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Through The Oblivion

Chapter Text

Peter Parker was walking home to his apartment, having stopped at Delmar’s on the way. Suddenly, the sound of sirens caught his attention as three blaring fire trucks pelted down the busy street. Refusing to ignore the situation, he quickly tapped the nanotech watch Tony Stark had given him, activating his Iron Spider suit. He webbed to a nearby building and sped through the air after the screaming sirens.

Peter prided himself in knowing Queens like the back of his hand, but he had to admit that these fire engines seemed to be taking him down streets that he barely recognized. Sure, most New York streets looked fairly similar, but he couldn’t pinpoint a memory of ever seeing these buildings before. He pushed the suspicion from his mind as the fire trucks rounded a final corner where Peter could see smoke issuing. He turned the corner to see a warehouse in flames, screams issuing from shut windows. “I’ll get anyone inside!” he yelled as he quickly swung past the fire trucks, not waiting for a reply. To his surprise, he found only one man in the main area of the warehouse. He was running towards Peter with what looked like a bad limp, most likely from the increasing falling beams and structures of the building.

“Sir! Come on, you have to get out of here!” Peter shouted. The man stumbled, grabbing onto Peter’s shoulders to steady himself.

“H-help me,” the man panted, coughing through the thick smoke.

“I’m trying! Come on, man, the door is this way. You’re almost there!” Peter said encouragingly. Suddenly, he felt the man’s weight shift on his shoulders as he felt a sting in his neck, before succumbing to onrushing darkness.

________________

 

Tony Stark was pacing. It was Saturday morning and the Peter had not come home the night before. It hadn’t been an easy few months for the kid. Since May had died, Peter had been living with the Avengers under Tony’s guardianship. He knew that the kid felt comfortable around the compound, but it still didn’t negate the loss of the last real family member he had left. The sudden death had left Peter skittish, nervous, and had taken a major blow to his confidence and self-presence. Sam, who was the most qualified to deal with these emotional issues, had said that this was to be expected and that the grieving process, especially for a child, could present itself in a variety of ways. A few more minutes into Tony’s pacing, Sam walked through the door looking worried, followed by Steve, Bucky, Bruce, Clint, and Natasha.

“Tony, what happened?” Sam asked, sharply.

“Peter…he…he didn’t come home last night,” Tony said, running a hand through his hair, trying not to completely break down. Ever since Tony had become his guardian, he felt even more of a protective inclination towards the boy, to the point where he’d have been very happy to keep Peter in the compound at all times where Tony could watch him and keep him safe. Clint had called this “parental instincts”. Tony had called it ridiculous.

“Did you try tracking his suit?” Steve asked.

“No, Steve, I didn’t think to try that, funnily enough,” Tony said, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “Of course I tried tracking his suit.”

“And?” Natasha prompted.

And it led me to an open field. I flew over it and scanned the area. There wasn’t even a sign that Peter’s suit was even there. The tracker led me to no tracker. Peter’s AI automatically sends me a 24 hour history of where Peter went that day and he was taking his usual route home from school until he changed course and headed to that field. It’s like he just disappeared,” Tony said in anguish, rubbing the back of his neck now.

“We’ll find him, Tony,” Steve said.

How?” Tony replied.

The team did not respond.

 

_______________________

 

 

Peter woke next a few hours later, the base of his head aching. He found that he was sitting in a metal chair, his hands behind his back, held together by heavy metal cuffs. He was sitting in what seemed to be an empty room, but the whole room was pitch black, except for a small light bulb that hung in the air, illuminating Peter in the chair. He tried to break the cuffs open, but upon placing resistance on the metal, they grew hot and began to burn his skin. He hissed in pain has he relaxed his wrists. The cuffs returned to normal temperature as he tried not to move.

 

“Like them?” a voice said from the dark void in front of Peter.

“Who’s there?” Peter yelled back.

“Ah ah, Mr. Parker,” the voice said calmly. “We answer questions when they are asked of us. Hasn’t Tony Stark ever taught you manners?”

Peter felt a prickle in the back of his neck as he felt cold liquid seep up into his scalp. His vision became blurry, black spots dancing across his vision. He felt sick.

“I said, do you like them,” the voice said again, so silkily soft, laced with malice. “The cuffs?”

“Can’t say that I…do,” Peter gasped, pinching his eyes shut to try and dissuade some of the dizziness that was bombarding his system.

“They’re power dampening, so don’t think that you can break your way out of them. Although, you might be wanting to here soon…”

“Who. Are. You.” Peter said through gritted teeth. The man stepped forward, footsteps reverberating around the room. He came into the light in front of Peter. Peter’s mouth fell open when he saw that the man in front of him was the man that he had helped out of the burning building.

“You…You’re from the fire,” Peter said numbly.

“My name is Quentin Beck. Call me Mysterio. Don’t worry, the fire’s long gone now,” Beck said with a smile.

“Why do you have me here,” Peter said, his mind working uncharacteristically slow.

“Well that is an interesting question,” Beck replied. “How about we send a message to our friend Tony Stark and ask him.”

____________________

 

Tony was about to lose it. They had all searched the surrounding buildings near the field to no success. They arrived back at the compound, each one of them trying to think of what to do next. Tony was just about ready to jump out of his skin with F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s voice reverberated around the living room.

“Boss, there is an incoming video message. Would you like me to patch it through?”

“Yes. Yes, put it through,” Tony said frantically. If it was Peter…

The screen in front of him flickered into life as the other Avengers grouped around him. There sat Peter, bound to a chair. He looked confused and scared, but otherwise unhurt. Tony breathed out a sound somewhere between a gasp and a groan as another man stepped into focus.

“Hello, Mr. Stark. Long time no see,” the man said.

“Or maybe…you don’t even remember me? The name is Quentin Beck. How’s the B.A.R.F. technology coming along? You know, pretty shitty name for something so brilliant. You know that technology is mine, Stark. I developed it, hoping to redefine the world with it. But instead, here you are using it for your little therapy project. It’s time for me to show you what it could have been. What it still could be.”

_______

 

Beck walked around to face Peter once more. He bent down to look him in his face. “Now Spider-Man. Tell me, do you actually like spiders?”

“Go to hell,” Peter spat.

“That’s what I thought,” Beck said with a callous smile. Peter heard two clicks from behind Beck’s back as he felt the cold sensation traveling up his brain stem. He felt something prickle on his leg as he gasped and looked down. Hundreds of spiders littered the ground as they scuttled towards him and began to crawl up his legs.

“No, no, no,” Peter begged, trying to kick the spiders away. He sensed them crawl up the back of his chair and around his arms and chest. Out of instinctual terror, he tried fighting the cuffs around his wrists, only to have them burn horribly at the resistance, making Peter scream aloud. He tried to relax his hands as more and more spiders crawled up his body, covering his chest, neck, and around his head.

“Please...Please. Stop it, stop, no, no, please,” Peter whimpered, his body shaking with pent up adrenaline that he could not release, lest he continue to burn his wrists.

 

________

Miles away, Tony and the team watched in horror as Peter seemed to fight against something. He was looking down around him as if something were on his body, but there was nothing there.

 

“Please...Please. Stop it, stop, no, no, please,” they heard him whimper.

Peter began to gag and splutter as his eyes tightly closed. A few quickening breaths later, Peter let out a horrible, blood curdling scream.

 

“What are they doing to him?” Clint asked, horrorstruck.

 

Tony wanted to yell, scream at the camera even though he knew Peter would never hear him. He ran his hand across his face, moaning, “There’s nothing there, Pete.”

 

His heart stopped when he heard the kid say his name. “P-please Mr. Stark. I don’t know where I am. Please…help me. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Peter whimpered.

 

“Tony Stark isn’t coming for you because he doesn’t care about you. You are worthless to him. I bet he’s glad that you’re gone. I’m doing him a favor.”

 

“No kid, don’t listen to him!” Tony yelled at the screen. “Let him go, you son of a bitch.”

 

Beck walked in front of the camera in front of Peter’s crying form, “You’ll find him when I’m ready for you to find him,” he said, now unsmiling.

 

The screen went black and Tony sunk to the floor.

Chapter Text

Peter had no idea how long he had been in the clutches of Beck, but all that he knew was that he was bone tired, his vision going in and out of focus. His stomach growled painfully, having not eaten anything since he had arrived there. Had it been days? Weeks? Reality had become confused, muddled. Days passed being tormented by creatures from Peter’s wildest dreams: snakes, locusts, hurricanes, and tornadoes, all of which his body refused to believe wasn’t real.

 

“Are you tired, Peter?” Beck asked, inches from his face. “Don’t let me stop you, a growing boy needs his rest.”

Peter felt the familiar rush of cool liquid up the back of his head as his vision swam in and out more dangerously. He felt his head drop onto his chest.

 

He woke up what seemed to be hours later, sunlight streaming into the windows of his…bedroom at the Avengers compound? Had he been rescued? He wouldn’t have been surprised if his mind had lapsed in memory. How long had he been here? Peter shot out of bed, his heart racing as he ran down the hallway. He could hear voices coming from the kitchen.

 

“I really wish Beck would have just gotten rid of him,” he heard Tony’s voice carry from the kitchen. Peter’s chest clenched painfully. “Ever since his aunt died, he’s become such a needy brat. I have better things to do with my time than babysit a charity case.”

 

“What are you going to do with him now that he’s home?” he heard Steve say.

“I don’t know. I can’t get rid of him because that would look bad on me and the company. Maybe I could just ship him off to a boarding school somewhere and get him out of all of our hair. Sam, you said there’s no way to fix his issues?” Tony questioned.

“I’ve tried talking it through with him, but he’s so resistant and stubborn that I doubt anything will make a difference. He may just be damaged for life. I figured he might be, considering his aunt’s death is his fault anyway,” Sam said.

Peter felt the air leave the room as he stumbled back down the hallway, away from the group of Avengers. He found himself climbing out his window and sprinting into the forests behind the compound, his breath coming in sharp, painful stabs.

Peter lost track of how long he had been running until his foot caught a large tree branch and he fell forward, his chin colliding with the hard earth. He groaned and covered his mouth as he coughed. Pulling his hand away, he found large spots of dark blood.

“Peter, are you ok?” he heard a voice say above him. No. Not her. It can’t be her.

“You’re dead,” Peter mumbled, bringing himself up onto his hands and knees, but not looking up.

“Peter, look at me, please baby,” the voice said. Peter thought his heart would burst as he laid eyes on his Aunt May, who was standing before him. He gasped as he took in her appearance. Her clothes were ripped and she had a gash on the side of her face. Her body was dirty and decaying and her eyes…her eyes… They were sunken and white, two glassy orbs, unseeing, and lifeless. She smiled a conniving grin. “Yes, Peter. I’m dead and so is the rest of your family, and it’s all your fault, right honey?”

May looked to her left as a figure rose from the ground and took the form of Uncle Ben. The side of his face torn and bloody, his face gaunt. He had the same lifeless, glassy eyes of his wife. His head tilted down to look at his chest, a large, dark, bloodstain across his chest. He looked at Peter on the ground and stepped forward.

“Why didn’t you stop the bullet, Peter?” he asked in an expressionless voice.

“Why didn’t you stop the car that hit me, Peter?” May asked, also stepping forward.

“Why couldn’t you have been Spider-Man back then, Peter? Maybe you could have saved the plane,” two knew voices caused Peter to shut his eyes. No. Not them. Please not them. Anyone but them.

“Look at us, Peter. Look at us,” the voices said. He felt his head betray him as he looked into the burned faces of his parents. Tears were streaming down Mary Parker’s face as she approached her son. Richard Parker also stepped forward.

“How could you do this to your mother, Peter? Look at her. Didn’t she deserve to live?” he said, accusingly.

“I’m…I’m sorry…” Peter cried as he tried to inch back across the forest floor.

“That’s not good enough, Peter. Look at yourself. You get everyone around you killed. The world would be better off without you,” his father said, cold hatred in his sightless eyes.

“Come and join us, Peter, you know you want to,” May Parker crooned. She paused, looking thoughtful, “Although, I doubt you’ll be going where we are.”

“After all, how could heaven welcome a murderer like you,” the four cried in unison.

Peter let out a sob that quickly turned into a scream as he felt himself sinking through the earth, his skin tearing from dirt and branches. He heard them call Murderer... Murderer... Murderer… as he plummeted down. He felt hot flames lick his skin as he screamed in agony. His back slammed against a hard surface as he stared into the faces of his two best friends.

“What if it’s us next, Peter?” Ned asked sadly.

“You know it’s bound to happen,” MJ added. The two vanished, leaving behind an expansive scene of fire, eruptions, and chaos.

The ground was smoldering and crumbling beneath him as Tony Stark materialized in front of him. From behind, a blade pierced right through Tony’s chest as he gasped and spluttered, “How could you let this happen? You weren’t there to save me, Peter.”

Peter inched his way back, his mouth open wide in shock, the breath gone from his lungs. He felt tears cascade down his face as he found his voice, “No, no, no, no, no, no,” he screamed. “Please, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he sobbed.

“Stop your apologies, kid. You need to wake up and face the responsibility of your actions,” Tony said, his voice rising as he advanced towards him, the blade still protruding from his chest. He crouched down in front of Peter.

“It’s time for you to WAKE UP,” he yelled as he slapped Peter hard across the face.

Peter’s screams did not leave his throat as he opened his eyes, gasping in the middle of a field. He heard a faint buzzing behind him growing louder and louder. He turned around just in time to see a swarm of yellow jackets upon him. Peter shot up from the ground and began to run, trying to swat away the bugs as they began to sting every part of his body. Peter began to moan in pain as the bug’s poison seeped into different points in his skin. One sting was one thing, but hundreds…Peter collapsed, gasping for air as the hornets continued to sting every part of his body. All he could do was lie there on the ground, trying to shield as much of his body as possible. After what seemed like hours, the bees flew away.

Peter made no effort to move.

He lay there, gasping for air, as he felt the ground rumble beneath him. He felt vines inching up his legs but he found no energy to move. Mustering up as much strength has he could, he feebly tried to get up, but found that his muscles would not respond. He remained there, lifeless as a ragdoll upon the ground as the vines wrapped themselves around Peter’s legs, arms, chest and waist. They constricted painfully as the pulled him into an upright position, leaving him once again gasping for air. The vines inched their way up his back and around his throat as they wrapped around his windpipe, closing around his throat. Peter gasped and spluttered for air. This is how I die. This is truly how I die. Maybe it’s for the best, he thought dully. Please just make it end. Just make the pain stop.

His eyes began to pop in his head as his brain screamed for oxygen. Black spots danced across his vision, and he knew no more.

 

 

He felt a hand grab his chin gently and pull his face upward. His head lolled uselessly on its own as Peter tried to look up at the face in front of him. Beck was staring at him, scrutinizing Peter’s face.

“Not quite there yet, huh, Peter? What the matter? Nightmares keeping you up again?” Beck asked, cold hatred in his voice now.

Beck turned as the sound of shouts came issuing from outside the room. A door out of sight burst open as Tony came charging through the door. “Get away from him,” he growled as he shot Beck squarely in the chest with a blast from his gauntlet. Tony rushed over to Peter, whose head was still limp on his chest. Tony lifted his chin, calling out to Peter, “Pete, oh god, Pete, can you hear me?”

Peter looked into the concerned face of Tony Stark, his heart about to burst with relief.

“M’ss’r S’rk,” he mumbled.

“Yeah, Pete, I got you,” Tony said imploringly.

“Get m’out of h’re,” Peter begged.

Tony stopped and looked Peter in the eye, still holding his chin. He smiled, “Oh Peter, if only I was actually here.” The face of Tony stark crumbled into dust only to be replaced with the face of Mysterio, still wearing the same evil grin.

Peter’s heart sank as he let out a broken sob.

“Don’t you remember, Peter? Tony Stark doesn’t want you. He’s not coming for you. I’m the only thing that’s actually real right now. You know, these mental games are going a bit slow for me. What do you say we blend a little reality in here?” Beck stood up and turned his back to Peter.

Peter felt the cuffs clink open as he slid onto the floor, his vision fading to black.

______________


“Tony, you have to eat something.”

“No.”

“Tony please, you’re no good to Peter like this,” Steve said gently.

“I’m no good to Peter now because it’s been two fucking months and I’m no closer to finding him than I was when he first went missing,” Tony snapped at the soldier, who recoiled slightly.

The team was similarly a mess. None of them had been sleeping well and all of them were at their wits end on what to do. Tony had expectedly been taking it the worst. His eyes were sunken and no longer held the lively spark that was so characteristic of him. His shirt hung loosely on his shoulders, revealing his collarbones.

 

“Boss, there is an incoming video,” F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s voice sounded.

“Put it through,” Tony gasped, his heart beating wildly against his chest.

The screen flickered to life and tony let out a low breath. Peter was sitting on the ground of what looked to be an old warehouse, his arms chained up above him. Peter was looking all around him with wide, yet tired and sunken eyes, flinching slightly here and there, as if seeing something above him. He was not wearing a shirt and Tony could see the bones jut out from his emaciated looking form. He looked like a war prisoner.

“Oh kid,” Tony gasped, swaying on his feet. He felt two pairs of arms on either side of him hold his arms and he turned to see Steve and Bruce holding him steady and looking equally as horrified.

“Oh, hello Mr. Stark,” Mysterio said nonchalantly, “Peter isn’t looking so hot, huh? I don’t think he would know it, though. I don’t think he knows much of what anything is anymore. We still have a little work left to do before I let you have him though.”

Tony gritted his teeth as Beck pulled out a small device. “Oh, Peter?” Beck called in a singsong voice. Whatever Peter must have been seeing seemed to have disappeared because Peter flopped his head lazily to look at Beck.

“Remember that mantra that we’ve been practicing?” Beck asked the boy. Peter’s face suddenly scrunched up in agony, as if he was trying not to see something. “Come on, I know you know it,” Beck said silkily.

Tony heard a faint hiss as Peter shivered, as if something was running up his spine.

“Do you need a little incentive, Peter?”

Beck pushed a button on the device in his hand and Tony watched in horror as electricity ran down the chains holding Peter and down Peter’s entire body. Peter let out an ear splitting scream as his body surged with electricity. He lifted himself up off the ground as he tried to break free of the chains, only to slump once the electricity stopped. His body fell hard enough that the chains caught his one arm. With a sickening pop, Peter’s left shoulder dislocated, eliciting another yelp from Peter, who was breathing heavily now.

“Let’s go through it together, shall we?” Beck said menacingly.

“Number one, Peter,” he said, holding up a finger.

“Nothing except this is real. This is my only reality,” Peter gasped.

“That’s right. Number 2?” Beck prompted.

“I killed my family.”

“Number 3?”

“I am worthless and a burden.”

“Number 4?”

“I deserve this.”

“Good, Peter. Number 5, now. We can’t forget this one,” Beck said lowly.

“Mister Stark is not coming for me. He never was and never will,” Peter finished, a tears sliding down his face.

“I need one more day with him, Stark. You’ll get your coordinates tomorrow. That is, if you still even want him,” Beck said, a scowl on his face. The screen went black.

 

Back at the compound, the Avengers hurried to catch Tony as he fainted.

Chapter Text

“So, Peter, one more exercise until we say goodbye, ok?” Beck said, pacing slowly in front of Peter’s gasping form.

“One more illusion mixture to finish the job. You get to participate in this one! Your heightened senses are going to be the star of this show, Peter,” Beck said with a grin.

Peter, whose senses had already been aggravated by two months of stimulation, shivered in fear. Peter felt the cool sensation in his neck (which he had learned was from a device Beck had implanted in his neck after being captured) as his vision swam. Beck stepped out in front of him, holding a syringe containing a green liquid.

“We need a little extra help with this one,” he said as he plunged the needle into Peter’s neck.

“No, no, no, no,” he whispered, as upon the entrance of the serum, his senses began to heighten to a fever pitch as the stimulation around him became unbearable. He pinched his eyes shut, only for Beck to slip another syringe into Peter’s neck.

“Ah ah, we can’t have you closing your eyes,” Beck said tauntingly. He moved so that his face was inches from Peters.

“Don’t you want to keep you eyes open, Peter? Don’t you want to keep them open, no matter what,” Beck annunciated.

Peter couldn’t think straight. It was like a second voice was hijacking his own conscience.

That sounds nice. Yes, Peter, just keep your eyes open. You want to do this. No matter what, the voice said sweetly. Peter found that he wanted to obey. His eyes snapped open.

“Good boy, Peter,” Mysterio said with a smile. “I’ll see you again some day, Peter,” Mysterio whispered in his ear, “I’d do this the traditional way, but this device is an easy one-stop-shop, you know?”

Mysterio placed a helmet-like device over Peter’s head, not unlike a motorcycle helmet, but it did not cover his mouth. It snapped against his ears and lenses were placed in front of his eyes, not unlike a VR device.

 

The warehouse was suddenly illuminated by thousands of strikingly bright lights. Peter gasped at the sudden brightness, his eyes searing with pain due to his heightened senses, but the voice in the back of his head whispered, You don’t really want to close your eyes Peter. You have to keep them open, right?

“R-right” Peter bit through clenched teeth. Seemingly against his will, his eyes snapped open towards the bright light. Through the light, he saw figures walk towards him, ghostlike and spectral. May, Ben, his parents, Ned, MJ, Tony, and the rest of the Avengers walked towards him, their eyes the same glassy, gaunt orbs as they were before.

Suddenly, bright flames erupted up around them. The group looked down in horror and began to scream shrill, earsplitting screams that pierced Peter’s heightened eardrums. He screamed at the pain of it only to feel electricity running like fire down his skin. He was going to burn here along with them. His senses were screaming at him from every direction. Soon, he felt a warm liquid trickling from his ears and his eyes, which refused to close. Surely this was how it ended.

 

_____________

 

Tony woke up slowly, not comprehending why he had a nagging feeling of misery. The sight of Peter being tortured by Quentin Beck came rushing back to him as he shot up in a bed he realized he was lying in. He ripped back the covers and unceremoniously ripped out an IV in his arm as monitors blared around him. He stood on his own two feet but swayed dangerously.

“Tony!” someone yelled as he was pushed back on the bed, his vision swimming.

“Tony, calm down,” another voice said. Tony looked up into the faces of Bruce and Natasha.

“Peter,” Tony breathed.

“Tony, there’s nothing new. It’s around five in the morning,” Natasha said quietly.

“We need to find him now,” Tony said sharply.

“Tony, we know, but we’re no closer to finding out how to get to him than we were two months ago,” Bruce tried to reason.

“There has to be something we’re missing. Something we’re not…seeing,” Tony faltered at the last sentence.

“What is it, Tony?” Natasha asked, slightly alarmed.

“I can’t believe it,” Tony said, smacking himself on the forehead. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner. Where are the others?”

Tony stood up, steadier this time and hurried out of the room to where Bucky, Clint, Sam, and Steve were all huddled around cups of coffee.

“I know where Peter is. He’s right where it says he is. DAMMIT,” he yelled, slamming his fist on the table, “He’s been right where Beck has said he was the whole time and we just ignored the possibility.”

“But Tony, it was just an empty field where Peter’s tracker said he was,” Natasha said, “Unless…oh my gosh, you’re right.”

Tony addressed the rest of the team, “Beck has been using illusions like he created for the technology for Stark Industries. How many open fields do you know in the middle of New York City? He’s been disguising the building as if there was nothing there. We’ve been walking around it for months!”

“How are we going to get in there if we can’t see it?” Bucky asked, confused.

“We have to walk through the illusion. We have to trust it is there. If we intercept the image and get inside of it, it should be easier to see,” Tony said, making his way to the door. Steve hurried to grab his arm.

“Tony you’re in no condition to go in there, just look at yourself,” Steve exclaimed, taking in Tony’s gaunt form. The others looked as well at the man who had become a shell of what he once was. Despite this, Tony’s face became alive with a vicious fury. He looked up into the now slightly fearful face of the super soldier.

“If you think that I’m going to sit here and wait while you all go find my boy, I swear to god, I will blast my way out of this room and I don’t care who get’s in my way,” Tony hissed dangerously. The team looked highly taken aback, but nodded in agreement.

“Bruce I need you to call Cho, tell her what we’re dealing with. I have no idea what kind of shape Peter is going to be in when we find him,” Tony said in a much gentler voice. He looked up into the face of the doctor, tears in his eyes. Bruce nodded and left the room.

“Alright, let’s go get our kid,” Tony said.

 

 

They arrived at the field in less than 20 minutes. Tony looked across the expanse of land that he had seen many times before. His breath hitched in his chest. What was he going to find in there? Would he find his boy? The Peter that he knew? He suddenly felt frozen. He felt a small hand grasp his own as he looked into the eyes of Natasha.

“We’re going to get him, Tony. Together.”

Tony nodded, activating the Iron Man suit and stepping forward with Natasha, the others close behind. Tony closed his eyes as he felt himself push through an invisible barrier. The five avengers gasped as they came face to face with a large warehouse.

They looked at each other, each communicating the same thing with their eyes alone. They walked forward. They approached the dilapidated door and pushed it open with a creak.

Beck was just standing there in a side hallway, looking at a computer. White-hot rage bubbled up inside Tony has he blasted the computer with one of his repulsors. Surprised, Beck looked up and his mouth fell open, “How-” he began, but Tony had already charged forward grabbing Beck by the throat and lifting him of his feet. The man struggled and gasped under Tony’s grasp.

“Where is he,” Tony growled. The others stood back in horror of the point to which Tony had been pushed, but they did nothing to stop him. They all would kill him if Tony hadn’t gotten there first.

“Are…you sure…he’s even…Peter…anymore,” Beck choked, his smiling face turning blue, “I wouldn’t…be…so sure.”

Tony yelled in rage as he lowered him down to place a second hand on his head. In one swift movement, Beck’s neck snapped as he fell to the floor. Tony looked towards the others as if daring them to say something, but their faces were all set.

The group ran down the hallway to where they could hear distant screams and whimpers. They rounded the corner to see Peter chained with his arms above his head. The chains were channeling currents of electricity from the celling from which he was attached. They all ran up to him, but he didn’t seem to hear them. They took in the device he had across his head as they looked at each other.

“Get him down,” Tony said, looking at Clint. Clint nodded, but turned to Steve and Bucky.

“His shoulder is dislocated. We can’t just let him drop. Nat, cut the power. That lever over there,” he said, pointing to a silver handle on the wall behind Peter. Nat rushed over and tugged at the lever. It swung down and the electricity stopped. Peter stopped twitching but still whimpered. From underneath the helmet, they could see blood seeping down his neck and down his chest. Wishing he didn’t have to see what was underneath, he gently pulled off the helmet to a collective gasp from the group. Peter’s entire face looked bloodshot. His eyes were bloodshot and bleeding and his ears also leaked dark crimson blood. The boy didn’t seem to see them.

“Clint are you ready?” Tony asked, trying to hold back tears as he, Bucky, and Steve all gathered around Peter. Clint nodded as Steve gave directions.

“Tony, hover a little bit and hold is upper and lower back. Buck, be ready to catch his legs. I’m going to hold the chain and lower him down slowly once the chain is broken. Nat, you can help me with his arms. The team nodded and took their positions.

“Clint, you ready?” Steve asked.

The archer nodded as he took an arrow and placed it in his bow, “These are heavy chains. There’s going to be a small detonation when I shoot it to break it.”

Steve nodded, grabbing the lowest part of the chain.

“One, two, three,” Clint counted as he shot the arrow with expert precision. The arrow exploded as it made contact with the chain. Clint had shot the arrow about two feet from where Steve’s hands were positioned. Sparks showered down around them as the chain broke. Natasha jumped to catch the top of the piece of the chain still attached to Peter so it wouldn’t hit his head. The team lowered him down to the ground, Peter’s eyes wide and staring. Steve and Natasha worked on releasing the metal cuffs from Peter’s wrists as Tony bent down over him. The kid looked like a skeleton. His cheekbones cast dark shadows across his face and his ribs jutted out across his chest. He couldn’t be more than 100 lbs.

“Pete, hey, hey, kid. Look at me,” Tony implored touching the side of Peter’s face. At his contact, Peter yelped in pain as if burned. Tony retracted his hand at once, looking at the others. Sam spoke up, “Beck must have done something to enhance his sensory stimulation and responses. That’s why his eyes and ears are bleeding and why he was wearing that helmet.

“G…g’ve s’mth’n. Drug…” Peter whispered, his eyes continuing to bleed. He looked at Tony clearly for the first time and his face scrunched up in misery.

“Nooo…stop…pl’se,” he groaned.

“Pete, what is it?” Tony said, confused.

“Y’re not real. St’p…no m’re… pl’se,” Peter whispered, nearing breaking Tony’s heart.

“Peter I promise on my life that I’m real. This is real. Kid, I swear on my life, I’m here.”

Rather than looking relieved, Peter’s look of misery increased as he looked away from Tony.

“Pete, close your eyes,” Tony whispered back sadly, not wanting to damage the kid’s hearing anymore.

“Can’t…g’tta keep th’m op’n. He s’d to,” Peter whimpered.

“Peter, you don’t have to listen to him anymore,” Tony implored. Peter looked on the verge of listening to him. Ever so gently, Tony lightly grazed his hand over Peter’s eyelids, helping them shut. Peter seemed too tired to fight back. Tony let out a small sob as Natasha placed a hand on his shoulder.

“We need to set this, Tony,” Sam said, now at Peter’s shoulder. Bucky was slowly trying to lower Peter’s right arm down by his side. The boy’s breaths were quickening in pain as the ligaments and tendons screamed in protest.

“Right now?” Tony asked, desperately.

“Better now than later. I know how to do it from military training. I’ll try and make it as quick as possible. I promise,” Sam finished softly.

Tony nodded, crouching next to Peter’s ear. “ We’re going to set your arm, ok Pete? It’s going to hurt for a moment, but I promise it’s going to feel better,” Tony whispered.

Peter simply nodded, tears mixed with blood leaking out of his closed eyes.

“Steve, you hold Peter’s shoulder while I lower his arm. I need to lower it and hopefully it will pop back in during that motion, but I want the shoulder stabilized. Bucky, hold his other hand; Tony and Nat, hold his legs down so he doesn’t kick them up. It’s going to be painful.” The team nodded and took their allotted positions. Sam began slowly lowering the boy’s arm as he began to whimper. The ligaments and tendons resisted, no doubt already healing around the dislocation. With a final push, Sam lowered Peter’s arm to the ground as the joint reconnected, eliciting a sharp scream from Peter. He breathed heavily, eyes still mercifully closed.

“Come on. Let’s get him out of here,” Steve said. Tony’s suit opened in the front as he held Peter close to his chest. The nanotech formed a sort of cocoon around Peter’s body, which was curled around Tony’s chest. Tony tried not to think about how shockingly light the boy was.

“FRI, soundproof the inside of the suit. Make sure no light or sound is getting in,” Tony said.

“Yes, boss,” the AI responded. Tony could feel Peter’s heart beating against his own chest. The boy was trembling, no doubt from the residual electricity.

“I’m going to take him. Meet me in medbay,” Tony said as they exited the building. The others nodded as Tony shot up into the sky, his son’s miraculous breathing warm against his chest.

Chapter Text

Steve, Sam, Bucky, Clint, and Natasha arrived back at the compound twenty minutes later. They burst through the medbay doors to find Tony with his head in his hands. He looked up as they entered, his face utterly broken.

“How is he?” Clint asked at once.

Tony sighed, “I don’t know. Bruce went back with Cho and I haven’t heard anything since. He didn’t seem to have any life threatening injuries back in the warehouse.” Just then, Bruce walked through the doors and Tony stood up swiftly.

“Bruce, talk to me,” Tony said, his eyes imploring.

“He doesn’t have any serious injuries except for the damage sustained by his eyes and his ears. His tolerance for sound and visual stimuli was greatly decreased by whatever drug that Beck gave him. Cho’s team is trying to analyze it now. He can technically still see and hear, but from what I gathered before I left to come out here, we’re keeping him on audial and visual rest until they both heal enough for normal stimulation. I’m hoping that whatever Beck gave him will also wear off and speed up the healing process. There’s still so much about Peter’s abilities that we don’t know and how they respond to things like this.” Bruce looked apologetic, “There’s not exactly a handbook on spider-enhanced teenagers.”

“When can I see him?” Tony asked, his voice tight.

“I don’t see why it can’t be soon after Helen finishes patching him up. I should warn you though, it’s a damned good thing that he doesn’t need major surgery.

“Why not?” Steve asked, confused.

“His body weight is dangerously low,” Bruce sighed, looking around at the group as if to gauge their reaction before continuing. “We weighed him in at 93 lbs. Beck had to have fed him over the two months, but it had to only have been just enough to keep him alive. He’s also severely dehydrated. I’m honestly surprised his body is still functioning. His metabolism is also a critical detractor to the situation. The stress on his heart alone would make him unviable for any kind of invasive surgery. We have him on an IV and an enteral refeeding schedule. At his rate, it will be at least two weeks before we see any physical improvement. We can’t just stuff him full of food; his body would go into shock.” Bruce’s voice trailed off has he took stock of the stillness in the room. None of the team seemed to be breathing. Bruce seemed to have realized that he had given too much information for the time being because his gaze softened as he placed a hand on Tony’s shoulder.

“Tony, he’s home. We have him now. We’re going to do everything to get him better again. I’m extremely hopeful he will make a full recovery with time.”

“What if he doesn’t, Bruce? God, I look after the kid for what, four months? Then, this happens?”

“Tony, stop,” Steve interjected firmly. “This is not your fault. None of this is your fault. Peter is lucky to have you. He has all of us.”

“What if we can’t fix him, Steve? What if he never gets better? We have no idea of everything that monster did to him.”

“We’ll meet him where he is, Tony,” Clint said softly. “We will love him as he is. He’s still our Peter. He always will be.”

Tony looked at each one of them, his eyes imploring and frantic. His lips tightened against an onrushing of fear, worry, anger, sadness, and frustration. He closed his eyes as he felt a figure step closer to him.

“Come here, Tony,” Natasha said as he felt her warm arms circle around his tense frame. “Come on, Tony, breathe with me. In and out,” Natasha said soothingly. Tony couldn’t help it. He wrapped his arms around the woman he had come to know for almost eight years and let himself be held. He let out a shuddering breath and felt some of the immense tension he had been holding for two months siphon off.

“He’s going to be ok, Tony,” Nat whispered. He nodded into her shoulder but broke away before the dam inside him broke for good. He stepped back, quickly wiping his eyes. He was surprised to find that he swayed on his feet as he stepped back. Bucky, who was standing close behind him, caught his arm.

“You ok, Tony?” he asked, concern etching his face.

“Yeah…yeah. I’m good,” Tony said unconvincingly. “It’s just been a long two months.”

“Why don’t you go lie down for a few hours, Tones,” Rhodey suggested, placing a hand on his best friend’s back.

“No!” Tony nearly shouted, causing them all to jump slightly. Tony readjusted. “I mean, no, I can’t. I need to see him as soon as possible. I want to be there when he wakes up.”

“Tony,” Bruce said gently, “Peter’s going to be out for a while. He’s in a light coma.”

Tony wanted to prove to the group that he could keep his shit together, but he felt his face pale at the mention of the word “coma”. He took several deep breaths regardless to ground himself. He just stared at Bruce, unable to speak. He shook his head to try and indicate that he wasn’t on board with their suggestions. Bruce seemed to understand.

“Why don’t you at least just go and get something to eat. No, Tony listen, you’re dead on your feet. Give yourself an hour to take care of yourself. Go get a shower, eat something, and come back in an hour. That will give us enough time to finish with Peter and get him to a room where you can see him afterwards.”

Tony looked around at his friends, desperate for them to change their mind. How could they be thinking about him right now? It was Peter that needed their attention. Finally, his exhaustion convinced him to give in.

“Fine. One hour, Bruce…and I’m eating in here,” Tony said, gesturing to the medbay waiting area as one last act of defiance as he turned and left the room. Rhodey shrugged and gave Bruce a look as if to say, “hey, it’s better than nothing” as he turned to follow his friend, probably to make sure he followed through with what he had promised.

 

An hour later found Tony showered, changed, and eating a sandwich in the medbay common area. He didn’t look too thrilled about it, but he ate it nonetheless. The rest of the Avengers sat nearby: Natasha was laying on a sofa with her head on Clint’s leg, who had his arms folded and his eyes closed. Bucky and Sam sat in chairs, staring at a TV showing the news, but none of them really took in what it was saying. Steve also sat with his arms folded, stealing glances at the medbay doors. Rhodey sat next to Tony, stealing concerned glances at his best friend as he nibbled on his sandwich. After what seemed like an eternity, Bruce and Helen came through the doors. Tony immediately discarded his food and stood up, looking anxious. Helen smiled at him as she gave Tony a warm hug.

“You can go see him, Tony,” she said. “He’s still sleeping and may be for a while. We actually tried giving him a sedative when we worked but his body seemed to resist it. We’re still trying to figure out why, though. It’s ok, Tony,” she said, seeing the look of alarm on the man’s face, “We’re thinking it may have something to do with what Beck gave him. Then again, there’s so much about his physiology that we still don’t know. We’re working on flushing his system now. He slept through the whole thing and nothing was particularly invasive, so he wasn’t in any pain.”

Tony nodded stiffly and she continued, gesturing for him to follow her into the hall. Tony looked back at the Avengers who nodded to say he should go on his own for this first time. They would see Peter later.

“His eyes and his ears are bandaged,” she said gently as the walked together down the hall. “He sustained some damage to his ear drums as well as his retinas. The eyes will recover quicker than the eardrums, but that’s not to say they won’t recover quickly as well, especially with his enhanced healing. The bandages are there mostly for protection. I hope to have them off before he wakes up, but he’ll still wear some noise cancelling headphones and some sunglasses. He also has a nasogastric tube to give him nutrients and calories. He’ll look worse than he really is, but he’s still very weak.”

Tony could only nod mutely as they turned the corner into the room where Peter must be. They entered the room, which was in semidarkness except for a small light in the corner of the room. Even in the darkness, Tony could see the tube running from the boy’s nose and an oxygen mask placed over top. There was also an IV in Peter’s left hand. His dislocated shoulder lay in a sling across his chest. He could also make out just how small he looked, lying there with much of his head bandaged. Helen gave him a small squeeze on the shoulder.

“Go sit with him. You can talk to him if you’d like, but make it a whisper. You can hold his hand but not too tightly. We can’t quite tell yet, but if all of his senses were affected, his sense of touch will also be sensitive.

Tony looked at her and nodded, catching her arm before she left. “Thank you,” he whispered. Helen squeezed his hand comfortingly.

“Of course,” she said with a smile as she walked out of the room.

Tony, not wanting to mess this up, took off his shoes so that he walked over to the right side of Peter’s bed in his socks, not making a sound. The only sound in the room was the gentle whoosh of the oxygen mask on Peter’s face. Tony sat in the chair beside Peter’s bed as he took his hand as gently as possible. He could feel Peter’s knuckles protruding from his skeletal hands.

“Hey, kid,” he whispered into the dark.

Tony suddenly felt his voice catch in his throat as he looked at the boy through the dim lighting. He closed his eyes as tears threatened to spill over. He gently took Peter’s hand in both of his own and brought it up to his face, planting a soft kiss on the kid’s knuckles.

“God, kid, I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “You don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve any of this. You deserve to live with your parents and visit your aunt and uncle and not be taken by psychopathic ex-employees because of me. I tried to find you, kid, I really did. I just didn’t try hard enough. I swear though, I will make this up to you. Like Clint said, we’re right here when you wake up. We will all meet you where you are. You’re home now. You’re safe. We’re going to help you get better, no matter what form that takes. We all will.”

Tony sat there for a few more moments. The hissing of the oxygen mask was interrupted by a second hissing sound. This one was slightly muffled and seemed to come from Peter’s skull. Tony leaned forward just in time to see Peter’s eyebrows, just visible above his bandages, furrow slightly and the heart monitor pick up speed.

He placed Peter’s hand back on the bed as he stood up quietly. He crept out of the room where he found Bruce and Cho standing a ways down the hall, talking in low voices. Bruce looked up.

“Tony? What is it? Is Peter alright?” Bruce asked, concerned.

“Umm…I think so,” Tony said. “I don’t know,” he amended.

“What’s the matter?” Cho said, walking quickly towards him. Tony didn’t respond immediately.

“Did you do a full physical exam on him?” Tony asked cautiously.

“I checked for broken bones, any internal bleeding, reflexes, breathing function, heart, eyes and ears, obviously, his nose and his throat. Why?” Cho asked, confused.

“I…I don’t know. It’s probably nothing,” Tony said.

Bruce spoke up, “Tony tell us. What are you thinking?”

“It was just…when I was in there just now, I hear another hissing noise apart from his oxygen mask, somewhere around the back of his head, it seemed. After that, his heart rate spiked and he furrowed his eyebrows in his sleep.”

Helen and Bruce exchanged a sharp look and hurried passed Tony without another word. Tony followed, his heart suddenly frantic.

The three filed into the room as Cho brightened the lights slightly. She took out a penlight out of her pocket and turned to Bruce and Tony.

“I need you to turn him on his side,” she instructed, Carefully, the two men turned Peter onto his side and turned on the bright penlight. She felt her fingers along Peter’s scalp as she traveled down his neck. Her sudden sharp intake of breath did not go unnoticed.

“What is it?” Tony asked swiftly. Cho didn’t say anything, but looked from Tony to Bruce, giving Bruce a slightly more significant look as she handed him the penlight. He took it, still looking confused, but bent down and inspected Peter’s neck. Tony saw Bruce palpate the back of Peter’s neck and heard the scientist’s breath hitch. He looked up a Cho with a stony gaze.

“Will someone please tell me what the hell is going on?” Tony whispered as loud as he could.

“We need an X-ray,” Cho said.

Chapter Text

A half hour later, the three were standing in a room adjacent to Peter’s room, looking at Peter’s X-ray. Tony felt as though he could cut tension with a knife.

“What is it,” Tony asked after a long while, his face white as marble.

“It’s some sort of automatic release device. It released whatever it contains when you were sitting there, Tony,” Cho said.

“What the hell does it contain,” Tony asked through gritted teeth.

“We…we don’t know, Tony,” Bruce said quietly.

“Well, get it out of him, dammit,” Tony replied, barely managing to control his building rage. That sadistic psychopath had performed actual surgery on Tony’s kid at some point and was now hurting Peter long after he was out of his grasp. Tony took a few deep breaths, failing miserably to siphon off his rage.

“We can’t, Tony,” Cho said timidly.

“Why not?” Tony exclaimed, barely believing his ears.

“Tony, look at him! We told you earlier. He’s in no condition for surgery! The stress his heart is under right now from malnourishment and everything he went through, particularly the electricity? He could flat line on the table,” Cho said adamantly.

“But we don’t even know what’s being put into his system!” Tony yelled. “What if it’s making him worse? What if it’s killing him?”

“I don’t think that’s the case, Tony,” Bruce said calmly. “The reason neither of us caught it in the first place was because the incision Beck must have used is almost completely healed. There’s only a faint red line on Peter’s skin. He must have implanted it months ago. If this were deadly, at the rate in which it’s being released, Peter would probably be dead.”

Tony suspected that Bruce thought this was supposed to make him feel better about the situation.

“That…monster took my kid for two months pumping him full of god knows what. I want it out of him as soon as possible.” Tony said, his voice dangerously low.

“And we will,” Cho interjected, “as soon as he is strong enough to handle invasive surgery.”

The two stared at each other, willing the other to yield. Tony felt something break inside of him.

“What do we do in the meantime,” Tony asked disconsolately.

“We monitor his recovery, determine how often the device released the drug into his system, and find out what the drug is,” Cho replied calmly.

 

A few days later found Tony in Peter’s room. The bandages had been removed from Peter’s eyes and ears, but he now sported a pair of small (but effective) noise cancelling headphones. His eyes remained uncovered, but a pair of sunglasses lay beside the boy’s bed for when he woke up. The lights in the room were still dimmed considerably. Tony looked up as Cho and Bruce entered the room, wincing as he heard the familiar hiss of the device in Peter’s neck. They had calculated that the device released a drug every three hours, but they had yet to identify what it was. Helen and Bruce suspected it was because it was of Beck’s own design.

 

“We’ve figured out roughly what the drug is, Tony,” Bruce said with a small smile. Tony did not respond, but looked at the pair expectantly as they returned to the side room down the hall.

“The chemical structure that we were able to derive from Peter’s blood samples matches those closest to a powerful hallucinogen,” Cho explained. “The drug seems to be a mix between certain components of LSD and PCP.”

“But there’s some bad news, Tony,” Bruce said slowly.

Tony, whose breathing had turned shallow, turned to look at the man.

“LSD usually isn’t addictive, but PCP is.” Bruce looked as though what he was about to say was costing him every ounce of willpower. “So, even after we remove the device from his neck and stop the constant influx of drugs, we’re still going to have to regularly administer the PCP part of the drug in order to wean him off safely.” The stillness that entered the room at these words could be cut with a knife. No one spoke for half a minute until Tony began to laugh under his breath.

“Tony…” Bruce began, looking sad.

“No, Bruce. Don’t Tony me,” Tony said with a grin on his face. His next words dripped with sarcasm and faux sincerity. “Oh ok, guys, so you’re saying that all we have to do is keep giving a teenager hallucinogenic drugs to keep him safe. Oh, that’s rich. That is rich.” Bruce made a move as if to say something, but Tony held up his hand.

“No, Bruce, what the fuck,” Tony said, his voice now deadly low. “You’re saying that we can’t even take this device out of his neck because he’s too weak, but when we do, we have to keep giving him the drug in order to safely wean him off of it.”

Tony saw Helen look down, tilting her head towards Bruce, muttering something. “I’m sorry, Helen, care to share with the class?” Tony piped sardonically.

Helen looked up, her resolve clearly fighting a battle in her brain. “Tony, please sit,” she said. Tony looked from the woman to the man, a smile of absolute incredulity etched on his face. Nevertheless, he sat.

“So what is it now? Does Peter have a third eyeball in the back of his head that we don’t know about? What about a seventh sense to detect extraordinary levels of bullshit?”

“Tony, stop it,” Bruce said, his voice uncharacteristically firm and harsher than Tony had ever heard. “Do you think we’re enjoying ourselves? Do you think we’re any happier about this than you are? Tony, we had to do these tests multiple times because neither of us wanted to believe it was true. It’s killing us too to see him like this and if you set aside your own pain for one damn second, you’d realize that we’re in the same boat as you. Now I know he’s more of a son to you than to any of us, but we all care about him and love him. Have you ever considered that Helen or myself are the ones that are going to have to be giving him these drugs? How do you think that’s going to make us feel, even though we know it’s what needs to be done? How do you think it feels to have to put our own feelings aside and put off our own processing of this in order to take care of Peter physically? Now, are you going to be able to set aside your own issues for a single moment in order to hear what we have to tell you? Because Peter’s going to need all of us, Tony, including you.”

Tony sat, his face one of sad resolve, “I’m sorry Bruce. Helen, I’m sorry. Neither of you deserve it and I know you both love Peter.” Tony rubbed a hand across his face, wiping his eye quickly. “I just feel so guilty about all of this and don’t want to see him in any more pain. Now, what did you need to tell me,” Tony asked as Bruce and Helen exchanged an uncomfortable look. Helen spoke up after a few moments of silence. Her voice was slow and measured, as if this were costing her a great effort.

“Whatever drug Beck synthesized is interfering with any other drug we are trying to give him. That’s why we couldn’t give him a sedative. The drug now so constant in his system burns up any other drug we try to give him…including painkillers.” Tony felt whatever blood he had left in his face drain out of it as his mind struggled to connect the pieces of what Cho was saying. “Which means, if we want to remove the device, anesthetics will be useless. We’d have to operate without them.”

Tony felt his head fall into his hands. When he looked up, his eyes were shining with tears.

“Why him? He’s…he’s just a kid,” he lamented.

The two doctors were saved a response by the sound of yelling next door. Tony shot up and ran into the adjacent room to find Peter shaking in his bed, mumbling to himself. The sound made Tony’s heart break all over again.

“No…no… no…please. Please stop, I swear…please, I’m sorry,” Peter mumbled in his sleep.

Tony moved over to the side of Peter’s bed, gently touching his arm. “Pete, hey kid, wake up. It’s ok, it’s ok.” He looked around to Cho, “Can I take these off? He can’t hear me,” he asked quickly, gesturing to the headphones on Peter’s ears.

“Yes, but still whisper. If you yell, you’ll probably just alarm him more,” she said.

“Peter, wake up, it’s ok,” Tony implored, shaking Peter’s shoulders slightly. Peter’s eyes snapped open, wide and fearful. His gaze fell upon Tony. For a moment, his eyes showed hopeful shock, but after a few moments, Peter’s face turned into one of miserable resignation as he turned his head away from Tony. Tony heard the boy sniff into the side of his pillow.

“Please…just stop,” Peter sighed despondently. Tony straightened up, taken aback.
“Pete, what is it? What’s wrong?” Tony asked, his voice failing to mask the hurt in his heart.

Peter sighed heavily again, “You’re not real. None of you are real.”

Tony felt his heart drop to his stomach, “Peter, oh my gosh, kid. I’m real, I swear.” Peter simply looked up at him, sadly. “I can’t believe that,” he said. “Not again. Just please, leave me alone. I’m too tired.” Peter looked up towards the ceiling, looking at nothing in particular before he whispered, “Beck, please just stop. Let me go.” Peter put his headphones back on as he turned on his side and closed his eyes, not looking at the group. Feeling worse than they ever had before Peter had woken up, the group left the room.

 

Tony’s head was spinning. He vaguely heard Bruce call his name as he walked down the corridors of the compound. He wasn’t paying attention to where he was going and before he knew it, he found himself walking into the living room where the rest of the Avengers were lounging. They all looked up as he entered.

“Hey, Tony-“ Steve began, but seeing Tony’s face, he stopped. “Tony? What is it? What’s wrong? Is it Peter?” Tony remained silent, his eyes looking at things miles away in his mind. He felt his breathing constrict as his chest burned. He lost track of where he was for a moment until he felt two hands on his shoulders and looked up into the face of Sam Wilson, still not fully taking in what is eyes were registering. He felt himself being lowered onto the couch as Sam bent down in front of him.

“Tony I need you to breathe, ok? In and out. Follow my breaths,” Sam coached encouragingly. After about five minutes, Tony looked up into the deeply concerned faces of the team…his family.

“Tony, what happened?” Rhodey asked worriedly.

Tony looked at them sadly and repeated everything that Cho and Bruce had told him and everything Peter had said after he woke up. The team sat in silence as they digested what Tony had just said. Peter, their Peter, had a drug-releasing device implanted in his neck and it couldn’t be removed immediately. When it was removed, they would still have to continue giving him the drug, and when it was removed, Peter had to feel everything. On top of that, Peter didn’t think that they were real and that he was actually safe at the Avengers compound.

“It’s like we never even got rid of Beck,” Sam said darkly.

Bucky had been sitting in the corner of the room with his eyes looking at something far away. He was wringing his hands when he spoke up.

“Tony, we’re going to help him,” he said quietly. Tony, who began to act frantic again, quickly retorted.

“How, Bucky? I have no idea how to do this.”

“Tony, listen. Take a breath. We’re going to be able to help him because…because I know what it’s like to not be able to trust your own mind. My bet is that Clint and Natasha do as well to some degree. Sam’s helped those with dissociation and PTSD. Steve’s helped me more with my problems than anyone else. What Peter needs now is consistency, reliability, and for us not to walk away. He needs to see us come to his aid and not leave or trick him. Honestly, we’re probably the best people for him right now. This is going to take time, maybe a lot of time, but we’re not giving up on him, Tony.”

“Buck’s right, Tony, we’re not backing away from this. We’re all here one hundred percent,” Steve said confidently. He looked at the rest of the team, who all nodded their agreement. Bucky walked up in front of him and placed a hand on his shoulder, a look of sad understanding etched across his face, a face that had been through so much, Tony remembered. When he looked at Bucky and Steve, he always forgot that they were men out of time- that they had lived lifetimes and yet, were still learning what it meant to truly live freely. Bucky was still looking at him.

“We’re going to find him, Tony. We’re going to bring Peter home, truly home. I promise.” Bucky said. A dam inside Tony seemed to burst as the Winter Soldier pulled him into a hug.

 

“Thank you,” Tony said into Bucky’s metal shoulder. He pulled away, “Let’s get our kid back.”

 

Chapter Text

The next few days passed in a tense succession. Peter barely spoke, but Tony never left his side in medbay. Tony was sitting next to Peter’s bed the morning after Peter had sent him away. Tony was reading something on his StarkPad while Peter was lying with his eyes closed. Tony had noticed that when the boy was not sleeping, he could often be found with his eyes closed, taking calm measured breathes. About an hour after Tony had entered the room to sit with Peter, Peter’s back suddenly arched and he gasped as the hissing sound that Tony had heard before sounded in the hospital room. Tony quickly put down the StarkPad as Peter’s eyes tightened and his breath quickened.

“Pete, you ok?” Tony said cautiously. Peter did not say anything but suddenly gasped as his eyes flew open and he started clawing at the skin on his arms.

“Get them off…get them off me, please, oh god,” Peter whimpered, now leaving bright red scratches in his arms in his attempt to rid his body of this unseen assailant.

“Peter, there’s nothing there,” Tony said imploringly. Not wanting to raise his voice any higher lest he hurt the boy’s still healing eardrums, Tony gently took both of Peter’s hands in his own. The first reason was to stop Peter scratching himself, the second was to try and ground Peter and let him know that Tony was there. Upon contact on his skin, Peter’s head whipped around to face Tony’s. Peter’s eyes immediately filled with tears as Peter issued a litany of apologies. Peter took one of his hands out of Tony’s and lifted it up so it almost touched Tony’s face.

“Mister Stark, oh gosh you’re here. I’m so sorry Mister Stark, I should have done better, I should have done more. Please, please come back Tony. I don’t know how much longer I can last here,” Peter cried as he whimpered, looking down at his arms, presumably still covered in what he had seen a few minutes ago..

“Pete, I’m here. I’m real,” Tony begged for him to accept. “Whatever you’re seeing on your arms, that’s not real. I am real.” Tony then had a sudden idea. He took Peter’s hand and glided it over Peter’s opposite arm.

“Not real,” Tony said gently. He then pulled Peter’s hand up to grasp the side of Tony’s face.

“Real,” Tony said, smiling sadly. Peter’s eyes were wide in panic as he tried to comprehend what Tony was saying.

“Focus on me, kid. What do you feel,” Tony asked, still holding the boy’s hand to his face.

“You’re f-facial hair,” Peter stuttered. “Your s-skin…a…a tear,” Peter continued, now looking concerned. He extricated his hand from Tony’s as he used a finger to wipe a tear that had escaped Tony’s eye.

“That’s great kid, just focus on those things with me,” Tony said, smiling kindly.

“I’m scared, Tony,” Peter said, his head slumping back against his pillow. “I hate this.”

“I know, kid, I know,” Tony said sadly. “But hey, I’m going to be with you the whole time. We’re going to get you better and I will be with you through it every step of the way.”

Peter’s eyes glistened with tears, “I don’t want to doubt you. I don’t want to lose you.”

“You won’t, kid. If you do, I promise I’ll never let you fall too far. I’ll be an anchor for you- I’ll never let go of your hand.”

 

From then on, the two started a ritual in which Tony pointed out and reminded Peter of things that were real. Whenever a new Avenger would enter the room for the first time, Peter’s instinct was to be apathetically doubtful, refusing to fully acknowledge the newcomer in fear of being tricked by his own mind. Bruce and Helen had decided that it was best not to have anyone but Tony there with Peter during the first half hour every time the device released more of the hallucinogenic.

“The less ‘real/not real’ clarifications he has during those sensitive periods, the better. It’s best to just keep things as simple and uncomplicated as possible.”

Whenever Peter began to doubt something, whether it was something that the drugs were making him see or something that was real (and harmless), such as the other Avengers, Peter’s hand would quickly slink into Tony’s, yearning for it to ground him in reality.

Bucky Barnes walked into Peter’s room one day, having wanted to keep his distance for a while. Peter looked up and Tony could feel his body tense. Peter’s hand shot into Tony’s as his eyes darted back and forth between Bucky and Tony.

“It’s ok, Pete,” Tony said soothingly. Bucky had stopped halfway in the room, unsure of how he should proceed, but Tony beckoned him forward and Bucky sat next to him.

“What do you see, Peter?” Tony asked calmly.

“Umm…I see Bucky sitting in the chair next to you,” Peter said tensely. “Real or not real?”

“Real, Peter, Bucky’s real,” Tony said, smiling.

Peter visibly relaxed somewhat. His shoulder had healed enough for the sling to be removed so, holding firm to Tony’s hand, he reached his other hand to touch Bucky’s dark, wavy hair. Tony noticed his hands shook slightly as he reached forward.

“It’s ok, kid, take your time,” Tony said.

Peter gently touched Bucky’s hair, his hand moving down to touch Bucky’s metal arm. “Real,” he breathed and Bucky smiled at Tony.

“Yeah, bud, I’m real,” Bucky said kindly, tentatively reaching out a hand to ruffle Peter’s curls. Both Tony and Bucky relaxed when Peter did not object to this new affection.

Soon, however, the two older men heard the familiar hiss from Peter’s neck as the boy’s eyes suddenly grew fearful as he looked at Bucky. Peter began to scoot as far away as possible from the soldier as he began to moan, “No, no, stop, please, why are you doing thi-” The rest of Peter’s words were cut off by Peter’s hands flying to his own throat as he let out a horrible choking sound.

“Peter?! What is it? What do you see?” Tony asked worriedly.

“Get…off…of…me,” Peter gasped, his lips suddenly tinged with blue.

“Bucky, step out for a minute, quick,” Tony ordered. Bucky rushed out of the room, taking one last look at Peter with a horrified expression.

“Pete, I need you to breathe,” Tony said, willing his voice to stay calm. He grabbed an oxygen mask from a cabinet near Peter’s bed and placed it over his face. He pulled Peter’s hands gently from his throat and held them in his in own.

“This isn’t real, Peter,” Tony said. “Whatever you’re seeing, you can breathe, nothing is hurting you. Let’s go, in and out,” Tony reassured.

It took Peter ten minutes to finally breathe normally again. Once he was sure the kid was better, Tony asked quietly, “What did you see, Peter?”

Peter was quiet for a few moments before answering in a small voice, “Bucky’s metal arm… he used it to choke me. Real?”

“No, Peter, definitely not real,” Tony said firmly.

“Is…is he real?” Peter asked, again in that small voice.

“Bucky? Yes, he’s real; remember meeting him and touching those L’Oreal locks of his?”

“C-can I see him again? Now?” Peter asked.

“Are you sure, kid?” Tony asked. Peter nodded.

“I have to tell what’s real.”

 

Tony walked down the hall where Bucky was sitting with his head in his hands, surrounded by Steve, Sam, and Natasha.

“He wants to see you,” Tony said.

“What did he see?” Bucky asked, looking scared.

“He saw and felt you choking him,” Tony replied, trying to keep his voice nonchalant.

Bucky’s eyes widened as he looked from Tony to Steve to Sam, “Tony, you know I would never-” but Tony held up his hand.

“I know you would never dream of it, Bucky,” Tony said with a comforting smile. “Peter wanted to see you because he wants to see what is real about you. He wants to see the Bucky that’s not going to hurt him.”

“This will be good for him, Bucky,” said Sam. “He is actively wanting to distinguish illusions from reality. Not going in to see him will only reinforce what he just saw…or thought he saw. Go in there, be kind to him, be fun like you always are with him. He sees you as somewhat of a big brother. Remind him of that.”

“I’ll be in there too,” Tony added.

 

The two walked back down the hallway to Peter’s room. Tony entered first, then Bucky.

“Hey, kid,” Tony smiled, “Look who’s here.”

Bucky came further into the room, his eyes wary, but he still mustered a small smile for the boy. Peter’s eyes grew fearful at first, but then softened as he tried to remain unbiased to the situation.

“Hey, squirt,” Bucky said.

“H-hey,” Peter said, still hesitant. Tony moved to sit down next to Peter, taking his hand.

“This is real, Peter. Real. Bucky’s not going to hurt you,” Tony said softly.

“Real,” Peter breathed, looking up at Bucky. The soldier smiled and ruffled Peter’s hair.

“Totally real, kid,” Bucky said smiling. “Hey, remember that time that we pranked Steve by switching his risotto at dinner for horseradish? We still kept some risotto on top so he wouldn’t be suspicious.”

“And…and then he took a huge forkful of it? We thought he was going to start crying,” Peter said tentatively.

“Yeah, but then his breath smelled like horseradish for the next three days,” Bucky smiled regretfully, “Do you remember that?”

“Real?” Peter asked, his eyes shining.

“Real, buddy. Definitely real,” Bucky said, his eyes kind. He held out the hand of his metal arm. Peter stared at it, somewhat fearfully. “I will never hurt you, Peter. I would die before I hurt you,” Bucky said seriously. Peter did not respond for a long while, taking deep breaths. Slowly, he reached out the hand not being held by Tony and placed it on the metal hand. Peter had expected it to be cold, but it presented warm, almost comforting.

Bucky looked Peter in the eyes and the younger boy met them.

“I will never hurt you, Peter,” Bucky said again. Peter stared at him.

“Real,” Peter said.

 

It was not a question.

 

The next few days found Peter improving every day. The boy was still skittish, still woke up most nights screaming from nightmares, and was still plagued by the tri-hourly release of Beck’s drug into his system. Tony was getting antsy. He wanted that thing out of his kid now. Two weeks after Peter had returned home, Bruce came into Peter’s room while he was sleeping. Tony, now hard pressed to be anywhere else, sat next to his bed, simply staring at the boy with his mouth leaning against his fingertips, his elbows on his knees. While still rather thin, Peter had gained some weight back that didn’t make him look as gaunt as he had when he first came home.

“Tony,” Bruce called, not wanting to overly startle the man. Regardless, Tony jumped slightly.

“Sorry, Bruce. What’s up?”

“How do you feel about having us remove Peter’s device tomorrow?” Bruce asked, tentatively.

“Yes. Oh, god, yes. Yes, Bruce,” Tony spluttered. Bruce’s expression remained cautious.

“Do you remember the implications we had talked about for this procedure?”

Tony’s excitement drained slightly. He looked down at his lap, responding, “Yes. I remember.”

“We should talk to Peter about it,” Bruce said.

As if on cue, Peter stirred and opened his eyes. Tony immediately took hold of Peter’s hand. Peter blinked up at him, mumbling, “Real?”

“Real. Morning, kid,” Tony said, smiling.

Bruce sat down next to Tony, giving him a significant look. Tony nodded.

“Hey Peter,” Bruce said smiling. Peter gave him a calculating look before brushing his fingers over the man’s arm. Peter looked up at him.

“Real?” he asked simply.

“Real,” Bruce responded kindly. Peter returned a smile.

“So, Peter. We wanted to talk to you about something. We think it’s time to remove the device from your neck…you know, the one that releases the drug.”

Peter’s eyes tightened as if pained by the mere thought of it.

“Ok,” he said unquestionably.

“There’s something we need to tell you about the procedure, Peter,” Bruce said slowly. Peter simply looked at him. “The drugs that are being released are interfering with any other drug that we try to give you, including anesthetics. I’m so sorry, Peter. We need to get this out of you but we won’t be able to give you anything for the pain.”

Peter’s eyes were miserable as his eyes traveled from Bruce to Tony, willing for one of them to suddenly shout, “just kidding!” No reassurance came.

Peter couldn’t stop the tears forming in his eyes as he thought about the idea of more pain, especially from those he had come to trust. He looked up at Tony. Tony wouldn’t lie to him.

“Real?” Peter asked. For once, he didn’t want it to be. Tony stared at him, his eyes shining as well.

 

“Yes, Peter, it’s real,” Tony said sadly. Peter looked down at his lap, taking a deep breath.

 

He looked up at Tony and Bruce, his face tearstained, but set.

 

“Real…OK.”

Chapter Text

Peter sat upright in bed. The whole room was silent despite the larger than usual crowd. All of the Avengers had come in for moral support and, while Peter was still wary about their presence, he found that their presence was overall comforting. He shot occasional glances around at the group, then turned to Tony.

“Real?”

“Yeah, kid, real. They love you; they’re your family,” Tony said patiently. On the inside, he was about to jump out of his skin with nerves. He knew what it was like to have invasive surgery with no anesthetic from the cave. Pushing that aside, he continued, “Do you want to go through everyone?”

Peter nodded shyly as Peter began naming the avengers while keeping a close hold on Tony’s hand to ground him.

“Rhodey,” Peter began. Rhodey smiled, giving him the thumbs up. Peter turned to Tony.

“Real, Pete,” Tony replied.

“Clint,” Peter named as Clint walked forward.

“Real,” Tony said.

“Hey, kid,” Clint said smiling as he playfully pinched Peter’s nose. Peter smiled.

“Natasha,” Peter continued.

“Real,” Tony said. Natasha placed a hand on Peter’s cheek, smiling.

“Real, мой маленький паук,” she said kindly.

“Bucky. You’re real,” Peter said, beaming this time.

“You better believe it, bud,” Bucky said, also smiling as he ruffled Peter’s hair.

“Sam,” Peter said, smiling again.

“Real,” Tony confirmed.

“The one and only, Peter,” Sam said.

“Steve,” Peter said finally.

“Real,” Tony said, smiling at Steve as the latter placed a hand on Peter’s shoulder. At that moment, Bruce and Cho walked in and Peter turned his gaze.

“Bruce and Helen…real,” Peter supplied. Bruce and Helen had been as frequent as Tony, so Peter was more accustomed to their presence.

“You did great, Pete,” Tony said, beaming.

Bruce looked down at his watch, “I want to remove the device when there’s the least amount of drugs in his system, so that would be in about … twenty minutes. That’ll give us about an hour to take out the device. We don’t want Peter to be in surgery for too long, but I don’t want to run into any complications and not have enough time before the drug releases.”

“Tony, do you want to talk to Peter what we talked about?” Helen asked apprehensively.

Tony nodded, turning to Peter, “Peter, this is going to hurt, ok bud? Whatever you need to do to get through this, do it. The most important thing to remember is…” Tony seemed to be steeling himself, “This will be real. I know we said we’d never hurt you, but we need to do this to help you. It’s not going to seem like we’re helping you, but you know why we have to do this.”

Peter looked as though he wanted anything but what Tony was saying to be true, but he sighed and said quietly, “I know.”

The room was tense until Bruce cut the silence, “Alright then, I’m going to go and help Helen set up in the other room. We’re going to try and make this as informal as possible, ok? Peter, is there anyone you want to be in there with you? I’m afraid you can’t have everyone, but maybe three or four of us.”

“Tony,” Peter said immediately. Tony smiled.

“You’d have to fight me to not be in there with you, kiddo,” he said smiling.

“And…Bucky. Steve and…Natasha,” Peter decided. The three Avengers beamed at being chosen for something as critical as this and that Peter trusted them. Bucky felt this especially since he had been working hard with Tony over the past few days to build up their relationship after Peter’s hallucination.

“Alright then,” Bruce said smiling. “I’ll come get you guys in a few minutes. Tony, can you help him change?”

Tony nodded as Bruce left the room.

“We’ll be outside, you two,” Steve said as he took the lead in leading the rest of the Avengers out of the room. Peter’s anxiety began to spike as each of the Avengers who he hadn’t picked walked over and wished him luck. Nat, Bucky, and Steve said that they would see him soon as they too walked out. Tony helped Peter sit on the side of the bed while he brought over the hospital gown Bruce had given him.

“You ok, Pete?” he asked, concerned. Peter shrugged, not looking at him. Tony placed his hand on Peter’s head, slinking his fingers through Peter’s hair.

“It’s ok to be scared, Peter. I’ll be with you the whole time. It’ll be over before you know it.

“Yeah, I know,” Peter said glumly as Tony helped him pull off his sweatshirt.

Tony was greeted again by the sight of Peter’s still somewhat emaciated form. He sighed, reminding himself that after today, they were a step closer to healing and putting this in the past. Peter inched off his sweatpants as Tony pulled the hospital gown around him. Peter didn’t miss the gowns. They had let him wear generally comfy clothing for the past week or so as long as he stayed in medbay.

Peter’s breathing quickened slightly and Tony came to sit next to him on his bed, placing a hand on his back, “Deep breaths, Pete, in and out,” Tony soothed. They sat there for a while until Bruce and Helen came back in.

“Ready, Peter?” Helen said warmly, although Tony noticed she looked rather pale. Bucky, Steve, and Natasha had quietly followed them into the room and Peter met their eyes. They were all kind and encouraging, though he found that his voice caught in his throat. He settled for nodding mutely.

They wheeled Peter into an adjacent surgery suite. It looked more like a regular hospital room with certain surgical modifications. Peter knew they didn’t have to do this just to make him feel more comfortable about the whole thing, but he appreciated it immensely.

“Alright Peter, I’m going to be doing the majority of your surgery and Bruce is going to assist me, ok?” Helen said gently. Peter nodded again while Helen continued, “I’m going to need you to flip over on your stomach for me, Peter. It’s just so that we can get a clear view of your neck. I have a face cradle here you can put your head in. Now, Peter, I’m so sorry, but we’re going to have to strap you down for this. We can’t have you moving around. It’s perfectly natural for your body to react, but moving will only hurt more.” Peter looked fearfully at Tony at these words, but to his surprise, it was Bucky who moved forward. His eyes were serious and sad, yet full of compassion.

“Bud, I know this is scary, but I’ve been through this sort of thing. You’re going to have to focus on us, ok? Listen to our voices to ground you, ok?”
Peter nodded stiffly as he turned onto his stomach, placing his face in a soft face cradle so that he was staring at the floor.

“Lift your head up just a little bit there, Peter,” Bruce said as he placed an oxygen mask over Peter’s face. Bruce lowered Peter’s head down once more, placing a hand on his head for a moment as a comforting gesture.

Peter shuddered as he felt Bruce and Cho fasten strong restraints around the back of his head, his back, his arms, and his legs. Peter’s breath began to quicken as they placed various monitors on his body. He felt some movement in front of his face on the floor as he saw Bucky slide into his view, presumable on his back on the ground. Peter couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of him smiling sheepishly up at Peter.

“What are you doing down there?” Peter asked, smiling.

“What? I’m not a prettier view than this linoleum floor?” Bucky replied, mockingly offended. He brought a fist up near his mouth, mimicking a microphone and a haughty conductor’s voice.

“Hello, gentlemen…and lady, my name is James Buchanan Barnes and I will be your MC this morning. We’re joined here by none other than Spider-Man himself, Mr. Peter Parker. Tell me Peter, what are your thoughts on the morning’s upcoming events?”

Peter grinned through his nerves, thankful that he was at least distracted while Bruce and Cho began wiping down his neck with alcohol and setting up metallic sounding tools. It didn’t hold for very long until he felt a gentle hand on the back of his head, playing softly with his hair.

“I’m right here, Peter,” came the soothing voice of Natasha.

“Peter, Steve is going to be on your right and I’m going to be on your left. We will each have one of your hands. Squeeze as hard as you need to, do you hear me?” Tony called somewhere above him.

“I…I’ll break your hand,” Peter said with a whimper.

“I’ll be wearing the gauntlet, so don’t worry about that,” Tony replied. Peter nodded.

“Alright, Peter, are you ready?” Cho’s kind voice sounded above him. Tony noticed that her voice shook ever so slightly, but her hands remained steady. Tony felt Peter’s hand tighten around his own and he returned the squeeze.

“We’re remembering to be breathe, Peter, ok?” Tony said.

“If you want, you can focus on me too, bud,” Bucky said, still on the floor.

“Ok, Peter, I’m going to make the first incision,” Cho said. “We’ll try and do this as quickly as possible. Whatever you need to do to relax during this, do it.”

Finally, Peter felt the blade pierce his skin as he let out a sharp intake of breathe. He pinched his eyes closed as he grabbed the hands of Tony and Steve, who held firm with no hesitation. It was worse than he had thought it would be; his whole neck was on fire. His eyes snapped open as tears dripped onto the floor.

“Peter, look at me, just breathe,” Bucky said, all humor forgotten. Peter simply looked at him panting, his teeth clenched. He felt hands on his head and a soft whisper in his ear.

“It’s ok, маленький паук, it’s ok,” Natasha soothed as she ran fingers softly through Peter’s hair. You don’t have to hold it in.”

Distantly, he heard Cho say to the room, “Second incision through the deep tissue.”

Pain exploded through Peter’s neck as he let out a sharp scream, his breath now coming in ragged gasps.

Tony’s heart was breaking in half for the kid, especially because he knew he couldn’t do anything except hold his hand and offer useless comforts. Peter found his voice as Tony felt as though he was plunged into icy water.

Through his gasps, Peter began whimpering, “No…no…please…Beck, stop, please, I’ll do anything.”

The utterance made the whole room freeze in horror. Helen turned a worried gaze over to Bruce, then to Tony.

“We have to keep going, Helen,” Bruce said in a low voice, his face pale.

“He’s back there, Bruce. He thinks we’re torturing him,” Helen said, her tone horrified.

“Pete, hey kid,” Tony said, trying to hide the panic in his voice. Listen, the pain is real, but Beck is not here. We’re all here to help you, Peter. I’m right here. Listen to my voice. Bucky’s here too, and Nat and Steve.

“That’s right, Peter,” Nat said comfortingly, as if she were speaking to a small child.

“We’re right here, son,” Steve said, still holding firm to Peter’s bone crushing grasp.

“Pete, open your eyes, I’m right here,” Bucky said. Peter opened his streaming eyes. Upon opening his eyes, Peter moaned in misery.

“No, stop, don’t taunt me anymore. I know they’re not coming. Beck, just stop,” Peter said disconsolately.

“Peter, this is real, we’re all real, I swear to you,” Tony said, tears now pooling in his own eyes. When Peter continued to whimper, Tony had made up his mind.

“To hell with this,” he said quietly as he extricated his hand from Peter’s grasp. He retracted the gauntlet from around his hand as he moved to take back Peter’s hand.

Helen continued to work, now working on removing the actual device that had become visible in Peter’s flesh. Bruce, noticing what Tony was doing, spoke sharply.

“Tony, he’ll break your hand,” he warned. Tony paused, then looked up at Bruce with a fierce look.

“Quite frankly Bruce, I don’t give a damn. This is my kid,” he spat as he took Peter’s hand back in his own, now unprotected. He gasped slightly as Peter squeezed his hand once more, but Tony did not make to move away. Instead, he inched closer to the boy, his head right next to Peter’s.

“Hey kid, feel my hand? I know you do. I know you can in there. What you’re seeing isn’t real. I’m real, Pete. I’m right here and I am not leaving. Nat, Bucky and Steve are here too.

“M…m’ss’r Stark,” Peter wept. “P-please, get me out of here. I want to come home. I’ll be better, I s-swear.”

“Oh Pete, you are perfect. You are home, I promise you. This is real. We have to get that device out of your neck, remember?”

Peter seemed to be going through some horrible internal struggle until he whispered feebly, “R-real?”

“Yeah, kid, this is real. I’m so sorry. I’m right here though, we all are. This will all be over soon.”

“P-promise?” Peter gasped.

“On my life.”

Chapter Text

Sam, Clint, and Rhodey were all in similar states of stress. Rhodey sat with his head in his hands, Sam paced around the room, his arms crossed so tightly it seemed as though they would never relax, and Clint had his forehead and upper arms leaned up against the wall. They all flinched when they heard yet another blood curdling scream come from the room down the hall. Suddenly, Clint slammed his fists on the wall in front of him.

“I can’t take this anymore,” he said, frustrated.

“I know, man,” Rhodey said with a long sigh.

The wing became quiet for about another hour after that. About two hours after Peter had originally come in, Natasha, Steve, and Bucky came walking out. Natasha’s face was tearstained, Bucky looked severely shaken, and Steve walked out holding a bag of ice to his hand.

“What happened? How’s Peter? Where’s Tony?” the group asked quickly.

Steve spoke for the group as Natasha and Bucky slumped together on an empty couch. Natasha laid her head on Bucky’s shoulder as Bucky pulled a hand out to pull her head onto his chest, his eyes blankly staring forward.

“Peter is ok, he finally passed out as they took out the device. He’s all done- Bruce is settling him back in his room now and giving him his first withdrawal dose of the drug. Tony had to go into surgery with Cho; Peter broke his hand by accident during the procedure. He only sprained mine. The kid’s tough,” he finished with a chuckle.

“I thought Tony was going to wear the gauntlet,” Sam stated, confused.

“He did at first. Then he took off the gauntlet to give him some skin-to-skin contact to try and comfort Peter. He’s always been the most consistent at it. I don’t think Tony felt that a metal hand would offer much human support.”

Sam looked as though he was debating whether or not to say what was on his mind. He elected, his voice careful, “We…we heard him. Was everything ok? Are you all ok?”

Steve looked at his friend and knew it was counterproductive to lie. His shoulder sagged significantly as he looked around the room, his eyes landing on Bucky and Natasha who still wore similar expressions of shock.

“It was…horrible,” Steve said, turning his head to Sam. “I kept having to tell myself this was necessary, but a part of me just wanted to keep the device in him forever if it meant not causing him the pain we were inflicting. Steve crossed his arms defensively, looking down at the ground. “He…um…dissociated on the table. He thought he was back with Beck. He thought we were torturing him. That’s why Tony took off the gauntlet- to bring Peter back to reality.”

The group looked horrified as Sam ran a hand over his face. Rhodey crossed his arms tensely.

“I should go check on Tony,” Rhodey said as Helen walked through the doors, looking exhausted.

“How’s Tony,” Steve asked at once.

“Fine. Rhodes, do you want to go sit with him? He’s awake but pretty out of it,” she said tersely. Rhodey agreed and left without another word. Helen stared after him, her gaze unfocused.

“Helen, are you ok?” Steve asked worriedly.

Helen’s arms were crossed tightly across her body, her eyes looking at anything but the group in front of her. Her eyes turned to the ceiling and Steve noticed tears forming there. He walked forward to place a hand on her arm.

“Helen,” he said gently. She jumped slightly as her eyes finally rested on Steve.

“I’m not ok, Steve,” she whispered, tears silently cascading down her face. Steve said nothing as he pulled her small frame into his strong arms. She placed her forehead on Steve’s chest as she let out a sob, her body shaking. Steve simply held her, rubbing his hand across her back.

“I broke my Hippocratic oath and I tortured a child,” she sobbed. “How can any of you even stand to be in the same room as me?”

“Helen,” Sam said kindly, walking up to the pair. “We all knew it was what had to be done. Peter knew it also. He’s closer to healing because you had the courage to do what you did. I don’t know many people who would have been able to do that while under so much pressure. We’re in awe of you, not disgusted by you. You’re part of our family too, you know.”

Helen turned her head to look at the pair, still sitting on the couch. They didn’t seem to be sleeping, but their eyes were closed. “What about Bucky and Natasha? I’ve probably traumatized them.”

“They’re ok. You saw them in there- they were great. They’re just worried about Peter. None of us want to see him in any pain, but we all knew that device was doing more harm staying in him. I just think it was hard on those two because of their own pasts.”

“I never want to do that again,” Helen said in a broken voice. Steve placed his hands on her shoulders and pulled her away from him so they could look at each other.

“You won’t have to, if we have anything to do with it,” Steve said with a small smile. Very reluctantly, Helen returned the smile as Steve returned a hand to her back. “Why don’t you go rest a bit? Try to relax. We can watch over Peter and Tony for a few hours. Bruce will be here too.”

Helen bit her lip while looking towards the medbay doors. After a few moments, she nodded, the remnants of tears still glistening in her eyes. She walked out of the room without another word. Steve walked over to Bucky and Nat. Nat’s head rested on Bucky’s chest as he held a hand on her auburn hair. Nat didn’t look up, but she had dried tear tracks on her face.

“You guys holding up ok?” Steve asked quietly. Bucky looked up.

“We’ll be ok. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. God, I love that kid,” he said with a shake of his head.

“I know. It was harder than any of us thought, I’m sure.”

Bucky gave Steve a sad smile as he laid his head once again on the back of the couch, closing his eyes.

 

 

Rhodey walked into Tony’s room. Peter was fast asleep in a bed situated at the far end of the room. Bruce was looking at a standing computer while Tony smiled lazily at his best friend, his hand in a thick cast.

“Oh, hey Rhodey,” Bruce said quietly.

“Hey Bruce, you ok?” Rhodey asked, eyeing the man.

Bruce let out a heavy sigh, inputting something into the computer, “Yeah, I’ll be ok.”

Bruce looked up, his eyes slightly bloodshot, “Would you mind sitting with Tony? I want to go check on Helen.”

“Absolutely, man. I got this.” Rhodey gave him a squeeze on the shoulder and what he hoped was a comforting smile. Bruce did not return it as he walked out of the room. Rhodey walked over to sit next to Tony’s bed where the man turned to look at him.

“Rhodeeeyy!” Tony slurred lazily.

“Hey Tones,” Rhodey replied. “How are you holding up?”

“Oh fantastic,” Tony said, his smile widening. “They gave me all the good drugs Peter couldn’t have because our lives are a fucking shit show.” Tony’s head lolled back onto his pillows as he stared up at the ceiling, still with that wide spacey grin.

“Tony, come on, you don’t mean that,” Rhodey said, slightly taken aback at the abruptness of Tony’s statement.

“Don’t I, Rhodey?” Tony said, his eyes now slightly unfocused.

“No, you don’t, Toney. You wouldn’t be saying this if you weren’t drugged out of your mind,” Rhodey replied softly.

Tony hummed skeptically, his eyes closing, “I don’t know Rhodey. You’d probably feel differently if this was all your fault.”

“Tony. Tony, this was not your fault,” Rhodey said in disbelief.

“Hmmmm, ok, buddy boy. Whatever you saaaaay,” Tony laughed. The next thing Rhodey knew, Tony was snoring softly in front of him, a tear falling down the sleeping man’s face.

 

______________

Tony woke up an hour later, the drugs out of his system. He sat up in his bed rubbing his face with his good hand. He threw his legs over the side of the bed, groaning.

“You good, Tones?”

Tony whipped around, realizing Rhodey had been sitting on his other side the whole time. Pieces of memories came rushing back as he looked at his best friend.

“Hey, Rhodey,” Tony said sullenly.

“You ok?”

“Umm, this isn’t the first time I’ve woken up, is it?” Tony said, somewhat ashamedly.

“No, it’s not. Do you remember what you said to me earlier?” Rhodey asked hesitantly.

“Bits of it,” Tony sighed. The two did not speak for a moment until Tony continued, “I meant what I said. I wouldn’t have said it out loud under normal circumstances, but…” Tony looked up at the ceiling before turning to face Rhodey. “This job, this…superhero life, sometimes it just sucks. Nothing is fair sometimes.”

Rhodey remained quiet for a long time, nodding thoughtfully.

“Do you still think what happened to Peter was your fault?”

Tony sighed again, “No, my rational side of me says that it’s not fair of me to blame myself for another person’s actions, but…there’s another side that’s trying to get out. It’s banging its fists on the inside of my head screaming that I should have done more.”

“I like the first side better,” Rhodey said with a small smile.

“Yeah, me too,” Tony said, returning the smile. Tony got up and walked over to Peter’s bed, sitting down and resting his forehead on the boy’s arm that rested peacefully on the bed sheets. Peter let out a small whimper in his sleep. Unconsciously, Tony reached an arm up and rested it on Peter’s head, gently running his fingers through his hair. The boy’s face scrunched for a moment, he let out an almost pouty huff, then his features relaxed as he slept on. Tony removed his hand and used it to rest his chin on, simply staring at Peter. What he would give to protect this boy forever, it scared Tony to think about.

Suddenly, Peter gasped as he sat up quickly.

“M’ss’r St’rk,” he mumbled. Not knowing what came over him, Tony’s reflexes grabbed a basin from besides the bed as Peter vomited up what little he had in his stomach. He coughed a few more times before slumping back against his pillows, breathing heavily.

“Peter, you ok?” Tony asked tentatively.

Peter nodded, his eyes closed.

“Peter. Peter, can you look at me?” Tony asked, taking Peter’s hand in his own. Peter looked as though turning to face Tony this time was costing him a great effort. Nevertheless, he turned.

“Pete, you were incredible earlier today. I am so so proud of you,” Tony said, his voice thick with emotion. Peter simply looked at him, a small, pained smile tight across his face.

“I broke your hand,” he said in a small, hurt voice, finally noticing Tony’s casted hand. “I’m sorry, Tony, I’m so sorry. Why didn’t you keep the gauntlet on? Oh god, did you keep the gauntlet on and I still broke your hand? Oh my gosh, Tony, I didn’t mean to,” Peter stammered.

“Kid, stop,” Tony said with a small grin. “I did have the gauntlet on, but I decided to take it off. You needed my hand more.” Peter opened his mouth to retort but Tony held up a finger on his uninjured hand.

“You needed my hand more than I did. I gave it to you then and I’d give it to you again. Nothing on this earth was going to stop me from reaching you when you needed it. Not again,” Tony said firmly, the last line, however, coming as a quiet afterthought.

“I know you did everything you could, Tony,” Peter said.

The two were quiet for a moment before Peter piped up, “Tony? What happened to your hand? Weren’t you wearing the gauntlet? Oh my gosh, did I break your hand? Tony, I’m so sorry, I swear, I didn’t mean to,” he stammered again. Tony, now unnerved, looked back at Rhodes, who was still sitting some distance away. He too had a concerned look in his eyes.

“Pete, I just told you what happened to my hand about twenty seconds ago,” Tony said, concerned.

“Y-you did?” Peter asked.

“Yeah, kid, I told you that you needed it more. Don’t you remember?” Tony asked.

“Oh…oh yeah, that’s right. Duh, I’m being stupid. I just…forgot for a second,” Peter said uncertainly.

“Pete, you feeling ok?” Tony asked, placing a hand up to Peter’s forehead.

“Y-yeah, I think so. My head is just a little fuzzy.”

“I’m going to get Bruce, ok?” Tony said standing up, but Peter grabbed his arm.

“No! Tony, don’t bother, ok?” Peter’s voice had adopted a somewhat sharper tone suddenly.

“Pete, I just want to make sure everything is ok after this morning,” Tony replied, taken aback.

“God, Tony, I said no! Can’t you stop smothering me for once in your life?” Peter asked, suddenly angry. Tony and Rhode stared at each other in alarm before Peter’s face softened as he looked up at Tony, his eyes brimming with tears.

“Tony, oh my gosh, Tony, I’m so sorry,” he began to sob. “What’s happening to me?”

Chapter Text

Tony was stressed. Peter was stressed because Tony was stressed. Peter kept shooting furtive glances at Tony, who had taken to pacing the room as Bruce checked over Peter ten minutes later.

“Can you tell me your full name?” Bruce asked after checking Peter’s pupils with a penlight.

“Peter Benjamin Parker,” Peter replied nervously.

“Good. What’s your birthday, Peter?

“August 10th, 2001.”

“Great. Peter, how are you feeling right now?”

“Umm, nervous, scared, but ok,” Peter replied.

Bruce placed the penlight back in his pocket as he stood up to look at Tony.

“So I just want to keep you both informed about what’s probably happening,” Bruce began in a measured voice. “Peter has begun to experience withdrawal symptoms from Beck’s drugs. We’re still giving him reduced doses of PCP to make the process easier, but the drugs aren’t exactly like the ones Beck used and there’s always a chance of withdrawal syndrome no matter how careful you are.”

“So that accounts for the nausea, outbursts, and memory problems?” Tony asked.

“Yes, from what I can gather,” Bruce said. “Nausea isn’t a hallmark of PCP withdrawal but that can happen with almost any drug.”

“How long is this withdrawal supposed to last?” Tony asked, a little defensively.

“It’s hard to say. I have a schedule set for a month of tapering. PCP is highly addictive so even though he wasn’t exposed to it for years like some people, it still takes a hold of you.”

“So what do we do from here?” Tony replied, concerned.

“We continue giving lowered doses until he is safely tapered off. Unfortunately, we have to just manage the side effects as they appear.” Bruce said as Peter tried to stifle a yawn.

“Tired, Peter?” Bruce asked. “You’ve had a big day. Why don’t you get some rest? Tony, can I talk to you for a moment?”

As Peter closed his eyes, taking deep, measured breaths, Tony followed Bruce out into the hallway.

“I want to tell the whole team. We need them to be on board with this. I’m sorry, but I feel like anything is fair game right now,” Bruce said, somewhat desperately.

“Ok, Bruce,” Tony said tiredly, running a hand through his hair. They walked out into the living area where the Avengers were seated in the kitchen, holding cups of coffee or tea. Helen had also come to join them, sitting on the couch with her own cup. Bruce cleared his throat and the group looked up at once.

“Hey guys,” Bruce began, but Tony cut him off.

“Bruce, do you mind if I say something really quick?” Tony asked quietly.

“Of course Tony,” Bruce said, stepping back slightly.

Tony cleared his throat. “I-I just wanted to thank you all. Thank you for being there for Peter and for loving him beyond belief. These last few months haven’t been easy on any of us, but I’m glad we’re going through this together. Peter needs us. All of us. You have no idea how much you all mean to me…and Peter. So, thank you,” Tony finished, somewhat flatly. The team smiled.

“Of course, Tony. Peter is one of us. He’s part of the family,” Steve said.

“Besides, who can resist those puppy dog eyes,” Bucky smirked.

“It’s a privilege to be here with him and to help him through this, Tony,” Natasha said gently. The others nodded their heads in agreement. Tony smiled meekly while turning back to Bruce. Bruce stepped forward and began to tell them all about the withdrawal symptoms Peter was experiencing. The group’s faces saddened as they took in this new blow of information.

“Just be patient with him. Try not to bring attention to the fact that he may act rashly. Just try to meet him wherever he is. Withdrawal can take a hit to one’s mental health as well. I’m talking about anxiety and depressive tendencies and behaviors. If anything seems abnormally wrong to you, tell Helen or myself.”

“Or me,” Sam stepped forward. “I have experience from anxious and depressed soldiers. I know how to diffuse a heated situation.”

Bruce smiled appreciatively, “Now everyone, it’s late. We all should get some sleep. Peter should be fine for the night.”

“I’ll go see him one last time, Bruce. You go on upstairs,” Tony said.

“If you’re sure, Tony,” Bruce replied, turning his back to the staircase leading to the bedrooms. The others got up to follow.

 

Tony walked down the corridor, quietly opening the door to Peter’s room. The sight inside made him freeze to the core: Peter wasn’t there.

“Peter?” he called, trying to level the panic that was rising in his voice. He tore out of the room and back into the living room area. Bucky was helping Steve put mugs in the dishwasher.

“Tony, what is it? What’s wrong?” Steve asked, alarmed at the engineer’s terrified face.

“Peter’s gone,” Tony breathed.

 

Bucky hurried to get the others from upstairs as Tony tried desperately not to fall apart right there.

“And he was nowhere in the room? Nowhere in the bathroom,” Steve was saying, his brow furrowed.

“No, no Steve, he wasn’t anywhere in the vicinity,” Tony said, pacing the floor. The two men heard thundering footsteps on the stairs as Bucky, Sam, Nat, Rhodey, Clint, Bruce, and Helen came sprinting down.

“Tony, I was just coming back down. I hadn’t given Peter his dose before we all went to sleep. Where is he?” Bruce panted.

“I don’t know. We have to split up,” Tony said, thankful that some authority was returning to his voice. Steve stepped forward as well.

“Clint and Nat, you check the first four floors. Rhodey and Bucky, floors five through eight. Sam, Bruce and Helen, he may have gone outside for whatever reason. Start searching the east side grounds and Tony and I will check the west side. The team dispersed into their allotted locations, already calling the boy’s name. He and Steve burst through the lower doors into the night. The September air had turned uncharacteristically frigid over the past few weeks. Tony wasn’t surprised he hadn’t noticed. Had really that much time gone by? God, he hoped Peter wasn’t out here. After about twenty minutes of searching, the team had dispersed into different areas of the compound. Tony could no longer see Steve in the darkness, as the super soldier had gone to look near the wooded area. Tony began to jog up to the grounds closer to the compound as he ran his hands through his air, looking up at the compound. “God, where are you, kid,” he said to himself, his eyes filling with frustrated tears. Then he saw something that made his blood turn to ice: a figure was standing on the roof of the compound. A small, teenage someone. Tony ran. Rain had started to fall on the grounds as he sprinted across the grass. He faintly heard his name being called, but he barely heard over the rushing of blood in his ears.

He rammed the elevator button to the top floor. Why were his elevators so slow? The doors creaked open as he burst into the final staircase to the roof. Taking the stairs two at a time, he finally reached the roof door. He walked through and to his horror, saw Peter at the very edge of the roof’s ledge, his head tilted up towards the sky.

“Peter?” Tony called in a trembling voice. He tried to stay casual, “What are you up to there, bud?”

Peter didn’t respond for several seconds until Tony, taking small steps closer in the now steady rain, heard his speak in a quiet voice.

“If I jump, do you think I would survive?”

“W-why do you want to know, Pete?” Tony replied, his panic now at a fever pitch.

“Just curious,” Peter said in an oddly distant voice.

Suddenly, Tony heard the door burst open. He spun around to see Sam and Steve run through. They stopped dead as Tony held up a frantic hand to stop them from coming any closer. He didn’t want Peter feeling trapped.

“Pete, walk me through this. Where is this coming from,” Tony asked, begging for the boy to keep talking to him.

“I killed May…Ben…and my parents…I just want the pain to stop,” Peter said, his voice breaking towards the end.

“Peter, this isn’t your fault. What Beck did to you, whatever he made you see, he messed with your head. You aren’t thinking straight,” Tony implored.

“Maybe I’m just thinking straight for the first time. Maybe I’m just messed up,” Peter said with a heavy sigh. He looked up at the sky once again, his back still to Tony. “If I jump do you think I would survive?” he repeated.

“Peter, I need you to come back to me. You have a family here that loves you. That is real, I promise you.”

“Rule number 3,” Peter nearly cut Tony off. “Maybe Beck was right, I’m just a burden.”

The rain was picking up now. Peter’s t-shirt clung to his bony back as Tony’s hair flattened against his forehead. He slowly crept closer to Peter, who had still not turned around.

“Peter, I swear to God, you are a light in my life, in all of our lives. I love you like my own son, Peter Parker. Your aunt, uncle and your parents loved you more than their own lives. None of this is your fault. None of this.

Peter finally turned around. The boy was soaking wet, his ribs plainly visible through his soaked shirt. His hair was plastered against his forehead and he was taking deep, ragged breaths. The look on his face was one of pure misery.

“You don’t know that,” he said, his voice choked with tears.

“Then I swear on my life that I will spend every day of my life trying to help you believe that.” Tony held out his hand, “Pete, come down. Please.”

Peter looked as if he wanted nothing more than to grab it, but he suddenly closed his eyes, swaying dangerously.

“If I jump, do you think I’ll survive?” Peter whispered again against the pouring rain.

“Peter!” Tony implored.

“Will I survive? Tony, will I survive?” Peter cried almost desperately.

“No and neither will I,” Tony finally cried in frustration.

Peter took a shocked breath as he swayed once more on the ledge, the only sound coming from the rain hitting the roof around them. His foot shifted and he lost his balance. As Peter let out a gasp, in one swift moment, Tony had grabbed Peter’s hand and pulled so he stumbled off of the ledge and into Tony’s arms. Tony wrapped his arms tightly around the boy as he weakly struggled, his small frame now shivering from the cold and rain.

“I got you, Pete, I got you,” Tony whispered into Peter’s ear.

Peter struggled against Tony’s arms, weakly slamming fists into the older man’s back in protest. “I just…want it…to stop…” Peter sobbed.

“I know, kid, I know,” Tony said, holding firm to the boy. “We’re going to take this one day at a time, ok? We can take it minute by minute if you like. Let’s start right now with some breathing, ok?”

Peter was now sobbing harder than ever as he began to choke and splutter.

“Oh, Peter, you have to breathe for me ok? You’re going to make yourself sick, sweetheart,” Tony pleaded, his heart breaking. He placed his hand on the back of Peter’s head, holding it to his shoulder. He didn’t know where the sudden “sweetheart” had come from, but it was all he could do try and imprint some comfort on his son.

 

“It hurts,” Peter whimpered after a moment.

“What hurts, Pete?” Tony responded.

“Life,” Peter replied miserably. “Everything. I’m not strong enough.”

Tony struggled with the right words to say to a boy on this mental precipice. “Sometimes…” he began slowly. “Sometimes, you don’t need to be strong. Sometimes you just can’t. And that’s ok. We aren’t meant to go through life alone, Peter. As much as I wanted to think that was the truth years ago myself, it’s not true. You want to know how I realized that?” Peter said nothing, but didn’t object. “I had Rhodey and Pepper, Steve and Natasha to help bring me back to Earth. They taught me that I don’t need to fight this thing alone. Sure, life shouldn’t have to be a fight sometimes but sometimes that’s just the hand we’re dealt. What I’m saying is, you have to know that you aren’t in this alone. You never have been and you never will be. I know you don’t believe that now, but we’ll get there, ok? Just hold onto something that you can believe and work from there, ok?”

Quietly, ever so quietly, Tony heard Peter whisper a broken, “Okay,” and he knew he could work with that.

  

The two knelt on the ground for a long while, Peter’s body shaking against Tony’s warm, strong arms. The boy’s breaths began to slow, still eliciting whimpers every now and then. The rest of the Avengers had gathered around the door, their eyes full of tears. For how long they stood, they did not know. They simply stared at the man and boy, locked in their embrace as the rain crashed down around them.

 

Chapter Text

“Peter,” Tony whispered. Peter simply tightened his grip on Tony’s soaked shirt. “Hey, Peter,” he tried again, gently bringing his hands to grip each side of the boy’s face. Peter’s eyes no longer had that beautiful spark that they once had. Now, they looked tired, ages old, and exhausted.

“Do you think you can stand, bud?” Tony asked gently, still holding the boy’s face. Peter simply sniffed, his head downcast. “Ok, let’s see if we can try, huh?” Tony said kindly, gripping both of Peter’s elbows and trying to lift him up on his feet. Peter swayed before his knees buckled from exhaustion, Tony catching him before he hit the ground. “Ok, Pete, bridal style it is,” Tony said, easily lifting Peter’s thin body into his arms. Peter buried his head into Tony’s chest and gripped his shirt tightly, his eyes closed. Tony walked towards the door where the Avengers were still standing. They parted to let them through and Tony stepped into the mercifully warm air of the compound. Steve came behind Tony and placed a large blanket over the man’s shoulders. Nat came up in front of them and wrapped Peter tightly in a fluffy blanket. The boy began to shiver, his lips tinged slightly blue.

“We have to get him out of these clothes, Tony” Bruce said quietly. “You as well.” Tony nodded as the pack moved in the direction of the medbay. None of them spoke as Peter was carried down the hall. Tony was glad that there were others leading in front of him. His eyes could barely comprehend where he was going. Had he seriously just talked Peter Parker down from the ledge of the compound? He heard whispers around him, but he was too shocked to hear anything intelligible. He found himself stopped as they walked through the swinging doors to the wing.

“Tony,” he heard Bucky say softly. “Give Peter to me.”

Tony felt his arms wrap protectively around Peter as he stared at the Winter Soldier’s compassionate eyes. He mutely shook his head.

“Tony, you both need to get cleaned up,” Bucky implored. “Peter seems to be asleep anyway.” To Tony’s surprise, Peter did seem to be sleeping in his arms. The quality of his sleep left much to be desired. His face was twisted into a pained expression and his breath sounded sharp but heavy.

“Please Tony, just let go,” Bucky soothed.

“Come on, Tones,” Rhodey said at his left. He looked over to his best friend and, caught off guard, found Peter being gently taken out of his arms and into Bucky’s. He saw Natasha approach Peter and lay a gentle hand on his hair, giving him a soft kiss on the forehead. He felt himself being slowly guided away by Rhodey’s warm hand and he found he was able to dazedly follow. They entered a room off of the main center of the medbay. Tony walked in as Rhodey closed the door gently.

“F.R.I.D.A.Y., heat to eighty degrees,” he heard Rhodey mutter. Tony realized that he was shaking. From shock or cold, he didn’t know.

“Come on, Tones,” Rhodey said. Tony felt himself being guided down to sit on a bed. He stared blankly forward, sometimes stealing shocked glances at Rhodey, who was now maneuvering Tony out of his soaked shirt and pants. Rhodey’s actions were discreet and clinical, but with a certain gentleness only a friend could give. Tony felt his head being pushed through a warm sweatshirt and his legs through thick sweatpants. He heard Rhodey say something about being right back and before he could comprehend his absence, he was back with a mug in his hands.

“Here, Tony, drink this,” Rhodey said, bringing the hot coffee up to Tony’s lips. Tony felt the hot liquid run down his throat as he gave a shudder, finally looking up at Rhodey with some clarity.

“Peter,” Tony began.

“Is with Bucky, Natasha, Sam, Bruce, and the others,” Rhodey replied calmly. “Do you want to see him?”

Tony nodded, holding onto his mug like it was a lifeline. Still shivering, Rhodey placed an extra blanket over Tony’s shoulders as they walked down the hallway. Soon, they were at Peter’s room. He felt various Avengers give him gentle touches of comfort as he walked by. Peter was laying back in his bed under multiple blankets, an IV in his hand and an oxygen mask on his face once more. He looked up at Bruce who was closest to Peter.

“He was in the early stages of hypothermia. We’re giving him a warm saline solution and warmed oxygen, but he’ll be fine.”

To Tony’s horror, he saw soft restraints on Peter’s ankles.

“How did this happen, Bruce?” Tony asked weakly.

Bruce took a long time to respond, “In some cases, probably heightened in younger people and…compromised individuals, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation can be side effects of PCP withdrawal. The restraints are for his own safety, Tony, I’m sorry. We’ll set up a schedule so one of us is always with him for the next few days. Until then, I’m putting him on a 72 hour psych watch,” Bruce said gently. “Tony, you should really get some rest too. I can wheel a bed in here for you.” Tony nodded and faintly heard a calm voice say, “I’ll stay with them first, Bruce,” before he heard the door close and the figure move closer next to him, finally sitting in a vacant chair. Tony looked over. Sam Wilson sat next to him.

“Tony,” he began as Tony tried to offer a smile, still clutching his coffee mug. “I know this must be jarring for you. When Peter gets a little better physically, I think him and I should start meeting regularly. I don’t pretend to be a clinical professional, but I’ve helped a lot of people in similar situations,” Sam said. “Tonight’s events aside, I always had the idea in my head that Peter should be starting to process all that has happened. You’re welcome to come if that’s what Peter wants, but I always feel the therapeutic relationship works best when it’s just one on one.”

Tony simply nodded, not looking at anything in particular. At that moment, Bruce and Steve came in, rolling in another hospital bed up next to Peter’s. Tony felt the coffee cup being glided out of his hands by Sam as Steve helped support Tony’s arm to lift him out of the chair. Tony settled on the bed feeling bone tired, but his heart fluttering madly for the boy in the bed next to him. He swallowed hard as Bruce placed monitors on Tony as well. A pulse meter showed Tony’s heart beating rapidly as he stared over at Peter. He felt Bruce slide an IV into his hand and warm liquid flowed into his vein. He looked up at Bruce, confused.

“You’re a little cold there, too, Tony,” Bruce said simply. “Why don’t you try and get some sleep while Peter’s out as well.” Without waiting for his response, Tony saw Bruce push a syringe into the IV line as a feeling of immense relaxation washed over him. He closed his eyes and dreamt of Peter.

__________________

 

Tony sat by the sleeping form of Peter Parker, his chin resting on his fingertips. Even in sleep the boy looked troubled. He had since warmed up and all of the medical equipment had been taken off. Now, he was just…sleeping. It had been eighteen hours since the roof and Tony was beginning to get nervous. He looked up as Sam entered the room quietly.

“Still nothing?” he asked simply. Tony shook his head mutely, looking at the man with sad eyes.

Sam lowered himself into a chair with a heavy sigh. “Tony,” he said softly. Tony hummed to indicate that he had heard him, but his gaze still rested on Peter. “Tony,” Sam said again. This time, Tony’s gaze fell away from Peter to look at Sam. The latter seemed to be choosing his words carefully.

“Sometimes,” he said slowly, “when a person has gone through a shock or are in deep emotional distress, they don’t feel as though it is safe to wake up. Sometimes, it’s as if they’re hiding in their head. This isn’t entirely abnormal.”

“But he is safe here, Sam,” Tony said, clearly upset.

“Mental illness is hard, Tony, it’s really hard,” Sam responded patiently. “The anxiety and depression he’s feeling has put a certain filter on his world. His perception of what is good and safe is now tainted, through no fault of any of us. That’s just what depression does. Anxiety is no different. It’s like your rational brain is telling you that something is safe, then the anxiety kicks in and whispers, ‘But is it? Are you sure?’ That’s all it takes. Imagine trying to see natural sunlight but you have no idea how to take your sunglasses off.”

“What do we do? How do we fix it?” Tony asked.

“We start small. The smallest you can imagine,” Sam said. “Learning to appreciate the little things is a great start, then the bigger things like combatting those negative thoughts, whatever they are for Peter. These things will all come with a lot of time and patience, though. Unfortunately, it’s not a quick fix.”

“But Bruce said that this was most likely spurred by the drug withdrawal. Do you think this could have been just a freak instance?” Tony asked hopefully. Sam pondered the man for a moment.

“It’s…possible. I would love that to be the case, Tony, I really would, and I would have believed it more until I heard him bring up one of Beck’s rules. There are still traumas rattling around in there that aren’t going to go away once the drug is out of his system. Only time will tell. We’ll watch him carefully when he wakes up.”

“How do…how…god, how do I even react to him after this? I feel horrible for even thinking of treating him differently but what happened last night isn’t something you can just brush off.” Tony said imploringly.

“You’re right, Tony, it wouldn’t be wise to just brush this off, but let me ask you this. Do you love him?”

“Sam, of course I do!”

“Will you ever stop loving him?”

“Never!”

“Will you be there for him in the same capacity that you were before last night?”

“Of course I will,” Tony said emphatically, confused as to why Sam was asking him these questions.

“If you think about it Tony, at the heart of this, nothing much has changed then,” Sam said with a warm smile. He got up without another word and gave Tony’s shoulder a squeeze as he left, leaving Tony with the thoughts now swirling around his head.

 

Hours passed and Peter had still woken up.

“Hey kid, you’ve been asleep for a long time now. I miss those baby deer eyes of yours,” Tony said with a humorless smile. “Sam said that you may be feeling scared to wake up. I…I don’t know what you’re feeling in there, but your family is here, I’m here, and you are so loved, Peter. You are safe here. It’s ok to wake up here.” Still the boy slept on.

 

Tony awoke with a start at the sensation of small hands on his shoulders. He blinked up from where he had dozed off, his head resting on his arms on the side of Peter’s bed. Natasha was standing next to him, looking at him sympathetically. “Why don’t you go upstairs, Tony? I’ll sit with him overnight. Without waiting for a response, Nat lifted him up from under his arms, running a comforting hand on his back as he stood.

“I…I shouldn’t….but,” Tony stammered. Natasha smiled.

“Tony, you’re doing no one any good like this. Go and sleep for a few solid hours. I’ll tell F.R.I.D.A.Y. to alert you if he wakes up.”

Tony knew it was no good to argue with Natasha. While they were all friends, he still wasn’t convinced she wouldn’t put him in a headlock if she thought that was best.

“The instant he wakes up,” Tony said sternly, holding up a finger.

“Scout’s honor,” she said in a mock-serious voice as she coaxed Tony out of the room. He turned back to her.

“You weren’t a girl scout,” he said shrewdly.

Natasha looked nonplussed, “No I wasn’t, but I was a Russian child-assassin.”

“How does that make it any better?”

“Our promises were more life and death,” she said nonchalantly with a shrug. “It’s a win-win for you, Tony, now go to bed.”

 

Tony walked out towards the living room area, as it was closer to the medbay than his own room. He lay down on the couch and closed his eyes. His heart didn’t seem to want to slow down. The powerful bumbum bumbum bumbum made it seem like his heart was trying to make an escape to freedom on the outside. He took a shuddering, yet deep breath. He held it for five seconds, and then let out for six seconds. It was an anxiety technique he’d picked up after New York. He repeated the process nearly ten times until he felt the drum of his heart lower from a John Bonham level to somewhere around a high school drum line.

 

He was up on the roof. Peter was standing on the ledge, the rain drenching his body.

“If I jump, will I survive?” Peter cried.

“I don’t know Pete. Please, just come back down. Let me help you. Please, Peter, I’m begging you,” Tony said, his voice breaking.

“No one can help me, Tony, not even you,” Peter said, his voice oddly calm now. And he fell.

The strangled scream died in Tony’s throat as he leapt off the side of the building after Peter. He felt his suit materialize around him as he reached out his hand for Peter’s. Peter’s eyes were closed and he looked almost peaceful. Tony engaged his thrusters as he sped towards Peter. His hand brushed Peter’s fingertips but then…smack. Peter crumpled on the ground. Tony pulled up at the last second, but still having to roll on the ground. He got on his hands and knees as he crawled over to Peter.

“Peter?” he whimpered, wrenching his eyes to look at the boy. Peter’s body was laid gracefully on the concrete. His arms and legs sprawled as if he were sleeping…except…dark blood was pooling around his head and out of his mouth. There was no breath. No pulse. Peter lay lifeless on the ground.

“P-Peter?” Tony’s voice shook with a sob as his suit fell away and he reached out a hand, cupping Peter’s cheek.

Peter’s eyes snapped wide open, making Tony jump.

“Why didn’t you save me, Tony? How could you just let me die?” Peter asked in a monotonous voice, blood still around his head and mouth. Tony let out a sob.

“You could have saved me, Tony. Why didn’t you do more?” Cap’s words rang again through Tony’s mind as he stared down at the lifeless boy, his face pale and his lips blue.

“P-Peter,” Tony pleaded, placing his hands on the boy’s collar and shaking him slightly. Peter did not wake up. His head lolled as his eyes remained unfocused and staring.

“Peter!” Tony sobbed, grabbing the boy’s face.

“PETER!”

The scream had not yet left his lips as a hand touched his shoulder and he jerked awake on his couch, the Avengers’ concerned faces staring up at him.

Chapter Text

To Tony’s surprise, he found himself looking up at Bucky and Sam, both wearing extremely worried expressions.

“Tony, you’re ok, you’re ok,” Bucky said frantically. Tony vaguely registered that this was one of the first times he had seen the Winter Soldier’s face truly scared as opposed to alert or focused.

“Tony focus on your breathing. Deep breaths,” Sam said calmly. While he also looked highly alarmed, his voice remained calm and steady.

“W-What happened,” Tony stammered, his hands shaking as he rubbed them across his face.

“We heard you screaming, Tones,” Rhodey said. There were tears glistening in his eyes as he too took deep breaths.

“It was a nightmare, Tony,” Bucky said, some of the calm now returning to his voice.

“Tony, what happened? Can you tell us what you just saw?” Sam asked.

“P-Peter…h-he…I couldn’t s-save him and h-he…f-fell,” Tony spluttered. “I t-tried to r-reach him but I w-was too l-late.” Tony covered his face with his hands, took a gasping breath, then looked up at his family, his eyes bloodshot and distraught. “There was so much blood,” he whispered. The team seemed to bristle at these words. Steve moved forward as Bucky and Sam moved aside.

He sat on the edge of the couch and placed a hand on Tony’s back as the latter began to sit up on the couch.

“Tony, Peter’s ok. Natasha is sitting with him now,” Steve said evenly.

Tony shot up off the couch. “I need to go see him, now,” he said urgently.

“Tony, sit down, Peter is fine. You need to try and get some sleep. Nat will be there all night.” Steve implored.

“Steve, I just have to see him breathing. I won’t stay…I just…I just have to be sure,” Tony said, looking yearningly at the super soldier.

“Ok,” Steve agreed, steering Tony towards the doors.

 

The pair reached Peter’s room and Tony quickly walked in and Natasha looked up, confused. Steve gave her a sad, yet meaningful look that stopped her from asking questions. Tony strode across the room and immediately placed his hand on Peter’s chest. He closed his eyes and took a shuddering breath as he felt his hand rise and fall on Peter’s still breathing chest. After a few moments, he stepped back.

“The instant he wakes up,” he reminded Natasha sternly once more as he walked out of the room. Steve gave her a somewhat apologetic look as he followed Tony again outside.

 

 

About an hour later, Natasha sat reading a Russian novel. Her astute hearing picked up the slight sound of rustling sheets before her eyes could tell that Peter was waking up. Peter let out a breath as Natasha put her book down, inching closer to the bed in her seat.

“Peter? Can you hear me? Come on, маленький паук, open your eyes,” she said softly. Peter’s eyes lifted slowly open as he stared at Natasha.

“Hey,” she said with a kind smile, “Let me call Tony for you, ok?”

“No,” Peter said quickly. The sudden vocalization made him cough as Natasha reached over for the cup of water by the bed.

“J-just, not yet,” Peter said, placing the cup back on the table and resting his head back, his eyes closed. “I remember last night,” he said dully, his eyes still tightly shut.

Natasha didn’t pry. She simply placed her hand on top of his.

“Last night…real?” Peter asked in a small voice. Natasha was taken aback at being asked this sensitive clarification question usually reserved for Tony.

“Yes, Peter, it was real,” she said, recovering quickly. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No, not…not right now,” Peter sighed, placing a hand over his face. “I just don’t know how you all can look at me the same way again. Nothing’s ever going to be the same after last night.”

“You’re right, Peter, things may seem a little different, but things change every day,” Natasha reasoned. When Peter did not respond, she continued, “Can I tell you a little something about this family?”

Peter gave her a miserable look, but he responded, “Sure, I guess.”

“When Clint found me…he was sent to kill me,” she began, realizing that Peter probably knew nothing about her backstory. Why would he?

“I was an assassin…one of the bad guys. Clint came to kill me on behalf of S.H.I.E.L.D, but he must have seen something in me because he made a different call. Long story short, he gave me a chance at a new life. I began to work for S.H.I.E.L.D., trying every day to make up for my past. A past that, for the majority, only I knew the full details of. But for some reason, they trusted me even though they had no motive to do so, besides Clint’s word that I could change. He was the first person to ever believe I could be good. Not wanting to let him down, I poured myself into the missions I was given by S.H.I.E.L.D. Slowly, I began to think I could turn my life around, but there was this nagging doubt and shame about my past. How could anyone look at me the same way again, knowing where I had come from?”

Peter sat, tight lipped and staring. Natasha continued.

“And then I met Tony. God, he was a mess. Having recently turned his company upside down after realizing his company’s weapons were being bought by enemy troops, I met him when he was reckless and impulsive. His arc reactor in his chest was killing him and he didn’t know how to stop it. He didn’t give a second thought to how he was reacting. He nearly blew up his house in some sort of repressed, panicky grief regarding his own mortality. I watched as he made mistake after mistake, Rhodey helping him through it one day at a time.

“Then I met Bruce. I met him at a time when he was trying to accept who he was…what he was. He had tried to put a bullet in his head a few months before I met him. The Hulk stopped him.

“Then I met Steve. He was noble and honest and I thought he could do no wrong. Then, as I’m sure Tony has elaborated to you, came the fiasco in Germany. Steve had kept the secret from Tony that Bucky had killed his parents while under Hydra control. The fight aside, the unmasked betrayal nearly killed both of them inside…and their friendship. It did for a long while.

“Then there was Bucky: a murderer over the course of more than half a century, a slave to Hydra. He gets up and walks with that burden every day. It wasn’t ‘him’ but that’s what the world sees when they see his face.”

Peter still did not speak as Natasha’s face softened even further.

“The self doubt I had walking into this party called the Avengers was unimaginable. But then I realized something. I was able to help them through their own insecurities just as they began to help me through mine. This gang of misfit revolutionaries realized we were all immeasurably flawed, scarred, but most importantly, seeking a family. Who would want to accept us if we couldn’t accept ourselves and our past mistakes? So we became that family. No, we weren’t the Walton’s. We had a unique way of showing each other that we were a family. I’ve been woken up and comforted by each Avenger in this building after countless nightmares of mine. I’ve also woken up each one of them at one point after one of their nightmares. We train downstairs four times a week to practice fighting techniques so that we can better protect each other during battle. We eat massive meals together because of our crazy superhero appetites. In the middle of the night, we sit with one another drinking coffee because at least two of us are afraid to go to sleep any given night.”

Natasha gave Peter a hard look, “Peter, you are part of this family-this weird, dysfunctional, flawed, incredible family. All of us have pasts, all of us have made mistakes, whether they are our choices or not. We all continue to love each other because who are we to judge each other on our past mistakes? None of us have any right to throw the first stone. You’re not perfect, Peter, no matter how much Tony will tell you. You’re not perfect. But neither is Tony, myself, Bruce, Rhodey, Sam, Bucky, Clint, Steve, or any of the Avengers that have walked in and out of these doors over the years.

“We love you, Peter. You are one of us. You will always be one of us. Nothing you could ever do will make us stop loving you or treating you like the irreplaceable part of this family that you are. I need you to understand that, please, Peter.”

Peter’s eyes were full of tears. “I’m scared,” Peter said.

“I know,” Natasha said with a kind smile.

“No, I mean,” Peter looked uncomfortable. “I’m scared to let you all down. I’m just going to keep making mistakes.”

“See Peter, what I think you’re forgetting is that you aren’t your mistakes. They are just one teeny tiny part of you. The rest of you?” she cocked her head, smiling, “You’re infectious Peter. Your warmth, your smile, your enthusiasm, your refreshing naiveté. All these things make us love you beyond reason. We don’t see your mistakes. We see you.

“Honestly, your optimism and youth have often saved a bunch of us. You remind us that there’s still good in the world, that we’re allowed to laugh despite what we’ve seen. We’re allowed to feel joy. You gave that to us, Peter.”

Peter bent his head briefly, then looking up at Natasha with a watery smile. She smiled and placed a hand on his cheek.

“The Avengers need their friendly compound Spider-Man.”

Peter let out something between a sob and a laugh, smiling all the same.

“Thank you,” he said quietly.

“Any time, мой маленький паук.”

They were quiet for a moment before Peter spoke up. “Do…Do you think you could get Tony?” he asked timidly.

“Of course, Peter,” Natasha said, standing up.

Peter twitched and stiffened. “Wait,” he said sharply. “I…I don’t want to be left alone. Please?”

Natasha smiled warmly and sat back down next to Peter.

“F.R.I.D.A.Y.? Can you let Tony know Peter’s awake and would like to see him?” Natasha called up to the ceiling.

“Of course Ms. Romanoff, Boss is on his way,” the AI said pleasantly.

About thirty seconds later, Tony came through the door. Peter could tell he had run all the way to his room because the man was out of breath and he had gotten there in less than thirty seconds. He walked calmly and quietly over to Peter’s bed, however.

“Can you give us a moment?” Peter said lowly to Natasha. She stood smiling. She bent over, kissed his head and gave his shoulder a quick squeeze before walking out of the room.

Peter watched her walk all the way out of the room, suddenly nervous about looking at Tony. He could feel his eyes on him. After a solid minute, Peter looked up. Tony was in fact staring at him with one of the most complex faces Peter had ever seen him wear. There was so much hiding in that face, Peter couldn’t pick out just one emotion. He saw sadness and fear, but also happiness, relief, and undeniably, love. Peter didn’t quite know how to respond to all of this, so he returned his gaze to his lap.

“Thank you, Mister Stark,” he said gently. He looked up to see Tony’s face filled with shock.

“For what, Pete?” he asked in disbelief.

Peter hadn’t expected this question. What was he thankful for? Definitely not for just one thing. He paused for a moment before answering.

“For…being there tonight. For always being there. For loving me. For fighting for me. Just…for everything,” Peter finished.

Tony gave him a calculating look, as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Suddenly, he stood up. He lifted back Peter’s blanket, taking into account Peter’s restraints still on his ankles.

“Well, this won’t do,” Tony said exasperatedly. He undid the buckles, freeing Peter. He walked up next to Peter once more, looking down at him. “Scoot,” he said with a smile.

“Huh?” Peter asked, confused.

“Scoot over! I’m coming in,” Tony replied simply.

Peter moved over as Tony climbed into the twin bed with Peter. The boy found it extremely natural to lay his head on Tony’s warm chest. His heart beat slow and rhythmic. Tony reached up a hand and placed it on Peter’s head.

“Peter,” said quietly. “There’s nothing on this earth that could stop me from coming when you need me. I will always fight for you, I will always be there, and I will always love you,” Tony said softly.

Peter let out a breath as he closed his eyes. “I’m sorry, Tony,” he said sadly.

“You have nothing to be sorry for, Pete,” Tony responded at once.

“If nothing else, I’m sorry for worrying you,” Peter mumbled.

“Again, no need to be sorry. We’re going to work on that word, ok? But Pete, it’s my job to worry about you.” Tony replied. Peter simply sighed into Tony’s chest, enjoying how his head rose and fell as Tony breathed. “You’re going to get through this, Peter. We’re going to get through this. We’ll walk through the oblivion with you.”

Peter was silent for a moment, and then he spoke.

 

“I know I will, Tony. I have my family.”

Chapter Text

“Alright, Peter,” Helen said, smiling. “You’re officially cleared to go. I still want to see you back every week just to check in on your weight and see how you’re handling food. Don’t rush it.”

Peter smiled up at her and hopped off the bed. Suddenly, he threw his arms around her in a tight embrace. “Thank you,” he said genuinely. “I know none of this was easy.”

Helen put her hands on either side of Peter’s face, smiling sweetly at him.

“It was my pleasure, Peter,” she said. Her voice turned stern, “…but NEVER do that again.” Peter smiled sheepishly as Tony walked up next to them. “Ready to blow this popsicle stand, Pete?”

Peter sighed, looking around at the medbay that had become all too familiar.

 

A month had passed since the roof incident and an extremely relieved Dr. Banner had given Peter his last dose of PCP the previous day. The month following the incident hadn’t been easy. Peter still had to experience the effects of the PCP every time it was given. Whether it was nightmares, angry outbursts, listlessness, or confusion, an Avenger was always there with him…rather, an Avenger other than Tony, who was with him for every single dose. Sam had also started coming by every day about a week after that night on the roof. Peter liked Sam a lot. He didn’t pressure Peter to be any sort of way. Peter had thought that as soon as he started seeing Sam, he would be expected to magically be “better” overnight. Sam had ensured him that this was never the case with mental health and that would almost be more alarming than taking things slow. About once every few days, they were allowed to go outside and walk the grounds. Sam had come up with a hybrid technique based on Peter’s “real/not real” strategy. Peter had still been using it during his doses to stay grounded when he would suddenly become scared or confused.

The two would walk out onto the grounds and onto the garden paths. Sam’s first idea was to help Peter rediscover the beauty in the world, that the beauty was real and right in front of him.

One October morning, they were walking on the edge of the woods when Peter spotted a monarch caterpillar on a stalk of milkweed. He let it crawl up his finger as he looked at Sam, smiling. “Real,” he grinned.

In mock disgust, Sam grimaced, “You sure are one with the bugs there, spider-kid.” His face softened quickly. “Definitely real. One day, he’ll crawl up on that leaf, turn into a chrysalis, and then come out as a butterfly. It’s an entire transformation.”

“I wish I could grow wings sometimes,” Peter said quietly.

“We’ll get you your wings, Peter, don’t worry,” Sam said, realizing Peter wasn’t talking about literal wings.

“I didn’t think butterflies would be out this late in the season,” Peter said, curiously. “Isn’t it too cold for them?”

“Sometimes nature just does what it wants. Sometimes it doesn’t stick to a timeline,” Sam said.

“Like me?” Peter asked, his eyes curious.

“Exactly kid. You’re not on a timeline. You’re exactly where you need to be.”

 

 

 

Peter and Sam would also do exercises that helped ground Peter in the present. Sam sat cross-legged on the soft grass as Peter lay flat on his back, his eyes closed.

“Real,” Peter breathed.

“Tell me what’s real, Peter, everything you can feel.”

Peter breathed deeply for a few moments before he began.

“The sun. It’s warm on my face,” he said softly.

“Good. What else?” Sam prompted.

“The grass. It’s soft. The ground is…sturdy; I feel protected by it. I can hear birds…and feel the wind on my face.” Peter began to breathe deeply, his eyes still closed.

“Let’s stay in that space for a bit, Peter.”

And they stayed.

 

_____________

“Ready, Pete? What do you say, pizza and a movie?” Tony asked as they walked towards the medbay doors.

“That sounds great, Tony,” Peter smiled, allowing himself to be guided by Tony’s arm across his back.

They walked down the hall as the smell of pizza wafted towards them. Peter groaned, “Ugh, I am so ready for real people food,” he sighed longingly.

“Well, don’t let me stop you,” Tony said smiling. He pushed the door to the common area open so Peter could enter first. Peter wasn’t paying attention until all of a sudden, he was bombarded with a loud noise. He jumped slightly.

 

“SURPRISE!” the room cheered.

 

Peter gaped. Standing in the living area was Steve, Bucky, Sam, Rhodey, Clint, Natasha, and Bruce. There was a huge banner hung from the ceiling that read, “WE LOVE YOU, PETER!” in large red and blue letters.

“Wha-” Peter choked out, completely shocked. “Wow,” he sighed, tears pooling in his eyes. He felt Tony’s hand return to his shoulder as the team moved forward. They each gave him hugs in turn, notables such as Bucky ruffling his hair and Natasha giving him excited kisses on his head.

“You didn’t think we’d pass up the opportunity for a pizza party, do you, Peter? Especially since we have the best reason to celebrate?” Steve laughed.

Peter’s eyes swept the room. Streamers hung from the ceiling and sitting on the kitchen island were about twenty pizzas.

“You weren’t kidding!” Peter laughed, looking at the enormous stack of cardboard boxes. The team retreated towards the food that had been laid out as Tony came to stand in front of Peter, looking closely at his face.

“What do you say, Pete, too much?” Tony asked, almost worriedly. Peter simply stared at the group in the distance. Rhodey was staring with a look of disgusted horror as he watched Bucky eat a piece of pizza, crust first. Clint and Natasha were competitively taking turns tossing cheese balls for the other to catch in their mouths. Sam walked over to them, holding out a rubber band. Natasha’s eyes glowed with a vindictive triumph as she stared at the rubber band. She took it, loading in a cheese ball, and stretching it back. Clint’s eyes widened as he began backing away.

“No, no, no, don’t even think about it! Ow!” he cried as Natasha started flicking cheese balls against his skin.

Steve and Bruce were over in a corner, laughing hysterically over the sight of Natasha chasing Clint around the room. Soon, they stopped watching, walked over to Bucky and Rhodey and grabbed pieces of pizza, purposefully starting from the crust just to see the look on Rhodey’s face. Rhodey shook his head, his hand on his forehead.

“That is not how you eat pizza, you heathens.”

 

Peter tore his eyes away from them, looking up at Tony with shining eyes. He didn’t know what the next few months would bring, if it would be hard, if he would relapse into dark thoughts. Sam had told him that he had to take one day at a time and it was impossible to know what tomorrow would bring. To his surprise, he found that he was not worried. They would face this together. He felt a surge of intangible emotion as he thought of May, Ben, and his parents, wondering if they knew the company he was in now…if they knew he was loved beyond reason by this gang of misfit heroes. Focusing on the present, Peter let the flood of warmth course through his body, incredibly fond of each and everyone of them.

 

“No, it’s perfect. It’s family. It’s home.”