it when we have to improvise,” she muttered, though she didn’t argue against it.

 

“Well, we don’t have much of a choice,” William said, grimacing as he looked at his phone, seeing news headlines about the Elementals and the heroes who had defeated them. 

 

Sabine glanced over at the screen. “You think the Spider-kid is there, too?”

 

“Dunno,” William said. He was already brainstorming, making mental notes for the email he would send to the team later, about the new plan. “But I guess we’re gonna find out.”

 

 

Peter found his throat dry and his stomach in knots as he was led into the lab again. He had been loath to leave Beck, especially after what seemed like such a short reprieve, but they both knew that resistance would only make things worse. Peter hoped desperately that they wouldn’t put him back in the cold water bath. He was actually shaking as the guards led him by the arm into a nondescript room with bare steel walls—Peter couldn’t tell if he’d been here before or not. After a while, all the rooms started to look the same. But he was dreading it all the same, the back of his neck prickling ominously.

 

The doctor was there, the one with the German accent. A couple of his assistants were nearby, preparing something Peter couldn’t see on the counter space to the left.

 

The doctor motioned to the chair in front of a wide, heavy-looking metal work table, and the two guards motioned for Peter to sit.

 

He did. Peter kept his hands in his lap, trying to keep from visibly trembling as he looked around the room. Normally he would be talking a mile a minute, just to fill the uncomfortable silence, but that silence seemed heavy, as though it were weighing on Peter’s chest, crushing his voice.

 

Peter swallowed hard, trying to find his words. But there was nothing he could say that could make this situation any better, at least not that he could come up with at the moment. Maybe it was better to just stay quiet. Happy had said before that Peter had a bad habit of not knowing when to shut up.

 

The doctor glanced up from the tablet he was reading, set it down on the counter. “Give me your arm, Peter.”

 

There was no point in resisting, Peter thought. They would just force him if he refused to comply, and it would be worse later. Hesitantly, he held out his left arm, tensing as he waited for the needle to appear, anticipating an injection.

 

Strangely, there was none. The doctor laid Peter’s arm flat on the table, palm facing down, securing it to the table with tight metal restraints that looped around his wrist and forearm, just below his elbow, loops of corded metal that only got tighter if he pulled. Peter couldn’t have pulled his arm out even if he wanted to, not without breaking his hand or his wrist.

 

He swallowed hard, tugging at the restraints and finding them utterly inflexible. Probably some kind of vibranium alloy. “What’re you gonna do?” he dared to ask.

 

The doctor again seemed distracted, casting a glance in Peter’s direction as he typed something on his tablet. “Did you know that spiders can regrow their limbs, Peter? Even if they lose all eight legs, provided the proper nutrition, they can generate a full new set.”

 

Peter’s blood ran cold at the very thought.

 

“I’m not a spider,” Peter managed, weakly. “I’m… a person.”

 

“Mm, well, that’s a matter of debate,” the doctor responded airily, like they were talking about the weather. “Your DNA is quite extraordinary. And certainly not like any human I’ve ever seen. That spider bite changed you, Peter. It’s fascinating.”

 

What the hell did that mean? And how did they know about the spider that bit him? Peter hadn’t told them that… He squirmed, pulling against the restraints. “I don’t understand,” he said, feeling breathless. The bite of the metal against his skin was both claustrophobic and grounding.

 

One of the lab assistants spread Peter’s fingers flat on the metal table with her gloved hands. She made a mark with a Sharpie at the point where Peter’s pinkie finger joined his hand, perhaps a quarter inch above the knuckle.

 

“Just the last one?” she asked the doctor.

 

“The last two,” the doctor responded. “That way we have a comparison.”

 

The lab assistant nodded and made another mark, in the same spot on the ring finger of Peter’s left hand. 

 

Peter caught the cold glint of a scalpel and a saw on the tray of sanitized instruments another lab tech was passing on to the doctor, and he felt the bottom drop out of his stomach.

 

“No,” he croaked, icy cold panic trickling down his spine, and he jerked helplessly against the restraints. “No, please don’t, please don’t…!”

 

“Try to keep still, Peter. It will be better for all of us that way,” said the doctor, already holding the scalpel in his latex-gloved hand. “We’re starting small, for your sake.”

 

One of the lab assistants held Peter’s hand splayed flat against the table, while the guards gripped Peter’s upper arms to hold him still. Peter was breathing hard, his chest tight with panic, eyes wet with tears.

 

“I do apologize that we don’t have any local anesthetic that will be effective for your metabolism,” the doctor added as an afterthought, sounding entirely unconcerned. “Do try not to scream. I want to make it a clean cut.”

 

One of the guards offered a leather glove for Peter to bite down on, a small mercy. He took it, biting down hard and muffling his sob. He squeezed his eyes shut as he heard the whine of the saw, felt the blade start to bite into his skin, and tried very hard not to scream.

Chapter Text

Quentin was starting to think something was wrong with him. Well, besides the obvious. He had spent the last twelve hours or so (a rough estimate, since the lighting never changed) drifting in and out of a restless sleep, waking up somehow more tired than before. He was feverish and aching all over, his chest a dull throb of pain with every breath. He had been certain that Peter was there when he fell asleep the first time, but when he was aware enough to open his eyes again, the kid was gone.

 

Where they had taken Peter, Quentin could only guess. He tried not to think about it.

 

Quentin’s body felt heavy, all his joints aching, and the very idea of getting up from the thin mattress where he lay curled up on his side seemed like a monumental effort. He was cold despite the sheen of sweat coating his skin, and there was a dull ache in his head that made his thoughts feel fuzzy and far away.

 

He was trying very hard to stay awake, to focus and try to refine the rudimentary plan he had started putting together after his conversation with Hill, but it was getting more and more difficult. The details seemed to slip from his normally sharp mind, and more often than not Quentin found himself drifting in a fog somewhere between asleep and awake, the dull throb of pain never far away.

 

He had a plan. That much was certain. But the details were fuzzy, seeming just out of reach even though they had been so clear just hours ago. That couldn’t be a good sign. Maybe he was getting sick. Not what he needed at the moment, but Quentin couldn’t say he would be surprised after being tortured and nearly drowned. 

 

It didn’t matter, though. Quentin would just have to push through it. He had kept working through worse, back when he was still developing his illusion tech. It had become something of an office legend at Stark Industries when Quentin had refused to see a doctor for a persistent cough, was eventually badgered into going to the hospital by one of his coworkers, and found out that he’d had pneumonia for two weeks. 

 

Granted, back then Quentin had been a bit more put together, but the principle was the same. He just had to hold on long enough for Hill to make good on her promise, for the plan to work. And it would work. Well, hopefully. If Quentin’s mind was intact enough to carry it out by that point.

 

Somehow, Quentin got the sense that he was running out of time. 

 

Briefly, he wondered what his team had thought of his disappearance. Did they think he was dead? Or maybe they thought he had just skipped out on them? He hoped not. This was the plan they had been working so hard on for so long, a brilliant idea years in the making. He wondered what they were doing in his absence. Quentin wasn’t sure how long he’d been gone, but unless they had done something crazy like run the illusions without him, they were likely headed home. Their plan was supposed to stick to a tight timeline, and now… well, Quentin wasn’t sure what they would do. But they were far away now, with no way of knowing he was here, and for the time being, Quentin was on his own with this one.

 

He had to focus on the plan. The Stark drones. They would be the key to making an escape from this hellhole. The drones that Peter had fought during the pool incident were of the same kind that Quentin used for his illusions—down to the same camera arrays. No surprise there, really, but in this case, it was a godsend. For it to be perfect, of course, the drones would require some modifications, new firmware updates, et cetera, but the projections didn’t need to be perfect.

 

They just needed to work. The USB hidden in his suit contained a few rudimentary illusion sequences, a backup just in case he were to be cut off from the team or separated from the drones, but Quentin could get creative with a couple of them.

 

If Quentin had access to their system, he could access the drone controls, slave them to a single computer… and voila, he was Mysterio again. Take that, Nick Fury.

 

With a measure of careful optimism planted in his mind in the form of his fragile new plan, Quentin allowed himself to drift off again.

 

When he woke again, it was to the sound of quiet crying. 

 

Quentin blinked himself awake, sitting up and trying not to think about how much effort it took to do just that. His chest felt funny, and taking a deep breath made something in the vicinity of his lungs spasm with startlingly deep pain. 

 

“Peter?” Quentin asked softly, his voice rough and his throat vaguely sore.

 

The kid was curled up in the corner of the cell, cradling his left arm close to his chest. His eyes were red-rimmed, his breathing shaky, and he looked overall miserable. He seemed to brighten upon seeing that Quentin was awake, though, and the hopeful look in his eyes was painfully innocent.

 

“S-sorry if I woke you up,” Peter was saying with a wobbly, apologetic little smile. He sniffled. “I, um, they didn’t give me any painkillers, I don’t think.”

 

Quentin couldn’t help the stab of guilt that went through his heart. God, the kid was so unbelievably sweet despite being hurt over and over again. It made Quentin want to put a bullet through Fury’s head for daring to even touch him. 

 

Quentin almost didn’t know what to say. Was there really anything appropriate, in a situation as fucked-up as theirs? 

 

“You doing okay, kid?” was what he settled on, finally. It seemed almost laughable, but Quentin couldn’t come up with anything better.

 

Peter shrugged, his gaze downcast, empty. Now that Peter had curled his legs up next to him, Quentin could see that Peter’s left hand was heavily bandaged, and there were one, two, three digits left exposed. The other two… Where Peter’s last two fingers would be, there was only packed gauze and tightly wound bandages.

 

Quentin felt his stomach lurch. Those fucking bastards, they had taken off Peter’s goddamn fingers , of all things… Peter’s comment about the lack of painkillers was suddenly that much more chilling. 

 

Peter sniffled again, and he muffled a sob with his unbandaged hand. Tears were flowing freely down his cheeks now, as much as he appeared to be trying to stop them.

 

Quentin moved over to make room on the mattress, then held a hand out to Peter. “C’mere, kid. It’s okay.”

 

It was apparently what Peter needed to hear, as he crawled onto the mattress without another word and curled up against Quentin’s side in a miserable ball, hiccuping quietly. Quentin draped his arm around Peter, and the boy sniffled, laying his head against Quentin’s shoulder. Quentin leaned back against the wall, forcing himself to relax just a little bit. It only hurt for a moment, and he was quietly grateful for the cold of the metal wall soothing the still-painful welts on his back.

 

“I’m sorry,” Peter murmured again, trying to take some deep breaths, getting himself under control. “I… it just hurt w-when they did it, y’know? It’s n-not so bad now.”

 

It was easy to forget how young Peter was, how little of the world’s ugly truth he had actually seen. How easily he still trusted that those in power would act justly. He had a lot to learn in those terms. But Quentin also knew Peter was a smart kid, capable of pulling off the plan in case Quentin was unable to do it himself.

 

 If only one of them could make it out of this, it had to be Peter. 

 

“It’s not your fault, Peter,” Quentin insisted. He paused, glancing at the glass door to make sure they were alone, at least for the moment. “...listen, kid, I’ve got an idea.”

 

Peter looked up at him, eyes wide with cautious hope. “About what?”

 

 

Peter listened intently as Beck described how his illusions worked, how the drones could be used to create a nearly foolproof distraction, which would allow them to… well, they could slip away unnoticed in that time, but ideas for getting off the Raft itself were proving difficult.

 

“It’s a work in progress,” Beck admitted.

 

But it was better than nothing, Peter thought, and he felt almost dizzy with the idea that there was hope of getting out of here. It didn’t seem like Fury was going to release them anytime soon. The idea of breaking out of jail was intimidating, but also… kind of exciting? 

 

“Wait,” Peter said after a moment, an idea popping into his head. “If they have your suit and stuff, then they must have mine, too. I-if I can get access to EDITH, then I can call Happy and he’ll know what to do!”

 

“Who’s Happy?” Beck asked, brows furrowing.

 

“He’s my friend—he used to work for Mr. Stark, too,” Peter explained quickly. “He always said he’d come pick me up if I ever needed it.” He was fairly certain that this was not quite what Happy had meant when he told Peter to call if he needed a ride home, but he couldn’t think of anyone better to call at a time like this. 

 

Beck appeared to consider the idea for a moment, then nodded. “Let’s hope he knows how to fly a plane.”

 

“He totally does,” Peter affirmed with a little smile. He felt almost jittery despite his earlier distress, feeling restless with nervous energy. Even the pain in his hand—which he was steadfastly refusing to look at any more than he absolutely had to—seemed to fade in the wake of the satisfaction of coming up with a solid plan.

 

Peter couldn’t help the excitement that fizzed beneath his skin. He was still shaken up, of course, but the idea of going home had given him a new optimism. Beck really was a genius, thinking of stuff like this. Sitting side-by-side with Beck on the bare mattress, even with both of them bruised and bloody and exhausted, was better than nothing. It reminded Peter of that night in Venice, when he had been sitting on the roof all by himself, lost in thought, and Beck had come to talk to him. It had seemed so otherworldly, then, watching Beck’s cape flutter and his armor shimmer in the low light—something dazzling, heroic—and it seemed hard to believe that it was all just an illusion.

 

For now, though, all they could do was wait. Survive. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel now, and Peter knew they could reach it.

 

 

It really did make the time pass slowly, with nothing to do but stare at the wall in their shared cell. Quentin’s mind was still hazy, his focus lax, but Peter’s voice helped to ground him.

 

“So, did your family really die, or was that… part of the illusion?” 

 

Quentin blinked. He hadn’t been expecting such a question, and the answer was almost embarrassingly anticlimactic. “Well, yes and no,” he said after a moment, fingers instinctively searching for a wedding band that wasn’t there. “I was married, but… well, to make a long story short, she blipped. I didn’t.” He paused a moment. “A lot can change in five years.” 

 

The most convincing lies always had a vein of truth to them. That was why Guterman had crafted Mysterio’s origin story with details from Quentin’s own life, including his relationship with his wife. In the story, she had died tragically, consumed in the firestorm of the last elemental, but in real life… well, it wasn’t quite as dramatic. The two of them had split up about a year after he lost his job at Stark Industries, separated though never officially divorced. Time went by, and then, well, the Blip happened. He’d attempted to contact her after the return of those who had vanished, but… it wasn’t the same, even now.

 

“Oh.” Peter looked at him with sympathetic eyes, then looked down at his feet stretched out in front of him. “Um, well, I blipped, too. I guess I can say from experience that it wasn’t so bad, if it makes you feel any better. I think it was worse for everyone who got left behind.” He glanced up again. “What was her name?”

 

“Philomena. But everyone called her Mina.” Quentin smiled faintly at the memory. It was bittersweet now, to think of her, but he liked to imagine that she would be proud of how far he’d come. Proud that he had become a hero. It was too bad that all of it was too good to be true.

 

“There was... a guy for a while, after her,” Quentin continued, more to keep his own thoughts away from Mina than anything else. He’d been living in San Francisco at the time, as far away as he could get from his old life, trying to forget his humiliation at Stark’s hands. Getting a job in the tech division of the Life Foundation had helped with that, although his whirlwind relationship with the company’s CEO had helped more. “Didn’t last long, though. He didn’t like my ferret.” 

 

Peter let out a little laugh, and it was a relief to see some of the light return to the kid’s eyes. “Wait, are you serious? You had a ferret?

 

“You think I’d lie about the ferret, of all things?” Quentin joked, raising an eyebrow. “I’m serious. His name is Falcor.” At the moment Falcor was staying with a friend in New York City, awaiting Quentin’s return from his trip to Europe. He couldn’t bring himself to get rid of the slinky little bastard even now, not when Mina had picked Falcor’s name. 

 

“And your boyfriend didn’t like the ferret? Man, what a buzzkill,” Peter laughed. “Can I meet him? Your ferret, I mean, not your ex-boyfriend.”

 

“Sure, kid,” Quentin chuckled. Peter would have a field day with Falcor. “I’m sure you two will get along great.” 

 

“Why Falcor, though?” Peter asked, curious. He leaned back against the wall, looking somewhat more relaxed despite his disheveled appearance and still vaguely red-rimmed eyes. “Like, is that a reference to something?”

 

“Oh, come on. You’ve never seen The Never-Ending Story?” Quentin asked, eyebrows raised.

 

“What’s that?”

 

God, was this kid born yesterday? “Never mind,” Quentin said with a shake of his head. The wave of dizziness that accompanied the motion was disorienting, and he blinked, trying to make the world come back into focus.

 

“Mr. Beck? Are you okay?” Peter asked, looking at him with an expression of concern. “You’re kinda pale…”

 

Quentin had to admit he wasn’t feeling so hot. He was tired despite having done nothing but sit and talk with Peter, and the dull ache in his head had only gotten more intense as time passed. Maybe he really was getting sick. 

 

“I’m fine, kid. Don’t worry about me,” he tried to reassure Peter. “Just… tired, I think.” He didn’t know exactly how much time he’d spent trussed up and blindfolded in that empty room, but it had admittedly taken a lot out of him. 

 

“Are you sure? Did they do something to you?” Peter asked, frowning in concern. It was endearing how wide and worried his eyes were, almost like a puppy.

 

“Nothing worse than usual,” Quentin said with wry humor. That much was true, at least. He paused for a moment, debating whether to tell Peter about the blue liquid Fury had injected him with. On one hand, he didn’t want the kid to have one more thing to worry about, but Quentin supposed it would be better for Peter to have more information rather than less. “...Fury gave me some kind of injection, closer to when we first got here. But I’m not sure what it was.”

 

The look on Peter’s face was one of worry, but he knew as well as Quentin did that there was nothing to be done about it. Nothing but wait. 

 

“Maybe you should lay down,” Peter suggested. He glanced at the door. “I’ll, um, keep watch, and wake you up if anything happens.”

 

Quentin had to admit it was starting to sound like a good idea. He was tired and dizzy and everything hurt—again. Sleeping it off sounded good. Peter moved to sit near the door so he could watch the hall, while Quentin laid down on his side, feeling like the world was somewhat off-kilter. Peter was still talking idly, but Quentin barely heard any of it as he slipped into unconsciousness within minutes.

 

 

 Peter had meant it when he said he was going to keep watch, and he tried, he really did. He didn’t even realize he’d fallen asleep until he woke up with a jolt, sitting up straight with a prickle of alarm. He looked around, breathless with anxiety for a moment, until he saw that Beck was still there, asleep on the bare mattress in the corner of the cell.

 

Peter let out a quiet sigh of relief, letting his head drop back against the wall. The corridor outside was clear, silent. There were no footsteps, even those that Peter could hear with his enhanced senses, and that usually meant that it was nighttime—the guards only changed shifts once during the night, or whatever passed for night down here, in a place where there was no day.

 

Peter had spent more time than he’d like to admit simply watching Beck sleep. Not in a creepy sort of way, but just to make sure he was still there, to make sure that he was real and Peter wasn’t alone. All the same, Peter couldn’t dispel the sense of dread he felt prickling at the back of his mind, the way it always did when something bad was going to happen. He was doing his best to ignore it; that sensation had been going haywire ever since Prague, and even before that, the strange precognizant sense had never been incredibly reliable.

 

Aunt May liked to call it his ‘Peter tingle,’ which Peter cringed to hear every time she said it. He hoped that didn’t catch on. He needed to think of a better name for it. 

 

Meanwhile, he was getting increasingly worried about Beck, who hadn’t stirred once in the couple hours since their last conversation. Or at least Peter guessed it was a couple hours. However much time it had been, it was still worrisome. Beck was pale and feverish, his skin hot to the touch when Peter laid a hand against his forehead. His breathing was shallow, sounding pained and effortful when he breathed in, and the wheezing, rattling sound that seemed to come from deep in his chest had Peter very much concerned.

 

Peter moved closer to Beck, crawling across the floor to sit next to him and gently shaking Beck by the shoulder. 

 

“Hey,” Peter said softly. “Mr. Beck, can you hear me? I, um, wanted to make sure you were okay…”

 

Beck’s eyelids fluttered briefly, but he wasn’t awake. He simply laid there, pale and shivering, and each breath he took seemed like an effort, rattling and wheezing. There were bluish veins visible in his arms, his skin damp with sweat.

 

Peter swallowed hard. He didn’t know what was wrong with Beck, only that he was probably ill somehow, and there was nothing he could do about even if he did know. It was also possible that Beck had internal injuries that had worsened without treatment, which was almost a more frightening possibility. Peter was pretty familiar with getting the crap kicked out of him; it had happened more than once when he was doing his Spider-Man thing, and though it hurt, Peter never had to worry much since his enhanced metabolism pretty much took care of itself.

 

But for a regular human… There was only so much the body could take. The thought chilled Peter’s heart, and he swallowed back the emotions he felt rising up in his chest. Instead, he reached out and held one of Beck’s hands, giving it a gentle squeeze. Beck had big hands, broader palms and longer fingers than Peter had, and just the warmth of him was a small comfort.

 

“You’re gonna be okay,” Peter said quietly, shakily, trying to reassure himself more than anyone else. His voice sounded small and scared in the quiet of their cell. “Please, y-you gotta be okay…”

 

Peter debated yelling for help, or banging on the door until someone came to see what the commotion was, but it was the middle of the night, and he doubted anyone would come even if he tried. Besides, another part of him was quietly terrified that if he called for someone, they would take him back to the lab, and worse things might befall Beck.

 

So Peter simply sat with Beck, the only person he trusted in this whole terrifying place, and hoped to the stars that everything would somehow be okay. He didn’t know if Beck could hear him, but he kept talking anyway, just to stave off the crushing silence around them, and to occupy his own mind.

 

Peter took a shaky breath, squeezing Beck’s hand gently. “You gotta wake up sometime,” he said quietly, almost pleading. “I… We’ve gotta work on the plan, remember? And… and you’ve gotta tell me about your weird ex and why he didn’t like Falcor, and…” He trailed off, his throat feeling tight.

 

“Get it together, Parker,” Peter murmured to himself, blinking away the tears he felt pricking at his eyes. He’d done enough crying already. He took another deep breath, trying to think about anything other than how frightened he was at the moment.

 

“I… I want you to meet my Aunt May when we get out of here,” Peter continued quietly. “She’s really nice, and we could all, like… hang out sometime, maybe? She already knows I’m Spider-Man, so she’d be cool with knowing you’re Mysterio. I mean, you don’t have to tell her, but, like, she’s pretty smart, so she might figure it out anyway…”

 

Beck hadn’t so much as twitched the whole time, the heat of his skin and his shallow, labored breathing the only signs that he was even… well, Peter couldn’t even finish that thought.

 

Peter sniffled despite himself, blinking hard to clear his vision. “I don’t believe it was all fake, y’know,” he said, voice thick with emotion. “Even if all the monsters and your powers and stuff was fake, I think… I think you still cared. Because even if you did some bad stuff, that doesn’t make you a bad guy. And… I know you hated him, but you’re kinda like Mr. Stark, too. He was trying to do better. You might not believe me, but he really was. And I think… god, I—I think—” He paused to blink away more tears that were already leaking from the corners of his eyes. 

 

“I think we could both learn to be better, y’know? Together.” Peter smiled faintly, eyes still teary. “I think we make a pretty good team.”

 

Peter closed his eyes for a moment, letting out a shaky sigh. 

 

“Nice little speech, Parker,” Fury commented from the door, and Peter nearly jumped out of his skin.

 

Peter quickly wiped his eyes and looked at Fury, wary. “What do you want?” he asked, voice sounding steadier than he felt at the moment. 

 

Fury pressed some buttons on a keypad outside the door and opened it, stepping inside casually. “I just wanted to see how you were holding up in here.”

 

Peter instinctively tensed, moving ever so slightly closer to Beck’s unconscious form. “I’m fine,” he said, ignoring the throb of pain from his left hand. “But…” He looked at Beck, feeling his chest constrict with worry. “I think he’s sick. He needs help.”

 

“Probably,” Fury agreed with a glance at Beck, though he sounded anything but concerned. “But why do you care so much, Parker? He conned you just as much as me.”

 

Peter glared at him. “Yeah, so? That doesn’t mean I want him to die, you psycho!” he shot back, angry. The emotions flared hot inside him, anger and hurt and fear in a volatile mix. This was all Fury’s fault, anyway. He… he had been torturing Beck, for reasons Peter didn’t care to know. But Fury was also the one who would decide Beck’s fate, and Peter’s, too.

 

There was silence for a moment, and Fury pinned him with a sharp one-eyed look. Peter quailed, terrified for a moment that he’d gone too far. Even if he was angry, the last thing Peter wanted to do was make this situation worse.

 

“Please,” Peter tried, imploring. He looked at Beck, whose rattling breaths seemed to have gotten weaker as time went on. He swallowed hard, looked back towards Fury. 

 

Self-conscious, Peter asked in a small voice, “...Why’s he making that noise?”

 

“Broken ribs probably punctured a lung, I’d say,” Fury remarked, taking a step closer. “Painful, but likely survivable. At least for now.”

 

“B-but what about the fever?” Peter was horrified by Fury’s casual attitude, but he had more questions. He remembered what Beck had said about the injection. “He… he seems sick. What was in that needle?”

 

Fury actually smirked. “He told you about that, did he? You’re pretty sharp, Parker.”

 

“Is it poison? What does it do?” Peter knew he was rambling now, nervously chattering, but he couldn’t make himself stop.

 

“It’s a compound developed by our own R&D department, meant to incapacitate those with an enhanced metabolism,” Fury explained, for once indulging Peter instead of answering a question with a question. “For an enhanced individual, it’s a long-acting sedative that keeps them from using their abilities by engaging their immune systems with a constant bombardment, with the side effect of being lethargic and ill. For a typical human being, though… well, they don’t handle it as well.”

 

“So what happens then?” Peter asked quietly, though he had an awful feeling he already knew the answer.

 

Fury shrugged. “We had mixed results in the human trials. Some of them survived. They were able to adapt, and their immune systems were able to recover. But most of them died, at least without intervention.”

 

“You’ve got to do something, then!” Peter insisted, looking up at Fury. “Please…! I-I mean, don’t you still need him?”

 

Fury looked down at Peter for a long moment, his expression indecipherable, and Peter forced himself not to look away. 

 

“You know how this world works, Parker?” Fury asked finally. He tapped his eyepatch. “An eye for an eye. That’s how it’s always been, even if we say otherwise nowadays.”

 

“I thought that made the whole world blind,” Peter dared to retort.

 

Fury just chuckled, like it was funny. “We’ve already got the blind leading the blind.”

 

There was a pause. “That’s my deal for you, Parker. An eye for an eye. You give me something, and I’ll give you something in return.” He glanced at Beck. “I’d say he doesn’t have much time, though. He’s gonna need surgery to repair a punctured lung, and even anesthesia would be risky at this point.”

 

Fury clasped his hands behind his back, looking down at Peter, features thrown into sharp relief by the harshness of the white light in the room. “So what are you willing to give?”

 

Peter remained where he was, sitting on his knees with his gaze downcast. He bit his lip, focused on Fury’s boots as he bent his head in what he hoped was an obedient gesture, even as anger simmered low in his gut. He swallowed it back, though, because there were more important things right now. “Anything.”

Chapter Text

“Anything?” Fury raised an eyebrow.

 

“Anything,” Peter repeated quietly, voice breaking near the end. As much as it made something in his stomach curdle to have to beg and plead like this, he would do anything to save Beck’s life, and Fury already knew it.

 

“I’m glad we have an understanding, then,” Fury said, sounding entirely too pleased. “Turn over the controls to EDITH, and we have a deal.”

 

Peter felt like he’d been punched in the stomach, like there was no air in his lungs. No. Anything but that. “So that’s what this was about?” he asked finally, looking up at Fury with betrayal in his eyes. “The whole time?”

 

“I won’t say that, but EDITH was always part of it,” Fury said with crossed arms. “It’s simple, Parker. You’re a security risk on your own, but with unrestricted access to an orbital defense system with the firepower to take out an entire continent in one go? That’s something I can’t allow.”

 

Peter forced back angry tears, squeezing his eyes shut and clenching his fists at his sides. EDITH was a responsibility he’d never wanted, that he’d never asked for. He desperately didn’t want that weight on his shoulders. And here was an opportunity to shed it. But at the same time… Peter didn’t want to let it go.

 

“I can’t,” he croaked, looking up at Fury with desperate eyes. “You know I can’t.” EDITH was the last thing that Mr. Stark had willed to him, the last remnant that Peter had of the man himself. He had trusted Peter with that responsibility, and no one else. To give that up now… felt like betraying that trust.

 

“What do you mean, you can’t?” Fury asked, annoyance creeping into his tone. “It’s a simple request. You’re not ready for something like that, and we both know it. Hell, you almost blew up your classmates, and you hadn’t even had the thing for twenty-four hours!”

 

Peter looked away, ashamed. Fury was right. He wasn’t ready. Maybe he wouldn’t ever be. But he knew that Mr. Stark wouldn’t trust EDITH to just anyone. Maybe he had trusted Peter to make that decision. And if there was anyone Peter would give EDITH to, it wasn’t Nick Fury.

 

“No,” he whispered, feeling guilt weigh heavy in his chest even as he did so.

 

Fury’s eye narrowed. “What did you say?” There was a warning edge to his voice, but there was an out there, too. Peter knew he could still take it back.

 

“No,” Peter repeated, a bit louder this time. The back of his neck prickled. He’d already made up his mind. “You can’t have EDITH.”

 

Something flashed in Fury’s one eye, just for a second. “Fine then. You’ve made your choice.” His tone was unsettlingly calm as he turned and started to walk out the door.

 

“Wait!” Peter desperately grabbed at the tails of Fury’s coat. “Please, I-I’ll do anything else!”

 

Fury gave him a cold look. “I told you what I want, Parker. And if you can’t give it to me…” He glanced at Beck, still unconscious in a fevered sleep. “...well, I can’t help you.”

 

“I can give you something else,” Peter insisted, his heart in his throat. He didn’t have much to bargain with, but he knew SHIELD was interested in him, and he ran with it. “I… I’ll let you do anything you want to me. I’ll cooperate with the experiments. I’ll even help! I mean, you won’t even have to drug me or anything! I’ll be good. I promise.”

 

This seemed to give Fury pause, and Peter felt a flutter of hope. “You know what you’re getting yourself into, Parker?”

 

Peter didn’t. But he didn’t care. “Yes.” There was a pause. “An eye for an eye, remember?”

 

Fury gave a little smirk. “Now you’re catching on.”

 

 

“What the hell do you mean, you don’t know where he is?!” May was clearly upset, and rightly so. She was following Happy as they made their way into Stark Tower, where Happy was supposed to be meeting with Pepper. May had tagged along because Happy apparently had something to tell her, but it was the exact opposite of what she wanted to hear.

 

“I promise I’m working on it, but I can’t get a signal on Peter’s phone,” Happy said, feeling terrible that he didn’t have better news for her. There was a GPS tracker installed in Peter’s suit as well, but that appeared to be offline for whatever reason. Happy was also admittedly not the most adept with technology. He had tried his hardest to keep up, as one does when they work for Tony Stark, but sometimes Happy felt like he was just too damn old for all this crazy stuff.

 

But this was for Peter, and like hell he was going to give up because some of Tony’s doohickeys were frustrating him. 

 

“I got an email from the school. The kids were supposed to be back from their trip yesterday,” May said quietly, and Happy felt even worse upon hearing the distress in her voice. “I went to the airport and waited for three hours. Three hours, Hap. He wasn’t there.” She put a hand over her mouth, like she was holding back tears.

 

“May, I… Y-you can’t give up, okay?” Happy insisted, feeling lost for words. The elevator dinged, and they both stepped out onto the fifteenth floor. “Look, we’re gonna go see Pepper, and we’re gonna get to the bottom of this. I promise.” He knew that May was upset, not only because Peter was still missing, but because there was nothing she could do about it. She had called his phone probably a hundred times, but she still had to keep her job and do what she was expected to do all the same.

 

May had been on the verge of reporting Peter missing, but Happy (with suspicions that this went deeper than a simple disappearance) had talked her out of it. There was little the NYPD could do, since Peter had gone missing abroad, and putting Peter’s name on a list of hundreds or even thousands of other missing kids would do little to nothing for him.

 

No, they would have to take matters into their own hands for this one. 

 

And that was where Pepper came in. May felt terrible asking the busy CEO of Stark Industries for anything, but she would have made a deal with the devil himself for Peter. 

 

Happy knocked on the open door of Pepper’s office, peeking inside. She was on the phone and speaking in an urgent tone of voice, unaware of their presence, and so Happy quickly ducked out again.

 

“It’ll be just a minute,” he assured May, who nodded slowly, pursing her lips.

 

Happy had thought about calling Nick Fury to see what he knew about all this, but he’d held off on that for a couple reasons. One, you didn’t just call Nick Fury. He called you. Two, it made more sense to go to Pepper first, seeing as she probably had access to the type of tech that could locate the kid. And three, well, Happy was maybe a little scared of Nick Fury. He was an intense type of guy.

 

Besides, there was no way he’d know anything about this. SHIELD probably had their hands full keeping tabs on the situation in Europe, although that new guy Mysterio seemed to have it under control. 

 

“Are you sure you don’t have any other leads?” May asked quietly, and the desperation in her voice made Happy feel awfully guilty for not at least leaving Fury a voicemail or something.

 

“Not at the moment,” Happy said, glancing away uncomfortably. 

 

“Happy? Is that you out there?” Pepper called, and Happy hurried into the office with May in tow, suddenly grateful for the interruption.

 

“Sorry to bother you, but, uh… we have a bit of a situation,” Happy said apologetically.

 

Pepper frowned, but then her gaze shifted to May, and she smiled. “Oh, we have a guest.”

 

“Hi, Miss Potts. I’m May Parker,” May introduced herself with a small, forced smile. “Peter’s aunt.”

 

Pepper stood from her desk and came over to shake May’s hand. “Well, it’s good to meet you, May. And please, call me Pepper.” She glanced between them, sensing that something was off. “Is there something you want to tell me?”

 

“Um, yeah, actually, about that—” Happy began, but May was faster.

 

“It’s about Peter. He—I think he’s in trouble,” May said quickly, and it was clear she was distressed. “He was on this school trip, and then the whole Elemental thing happened in Europe, and he’s not answering his phone, and they were supposed to come back today but Peter—” She paused, blinking away tears and pursing her lips for a moment. “—I think something’s happened.” 

 

Pepper’s expression became serious at once. “FRIDAY, bring up Peter Parker’s last known location. Baby Monitor protocols.”

 

Sure thing, boss,” said FRIDAY’s cool female voice from seemingly nowhere and everywhere in the office. “Last known location for Peter Parker was Prague, Czech Republic, according to satellite data from his phone.”

 

May frowned. “He was there, but he was supposed to be flying to London with the rest of his class so they could get home,” she pointed out.

 

“FRIDAY, I need more than that,” Pepper said, a thoughtful frown tugging at her features. “Run facial recognition through security footage from the city. Let me know what you find.”

 

“Will do, boss. Give me a minute.”

 

“Don’t worry too much. FRIDAY’s on it,” Pepper tried to reassure May. “We should know where he is soon.”

 

Suddenly the desk phone rang, and all three of them briefly startled at the insistent beeping. Pepper frowned and pressed a button on the phone. “Lisa,” she said to the secretary on the intercom. “Who’s on the line?” She hadn’t been expecting any other calls so soon.

 

“I’m not entirely certain, Miss Potts,” came the secretary’s voice over the intercom, apologetic. “But they said it was an emergency, so I put them through to you. They mentioned Mr. Parker’s name.”

 

May felt her heart leap into her throat, and with a glance at her, Pepper pressed the button to switch lines and take the call on speaker.

 

“Who is this?” Pepper asked, cautious.

 

“Oh! Oh my god, she answered. Shh, let me talk! Um, hi Miss Potts,” said a nervous young man’s voice, one May thought sounded sort of familiar. Someone else’s voice spoke in the background, too garbled to make out over the speaker. “Uh, my name’s Ned. Ned Leeds. And, uh, Michelle Jones is here, too. Um, sorry to bother you, but we’ve got something really, really important to tell you.”

 

“Ned?” May said aloud before she could stop herself, surprised.

 

“Well, Ned, you better tell me what it is,” Pepper prompted, frowning.

 

  “Um, well, you remember Peter Parker, right? He was like, Mr. Stark’s intern for a while, and—”

 

“Yes, I know Peter,” Pepper interrupted sharply. “Just tell me what’s going on.”

 

“Ned, tell me what’s happening with my nephew,” May almost pleaded, leaning over the desk with Pepper.

 

“Peter’s in trouble,” Ned blurted out. “And we know where he is.”

 

 

Having arrived safely back in New York, the twenty-two members of Team Mysterio were having a meeting. Well, actually they were sitting in a circle in the grass in Central Park, but it was an official meeting nonetheless. There wasn’t a place big enough for all of them to meet together at a coffee shop or something, and William thought that spending some time outside might boost everyone’s morale a bit. The HQ they had set up on the top floor of an abandoned warehouse in Queens was spacious and secluded, but it was rather gloomy and industrial.

 

Out here, no one gave them a second look. It wasn’t unusual for yoga or tai chi clubs to practice in the open spaces together, so even their mismatched group didn’t look too out of place sitting in their casual clothes in the grass.

 

“This is honestly crazy,” said the fidgety drone technician Mikhail, glancing around the circle. “Does anyone else think this is crazy?”

 

William had updated the team on the current situation, and they were… brainstorming. Everyone had been working diligently on possible solutions, to their credit, but some of them were still hesitant, and understandably so.

 

“Is there anything about the things we’ve already done that is not crazy, Mikhail?” Valerie put in. She had gained confidence after her theory about the Raft had been proven right, and she had so far fiercely defended the tentative plan to retrieve Beck. “And in case you haven’t forgotten, if Beck goes down for this, we all go down with him.”

 

Mikhail grimaced, backing down. She had a point. “Yeah, and what can we do about it?”

 

“What can we do that won’t get us in worse trouble than we already are?” asked Yuran from software development, her dark eyes glancing around the circle with concern. 

 

“We have to assume that SHIELD already knows about us,” Sabine put in. “They’re gonna try to predict our next move. But…” She paused for effect, gesturing widely. “...what are we all fucking great at? Misdirection.” 

 

The others exchanged glances with one another, seemingly interested.

 

“Can you tell us more, Sabine?” William prodded. He wasn’t a big ‘idea guy,’ himself, but he was doing his best to facilitate the conversation and provide a semblance of leadership in Beck’s absence. 

 

“Absolutely, William,” Sabine responded theatrically, tapping a few keys on her laptop. She and William had discussed this on the flight home, and they agreed it had potential. “Alright, I’ve shared with you guys a file containing the graphic representation of the seismo data collected before we flew out. So, basically, it looks like Val was right. Thanks, Val.”

 

“You’re welcome,” Valerie responded with her arms crossed, confident. It had been an uphill battle getting the others to actually believe her, but in the end, her intuition had turned out to be correct.

 

“So, you’re saying that Beck is in this secret underwater prison,” Gavin from analytics began, brows furrowed, “and we’re going to do… what exactly?” 

 

Sabine grinned. “We’re going to do the absolute last thing they expect. We’re gonna break him out.”

 

There was scattered laughter from the rest of the group, but then they realized Sabine was entirely serious, and there was silence and wide eyes. A little white dog barked at them from the walking path nearby.

 

Then, Mikhail huffed out an incredulous laugh. “Okay, is it just me, or does that sound kinda awesome?”

 

“It really would be a spectacular denouement,” Guterman put in, gesturing with the pen he had been using to take notes. “It checks all the boxes, really. Dramatic, unexpected, spur-of-the-moment. Not at all what I would have planned for a classic hero story, but it might just work.”

 

Murmurs of agreement came from the others. They were starting to look less ambivalent.

 

“I think we can pull it off,” Valerie spoke up, looking around. “I mean, why wouldn’t we? We fooled SHIELD once, and we can do it again. Misdirection, remember?”

 

“You might be onto something there, Val,” Sabine said with a nod, typing something on her laptop. 

 

“But how are we gonna get there?” Mikhail asked. “We’d need a.. a plane or a helicopter or something. One of those fancy quinjets would be perfect, actually.”

 

“We don’t have any of that,” Gavin pointed out.

 

Yuran glanced around, pushing her long dark hair behind her ears. “No. But Stark Industries does.”

 

 

“Have you ever had general anesthesia before, Peter?”

 

“Um, when I got my wisdom teeth out,” Peter answered after a pause. Sitting in the medical wing of the prison, across from the lab assistant holding the clipboard, he resisted the urge to wring his hands. “That was when I was like… thirteen, though. Before I got my powers.”

 

“Mm-hmm.” She wrote something down on the clipboard. “Any allergies you’re aware of? Medication or otherwise?”

 

Peter shook his head. Since getting his powers, things like his seasonal allergies had seemingly evaporated, and he’d never had a bad reaction to any medication. Normally, he wouldn’t mind the questioning, but at the moment... His foot tapped anxiously against the floor, and his stomach was twisted in knots. Beck was already in surgery, as far as they had told him, and now they were prepping Peter for some kind of procedure as well. He couldn’t bring himself to ask what it would be. He had told Fury he would do anything, after all. Maybe it was better not to know.

 

Another scratch of the pen against the clipboard. “Have you had any other major surgeries?”

 

“No.” Peter swallowed, finding his throat dry. He knew this was the price he had to pay for saving Beck’s life. He knew that, and yet the fear still strangled him from the inside. He had never much liked hospitals or even going to the doctor—lots of things going over his head, words exchanged that he didn’t understand, pain he didn’t know the purpose of—and this was all that in a nightmarishly real sense.

 

Peter looked up at the woman, his gaze pleading. “Is Beck gonna be okay? Please, I-I just wanna know…”

 

She didn’t even glance up from her note-taking. “Don’t worry. We’re taking care of him, too.”

 

It wasn’t a real answer, at least not one that Peter liked, but it was better than nothing.

 

They prepped Peter for surgery with brisk instructions. They had him take a shower, change into a flimsy paper gown, lie down on a hospital bed with scratchy white sheets. A nurse started an IV in Peter’s right hand, and the cool slow drip of liquid into his veins had Peter immediately feeling sleepy and relaxed. He started to forget why he had ever been nervous in the first place. This was pretty nice, actually, just laying in bed and letting the people in scrubs check his blood pressure and his heart rate. Once, they asked him to read some letters off a board, and Peter assured them he could see the letters just fine, they were just jumping around a bit.

 

They had left him unrestrained, Peter noted distantly. But he had no energy or even desire to get up from the bed at the moment, his body feeling heavy and tired. He was a little cold, though, and he wished he had a blanket or something. The papery gown wasn’t very warm. 

 

He even watched as they took the dressing off his left hand, revealing the pale stubs of his last two fingers. There was no blood, at least not fresh blood. The wounds where the digits had been amputated were healed over with smooth new tissue, not scarred or red with infection in the slightest.

 

The lab assistant who unwrapped the bandages stared with wide eyes, and she called over another group of her fellows to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over Peter’s healed stubs.

 

“That’s incredible,” said another lab assistant, a mousy-looking man with a thin nose and peering eyes. “The rate of healing is off the charts.”

 

“Even for an enhanced, this is better than we could have expected,” agreed another. “Look at that.” She reached down and held up Peter’s hand, showing off the centimeter of new growth, as marked by the Sharpie lines at the base of the two amputated fingers.

 

“We were right,” said the first, triumphantly. “Wait till we show the doc.”

 

“He’ll see it,” replied the man. “He’s scrubbing up right now for this next procedure.”

 

Peter was listening to all this, distantly, but his brain was fuzzy and tired, and he couldn’t have asked what they were talking about even if he wanted to.

 

There was a hand on his shoulder of a sudden, and Peter’s gaze shifted tiredly to the female lab assistant. “Peter, can you wiggle your fingers for us?”

 

Peter blinked slowly. Sure he could. Well, at least he thought so. It took more effort than he was used to, but he was able to wiggle all five digits of his left hand. Even the two short ones. It was kinda funny, watching the little stubs wave back and forth. Peter giggled, wiggling the tiny stumps like they were little legs. It wasn’t so bad, now that it didn’t hurt. 

 

“You’re gonna get real sleepy now, okay, Peter?” said the lab assistant from before as she placed a mask over Peter's mouth and nose, and Peter only distantly registered her voice. “You just go to sleep, and we’ll take care of the rest.”

 

Peter perhaps wanted to say something, but he felt very far away from his body at the moment, and there was some strange gap between his brain and the commands it was sending to his body. He just looked at her with half-closed eyes and managed a little noise in his throat. She smiled and patted his head, like he had done well.

 

They were still talking, Peter realized, even as his eyes slipped shut without his permission.

 

“...potential for rejection... transplanted tissue…”

 

“...enhanced immune system may facilitate acceptance of donor organs…”

 

“...nothing to worry about. He’ll heal right up, but the donor…”

 

The last thing Peter remembered was their words echoing distantly in his ears.

 

 

Peter woke up feeling like his head was stuffed full of cotton. The lights seemed bright overhead, even through his closed eyes, but the room had the same hospital smell that he remembered from before. Everything felt numb, relaxed. That was nice. At least it didn’t hurt. 

 

Lying down in a bed was… pretty nice, too. Peter was tempted to go back to sleep, to let the fuzzy darkness overtake him again, but something prickling in the back of his mind wouldn’t let him. 

 

He struggled back to awareness, trying to make his brain aware of his body again. He took a deep breath, as deep as he could manage, finding his throat desert-dry. He wiggled his fingers, his toes, trying to get some sensation back as he slowly came out of the fog of anesthesia. It really was impressive that they’d been able to keep him under, Peter thought distantly.

 

Slowly, Peter was becoming aware of the dull ache in his head, specifically behind his right eye. He hadn’t tried to open his eyes yet, but the lights in the room were bright enough that he could see them even from behind his closed lids. The world still felt distant and disconnected as Peter drifted in the fog of post-anesthetic sleep. He’d never been so disoriented, not since getting his powers and a metabolism that could eat through painkillers like they were nothing. He didn’t know what they had used to knock him out for the surgery, but it had to be something incredibly heavy-duty.

 

Peter tried to peel his eyes open, but only the left would budge. The right was sore, tender, the lid feeling almost glued shut. Peter managed a quiet groan as his left eye squinted against the light of the room. He reached up with a clumsy hand to paw at his face, finding a swath of bandages covering the right side.

 

“Hey. Wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said the quiet voice of Maria Hill. She caught Peter’s wrist gently in her hand, laid it down against his side.

 

“Wh-what…?” Peter couldn’t get out more than just the one word, his voice breathy and weak. He couldn’t find the strength to open his eyes again, or at least the one that wasn’t throbbing dully. He could feel the beginnings of the ache of loneliness in his chest, feeling small and alone and afraid. Being unable to see was scary, made him feel vulnerable knowing that others could see him, but he couldn’t see them.

 

A whimper escaped Peter’s lips. He found himself wishing for Aunt May. She had sat and held his hand while they put him under for his wisdom teeth surgery when he was thirteen, the last time he had woken up confused and disoriented like this, and he desperately missed her reassuring voice. His breath hitched, the sound loud and uneven in the quiet of the room, and Agent Hill’s hand moved to touch his arm, offering a modicum of comfort.

 

“Don’t cry, Parker. You’re still healing up,” she said, not unkindly, and Peter didn’t have the focus to decipher what that meant.

 

Peter sniffled, did his best not to cry. He was tired of being alone. He wished, not for the first time, that Beck was with him. He knew that Aunt May was far away, that she probably didn’t have a clue what was happening to him. Beck understood, though, and Peter just wanted someone he could trust. 

 

The tears stung his already aching right eye in a way that was far more painful than usual, and that only made Peter’s eyes water with further tears. He let out a quiet sob, and felt a gentle hand wipe away the tears running from his left eye. 

 

He heard the rustle of clothing as Hill stood, and she gave his hand a gentle squeeze. Her hand lingered against his for just a moment, and she slipped a tiny rectangular object into his curled fingers, warm from her own palm. “Be careful, okay?”

 

Peter’s fingers instinctively curled around the object, which felt like a... flash drive of some sort. He didn’t know exactly what it could be or what it was for, but he held onto it like a lifeline nonetheless.

Chapter Text

Quentin dreamed that he was drowning. He was underwater, someplace dark and cloudy, and he couldn’t tell which way was up or down. He was wearing his costume for some reason, and the cape was heavy as hell soaking wet. He could feel it pulling him down further, along with the weight of the armor, no matter how he thrashed or tried to swim.

 

His glass helmet was full of water, and it made the world around him seem crazily distorted every time he moved. His lungs burned for air, and he kept desperately trying to reach the surface despite sinking deeper with every second. The pressure of the water was so heavy, so much so that it felt like a lead weight against his chest.

 

He could see Peter drifting in the distance, kicking weakly, and Quentin felt a flash of panic. He wanted to call out to Peter, but already he couldn’t breathe and couldn’t speak and couldn’t scream even though the pressure was so great it felt like his ribs were going to crack.

 

Peter looked terrified, thrashing helplessly in the water, bubbles streaming from his mouth in a silent scream.

 

Quentin reached out for him, but Peter was sinking fast, and the darkness swallowed him up. Beyond him, Mina was there, too—Mina, whom he hadn’t seen in years—wrapped in translucent dark cloth like a burial shroud.

 

Help us, Quentin, whispered Mina’s voice, so close it felt like she was whispering the words next to his ear. Please wake up. Wake up!

 

Quentin wanted to call out to her, to tell her he didn’t know how. He opened his mouth only to find he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t do anything but sink into the crushing dark.

 

 

“You’re doing great, Peter,” one of the lab assistants told him. They were gentle with him, but in the way one was with a frightened dog at the vet.

 

They had him repeat the eye test he’d taken prior to the surgery, once for each eye. The right took a bit longer to focus, and things didn’t seem as sharp for some reason, but Peter dutifully read the letters on the chart nonetheless.

 

Peter hadn’t seen himself in the mirror since the bandages were taken off. His right eye was still a little achy, sensitive to light, but the discomfort was manageable. That wasn’t what was making Peter nervous. The doctors and their assistants were talking in hushed voices about immune responses and impressive healing factors, and something about a promising lack of rejection. He had been trying to listen, but it was hard when his brain was still a little fuzzy from the anesthesia.

 

But his enhanced metabolism once again came in handy, and he was able to walk on his own and balance when they asked him to get out of bed, walk a straight line, read the chart on the opposite wall. It felt a little weird to blink at first, but Peter quickly got used to the sensation, and he was dying to know just what the hell they did to his eye. It was clearly something serious, since they had to put him under general anesthesia for it, and Peter was starting to get nervous because none of the doctors in their white coats would answer his questions.

 

Peter sat still while one of the lab assistants shined a light in each eye, others nodding and making notes as she talked. Most of it went over Peter’s head. He vaguely regretted shutting himself in his bedroom with headphones on while May binge-watched Gray’s Anatomy a couple months ago. 

 

“Healing rate is incredible,” the female lab assistant narrated as she gently pulled up Peter’s right eyelid, which made him wince at the manipulation of the tender skin. She instructed him to look left, right, up, down, and he obeyed. “No signs of rejection whatsoever. It’s like he’s almost entirely healed from a major operation in days rather than weeks.”

 

“Doc’s gonna love this,” said another lab assistant, shooting a grin at his colleagues.

 

“You’ve done so well for us, Peter,” said the woman who had been examining him with a warm smile. Her gloved hand patted his cheek almost affectionately. “This data is invaluable. You’re doing the world a favor here.”

 

He didn’t quite understand until he got a glimpse of himself in the mirror as they were taking him to another room, and he couldn’t help but stop and stare, his breath catching in his throat.

 

Peter had always had brown eyes, like his mother. His left eye was familiar, warm brown like in the photos of Mary Parker in his aunt’s apartment. But his right eye was a startling blue, a contrast against his natural brown. The socket was bruised but healing quickly, and the blue eye looked almost like it belonged there. Almost. 

 

Peter knew with awful certainty that he had seen such a blue before. He had a good memory, especially for faces.

 

He felt his chest constrict with quiet horror as he stared at himself in the mirror. One brown eye and one blue—one of his own and one of Quentin Beck’s—stared back at him until someone placed a hand on his shoulder to lead him away.

 

 

Quentin drifted back towards consciousness, everything feeling slow and foggy, like the world was being filtered through molasses. He couldn’t open his eyes for some reason, but the light on the other side of his closed lids was searingly bright. He was dizzy, feeling like the world was tilting slowly even as he lay still.

 

His chest hurt, but less so than it did before. He could breathe and it didn’t hurt so much now. Murmured voices surrounded him, too distant to make out, but he was soon asleep again, slipping back into the dark like drowning.

 

The next time he was awake—or at least the next time he remembered—it wasn’t so hard to think. The dreams seemed distant and faint, and the world around him was starting to feel clearer.

 

Quentin could open his eyes, but it hurt to look into the cold white lights overhead. He groaned softly, squeezing his eyes shut and feeling a twinge of dull pain from his right eye. Weird. The fuzzy, cottony feel of drugs lingered, though, and he grimaced. Quentin had never much liked anesthesia. He liked to be in control, aware, and the realization that he had no idea what they’d done to him made his skin crawl vaguely. But he supposed he felt… better, in some respects? He was no longer feverish and achy, and his head felt somewhat clearer.

 

He’d had strange dreams, though he couldn’t quite remember them.

 

There was a voice speaking softly next to him, Quentin realized. He made an effort to open his eyes at last, trying to focus on the source of that voice. His vision slowly came back into focus, and he realized it was Peter who was there with him.

 

They were back in a cell together (had they ever left? Quentin didn’t know if he’d dreamed that or if it was real), and the look on Peter’s face was one of concern.

 

“...Mr. Beck? Can you hear me?” Peter was saying, timidly.

 

Quentin tried to sit up on his elbows, but the wave of dizziness and the twinge that shot through his ribs was enough to make him reconsider that. The pain must have showed on his face, though, because Peter was gently urging him to lay flat again.

 

“They said you should rest for a while after the surgery,” Peter said, almost apologetically. The kid looked tired. So very tired. His eyes were dull, and not just with exhaustion. There was a haunted look in his gaze that hadn’t been there before.

 

Quentin blinked. Peter’s eyes… had always been brown, hadn’t they? One of them was vividly blue now, and it was throwing him off. Fuck, maybe something was wrong with his vision. He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep, or exactly what had been done to either of them, but he had an awful feeling about it.

 

“What’s wrong?” he managed, his voice rough from sleep.

 

“I… I thought you were gonna die,” Peter whispered, sounding anguished as he bowed his head, as though in shame. “I was so scared… Fury came, and he… I-I didn’t know what was gonna happen, and… I’m so sorry, Mr. Beck…”

 

Quentin was still trying to process all this. Peter seemed very upset for some reason. “Anyone ever tell you that you apologize too much, kid?”

 

Peter let out a weak laugh. “Sor—well, yeah, maybe.” He seemed relieved just to see that Quentin was awake. “How are you feeling?”

 

“Better than before,” Quentin admitted. He was able to sit up this time, if slowly. His ribs no longer hurt like hell, although he was still a little dizzy. “Mind telling me what happened while I was out?”

 

Peter’s face fell, and Quentin almost regretted asking. “I had to make a deal with Fury. I… you were really sick, and Fury said he wanted EDITH in exchange for helping you.”

 

Quentin felt something twist like a knife in his gut at the mention of EDITH. Admittedly, he hadn’t even thought about EDITH more than in passing in the time they had been here. The plan, the idea of manipulating the glasses away from Peter… it all felt like a distant memory now. But if Fury got those glasses... “And what did you do?” he asked, dreading the answer.

 

“I couldn’t do it,” Peter whispered, sounding ashamed. “I… I just couldn’t. So I said I’d cooperate with the experiments instead, promised I’d help and do whatever they asked, even if it hurt… I didn’t realize they’d do something like this.”

 

Quentin didn’t quite get it until he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the reinforced glass of the door, and the sight was striking. One blue and one brown eye, a mirror of what he saw when he looked at Peter. Both transfixed and vaguely, distantly horrified, Quentin reached up to touch his own face, brushing his fingertips over the right eyelid. The socket was bruised, splotched with purplish-blue, looking like he’d taken a nasty hit to the face, but the eye itself was a familiar warm brown, a sharp contrast to his own blue.

 

It all clicked into place of a sudden. Fury’s ‘deal,’ what Peter had agreed to give… All to save Quentin’s life. 

 

“I’m so sorry,” Peter babbled, sounding so upset and afraid that it pulled at Quentin’s heart. “I didn’t mean for this to happen, I-I just—” d 

 

“Hey.” Quentin cut him off, his tone gentle but firm. He placed a hand on Peter’s shoulder, tilted the kid’s head up so that their mismatched eyes could meet. “Don’t worry about it, kid.” He smiled. “And for the record, I don’t think it looks bad.”

 

Peter gave a wobbly smile. “You don’t think so?”

 

“Course not. We’re like… David Bowie or something.” Quentin kept his tone light, trying to keep Peter feeling a bit more at ease. He knew the kid was frazzled, and he could hardly blame Peter. But as dire as the situation was, it would help no one if both of them succumbed to despair. 

 

Peter actually laughed a bit. He closed his left eye for a moment, looking around with just the blue one open. “No offense, Mr. Beck, but your eyesight is awful,” he teased. “Are you sure you don’t need glasses or something?”

 

“Hey, you’re just used to super-senses,” Quentin chuckled. “Which is pretty off-putting, by the way.” His eyesight was indeed sharper than it used to be, now that he was seeing out of one of Peter’s eyes, but only on the one side, which was a bit disorienting. 

 

“I guess this is better than Fury taking my eye for himself,” Peter joked, and that had them both snickering. It was a stupid thing, but it was the little moments that were keeping them sane in this place. 

 

Peter’s eyes widened for a moment. “Oh, wait a minute!” He glanced around to make sure that no one was walking past their cell, then pushed a slim blue plastic object out from under his tongue, holding it briefly between his teeth before wiping it on his shirt and handing it to Quentin.

 

“Agent Hill gave me this,” Peter explained in a low, conspiratorial whisper. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s gotta be important.”

 

Quentin let out a breathless chuckle, almost disbelieving as he stared at the little blue flash drive, the one that had been hidden in his suit. Hill had kept her word after all. It seemed almost unreal that his plan was actually coming together. He closed his hand around it, and the smile he gave Peter was genuine.

 

“It’s our way out of here.”

 

Peter’s eyes got huge. “W-what does that mean?” 

 

“This,” Quentin began, keeping his voice down as he showed Peter the little piece of blue plastic, “contains a couple of my illusion sequences. Nothing too fancy, but if we play our cards right…” He glanced at the door, wary. “...you remember the plan?”

 

Peter nodded eagerly. “I remember.”

 

Quentin couldn’t help the thrill of nervous anticipation that went through him. He kept the flash drive clutched in one hand, anxiously rubbing a thumb over it. If this worked… then they had a chance. It was a slim chance, contingent on a lot of things going exactly right, but it was a chance nonetheless. 

 

The both of them stiffened upon hearing the sound of footsteps approaching. Quentin swallowed, finding his throat dry. He really should have known that this respite wouldn’t last long, but it made his chest tighten with dread all the same.

 

It was Maria Hill who stopped in front of the glass door and opened it with a touch of the keypad, her expression unreadable.

 

Peter scrambled closer, putting himself between Quentin and the door in a protective crouch. “No,” he said, voice low, both defiant and pleading. 

 

“Not you, Parker. Not this time,” Hill said. Her gaze flicked to Quentin. “Time to go, Beck.”

 

Quentin’s grip instinctively tightened around the flash drive. Was this what he thought it was? The opportunity he’d been waiting for?

 

“No,” Peter said again, an edge of desperation to his voice. He took Quentin’s hand, as though he were going to disappear. “I… I won’t let you hurt him anymore.” There was a heartbreaking tremor to his voice. Peter was scared. Terrified, really. But he was holding his ground for no other reason than trying to protect Quentin.

 

Quentin knew with certainty that he was undeserving of such devotion, but he pushed away that guilt for another time. Quite frankly, he was the last person Peter should be trying to protect in this scenario. But again, that was for another time.

 

Quentin met Hill’s steely hazel eyes, watched her give a nearly imperceptible nod. He felt a thrill of anxious adrenaline in his veins all the same. He gave Peter’s hand a gentle squeeze, then let go.

 

“It’s okay,” he tried to reassure the kid. “I’ll be okay.”

 

“No, no, please...! Don't leave me alone,” Peter practically begged, and it broke Quentin’s heart to have to pull away from him. 

 

Quentin tried to stand and found his legs unsteady as a newborn colt’s, barely willing to support his weight. The world tilted dizzily, and it was only Peter’s lithe strong form pressing up against his side that kept him from falling. It would have been funny under different circumstances, really. Peter was a skinny kid, smaller and shorter than Quentin, and yet he was strong enough to support Quentin’s weight like it was nothing. He couldn’t help but lean on Peter, trying to blink black spots out of his vision.

 

Hill just looked at the two of them, and the ever so slight furrow of her brows betrayed her concern. “You sure you’re up for this, Beck?”

 

Quentin’s grip shifted on the flash drive, clutched in his free hand, the one that wasn’t draped over Peter’s shoulder. “I’ll be fine,” he insisted, trying to will away the dizziness and ignore the way his legs felt like jell-o.

 

“Then let’s go. We don’t have much time,” Hill said, keeping her voice low. “Keep up.”

 

Peter helped Quentin to walk as they followed Hill through the maze of corridors, passing through bulkheads and several doors locked with fingerprint ID scanners. It must have been night, because the corridors were deserted everywhere they went, and there was no one to question where Hill was taking them. Finally, they came to a room filled with computer stations, lights off and empty.

 

“This is the secondary security monitoring center,” Hill explained, shutting the door behind them and turning on the lights. “Hardly ever gets used since we’re short-staffed down here, but all these computers have full security protocol access.”

 

Quentin could barely believe it for a second. Hill really had come through for them, and that meant they had a chance. 

 

Hill was standing guard by the door. “You’ve got twenty minutes.”

 

“I can work with that.” Quentin eased himself away from Peter, patting the kid’s shoulder and shooting him a grateful look before sitting down at the terminal.

 

Peter hovered nearby, looking nervous as he glanced from Hill and back to Quentin. “What are you gonna do?”

 

Quentin plugged the flash drive into the USB outlet on the keyboard, glancing at Peter with a brief grin. “Laying the groundwork. I’m gonna put those drones to good use.”

Chapter Text

Peter couldn’t help but pace anxiously as Beck worked and Hill stood watch at the door. There wasn’t much he could do to help, unfortunately, but he still felt like he should be doing something. Part of him was nervous that someone was going to walk in that door any second, that they were going to get caught and Fury would punish them both in unimaginable ways. That didn’t help his trembling hands and pounding heart one bit, so he tried to think of something else.

 

Peter tried to go over the plan in his head again. Beck was going to upload his illusions to the drones, making sure they were primed and ready for the real deal. Then, when the time came, he would slave the drone fleet’s controls to one device and have full control over them. The illusions would distract Fury and the other SHIELD goons long enough for Beck and Peter to get to the hangar, where Happy would hopefully be…

 

Wait. Happy didn’t know. Peter stopped in his tracks, eyes wide. He had to call Happy.

 

“I need to get to EDITH,” he spoke up urgently, looking from Beck to Hill.

 

Hill paused a moment. “I can get you there. But you’ll have to be quick.”

 

“Quick, yeah, I can be quick,” Peter assured her, breathless with anxiety. He looked towards Beck again, worried. “Wait, what about—” 

 

“Go ahead, kid. This will take a minute,” Beck said, glancing up from the computer screen.

 

Peter didn’t want to leave Beck behind, and especially not alone, but they didn’t have many options at the moment. He swallowed, trying to push away his anxiety. “Okay.”

 

“This won’t take long,” Hill said. She paused. “We’ll be just down the hall. Beck, if anyone comes in here, hide. I’ll take care of it.”

 

“Will do.” Beck had already turned back to the computer screen, fingers tapping urgently at the keys as he searched the network while the files transferred from the flash drive.

 

Hill put a hand on Peter’s shoulder as she led him out of the room. “Let’s go, kid.”

 

They took a left immediately, headed further down the silent steel corridor. Hill took him to a door labeled ‘RESTRICTED’ in bold letters, secured with a biometric lock.

 

Peter couldn’t help but look around anxiously while Hill used her palm to unlock it, then ushered him inside. It was… not exactly the high-tech weapons vault Peter had been expecting.

 

It appeared to be a combination of an armory and a coat room. There were shelves and racks with items neatly packaged in zipper-sealed plastic bags, all tagged with a label and arranged alphabetically. There was a bizarre variety in the items, which ranged from seemingly innocuous items like leather jackets and worn notebooks, neatly folded cloaks and strange masks, to wicked-looking swords and scepters, and things Peter couldn’t even identify. 

 

Hill was already moving further down the shelves, so Peter didn’t have time to gawk. He hurried after her, eyes wide.

 

“Um, Miss Agent Hill, what is all this stuff?”

 

“Just a collection of stuff SHIELD has taken off the bad guys over the years,” Hill responded as she grabbed a clear plastic bag from a shelf labeled ‘P.’ The bag’s label read ‘PARKER, P.,’ and inside was Peter’s black stealth suit and a familiar glasses case. He had kept it with him during that night in Prague out of a desire to feel close to Mr. Stark, and now Peter was infinitely glad he had.

 

Hill handed him the glasses case without hesitation, and for a moment Peter just stared at the glasses in his hand, vaguely overwhelmed.

 

“C’mon, kid, we don’t have a lot of time,” Hill reminded him, and Peter jumped.

 

“Oh! Right, right,” he said as he put the glasses on, and the familiar AR interface activated.

 

“Hello, Peter,” said EDITH’s pleasant robotic voice. She paused. “I am having difficulty verifying your biometric data. Could you please hold still and keep your eyes open for a moment?”

 

“Shit,” Peter swore under his breath. The transplant. Of course EDITH wouldn’t be able to fully match his retinal scans now. “Uh, EDITH, can you confirm using voice print? It’s me, I swear.”

 

Another pause. “Voice print confirmed. However, as an additional security measure, I must ask you to answer a security question.”

 

“Okay, okay, just make it quick,” Peter said nervously. “We don’t have much time, EDITH.”

 

“Who shot first? Han or Greedo?”

 

Peter blinked. What the hell kind of a security question was that? He was used to being surprised by Mr. Stark’s tech, though, so he decided to just roll with it. “Han did. He shot first, because if he’d let Greedo shoot first, then he’d be dead.”

 

“Identity confirmed. Welcome back, Peter,” EDITH said without hesitation. 

 

“Oh, thank god,” Peter breathed out, shoulders sagging with relief. But there was no time to revel in it. “EDITH, I need you to call Happy Hogan.”

 

“Certainly. Calling Happy Hogan.”

 

Peter held his breath as the line rang, and rang again. “Please, please pick up,” he whispered, shutting his eyes tightly. The line kept ringing. “C’mon, Happy, answer your phone…”

 

There was a beep, and Peter felt his heart sink as the prerecorded voicemail greeting started to play. “Uh, hi, I can’t come to the phone, but if you leave a message I’ll try to get back to you ASAP. Oh, if this is a work call, call my office phone! Thanks.”

 

“Parker, we don’t have much more time,” Hill warned him.

 

“Please, just let me try one more time!” Peter insisted, desperate. “EDITH, try again.”

 

“Calling Happy Hogan,” EDITH repeated, and the line rang again. A tense thirty seconds passed, and the same thing happened.

 

Peter’s throat felt tight, but once the voicemail beep sounded, he swallowed hard and forced himself to speak. “Hey Happy,” he began, weakly. “Please, please listen to this. I… I need your help. It’s a long story and I’m really sorry but I need you to come pick me up. I’m… I’m at the Raft and I wanna go home. Fury won’t listen to me and… i-it’s a long story, but please just come and talk to him… Oh, and tell Aunt May I love her, okay? A-and I’m sorry I didn’t call, I know I’m so grounded for this, but…” He paused, letting out a breathless laugh that was halfway to being a sob, realizing his emotions were close to overflowing. “...I gotta go. Hope I see you soon.”

 

He ended the call and hoped it was enough.

 

 

“Wait, wait. Peter is where? ” Pepper sounded incredulous even after Ned and MJ had explained everything.

 

“The Raft? The secret prison run by SHIELD? You can’t tell me you don’t know about it,” MJ said with characteristic bluntness. “I mean, secret government black sites with no accountability are nothing new. Especially since, y’know, Stark Industries had a hand in—”

 

“That’s not important right now!” Ned interrupted. “What’s important is that Peter needs our help. We’ve gotta do something!”

 

May couldn’t help but be both horrified and relieved. On the one hand, she was finally getting an explanation as to what happened to her boy. That meant he wasn’t dead, wasn’t crushed under tons of rubble from the Elemental attacks or lost in Europe somewhere. But on the other hand, if Peter really was in the Raft, taken by SHIELD agents… well, it couldn’t be good.

 

Happy sighed. “Look, kids, I don’t know where you got this info, but—”

 

“How did you figure all this out?” May interjected, desperate. As much as she was relieved to have an explanation at last, she had to make sure it was true. “How do you know Peter’s there?”

 

“I told you, we saw SHIELD kidnap Peter and Mysterio after they defeated that fire monster!” Ned insisted. “And where else would they go? I can’t even track Peter’s phone, so it’s gotta be somewhere pretty much off the map.”

 

May, Happy, and Pepper all exchanged worried glances. 

 

“Wait a second. Where are you kids at?” Happy asked, frowning. He felt his phone buzz in his pocket. A quick glance at the screen revealed it was an unsaved number, no caller ID, and he dismissed the call with a swipe of the screen before shoving the phone away. There were more important things than answering the phone at the moment.

 

“Um… in the lobby,” Ned admitted sheepishly. “They wouldn’t let us come up and see Miss Potts unless we had an appointment, so we called instead.”

 

“Boss?” FRIDAY suddenly spoke up again.

 

“Yes, FRIDAY?” Pepper asked, rubbing her temples. “Do you have that facial recognition scan done?”

 

“Yes. Peter Parker was last seen entering the Prague Opera House at approximately 8:13pm, five days ago. But there is something else you should know.”

 

“Well, what is it?” Pepper asked, a bit impatiently. Her mind was racing with the implications of Peter’s last sighting, the fact that Fury of all people had seen fit to snatch Peter from his school trip, the fact that she had to pick up Morgan from daycare in two hours…

 

“A Stark Industries heavy quinjet has been stolen from a storage facility upstate. Just thought you ought to know.”

 

 

As soon as the quinjet left the airspace, out of range of ground-based weapons and cloaked by an escort of drones, Mikhail let out a victorious whoop. The rest of the team quickly joined in, cheering, and the other half of the team on the ground at the quinjet’s destination echoed the sentiment.

 

“Smooth as buttermilk, Sabine,” Guterman praised from the pilot’s seat. No one really knew where he’d learned to fly one of these things; he just brushed it off and said he was a man of many talents. It sure did come in handy, though.

 

Sabine couldn’t help but grin. The plan had gone off without a hitch, and once she had used her former Stark Industries credentials to get in (after a bit of finagling with the security systems by Gavin and Yuran), it was almost easy. It turned out that if you had a Stark Industries ID badge and acted like you were supposed to be there, well, most people wouldn’t look twice at you. 

 

It had been a simple matter of letting in Guterman, Mikhail, Gavin, and Yuran through a loading bay entrance, the four of them disguised in nondescript workman’s uniforms, and finding their way to the hangar where the aircraft were stored. By the time security knew what was happening, they were already lifting off and cloaking. Thanks to William’s coaching over their comms and Mikhail’s quick work with the short-range drone controls, their escape had been almost entirely disguised, and the staff at the base were left scratching their heads as to how and why they were suddenly missing a quinjet.

 

“Thank Yuran, not me. She’s the one who had the balls to suggest we steal from Stark Industries,” Sabine responded with a grin, patting Yuran’s shoulder, and the other team members clapped appreciatively.

 

“Nice work, guys, but we don’t have a lot of time,” came William’s voice over the radio. “SI is gonna be hot on our tails, and real soon. Meet us at the rendezvous point and we’ll get the ball rolling, okay?”

 

“Will do,” said Guterman, and the quinjet pulled left as he followed the navigation guidance. “I gotta hand it to you, William, this is coming along much better than I thought it would.”

 

 

Back at the abandoned shipyard where the two halves of Team Mysterio were supposed to rendezvous, William rolled his eyes as he shut off the comms. He wasn’t going to admit it to the others, but he was a little nervous about pulling this off. It had gone well so far, but the whole part about breaking into the underwater prison was going to be another level for them.

 

The Raft was one of the most secure facilities in the world, and getting in (or out) was not going to be easy. They knew the facility did have to come to the surface at scheduled times, for staff rotation and supply drops, and that was going to be their ‘in.’

 

But once they were in, and the three cybersec experts on the team could wiggle past SHIELD’s firewall to give them access to Beck’s location… all hell was going to break loose. Well, actually, they were hoping to avoid all hell breaking loose, but one could never be too prepared. Pray for the best, prepare for the worst, they liked to say.

 

Valerie looked nervous, too. “What’s their ETA?”

 

They were waiting out in the open, just standing around near the weatherproof cases with all their equipment inside. There was no point in setting up all their stuff when they were moving again, likely in a matter of hours. Most of the drones were parked inside old shipping crates, though a couple were doing perimeter sweeps just to make sure no one was snooping around where they shouldn’t. 

 

“Should be less than an hour,” William replied, glancing up at the cloudy sky. “Relax, they’re totally cloaked. It’ll take some time before SI’s security forces figure out what happened, and by the time they track the quinjet, we’ll be long gone.”

 

“I know, but… I just have a bad feeling, y’know?” Valerie said after a pause.

 

William glanced up from fiddling with his phone. “Having second thoughts?” He really hoped not. The success of this operation was going to be contingent on everyone working together as well as they possibly could. He knew all this seemed absolutely crazy, but hey, stranger things had happened.

 

“No, that’s not it at all,” Valerie said, shaking her head. She had been adamant that rescuing Beck was the right thing to do, and she still believed that. “I just… I’m worried, I guess.”

 

“You and me both, Val,” William said with a wry smile. 

 

Valerie was quiet for a moment. “What do you think we’re gonna find?”

 

“What else are we gonna find?” William returned with a chuckle, trying to lighten the mood. “We’re gonna get in there, find Beck, and get the hell out. I’m not planning on any side missions.”

 

“I’ve read about this place,” Valerie admitted, the stormy look in her eyes unchanged. “I know what they do  to people in there, William. I’m not worried about finding Beck. I’m worried about what state he’ll be in when we do.”

 

And there it was. The unspoken worry that William has seen in her eyes, and the others’, too. And he didn’t have a good answer for her. 

 

It wasn’t long before the air was filled with the roar of an engine, and a blast of howling wind came from the quinjet’s rotors as it touched down in the middle of the mostly empty shipyard. The drones decloaked, and with them the jet itself, revealing the craft emblazoned with the Stark Industries logo.

 

William couldn’t help but be relieved. 

 

The quinjet’s lower ramp opened, and the other half of the team came spilling out, grins on their faces and light in their eyes with the adrenaline of pulling off such a heist. This was good. It would keep their spirits high and their confidence up for the real deal.

 

They were in the middle of delineating tasks: who would load the equipment, who would do a quick checkup on the drones, who would go and pick up lunch before they left. That was, of course, when things went horribly sideways.

 

There was a sonic whooshing sort of sound that William had come to associate with airplanes, but when he looked up, what was hovering in the air over the shipyard was definitely not an airplane.

 

It was an Iron Man suit. Well, sort of. It was sleeker, less ostentatious than Stark’s signature red and gold, instead plated in sleek blue and silver. But it was a suit of armor nonetheless, and it had a repulsor trained on them.

 

“Alright, party’s over. I really don’t have time for this,” said the voice amplified from the suit, mechanized through the speaker system but distinctly familiar, and sort of feminine. “Hands where I can see them. Now.”

 

The repulsor in the blue suit’s left palm glowed white, charging up as though in warning, and Team Mysterio quickly put their hands up. William’s mind was racing, trying to think of how they were going to get out of this one, but he was again interrupted by the arrival of a black SUV.

 

The SUV’s tires screeched as it rolled to a stop not far from the quinjet, and the four occupants immediately jumped out. William could only stare in confusion, wondering what in the world was going on.

 

“Could have waited for us to catch up, Pep!” called out the fat guy with the beard, and William’s eyes went wide as he recognized Tony Stark’s former bodyguard, Happy Hogan.

 

“You could have tried to keep up,” the suit responded, and William resisted the urge to groan aloud as he recognized that voice, too. Pepper Potts, of all people to wear an Iron Man suit… 

 

The blue Iron Man suit landed gracefully on the ground, glowing repulsor still trained on the quinjet. “You guys really thought you weren’t going to get caught doing this? I mean, come on.” Pepper sounded rather annoyed. 

 

Out of the corner of his eye, William spotted Mikhail in the shadow of the craft’s landing gear. They hadn’t seen him yet. He was holding the remote control used to manually pilot the drones. Mikhail caught William’s eye, silently asking for permission. It was possible that he could pull it off, really—the drones would take even Pepper and her armor by surprise, maybe give the team enough time to make a getaway.

 

But it wasn’t worth it. William wasn’t going to risk the wrath of Stark Industries as well as SHIELD. At least, not at the same time. He gave a minute shake of his head, briefly meeting Mikhail’s gaze and hoping he wouldn’t get spooked, go off half-cocked.

 

“Yeah, seriously, you guys, this was a pretty stupid move,” Happy was saying, looking proud of himself, or perhaps proud of Pepper. “Who are you working for? Some of Toomes’ wannabe successors? Arms dealers? Drug lords? I mean, you might as well confess.”

 

The unfamiliar woman and the two teenagers who’d inexplicably tagged along hung back near the SUV, seeming unsure of themselves. 

 

“None of the above,” William spoke up. It wasn’t a lie.

 

Happy froze, frowning as he looked closely at William. “Hey, hey, wait a second. I know you,” he said, taking a step closer.

 

“Happy, get back,” Pepper ordered sharply. “We don’t know what these guys have on them.”

 

“No, really, I remember this guy!” Happy insisted, gesturing. “He used to work for Tony! On the arc reactor—the big one, remember?”

 

Pepper’s mask retracted, revealing her suspicious frown. “...William Riva?”

 

Shit. This wasn’t good. William didn’t know of any response that wouldn’t make things worse, so he decided to just go with it, and hope for the best. “Miss Potts,” he answered, politely.

 

“Wait… I know you, too,” Happy was saying, pointing at Victoria. “You worked in R&D.” His gaze shifted to Sabine. “A-and you, too!”

 

His eyes swept over the group. “Holy shit.”

 

“All ex-Stark employees,” Pepper finished for him, finally lowering her repulsor. She crossed her arms across her metal chestplate with a clank, though her eyes were wary. “Care to explain?”

 

“Okay, you’re right!” Valerie burst out before William could speak, and he almost shushed her, but didn’t. It would only make them look more suspicious if he did. He let her continue, knowing that in all likelihood, they were already screwed.

 

“But it’s not what you think,” Valerie continued, almost imploring. “We’re… rescuing a friend of ours. And we need a way to get there.”

 

“Get where?” Happy asked, frowning.

 

There was a tense moment as Valerie held his gaze. “The Raft.”

 

William felt himself internally cringe. Shit. This was it. Pepper had probably already called the cops, and the whole team was going to be taken in because that definitely sounded like they were trying to break out some supervillain from SHIELD custody and that was so illegal and—

 

“Wait, really?!” The wide-eyed teenage boy spoke up, taking a couple steps forward. “Us, too! That’s awesome!”

 

Team Mysterio exchanged cautious, bewildered glances. Pepper Potts just sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. 

 

“Kid, will you just let the adults do the talking?” Happy said, holding out a hand towards the boy in a manner that clearly said ‘stop.’

 

“Hey, I’m just saying, this is great.” The boy huffed out a laugh. “I mean, we’re gonna need all the help we can get to break Pete—I mean Spider-Man out of the Raft, right?”

 

William heard rather than saw multiple jaws dropping as the team processed this information. Whispers broke out among them, mostly some variation of ‘holy shit,’ but he knew that everyone was thinking the same thing.

 

“Spider-Man’s in the Raft?” Valerie asked with wide eyes.

 

“Yeah, so what’s it to you?” The girl spoke for the first time, her sharp gaze sweeping over the mismatched bunch that was Team Mysterio. “Who are you guys looking to spring?”

 

Valerie looked to William, silently passing the floor to him.

 

William had to admit he’d never been great at improvising. There were a million things he could have said, but he knew he had to choose his words very carefully here.

 

“We’re... friends of Mysterio,” he said finally. That seemed safe enough, for now. “And I think we can help one another.”

Chapter Text

Quentin was nearly certain they’d gotten away with it. Hill was taking him and Peter back to their cell, no one the wiser. Well, at least until they ran into Fury and a contingent of guards. Quentin supposed he should have known better than to think they were getting off easy.

 

“Looks like you got my message, Hill,” Fury remarked, gaze steely.

 

Quentin’s blood ran cold. He had a bad feeling about this.

 

“Of course, sir,” Hill said coolly. It was impossible to tell if she was nervous or not. She had already stuck her neck out for them once. The question was: would she do it again?

 

“Good. Then follow me, and bring those two with you.” Fury walked past her, so calm and collected that it chilled Quentin to the core.

 

 

They made Peter stay this time. Two burly guards held him by the upper arms, and though Peter was probably stronger than both of them, he wasn’t struggling. Not yet, anyway. He just looked anxious, unsure of what was happening just yet. This was the first time he and Quentin had been taken anywhere together.

 

There was another pair of guards standing off to the side, and one of them was holding a slender bamboo rod in his gloved hand.

 

Fury looked impassively at Quentin. “Take your shirt off,” he ordered, and Quentin felt a chill that had nothing to do with the temperature of the room.

 

Quentin forced himself to meet Fury’s steely gaze. “Don’t make the kid watch,” he said, quietly imploring. It was as close to begging as he would get.

 

“That’s not your call, Beck. I gave you an order,” Fury said sharply. “Don’t make this worse for yourself.”

 

Quentin could feel Peter’s anxious gaze on him, but he couldn’t make himself look. Dread weighed heavy in the pit of his stomach, but not for his own sake. This was, of course, going to hurt like hell, but it would be worse for Peter than for Quentin himself. The kid had a guilt complex the size of Manhattan. 

 

For once in his life, Quentin had nothing more to say. What more was there to say? If Fury wanted to beat the living hell out of Quentin, there was nothing that could stop him. All Quentin could do was put on a brave face for Peter’s sake, no matter how quietly terrified he was, and hope it was over quickly.

 

Without another word, he pulled his shirt up and off, tossing it aside and exposing the still-healing wounds on his back. They didn’t hurt as badly now; the welts had stopped bleeding a couple days ago, but the bruises went deep, and his whole back was still tender to the touch. The caning had been unbelievably painful the first time, on unbroken skin, but this? This was going to be infinitely worse than the first time around.

 

“Lay down on your stomach,” Fury ordered. “Hands on your head.”

 

Quentin grimaced but complied. It wasn’t a comfortable position—the pressure on his sore, still-healing ribs made it painful to take a deep breath, and that was going to make this whole experience all the more difficult.

 

“No,” Peter spoke up for the first time, sounding hoarse and desperate. He pulled weakly against the guards’ grip, not truly trying to break free, but unable to keep still. “Mr. Fury… don’t do this.”

 

Quentin desperately wished that Peter knew when to shut the hell up. He heard Fury’s boots scuff the floor as the man turned to look at Peter.

 

“I can’t help that you’ve forced me to this, Parker,” Fury said, his voice a veneer of logical calm. “Now, you both have something I want. You already know what it is. I don’t like to repeat myself. If you’ll cooperate, then we can stop all this.”

 

Quentin could almost hear Peter thinking about it in the silence, could practically feel the guilt radiating off the kid. “We’ve got nothing to say to you,” he spoke up, before Peter could.

 

“Is that right, Parker?” Fury asked patiently, so innocuous it made Quentin wish for a gun to put a bullet through the man’s head. Fury knew exactly what he was doing, and exactly how it was making Peter feel.

 

Peter let out a shaky breath. “That’s right.” The words came out breathy, trembling, like Peter was on the verge of tears. 

 

Fury simply shrugged. “Remember that this is your own fault, then.” He nodded to the guard holding the bamboo rod, and the man stepped forward with slow, deliberate confidence, switching hands with the rod.

 

“This here is Moore,” Fury continued, still unsettlingly calm. “His daughter was in Venice at the time of the ‘Elemental’ attack. One of sixteen casualties that day. Now, I think you can understand why he’d want justice served for those people.”

 

Quentin said nothing, his eyes closed and his cheek pressed against the cold concrete floor. He knew Fury wasn’t looking for a response. He just wished they would get it the fuck over with already, before his nerve failed him.

 

“I think sixteen sounds like a good start,” Fury continued. 

 

“A good start,” Moore agreed, his voice tight and cold. His grip flexed on the bamboo rod. 

 

“And after that, if you’ve had enough, Beck, then Parker can take a turn,” Fury said with infuriating calm. 

 

As though Quentin would ever let that happen. He’d bite his own damn tongue off before he asked them to stop, if it meant Peter would have to bear it instead. Even with an enhanced body, it would still be hellishly painful, and Quentin didn’t know if he could watch that. Peter’s screams—and he would scream, Fury would make sure of it—would haunt Quentin forever.

 

No, it was better this way. Quentin would bleed for them, and maybe that would satisfy Fury for the time being. He could make a good show of it. He’d give them what they wanted, make them think he was on the verge of breaking, and at the very least, he hoped that would mean they would spare Peter for now. Perhaps until the time came to put their plan into motion. 

 

Moore took a step closer, shifting his stance. Quentin remained tense, dreading the moment the lash would fall. But it never came.

 

The door opened just then, the creak of the hinges a metallic shriek that drew the attention of everyone in the room. Two sets of footsteps entered. 

 

“Director Fury, we’d like a word,” said the ever-impassive voice of Maria Hill. She was good at keeping her cool, ever the unflappable agent, but Quentin could detect the tight, curt clip to her voice. What could possibly have made a crack in her flawless composure?

 

“Can it wait?” Fury bit out, clearly not pleased at the interruption.

 

“It certainly cannot,” said Hill’s companion, a woman in green medical scrubs and a white lab jacket. She sounded unmistakably pissed. “Director Fury, with all due respect, have you lost your mind?”

 

“Carrie, I do not have time for this shit right now,” Fury said, and the implicit threat would have cowed anyone else. But not Carrie the nurse, though.

 

“Well, you’re going to have to listen, because this?” Carrie gestured vaguely around the room, clearly appalled. “ This has to stop. Right now. Or have you forgotten that my team just recently spent eight hours in surgery with these two?”

 

“I know what I’m doing, Nurse.” 

 

Carrie gestured indignantly to Quentin. “He’s still recovering from a punctured lung, not to mention everything prior to that,” she continued sharply, and her glare was fierce. “They were both in surgery only a little more than twelve hours ago, Director. And now you’re going to undo all of my hard work because you can’t just cool off and give them a goddamn break for a couple days?”

 

If there were such a thing as angels, then Quentin was sure Carrie from medical was most certainly one of them. 

 

“She has a point,” Hill spoke up, ever calm and composed, but Quentin thought she sounded ever so slightly satisfied. “You’re pushing too hard, Fury.” 

 

She had taken a risk, interfering like this. Directly opposing Fury and his treatment of the captives, especially in front of others, was a gamble. A big one. Quentin knew this, and he was quietly grateful for it.

 

“Damn right you are,” Carrie said, ever the spitfire. She must have had nerves of steel to speak to Fury like that. “And they’re no good to you dead, I know that much. I can fix most of what you throw at me, Director, but it requires that you let me do my goddamn job. And that means following my medical advice regarding prisoners.”

 

Quentin imagined Fury was livid about this. That probably didn’t bode well for the future, but for now, it seemed to mean a reprieve. He would take what he could get.

 

There was a long, tense moment of silence. “Alright then, Nurse. We will revisit this in twenty-four hours.” Fury didn’t sound happy about it, but all the same, a guard nudged Quentin to his feet and directed him to put his shirt back on.

 

Peter was uncharacteristically quiet, mismatched eyes wide and scared as they were led out of the room. He didn’t relax until the reinforced glass of the cell door was shut behind them, and Hill had left without a word. She had let them remain together once again, something Quentin suspected she wasn’t supposed to do, but it was infinitely better than the alternative.

 

Peter still hadn’t spoken a word. He seemed shaken, and Quentin could hardly blame him.

 

“Peter?” he tried, placing a hand on the kid’s shoulder and feeling a little bad when Peter flinched at the contact. “You okay?”

 

Peter gave a mirthless huff of laughter, going for dryly nonchalant, but the look in his eyes was pained. Stretched thin. Like he was close to his breaking point. “I should be asking you that,” he said with a brittle smile. 

 

“I’m okay, kid. We’re both gonna be okay.” Quentin hoped it sounded reassuring, and he pulled Peter into a hug because it seemed like the right thing to do at the moment. 

 

Apparently it was, because Peter folded into the embrace and clutched at Quentin almost desperately, holding on like he never wanted to let go.

 

 

Twenty-four hours. That was how long they were guaranteed a reprieve. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.

 

Rest seemed like the obvious choice, since there wasn’t much else to do. Easier said than done, though. Peter couldn’t help but be on edge, dreading the return of Fury or the nameless guards who always took him to the lab. He was scared to close his eyes, for fear that he would open them again and he would be taken back to the lab for more experiments.

 

Beck seemed to pick up on his anxiety. “You should get some sleep, kid. Sitting there and thinking about it isn’t gonna help.”

 

Peter shook his head. “Can’t,” he said with a weak smile. “Besides, I… I’d rather be awake.” He left the last part unsaid, the fear that going to sleep would mean he would wake up alone.

 

Beck frowned slightly, brows furrowing in concern over his mismatched eyes. “Peter, I don’t remember the last time I saw you sleep,” he said, not unkindly. “And anesthesia doesn’t count.”

 

“I could say the same thing about you,” Peter pointed out. Beck looked about like Peter felt. There was a dull sheen of tiredness to his eyes, both blue and brown. His hair was messy, his beard scruffy. The bruising around his right eye was starting to fade, but it stood out against the pallor of his skin.

 

Peter knew all this was worse for Beck, and it was another guilt that weighed heavy on his mind. As an enhanced human, Peter healed much faster than normal and was generally more resilient. But Beck was just a normal guy. Neither of them could survive this indefinitely, Peter knew (at least, not unless Fury wanted them to), but Beck had definitely taken the worst of it.

 

“Really, kid, it’s okay. Lay down for a little bit, get some sleep,” Beck was saying, looking at Peter with concern. “I’ll keep watch if it makes you feel better, and I’ll wake you if anything happens.”

 

Peter hesitated. It was true that he was exhausted, but he wasn’t sure he could relax enough to let himself fall asleep. He was wound up tight, from both the anxiety of captivity and their half-baked escape plan. What if it didn’t work? What if they couldn’t get out, even with Beck’s illusions? They were miles underwater, after all. It would take a miracle of timing for them to actually find a way off the prison, and Happy hadn’t answered his phone…

 

Peter didn’t say any of that, though. He couldn’t—some part of him feared that if he said it, that would somehow make it true. 

 

“I’m cold,” he said instead. It wasn’t a lie. The prison seemed to be frigid no matter where they were, all cold steel and concrete that sucked the warmth out of everything it touched.

 

“Lay down, and maybe you won’t be,” Beck suggested. They didn’t have blankets or anything, but the thin mattress in the corner of the cell was better than nothing—at the very least better than sleeping on the floor.

 

“Come with me?” Peter asked, almost timidly. 

 

Beck seemed surprised. “I think there’s only room for one of us, Pete.”

 

“It’s okay,” Peter insisted. “I’m small, I’ll make room.” The idea of being close to someone right now, especially someone he trusted, was too good to pass up. Peter had always been someone who liked physical affection in the platonic sense, but he had a hard time asking for it. Especially after the whole thing about being dusted (a sensation Peter would never be able to forget, not as long as he lived), he found himself wanting the reassurance of physical contact, the knowledge that the people he cared about weren’t going to suddenly disappear forever. Or that he wasn’t going to disappear himself. He still had nightmares about that, sometimes.

 

He crawled onto the mattress, looking over at Beck with expectant, almost pleading eyes. “Please?”

 

Beck looked uncertain for a moment, cautious, as though searching for some kind of catch in the words. Finally, though, a faint smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. Peter thought the look in his eyes, blue and brown alike, was almost… sad. 

 

For a few seconds Beck regarded Peter with a distant sort of look in his eyes, as though he were looking at something only he could see. “You really are something else, kid.” 

 

Peter didn’t quite know what that meant, but he couldn’t find it in himself to ask.

 

All the same, though, Beck eased himself onto the mattress next to Peter, the two of them bumping elbows as they tried to arrange themselves in such a way that neither was being pushed onto the floor. They ended up on their sides, Peter’s back pressed up against Beck’s chest, his head tucked under Beck’s chin. They fit against one another nicely, Peter’s smaller and leaner form slotted against Beck’s taller and broader one.

 

For the first time in what felt like a very long time, Peter felt… safe. The warmth pressed up against his back, the weight of Beck’s arm draped across Peter’s stomach… it was like his instincts could finally relax. Even if the mattress was narrow and thin and not the most comfortable, the reassuring warmth of Beck’s embrace was a sensation almost like home.

 

“You comfortable? You gotta tell me if I’m crushing you or anything,” Beck said. He was being exceptionally gentle with Peter, as though Peter was made of glass.

 

Peter let out a quiet laugh. “You couldn’t crush me even if you tried.”

 

“Alright, you may have a point there, but still,” Beck chuckled. He sounded sleepy, and Peter was glad to know he wasn’t the only one.

 

For a moment Peter just lay there in silence, absently regarding the stubs of the last two fingers on his left hand. The stubs were itchy at times as the tissue regrew, and the knob of the second knuckle had just finished growing in on both fingers, on its way to the third. It was something that probably would have freaked Peter out under different circumstances, but in the wake of everything else, it didn’t feel that scary anymore.

 

“What if it doesn’t work?” Peter said finally, his voice barely a whisper.

 

He knew that Beck knew exactly what he meant. 

 

“It’s gonna work,” Beck insisted, and Peter didn’t know if he was saying that because he believed it or because the alternative was too much to bear. “I just need you to trust me, kid. Okay?”

 

Peter closed his eyes and whispered, “Okay.”

 

 

Negotiations were short, in part thanks to May’s insistence that the two groups “stop squabbling like a bunch of damn pigeons and get a move on.”

 

Happy had been reluctant at first, and Pepper wasn’t very happy about the theft of the quinjet. They had to admit, though, that Team Mysterio was resourceful. Not only that, they were probably the best allies anyone could ask for in regards to a mission like this. There was no one better prepared or more motivated to break into one of the most secure facilities on the face of the planet, and that was exactly what they needed. Having found a common goal, the two teams had agreed to collaborate for the sake of their respective captured teammates. 

 

The plan was fairly simple in actuality. They take the quinjet, use Happy’s security credentials to get into the Raft, and find their missing friends. Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy, but in theory, it should work.

 

If there was one thing all of them agreed on, it was that there was no time to waste. Happy had a vague knowledge of what went on in the Raft, but there was clearly something he was missing, if the look on William and Valerie’s faces was anything to go by. They had already pretty much decided who was going and who was staying behind to run things from behind the scenes, but when it came time to load up for real…

 

Happy frowned when May appeared at the bottom of the ramp. “What are you doing here?”

 

“What does it look like? I’m coming with you, obviously,” May said, her gaze challenging as she took another step forward.

 

Happy sighed. “May, we talked about—”

 

“Don’t,” May cut him off sharply, and the way her eyes glistened with tears told him how serious she was. Her grip on the handrail just inside the craft was white-knuckle tight. “That is my boy in there, Happy. In prison. He’s seventeen years old, and some bastard has put him in prison, for no good goddamn reason. You better believe I’m going to raise hell about this.”

 

“I know,” Happy said quietly, feeling an uncomfortable surge of guilt. “It’s not right. And it’s not fair.” He didn’t know the whole story just yet, but he knew damn well that there was no reason for Peter to be locked up. And even if there was, well, Happy wouldn’t have hesitated to do this, anyway.

 

“And that’s why I have to be there,” May said, sounding quietly desperate. “I have to be there for him. He might be a superhero, but he’s my baby , and I… I should be there to protect him.”

 

Happy noticed the tension in May’s shoulders, the rapid blinking of her teary eyes, and he took her hand in his own. “May,” he began gently, looking at her. “Look, I know that… that you’re scared for him, and you want him home more than any of us. But he’s gonna need you. And that means you gotta be here. He needs someone to come home to.”

 

He wasn’t just saying it because he wanted her to stay behind, or because this was going to be dangerous. Peter was going to need stability, familiarity, once he got back. Having his aunt waiting for him would be a start, hopefully.

 

May just stared at him for a few seconds, and the motherly anguish in her eyes was enough to make Happy’s own heart ache. “Bring my boy home, Happy. Please.”

 

“You know I will.”

 

After a moment’s pause, May went to go and stand with Ned and MJ, who had also been barred from going. Ned was excited to be the “guy in the chair” (whatever that meant), and MJ had conceded that too many people on a mission like this was worse than not enough.

 

Half of Team Mysterio was staying behind—they were going to monitor things from their base of operations and assist the field team remotely. This included Janice, Victoria, Mikhail, and several others who would be briefing the field team on things like security updates and directions. Happy was genuinely astonished at how well coordinated these people were; when they got down to it, they worked like a well-oiled machine. Now, he didn’t know much about Mysterio (then again, who did?), but the guy was sure lucky to have a group like this on his side.

 

Pepper had insisted on coming, too,  if only to give Nick Fury a piece of her mind, and it was hard to argue with her in that Iron Man suit. There had been some awkward glances shared between the members of the group, but Happy chalked it up to their collective dislike of Stark Industries. They didn’t argue, though. Pepper was a formidable force, and not just because of the armor.

 

Two hours of prep and planning later, they were en route, flying over the ocean towards a set of coordinates that would put them in range of the Raft’s radio communications.

 

Happy couldn’t deny that he was a little nervous. The way he saw it, this would hopefully be a “go in and talk it out” type of deal, but Team Mysterio had expressed serious doubts about the viability of that particular route. They had agreed to try it Happy’s way first, if only because it would be monumentally easier if it actually did work, but they had warned him that they would probably have to switch to Plan B fairly quickly.

 

Plan B was, of course, the breaking and entering one. (Someone had at one point nicknamed it Operation: Shawshank Redemption, but Plan B was more concise).

 

It was awkwardly quiet inside the quinjet. It was supposed to take around an hour to get to the specified coordinates, and it was going to be weird if they had to pass the whole time in silence. Happy wasn’t sure if it was his presence that was throwing off everyone, or if they were just all tense. He cleared his throat awkwardly. Maybe some light conversation would ease things up a little. “So, uh, how do you guys know Mysterio?”

 

Someone behind him nearly choked on the tea they were drinking from a thermos. Ahead of him, William, Sabine, and Valerie exchanged vaguely uncomfortable glances, as though communicating silently.

 

Happy was quietly bewildered, frowning to himself. It wasn’t that strange of a question, at least to him.

 

“It’s kind of a long story,” Valerie said finally, offering an awkward smile. 

 

“How do you know Spider-Man?” Yuran countered, eyebrows raised.

 

Happy opened his mouth to speak, then closed it. “It’s… kind of a long story,” he admitted lamely. “But, uh, the condensed version is that I used to work for Tony—”

 

“Looks like we have something in common,” Gavin piped up with a raised brow.

 

“—and basically Tony sorta picked up Spider-Man along the way and we got to know each other,” Happy explained with a shrug. “It’s, uh, mostly a professional relationship.” 

 

“Sure,” Sabine said without looking up from her laptop. “That’s why you’re dating his aunt, right?”

 

Happy spluttered, caught off-guard. “H-how did you—? I swear that’s totally not—”  

 

“Relax,” Sabine cut him off with a roll of her eyes. “I talked to May before we left. She explained pretty much everything.” Not that she and the rest of the team hadn’t known almost all of it beforehand, from prior intel gathering, but it was a plus that May trusted them. Or at the very least, she knew they were her best shot at getting her nephew back.

 

“Wait, wait— everything? ” Happy was suddenly very concerned. 

 

“Don’t worry, your secrets are safe with us,” Guterman called from the pilot’s seat. “Totally cliche, though. I mean, the kid’s whole secret identity drama is such a bore.”

 

An hour wasn’t nearly enough time to explain things, Happy thought.

 

The group fell silent as the radio suddenly crackled to life. “Unidentified Stark Industries craft, are you aware you are in restricted SHIELD airspace?”

 

Happy shouldered between William and Sabine to get to the front of the craft, leaning over the instrument board to press the radio button.

 

“This is Stark Industries 12170, requesting permission to land at Site 52,” Happy stated, hoping it sounded official enough. He only knew the colloquial term for the Raft, Site 52, because of his proximity to Tony, whose disregard for confidentiality of government secrets was legendary.

 

“Stark Industries 12170, please state your business.”

 

Happy almost wanted to roll his eyes. SHIELD and their bureaucratic bullshit. As much as he was intimidated by the organization’s sheer presence, they really did have their heads up their asses at times. He decided to take a leaf out of Tony’s book and throw caution to the wind. “Alright, you can cut the shit. Tell Fury that Happy Hogan is here to see him, on behalf of Stark Industries CEO Miss Virginia Potts. It’s about the Avengers Initiative.”

 

There was silence from the radio for a few tense seconds, and Happy could feel the group that had gathered behind him practically holding their collective breath.

 

“Alright, Stark Industries 12170, you are cleared for landing. Stand by for surface breach.”

 

As soon as the connection clicked off, there were multiple sighs of relief. Happy found himself wiping sweat from his forehead, and this was only the beginning. They hadn’t even begun to set foot in the lion’s den just yet.

 

The quinjet circled the area in a broad sweep while its occupants watched the swirling ocean waters darken, signaling the prison’s rise from the watery depths. It almost looked like a black hole opening up in the ocean, a great dark tower surfacing like some ominous Atlantean tomb.

 

They watched the Raft rise until it breached the surface, jutting about seven stories above the roiling waves crashing against its sides, water sluicing from ballast tanks. There was a helicopter landing pad revealed in the hangar within as the prison’s top opened like the petals of a great steel flower.

 

“Here we go,” Guterman said as he started to take them down, grimacing ever so slightly.

 

“This is it,” William said with a glance at Sabine and Valerie on either side of him. He turned his gaze to the yawning depths of the Raft, all dark metal and cold white lights. “Showtime.”

Chapter Text

Quentin and Peter were both jolted awake by the low rumbling of the walls and floors as the whole compound seemed to shudder for some reason. It was almost like an earthquake, but less jarring, more controlled.

 

They both sat up, listening in wary silence as the rumbling seemed to get louder, vibrating through the walls and the floors. The strange sound continued for a couple solid minutes, though it felt much longer than that, and then stopped as suddenly as it had started.

 

“What was that?” Peter asked quietly, as though someone might hear them.

 

Quentin didn’t know for sure. But he had a hunch, and if it proved correct… well, maybe their luck was going to hold after all. “I think we’re at the surface,” he said with a glance at Peter, whose eyes went wide.

 

“If we’re at the surface… then that means someone’s here,” Peter continued after a moment, with almost childlike hope in his voice. “Do you think it’s Happy?”

 

Quentin hoped for both their sakes that it was. Peter leaned into him, and he put an arm around the kid’s shoulder again, giving his arm a gentle squeeze. “We’re gonna find out pretty soon.” He glanced down at Peter. “You ready?”

 

Peter met his gaze steadily, their mismatched eyes a mirror of one another. “Ready.”

 

 

Team Mysterio had insisted on only a small contingent actually going in face-to-face. Fewer balls in motion that way, and easier to keep track of. Not to mention it would keep SHIELD’s suspicions low until the critical moment. Happy was supposed to be “leading” them, given that he was supposedly representing Pepper and Stark Industries, but right now he was feeling a little out of his depth.

 

The prison was rather intimidating on the inside, all solid steel walls and utilitarian furnishings, at once sleek and boxy and military. Happy felt somehow both claustrophobic and exposed at the same time. Among his small entourage were Gavin, Sabine, and William, who were all fairly low-key individuals, so the SHIELD agents didn’t question their presence as the group was led down one of the many maze-like corridors.

 

“I sure hope you’re a good negotiator,” came Guterman’s voice over the earpiece Happy was wearing. “The longer you can keep them busy, the better for us. Yuran’s working on the firewall now.”

 

“Gonna do my best,” Happy muttered discreetly, reaching up to tug at his collar. He wished Pepper was the one doing this. She was the CEO, not him. But she was doing recon from the outside, using the suit and FRIDAY to run diagnostics and access schematics to find out where Peter was most likely being kept. That meant it was up to Happy to keep Fury occupied while the rest of the team did their part.

 

If this went sideways, then they’d have to resort to Plan B. Happy really didn’t want to have to go to Plan B.

 

At the end of the hall was Maria Hill, who seemed to be waiting for them.

 

“Agent Hill,” Happy tried to sound brusque and official, clearing his throat and squaring his shoulders. “I’m, uh, here to speak with Director Fury.”

 

Hill just stared at him without blinking an eye. Her brows furrowed ever so slightly, though. “The Director is occupied at the moment,” she responded. “You came on rather short notice.”

 

Happy couldn’t help but feel nearly weak-kneed with relief. He didn’t know how long he’d be able to keep it together under Fury’s sharp scrutiny. “W-well, uh, it’s a matter of official business,” he began. “S-Stark Industries business.”

 

Hill was probably less than impressed, but it barely showed. “Like I said, the Director is otherwise occupied at the moment, but you can talk to me.”

 

“This is good,” whispered another voice of one of the crew on the quinjet, scratchy over the earpiece. “Keep talking.”

 

“You’ve got something of ours,” Happy said after a moment, clearing his throat. “And, uh, Ms. Potts would like to know why.”

 

Happy felt William and Gavin and Sabine go very still behind him, tense with anticipation. Or maybe that was just his own nervousness, he couldn’t really tell.

 

Hill raised an eyebrow. “Maybe we should talk in my office, Mr. Hogan.”

 

 

Back at the Parker residence in Queens, May was anxiously hovering with a cup of coffee while her nephew’s two friends crowded around a computer screen. Ned had set up his laptop in the living room, wearing his gaming headset to remain in the comm loop with Happy and the members of Team Mysterio. He was feverishly typing, fingers flying over the keys as he opened terminal window after terminal window, working in tandem with Yuran to look for flaws in the Raft’s network security.

 

MJ was watching with a look of intense concentration on her face, and although she wasn’t nearly as much of an expert on the whole hacking thing, she seemed to be nodding along as Ned worked.

 

This type of thing made May feel really damn old. She didn’t know a thing about any of this fancy tech stuff, and all she could do was trust that everyone else knew what they were doing. It was both nerve-wracking and guilt-inducing, seeing as she could only watch. She had ordered some takeout for the kids earlier, seeing as her cooking skills were dubious even on a good day, and the mostly empty containers were scattered across the coffee table.

 

“How’s it coming?” May asked after a pause, hesitant.

 

“Doing fine, Mrs. Parker,” Ned responded without looking away from the screen, sounding distracted. “Making progress.”

 

The minutes seemed to tick by agonizingly slowly, and every second that passed seemed to eat at May’s frazzled nerves. She had turned on the TV at some point, keeping the volume low so not to distract Ned, but not even the mindless drone of whatever the hell was on at the moment could hold her attention.

 

It felt like forever before Ned and MJ’s excited voices drew May’s attention again.

 

“Wait, wait, there!” Ned was saying, punctuated by several emphatic taps of the ‘enter’ key. His eyes were wide, looking from MJ to the screen even as he talked in rapid-fire jargon with Yuran  over the headset.

 

“I’m looking, I’m looking,” Ned was saying, nervous as he scrolled through multiple windows of commands. “Uhh, I don’t know what any of these mean…”

 

“What’s going on? You got something?” May asked, her heart in her throat as she stood up quickly enough to nearly slop her coffee onto the floor.

 

“Maybe,” MJ said, her frown intense and thoughtful. 

 

“I’m trying,” Ned said quickly, his voice tight. “Um, lemme see…” More clickety-clacking of the keyboard.

 

“Level A7? What does that even mean?!” Ned said into the headset, frantic even as he scrolled endlessly through the list of commands. “No, I don’t know! I don’t have a map or a blueprint or anything!”

 

“What we need is a roster of some sort,” Yuran was saying urgently. “I’m looking but it’s all on a restricted server I can’t access. The best I can get is that level A7 is our best bet.”

 

“That doesn’t tell me what door to open!” Ned protested. “There’s, like, a thousand different ones here!”

 

“Then open all of them!” MJ cut in, pushing at Ned’s arm. “Let ‘em all out, what do we care?”

 

“All of them?” Ned’s eyes went wide at the thought. “Like, all the cell doors?”

 

“Yeah, that’s what I said,” MJ retorted impatiently. “One of them has to be Peter’s, so he’ll know what to do from there. Besides, this is like, the perfect opportunity to abolish a government-run prison with little to no oversight. Two birds, one stone, right?”

 

“Um, do we actually know who’s in the Raft, though?” Ned asked uncomfortably.

 

“No one knows for sure, but supposedly?” Yuran interjected, her voice crackling over the comm. “A bunch of superpowered criminals, or at least that’s how they’ve been labeled by SHIELD. Could be political prisoners, too. It’s a tightly guarded secret.”

 

“Good enough for me,” MJ said, her gaze unwavering. 

 

“Well, if Peter’s one of those so-called criminals, then I say do it,” May cut in, almost pleading. “This could be his only chance, Ned.”

 

Ned took a deep breath and let it out, staring at the EMERGENCY_OPEN_ALL command highlighted on the screen. “Well, here goes nothing.”

 

 

A shrill emergency alarm sounded from down the hall, and Quentin swore he nearly had a heart attack. The normally silent corridors were filled with the sound of an alarm, and a garbled message was playing over the speakers.

 

Peter was looking at him with wide, almost deer-like eyes, having been woken from a dead sleep and probably terrified. “W-what’s going on?”

 

The question was answered when the glass door to their cell suddenly unlocked with a click and slid open. “Emergency protocol initiated,” said a monotone female voice over the speaker systems. “Please follow prescribed emergency procedures.”

 

Quentin felt a thrill of adrenaline as he got to his feet, his heart pounding. If this wasn’t their chance, he didn’t know what else would be. He held out a hand to Peter, pulling him to his feet. “C’mon, kid. Time to go.”

 

“Go where?” Peter asked with wide eyes. “W-which way do we go?”

 

“First things first, I’ve got to get to a computer,” Quentin said as they stepped out of the cell, looking warily left and right. He had to take control of the drone fleet, and once the illusions got started, they’d be all but home free.

 

“The computer room that Agent Hill showed us,” Peter said quickly, jumping on the idea. “I can get us there.” He grabbed Quentin’s hand and pulled him to the left, into the maze-like corridors where they had both been taken many a fateful time.

 

Quentin couldn’t help but be nervous, wondering if they would run into other SHIELD agents, guards, or worse things. A couple times they had to hide, ducking into adjoining corridors or empty offices while a squad of guards ran past, but no one seemed to be paying much attention to them. Quentin’s heart was pounding the whole time, wondering if they were going to be spotted, but the guards seemed to have bigger fish to fry. God only knew who or what else they were keeping down here, but Quentin wasn’t interested in finding out.

 

They reached the computer room without being intercepted, and the door was already open.

 

Quentin was halfway through the process of remotely booting up the drones when he suddenly stopped and swore, realizing what he’d forgotten.

 

“What? What’s wrong?” Peter asked urgently.

 

“I need something to tie the controls to,” Quentin explained, gesturing with nervous energy. “Like a, a phone or a tablet or something with the capability to harness that signal. Otherwise, I’ll have to operate it from here.” He could do that, but it would severely limit his chances of being able to get to the hangar before Fury and the rest of the SHIELD agents figured out his tricks.

 

Peter’s eyes went wide, and Quentin could practically see the lightbulb illuminating over the kid’s head. “I’ll be right back,” he said breathlessly, and then dashed out of the room.

 

Quentin didn’t bother to ask questions or call after him. He just sighed and turned back to the computer terminal, making sure the drone fleet was ready to receive commands. Worst case scenario, he could still operate the drones from this area. Quentin hated improvising, though. Spur-of-the-moment judgments were almost never good ones, and he grimaced to think what this would do to the rest of the plan.

 

His thoughts were interrupted as Peter sprinted back into the room, panting. “Okay, okay, I’ve got an idea,” the kid said breathlessly.

 

Peter held up a familiar pair of ostentatious sunglasses, and Quentin blinked as he recognized the EDITH glasses. Was Peter really going to…?

 

Peter slipped the glasses on, the lenses lighting up with the AR interface. “EDITH, transfer control to Quentin Beck.”

 

Quentin could only stare at Peter, nearly disbelieving. EDITH had been the goal of his operation, prior to… well, all of this, but it seemed almost laughably short-sighted now. Before, he’d had every confidence that he could manipulate Peter into giving him the glasses, but now doing such a thing felt unimaginable. And here Peter was, just… giving it to him, of his own free will. In the moment, after all this, he could hardly fathom the idea. How much Peter trusted him, even after finding out Quentin had lied to him.

 

“This requires voice confirmation, Peter,” said EDITH’s calm robotic voice. 

 

“Confirm,” Peter said without hesitation. He took off the glasses and held them out to Quentin. “Here. You can use EDITH to control the drones, and she can guide us to the hangar once she accesses the schematics.”

 

Quentin absolutely knew that this was not the time to be getting choked up, but goddamn if his throat didn’t feel a little tight, his heart constricting with some kind of emotion. He swallowed it back, though, and accepted the offered glasses after only a moment’s hesitation. 

 

“Thanks, kid. I’ll take care of her for you.”

 

Peter smiled. “I know you will.”

 

And god, if Quentin didn’t want to protect the kid and the innocence of that smile. If nothing else, he would use EDITH to make sure Peter got out of this, safe and sound. He tapped the edge of the glasses.

 

“EDITH?”

 

“Yes, Quentin?”

 

“Access the network, activate all the SI-2400 semi-autonomous models. Disable override procedures; make sure those drones respond only to commands sent from your local network presence,” Quentin ordered, and through the AR interface he watched all one hundred drones come online, waiting solely for his commands. He couldn’t help but grin.

 

Peter was staring at Quentin like he’d seen a ghost. His eyes, both blue and brown, were so wide it would have been comical if not for the mingled longing and grief in them.

 

“Kid? What’s wrong?” Quentin asked, suddenly concerned.

 

“N-nothing,” Peter said after a second. He quickly shook his head, seeming to snap out of it. “What do we do now?”

 

“We get the hell out of here, that’s what,” Quentin said, feeling a heady rush of adrenaline, a mixture of fear and excitement, like the pre-stage jitters before a first show. “EDITH, activate illusion protocol Maze Runner.”

 

“Initiating protocol Maze Runner,”  EDITH confirmed.

 

Peter glanced around, seemingly nervous as he rubbed the back of his neck. “A-are you sure about this?”

 

“Don’t worry, kid,” Quentin said with the confidence of having the upper hand for the first time in what felt like forever. “I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve.”

Chapter Text

Quentin watched through the AR interface as the fleet of drones took their positions, adapting formations to environmental parameters just as they were supposed to. It was taking a bit longer than it should have; the drones really could have used a firmware update (the improvements Quentin and his team had made to some of the algorithms really were impressive), but it would do for now.

 

Once the projections loaded and the illusion was in full swing, all hell was going to break loose. It was perfect. It meant everyone’s attention would be on the spectacle of the illusion, so Quentin and Peter could make a break for the hangar hopefully with no one the wiser. Misdirection was a beautiful thing.

 

“Perfect,” Quentin breathed as he watched through EDITH’s display as the drones settled into formation. “EDITH, keep me updated on the status of the illusion. Peter, that’s gonna be—”

 

He was cut off by the crash of the door slamming open, and Quentin felt his heart leap into his throat. He realized, rather too late, that they were defenseless in here (well, Peter wasn’t, but all the SHIELD agents had guns, and that rather outclassed being able to lift a car or stick to the ceiling). Was their plan over before it had even begun?

 

But it was Maria Hill who stepped through the door, lowering her gun once she saw that the room was clear. Her gaze lingered on Quentin and the glasses perched on his nose, but she didn’t mention it. “You two need to get a move on,” was the first thing she said.

 

“W-we’re trying,” Peter stuttered out, still shocked.

 

Hill glanced over her shoulder. “Yeah, well, I think things just got a little more urgent. Someone’s hacked into our system—I’m guessing it’s someone you know—and used emergency protocols to unlock every single door in this facility.”

 

“But that’s good, right?” Peter asked, sounding hopeful.

 

“Yes and no,” Hill said with a wry smile as she took a step closer to Quentin, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Hold still a second.”

 

Quentin stiffened, instinctively wanting to take a step back, but Hill was quick about it. She took out some kind of small round gadget, about the size of a keychain, and touched it to the collar around Quentin’s neck. The collar beeped, then unlocked with a click, allowing it to clatter to the floor.

 

She did the same thing for Peter, while Quentin stood there almost in disbelief, rubbing his neck absently.

 

“I advise that you be quick about getting out of here,” Hill told them. “There’s a group from Stark Industries here—some guy named Happy Hogan gave his credentials to get in—but they won’t be able to stay long before the hangar locks down.”

 

Peter’s eyes went wide. “Happy must have got my message,” he said breathlessly. “Mr. Beck, we gotta go!”

 

“You’re damn right we do,” Quentin agreed. He tapped the edge of the glasses again to see how the drones were doing. The illusion was nearly ready. “Let’s go, kid.” He moved toward the door.

 

“Be careful,” Hill said, looking him in the eyes. She held out the gun to him, hilt first, and Quentin stared at it in surprise.

 

“You sure about that? You could probably get in a lot of trouble for aiding and abetting fugitives,” Quentin pointed out, eyebrows raised.

 

“All our security systems are down. As far as anyone knows, this exchange never happened,” Hill responded smoothly. “Besides, there are more dangerous things than you in this prison.”

 

Quentin wasn’t sure whether to feel reassured by that or not. He nodded and accepted the offered weapon, its textured grip cool against his palm.

 

He glanced over at Peter, who was watching with wide eyes. “Showtime, kid.”

 

 

As they left the computer room, splitting off from Agent Hill, Peter realized he had no idea what the illusions were going to look like. Hill had given them some basic directions to the hangar, but he had a feeling actually getting there was going to be rather tricky.

 

Peter wished he had thought to ask what the illusions were beforehand, but there wasn’t time to explain now. Beck only said that it was complicated.

 

“Peter, just remember that whatever you see out there, it’s not real,” Beck was saying, his gaze serious. “Head for that hangar, and keep moving, no matter what.”

 

Peter hadn’t noticed how dark the corridors had gotten, how thickly the shadows had settled over them like a physical weight. When had the lights gone out?

 

“W-wait, you’re coming with me, right?” Peter asked, unable to keep the tremor out of his voice. 

 

“I’ll be there,” Beck assured him, and the gentle squeeze of Peter’s shoulder was the last touch he felt before Beck was withdrawing into the shadows with the ghost of a smile. “See you on the other side, kid.”

 

“Wait!” Peter called out with wide eyes, reaching for Beck, but his hand passed only through empty darkness.

 

Peter was alone. He looked around, realizing that he was alone in the dark, such a deep black that things like depth and width of the corridor seemed to evaporate. He was standing in a dark, quiet void, the sound of his own breathing loud in his ears.

 

There was some kind of diffuse light coming from somewhere, but Peter couldn’t figure out where. Greenish-gray fog seemed to drift through the corridor, swirling around Peter’s legs and obscuring what was in front and behind. It was so dark, and everything seemed strangely muffled, like the heavy darkness had insulated even the drafty echo of the prison.

 

“It’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not real,” he whispered to himself, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment.

 

Peter took a deep breath and let it out shakily, trying to ground himself like his therapist had taught him. He took a step forward, was reassured when the sound of his bare feet against the metal floor was audible to his ears. He just had to keep heading west until he reached the hangar. That was it.

 

Peter began to walk, then sped up to a jog. No matter how fast or slow he moved, things never seemed to pass by any faster. The fog remained the same, the darkness inscrutable. A cool, damp breeze seemed to sigh out of the west. It smelled like seawater and rusted metal.

 

That meant he was going the right way. Right?

 

Peter heard faint laughter coming from somewhere in the fog. He froze, head whipping from side to side as he listened intently. There were whispers, too, punctuated with that eerie faint laughter. He couldn’t tell whose voice it was, or what they were saying, but it sent chills up Peter’s spine.

 

The quiet laughter came again, closer this time, and Peter gasped, whirling around to face what he was sure was another person. But there was nothing there. Just more of the strange fog, not even a hint of a human shape.

 

“Hello?” Peter called out, hoping he sounded steadier than he felt at the moment. His heart was pounding, and he didn’t even know how far he’d gone. He kept walking, hoping that maybe something would become clearer. He hardly noticed the way the dark world seemed to shift and bend around him, taking him around corners and through corridors without him even realizing.

 

Peter’s feet splashed into a puddle, and he looked down in shock, realizing he was ankle-deep in water. He stared at it, watching the water ripple when he moved his feet, the way it ran over his skin in droplets. Was this part of the illusion, too? Could it really make him feel tactile sensations that weren’t real?

 

The thought was unsettling, especially when he thought about how much he didn’t know about Beck’s illusion technology. Just how powerful was it? To calm himself, Peter took a deep breath, reminded himself of what Beck had said. It wasn’t real. 

 

Peter kept walking. He had a sharp sense of direction, and to the best of his knowledge, he was still heading west. He jumped at the sound of gunfire in the distance, distant yelling and screaming, but he willed himself to ignore it. It wasn’t real. 

 

The footsteps that seemed to be right behind him? Those weren’t real, either. The sound of seemingly familiar voices calling out to him from somewhere in the fog? Just part of the illusion.

 

Even though Peter’s heart was pounding, he refused to look down at the mirror-like surface of the water and see the ghoulish reflections there, the grinning bodies and things reaching up to grab at his own reflection. His feet splashed in the water with every step, and soon Peter was running, running, running, trying to outrun the whispers of things that seemed to grab at him from the fog.

 

Peter turned a corner. He had to be getting close, right? The sound of distant gunfire and shouting voices was almost like the din of the old war movies Uncle Ben had liked to watch sometimes when Peter was little. It reminded him of grim-faced soldiers in dirty green uniforms, faces smeared with mud and blood, eyes haunted. Reminded him of eyes in the dark peering between trees, the air heavy with smoke and gunpowder and humidity. 

 

Even though Peter knew, objectively, that all this wasn’t real and that it was just some kind of projection, it still felt claustrophobically realistic. Like in a nightmare, when you knew you were dreaming, but that didn’t make it any less scary. 

 

Then the darkness shifted into something else: a city in ruins, or perhaps the rubble of some ancient monument. There were boulders and weather-worn chunks of smashed statues everywhere, some in puddles of briny water, others slick with moss and mold.

 

Peter gulped, carefully clambered over a piece of a fallen statue, something like the Greek figures he had seen in history textbooks and museums. He jumped down on the other side, feet splashing into another cold puddle, and froze as an all-too-familiar chill went up his spine, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end.

 

Peter’s breath caught in his throat as he heard something move out there in the dark. 

 

 

The illusion was working perfectly. Well, not perfectly, but it was working as well as it could be expected to, under the circumstances. Normally, Quentin would have never tried to pull a stunt like this with the illusions not properly optimized, the drones not fully updated and tweaked to perfection, but he didn’t have much of a choice here. He was doing the best with what he had, and it seemed to be working so far.

 

The illusions were functioning as intended, at least. Quentin hadn’t run into a single other person who had been able to see him beyond the projections (having EDITH and a couple drones to render him essentially invisible was a godsend). Despite a couple glitches and some depth mismatch issues with the image and the environment, no one seemed to have caught on yet.

 

“EDITH, give me an update on Peter’s position,” Quentin said, keeping his voice down despite the fact that he was ostensibly alone.

 

“Peter is currently headed northwest, on track towards the main hangar bay,” EDITH supplied helpfully, marking Peter’s position on the map of the prison superimposed over the AR interface with a blinking red dot. 

 

“Good,” Quentin said with a nod. “Make sure he keeps at it.” He did feel a bit bad about leaving Peter to fend for himself—he knew the kid would be scared, but Peter had a good head on his shoulders. He was a capable kid, and Quentin knew Peter could find his way to the hangar on his own.

 

It was unfortunate that Peter would have to experience the illusions as well, but killing the projections in just one part of the map would mean that anyone could stumble out of the illusion and realize it was all fake. And then it would all be over. But Peter had a knack for these things. He could find his way through.

 

Besides, Quentin had to keep things running smoothly with the more complex illusions. This particular sequence wasn’t really designed to be used in an enclosed space like this, so it required some tweaking to keep it believable. Quentin could do that easily enough with EDITH—adjusting lighting, color saturation, size and dimension of certain holographic objects—but he had to be in range to do so. 

 

It was a balancing act, staying close enough to the illusions to monitor their progress while at the same time keeping himself behind the curtain, so to speak. While he had yet to run into anything he couldn’t handle, Quentin hadn’t forgotten what Hill said about there being more dangerous things than him in this prison. And now they were all running free, no locked doors between them and the world. It was only a matter of time before someone or something truly nasty stumbled out or broke free of the illusions, and Quentin was very much hoping to be out of here before that happened.

 

Even though he was cloaked by the two drones accompanying him, Quentin still felt rather exposed in the middle of the mostly empty corridor. If it came down to it, the gun shoved in his waistband had six rounds in the clip, one in the chamber. Quentin was a pretty good shot, but he wasn’t eager to put those skills to the test. At least, not here.

 

As he was rounding the corner of yet another turn in the mazelike halls, bare feet nearly soundless against the floor, EDITH’s voice startled him.

 

“Quentin, I am picking up an incoming radio signal, transmitting on all frequencies.”

 

Quentin swore quietly, pressing his back up against the wall and sighing. Fucking hell, he was jumpy. He frowned slightly as he processed EDITH’s message. Who would be sending radio comm signals on all frequencies? Maybe that Happy guy was trying to get in touch with Peter?

 

“Alright, honey, play the transmission,” Quentin said after a brief pause, keeping an eye on the drone position mapping in the corner of the HUD.

 

There was a crackle of static for a moment, then the message became audible. “—on all frequencies. Quentin, do you read me, brother? We’re here, but you gotta come to us. We can’t get a bead on your position. I repeat, do you read me?”

 

Quentin’s eyes went wide as he recognized William’s voice speaking urgently over the comm. His team was here? That was… entirely unexpected, and for a moment Quentin could barely believe it. His team had come to the Raft, of all places, to rescue him…? He had a lot of questions, but mentally filed them away for later. 

 

“EDITH, patch me through on any one of those frequencies,” he said urgently, and EDITH, bless her metaphorical AI heart, did so without hesitation.

 

“William, it’s Quentin. Can you hear me?”

 

“Quentin? Oh, thank fuck,” William’s voice said, clearly relieved, and the sounds of faint cheering came from the background. “We’re waiting in the hangar, but there’s not much time. All the doors in this place should be unlocked. Can you get to us?”

 

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Quentin said quickly, already formulating the quickest route to the hangar from his current position. “But there’s something else, too. Listen to me carefully. Peter Parker is headed toward your position now. You do not leave without him, got it?”

 

“The Parker kid?” William repeated, sounding surprised. “Yeah, we planned on that. Some guy, Happy Hogan, he’s making sure we get the kid, too.”

 

So Peter’s contact had come through, after all. Good to hear, but Quentin never went anywhere without a contingency plan. 

 

“Good. I’m kind of winging it at this point, but just trust me, okay?” Quentin said. He had been in the process of coming up with a failsafe for this operation, and given that even this sort of trick could only fool Nick Fury for so long, Quentin knew he might have to put it to use. “Make sure the kid’s safe.”

 

“We’ll take care of him,” William affirmed. There was a brief pause. “We all trust you. Just get out of there ASAP, okay? We’re not taking fire yet, but I’m guessing we don’t have much time.”

 

“I’ll do what I can.” Quentin heard faint shouts coming from further down the hall, realized he might have to make some adjustments to the plan. “Look, I’ve gotta go, but I’m on my way. I’ve got a plan.”

 

“Copy. See you soon, brother.”

 

 

HE KNOWS WE ARE HERE, rumbled a gravelly bass tone, low and sibilant, as though hissing through many teeth. It sounded almost… amused. CLEVER THING, ISN’T HE, EDDIE?

 

Peter froze. He didn’t know who Eddie was, but this… whatever this was, his instincts were screaming at him to get away from it.

 

“It’s not real,” he repeated to himself, quietly, fists clenched at his sides. “It’s not real, you’re not real…”

 

The sound of claws on metal, grating and groaning as it supported something heavy , certainly sounded real. 

 

WE ARE AS REAL AS YOU ARE, it said, and Peter imagined it grinning. He didn’t know why he was thinking of this person as an ‘it,’ given that it was probably some other superpowered criminal previously trapped in the depths of the Raft, but something about it seemed… monstrous. Inhuman.

 

Peter didn’t know whether to believe the voice or not. He knew that he should keep going, that he should shut his ears to this strange voice and just run, but some part of him, some animal instinct warned him that if he ran, this thing would only chase.

 

“What do you want?” Peter asked, trying to sound forceful. He looked around, able to see nothing beyond the craggy ruins and the fog that seemed to permeate everything. 

 

WE ARE HUNGRY, said the strange deep voice, breathy as though with desire. WE WANT… It paused a moment and almost… whined? DON’T BE SO MEAN, EDDIE. NOT GOING TO EAT HIM. BUT HE SMELLS GOOD. MAYBE JUST A BITE… Another dissatisfied growl, like the thing was arguing with itself, somewhere inside. FINE. YOU’RE NO FUN.

 

Peter looked around, confused. “W-what?”

 

NOT TALKING TO YOU, said the voice, almost petulantly. 

 

The darkness seemed to shift, and Peter ducked behind one of the fallen statues on instinct, heart leaping into his throat. Even if this wasn’t real, it felt too close, too real for him to ignore his instincts. 

 

A few moments went by in silence, punctuated only by the drip of water and the scrape of claws against stone.

 

YOUR SCENT IS FAMILIAR. YOU MUST BE THE LITTLE SPIDER BOY, rumbled that deep voice—something distinctly, terrifyingly inhuman. EDDIE AND I HAVE HEARD OF YOU. COME CLOSER, LET US SEE YOU IN THE LIGHT…

 

Its heavy footsteps were getting closer, splashing in the puddles of briny water. Peter could smell iron and ozone, hearing something trickling like liquid but thick and sticky, as though rearranging itself. He couldn’t picture what it looked like, but he didn’t want to. He desperately wished he had his webshooters, wished he had thought to grab them when he was retrieving EDITH.

 

Just when Peter thought he would have to stand and fight or run, the ground suddenly split open with a tremendous crash, and a monstrous cry echoed off the walls as hellish light spilled from the gash in the ground.

 

The massive lava monster was dragging itself out of the ground, roaring as its molten limbs grasped at rock and metal, melting through both with a hiss and bubble of steam. The heat rolling off the thing was immense, the smell of smoke and brimstone enough to make Peter cough. 

 

He scrambled away from the Elemental monster, whose flaming touch was melting the fallen statues into molten rock as it dragged itself up from the depths. There was a horrible high-pitched shriek from somewhere, a hiss of defeated rage, but Peter didn’t have time to think about it.

 

He cried out in surprise and terror as he ran from the crumbling ground and spreading lava, heart pounding. Even though he knew that it wasn’t real, that even the first time he’d fought this particular monster, it wasn’t real, it was still terrifying. It felt so incredibly real, from the heat of the flames to the rumbling of the ground, that Peter needed no further encouragement to keep running.

 

He turned a couple corners, the surface of the corridor slowly evening out, and the monster was left behind, as though he had somehow slipped into another world. This one was quieter, a bit lighter, though the shadows and greenish-gray fog still obscured the details of everything. 

 

Peter came to a stop, panting. He listened carefully, realizing there were voices this time. They sounded… familiar, almost. 

 

“Peter!” one of them called out.

 

“This way!” said another.

 

“Can you hear me? Kid, come on!”

 

They seemed to be getting closer. Peter looked desperately around him, searching for some kind of landmark. Was he nearing the end of the tunnel?

 

“Hello?” he called out. “Where are you?! Please, where are you…?”

 

Peter’s breath was coming in short, shallow inhales, and he felt the familiar constriction of panic in his chest. “Happy? Is that you?” He looked around again, desperate for a sign of anything familiar. “Ned? Aunt May? M-Mr. Beck…? Anyone…?”

 

Peter felt pulled taut inside, like he was going to break apart from the tension in his body like a coiled spring. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle for a split second before an explosion seemed to rock the whole world on its axis with a sickening lurch.

 

Peter spilled unceremoniously onto the solid surface of the floor, like he was being dumped out of a glass, and suddenly the world was brightly lit again, and everything was so loud and so close that he couldn’t process it all.

 

His ears were ringing, and he was lying on the floor of the corridor that led to the hangar. There were drones in the air, most of them badly damaged, and the Raft’s guards were shooting at the nimble machines with guns and hand grenades. The illusion had been broken, the drones’ projector arrays cracked and sparking. The drones were still weapons-capable, though, and they were firing back in a barrage of bullets.

 

Peter picked himself up off the floor, panting, ignoring the blood dripping from a cut on his forehead. The hangar door was opening, slowly—someone had hit the button to open it, and beyond he could see the quinjet not a hundred yards away, emblazoned with the Stark Industries logo.

 

He could make the distance. At a sprint, it wouldn’t take more than a minute or so. 

 

Peter’s heartbeat was pounding in his ears, so loud that he didn’t even register the sound of the shot that tore through his leg, a stray bullet from one of the guards or maybe a drone, he didn’t know.

 

Peter’s leg buckled underneath him almost immediately, and he hit the floor hard, gasping as the pain hit him a second later. It was a hot, searing pain, and he let out a choked cry as a wave of agony bloomed from the wound, a hole straight through the middle of his thigh, seeming to radiate up and out like the bloom of crimson blood that was quickly staining the blue of his pant leg. 

 

Peter could only lie there, gasping for breath, feeling like he couldn’t get enough air in his lungs as he stared at the wound in shock. He’d never been shot before. Well, not like this. He’d been grazed by a couple bullets on patrol before, had a few run-ins with knives and stepped on some nails, but none of it came close to this. It hadn’t hit bone, or at least Peter thought it hadn’t. The meat of his thigh was an absolute mess, a hole the size of the pad of his thumb leaking thick pulses of dark red blood.

 

There was so much blood, soaking the leg of his pants and pooling on the floor in a slowly spreading puddle. Peter’s shaking hands were covered in blood, somehow, but he couldn’t even touch the wound without crying out in pain. Oh god, it hurt, it hurt so much, he couldn’t think about anything else. He felt dizzy, his hands trembling, the world distant and unreal in the wake of the shock.

 

He barely noticed that the drones were disabled now, their weapons non-functional. The shooting had stopped at some point, and Peter was just now noticing the absence of bullets flying. The guards were off to the side, securing the hallway junctions, but in the center of the corridor, holding a smoking .357 Magnum in one hand, was Fury.

 

“I’ll admit, I’m impressed,” Fury said, gesturing with the gun. “This is a hell of a stunt you pulled. But it ends now, Parker.”

 

He started to take another step forward, towards Peter, but the familiar metallic click of a loaded gun stopped him in his tracks.

 

Beck was suddenly standing directly to Fury’s left, no longer cloaked by two previously unseen drones, holding the gun pointed at the man’s temple. “I don’t think so.”

 

Fury actually chuckled. He made no move to drop his gun, though. “You sure you know what you’re doing there, Beck?”

 

Beck’s thumb pulled the hammer back on the gun with an ominous click. He raised an eyebrow, the blue of his left eye glinting behind the EDITH glasses. “You want to find out?”

 

“Don’t,” Peter blurted out, almost without meaning to, but the desperation in his voice surprised even himself. He didn’t want anyone else to get hurt. He was tired of hurting. Tired of fighting.

 

Both Beck and Fury looked at Peter, surprised. 

 

“I j-just want to go home,” Peter managed, his voice unsteady.

 

He noticed that Happy had appeared in the entranceway, near the edge of the now-open hangar door. With him were a couple unfamiliar people, but Peter barely noticed them. All he knew was that Happy was there, and the relief was so powerful that Peter felt lightheaded with it. Although, that could have been the blood loss, too. 

 

"Peter, let's go!" Happy called out urgently. "Pepper's holding the door for us, but we don't have much time!"

 

Peter was less than ten feet from the hangar door. He could make it, if he could just make himself get up…

 

“Go on, Peter,” Beck said, glancing over his shoulder. Then his gaze returned to Fury, still held at gunpoint. “I’ll take care of our loose ends.”

 

What happened next was almost a blur.

 

Beck’s finger moved to the trigger.

 

The gunshot that rang out was deafening, and Peter flinched away on instinct—eyes closed, ears ringing with a tinny, high-pitched sound that seemed to drown out everything else.

 

When Peter opened his eyes again, Fury was still standing, and in his hand the barrel of his gun was smoking. For a moment Peter was confused, unsure of what had happened.

 

Quentin staggered back a step, and the gun slipped from his hand, clattering to the floor. His expression was one of distant surprise as he looked down and saw the dark bloodstain spreading rapidly across his abdomen. His eyes were wide behind the glasses, which were slipping down his nose. 

 

Quentin pressed a hand to his stomach, staring as though in disbelief at the red that was soaking his hand and his clothes, dripping scarlet onto the floor.

 

Distantly, Peter heard someone screaming and realized it was himself, incoherently crying out as he tried to stand, slipping in the puddle of his own blood. His vision blurred with tears, pain stealing his breath away. There were more gunshots pinging off the walls now, from the guards who were shooting at the quinjet, Fury giving orders Peter couldn’t hear.

 

All Peter could focus on was Quentin, who fell to the ground, clutching at his bleeding abdomen as his expression twisted with pain. The glasses skittered across the floor, and Fury stopped them with the edge of his boot, standing over Quentin’s bleeding form with an inscrutable expression.

 

Peter could barely support his own weight, his leg searing with pain and the hot pulse of blood from the wound, but it felt distant and unimportant at the moment as he tried to lunge forward with single-minded determination. He had to get to Quentin, had to help him. Some part of him realized he was screaming, begging Quentin to get up, please, please—  

 

A pair of strong arms wrapped around him from behind, and Peter fought the hold with everything he had—which was admittedly not much, weak as he was from shock and pain and blood loss, shaking with sobs. Distantly, he recognized Happy’s voice, even as blackness lapped at the edges of his vision, but he didn’t care. This was Titan, this was 110th street on an average night four years ago, this was everything Peter had nightmares about that would never end. This was another nightmare, and he couldn’t stop it from playing out right in front of him.

 

Quentin was looking at Peter from where he lay bleeding on the ground, curled loosely onto his side, one hand pressed weakly over the wound in his belly. He was pale and dazed-looking in the way people were when they were close to death. Peter had seen it before. He wasn’t getting up, wasn’t even trying. Instead he just looked at Peter with those glassy blue and brown eyes, blood leaking from the corner of his mouth even as he gave a faint smile.

 

Peter was vaguely aware that he was screaming, crying out hoarsely in raw pain and grief even as Happy pulled him to safety through the doors of the hangar, away from the bullets and the blood. The quinjet’s rotors were already roaring as they prepared to take off, drowning out everything else, even Happy’s voice in Peter’s ear. Then they were inside the craft; there were people crowding around Peter, just a murmur of distant voices and the gleam of concerned eyes. 

 

He could smell the metallic scent of blood, so much blood. 

 

Happy was holding him, why would Happy be holding Peter, he was going to get blood all over his nice suit, why were they here and not going back for Quentin, so much blood, why was there so much blood and why did it hurt ...

 

When Peter finally slipped into unconsciousness, either from the shock or the pain or maybe both, his last coherent thought was of Quentin’s bloodstained smile.

Chapter Text

Peter was awoken by the dull throb of pain from his leg, the insistent ache pulling him from sleep. It was dark, wherever he was. Quiet. He only noticed because he’d become so used to the drone of white lights even from behind his closed eyelids, and sleeping in darkness again was an animal sort of comfort. Peter was tired, so very tired. He almost wished he could simply drift off to sleep again, but something in the back of his mind was telling him to wake up.

 

The air smelled cool and musty, slightly damp, like there was water nearby. Nothing like the sharp caustic smell of the lab, or the dry antiseptic air of the hospital wing. Peter managed to open his eyes after a moment, looking around.

 

He realized he was lying in a bed— not a scratchy hospital bed, not a bare mattress on the floor, but a real bed, with sheets and a pillow and a blanket. The frame was low to the ground, a bit creaky and probably old, but it was a real bed nonetheless. A light blanket had been pulled up to his chest. It wasn’t his bed at home in his aunt’s apartment, but it felt… safe.

 

There was a familiar figure sitting in a folding lawn chair set up next to the bed, illuminated by the washed-out blue light of a phone screen, and Peter felt a wave of relief as he recognized Happy.

 

Happy looked surprised to see Peter awake, but he gave a small, awkward smile all the same, clearly relieved. “Hey, Pete. Didn’t think I’d see you awake so soon,” he said, keeping his voice low. It must have been the middle of the night, judging from the weak, pale light bleeding in from a cloudy frosted window high up on the wall. “How you feeling?”

 

Peter struggled to sit up, wincing when pain shot through his left leg at the slightest contraction of those muscles. “Um, okay, I guess. Sorta hurts,” he said, finding his voice scratchy. He swallowed, then rubbed at his sleep-mussed hair. 

 

He realized he was no longer wearing the bloodstained blue scrubs from the day before. He’d been dressed in a loose-fitting cream-colored henley a couple sizes too big, the sleeves long enough to cover his hands. He didn’t recognize the garment, but it smelled of laundry soap and another, familiar scent, one he’d come to associate with…

 

Peter’s eyes went wide, and he felt like he’d been punched in the stomach as he suddenly remembered the sequence of events that had led up to this. The escape. The illusions, the monsters and the voices, and the last stand against Fury… Peter remembered getting shot, remembered blood and pain and… oh god, Quentin…

 

The look on Peter’s face must have been one of pain, because Happy gave him a sympathetic glance. “Yeah, I thought you might wake up a little achy. We don’t exactly have any painkillers laying around, and they probably wouldn’t work on you anyway.”

 

Peter’s throat felt tight, something inside him aching with more than just the pain of his wounds. “Happy…” He felt his eyes start to sting with tears. “Mr. Beck, he’s… I-I couldn’t…” He couldn’t even finish his sentences, almost unable to wrap his mind around the idea.

 

Happy looked surprised for a moment, then his expression turned sympathetic again. He put a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Pete, hey, listen to me,” he began gently. “It’s okay.”

 

“No, it’s not,” Peter croaked, his voice thick with grief. He wished he were still asleep, if only so he could go back to being blissfully unaware.

 

There was a creak from the door, and a mild-looking, bespectacled man with a graying mustache peered carefully into the room. The man looked as surprised as Peter did, and he ducked out a second later.

 

“Uh, the kid’s awake,” the man called out to the people who Peter could now hear talking faintly in the next room. 

 

Peter was confused. He was about to ask what was going on, where exactly they were, but all the questions in his mind were immediately forgotten when he saw the familiar figure now standing in the doorway.

 

For a moment he could only stare with wide eyes, hardly daring to breathe. “Are you real?” was the first thing out of his mouth—quiet, breathless, desperately hopeful. “Is… is it really you?” 

 

From where he was leaning against the doorframe, Quentin smiled. He looked tired and disheveled, dressed in a loose long-sleeved shirt and a pair of sweatpants, but he was there all the same. He gestured briefly with his palms out, inviting. “In the flesh, kid.”

 

Peter got up from the bed with no hesitation despite Happy’s protests, seized with the need to know for sure, to know that his eyes weren’t deceiving him. His leg buckled beneath him after only a few wobbly, painful steps, but then Quentin was there to catch him, and all Peter could do was hold on, wrapping his arms tightly around Quentin.

 

Peter buried his face in Quentin’s chest and sobbed, overwhelmed with emotion. He wanted to lose himself in the warmth of Quentin’s embrace, the feeling of those strong arms around him and the way Quentin’s hand was gently stroking his hair.

 

“M-Mr. Beck—Quentin, I, I was s-so scared ,” Peter hiccuped, knowing he was babbling but unable to make himself stop, remembering the heart-stopping grief and terror he had felt in the heat of their escape. “I-I saw you get shot and I… I thought…”

 

“Hey, what’s with the theatrics?” Quentin teased gently, trying to lighten the mood. He smiled. “That’s my job. Master of illusions, remember? I had to make it convincing.” 

 

Peter let out a breathy laugh that was halfway to being a sob, eyes still teary. He felt wobbly, fragile, both inside and out, but Quentin’s solid warmth was a comforting reminder that this was real. This was real, and they had made it out. The nightmare was over.

 

Overwhelmed with emotion, Peter couldn’t do anything but cling to Quentin and sniffle in between shuddering breaths, while Quentin gently rubbed his back.

 

“Hey, let’s get you back to bed,” Quentin was saying softly, and Peter realized only then how dizzy and weak he felt. Probably the blood loss, he thought as Quentin gently guided him back to the bed, supporting most of Peter’s weight. “Even with your whole super-healing thing, you’ve gotta rest for a couple days. You bled pretty badly for a while.”

 

Peter let Quentin lay him down on the bed, unable to find it in him to protest with how drained he suddenly felt, still dizzy and tired. “But you… you got shot,” he said weakly, still confused.

 

“All part of the illusion,” Quentin assured him, sitting on the edge of the bed. At Peter’s worried, somewhat skeptical frown, he lifted up his shirt to show Peter. His ribs were still bruised, but nothing worse than that. “See? I’m alright, kid.”

 

Happy was hovering anxiously next to the two of them, clearly concerned, but with no experience in this sort of thing, he didn’t know what else to do. His phone rang just then, startling all three of them in the quiet of the room, and Happy winced as he looked at the caller ID.

 

“I gotta take this,” he said with an apologetic glance at Peter. “You gonna be okay if I leave you here for a little bit, Peter?”

 

Peter gave a little nod, smiling faintly. “‘M okay, Happy. Thanks.”

 

Happy hurried out of the room to answer the phone, leaving Peter and Quentin alone.

 

“Where are we?” Peter asked after a pause, glancing around the darkened room, with its dusty mismatched furniture and lack of other fixtures.

 

“My team’s domestic base of operations,” Quentin said with such easy confidence that Peter half-expected a secret door to open up to a high-tech weapons cache, like something out of a Bond film. 

 

At the wide-eyed look on Peter’s face, Quentin chuckled. “Well, actually it’s an abandoned warehouse in Queens, but my point still stands. Not even SHIELD would think to look for us in a place like this.”

 

“Wow. I guess not,” Peter said after a moment. His head still felt fuzzy, the dull but insistent pain clouding his thoughts. He was still trying to process all that had happened.

 

“Probably not as fancy as what you’re used to, but you’ll be safe here for the moment,” Quentin said as he ruffled Peter’s already messy hair. 

 

Peter couldn’t help but lean into the touch. It helped reassure him that this was real. He smiled. “Definitely bigger than my aunt’s apartment. Kinda nice, actually.”

 

Peter was pretty sure that even Aunt May’s apartment was going to feel spacious after spending so much time cooped up in an eight by ten foot cell. The high ceilings and weirdly spacious divisions of the warehouse space seemed huge and almost intimidating.

 

“You should get some rest, kid,” Quentin suggested softly. There wasn’t a mirror around, but Peter knew he must look terrible. It had been a long day, so to speak. 

 

There were shadows beneath Quentin’s mismatched eyes, a mirror of Peter’s own, and Peter wondered if he had slept at all since the escape.

 

“Stay with me?” Peter asked after a moment in a small voice. It had been a rollercoaster of a day—night, whatever. His nerves were frayed, and he wanted the comfort of someone familiar close by. “You look like you could use some sleep, too.”

 

Quentin looked vaguely uncertain for a moment, like he was somehow surprised that Peter still wanted him around, but it only lasted a split second. “You might be right about that,” he admitted. “How’re you feeling?”

 

“Hurts,” Peter said with a grimace, too tired to pretend otherwise. “Getting shot sucks.” He wasn’t sure it had fully sunk in yet, but the pain had dulled everything else to the point where Peter wanted something to numb it, just so he could stop thinking about it for a while.

 

Quentin gave a wry smile. “You can say that again. Hold on a second, I’ll see if I can find something to help with that.” He got up and disappeared into the next room, and Peter felt a vague flicker of anxiety.

 

But Quentin returned promptly, holding two glasses filled a quarter full with amber liquid. He sat on the edge of the bed and handed one to Peter. “Here. This ought to help.”

 

Peter eyed the glass with some trepidation. “What is this?” He brought it to his nose and smelled the sharpness of alcohol, surprised. He glanced at Quentin, suddenly shy. “I… I’m not twenty-one.”

 

“Peter, you’ve more than earned it. Don’t worry about it.” Quentin drained his own glass in a couple swallows. Peter thought he made it look easy.

 

Peter took a cautious sip and made a face as soon as the liquid hit his tongue, bitter and sharp and distinctly unpleasant. He had to force himself to swallow, and it burned all the way down his throat to his stomach, enough to make his eyes water. This was nothing like the time he’d had a sip of a wine cooler at Flash’s party! 

 

Peter coughed, feeling his throat burn. “That’s awful! What the hell is it?”

 

Quentin laughed. “Scotch. Maybe I should have started you off with something a little easier.”

 

“I can handle it,” Peter said immediately, his competitive nature getting the better of him. He took another sip, and it was easier now that he was prepared for it. It still burned all the way down, but there was a warmth settling in his stomach that was almost… pleasant. 

 

“Now you’re getting the hang of it,” Quentin said with a grin. 

 

“Not like it’ll really affect me, anyways,” Peter said, almost proud. If he tried, he could probably drink most average people under the table with his enhanced metabolism. Or at least, that was the theory he and Ned had come up with. Peter had never actually tried more than a sip of alcohol before. 

 

Quentin looked amused. “Give it a few minutes.”

 

And indeed, after a few minutes passed, as he drained the glass with slow sips, Peter started to feel warm and sleepy. “Oh,” he said finally. “Oh.” A pleasant haze had settled over his mind, just enough for him to feel… relaxed. The pain of his leg didn’t seem as intense now, and he felt like he could just drop off to sleep.

 

“‘M tired,” Peter said, blinking his heavy eyelids.

 

Quentin took the empty glass from Peter’s hands and set it on the floor next to the bed. “Get some sleep, kid,” he said softly, ruffling Peter’s hair. 

 

“Stay,” Peter insisted, again. He smiled as he flopped back, the mattress squeaking quietly underneath him. “Bed’s big enough for both of us this time.”

 

“Can’t argue with that,” Quentin said as he laid down on his side next to Peter, practically ready to nod off the second he was horizontal. 

 

Peter pulled the blanket up over the both of them. Despite the fact that there was enough room for them both to have a bit of space, Peter squirmed closer to Quentin, curling up so that his back was pressed up against Quentin’s chest. The place was pretty drafty, cool despite the fact that it was summertime, and the warmth of Quentin’s body pressed up against his own was warm and solid and reassuringly real. Quentin draped an arm across Peter’s middle in return, quietly protective. The closeness was familiar, comforting, and this time Peter could drift off to sleep knowing that they were both safe and sound. 

 

 

“You can’t tell me, or you won’t?” May’s voice was sharp, taut with worry and an edge of anger. 

 

Happy cringed to hear it, even on the other end of the phone call. “I—I know it’s tough, May, but this is for Peter’s own safety,” he tried to explain. “We’ve gotta lay low for a bit. SHIELD has eyes everywhere, and your apartment is probably the first place they’ll be watching. It’s safer if you, uh, don’t know for now.”

 

“Harold Hogan, that is my nephew you just rescued, and I am going to see him,” May said with the unyielding fierceness of a mother’s love for her son. “I swear I will drive all over this city until I find where you guys are hiding out.”

 

“Jesus, May, please don’t do that,” Happy said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “You won’t be able to find the place, anyway.” It was true. The empty warehouse that Team Mysterio had claimed as their HQ was cloaked by their fleet of drones to appear like just another abandoned building from the outside. No one would be able to tell from outside that anyone was there. And as much as Happy hated to deny May the opportunity to see Peter, he had to agree with Team Mysterio when they pointed out that keeping a low profile was very important, at least for now. Peter and Beck were now fugitives from the law, technically speaking, and everyone on the team was now guilty of aiding and abetting. 

 

It was a delicate situation, and adding more variables into the mix was just not a risk they could afford to take at the moment. Especially not with Peter hurt. SHIELD had eyes everywhere; they couldn’t even take Peter to a hospital without risking recapture. It was a good thing Janice had been an ER nurse for twelve years. She was the one who had patched up Peter in the aftermath, shooing everyone else away despite Happy’s many concerns about just what the hell had happened to Peter (well, prior to him getting shot.)

 

May sighed shakily, and she sounded like she was holding back tears. “At least tell me he’s okay,” she said, almost pleading.

 

Happy felt a twinge of guilt. “He—he’s fine, May. Right now he’s just resting, or I’d let you talk to him,” he said apologetically. He felt terrible about lying to her, but in this case it seemed a small mercy to omit the fact that Peter was currently recovering from a serious gunshot wound, sleeping in a drafty repurposed storage area in an abandoned building. 

 

Pepper had offered to house all of them in Stark Tower, which was of course better equipped for situations like this, but that was even more conspicuous than Peter’s apartment. It was just too risky.

 

“When can I see him?” May asked, almost desperately. 

 

“I don’t know,” Happy admitted. “A-a couple days, maybe?” He really wasn’t sure of the timeline, or if Peter would have to be a fugitive indefinitely or if Pepper could somehow smooth this over with Fury and SHIELD. There were so many variables, so many uncertainties that it was impossible to say for sure just yet.

 

“I’ll hold you to that,” May warned him. “I’ve got two teenagers sleeping on my couch who have done nothing but ask about their best friend since Ned helped do that whole hacking thing.” 

 

“It’ll be soon,” Happy assured her, and he hoped it was true. “Get some sleep, okay, May?” It was close to three in the morning at this point, and while they had only been back in the city for maybe four hours, he knew that no one involved in the operation had done much sleeping in that time. 

 

“I’ll try,” May said quietly, in a way that told Happy that she wouldn’t sleep soundly until she could hold Peter in her arms again. “Bye, Hap. Keep me updated.”

 

“Sure thing. Night, May.” Happy ended the call and sighed. He wasn’t looking forward to stalling May and Ned and MJ indefinitely; all they wanted to do was make sure Peter was okay, but it was safer right now if they didn’t have any contact with him.

 

Now, he had other issues to deal with. Namely, one Quentin Beck and his gang of surprisingly well-organized followers. Finding out that the man behind the mask of Mysterio was none other than the guy who’d been fired by Tony years ago for “causing a disturbance,” as the HR report had put it, had nearly given Happy whiplash. The way Tony had described it (something along the lines of Beck being “cuckoo as a bowl of Cocoa Puffs with added megalomaniacal aspirations”) was less polite. 

 

But Happy had only actually met Beck once or twice. And now? Well, he was certainly a genius, if all this was anything to go by, but he didn’t seem like the unhinged madman that Tony had made him out to be when he justified firing Beck and claiming the rights to his tech. 

 

Happy sighed. This was all too much to think about, all at once. One thing at a time, he decided. First order of business was to make sure Peter stayed safe, and to get him home. That was the important thing. He could deal with the other stuff—the fallout with SHIELD, the fact that Mysterio apparently did not actually have powers—at another time. The goddamn sun was probably due to come up soon, and he needed to go home and get some sleep.

 

He shoved his phone back in his pocket, exiting what had once been some kind of office in the warehouse. It didn’t echo so much in there, so it was a better place to make a phone call than the big empty space where Team Mysterio had set up most of their equipment. He made his way back to the door at the other end of the floor, closed off from the main area. This was where Peter was resting, the door ajar only an inch or so.

 

Happy knocked quietly on the door. “Pete? You still awake?” he asked softly.

 

When there was no response, he peeked into the room and was gratified to see that Peter was sound asleep, curled up with his back against Beck’s chest. They both appeared to be asleep, actually. Happy couldn’t say it wasn’t an odd sight, but he could admit he didn’t have the whole story. All he knew was that Peter had apparently fought alongside Beck against some monsters in Europe, but as for what happened with the two of them in the Raft… Well, Happy wasn’t sure he wanted to know. Either way, he had gotten the hint that Beck was someone very important to Peter.

 

Even though Happy had been told in advance that Beck’s dramatic ‘death’ was an illusion to buy time, it was still unsettling to watch. And the way Peter had cried out so brokenly for Beck during the escape… Peter hadn’t known, and dragging the kid away as he screamed in raw grief was one of the hardest things Happy had ever done. 

 

“He never wanted the kid to get hurt, y’know,” said Valerie quietly, from where she was sitting at a repurposed workbench with a laptop balanced on top of a stack of other equipment. She had helped Janice patch up both Peter and Beck, so she knew how bad they’d both had it. “He—well, none of us thought that something… something like this would happen.”

 

“I believe you,” Happy said after a moment. That much wasn’t a lie. He didn’t think that any of this disaster had been intentional. 

 

Why Peter had latched onto Beck of all people, Happy would probably never know. He still wasn’t sure it was exactly a good idea. But he did know that Beck’s people had helped rescue Peter, and it was Beck who kept Peter safe in that place. That was enough to make him think that maybe Beck wasn’t so bad. 

 

“We were trying to do something good,” Valerie continued softly. “That’s the reason we all follow Quentin.” She smiled faintly. “But you know what they say about even the best-laid plans.”

 

“Yeah,” Happy said with an awkward chuckle. “I know what you mean. But I mean, I don’t doubt what you’re saying. Peter, he’s always trying to do something good. I don’t think he’s capable of doing anything else.”

 

It was hard to know who to trust these days. But as much as he gave Peter a hard time, the kid had a sense for these types of things, and he had a good heart. And if Peter trusted Beck… well, Happy could trust Peter, if nothing else.

Chapter Text

“Hold still,” Janice admonished.

 

“I’m trying,” Quentin grumbled, then hissed through his teeth when Janice pushed the needle through his skin again. It was morning now, light streaming in through the foggy windows high up in the warehouse’s walls. 

 

This was not Quentin’s ideal way to start the day, but now that he’d had a chance to shower and put on clean clothes and just generally feel like a human being again, Janice was cleaning and putting stitches in the worst of the wounds on his back. The half-healed wounds had apparently torn open again at some point, and washing off all the dried blood and sweat of the last few days had left them raw and bleeding again. 

 

And now, sitting on an empty workbench while Janice stood behind him and put in the tenth of what would likely be twenty or so stitches, Quentin couldn’t help but feel exposed.

 

He knew the wounds looked awful. He could see it in Janice’s expression, the way she frowned in concern and pursed her lips just slightly when he took off his shirt to let her look him over. Last night Quentin had insisted he was fine, and the team had been too tired and relieved to argue. Not to mention that patching up Peter had taken priority, since they couldn’t take the kid to a hospital, at least not without SHIELD catching wind of it. 

 

This morning, though, Janice had insisted on looking him over. She was a former ER nurse, so Quentin supposed it was no use trying to fool her.  

 

Quentin wasn’t exactly shy. And why would he be? He was in pretty good shape, and he knew it. Everyone on the team had seen him mostly naked at least a couple times—some of the earlier versions of the Mysterio costume had resulted in some truly spectacular wardrobe malfunctions during testing and rehearsal. None of them had actually asked him what happened just yet, but he could see the question in their eyes when they looked at the wounds on his back, the needle marks in his arms, the bruising on his ribs. 

 

“I really think you should go to the hospital, Quentin,” William said from where he was standing in the doorway, arms crossed and brows slightly furrowed above his glasses. 

 

“We have talked about this, William,” Quentin responded, a bit more sharply than he intended to as Janice completed another stitch. “I can’t go anywhere right now, because I’m currently a fugitive from the law, I’ve got the director of SHIELD out for my blood, and Mysterio is now considered a menace to the general public.” Okay, so maybe he shouldn’t snap at William over it, but he was still a little high-strung about this whole thing.

 

William raised his hands as though in surrender. “Alright, alright,” he said mildly, knowing better than to argue. He paused, as though deciding whether to continue. “But, uh, you’re wrong about that last one. The PR on Mysterio is honestly great right now.”

 

Quentin winced slightly as he felt the needle prick him again, doing his best to ignore it as Janice worked. He tried to focus on William’s words, blinking as he processed. “Wait, wait. What?”  

 

William gave a little smile. “You’re a hero, Quentin. Everyone’s wondering when Mysterio is gonna make another appearance. Hell, little monuments have popped up all over Europe for Mysterio, and Night Monkey too—there’s a ton of crazy conspiracy theories about how he’s Spider-Man, or Spider-Man’s evil twin, or some shit like that. But the point is that you and the kid are famous now. Everyone’s wondering where you two went, and when you’ll be seen again.”

 

Quentin hadn’t even thought about what all this looked like from the outside, what the people of the world were thinking now that Mysterio had seemingly dropped off the map after defeating the Elementals. 

 

SHIELD knew that it was all fake, but they’d be shooting themselves in the foot by revealing that to the world—who would believe them, after all this? And if it got out that SHIELD had imprisoned and tortured the hero Mysterio? Oh, the public would riot.

 

“Seriously, Mysterio’s been a trending hashtag for almost a week,” William said, pulling out his phone and opening up Twitter, then handing it to Quentin. “See for yourself.”

 

Quentin scrolled through the headlines from various news outlets: 

 

CNN

‘Man of mystery:’ Where did he come from, and where did he go?

 

ABC News

Mysterio: The hero this world needs?

 

BBC News

BREAKING: Thousands flock to impromptu monuments to heroes Mysterio and Night Monkey in Europe after disasters

 

BBC International

Mysterio and Night Monkey: Where are they now?

 

Staring at the flood of news articles and hashtags and photos all over, Quentin couldn’t help but be a little overwhelmed as he passed the phone back to William. “It… it worked?” He almost couldn’t believe it.

 

“It worked,” William affirmed. He sounded maybe a bit proud of that. “We couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

 

And all it took was five years of planning and preparation, two weeks in Europe, and a couple near-death experiences in a secret SHIELD prison, along with enough torture to fuel Quentin’s nightmares for the rest of his life. Not to mention the scars undoubtedly left on Peter’s psyche, too. A terrible price, for certain, one that he and Peter had both paid in blood. Now the question remained: was it worth it?

 

Quentin hoped so.

 

— 

 

Peter was starting to get restless. He wasn’t good at sitting still for long periods of time, even when he was sick or hurt. He just… wanted to be moving again, wanted something to distract him from his own thoughts. But walking was still pretty painful; it would probably be a couple days before his enhanced healing could catch up, and in the meantime, he was supposed to rest as much as possible. (He could still walk, albeit slowly and with a pronounced limp, although Janice had stressed that he shouldn’t overexert himself while the wound was still healing). 

 

A shower had made Peter feel tremendously better earlier that morning, although the endeavor had left him exhausted afterwards, his leg still aching dully. He had been amenable to going back to bed after that, though not before one of the team—Victoria, if he remembered correctly—had been kind enough to bring him breakfast. He was still learning everyone’s names, but Quentin’s team were all nice, strangely ordinary people.

 

Happy had explained earlier that Peter needed to lay low for a bit, so all of this could blow over, so Peter refrained from complaining. But in truth, he was bored. And lonely. He was sure Aunt May was probably worried sick, and Ned and MJ would be wondering where he was, too. But Peter didn’t have his phone with him, and even if he did, he was probably not supposed to use it. 

 

The last two fingers on his left hand still itched vaguely. They were back to their proper length now, the new skin soft and pale and smooth, but the nails had not yet grown in. There wasn’t even a scar where they’d been amputated, and Peter examined the digits with somewhat morbid curiosity. How strange that they had been simply gone only days earlier—though it felt like much longer than that.

 

The creak of the door opening startled Peter, and he tensed, only to relax a second later, brightening when he saw that it was Quentin who had come to see him.

 

“Hey, kid,” Quentin greeted, coming to sit on the edge of the bed, and Peter beamed. Quentin looked better than the last time Peter had seen him: his hair had been washed and combed, his beard neatly trimmed, and he didn’t look quite so dead on his feet today. There were still faint shadows beneath his mismatched eyes, but Peter was glad to see that the familiar light in those eyes hadn’t gone out.

 

“Man, where have you been?” Peter teasingly complained. It had only been maybe a couple hours, but he’d found himself missing Quentin’s company. “I was so bored in here!”

 

“Do you have any idea how long it takes to get thirty stitches in your back?” Quentin asked with a raised eyebrow. “Well, actually not that long, but Janice is a bit of a perfectionist.”

 

“Ouch.” Peter winced sympathetically. “So, you feeling any better?”

 

Quentin shrugged, then inhaled sharply through his teeth when the motion tugged at his stitches. “Could be worse,” he said wryly.

 

Peter’s reply died on his lips as he felt an all-too-familiar tingle, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end as his instincts shrilled danger at him. He caught the flicker of motion from near the door—a human figure with a deadly soft step, and Peter felt his stomach knot with dread.

 

His wide eyes and sudden silence made Quentin frown, and when he looked over his shoulder, he must have seen it, too. Quentin’s whole body went stiff, and Peter watched him instinctively grasp at his thigh for a gun in a holster that wasn’t there.

 

“Relax,” said Maria Hill, standing in the shadows near the wall, as though that was supposed to reassure them. She made no move towards the gun at her belt; it was clear that she didn’t consider either of them to be a threat. “I come in peace.”

 

Peter couldn’t even speak, his throat dry and his mind going a mile a minute. Was she here to recapture them? But she had helped them escape… How did she even find them? Was SHIELD going to take Peter away for more experiments? Put Quentin back in prison and torture him for information? Peter’s stomach lurched awfully at the thought. He couldn’t even run, not like this, and his webshooters were nowhere to be found. Peter realized, awfully, that he was a sitting duck.

 

Quentin stood up and positioned himself in front of Peter in one smooth motion. He was unarmed, just as much of a target as Peter was, and here he was still trying to protect Peter. It made Peter desperately wish that moving didn’t hurt so much. If it came down to it, Peter was the one who stood the best chance against a contingent of SHIELD goons.

 

“We don’t really care for uninvited guests,” was Quentin’s reply, carefully controlled, but there was a steel edge to the words. How he could remain so steady, so calm in a moment like this, Peter had no idea, but he was grateful for it, even as he felt his own hands start to tremble.

 

Hill took a step closer, and Peter reached out to grasp Quentin’s hand, seized with a sudden, absurd anxiety. Perhaps his body remembered this, remembered the dread of sitting in a cell and never knowing when the next torment would come, never knowing which of them would be taken away and which would be left behind, and the sight of her was enough to trigger that fear.

 

Hill stopped about ten feet away, giving the two of them some space. “I promise I’m just here to talk,” she said, more gently. She regarded them carefully, as one might a pair of cornered stray dogs that might bite if you got too close.

 

“Yeah, unfortunately, I’ve heard that one before,” Quentin retorted, sharper this time. “Can’t say we’re terribly pleased to see you. How about we cut the bullshit?”

 

Hill wasn’t fazed in the slightest. She kept her posture nonthreatening, her hands away from her weapons, palms out. “I have a message from Fury,” she began calmly.

 

“I’m not going back.” Peter spoke up suddenly, hating how high and shaky his voice was. He meant for it to sound firm, fierce, but it came out small and frightened. He didn’t want to go back to that place—he couldn’t survive if it they took him back. Peter realized he was trembling hard, and he felt Quentin squeeze his hand reassuringly.

 

Hill’s expression softened, just for a moment, and there was something like regret in her eyes. “That’s not why I’m here.”

 

Quentin gestured lazily with one hand towards her. “Please, the suspense is killing me,” he drawled. He was making an effort to seem glib, but Peter could tell by the tension in his shoulders that he was afraid.

 

“You proved yourself, Parker,” Hill said simply, making eye contact with Peter, who stifled the urge to look away.

 

“I… I what?” Peter was confused. He hadn’t done anything but try to survive in there.

 

“It took some convincing, but Fury trusts you now,” she explained. “Well, trusts that you aren’t going to cause another Avengers-level threat.” She gave a pointed look in Quentin’s direction.

 

“W-what does that mean?” Peter asked, still confused.

 

“It means that you’re both free to go. On one condition.”

 

Peter tensed. “What is it?”

 

“That you keep an eye on him,” Hill said, her gaze flicking to Quentin, and then back to Peter. “Make sure Mysterio here doesn’t pull any more tricks. Think you can handle it, Spider-Man?”

 

Peter let out a breathy, vaguely hysterical laugh. “Yeah.”

 

Hill nodded, and the barest hint of a smile pulled at her lips, though it wasn’t quite mirthful. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry,” she said after a pause. “You can never be too careful these days.”

 

“‘S’okay,” Peter said, even though it wasn’t. He was almost in a daze, barely able to believe this was happening. 

 

Hill simply left after that, walking out the door like she had simply waltzed in. Peter briefly wondered if she was really real, but told himself it had to be real since Quentin had seen her, too. When she was gone, Quentin sat down heavily on the edge of the bed again, as though his legs didn’t want to support him any more. Peter leaned against his shoulder, and for a moment they just sat there together, taking in the news that they were free.

 

Peter felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, somehow. Quentin draped an arm around him, and he leaned into the touch, wondering if this was what it meant to be okay.

Chapter Text

In the relative privacy of the space on the upper floor that had been designated Quentin’s “office”—complete with wide desk and bulky computer setup for those long nights spent tweaking and perfecting illusions—Quentin sat in front of the dusty mirror in the room, turning the EDITH glasses over and over in his hands. 

 

He had achieved the ultimate goal of this whole Mysterio charade. He had the glasses. Peter had given them over freely. Two weeks ago, Quentin knew he would have been overjoyed.

 

Overjoyed, and ready to toss Peter aside like a hot potato. 

 

But now… everything had changed. His team could see it, too. They had yet to ask about it, but Quentin could see it in the curious looks on their faces.

 

The week (was it really only a week?) spent in the Raft felt like a dream, or rather a nightmare. Distant, distorted, yet terrifyingly real. There had been moments when Quentin was certain he was going to die—drown, suffocate, or just plain lose his sanity—and the only thing that had stood between him and any of those myriad terrible fates… was Peter. 

 

Peter had saved Quentin’s life. More than once, actually. The kid had offered himself up to Fury while Quentin was deliriously feverish and semi-conscious—Quentin could only vaguely recall most of it, but he remembered Peter being there. Talking to him. Telling him it was going to be okay. 

 

Peter trusted him. Cared about him. Quentin still wasn’t quite sure how that had happened, but more than that, he cared about Peter, too. The kid really was something else, with his annoyingly big heart and trusting nature, his fierce protectiveness of those he was close to. 

 

Quentin knew he most certainly didn’t deserve Peter’s trust, his affection, or whatever kind of relationship they had. Quentin had been angry for so long, angry at Tony Stark and at the world for how it had treated him and others like him. It had made him bitter, venomous.

 

But Peter… he had none of that. He really was still just a kid, one who still had hope for the world and faith in other people. Peter trusted that there was still good in this world. In other people. In Quentin.

 

And therein lay the question: was he right?

 

Quentin looked at the glasses in his hand. They were gaudy, ostentatious—very much Tony’s style—but still such a little, innocuous thing. Certainly not what one would expect to control hundreds if not thousands of weaponized drones and multiple defense satellites. 

 

Peter had been right when he said that Quentin was trying to do something good. That was the point of having EDITH. To have the power to do those things.

 

After a moment’s hesitation, Quentin put on the glasses. He looked at himself in the mirror, curious, and felt his breath catch in his throat for a moment. 

 

The light in the room was low, and at first glance… Quentin understood now why Peter had looked at him that way when he’d first put on the glasses, back when they were escaping.

 

He looked… he looked like Tony . Well, superficially. The shadows darkened his hair and his beard to something ambiguous, and the gleam of his right eye, the brown one, was almost haunting. If he pulled his lips into a devil-may-care sort of grin, tilting his head ever so slightly to the left to hide the glint of his one blue eye…

 

“...Fuck.” Quentin took off the glasses and stared at them, an uncomfortable realization hitting him like a train.

 

He let out a breathless, uncomfortable laugh, running his hands through his hair. “ Fuck.”

 

There was a certain superficial physical resemblance, but that wasn’t what had Quentin’s stomach in knots. 

 

Wasn’t technology like this part of the reason he’d grown to hate Tony Stark in the first place? First he’d taken Quentin’s invention, but after that nothing had changed. Tony Stark had used his tech with the same reckless impudence he used everything else—that was to say, it didn’t matter who got hurt or what kind of devastation was wrought.

 

As long as the day was saved, right? 

 

As long as he could be the hero. 

 

Quentin felt almost sick.

 

Wearing the EDITH glasses was like looking in a mirror and seeing someone else reflected back at him. Quentin had wanted EDITH so that he could be the hero, so that he could do it better than that narcissistic savior-complex prick Tony Stark.

 

Tony Stark had created EDITH as simply another terrible power to wield with impunity. If he were alive, Quentin could be damn certain that Tony would be wearing those glasses himself. But that wouldn’t solve anything. It was more of the same, more of Tony’s own hubris and the same lack of judgment that had led to Iron Man having a body count higher than most if not all of his so-called enemies. 

 

And now Tony Stark was practically staring back at him from the mirror. Oh, the fucking irony. 

 

Quentin’s mind drifted back to something Peter had said before. The memory was a bit hazy, since Quentin hadn’t really been ‘all there’ at the time, but he remembered Peter holding his hand, speaking softly. The kid had been making some kind of plans, and he’d said something about that the two of them could learn to be better. Together.

 

Quentin’s hand closed around the glasses as he took them off, and he shoved them into his pocket. He wanted to be better. Peter believed he could be better. 

 

Quentin was going to do his damnedest not to disappoint the kid. 

 

There was a knock on the open door just then, and Quentin jumped a little at the noise. He turned around in his desk chair and saw Peter standing just outside, waving.

 

“Hi,” Peter said with a small smile. “Someone else said you might be up here. Uh, you mind if I come in?”

 

Quentin blinked, surprised. “Yeah, yeah, come in. Feel free to, uh, sit anywhere,” he said, gesturing to the mismatched furniture in the room. There was a sagging leather couch, a couple metal folding chairs, and an inflatable pool full of blankets that occasionally served as a bed. Not that Quentin usually did much sleeping in here, but the couch was terrible for his back, and dragging a mattress up the stairs was a job no one really wanted to do.

 

Quentin didn’t miss the way Peter was moving sort of stiffly as he went for the couch, and he raised an eyebrow. “I thought you were supposed to be resting.”

 

“Don’t worry, I’m pretty much fine now,” Peter said casually, but he still seemed relieved to sit down and take the weight off his left leg. Even enhanced healing needed time to work. “Besides, there’s only so long I can lay in bed and do nothing, y’know?”

 

“Fair point,” Quentin admitted. “So what brings you up here?”

 

Peter shrugged. “I was gonna ask you the same thing.”

 

That gave Quentin pause as he wondered just how to answer that. “Just… thinking, I guess,” he said finally, glancing at the window. “I was trying to get my head straight after all this, but, uh…” He chuckled softly, running a hand through his hair. “Easier said than done, I suppose.”

 

Peter nodded slowly. “I feel like I’ve been away from home for like, a million years,” he said after a moment. “I wanna go home and see Aunt May and my friends, but… I’m kinda nervous. Does that make sense?”

 

“‘Course it does. You’ve had a hell of a tough week, kid. No one can fault you for feeling a little off,” Quentin said, looking at Peter with sympathy. 

 

Peter gave a small smile. “Yeah. I just… I can’t help but feel like things are different now,” he said after a moment, staring at the floor. “...I didn’t expect my summer vacation to go like this.”

 

Quentin sure as hell hadn’t, either. 

 

After a moment’s pause, Quentin got up and came to sit next to Peter on the sagging couch. He pulled the EDITH glasses out of his pocket and held them out to Peter. “These are yours.”

 

Peter’s eyes widened briefly, but he made no move to take them. “Quentin, I… I don’t even know what to do with these,” he said with a breathy little laugh. “You keep them. I trust you.”

 

And there was that little ache in Quentin’s heart again, hearing the way Peter said those words. “Peter, Tony trusted you with EDITH,” he said, making eye contact with the kid. “Not me. It was meant for you.”

 

“But what if it wasn’t?” Peter insisted, and the look in his eyes was heartbreakingly vulnerable. “There was a note with the glasses. It said, ‘To the next Tony Stark: I trust you.’” A pause, and Peter looked at the floor. “I’m not the next Tony Stark. I… I can’t be.”

 

The poor kid looked so conflicted, so torn. He desperately wanted to live up to his mentor’s expectations, but at the same time, that just… wasn’t who he was. 

 

Quentin’s expression softened, and he set the glasses aside. “You’re right. You’re not Tony Stark,” he said simply. “And I’m damn glad you’re not. You’re you—Peter Parker—and that’s the reason both of us are sitting here right now.”

 

“But he… he thought I could be,” Peter insisted, and his voice broke a little bit at the end. “Mr. Stark thought I could be like him. I just… I don’t want to let him down…” The kid’s eyes filled with tears, and he scrubbed a hand over his face, ashamed.

 

Peter was so torn up about disappointing someone who had never even seen his full potential, and it made Quentin resent Tony all over again. Quentin knew how it felt, because he remembered feeling the exact same way at the end of his career at Stark Industries. After he’d been fired, after the initial outrage at having his tech stolen out from under him had faded, Quentin had spent weeks feeling worthless. Feeling that he had disappointed the man he had once so admired. Maybe if he’d done better, maybe if he had made something actually useful, then Tony wouldn’t have taken it from him. Maybe Tony would have actually worked with him, and they could have made something to change the world. 

 

Quentin had poured so much of his life into Stark Industries, into his work, into a vision that others had dismissed as impossible. He’d done so much and worked so hard, only it was never enough for the one person whose opinion mattered to him at the time.

 

And now Tony had gone and done it again, from beyond the grave. And this time, it wasn’t someone who had chosen to dedicate themselves to such pursuits, but a kid who had the responsibilities of a superhero and a powerful adult thrust upon him. 

 

It wasn’t even that Tony had done it with malicious intent. He hadn’t intended to destroy Peter’s self-esteem and force an overwhelming responsibility on him, just like he hadn’t meant to humiliate Quentin and steal his life’s work for any deliberate reason. No, Tony hadn’t even realized what he was doing to other people in his pursuit of playing hero under the guise of making the world a better place. Because Tony Stark was so selfish, so blinded by his own righteousness, that he couldn’t even see what he was doing to others.

 

That was what hurt the most, Quentin thought. They were both just unfortunate pawns who had been caught up in Tony’s riptide, and hurled against the rocks with all the care of waves crashing against the shore. And now they were left to pick up the pieces.

 

Peter sniffled quietly, and Quentin put his arms around the kid, feeling those narrow shoulders shake with repressed sobs.

 

“Mr. Stark did so many great things… And everyone wants me to be like him,” Peter croaked, voice thick with emotion. 

 

“Peter, you being you is the most extraordinary thing you’ve ever done,” Quentin said softly, rubbing Peter’s back. “You haven’t disappointed anyone. The world doesn’t need another Iron Man, or another Tony Stark.” 

 

He pulled back so that Peter was at arm’s length, and gently tilted Peter’s head up so their eyes could meet. “There’s no one who could fill that gap. Not even you. Not even me. And that’s okay. But you know what this world does need? Someone like you, Peter.”

 

Peter just looked at him for a moment, blinking his teary eyes. “But what can I do? I… I’m just a kid in a stupid costume.”

 

“And I’m just a guy in another stupid costume with some drones,” Quentin countered, raising an eyebrow. “Look at what we’ve both already done, and tell me that’s not something.”

 

Peter smiled a little bit. “Actually, I thought your costume was pretty cool,” he said, sniffling and wiping his eyes with his sleeve.

 

Quentin laughed. “Janice and Valerie will be delighted to hear that. They designed it.”

 

Peter smiled and fell silent for a moment after that, looking out the window and then back to Quentin. He seemed to hesitate for a moment, but then continued. “Y’know, Spider-Man could use some help out there.”

 

Quentin blinked, completely caught off-guard. “From who?”

 

Peter gave him an are-you-serious sort of look. “Ant-Man,” he deadpanned.

 

“Wait, really? I thought he—”

 

“No! Mysterio, duh!” Peter interrupted, laughing and playfully shoving at Quentin’s shoulder. “C’mon, man, keep up!”

 

Quentin let out a breathless chuckle, surprised. “Peter, you know I can’t actually fly and shoot lasers out of my hands, right?”

 

“Yeah, but your illusions are kick-ass,” Peter insisted. “Between you and me and the drones, we can cover more ground together. We can watch each other’s backs. It’ll be awesome!”

 

“You really think so?” Quentin asked after a moment. He had never even considered such an idea before. But… maybe it wasn’t so crazy. Stranger things had happened.

 

“Totally.” Peter smiled, leaned back against the lumpy couch cushion. He paused, then continued, almost shyly, “I think we make a really good team.”

 

“The Spectacular Spider-Man and the Marvelous Mysterio,” Quentin said aloud, thoughtful. “Hm. I like it.” 

 

“We sound like a circus act,” Peter giggled.

 

“Aren’t we?” Quentin quipped, and was gratified to see Peter grin.

 

“The best,” Peter agreed.

 

 

Peter was going home. 

 

It felt like he’d been away for an eternity. His trip to Europe with his class was only supposed to last two weeks, but he’d lost track of the date sometime after the fight with the fire elemental and his capture and everything that followed. It felt like an eternity had passed since he’d talked to Ned, or Aunt May, or even gone outside.

 

He had meant to explain to Happy what had gone down with Maria Hill, but apparently she had already passed on the message to Pepper, who had in turn contacted Happy. Peter had indeed been relieved, but when he told Happy about Hill’s impromptu visit to the warehouse, Happy had not been pleased about the security breach, and he’d given Mikhail an earful about monitoring the drones’ security feeds from the perimeter. 

 

Wasn’t like there was much to be done about it, though. It was SHIELD they were dealing with, after all.

 

And now that Peter and Quentin had been (apparently) cleared of wrongdoing, SHIELD was open to reestablishing contact with the one remaining Avenger. Peter hadn’t yet responded to that particular email. Maria Hill had also dropped off their stuff when she came by, including Peter and Quentin’s suits, and their phones and whatnot. Peter wasn’t sure he’d be wearing the stealth suit again (if Night Monkey were to be seen in New York, then everyone at Peter’s school really would find out who he was), but it was nice to have the option.

 

It was also nice to have his phone back, and Peter was still sifting through the hundreds of notifications he’d missed in the week he’d been away. There were 56 missed calls from Aunt May, 13 other missed calls, 220 unread text messages, and a myriad of email and Snapchat notifications that it would take days to sort through.

 

May was coming to pick Peter up as soon as she got off work later that day. Happy had to convince her not to leave work immediately and drive like a maniac to the warehouse, if only because it was an hour’s drive at least, and Peter needed some time beforehand to get cleaned up before he went home.

 

The wound in Peter’s leg was healing well, and Janice was impressed by Peter’s rate of healing. It was a miracle that he was even able to walk at this point, let alone that the bullet wound was nearly healed. It still hurt to walk more than a couple steps, but it was getting easier as he rested.

 

Peter had packed up the few things he had with him into a reusable grocery bag: his stealth suit, the EDITH glasses in their lacquered wood case, the travel toothbrush and deodorant Janice had given him after his shower (apparently the team had a ready supply laying around because some people just didn’t know how to pack for a trip), and his phone. He didn’t know what had become of his luggage from the trip; maybe SHIELD had it shipped back to his apartment? Peter hoped so. He didn’t want to have to replace half his wardrobe. As of now, he was still wearing Quentin’s clothes, and while they were comfortable, Peter was practically swimming in them.

 

Sitting on the edge of the bed where he had slept for what felt like a very long time, Peter let out a long breath. He still had about four hours to kill before May was supposed to be here. It had been sort of nice, just hanging around with various members of Quentin’s team to pass the time. They were all amiable, very normal sort of people, which continued to surprise Peter. Although he supposed that was only because he’d met so many strange people in a fairly short amount of time in his life—aliens, gods, mutants, and the like. It made Peter himself feel almost normal for once.

 

 The team seemed also surprised that Peter took such an interest in their work (he was a STEM kid, after all), and they were a bit skittish until Quentin assured them there was no harm in telling the kid. He already knew their secrets, anyhow. Peter could hardly believe such brilliant minds had all been let go from Stark Industries, but he was starting to acknowledge that there was a lot he didn’t know about Mr. Stark.

 

Peter had migrated to the sagging couch in the main area of the warehouse, tucked up against the wall opposite a small TV balanced on an empty industrial spool. The couch wasn’t the most comfortable, and the TV had only a tenuous connection over which the local news was broadcasting, but it was a nice change of pace from laying in bed. Peter was laying with his legs stretched out, half-listening to the news droning in the background as he texted Ned, who had been asking a million questions about if he was okay and where he was and what happened and where he had been.

 

His friend was understandably concerned, but half of those questions Peter didn’t know how to answer, at least not in a concise text message sort of way.

 

(12:24PM) Im going home today once may picks me up after work. I’ll call u then ok?

 

(12:25PM) NEDWARD: can i come over?? I havent seen u in like a week dude

 

(12:25PM) NEDWARD: also you just broke out of prison

 

(12:25PM) NEDWARD: im worried

 

(12:26PM) NEDWARD: i wont stay super long i just wanna know youre like really here

 

(12:28PM) uhhh sure i guess

 

(12:28PM) give it a couple hours past 4 though. may’s probs gonna be pretty upset at first

 

(12:29PM) NEDWARD: ok will do

 

(12:30PM) NEDWARD: howre you and mysterio doing???

 

(12:33PM) fine i guess

 

(12:33PM) both of us are kinda banged up but we’re alive

 

(12:35PM) NEDWARD: ok well i’m glad ur not dead

 

(12:35PM) NEDWARD: so is mj btw

 

(12:36PM) NEDWARD: she was super worried abt u

 

(12:37PM) wait what?????

 

(12:37PM) mj was worried about me?????

 

(12:38PM) NEDWARD: yeah um we should talk about that later

 

(12:38PM) ned what happened

 

(12:39PM) NEDWARD: its def better if i tell you in person okay??

 

Peter sighed and put his phone facedown on his stomach. He hoped it wasn’t anything disastrous. But if MJ had been worried about him… did that mean he still had a chance? He had totally missed his opportunity in Prague, and Brad must have totally made a move by now… So had MJ turned him down? The thought gave Peter a little bit of satisfaction. Of course, it was totally possible that MJ was just keeping tabs on him like she did almost everyone (she was very observant), and she was reasonably worried when he simply disappeared from their class trip. He hoped he would have an excuse to talk to her again before the summer was over. He had no idea what had become of the black dahlia necklace he’d bought in Venice (probably lost with the rest of his luggage), but maybe he could try something else?

 

Peter closed his eyes, switching his phone to silent. This was too much to think about at the moment.

 

“Kid, there are better ways to put yourself to sleep than with the news,” remarked a familiar voice, and Peter opened his eyes, glad for the distraction.

 

“Wasn’t on purpose,” he said with a small smile, looking up at Quentin, who was holding a Netflix DVD sleeve in one hand. “What’s that?”

 

“I figured we could do something productive since you’ve still got some time to kill,” Quentin said as he handed Peter the DVD.

 

Peter blinked as he read the title and the year of production. “ The Never-Ending Story? Dude, this movie is ancient, ” he chuckled, handing it back to Quentin. 

 

“Only because you were practically born yesterday,” Quentin snorted. “I used to have this movie on VHS as a kid.”

 

Peter pretended to goggle at him. He knew what a VHS was, although he’d never actually seen one in person. “You’re so old,” he grinned. “Dinosaur.”

 

“I can’t help it that you look like you’re about twelve,” Quentin playfully ribbed him, already loading up the movie in the TV’s built-in DVD player.

 

“Hey, I’m gonna be eighteen in like, two months!” Peter protested, laughing. 

 

“All the more reason to watch it. You should have the experience while you’re still young,” Quentin grinned as he sat down with Peter on the couch.

 

The way the couch sagged in the middle meant that the two of them were gently pulled together by gravity, and they easily settled against one another, turning themselves sideways so they could stretch out horizontally. The couch was not very big, so this meant Peter was practically lying on top of Quentin, but neither of them minded. Peter relaxed and laid back against Quentin’s broad chest, while his feet dangled over the arm of the couch. In any case, Quentin was more comfortable to lay on than the lumpy couch cushions, and Peter found it soothing that he could feel the rhythm of Quentin’s heartbeat as the movie began to play.

Chapter Text

This was it. This was really it. 

 

Peter was dressed and ready, finally wearing clothes that fit—a t-shirt, a pair of jeans, and plain white sneakers that Pepper had sent over with Happy. He had his grocery bag of stuff with him, and May was waiting outside.

 

“I’ll walk you out,” said Quentin.

 

Peter was quietly grateful for it, and not just because the place was big enough to get lost in. They stopped at the double doors that led to the parking lot, and Peter paused just before he reached for the door.

 

He turned around, swallowing hard. “Quentin?”

 

“Yeah, kid?”

 

“Thanks,” Peter said finally. “Um, for everything.” He wished he could have been more eloquent, wished he knew how to express how grateful he was to have someone who understood, someone he could trust, but this would have to suffice.

 

Quentin smiled. “You’re a good kid, Peter.”

 

After only a moment’s hesitation, Peter set down his bag and hugged Quentin tightly.

 

Quentin was surprised for only a second before he returned the embrace, gently rubbing Peter’s back. “Hey, what’s wrong? It’s not like you’re never gonna see me again,” he said with a raised eyebrow. “You’re only going like, 40 blocks east of here.”

 

“You promise?” Peter asked, voice slightly muffled from where his face was pressed into Quentin’s chest. “That I’ll see you again?”

 

Quentin chuckled softly. “‘Course I promise.”

 

“No disappearing act,” Peter insisted, loosening his arms just enough so that he could look up at Quentin. “At least not without telling me first. I’ll worry.”

 

“Kid, I live in this city. I’ll never be that far away,” Quentin assured him. “If SHIELD snatches me again, you’ll probably be the first to know.”

 

“Don’t even joke about that,” Peter mumbled, his grip tightening again. 

 

“Alright, alright, I admit that wasn’t very funny. But seriously, I’ll keep in touch,” Quentin said, stroking Peter’s hair gently. He smiled. “Now go on, your aunt’s waiting. I’ll see you around, Spider-Man.”

 

Peter smiled and let go, picking up his bag again. “See ya around.”

 

 

May was waiting for him, standing outside her beat-up old Volvo. When she caught sight of him, she looked so relieved that Peter thought she might burst into tears. She ran up to him and met him halfway to the car, throwing her arms around Peter in a tight hug.

 

“Oh, Peter… ” She sounded like she wanted to say more, but May’s voice was choked with tears, and it made Peter’s heart twist with guilt. For a few moments she just held him close, soothingly stroking the curls at the nape of his neck like she used to do when he was very small.

 

“Missed you, May,” Peter managed after a moment, nearly overwhelmed with emotion as he carefully hugged her back. He had wanted to play it off, make some joke that would show her that he was fine, but the sense of safety and security that came with her embrace was enough to make Peter want to fall to pieces in her arms.

 

“I was so worried when you didn’t come home,” May whispered, and she sounded both relieved and upset. “...I thought I’d lost my baby boy.”

 

Peter felt a surge of absurd guilt for having worried her so. It really was just the two of them, and he couldn’t imagine how she had reacted when he’d simply dropped off the map, not answering her calls or anything in the wake of the Elemental disaster. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Peter said quietly, resting his head on her shoulder, trying to blink back tears.

 

May let go, pulled back just far enough that she could cup Peter’s cheek in her hand. “This was not your fault,” she said firmly. “I’ll always worry about you, Peter, no matter what. But…” She smiled, though it was a sad, tired sort of look. “...I know you were trying to do something good out there.”

 

Her gaze lingered on his face, searching, and she frowned. “...what happened to your eye?”

 

Peter blinked, having totally forgotten about… that whole thing. He glanced away, suddenly self-conscious. “It’s, um, it’s a long story,” he said with a breathy, awkward chuckle.

 

May looked more concerned now. “Peter, honey, did something happen? I know you somehow got caught up in all that stuff with SHIELD, but… what happened?”

 

Peter thought about it for a moment, and he considered telling her. About the isolation, the experiments, the terror of what would happen if he didn’t comply. Or worse, what happened when he did. His fingers gave a phantom ache at the memory. How could he explain all that to someone who had no idea? 

 

He knew in that moment that May couldn’t know. Even though Peter trusted May almost more than anyone else in the world, it felt like there was a deep dark chasm between them now, one that Peter didn’t know how to cross. She wouldn’t understand. He didn’t know how he could make her understand.

 

But that was okay. Peter was okay now. That was enough.

 

Peter gave a faint smile, hoping to reassure May. “Nothing much. It was just a… misunderstanding.”

 

 

May offered to take Peter wherever he wanted for dinner. She worried that he looked thin, even though it had only been two weeks since she’d seen him, and he had to be hungry after all this.

 

Peter thought about it for a moment, but the idea of being out around all those other people, with all the noise and the lights, seemed overwhelming. He asked May if they could simply go home instead. He was tired, and home sounded nice.

 

And so home they went.

 

They found Peter’s luggage waiting at the door for them, probably dropped off by someone from SHIELD. That was nice, Peter thought absently. Most of his best-fitting clothes were in there.

 

Inside, Peter looked around the place like he’d been away a long time, with a deliberate and slow curiosity even towards familiar things like the battered sofa and the small kitchen and the lightswitches that didn’t do anything. 

 

“Peter? Sweetie, is everything okay?” May asked him gently, when she found him staring into his bedroom like it was new to him. Her eyes were concerned. 

 

“Huh? Oh, yeah, i-it’s fine,” Peter assured her with a small smile. “Just, uh, thinking.”

 

May cupped the side of his face with one hand, her thumb stroking his cheekbone. The look in her eyes was love and worry and comfort and relief all at once, and it made Peter feel heavy with guilt but also safe, protected.

 

 “I love you, Peter,” May said gently. “And I’ll always love you. No matter what.”

 

Peter’s throat felt tight, and he swallowed hard to clear it. Sometimes he still couldn’t believe that even after all the stuff that had happened in their lives—Peter’s parents dying, and then Uncle Ben, too—that May had remained so steadfast, so devoted to giving Peter the chance to be a normal kid.

 

Not just “that kid with dead parents,” or “the kid with crazy secret superpowers,” but just another normal kid growing up in the city. May had worked two, sometimes three jobs when Peter was younger, not only to make ends meet but to make sure Peter got new school clothes every fall, to make sure he could have new shoes even when the old ones still fit. To make sure he still got a checkup every year even though he almost never got sick anymore.

 

Now, things were easier since the Blip charity May worked for received ample funding from Stark Industries (thanks to Pepper Potts), but they were never what could be considered rich. 

 

But even after all the trouble Peter got into, with the Avengers and Mr. Stark and his being Spider-Man, May was always there to support him. He knew it couldn’t have been easy on her, having a kid with superpowers, but she took it all in stride. She was always waiting with open arms for him, and she was his home to come back. Comforting, familiar, a soft place to land no matter how far he fell. 

 

Peter stifled the wave of emotion he felt. “Love you too, May,” he replied quietly. “...Thanks.”

 

May looked at him and raised her eyebrows. “What for?”

 

“Just… for everything,” Peter said, and he hugged her again, because two days ago he hadn't been sure he would ever be able to do so again. “You’re the best.”

 

Later, May ordered Thai food from their favorite restaurant, and the two of them sat on the couch in the living room, watching The Twilight Zone on Netflix (it was a show that Uncle Ben used to like to put on as he dozed in the old armchair. He claimed that Rod Serling’s voice put him right to sleep). Despite his usual chatterbox tendencies, Peter was quiet for most of it, listening to May talk about her day at work and her many calls to Happy to check up on Peter. 

As the night-noise of the city droned distantly, and the sound the TV mixed with Aunt May’s voice relaxed Peter into a sleepy lull, Peter felt like he was finally home. 

 

 

When Ned knocked on the door the next day, Peter was still in his pajamas even though it was well past noon. He’d been sleeping a ton since yesterday, his body still catching up on rest as the wound in his leg mended at a rate that would be miraculous for a normal human.

 

Peter got off the couch and sleepily opened the door, prepared to accept an Amazon package or whatever, but his eyes went wide when he saw Ned.

 

“Dude!” Ned exclaimed, face breaking into a wide smile, and he bear-hugged Peter right there in the doorway. His eyes lingered on Peter’s for a moment, noticing the one striking blue eye, but he didn’t say anything.

 

Peter laughed and hugged his friend back, surprised, but happily so. “Hey, man, why didn’t you text me or something?”

 

“I did,” Ned said, holding up his phone. “Like, five times. I was getting kinda worried so I came anyway.”

 

“Oh,” Peter said, realizing his phone was still somewhere in his bedcovers and probably on silent. “So, um, what’s up?” He was finding his mind blank of conversation topics despite his known gift for being able to talk endlessly. 

 

“What’s up? Peter, you just broke out of a secret black-site superhero prison,” Ned said incredulously. “That is so awesome! You know I had to come over and talk to you. And, like, make sure you’re okay and all that.”

 

Peter let out an awkward little laugh. “Yeah, awesome. It’s a pretty crazy story,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “But, um, how much do you actually know…?” He wanted to know how much detail he could realistically leave out to make the story less horrifying for his friend.

 

The two of them sat on the couch together, Netflix still playing in the background but presently ignored. 

 

“Well, I know that I helped break you out,” Ned grinned. “Dude. Get this. I hacked into SHIELD security!”

 

Peter’s eyes went wide. “Wait, what? You’re the one that hacked their system?” He remembered Hill saying something about that, but he hadn’t imagined it would be Ned, of all people. 

 

“Pfft, yeah! Well, that lady from Mysterio’s team, Yuran, she did most of the work cracking the firewall, but I found the command that unlocked all the doors,” Ned explained, proud. He grinned, held his hand out to Peter for a fist bump. “Guy in the chair.”

 

Peter let out a breathless little laugh. “Guy in the chair,” he agreed, and they bumped knuckles. 

 

“Oh, and uh, MJ helped, too,” Ned continued after a moment. “She was the one who was like, screw it, let ‘em all out because the whole prison-industrial complex and all that.”

 

Peter felt his mouth go dry. “MJ was there, too?”

 

“Yeah,” Ned said with an awkward smile. “Um, about that…”

 

“Ned, what did you tell her?” Peter asked, dreading the answer. He didn’t think he could handle MJ knowing about all this, too. Not when he hadn’t even gotten the chance to do more than talk to her briefly in Venice, and then he’d ditched her at the opera house…

 

“Ok, so I know you’re gonna be mad,” Ned said, holding up his hands and glancing awkwardly to the side. “But, um… MJ kinda knows you’re Spider-Man now.”

 

Peter felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. He stared at Ned, horrified. “What the hell, man?! You told her?!”

 

“She figured it out!” Ned protested. “I didn’t know what to do and I knew you were in trouble and I needed some help! So she was like, ‘I know Peter’s Spider-Man’ and at first I was like ‘no way, that’s crazy,’ but she totally knew and I needed help finding out where you were!”

 

“How much does she know?” Peter asked after a moment, swallowing hard.

 

“As much as I do,” Ned answered, looking at him apologetically. “I… I’m sorry, man. But I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. After you got kidnapped, I was super freaked out.”

 

“Wait, y-you saw that?” Peter blinked, once again surprised. 

 

“Yeah, me and Betty did. After we got rescued from the Ferris wheel, after the whole thing with the big fire monster, we were trying to figure out how to get back to the hotel, but then we saw those SHIELD guys kidnap you and Mysterio,” Ned explained. “We were totally freaked out.”

 

“So… you told Happy to come get me?” Peter asked slowly, still trying to match up the timelines. All this was still sort of blowing his mind.

 

“Well, actually we called Pepper Potts first,” Ned began. “And then she talked to that Happy guy, who told your aunt, and then we ran into Mysterio’s friends because they were trying to rescue him, too! How is he, by the way? I know you said a lot of the Avengers seemed different in person so I was wondering if it was the same with him. Is he an Avenger now? Because I think—” 

 

“Ned,” Peter cut him off with a look, and Ned quieted.

 

“Sorry,” Ned sighed. “I know what you're gonna say: the less I know, the better.”

 

Peter let out a sigh in response and leaned back against the couch cushions. He was quiet for a few moments, processing all that Ned had told him. He supposed there was no harm in telling a little bit about Quentin. “...He’s pretty cool. Mysterio, I mean. We, um, get along pretty well.”

 

Ned grinned. “That’s awesome, man. So you guys are gonna be heroes together now? Because that’s like, a totally epic team-up.”

 

“Maybe,” Peter said with a small smile.

 

“Sick.” Ned unzipped his backpack, pulling out his laptop. “Wanna play Beast Slayers?”

 

Peter felt an immense relief, knowing at least some things could go back to normal. He smiled. “You’re on.”

 

--

 

Two weeks went by. 

 

Peter was doing his best to go back to the way things were before. He had gone back to making the rounds as Spider-Man almost every night as soon as his leg stopped hurting, and the familiar routine was helping things to feel normal again. 

 

He hung out with Ned, playing video games and building new Lego sets as time allowed. MJ had been away visiting family out of state with her dad, and she was due to come back sometime pretty soon, but so far Peter hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to her since they had lunch a couple weeks ago. He’d texted her, though, and they had chatted briefly. She hadn’t wanted to leave again so soon, but her dad had booked these tickets months ago, and she only got to see the family in Atlanta once every couple years.

 

Peter understood, of course. That didn’t mean his heart didn’t still hurt a little, wishing that she were still in New York so he could give her the necklace (found in his luggage, miraculously unbroken) like he’d planned to in Prague. But, whispered a little voice in the back of his mind, what would he even say? Hey MJ, I really like you, so you should go out with me? It all sounded stupid, even in Peter’s head. 

 

So he didn’t mention it. Instead, they occasionally texted, and MJ would ask how Peter was doing and if he’d started looking at college applications yet. (He hadn’t. He was still picking schools, figuring out how many he could afford to apply to and trying to pick the ones he had a real chance of getting into rather than pie-in-the-sky choices like MIT). 

 

But that wasn’t what was on Peter’s mind, at least not right now. 

 

It was late, past midnight, and Peter was lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling. He couldn’t sleep. May had convinced him to stay in and watch a movie with her instead of going out and patrolling as Spider-Man, and while he could admit he probably needed the rest, it didn’t feel right to ignore his responsibility like that.

 

That, and Peter felt like he couldn’t relax anymore. He found himself anxious as he laid awake at night, back pressed firmly up against the wall as he stared at his bedroom door like someone was going to come in at any moment. The sounds of the city felt intrusive and overwhelming instead of comforting; having the windows or the door open made him anxious, and he couldn’t sleep unless they were both firmly shut, no matter how hot and stuffy it got inside. It meant he woke up damp with sweat more often than not, sheets sticking to his skin, but it meant he got a few hours of sleep, which was better than nothing.

 

Peter sighed. He had given in and cracked the window a bit, just to let in some fresh air, but his bedroom was still stifling. 

 

Alright. Fine, he decided. Maybe a bit of web-slinging would clear his head.

 

Peter slid carefully out of bed, careful not to step on the creaky floorboard he knew was right next to his bed. He pulled on the suit, its familiar contours hugging his body, and Peter felt slightly better already. Yep, this was what he needed. After a moment’s hesitation, he picked up a pair of cargo shorts and a hoodie, pulling them on over the suit. No need to draw attention unless he had to, right?

 

Peter slipped soundlessly out the window, sighing in relief at the sensation of the relatively cooler night air against his face before he put on the mask. 

 

This was where things felt most normal.

 

In all, he stopped three muggings in progress, two burglaries, two attempted car thieves, and one drunk asshole harassing a homeless man. Not bad, Peter thought, but the city was quiet tonight. Or at least Queens seemed to be.

 

Peter sat on the roof of an apartment building, looking out at the expanse of the city. He couldn’t help but feel like… something was missing. Not from the city, but from himself. Like there was a hollow place inside of him where something used to be, and he didn’t know what it was.

 

He looked out towards the warehouse district, near the abandoned shipyard, which was a pool of black where everything else was bathed in hazy city lights. Peter was suddenly struck by the urge to go and see Quentin, despite the fact that it was nearly two in the morning and he’d be showing up unannounced. 

 

He hadn’t been able to visit for the last two weeks, between his Spider-Man duties, his friends, and Aunt May trying to spend as much time with him as she could. All of that was nice, but it was almost overwhelming despite the fact that Peter did want to keep busy. 

 

Maybe he would just swing by, make sure all was quiet on that front. The warehouse was cloaked by drones, so it was unlikely anyone would bother Quentin or his team there, but one could never be too sure.

 

Chapter Text

It had been a long two weeks for Quentin Beck.

 

He and his team were laying low for now as they tried to figure out where to go from here. Clearly, they had an almost perfect opportunity for Mysterio’s grand reappearance, the public waiting with bated breath for the return of the supposed new hero. As much as this would have delighted Quentin only a scant few weeks ago, things were not so clear-cut now.

 

The team could sense his hesitation, and he suspected they were concerned about him.

 

But there was much to be done in the meantime, from working out the kinks in the illusions, to tuning up the drones, to fixing up the tears in Quentin’s suit. There was also, of course, the matter of fixing up Quentin himself. Janice had taken the stitches out of his back at the beginning of the week (which took almost as long as putting them in), and while Quentin was healing up fairly well, Janice warned him that he would likely have some scarring. The wounds weren’t particularly deep, but they had been slow to heal, and it would take some time for the marks to fade.

 

He hadn’t had the opportunity to see how it looked for himself yet (he needed another mirror or someone to take a picture), but Quentin was just glad to be able to lay on his back again. The skin was still tender, and he had to stick to loose shirts for now, but he was indeed getting better. 

 

The scars were just a bonus. Another thing to add to Mysterio’s tragic backstory, Quentin supposed. 

 

Janice had remarked that he was healing up well, but she maintained that he should still go to a doctor and get checked out, just to make sure. Quentin wasn’t planning on it, though, both because he trusted her judgement, and because wounds like these would be very hard to explain without some raised eyebrows.

 

But that was only part of the problem, really.

 

Quentin had been having strange, vivid dreams. They felt so realistic that he often didn’t realize he was dreaming until he woke up, heart pounding, standing in some corridor of the warehouse and wondering what the hell had just happened.

 

Quentin hadn’t sleepwalked since he was a teenager. That was… unsettling in and of itself, but the content of those dreams was almost worse. None of it made much sense, but the reappearance of… certain people that Quentin would rather forget was enough to unsettle him.

 

He’d been avoiding sleep lately, and he knew it was starting to worry his team, though they hadn’t brought it up yet.

 

Quentin thought that some fresh air might help clear his head. He’d been spending too much time cooped up in his office. That had to be it.

 

So here he was, wandering around Queens with no real destination in mind. He’d stopped for coffee earlier, sat in the little café with his back to the wall and watched people drift in and out, but nothing had been able to hold his attention for long. He was both tired and restless somehow, like there was something he was supposed to be doing, but he couldn’t remember what it was.

 

He had just turned the corner to cut through an alley on his way back toward the metro station when a nondescript black SUV pulled up alongside the curb.

 

Quentin froze, feeling a chill go up his spine despite the temperate weather. He stood still, hesitating, trying to decide if it was worth trying to bolt and disappear into the crowd. It was tempting for a moment, but if this was who he thought it was, then it was no use trying to run.

 

The car’s window rolled down.

 

“Get in,” said Happy Hogan. The doors unlocked with a click.

 

Quentin just stared at him for a moment, both surprised and confused. Of all the faces he expected to see, it wasn’t this guy’s. “Why the hell should I?”

 

“Pepper Potts wants to talk to you,” Happy said, somewhat impatiently. “C’mon, let’s go. I can’t park here.”

 

Quentin raised an eyebrow, skeptical. “So she sent her lackey to snatch me off the street in a suspicious unmarked vehicle? Forgive me if I’m a little cautious.”

 

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” Happy said, rolling his eyes. “Pepper just wants to talk.”

 

“Is this the part where you say that the boss always gets what she wants, one way or another?” Quentin asked dryly, trying for witty and casual even as he started to take slow steps backwards. If he was about to be kidnapped and murdered by Stark Industries goons, he wasn’t going to make it easy for them, at the very least.

 

“When did my job title become ‘glorified babysitter?’” Happy muttered, scrubbing a hand over his face. He looked at Quentin, unimpressed. “Look, I’m not here to kidnap you and dump your body in the river or some bullshit like that. That’s way above my pay grade.”

 

“Somehow, that’s not making me feel any better.”

 

Happy sighed impatiently. “Look, if you don’t want to do this, then fine. Go back to doing whatever the hell you’re doing like some wacko hanging out in an abandoned building. But I think you might be interested in what Pepper has to say.”

 

Quentin was skeptical, but the more he thought about it, the more likely it seemed that this wasn’t a trap. Despite the somewhat suspicious circumstances, he remembered from his Stark Industries days that Happy Hogan was more of a Stark fanboy than anything else, and he followed Stark around as more of a secretarial entourage than a security detail. It was likely he was doing the same now for Pepper Potts, whom Quentin reasoned had no real justification for wanting him kidnapped and/or killed. After all, she had  just risked her life and her company’s relationship with a powerful intelligence agency to break him and Peter out of prison. It didn’t make sense to have him killed now.

 

No, if Pepper wanted Quentin out of the picture, or if she saw him as a threat (to her or Peter or anyone else), Quentin would already be dead. 

 

“Fine,” Quentin said after a moment. “I’d rather walk, honestly, but since you’re already here…” He climbed into the passenger seat, hoping he wasn’t making a terrible mistake.

 

 

Being back in Stark Tower felt like deja vu. The feeling only intensified on the elevator ride up to the penthouse office that had once belonged to Tony. Quentin had only been here once. That was more than enough for his liking, really.

 

The place looked different from when he had last seen it, going on six years ago, and he supposed that made sense. Not everything could be frozen in time as it was in his memories, echoing the pain of old wounds. This place stirred up a phantom ache in his heart, something hollow like hope calcified to resentment.

 

Pepper sent Happy out once Quentin arrived, assuring him she could handle things from here. Happy seemed reluctant, but he did as she asked.

 

The door shut, and the two of them were alone.

 

“Please, sit,” Pepper said, gesturing to the chair in front of her dark oak desk. It was polite, but it wasn’t a suggestion.

 

Quentin looked around the room with measured slowness, weighing his options. After a moment, he sat.

 

“You know, this place always suited you better than it did Tony,” he remarked, casual despite feeling a bit like a mouse left alone with a cat. “Then again, you were already handling most of his responsibilities long before he made you CEO, weren’t you?”

 

Pepper didn’t seem impressed. She sat straight in her chair, hands folded on the desk in front of her. “We’re not here to talk about Tony,” she said, but the measured evenness of her tone put Quentin on edge. “We’re here to talk about you.”

 

Quentin didn’t miss the way her eyes lingered on his, the way her brow furrowed ever so slightly as she tried not to stare, and he smiled despite himself, a mirthless grin. “You’re curious, aren’t you? About what happened.” He didn’t know why he was taunting her. It wasn’t a good idea, that he already knew, but she was already toying with him. It was only fair that he got to do a little teasing of his own. It felt less like he was being interrogated that way. 

 

“Don’t kid yourself. I have yours and Peter’s files from SHIELD,” Pepper said bluntly, and Quentin felt his stomach drop. “It was easy for FRIDAY to pick them out once your team blew a hole in SHIELD’s security.”

 

Quentin swallowed, finding his throat dry. What more could she want, if she already had that information? “So why am I here?”

 

“I haven’t read any part of it yet,” Pepper informed him with a slight edge to her tone. Her gaze was sharp, serious. “The reason you’re here is so you can explain yourself.”

 

Quentin felt his pulse quicken with nerves despite the fact that he wasn’t sure exactly what she was getting at. But of course his mind went straight to the worst possible outcome. Did she know about his original plan, about his illusions? He tried not to let it show, casually crossing one leg over the other. “You’ll have to be more specific.”

 

“Don’t play dumb,” Pepper said sharply. “I remember you, Beck. You would have done anything to get ahead, including stepping on other people. And you did.”

 

“You say that like everyone else in my division didn’t do the same thing,” Quentin retorted with a cutting edge to his tone, raising an eyebrow almost mockingly. It was true. Working at Stark Industries was infamously cutthroat, especially in R&D. Quentin hadn’t been the only one who had to make choices between friendships and career. “Of all the things to accuse me of, Miss Potts, you pick ambition? Anticlimactic, really.”

 

“You misunderstand me. I’m not talking about your pet project,” Pepper said, her eyes hard and cold. “That’s in the past. But I know what you’re like. And I know what Peter’s like. He trusts you, for whatever reason. If you hurt him, in any way…”

 

“I wouldn’t do that. Not to the kid.” Quentin cut her off abruptly, feeling his hackles rise at the implication. Of course he wouldn’t have hurt Peter. Even before everything went sideways, Quentin had never planned for Peter to get hurt. 

 

Pepper regarded him with unflinching scrutiny, as though searching for some sign that he might be lying. Quentin wasn’t. Not about this, anyway.

 

Seconds passed in silence, and Quentin resisted the urge to shift his weight uncomfortably in the chair, feeling like an insect under a magnifying glass. Was she going to call bullshit, thinking he was lying on principle? That would be ironic.

 

Finally, Pepper sat back in her chair, her expression softening somewhat. “Okay,” she said simply. 

 

Quentin blinked. That was it? She was just going to take his word for it? He stared at her, brows furrowing suspiciously. “You just… believe me? Just like that?” he asked skeptically, searching for some kind of catch.

 

“Do I have a reason not to?” Pepper asked with a raised eyebrow. “...I know what Tony thought of you.”

 

Quentin was about to protest, annoyed on principle, but she cut him off before he could even get started.

 

“I also know that Tony had a lot of flaws, the least of which being that he didn’t play well with others,” Pepper continued with a wry smile. “I have to take his character judgments with a grain of salt.” She paused a moment, then looked at Quentin again. “Peter vouched for you, you know. Practically begged me not to round up you and your whole crew and have you jailed on terrorism charges.”

 

“Not even you could make those charges stick,” Quentin said before he could think better of it. He didn’t mean to goad her, but he had very little else to go on. Pepper was holding most if not all of the cards here, though that wasn’t going to stop Quentin from using what he had in his arsenal (mostly his wits). It was… reassuring to hear that Peter had so fiercely defended him, though.

 

Pepper wasn’t at all fazed, as though she’d expected such a response. “No. But the publicity of a terrorism trial, or even an arraignment, in the heart of New York would be enough to make sure that you would never work in engineering again.” There it was again. Pepper Potts was a near-ingenious duality: generally benevolent, but ruthlessly efficient. She had the impulse control that Tony had never mastered, but she played the game with the same relentless skill. 

 

Quentin had nothing to counter that. She had him pinned, and she knew it. He shrugged and showed his hands, palm up in a gesture of surrender. “You’ve got me there,” he admitted, trying for casual even as his stomach flipped uncomfortably, knowing he was bested. “So what do you want?” 

 

That was always the question in the end, wasn’t it?

 

“I want to make you an offer,” Pepper said simply. “We could use someone like you, Beck.”

 

Quentin was first shocked, then appalled, then vindictively amused. He had to stop himself from laughing out loud, if only because that might make Pepper think he really had cracked. The effort of holding back a shudder of hysterical giggles was nearly too much, and he coughed to disguise a snicker. A myriad of hilariously rude retorts went through his mind, ranging from things in the are-you-fucking-serious range to the flip-the-bird-and-walk-out range, though he had the good sense not to actually put any of them to use, much as he might have liked to. 

 

Was she really serious? Why in hell would he want to come back to the company that had taken everything from him? The place where he had spent years working towards the technology of the future, feeling like he was making a difference, being given generous leeway for the direction of his projects, and… well, doing some of his best work.

 

Pepper must have seen the shift in his expression as he thought it through, and she looked amused.

 

“Why?” was the response he finally settled on, brows furrowed as he regarded her with some suspicion. “Stark fired me once. You signed off on it.”

 

“That’s true,” Pepper admitted. She leaned forward, folding her hands on the desk. “But let’s face it: things have changed. You, me, the whole world. We lost a lot of good people, during and after the Blip.”

 

“Not my problem.”

 

“Except it is now. You made it your problem in Europe, when you showed up and terrorized two European cities for the sake of your ego.”

 

Quentin crossed his arms, unconvinced. “Even if I agreed with that statement—which I don’t—why the hell would I agree to work for this company again? After Stark stole my work out from under me and then tossed me out?”

 

Pepper gave him a hard look. “You knew the IP rules when you signed your contract.”

 

“As though Tony Stark ever followed the rules in his goddamn life .”

 

Pepper sighed, and for a moment she looked very tired. “What can I say? You have a point there,” she admitted. “I’ve spent a long time cleaning up the mess Tony made. Of this company. Of the world. You would know. But I’m trying to make amends, Quentin. It wasn’t fair what Tony did to you, even if it was legal. I know that. But I’m willing to give you another chance.”

 

Quentin just looked at her for a long moment, frowning slightly as he tried to read her expression. “Why?” he asked again. “You just got done threatening me, and now you’re offering me a job?”

 

“People can change. I know that. Peter does, too. He was very insistent that I give you a chance, and I’m willing to trust his judgement.”

 

Quentin wondered what exactly Peter had told her. He supposed it didn’t matter, but he was… touched that the kid had done something like that, knowing how important this was to Quentin. He swallowed, trying to ignore the knot of emotion in his chest.

 

“Think about it,” Pepper said as she sat back in her chair. “Someone in HR will reach out to you within the week.” A pause. “Oh, and you can tell your team that they’ll get the same offer.”

 

Quentin was too shocked to come up with a witty retort. “...I’ll pass the message on.”

 

Pepper nodded. “Happy will show you out.”

 

Quentin remembered himself after a moment and stood up, smoothing the lines of his jacket. This too felt like deja vu in some sense, echoes of a familiar scene so many years ago. It felt strange to think of how much things had changed since then.

 

He left without another word, for once in his life finding nothing that felt right to say.

 

 

Quentin went through the rest of the day in a bit of a daze. The rest of the team was overwhelmingly relieved when he finally made it back to the warehouse—he’d been gone for nearly six hours and not even realized it. Apparently Victoria and William had both tried calling twice, but his phone had gone straight to voicemail. 

 

They were scared that something had happened, Guterman said.

 

Quentin had insisted that nothing was wrong and nothing had happened; he’d simply lost track of time. The looks exchanged between William and Valerie said they didn’t believe him, but neither of them pushed the issue. 

 

He could hardly believe all of this was real: that his whole meticulous plan had been turned upside-down, and now he was being offered his old job back. It was a bizarre, Twilight Zone-esque turn of events, and Quentin was still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Could things really go back to the way they used to be?

 

Quentin rather doubted it. He’d toyed with the idea of just not bringing it up with his team, but he supposed they deserved to know. They should at least have the opportunity to choose—it wasn’t like they could keep up this operation indefinitely. They had the resources for maybe another couple months, funding gathered from both legal sources and more dubious ones over the years, thanks to Quentin’s persuasive charm. 

 

(He’d gotten the multimillion-dollar grant from the Life Foundation on the merits of his work, but it didn’t hurt that the CEO was his then-boyfriend.)

 

He was trying to think of an appropriate way to give his team the news. Nothing could last forever, he supposed. But the whole operation felt… unfinished. Anticlimactic, as Guterman would say. This didn’t feel like an adequate resolution to the epic saga that Mysterio had created for all of them. 

 

In some great irony, it all came back to Stark Industries. Again. Quentin got a headache just thinking about it.

 

It was late, now—almost absurdly so, really. The clock on Quentin’s computer read 2:23am, and while Quentin’s eyes were aching from staring at the screen for so long, tinkering with the details of an illusion that was already goddamn near perfect, he didn’t want to sleep just yet. He didn’t want to face his dreams again. Not yet.

 

A glance at the window high up on the wall told Quentin it was indeed still pitch-black outside (or as pitch-black as it got in New York City), with not even a hint of dawn yet. He sighed. It was going to be a long night.

 

Maybe he could just… rest his eyes for a moment. He laid his head atop his arms, resting on the desk in front of him. 

 

No sooner had Quentin’s eyes drifted shut than a creak of the window in its frame briefly startled him. He looked up, wary, and realized with a jolt that there was something—or someone—there. There was no time to prepare. Quentin realized that the gun he usually kept in his desk was downstairs with the motion-capture equipment, and the door was too far to get to before the figure spotted him.

 

The high window creaked open, and as a lithe figure dressed all in black tumbled down like a spider into the center of the room, Quentin’s heart leapt into his throat.



Chapter Text

The warehouse seemed quiet when Peter arrived, appearing empty and lifeless. He knew that was the point, but it was still a bit eerie, especially at night. 

 

Peter didn’t bother going in through the door and instead headed for the large window on the north side, the one he remembered looking out of in Quentin’s makeshift office. He scaled the wall of the building with ease, silent and sticky against the worn brick facade.

 

Peter peered in through the window, but it was so cloudy and dirty that he couldn’t see much. He tried to open it carefully, searching for a latch or something, but the window had other ideas.

 

It was one of those windows that tilted in its frame to open, and Peter’s weight pressing against its upper half dislodged the seal with a loud, squeaking groan. The window tilted sharply, its hinges protesting the effort, and dumped Peter onto the floor with a yelp and an ungraceful thump.

 

 

The figure in black hit the floor with a surprisingly clumsy thud, and Quentin was breathless with apprehension, frozen until it spoke.

 

“It’s me, it’s me!” Peter said quickly, pushing his hood back and pulling off his mask. Now that Peter was closer, Quentin could see the familiar red on his suit, though mostly obscured by the hoodie and baggy black shorts he was wearing over the suit. “...um, sorry if I woke you up.”

 

Quentin sighed with relief and placed a hand over his chest, feeling his heart thudding hard with the adrenaline rush. “Jesus, kid, you scared me half to death.” He sighed, blinking his tired eyes. “Anyone ever tell you that you could knock?”

 

“I, er, I was going to,” Peter said, embarrassed. “But I didn’t wanna disturb anyone else, and I, um… just wanted to come and see you.”

 

Quentin was briefly surprised, glancing at his watch and willing his eyes to focus. “At two-thirty in the morning?”

 

“Couldn’t sleep,” Peter said with a shrug. “I was out doing Spider-Man stuff, so I figured I’d come see you, too.” He looked around the room, frowning slightly. “What are you doing up here?”

 

“Couldn’t sleep,” Quentin returned with a wry smile. It was partially true, at least. “Thought I’d try to make some improvements to those sequences I was using during our little prison break—not my best work, I’ll admit—and I was taking a break when you made your little entrance.”

 

“To be honest, I didn’t think I’d find you still here,” Peter said after a moment of thought. He glanced around the office, taking in the same mismatched furniture (all salvaged from the junk heap next door to the warehouse) and the inflatable rectangular pool with blankets in it. “Is this where you live?”

 

Quentin shrugged. “For the time being.”

 

Peter frowned. “You don’t have an apartment or anything?”

 

“I do, but I subleased it to some journalist for a while. He’s not moving out for another two months,” Quentin found himself saying, rattling off information that Peter really didn’t need to know, but at least it was something to say. “I spend a lot of time here anyway, so it works out.”

 

Peter paused, looking at Quentin carefully. “Is… everything okay?” he asked finally. “You look tired.”

 

Quentin had to refrain from laughing, if only because it would inevitably come out sounding hysterical. He hadn’t slept more than a couple hours for the past few days, trying in vain to keep away the nightmares that seemed to haunt him every time he closed his eyes. Maybe once he got exhausted enough (or maybe if he popped a few tranquilizers) then the dreams would abate long enough for him to get a decent night’s rest. Working himself to exhaustion was easier than getting a prescription. But as of now, he’d only gone about forty-eight hours without sleep. Not nearly enough to crash just yet.

 

Quentin managed to smile, hoped it seemed reassuring. “I’m fine. Just working late.”

 

Peter nodded slowly. “It’s hard for me to sleep at home,” he confessed, after a long silence. He let out a quiet, mirthless laugh. “Y’know, I thought that once I got to go home, everything would just… be okay.”

 

“But it’s not,” Quentin finished for him. He knew exactly what Peter meant. They were free now, but Quentin felt like a sheet of glass that had been shattered and then put back together, riddled with cracks. Never knowing how much pressure would be enough to break him all over again.

 

“But it’s not,” Peter echoed, quietly. His fists were clenched atop his thighs. “And it’s not fair.”

 

Quentin felt a bizarre urge to both laugh and cry, but he suppressed both. He really couldn’t have a breakdown in front of the kid right now. Peter didn’t know how right he was. The healing wounds on his back ached with phantom pain. The stitches had come out days ago, but they still twinged sometimes, a memory etched into flesh. Quentin hadn’t found the courage to look at them in the mirror yet.

 

“...um, Quentin?” Peter’s voice broke through the stormcloud of his thoughts, and Quentin realized the kid was staring at him, looking very worried. “Why are you crying?”

 

Quentin blinked, touching his face and realizing that there were indeed tears streaming down his cheeks, dampening his beard. His vision was blurry, not just from exhaustion but the tears that would not stop flowing no matter how hard he tried. His eyes prickled and stung, the right one especially, though the tears seemed to flow more freely from his left eye. Those assholes at SHIELD had probably fucked up his lacrimal ducts with the surgery.

 

“I… I don’t know,” Quentin managed, letting out a breathless laugh. Fuck, he was crying and he couldn’t stop, his chest aching with the dull pain of a hurt that went beyond the physical as his breath hitched with sobs. It was embarrassing, really—he was supposed to be the adult, the one keeping it together so Peter knew that things would be alright, and here he was bursting into tears over nothing.

 

Quentin sat back in his desk chair, trying in vain to regain his composure, but it was like the floodgates had opened, and it was proving impossible to close them. Goddamn it. He pressed his hands over his eyes, keeping them firmly shut as though that would stop the tears, breath shuddering and shoulders shaking as he broke down completely.

 

Peter didn’t say anything. After a moment, he got up from the couch and walked over to Quentin, making sure to scuff his feet against the floor so that Quentin could hear him coming. Despite Peter’s notorious chatterbox tendencies, he was very quiet now, didn’t try to change the subject or ramble on about anything that came to mind. 

 

Instead, Peter just crawled into Quentin’s lap so they were chest-to-chest and hugged him gently, letting Quentin cry into his shoulder. Quentin wrapped his arms tightly around Peter, blindly clinging to his warmth, like he was afraid Peter would disappear if he let go. 

 

Quentin couldn’t find it in himself to push Peter away like he should have. Instead, the last of his defenses crumbled, and he was full-on clinging to this seventeen-year-old kid and crying like a baby. It would have been weird if Peter wasn’t the only other person in the world who understood, who knew exactly how it felt because they had suffered through it together. Several minutes passed like this, with Peter nestled into Quentin’s lap and Quentin holding onto him like a lifeline, until finally Quentin felt like he had no more tears to cry, at least for the moment.

 

Slowly, his breathing evened out, and he was able to take a deep breath, sniffling. Quentin felt utterly exhausted, empty, but… in a good way, somehow.

 

“Feel better?” Peter asked with a small smile.

 

“Fuck, this is embarrassing,” Quentin said with a self-deprecating chuckle, his voice a bit nasal from where his nose was stuffy from crying. He was sure he looked a mess, if the damp spots on Peter’s jacket were anything to go by. He sniffled, drying his eyes on his sleeve. “But… yeah, actually. A little.”

 

“‘S’okay,” Peter assured him, and the kid was just so goddamn sincere that it made Quentin’s heart ache. “Sometimes you just gotta let it out.” A pause, and then he continued, more softly, “...sometimes I get the dreams, too.”

 

Quentin looked up at Peter, surprised. How did he know?

 

“Yeah,” Peter said with a little smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “It’s not fun. I almost jumped through the ceiling the first time it happened.” He laughed. “Aunt May thought someone was breaking in, so she came into my room with a mop like she was gonna fight someone with it.”

 

That thought made Quentin smile a bit. He knew May only by name, but if she was anything like Peter, she was certainly a capable woman. 

 

“I don’t think she really understands,” Peter continued quietly. “Sometimes I dream about the stuff they did to me. And the stuff they did to you.” Another pause. “Sometimes I dream about watching you die. Or that I killed you.”

 

Quentin understood. He had dreams of drowning, of hands around his throat and the feeling of his skin crawling at the touch. Dreams of Peter’s cold dead body lying on an autopsy table. Dreams of other, worse things that could have happened. He didn’t know how to get the images out of his mind.

 

Maybe, Quentin mused, there really were a bunch of other universes out there. The multiverse thing had been a lie, as far as he knew, but it didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that Quentin had been right purely by chance. Maybe in another world, things had turned out differently.

 

Maybe his plan had worked in one of them. Maybe Peter had killed him in another. He didn’t say any of this to Peter, though. It wasn’t worth thinking about now, and instead he just let himself be comforted by Peter’s embrace.

 

“How long since you actually slept?” Peter asked, resting his chin atop Quentin’s head. 

 

Quentin shrugged under the weight of Peter’s arms draped over his shoulders in a loose embrace. “Maybe… forty-eight hours? A little more than that,” he responded, mumbling into Peter’s jacket. He had honestly lost track.

 

“Well, no wonder you’re upset,” Peter said, frowning. “You gotta get some sleep.”

 

“It’ll be worse if I do,” Quentin returned hollowly. He knew he couldn’t go without sleep indefinitely, but there were too many thoughts going through his head for him to sleep right now.

 

Peter paused. “I have an idea. Do you trust me?”

 

Quentin did. How could he not, after all this? But he didn’t say that. Instead, he simply said, “Sure, kid.”

 

Peter beamed. “Follow me.”

 

Peter led the way as he located the nearest stairwell that led up to the roof. It was dark, a bit treacherous to navigate in the dead of night, but the burst of cool night air that swept across the two of them as they walked out onto the roof was worth it.

 

“I’m not jumping off this building with you, even if you are Spider-Man,” Quentin half-joked. It was meant to be a funny quip, but even though he trusted Peter, he wasn’t particularly eager to test the tensile strength of Peter’s webbing quite so recklessly.

 

Peter laughed. “Not what I had in mind, but I promise it’s fun,” he said with a grin. “You shoulda seen MJ’s face when I took her with me the first time.”

 

“You do know that some of us are just normal, breakable humans, right?”

 

“I wouldn’t let you fall,” Peter said, utterly confident.

 

Quentin smiled faintly. “I know.”

 

The two of them sat down near the weathered housing of an old generator, bathed in weak moonlight from above. It was cool and quiet, their perch overlooking the cluster of city lights from a distance. 

 

Peter looked up at the sky, then out at the city lights twinkling orange and yellow against the night. “Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I go up to the roof and just… think for a little bit.”

 

Sitting up here in the dark of night, it somehow made Quentin’s fingers itch for a cigarette, despite the fact that he’d quit years ago. It reminded him of sitting out on the fire escape with Mina in the middle of the night when it was too hot to sleep, sharing a cigarette or a joint and talking about nothing in particular, just content to simply be.

 

It felt like a lifetime had passed since then and now.

 

“What do you think about?” Quentin asked finally, glancing at Peter. He leaned back against the wall behind him, drawing his knees up to his chest.

 

Peter shrugged. “It depends, I guess. Like, last night I was thinking about Mr. Stark. About what you said about the world not needing another Iron Man.”

 

Quentin had a feeling he knew where this was going, but he wasn’t certain. “What did you do with EDITH?” he asked after a pause. He hoped the question didn’t seem presumptuous, but he couldn’t help but be curious.

 

“Deactivated her.” Peter looked almost… sad. Like he was grieving the loss of a friend rather than just a piece of technology. He glanced at Quentin. “You were right, y’know. I was nervous because I didn’t think I was ready to have that kind of power. But the more I thought about it, I don’t think that anyone should.” 

 

Peter paused, staring out at the city skyline, gaze lingering on the sleek outline of Stark Tower. “Mr. Stark was trying to help when he made EDITH and left her for me. I know he was. But… I don’t think he understood that he couldn’t fix everything.”

 

Quentin could only stare at Peter for a moment, surprised. Peter had been so devoted to Tony and so caught up in the maelstrom of grief and memory not all that long ago. But a lot had changed in just a short few weeks, as they could both attest. Life was funny like that sometimes.

 

Quentin nodded slowly. “You’re a good kid, Peter,” he said finally, patting the boy’s shoulder. Better than Tony deserved, he wanted to say, but he didn’t. There was no point in it now. There was a hollow place inside him, an ache where hate had once lived. He’d spent so long hating Tony for doing what he did, that it felt almost strange not to feel that venom burning a hole in his heart.

 

Peter had shown him that it was okay to let go. To let the past simply be the past.

 

“So what are you gonna do now?” Peter asked, pulling Quentin from his drifting thoughts.

 

The question took Quentin by surprise. “What do you mean?”

 

Peter shrugged, gestured vaguely around them. “I mean, you’re not just gonna keep hanging around in this warehouse and making holograms, right?” He looked at Quentin, suddenly uncertain. “…are you?”

 

Truthfully, Quentin wasn’t sure. He didn’t have a plan anymore. The last few weeks had turned all of that upside-down. He shrugged. “I haven’t really thought about it,” he admitted. There was a beat of silence before he continued. “…Pepper Potts offered me my old job back.”

 

Peter was over the moon. “That’s great!” he said excitedly, his smile brighter than the moonlight overhead. “So, you’re gonna take it, right?”

 

Quentin hesitated. He’d been thinking about it for most of the day, wondering if it was self-defeating to go back to working for the company that had taken so much from him. “I dunno, kid,” he sighed, running a hand through his hair. 

 

Peter frowned. “Why not?”

 

“I don’t know,” Quentin repeated, truthfully. He hadn’t admitted that, even to himself, in a long time. “I guess… it feels like giving up.” It felt like admitting defeat. That his plan had been a failure. That Tony had won.

 

“You’re not giving up,” Peter said. In the pale ambient light of the moon and the warm distant glow of the city lights, his brown and blue eyes were bright. “You’re moving on. There’s a difference.”

 

Despite being idealistically naive in some ways, Peter surprisingly insightful at times. Quentin supposed it made sense. The kid had seen and been through a lot in his short life—hell, Peter had already died once before. 

 

“And… I meant it, y’know? When I said I could use your help out there, with Spider-Man stuff,” Peter continued after a moment. 

 

“The world doesn’t need any more heroes, Pete,” Quentin said with a small smile. “Especially ones with no real powers.”

 

“Mr. Stark didn’t have any powers,” Peter pointed out. “Neither did Black Widow. Besides, everyone’s wondering when Mysterio is gonna show up again. Haven’t you been on Twitter?”

 

Quentin thought about it. He’d been entertaining the idea in the past couple weeks, about trying out the whole superhero thing for real. Well, in a sense. The idea… didn’t seem like a terrible one. It would be a shame for Mysterio’s story to end before it even really began, and this way, Peter wouldn’t be protecting New York all on his own. The world had certainly seen stranger things than Mysterio. Why the hell not?

 

“On one condition,” Quentin decided finally.

 

“Okay, what?” Peter asked excitedly, perking up.

 

“That you help me get the costume on and off. It's hard to zip up by myself.”

 

Peter beamed. “Does this mean we’re partners in… well, anti-crime, I guess?”

 

Quentin chuckled softly. “We’ll find a better name for it than that.”

 

Quentin was struggling to keep his eyes open by this point, and he yawned, finding himself more relaxed and sleepy than he’d been in days. “Okay, kid, it’s getting late. Now that you’ve convinced me to give this whole superhero thing a shot, you should probably get home.”

 

Peter frowned a bit, concerned. “What about you?”

 

“I’ll be fine,” Quentin tried to reassure Peter, ruffling the kid’s hair, but Peter wouldn’t be moved.

 

Peter looked at him with puppy-like eyes, gleaming brown and blue. “Can I stay here tonight?”

 

Quentin raised an eyebrow. “Does your aunt know you’re here?”

 

“No,” Peter admitted, looking a bit guilty. “But I’ll text her! She knows I go out and do Spider-Man stuff at night sometimes, so she won’t freak out or anything.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, quickly typing out a message.

 

“Okay, May knows I’m safe, and I told her I’ll be home tomorrow morning,” Peter said with a nod, shoving his phone back into his pocket. He glanced around the uneven surface of the roof. “Uh, can we sleep downstairs like we did last time I was here? It’s a nice night, but not that nice.”

 

“Sure, kid,” Quentin said without really thinking about it, stifling another yawn. Sleeping in an actual bed did sound nice.

 

Peter insisted that they both put on pajamas first, both because his Spider-Man suit wasn’t very comfortable to sleep in and because Quentin had been wearing the same clothes for three days. But then they did head downstairs, finding the place less pitch-black than it was before. It was so late it was starting to become early, the weak light of predawn slowly lifting the heavy dark of night. But Quentin was so damn tired that it didn’t matter; he could have slept even if it was noon.

 

He and Peter curled up in the same bed they had slept in after their escape (this was actually where Quentin usually slept when he wasn’t pulling all-nighters), and Quentin swore that a bed had never felt more comfortable. This time, though, Peter snuggled up behind him, throwing an arm and a leg around him like some kind of koala. It seemed a bit ridiculous at first thought, since Peter was quite a bit smaller than he was, but Quentin found that it… was actually kinda nice. Comforting. For the first time in days, Quentin wasn’t filled with dread at the thought of going to sleep. 

 

Peter was asleep within minutes, his breathing slow and even. 

 

Peter's words drifted through Quentin's thoughts as he closed his eyes, about moving on instead of giving up. Maybe some part of Quentin was afraid to move on, to let go of what had formed the basis of his singular focus for the last five years, but maybe things could be different now. Better than before. Daring to hope that maybe it could be true, Quentin was soon sound asleep even as the barest edge of dawn started to bleed over the horizon.