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Stargazing

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It was almost two in the morning when Peter finished his patrol. Ned had given him the all clear from his command station (“Call volume has dropped below threshold. Nice work tonight, by the way. When Beck didn’t check in at the beginning of the night I assumed a solo patrol would be harder work than usual.”), and Peter was heading home when he saw it.

Letting off a glow that wouldn’t be noticeable to someone without enhanced vision on the roof was the glowing, sparking, golden edge of a portal left open. Peter quickly patched into the security cameras on the roof and reran the last half hour in fast forward as he hastened his swinging pace. Then he expanded his search. Almost three hours of video rewound later, Peter found what he was looking for. Soon after he had left for patrol around eleven, Beck had portaled onto the roof, opened up a second portal, and left that one open. For three hours.

It wasn’t like Beck to do something like that, to leave a portal open. Unless he was waiting for someone else to go through.

An open portal, in other words, was an open invitation. Still didn’t make sense, though. Why would Beck not show up for patrol, then open a portal on Peter’s roof? He knew the man was still shaken from the events in Wakanda, but this was odd behavior, even for him.

Well, answers were on the other side of the portal. Peter pulled off his mask, stepped through, and was immediately struck dumb by what he saw.

He stood in the middle of a field, his enhanced vision cutting through the gloom to see Beck laying on what appeared to be a beach towel in the center. No armor, just a t-shirt and sweatpants, laying on the ground and staring up at the sky.

Offhandedly, Peter realized it was the “I got stuck in this dimension and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” shirt that he had given Beck as a gag gift for his housewarming party a few weeks ago. Well, roomwarming present, but the intent was there all the same.

The rest of Peter’s brain was focused on the sky. The orange glow that suffused the New York City night sky only barely extended past the horizon here. The rest of the sky was both impossibly dark and impossibly bright at the same time, blues and purples and yellows competing for attention as the vast band of the Milky Way stretched across the sky. Even then the rest of the sky was full of pinpricks of light that Peter had only ever really seen in photos and videos.

“The sky is the same here. I knew it should be, but I was still surprised.” Beck’s voice was low, quiet, full of melancholy as he gestured with one hand and the portal finally closed behind Peter.

“Where are we?” Peter carefully picked his way across the ground to where Beck lay, sitting with his knees drawn to his chest next to him.

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re in Kansas.” Peter noticed Beck’s eyes flick to him quickly before returning to staring at the sky. “This area’s called the Flint Hills. I used to live not too far away from here as a kid – my mom and I would come out here on summer nights every once in a while and just watch.”

Ok, what could you even say to that? Peter had noticed Beck withdrawing somewhat once the excitement of the first few weeks were over. The guy didn’t have many hobbies, barely any friends outside of coworkers (were the other heroes of the world coworkers? Peter wasn’t quite sure what category they fell into). He had thrown himself into the patrol schedule and his work alongside Strange, but Peter realized with a start that he wasn’t sure if the guy really had a personal life at all.

Forget personal life, did Beck even have anyone he could talk to? Peter remembered how much of a wreck he had been in the first days after Tony died, and that was only one friend he had lost. How would you handle losing everyone you had ever known? Beck had seemed fine, and no one questioned it, and life had gone on as normal.

Being able to talk about “hero stuff” was what had drawn him to Beck (both versions of him) in the first place. It only seemed fair to return the favor.

Of course, there had been the Birthday incident, but Beck had seemed even more settled after the wristbands had been properly set up, more sure in his abilities – both magical and ability to act on his own, rather than purely as a soldier.

Peter was drawn out of his musing as Beck shifted his position next to him, moving his hands from clasped over his chest to behind his head. “After I started training, I never came back here. Every once in a while, an Elemental would attack somewhere that we could see the stars, but they always seemed to prefer cities. And other places’ stars were never quite the same, anyway. I came out here, hoping it would be different, that it would finally sink in that I’m not going home and instead,” he gestured vaguely in the direction of the sky, “It’s exactly the same.”

Well, that makes sense, the science side of Peter’s brain wanted to say, if your dimension branched off in the 1950’s the stars should be the same.

Instead, Peter said, “Tell me about your Earth. The dumb, stupid details that catch you off guard here.”

Beck continued staring at the sky before offering, “We don’t have Burger King on my world.”

He didn’t seem to clarify, or even continue talking, but Peter persisted. “No Burger King?”

“No, I think the founders were Sorcerers.” Peter let out a small snort of laughter. Something about that sentence was just absurd in and of itself.

“What else?”

Beck stayed quiet for a while, before offering up another tidbit. “No super-villains.”

Peter shifted his position, finally laying down on the damp grass next to Beck, staring up at the sky. “That must be nice.”

He caught Beck’s shrug out of the corner of his eye. “Constant world ending threats and global, organized battalions of Sorcerers and Enhanced stationed on every continent that can portal directly to any major threat in minutes kind of dissuaded people. But imagine my surprise at your world’s list. Yellowjacket. Aldrich Killian. Hell, even Adrian Toomes. All heroes or geniuses that helped make the world a better place instead of focusing on their own selfish ambitions.”

A heroic Vulture. Through the looking glass indeed. Ok, think of other questions.

“You said you became a Sorcerer at sixteen?”

Beck shook his head slightly. “I became an acolyte at sixteen. My family was dead, my home was destroyed, and I had a better than average magical aptitude. It was either train me or throw me into an already strained foster care system. I was useful, so they took me in. That sounds ungrateful-” Peter shrugged, he knew what those feelings were like, “-I had wanted to be a Sorcerer since I was a little kid and I saw them on the television saving lives, but not like that. Technically I wasn’t a Sorcerer until I was twenty, I had finished my training, was assigned to a battalion, etc etc.”

That was a thread Peter could pull. Beck seemed to be doing a little better as they continued talking, the melancholy coloring his voice a little less. Also, if he was being perfectly honest, he was super curious about what being a Sorcerer was like.

“I know you and Doctor Strange have talked a lot on the differences in magic between the worlds. Does it feel different to use magic here? What was your training like?”

Beck considered how to respond. “You know the concept of breadth versus depth, yeah? Like, the mind can only hold so much information at once?” He didn’t wait for confirmation from Peter before continuing, “Sorcerers here seem to prefer breadth. Learn a little bit of everything magic can do, maybe find a specialty. On my world, the average Sorcerer is taught to do five things with their magic.”

He held up a hand, ticking down the points as he named them. “Flight, Shields, Offense, Portals, and channeling one’s magic to heal oneself. Sorcerers on your world seem to prefer to use artifacts to fly, but flight has always been a core part of what it means to be one on my world. Shields and offense are self-evident – protect yourself, attack the monsters. I prefer long-distance beams, but I can do anything from a dagger to a longsword if I needed to. Portals, again, seems to be a commonality, and channeling magic to heal myself is unconscious at this point. It just happens. But it’s a bonus when you’re getting smacked around to have enhanced healing.”

“The taste of magic… That’s what always reminds me as soon as I wake up every morning that I’m not home anymore.” Beck dropped his hand back down to resting over his chest, playing with the wristbands and staring up at the sky. “At home, the magic of our world has been poisoned by decades of misery and fear, eroded by the presence of the Elementals. It’s like…” he paused, looking for the right analogy. “It’s like someone tried to make coffee ice cream, but didn’t add any sugar and overbrewed the coffee until it was right on the edge of inedible. If you really try, you can use it, but it won’t be fun. And,” he added, almost like an afterthought, “Even if you wanted to eat it, there’s never quite enough to go around.”

“And here?”

“Here it’s like…” Beck paused, looking to see if he could extend the analogy. “Here it’s like someone took perfectly made coffee ice cream, added in just a little bit of the shitty stuff but recently, not enough to poison the whole batch. For someone from this dimension, it’s ok. Not amazing, but usable. For someone from my dimension…” He shrugged slightly. “It’s the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten. It’s harder to stop channeling the magic than it is to start because it just feels so good.”

The silence lasted longer this time. Beck didn’t seem interested in explaining further than that, but the discussion of magic seemed to have cheered him up a little.

“You need a hobby.” Peter didn’t mean to say it out loud, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t true. “You spend all day cooped up in the Sanctum, or in the coffee shop, then patrol at night. The only time I see  you out and about is when I drag you with me. Do you even have any friends?”

Beck looked over at Peter and raised an eyebrow. “Besides, like, me or Strange or any of the Protectors. Normal people friends,” Peter clarified. “People who you can just hang out with without worrying about being Mysterio.”

“I knit.”

“What?” That was such an incongruous comment for what Peter knew about Beck that he wasn’t sure how to respond.

“It’s kind of a tradition on my world for soldiers to knit,” Beck said, as if that explained anything. “And for your information, I go to a knitting circle meeting once a week. Most of the people there are so old that they don’t recognize me. It’s nice to just be ‘that nice young man with terrible needle technique’ sometimes. Dorothy always says she’s going to get me to learn how to crochet at some point, do some more constructed stuff.”

“No!” Peter sat upright, a look of amused shock and surprise on his face. His mind was stuck on the mental image of Beck, wearing the Mysterio armor, sitting in the basement of some grandmother’s house, knitting a scarf while everyone corrected his technique. It was the funniest thought he had had in a long time.

“Yes! And that reminds me – luggage got lost and then I totally forgot about it, so it’s a little late, but…” Beck opened a small portal barely large enough for his arm to go through and rifled around in what appeared to be a drawer of some point, pulling out a messily wrapped package. “Happy birthday, kid.”

Peter wasn’t one to turn down a gift, eagerly ripping open the package. Inside was a scarf, somewhat messily made of incredibly soft yarn that even with his enhanced sense of touch he wouldn’t mind wearing. It was deep red in color, a web design inexpertly worked in black yarn. Peter shook it out to its full length, noting it was a little longer and wider than it needed to be, and the ends were fringed with black. He wound it around his neck with glee.

“What do you think?” He turned to face Beck, who propped himself up on his elbows to get a better look.

“Looks good on you, kid. Probably take it off before you die of heatstroke, though, it is the middle of summer.” He gave Peter a small smile as he slowly took off the scarf, folding it back up.

“Really though, Quentin, are you ok?”

Beck finally sat up, meeting Peter’s eyes. The kid didn’t normally call him by his first name – it was Mysterio in the field, Mister Beck, usually, occasionally just Beck if he was feeling really informal. But Quentin? Very rare.

“I’m ok.” He gave a slight nod before looking down. “I miss home, but I have to believe that I’m stuck here for a reason. Maybe someday I’ll get back, see my friends again. Maybe there’s nothing to go back to, and that’s why I’m here. But the fact remains, I am here. Sometimes it just gets a little hard to see the silver lining.” Beck carefully got to his feet, looking back up at the sky one more time before pulling his sling ring out of his pocket. “Besides, the stars are just as beautiful here as they are back home.”

Side by side, the two of them walked back through the portal, back into New York City. Peter stayed on the roof for a short time after Beck had left, staring up at the burnt orange of the New York City night sky.

Maybe he’d have to ask Beck to do this again at some point.