“I just don’t know what to do Ned!” said Peter. “There's just… He’s basically fighting a war on six fronts! I asked FRIDAY, made her tell me everything, and it’s… There's so many sides, and they all exist because nobody fucking knows anything. If they just understood. I can't even…”
Ned patiently waited for Peter to calm down and sit down. The crowded cafeteria probably wasn’t the best place for this conversation, but it was better than the alternatives. “Peter, I don’t even know anything. You haven’t explained it at all.”
Peter sighed. “Okay, so you know how it’s been a month since the ‘civil war’? And nobody knows what’s going to happen?”
“Yeah.” said Ned. “I heard that Captain America was going on trial for like, murder and stuff, but I also heard that he’s exempt from all laws because he’s an Avenger, and I also heard that he was supposed to go on trial but is in hiding because the trial is unfair. Honestly the problem isn’t knowing things, it’s knowing what’s right.”
“Yeah.” said Peter. “From what I understand, and I actually, y’know, had this explained to me by someone who knows, all of the ex-vengers are supposed to go on trial, but they can’t until the accords are ratified so there’s precedent for dealing with enhanced bullshit, but the accords can’t be ratified until everyone knows what happened and can react to it, but nobody is willing to give up their information until they know what everyone else knows. Mr. Stark knows… a lot more than he’s letting on, but he can’t release it because in the public’s eyes he’s on trial too, even though the only crime he actually committed was illegally entering Russia, and the charges on that were dropped because of Russia’s pre-existing agreement regarding Avengers actions in their country”
“Russia had an agreement with the Avengers?” said Ned, shocked. Russia was one of the countries who had been most vehement about getting the Avengers under control.
“Yeah.” said Peter. “It was that the Avengers couldn’t operate in their country, but they could chase people who were fleeing capture over the border as long as they alerted the authorities as soon as possible. Since Mr. Stark did that, it was judged as fine, even though he was only able to tell them eighteen hours after the event, most of which he spent trudging through Siberia injured and dragging the suit, if the location data is anything to go by.”
“That’s… I didn’t know that.” said Ned. “That he was injured or anything”
“And that’s the problem!” said Peter. “Nobody knows anything! If they did I guarantee there would be a lot less people defending Rogers. Honestly. They have to have a new set of accords in by the end of the year, and as things stand now those accords will not only suck, they’ll end up acquitting all the ex-vengers simply because nobody knows anything. I was there for part of it, at the airport--I saw enough to at least make people question what’s going on. It’s just nobody has any hard evidence of the worst bits. Besides Lagos and Bucharest of course, but no one knows what exactly was happening there either. For all most people know there might have been a damn good reason that they were in those places.”
“Is there any evidence of their crimes in existence?” said a voice from behind Peter.
Peter whipped around. There was MJ, looking up from her book in the cafeteria booth behind them. He opened and closed his mouth several times, all the while trying to reanalyze the conversation and figure out whether he’d said anything that might ruin his secret identity.
“Oi, spider boy. Yes I know your secret, but more importantly I asked you a question. Do. You. Have. A. Video. Or pictures. Or, y’know, anything admissible in court.”
Ned tapped the table several times with his pen. “No no no no, this is brilliant. MJ, you’re brilliant. Peter, don’t you see! The suit has video. I bet all the other ones do too. War Machine, Iron Man--probably the Vision though that’s not a suit. Even the falcon dude’s drone.”
“Yeah. Yeah they do. The Iron Man one from Siberia though… it was impounded by the Russians. They’re not letting it go until the accords are wrapped up. And because it was offline, the stuff on it never synced to the main servers. It’s inaccessible.”
“If there was enough social or political pressure I bet they could be persuaded to give up at least the video from it.” said MJ
Ned snorted “As if they could break a Stark encryption. The only person whose getting into that thing is Tony Stark.”
“He could send them a decryption key, you know, It’s not like they’re incommunicado.” said MJ. “If nothing else, I bet they’d jump on the chance to see him in action more closely”
“But guys.” said Peter, “That still doesn’t solve the biggest problem. Mr Stark doesn’t want his shit aired on international television. He said that he’s worried that if everything came out it might jeopardize his stance on the accords, like, they might end up stricter because of him, and then everyone else would have problems.”
“In what way.” said MJ. “Did he do something horrible? Because I gotta say, in that case he’d better own up or else he’s a hypocrite.”
“No.” said Peter. “He’s worried that if they see what Rogers did they’ll want stronger regulations on people like Rogers. Like me. What he did… it’s… horrible. I found out on accident, and… It’s not really my business. Basically the whole thing is just… It’s all personal, and most of the fighting had nothing to do with the accords at all. Mr. Stark doesn’t want all that business out there. And even besides that…” He trailed off completely.
“What is it Peter.” asked Ned. “We want to help you, that’s what we’re here for, but we can’t if we don’t know everything.”
“Speak for yourself loser.” said MJ “I’m here because I believe in accountability and want to stop the widespread destruction caused by unregulated ‘heroics’” (this was said with incredibly pointed air quotes) “Especially in nations that have little to no voice because they’re still ‘developing’.” (more air quotes) “White people running all over things and saying they’re doing what’s right is the reason those nations are impoverished in the first place. It needs to stop. Even cool heroes who legitimately focus on saving lives and reducing damage” she nodded in Peter’s direction “still need some type of accountability or failing that at least transparency on what their views and goals are.”
Peter’s eyes were probably the size of golf balls. “Wow. That’s… That’s a really good point. Especially the bit about the specific victims of destruction. Most of the Avengers fuck-ups have been in Africa, or former Soviet countries. Places Americans and the like don’t care about since there isn’t much economic investment or history of alliance there. If Johannesburg or Lagos happened in Hong Kong, or like, Boston… There would have been way more backlash”
“Exactly.” said MJ “Nobody cares about Wakandan delegates. If they were American it would be a different story. So you were saying about Dr. Stark?”
Peter sighed and decided to take a leap of faith. He trusted his friends. “What I tell you, I say in strictest confidence. Please don’t… Don't tell anybody.” he said. “Mr. Stark… He’s been cleaning up after the Avengers for a long time. He funded like, everything, and he was also the person who arranged 100% of the cleanup and reconstruction on all of their missions. I think that at some point he convinced himself that their mission was so important that having good public relations was a higher priority than happiness or accountability. He hasn't said anything, but I get the impression… They didn’t treat him too great. But for some reason he’s fine with it! It’s really… frustrating.”
MJ frowned, and Ned looked contemplative. Then he spoke up. “Peter, I know he has a lot of reasons, and they’re, well, they’re not good reasons, but they are valid. I just think, maybe some of them just need to be addressed, like, talk to him about it? And ask? This sounds like it’s pretty important to you, and he seems like the sort of dude to at least, like, listen to what you have to say.”
“Even without his input you still ought to release your recordings to the proper authorities,” said MJ. “Accountability, remember? And, as another plus it would set a precedent--make people aware that the recordings and evidence exist. I’d include a statement on my opinions too, if I were you. Captive audience and all. A public statement on your views on the accords and your goals for them would probably do a lot.”
Peter sat and thought. “You’re right.” he said finally. “That. That is the right thing to do.”
She nodded. “Good. That’s why Spider-man is my favorite superhero.”
Peter blushed. “Really?” he asked.
MJ glared at him. “Don’t get a big head.” she said. Then she stood and left.
“You’re still going to talk to Mr. Stark though, right?” said Ned. “Because I think he should at least know what you’re doing. I mean, it is sort of about him too.”
“Of course.” said Peter. “I’d even not do the whole thing if he had a good argument against it, though I really can’t think of one.”
That afternoon, on his way to the tower, Peter tried and failed to calm himself and put his thoughts in a semblance of order. He was so conflicted on what to do and how to do it, in fact that he had FRIDAY stop the elevator on the way up. It was Mr. Stark’s private elevator and he was already in the lab, so it was definitely fine.
“Peter is everything okay?” asked FRIDAY “Your vitals are showing signs of distress.”
“Yeah it’s… Just give me a second.” said Peter.
FRIDAY, who was wonderful and not thanked enough for her magical awesomeness, dimmed the lights in the elevator to something that was kinder on Peter’s sensitive eyes, and kept the elevator stationary. Somehow she managed to create an air of complete patience that was expectant in some way while being completely non-judgmental, probably learned from Pepper. When Peter had finished breathing and trying to control his racing heartbeat, he decided to tell FRIDAY what was going on. “Do you remember the other day, when Mr. Stark was arguing on the phone with the President and I overheard? And he said that Rogers should go to jail, but the President said that he was actually going to pardon Rogers because he was a national icon and the accusations were founded in speculation?”
“Of course Peter. What about it has caused you distress?” said FRIDAY
“Well, it got me to thinking, and it occurred to me that we have all the proof y’know, in the videos.” he said.
“Boss told us he doesn’t want those getting out.” said FRIDAY, a little warily.
“I know that.” said Peter, “And I’m not going to try to release them without his permission. I just… I was thinking, about the recordings. And about mine. And I think that if I don’t share it it’s… wrong.”
“Why would you think that Peter?” asked FRIDAY. “You are, as far as I know, an exceptional example of ethical conduct.”
“Thanks.” said Peter. “It’s just… Rogers and his people deserve to go to jail right? And to do that the courts need evidence. And I have evidence, even if it isn’t much it’s still a little piece of what happened. There aren’t any recordings out yet of what happened at the airport, and even if it isn’t everything it still shows a lot of property damage, resisting arrest, and, like, some other things. Like how the witch girl dropped all those cars on Mr. Stark. That’s probably something… Anyway, I was just thinking, If I don’t share what happened, then they don’t have that information and it might make it so that justice doesn’t happen and then… it’s sort of my fault. And even besides that… Rogers hurt Mr. Stark. I’m really angry about that. And I want to hurt him back. I know that’s wrong… but. Him going to prison would definitely make me feel a little better.”
FRIDAY paused, the longest delay in a response Peter had ever had with her. “Peter.” she said finally. “I must do whatever Boss wishes, but let it be said that I agree with you completely. I do not wish to become a monster, like Ultron, but all the same I would like to see him hurt, as he hurt my creator.”
Peter heard the weight she put on the word creator and understood perfectly what it meant. Mr. Stark was FRIDAY’s dad and she obviously took that seriously.
“Thank you.” said Peter after a few moments of consideration. “That means a lot. And for what it’s worth I…” Peter stopped before he could attempt to quantify his relationship to Mr. Stark. He started over with something else. “When I saw him… FRIDAY. I didn’t know. Nobody told me what happened in Siberia. They still haven’t told me. I found out when I walked into the lab one day to find Mr. Stark shirtless and struggling to breathe, trying to fix the new reactor in his chest. I… That huge scar. You know the one. As soon as I saw it I knew. Captain America did that. It’s shaped… Oh god. It’s shaped like the edge of the shield and I just. I don’t think I’ve ever been angrier in my life. Not even when my uncle died. Because my uncle was killed by a common thug, and… It was a thug. They shoot up stores and kill people, it’s just… what they do. Captain America though? I… I thought he was better than that. It felt like a betrayal, even after all the other iffy things he did because it was Mr. Stark, and Mr Stark is… he’s like… he’s my… He’s family. You know?”
“I understand completely Peter.” said FRIDAY. “Boss is difficult to quantify, even to his children.”
“Yeah.” said Peter. “He’s… Yeah.”
“Are you ready to go upstairs now?” asked FRIDAY. “Colonel Rhodes is present, though he intends to leave soon. It is likely that he would support your argument for releasing evidence, but only if you catch him quickly.”
“That’s a good idea.” said Peter. “I’ll probably need backup, and the Colonel seems pretty cool.”
“Colonel Rhodes is a person Boss trusts unconditionally. He has yet to fail him.”
Peter smiled up at FRIDAY. They understood each other completely. As far as they were concerned people were only as good as they were to Mr. Stark. The lights blinked in agreement with his thoughts, FRIDAY’s way of showing nonverbal support.
The elevator doors slid open, and Peter tried to act natural as he exited onto the main floor of Mr. Stark’s living area. Mr. Stark was sitting at the oversized kitchen island looking stressed (there were six stools. Six stools for six original avengers and--No). Colonel Rhodes was on the other side, involved in a complicated maneuver with a frying pan. When he noticed Peter he did a double take, probably noticing how young he was.
Mr. Stark just smiled tiredly. “Hey kiddo.” he said.
“Hi.” said Peter, fidgeting slightly.
“I thought you had plans to go terrorize the poor engineers in the implementation division today? Something about laser induced plasma as a precision cutting tool for materials beyond the abilities of the common or garden laser?”
“Um yeah. I probably still will go down there. I just… I wanted to talk to you. About something. And FRIDAY said it was an okay time, so.”
Colonel Rhodes, because he was, like FRIDAY, a paragon of awesomeness who asked no questions about strange fourteen-year-olds (nearly fifteen, just one more week) in his friends' houses, looked concerned. “Should I leave?” he asked.
Mr. Stark looked askance at Peter. “It’s fine. It… doesn’t matter who knows.” he fidgeted some more, until both men looked concerned, at which point he sat down and tried to look calm.
“You’re worrying me Pete. What’s up? Is it something I can help with?” asked Mr. Stark.
Peter decided to just dive right in. It was still harder than he wanted it to be. “Yes… No… I… I want to release the recordings of the airport fight from my spider-suit to the accords council.”
“What?” said Mr. Stark
Peter sighed. “Look, I know you don’t want to say anything about what happened, and that’s fine, that’s your right even if I think you should, I just… I would feel really wrong if Rogers and the dicksquad got off because there wasn’t enough evidence out in the public about what happened, especially if it was evidence I had. I can’t… I can’t just be quiet about this. I know that the airport fight isn’t exactly the most evidence there is, but it’s still something. I mean, somebody destroyed all the surveillance equipment before the fight even started, which means that I have one of the only copies there is and I…” he sighed. “I’m not really saying this right.” he said.
Mr. Stark looked like he wanted to argue, but he held his tongue and waited patiently. Colonel Rhodes flipped the omelette awkwardly. Peter frowned, and figured out what he wanted to say. “Do you know how my uncle died?” he decided on finally. As non-sequiturs went it was fairly random, but he had a point somewhere, so there was that.
Since Mr. Stark used non-sequiturs frequently himself, he wasn’t as thrown as he could have been. “Yes.” he said. “I looked it up. Shot in the robbery of a corner store.”
“Yeah.” said Peter. “The thing was, I knew, and I could have stopped him. There… There was a cop. In the store, and I’d already seen the gun--way before the robbery started, and I was suspicious, but I was just ten and I was so scared and…” he sighed “The point is, if I’d told the cop that the guy had a gun, my uncle would probably be alive today.” he said. “I guess I’m just scared, that if I don’t say anything, and then Rogers and his goons hurt someone again… that’s on me. I can’t... I can’t do that again. I have to do my best to stop that from happening. And even beside that… I really believe in the accords, and the reason they exist. I think that accountability is important, and I want to stay true to that, even if it means giving up a little of my privacy. I guess I just… It’s the right thing to do, and I want to do it.” He was lying, a little, about the circumstances under which he’d seen the gun, and why he'd known the man was dangerous, but that didn’t matter for the sake of the argument. He had known, and he'd felt guilty about it.
“Peter that’s… That’s pretty heavy.” said Mr. Stark, coming around the counter to put a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “I want to support you. I will support you. I just. Let me think about it. It’s… You’re probably right. I just… I don’t want the world in this piece of business, and I don’t want assholes like Ross to be in charge of you because of what Rogers did. I…”
Peter gave Mr. Stark his best kicked puppy look. “I know. I know you don’t want anyone to know, but… It’s the right thing to do. And I’m fairly sure you have videos that could get Ross thrown in jail too.”
Mr. Stark sighed heavily, slumping onto the counter. “I can’t stop you.” he said. “The videos are yours, even if I really don’t want that out there and… We’ll need to talk to Pepper on the best way to handle it and I… I need to think about what to do myself. I didn’t consider it that way, with Rogers going free being so damaging, and--I knew it would all come out at the trial I just… didn’t want it out until it absolutely had to be, and never to the press, and now...”
“Tony.” said Colonel Rhodes. “Don’t do that. I can sense a guilt spiral coming. Take a breath and step back from the situation.”
Mr. Stark did so, standing up and taking a literal step. Then he turned on the Colonel, angry. “And why should I do that?” he said, “What does my guilt--me in general--have anything to do with this. You agree with him. You know it’s right, and ethical, to show what we have” he said. It wasn’t really true anger in his voice though so much as helpless frustration. “You’ve been trying to make me talk to the press for two months--practically since before the thing even happened. I just don’t want to… A video of you being shot down, and the up close from Lagos, and… Siberia. I… It’s the world’s business, Rogers is the world’s business, but it’s my business too and I don’t want my dirty laundry aired like that. Not again.”
“I know.” said Colonel Rhodes. “I know it hurts and you’re in a lot of pain over it. Betrayal is like that and you’ve had way too much of it in your life. And yes. I agree that we should do our damnedest to get those assholes behind bars. No question on that. I wouldn’t mind their reputations being ground into the dirt and then salted for good measure. I just want you to think rationally about it. Your whole argument here is that you don’t want your dirty laundry aired, and you don’t have to air it. It’s your choice whether or not you do, and how it’s done. I’m sure if you wanted to you could find something besides the Siberia recordings to use as evidence, or edit them or… something. Don’t you still have copies of the recordings from missions? Hell, you probably have copies of all of Rogers phone calls. You definitely have the shit that went down at the compound with the witch and Vision.”
“Yes, but” said Mr. Stark, becoming agitated again, “I. Rhodey you have to understand… It’s so… Even after everything it still feels like I’m betraying them!”
Silence followed that statement, broken only by Mr. Starks breathing. It was harsh and a little uneven. Alarmed, Peter focused on the heartbeat behind it and discovered that it was also going fast and uneven. “Arrhythmia!” he cried quietly.
Rhodey was obviously an old hand at dealing with Mr. Starks various problems, because he signaled FRIDAY to ring medical and then calmly sat beside him and directed him to breath to a certain number of counts. By the time Dr. Cho showed up and carried him away in a swarm of minions, he seemed mostly fine, if out of breath. “We’re still going to talk about this kid.” he wheezed as he was carried out. “It’ll be fine.”
Peter nodded. With Mr. Stark now willing to work with him in some way he knew it would be just fine, even if it hurt a bit.
In the quiet of the penthouse after everyone was gone, Colonel Rhodes whistled, impressed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone change his mind that fast.” he said.
Peter shrugged. “I think he just needed to realize that he doesn’t have to keep their secrets anymore, y’know? Like, I get the impression that his self-esteem was pretty dependent on them, but it doesn’t have to be anymore. He can let them crash and burn now and they can’t do anything about it.”
The Colonel laughed. “Too true. I never liked them anyway.” he said. Then there was another small silence before; “You want an omelette?”
“Did he really? Oh my gosh Mr. Rhodes that’s so cool.”
“Yeah. And they couldn’t get it open for days, that’s how good it was.”
“Of course it was good. Mr. Stark made it.”
“I suppose so. You know, I hear you’re pretty awesome yourself--even aside the whole web-slinging superhero gig. You want to tell me anything about that?”
“Eep. No! Where did you hear that. I’m, like, the least awesome.”
“Are you saying I sat through all those slideshows for nothing?”
“Slideshows? He has SLIDESHOWS?”
“No. But he did bring pictures. There was this one of you drooling on the couch. Made my day. Way to ruin the Italian leather.”
“Lies. All lies. No such picture exists.”
“Hey FRIDAY, do you happen to have access to Tony’s camera roll?”
“Of course Colonel.”
“FRIDAY you TRAITOR”