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Spider-man: Homestay

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Chapter One: Tell Me What You Want to Hear

“Peter, calm down!”

He shook his head, pacing the alleyway. MJ ran her hands through her hair, smoothing out the wind damage from her curly locks. “Calm?” he gasped. He was nearing in on hyperventilating. “Calm!”

“Yes,” she snapped. Her phone was ringing off the hook. May, or Ned, or Betty… A plethora of people who couldn’t get a hold of him calling her because he was too busy panicking to pick up his damn phone. “Peter, you can’t do this here.” He was still in costume, but his mask had been discarded on the sidewalk. “You can’t freak out… not here.”

He stopped his pacing and turned to her, his eyes wide and terrified.

“Look, everyone knows you’re a hero! Who cares if they know who you are? We all knew the identities of the other Avengers. Hell, Tony Stark—”

“Don’t!” Peter snapped, pointing at her. “Don’t… mention him!” She took a step back. He was stressed and she didn’t blame him for being so defensive. He seemed to notice that he had spooked her. “I…I’m sorry, MJ.”

She shook her head. Now wasn’t the time for her to panic or be upset with him for the outbrust. They only had time for one person to panic in their little duet. “It’s fine, Peter, but you need to get somewhere private and then you can scream all you want into a pillow. And May will make you some wheatcakes and make some phone calls--” She hesitated, unsure if she’d trigger another panic attack by mentioning Pepper. She decided to risk it. “--to Pepper and we can make this whole thing disappear. They all knew you’re a hero. It’s going to take more than some guy on a shady news source to turn this city against you.”

Peter looked at her for several moments before he nodded slowly, finally finding some sort of peace for the time being. He walked slowly and carefully to his mask, replacing it over his head. She decided now wasn’t the time to joke about the mask being pointless. They still had no proof that he was the true holder of the identity. It could very well be that Mysterio had been lying.

He turned to her and looked prepared to say something. She offered him a tight smile before he fired a web and jumped into the air, leaving her alone in the alleyway. Once he was gone, she fell against the wall and put her head against the brick with a soft groan. Her phone rang again and she picked it up. “Hey, Ned,” she said as she started for the alley entrance.

“Is he okay?” Ned asked. She wanted to smile.

“Not right now,” she answered bluntly. There was no point in avoiding the elephant in the room. Peter wouldn’t be okay for a while; but the city would heal. She usually had a pessimistic attitude, but she had seen the good in people and the world. They would see him for who he was. They had to.

“Is he with you?”

She shook her head. “I think he went home.” She stopped at a bus stop and waited patiently. “I’m on my way there now. He’s going to need someone to anchor him…” They hadn’t been together very long at all and it felt like everything was falling apart. She couldn’t imagine what he was going through, though. If she was this close to freaking out, she could only imagine how close he was to it; if he wasn’t panicking already. “Where are you?” One thing she couldn’t shake was that they needed to get into hiding. Weren’t they in danger too?

She shook her head, trying not to think about it. It wasn’t about them… But, in a way, it was. Their connection to Peter put them on some hit lists. “I’m fine. I think I should get to his house, too,” he answered. MJ nodded even though he couldn’t see her. “Stay safe, MJ.”

“You too…” She hung up and wrapped her hand around the handle on the bus so tightly, her knuckles began to hurt.

 

Peter landed heavily on the fire escape leading to his room. After the Blip, they had to find a new home. Pepper had been more than happy to donate whatever they needed, but May had wanted to not rely on Tony Stark’s money. It was a good sentiment, but now he wished they had the entirely of Fort Knox. It wouldn’t take long before the press showed up looking for a statement. Even if they could somehow make this go away, it wouldn’t for most people. The toothpaste was out of the tube and it could never be put back in. Or… however that saying went.

He stared into the window leading to his bedroom. May wasn’t in there. He hadn’t even bothered checking his phone. Happy had probably just left if he was gone already. She was probably calling him off the hook to make sure he was okay. He had made it back without incident and he hoped that it wasn’t just luck. They could fix this… couldn’t they? They had to fix this. He wasn’t about to let Mysterio ruin his life. Not like this.

The man had already taken something from Peter he could never get back. He couldn’t let Mysterio have everything. It didn’t seem fair.

He opened the window and stepped inside, pulling the blinds closed behind him. “May?” he called. When she had found out who he was, she had hated it at first. She hated that he was risking his life out there. She had tried to convince him that it wasn’t his fight; or at least it didn’t have to be. There was a lot of yelling and then a lot of silence. She had come around eventually and he was glad that she knew long before this. If this was how she had found out, she would have killed him.

The door swung open and she crossed the room to him, gathering him tightly in her arms. He steeled himself. “I’m fine,” he said. He was more worried about her. He could fight off anyone who came after him. She couldn’t. “Are you?”

“Yes… I’m okay.” She held him at arm’s length. “I called Happy. He wants to get with Pepper before coming back. He told me not to answer the door for anyone.” Peter nodded. “Get something else on and I’ll…” She paused and he knew why. There was nothing they could do. This was something he couldn’t fix by punching his way out of it. Nothing would work. This wasn’t a superhero problem. He clenched his fists and backed away as May watched him. She offered him the slightest grin. “It’ll be okay,” she tried to assure him. It wasn’t much assurance.

If Tony was still here…

He shook his head without finishing the thought. It didn’t matter what Tony would do. He wasn’t there anymore. Mysterio’s illusion flashed in his head. That was one thing he hadn’t told anyone. They knew how that encounter ended, but he hadn’t mentioned anything about how Mysterio had led him into the path of the speeding train. That was private. He still had nightmares.

May smiled one more time and left the room as he turned to lock his window and remove his mask. How could she smile at him? Their lives were falling apart. “Maybe she just thinks that after getting Blipped, this doesn’t really compare.” And maybe to her, it didn’t. To him… it was just another notch in the list of terrible things that were just happening with his life. His reached up to lock the window and noticed his hand trembling. He looked back to make sure May hadn’t seen it before quickly locking it and grabbed his shaking hand.

He shook his head. Not now… Now wasn’t the time. He pulled off the black and red suit and changed into a shirt that was too big for him and shorts. He tugged at the collar of the shirt and took a deep breath, closing his eyes. Tony’s grave flashed in his mind, startling him. His eyes snapped open and he found himself staring at the EDITH glasses case on his dresser; a thing that he was given and he hadn’t been ready for. Tony made a lot of mistakes in his life… that was what Happy had told him.

Peter never imagined he’d be just another one of Tony’s mistakes.

Peter jumped out of his skin when the doorbell went off. He scrambled towards the door, but May grabbed his arm as he passed her. “Let me answer it.”

“Aunt May…” He didn’t want to tell her that if it was someone who was there for a fight, he’d rather he be the one who got shot. Her stern look responded to his unspoken fear. She was here for him and she wouldn’t let anyone hurt him if she could help it.

May held her arm in front of Peter like a mother holding a child without a seatbelt in car. She locked the chain bolt on the door and then opened it.

“May Parker?” The voice behind the door was male, but it wasn’t Happy.

May scowled. “We aren’t talking to press,” she snapped. Peter couldn’t help but smile slightly. Her tone was as stern as ever. She wasn’t missing any beats.

The man laughed slightly. “I understand, ma’am,” he said. His voice was rather calm, and Peter wasn’t sure he liked it. “I’m not with the press, but if a reporter sees me out here, you will be front page news for a very different reason.” May didn’t budge. “Please. I merely want to help you and your nephew.”

May turned to Peter and all he could do was shrug. His judge of character wasn’t great at the moment. May sighed and shut the door to unlock the chain. She reopened the door to reveal a red-haired man in a suit that looked like it cost more than their apartment. He stepped inside and she shut the door behind him.

“I appreciate it, Mrs. Parker.” He held out his hand and she took it carefully. “Norman Osborn.”

“Osborn?” Peter asked. “As in… Oscorp?” The man nodded. “You bought the Avengers Tower.”

“I did.” He withdrew his hand and observed the apartment. Peter saw it in his eyes that he was thinking about their meager living arrangements. It was nothing special. Their apartment was probably the size of his bedroom.

May broke the tension in the room. “Would you… like some coffee, Mr. Osborn?”

“No, thank you.” He smiled. “I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m here.”

“It crossed my mind,” May said, crossing her arms.

Norman seemed mildly taken aback by their slightly rude behavior towards him. Peter wanted to tell him that it probably wasn’t personal. Everyone was a little on edge at the moment. Norman cleared his throat in the silence. “Yes… You see, one reason I wanted to move headquarters to New York was the surplus of metahumans here.” He nodded to Peter. “Your nephew being one of the ones I was most interested.”

May’s stance changed instantly, and Peter tensed. Did he want to run tests? Run him through the ringer? Norman looked between them and then seemed to notice how they were reacting to him.

“Oh… I understand that sounds bad. I admire Spider-man,” he clarified. “Nothing more. When this happened, I wanted to be sure that I was there to help him through it.”

May didn’t relax. “How?”

“One, I’d like to move you two to my apartment. It will have the highest security in the city. I can handle the press and make sure this all goes away in a matter of days.”

“We have Stark Industries for that,” she challenged. Peter nodded slowly.

Norman looked between them again. Peter could swear he saw the man’s eyes narrow. “Of course… I understand.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card, offering it to May. “But if you need anything, Mrs. Parker, do not hesitate to call me.” He smiled at both of them, lingering slightly on Peter, before nodding and heading towards the door. May opened it.

“I appreciate it, Mr. Osborn,” she said with a strained smile. As she opened the door, everyone froze. Happy was standing with his fist up to knock on the door.

He stammered slightly and looked at the situation in the room, clearly trying to comprehend it. “Uh… Hello…?”

“Mr. Osborn was just leaving,” May said, ushering the man into the hallway as Happy passed through the open door.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Osborn,” Happy stuttered. Norman nodded his greeting and walked down the hall as if nothing had happened. Once he was gone completely, Happy looked at May. “What was he doing here?”

“He wanted to help,” she answered with a shrug.

Happy laughed. “Him? Wants to help himself is more likely,” he said. “Tony’s tangled with him once or twice. The man’s a megalomaniac. He’s probably taking this whole situation for his advantage.” He shook his head. “But we shouldn’t talk about that. Pepper wants you two to come with me. You’ll be staying at their lake house outside the city until she can smooth things over.”

Hide… that was what they wanted him to do. They wanted him to turn tail and run. If he was that kind of person, he wouldn’t have gotten on that spaceship. He would have gone like he had been told and stayed out of danger. Peter shook his head. That wasn’t who he was; who he could be. He turned his back to them with a soft sigh.

“Pete?” May asked, worried.

You go to the lake house,” he said to her without looking at them. “I can’t just run from this… I can’t ignore it. This is my problem.”

May put her hands on his shoulder and a shiver went down his spine. “No… this is our problem. The moment I found out about this… Even before that…”

It became our problem. He knew that was what she wanted to say, but she couldn’t. If she did, it meant that she’d be putting the blame on him for this whole mess. It was his fault. No one was denying that; but no one wanted to be the one to point it out. “I can’t ask you—” to put yourself in danger.

“You aren’t asking,” May snapped. She tightened her grip on his shoulders. “And neither am I.” He squeezed his eyes shut.

“Be that as it may,” Happy said before Peter could respond. “Right now, you two probably shouldn’t stay here. The press will find out where you live before long and they’ll bombard you. If you insist on staying in the city, we’ll set you up somewhere, but you can’t stay here. If you’ve already got Norman Osborn knocking at your door, more sinister people won’t be far behind.”

Peter nodded. “Ten minutes,” he said. “Can you grab the Iron Spider suit and the EDITH glasses?” Happy nodded and hurried to Peter’s bedroom as he turned to his aunt.

She smiled warmly at him. Her ability to smile despite all of this was infectious; but it didn’t make it much better. He was grateful for her. He didn’t deserve her. “We’ll be okay,” she assured him. He nodded. Yeah… they would be okay. It always worked out in the end… always…

 

In the limo, Peter typed a text message to Ned, his fingers flying over the keyboard on the phone. Happy hadn’t wanted him to contact anyone, but Ned needed to know. He needed to make sure that his friend was okay. He was getting texts and calls from people who weren’t even saved in his phone. They said they would get him a different phone when they got to Stark Industries.

<I’m fine,> Ned wrote. <Are you?>

I will be… he thought, but instead he typed, <Yeah. Looks like I’ll be staying somewhere else for a few days. Vacation?> He wanted to brush this whole thing off. He’d need to talk to Happy about making sure MJ and Ned at least were safe. He’d rather Happy and Pepper be getting those guys out of the city.

<Alright. My mom’s freaking out.>

<You haven’t told her anything?>

<No.>

Peter leaned against the back of the seat and let out a long sigh. May turned to him with a soft smile. He returned it; but it faded as they neared the building. There were the sounds of people clamoring and camera shutters coming from outside. “Damn…” Happy grumbled. “I was hoping it would take longer for them to get here.” He slowed down as the car was swarmed by the press. “It’s not far to the front door, you two. We’ll get you inside and then we’ll deal with this.”

“They aren’t on your property?” May asked.

“Not yet, but Pepper will buy this entire block if she has to.” Happy stopped the car and stepped out, shouting at the vultures. May grabbed Peter’s hand.

“It’s fine,” he said with a soft grin. She nodded, telling him silently that she believed it was okay as well. The door opened and Happy pushed back the reporters.

“Let’s go!” he snapped. May got quickly out of the car and Peter followed her without a word. The second he stepped out of the car, he was bombarded with camera flashes and questions. The people of the press shouted at him and shoved their microphones towards his face. May and Happy both shouted at the reporters, pushing them away from him. Happy handed him a clipboard so he could block his face as they made their way through the sea of the press.

“Leave him alone!” Happy shouted. Apparently, he had told May to keep her mouth shut because she said nothing to the reporters… though he was sure she’d be shouting their ears off for heckling him. He clenched his fists and suddenly, his senses shot up slightly. It wasn’t enough to call for action, but it was enough to send shivers down his spine.

He spun, letting May and Happy get a few steps in front of him. Standing amongst the reporters was a man. He wasn’t shouting like the rest of them and he didn’t have a camera or a microphone. He was just standing there, staring through the crowd directly at Peter with what looked to be one good eye and one that he been messed up based on the scars and the glazed pupil. There was a tattoo of a scorpion on the side of his neck. The man locked eyes with Peter and smiled.

A shiver went down Peter’s spine as the man stepped back and disappeared into the crowd.

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Two: Watch This City Burn

When they made it into the building, Happy quickly locked the door and ushered them out of the view of any prying eyes. Once they were safely in the elevator, Happy pressed the button and the door slid slowly behind them. Just before it could close, someone ran inside. Peter blinked at the woman, but she didn’t speak, so neither did he.

At first it seemed like the ride would remain in silence, but the woman turned to them. “They aren’t giving statements,” Happy said, stepping forward. Peter bit his lip. It was odd to see a regular guy step forward to protect a superhero, but he said nothing and he looked down at his feet, shuffling them.

“I’m not a reporter,” she assured them.

“Regardless,” Happy said, “you shouldn’t be here. This is private property.”

“Let her talk,” Peter grumbled under his breath. Why did it matter? If she wasn’t a reporter, what was the worst she could do? Even if she was a reporter, why did it matter? It didn’t. None of it matter.

“Thank you.” She looked up at Happy and he stepped aside. Peter looked up at the woman and took a deep breath. What did she want? He tried to go over a scenario. Tony had told him about a time another woman cornered him to berate him about how he handled things. The woman stared at him for a moment and then shook her head with a soft laugh. “God… you’re just a kid.”

“I know,” he whispered. What was he supposed to say to that? Yes, he was just a kid. He didn’t need to be reminded of how unqualified and how young he was. He wrung his hands.

“I… I was going to come in here and berate you. I thought… those pictures they released were just old, but you really are just a kid.”

May stepped forward. “Berate him for what?” she asked.

The woman shook her head. “It doesn’t matter.” Her stern face fell into a soft expression. “You poor child… I’m sorry this happened to you.” The door dinged and she backed out. Peter didn’t say anything to her. He didn’t know what he could say. He didn’t know why she was mad at him, but it didn’t matter.

Once the door closed, Peter leaned back on the wall, closing his eyes. “I’m sorry, May,” he whispered.

“For what?”

He didn’t answer. She knew what he meant. He was sorry this was happening. He had slipped up by trusting Mysterio and now everyone was paying for it. At least he was the only casualty so far. His identity wasn’t safe anymore, but maybe he could prevent the rest of his support system from being in danger as well.

He clenched his fists until the door opened and they stepped out into the main office. The walls were lined with windows and he could see out into the city. It was a beautiful day, and he felt like it shouldn’t be. The day should be cold and rainy; not mild and sunny like it was. The sky should be overcast and dreary like he was.

Pepper paced the room, talking rapidly in her phone. Her voice was stern as she spoke. “I don’t care if the street is public property, they are blocking traffic!” she snapped. After a moment of the other person talking, she scoffed. “Yeah, I’ll get the Avengers right on that!” She hung up with a huff before noticing the people now standing in her office. Her angry face softened as she hurried to them, grabbing Peter’s shoulders. “How are you?”

“Fine,” he said. She turned to Happy, who nodded slowly. Peter didn’t know what that meant and right now, he didn’t care.

Before anyone could say anything, a soft, young voice chimed in. It was a beacon of joy and hope in this messy sea that they were in. “Peter!” He turned as Tony Stark’s young daughter came running towards them. Pepper took a step back to let Peter kneel down to hug the child. Despite everything that was happening, he managed the widest smile as he gathered her in his arms.

“You’ve gotten so big!” he exclaimed. His happy tone wasn’t forced. He was genuinely glad to see her. Not only was he just happy that she was there, he was glad to have someone there who didn’t know what was happening and didn’t know what was at stake. Things were about to get very crazy in his life and it was good to know that someone out there wasn’t wringing their fingers in worry.

His smile faltered as he thought about the woman in the elevator. She had come to berate him… to tell him what he had done wrong. One reason he had wanted his identity safe was because he had liked being anonymous. The people didn’t know where to send their complaints to. He shook his head and tried to focus back in the conversation between the adults in the room. They were discussing their options, and May was saying that he didn’t want to flee.

That wasn’t entirely true. He didn’t want to run, but he wanted May to run and get out of there while she still could. She may think that this was her problem too, but it wasn’t. This was his problem and his alone. No one else had to get hurt for this and he wished they believed that as much as he did. He turned away from the group to give Morgan more attention. “Mom seems worried,” she observed.

Peter nodded. “Yeah… But you shouldn’t worry.” He put her on the ground. “Why don’t you show me some of your new toys?” She nodded and grabbed his hand, dragging him away from the adults. He looked back in time to see May waving good-bye to him before they turned the corner to an adjacent room filled with small chairs where Morgan probably spent most of her days.

After the Blip was reversed, Stark Industries had been working double time to help those displaced by the event. Peter had helped when he could, but his time was spent more on working with the crime fighting side and less with the volunteer work. He sat down on the floor and watched as Morgan showed him different toys that she had. He wished that he could be as carefree as she was. He longed for the days before any of this mattered; when he merely looked up at heroes and worshipped them instead of being one of them.

His mind wandered and that was dangerous. It led him to places where he didn’t want to go. He thought about the consequences of this. He thought about the people who could get hurt because if it. He thought about the people who could die. And he thought about how it would be all his fault.

When his mind found its way back to the present, he was staring at Morgan as she observed him. He tried to offer her a smile. “Hey…” he grumbled.

“Are you sad?”

He sighed. She had experienced loss already; the same loss he had. Kids bounced back, and she had as well, but it had taken her a little while. Now his death seemed so far away; but it was getting closer every moment. “Yeah,” he answered. There was no point in lying to her. He was one bad thought away from screaming and crying and fully melting down. “But… it’ll be okay.” He wanted to say it because he wanted to believe it. Everything had to be okay… because if it wasn’t…

He didn’t want to think about that. He couldn’t afford to think about it. If he spent too much time dwelling on that, then he’d never stop.

She smiled at him. “Okay!” but her tone wasn’t as happy. She knew something was up… even if she didn’t know exactly what it was.

Both of them flinched when the door to the small room opened, revealing Pepper standing in the doorway. She looked tired and worried, but she managed a smile. “Morgan? Can we borrow Peter for a minute?”

The young girl nodded and Peter jumped up to follow Pepper back into the main office. May was sitting down with her hands in her lap and Happy was leaning against the desk. They seemed to be deep in conversation, but it stopped when they noticed that Peter was Pepper were back. May sat up straighter and Happy stopped leaning on the desk. “So…?” Peter asked.

Pepper sighed. “Right now, Peter… you need to leave the city.”

“What?” He took a step back, shaking his head. “No! I can’t do that. I need to—”

“Do what?” Pepper challenged. “There’s nothing you can do about this. We’re in damage control right now, and no matter what we convince the general populace about you, there will be the fringe groups who will always believe you are Spider-man. The only logical solution right now is to get you out of town until we have a feasible way to dispel all doubt.”

He didn’t like it. He’d rather May and MJ and Ned leave town and let him deal with this, but Pepper was right. He had no way to combat this. This wasn’t a fight with his hands. He couldn’t punch his way out of this one. He turned to May. She smiled warmly. “I think it’s the best option as well…” she whispered.

Yeah… They were right. That was the best option. “What about my friends? My classmates? Aren’t they all in danger?”

Pepper crossed her arms. “I’ll get them private security until we can clear this whole thing up.” Peter looked away and she walked to him. “Peter… it won’t be forever, alright? We will clear this up. Tony…” she laughed sadly. “He’d never forgive me if I let anything happen to you or the people you care about.”

He decided not to retaliate that Mr. Stark wouldn’t forgive him for the same reasons. He’d let her have this. “Thank you…” He walked to May and grabbed her shoulders before she pulled him into a hug.

Before he could offer any words of encouragement, his senses shot up. “Get down!” he shouted just before a missile came hurtling at the building. Peter hit the ground, dragging May down with him as another explosive was hurled through the now-broken glass. Gas began filling the room and he stood, stumbling forward in the fire. The building rocked as another missile hit somewhere else. He moved towards the shattered window as the wind blew through the opening.

He put his hand on the side of the window, still trying to figure out what was happening… what had happened? When he could finally see through the smoke, his eyes widened as he saw a flash of green before something else flew past him. Vulture…! Toomes? How…? Why? His head throbbed as he turned towards whatever had been thrown into the building.

May was standing up, walking towards him. “May…” he whispered just before the newest projectile exploded, sending him out the window. The shockwave tore through his street clothes and the heat engulfed him like a beast wrapping its mouth around him. He lifted his hand to shoot webbing to save himself, but his vision faded and he fell into darkness as his body plummeted towards the ground.

 

“Peter…?” He heard the voices, but he couldn’t seem to pinpoint. Where was he? He had been falling. Now…? He opened his eyes, finding himself sitting in a car. “Did you hear me?”

“Y-yeah…” He shook his head. It hurt. Everything hurt. “Sorry…” The person speaking was fuzzy. Everything was fuzzy and too bright. Even though they were in a car, he couldn’t see anything outside the windows. It was like they were sitting in a white void. “What did you say?” Was this real? Was any of this real?

The man in the car laughed. “Always have your head in the clouds. How’s school going?”

“I died,” he whispered. A shiver went down his spine. Saying it out loud felt weird and his blood ran cold.

The man laughed. It was a soft, loving laugh. It almost warmed the chilled blood in his body. It wasn’t a happy laugh, though. It was sad and calm. “You did.” Everything seemed to fade away. Whatever realm he had found himself in was shifting. He didn’t belong here.

You died…”

“I did.”

“They’re all going to die.”

“Most likely.”

“And it’ll be my fault.”

“Yes.” He paused. Peter couldn’t breathe. His chest felt like it had been crushed. The world that they were sitting in was becoming hot and sticky… like humidity… or blood. The laugh the man in the car made this time was harsh and cold. “Again!”

 

Peter opened his eyes to the sound of police sirens and shouts. His head throbbed and he felt like he had been hit by that train again. He tried to sit up, but a hand grabbed his shoulder and pushed him back down. “Shh…” a soft voice whispered. “Stay down, kid.” The voice was like it was coming to him through water. He felt like he was underwater. Breathing hurt. Everything hurt. He couldn’t find purchase in reality. He turned to the paramedic. He couldn’t stay down. There were people up there that he had to save. He couldn’t just sit there and do nothing! He couldn’t…!

He pushed her hand off his shoulder and sat up, holding his head. The building was engulfed. Firefighters were running around and shouting. It was like a scene from a movie. It felt like it was all going in slow motion. He could hear the fire louder than anything else, even louder than the woman sitting next to him urging him to stay down. He clenched his fists and stumbled to his feet despite the paramedic yelling at him. He ran towards the building, but before he could jump onto the burning wall, his hand was grabbed, and he was spun around.

“What the hell are you doing, kid?” Fury had his arm in a death grip, squeezing it like he was taking blood pressure. Peter stammered motioning towards the building. “You just fell 90 stories and you want to go back up there?”

“My aunt is up there!” Peter finally managed. Sure, he was worried about Pepper and Morgan and Happy, but they were in danger because of Tony. Aunt May was his… She would always be his. He yanked his arm from Fury’s grip. “It was the Vulture,” was all he managed to get out before he jumped onto the building and ran as fast as he could towards the top.

He didn’t even get halfway to the top before the all too familiar whirring hit him like a truck. Suddenly, he was back on Titan, sparring with Thanos with the fate of the universe on his shoulders. The flash was swift, but it was fast enough. He lost his foot and stumbled, falling from the side of the building. Before he got too far, strong metal arms wrapped around him. He cried out in shock or fear, but quickly noticed that the suit holding him wasn’t red and gold; it was blue and silver. Pepper.

“Calm down, Pete,” she assured him. “I’ve already gotten them out.” While you were unconscious. He knew that was how she wanted to finish that sentence. “And Fury’s got men in the building evacuating everyone.” She turned their flight away from the building.

“Where are we going?”

“Hospital.”

“I’m fine!” he protested. Pepper wasn’t remotely concerned about it, though. She had a six-year-old, so any tantrum Peter could throw wouldn’t phase her. Instead, he pouted as they made their way to the hospital.

As they landed, Pepper sighed, allowing the suit to fall away so she could step out. “That fall was bad, but we’re not here to drop you off.” She put a hand on his shoulder. “Peter…”

His face went white and his stomach dropped. “Where is she?”

Pepper hardly got the room number out before Peter fled into the hospital. With his mangled clothes, he garnered a lot of attention, but he didn’t stop. He didn’t bother with the elevator as he tore up the stairs, taking several in large steps and bounds. If she died… if he lost her too… He couldn’t even think about it. His mind wouldn’t process the thought of her dying. He couldn’t. She couldn’t!

He slid into the hallway and ran down the hall until he was at a door with an officer standing in front of the door. “Are you alright, son?” the man asked. Peter shook his head, unable to speak. He pushed past the man and hurried into the room; but he couldn’t go further than the doorway. There she was, covered in burns and bandages. His breath caught in his throat and his knees shook.

It didn’t make sense. He and Toomes had parted on decent terms. He walked slowly towards the bed. The steady beeping of the heart monitor broke his own heart with every beep. He put a hand on her bed and another hand to his mouth. It wasn’t fair. He should be the one in that bed. He should be the one dead. It wasn’t fair that people had to suffer because of the choices he made. He should have left when they told him to. He shouldn’t have insisted on staying. Why didn’t he listen to them? Why didn’t they listen to him when he said for them to get out of the town and leave him? Then he would have been the one in the bed.

He leaned forward on the heels of his hands, squeezing his eyes shut. He wanted to shut it out. He wanted to shut it all out.

A hand on his shoulder made him flinch and he spun, ready for a fight. Pepper stood behind him, looking at him with sympathy. “Peter…”

He shook his head and walked away from her and the bed, putting his head to the wall on the other side of the room. She sighed as he put his hands to the wall and pushed, squeezing his eyes shut so tight that it physically hurt. “If you were good enough…” The voice echoed in his head, drowning out the beeping of the heart monitor and whatever Pepper was saying to him. “Maybe Tony would still be alive…”

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: Those Nights Kept Me Alive

Ned sat with his fingers interlaced in front of his face as he leaned forward. Each breath that came filled the small cavity that his hands made. The news footage of the attack on the tower was horrific. The missile strike on the building was shown on repeat along with the footage of a young man falling from the building. The amateur phone footage of Peter’s fall was always cut off before he hit the pavement, but Ned’s imagination filled in the blanks. No one should be able to survive that fall; and even though he knew Peter had, his stomach dropped every time he saw the footage.

“Reports are coming in that the young man falling from Stark Tower is Peter Parker, the recently allegedly ousted Spider-man. Eye witnesses claim that the young man got up mere minutes after the near-deadly fall.”

Footsteps behind him made him jump and Ned spun to see his mother walking into the room. He fumbled for the remote, but the damage had been done. She stood behind the couch and watched the TV holding her hands over her mouth. Ned looked back at her and then back to the TV. Ever since returning from the Blip, she had been terrified of something like that happening again. Now they were dealing with domestic terrorist attacks. He couldn’t blame her for being terrified.

“Is he… really Peter?”

Ned nodded slowly. What else could he say? They had footage of Peter falling 90 stories and then getting up from the would-be fatal fall. Now they had nothing to stop the world from knowing who Peter Parker was. “Mom…” he started.

She shook her head and leaned on the couch. “You’ve slept over at his house…! He’s eaten dinner here!” Ned stood from the couch, but his mother shook her head, cutting whatever he was about to say. “He was on that trip and he killed that man!”

Ned shook his head. “He didn’t!” he protested. His mother knew Peter. How anyone who had spent more than five minutes with Peter could believe that he could kill someone in cold blood was lost on him. Peter was a good person and she knew that. Anyone who had been in the same room with him knew that.

“Do you know that?” she asked.

“I know he couldn’t.

He turned as his phone rang and he clenched his fists before grabbing it. “Hey, MJ,” he said quickly.

“Ned! Did you see the news?”

He nodded. “I did. Pete’s probably at the hospital. I…” he paused to look at his mother. There was no way that she was going to be letting him out of her sight after all of this. She looked terrified. He couldn’t blame her, but he wished that she would trust him. And she wished she didn’t have that look on her face like she had been sharing her home with a murderer. “I’ll call you back.” He hung up and turned off the TV. “Whatever they think he did, he didn’t,” Ned insisted before leaving his mother standing alone in the silence of the living room.

When he was back in his bedroom, he locked the door behind him and grabbed his cellphone, dialing Peter. There was a chance that he didn’t have his phone, but Ned didn’t know what else to do. He’d have to sneak out if he wanted to get away, but he wasn’t Spider-man and he couldn’t scale the side of his building like some superhero.

Pete didn’t answer. That was expected, but also disappointing. He cradled the phone in his hand as the image of Peter’s body hitting the ground struck his mind again. He flinched away from the thought, but it was there and there was nothing he could do about it. His mind would repeat it over and over until he wanted to just scrub his brain of it.

His phone began ringing again and he picked up it. “Ned?” MJ again. “I’m going to the hospital to see him, alright? Can you come?”

“No,” he answered with a sigh. It hurt him way too much knowing that he couldn’t be there for Peter, but he knew that if he left, his mom would be calling the police and her opinion of his friend would dampen completely. “But keep me in the loop and…” he paused and let out a long sigh. “If he needs me, let me know.”

They hung up and he buried his head in his hands with a sigh. His mother was talking to someone on the phone in the other room. “What a mess…”

 

Pepper had managed to get Peter to let a doctor check his wounds. After they had given him a clean bill of health, she had made sure no one entered the room except doctors. He was huddled in the corner on the floor, pulling his legs to his chest with his chin resting on his knees. Pepper thought he look absolutely miserable… and she couldn’t blame him.

The last few hours were nothing but phone calls to the police, the press, Nick Fury and literally anyone who could clear this up. Peter didn’t kill Mysterio. He couldn’t have. She didn’t know him nearly as well as Tony had, but the way he talked about the kid was like he was describing a saint. Even the way he was sitting in the corner of the room like a soaked stray kitten in winter proved that he wasn’t a murderer. Pepper rubbed her eyes as she stepped out of the room to leave him to his own misery.

Happy was sitting outside the room with Morgan in his arms. While Peter had been falling, she had been getting those two to safety. Happy was banged up, having used his body to shield her daughter. “How are they?”

“Terrible,” Pepper said with a sigh. She didn’t need this right now. She didn’t need any of this; but she was getting it. “Fury can’t do anything to scrub his record and the media have no interest in his side of the story. They want the sensational story.” She ran her hands through her hair. “Young Superhero Turned Murderous Villain. They just want a damn headline!” The politics surrounding this was a disaster. They wanted the next big thing. Surprisingly, the “Blip” was old news, and now they wanted the repercussions of it. They wanted to turn the damn thing her husband died for into some sensational story that was ruining a traumatized kid’s life.

Happy sighed, rubbing Morgan’s back as she slept in the chair beside him. “So, now what?” he asked. He didn’t need this either. Their whole family had been through too many tragedies to go through another one; but this wasn’t their tragedy. It was Peter’s and it was May’s. They owed it to him, and to Tony, to make this better for both of them.

“Now we keep them safe. This attack happened mere hours after the news dropped. He’s lucky they wanted to make a big statement and not a targeted attack.”

“Can’t Fury do anything about this?” Happy asked.

Pepper shook her head. “Ever since the Blip, things don’t work as smoothly for Fury as they used to. World governments don’t get fixed in eight months after five years of destabilization.” She laughed softly. “Not to mention the court of public opinion. Peter’s identity is out of there, and even if we clear his name, or get Fury to make all the phone calls in the world, there’s no way to fix this completely. There will always be people who believed he killed Beck. There will always be villains who will want to do him harm because they can.”

Happy turned his gaze to Morgan. “You think they’d have something better to do,” he said in a hushed voice. “The universe ended, and less than a year ago, they got its heart beating again, and suddenly it’s business as usual. Crimes, murder… you’d think—”

“That they’d be more grateful,” Pepper finished with a slow nod. She sighed. “I guess that means our work is never done.”

“You’re not a superhero,” he reminded her. She looked away. The Rescue suit wasn’t one she broke out very often. It hurt to wear it; not physically, though. She wouldn’t have suited up had her family not been threatened.

“Super?” she responded with a shrug. “Maybe not, but hero…” She trailed off and laughed.

“Hero, yes.”

Before she could respond to that, the sound of feet walking towards them caught her attention. Her stomach didn’t drop until she saw Happy’s face fall. She spun around to see a police officer walking towards them. She clenched her fists as he approached them. “Mrs. Stark?” he greeted with a bit of uncertainty in his voice.

She held out her hand. “Potts.” Her voice was firm and curt.

“Jefferson Davis,” the officer said with a firm nod, taking her hand with a hard grip. “I’m here to speak with Peter Parker.”

“Speak with?” she questioned. “Or arrest?”

Davis steeled his expression. “He needs to be brought in for questioning.”

Pepper stepped towards the man. “You leave that boy alone.”

“Ma’am—”

“Don’t,” she snapped. “That boy is nothing but good, and he just fell 90 stories. So, why don’t you give him some time to recover from something that should have killed him?” She released a long sigh, trying to calm down. “How the hell did you even know he was here?”

“A tip, ma’am.” He was trying to stay composed and polite. She knew that if she kept this up, though, she’d end up arrested as well. “Please don’t make this harder than it has to be, Mrs. Potts. Peter Parker is the prime suspect of a murder investigation and all we want is for him to come in for questioning.”

Pepper stepped in front of the door. “I will bring him by the precinct when he is well enough for it,” she insisted.

“Ma’am, if you don’t move, then I will be forced to move you.” He put his thumbs in his pocket. It wasn’t a dismissive move, but it wasn’t defensive either. “This will all go far more smoothly for him if he, and you, cooperate.”

Pepper sighed and looked over to Happy before turning back to Davis. “That boy’s been to hell and back. He gave up everything to save the world. He gave his life for it and you want to come in here and arrest him because someone thinks he could be capable of drone strikes and murder; cold-blooded murder of an injured man.”

“Ma’am—”

“Do you think he did it?” Pepper demanded.

Davis sighed and averted his gaze. “I… I got my son and wife back because of what Tony Stark did,” he said quietly. Pepper’s breath caught. “I heard that Spider-man was somewhat of an inspiration for your husband and the sacrifice he made. I don’t believe that someone who could inspire anyone to do what he did could be capable of what Peter’s being accused of.” He paused for a moment. “But I have to do my job. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure he is treated with the respect and care he deserves, but for now…”

She nodded slowly. This man clearly had some respect for their world. He was probably the best hands Peter could be in right now. “Alright.” She moved aside and opened the door.

A slight breeze drafted through the room and she bowed her head. The curtains were flowing in the breeze of the opened windows and Peter was gone.

 

Alone.

Peter had never felt so utterly and truly alone. Even when he had woken up after the train and he was isolated, he hadn’t felt alone. That was a terrible moment in his life, yes, but it wasn’t like this. As he stumbled down the street in his torn and tattered clothes with a vacant look in his eyes, he felt like he had no one. He couldn’t go home. By now, that police officer would have called in that he was on the run and they were probably staking out his apartment. He couldn’t call Ned or MJ. If he brought them into this, they would be in trouble. Pepper could smooth things over with the police and the city for protecting him. Ned and MJ would end up in prison for it. He couldn’t go to May. She was injured and that was his fault. He literally had no one.

He was garnering attention. People milled around him and did double takes. Some probably just saw his torn clothes and bloodstained skin and were looking at him with concern. Others probably recognized him as the kid from the news. Either way, he didn’t see them as he walked aimlessly through the city. Let them look. Let them gawk. He was now here for their amusement. Any trial he would endure would be nothing but a kangaroo court. A farce. He had already lost in the eye of the public.

He reached into his pocket for his phone, only to find out that his phone wasn’t there. He didn’t know why he thought it would be. Second nature, perhaps.

The familiar sound of police sirens cut the haze in his mind and he flinched. He hesitated just long enough to figure out where it was coming from before he ducked into an alleyway and picked up the pace he was walking at. He didn’t want to just run. He couldn’t run with his injuries anyway. All he could do was duck behind a dumpster and wait.

Once the sirens disappeared in the distance, Peter slid to the ground and sat with his back to dumpster. He didn’t want to do this anymore. He felt sick. He had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. He leaned his head against the metal behind him and closed his eyes, trying to calm his nerves.

He must have passed out because when he opened his eyes again, it was dark and his whole body was stiff and cold despite the summer night. He managed to get to his feet and he stumbled back into the street, holding his arm across his body. By now the manhunt was probably in full swing. Killer Spider-man on the loose. He could see it in the headlines now. He looked at his hands and sighed. No webshooters… nothing. He was without a suit, without clothes… without anything. He didn’t even have money for food. He needed to go somewhere for the night before he caught his death due to his injuries.

His feet took him there before he even knew where he was going. The area was familiar. He had spent many a night there. Ned’s apartment. He couldn’t just go in there, though. Ned’s parents were probably spooked. He looked up until he spotted Ned’s window. The light was on. He crawled up, ignoring the pain in his back and shoulders as he did. When he got to the window, he peered inside. Ned was sitting on the floor with a large pile of LEGO in front of him. He wasn’t working on the build, though. Instead, he stared with a forlorn expression.

Peter took a deep breath. He just needed clothes and then he was gone. He knocked on the window lightly and Ned flinched. His face instantly lit up when he noticed Peter and he quickly moved to the window, unlocking it so Peter could crawl inside.

His entrance into the room wasn’t nearly as smooth as it should have been and it was all he could do not to collapse on the ground. Ned grabbed his arm to keep him steady and he was led to the bed without a word. Peter fell to the mattress and closed his eyes. Neither spoke as Peter drifted off to sleep again, and when he woke, it was in the wee hours of the morning. Ned was sitting at his desk and he had bags under his eyes. He hadn’t slept the entire night.

Peter tried to sit up. “Don’t,” Ned whispered. “You’re hurt.” He did as he was told. He went to rub his cheeks but froze when his fingertips touched his face. It was soaked and at first, he thought that it was sweat; but only his face was wet. Tears? Ned couldn’t meet his eyes. “You were crying in your sleep,” he explained. “I didn’t want to wake you, and you were quiet…”

Peter sighed. He didn’t remember if he had any dreams or not the previous night. He had fallen into a deep sleep. It was probably just as well that he didn’t remember his dreams. They were most likely nightmares. “I need clothes,” he muttered. Anything Ned gave him would be baggy, but it would help to hide his body shape.

“Where are you going to go?” Ned asked.

“I don’t know,” he admitted.

Ned stood and crossed the room towards his dresser as he spoke. “You didn’t kill Mysterio, so why don’t you just go to the police and tell them?”

He struggled to sit up on the bed. The night’s sleep had done nothing to help the stiffness in his body. “It’s not just about me or my innocence. If it were, I’d turn myself in. No, this is about something bigger. Someone wants me dead, and whoever that is won’t stop. If I stay in New York, they’ll go after anyone around me.”

“You’re leaving New York?” Ned asked. Peter nodded. “And go where, Peter?”

He didn’t know. Somewhere… until he figured this out. He had insisted on staying here and that had gotten May hurt. He had to take this fight out of the city and away from the people he loved. Ned tossed him a t-shirt and a pair of jeans with a belt. Peter managed to struggle to his feet, and he peeled off the remains of the clothes he had been wearing. Ned turned his back to give him some privacy.

“Do you have any plan, Pete?”

“Maybe…” He didn’t want to disclose anything to Ned. They would come to him and Peter didn’t want to put him in the position of needing to keep his secret. It was better if Ned knew nothing. He finished dressing and headed for the window. He needed to be gone before the sun started to rise.

Ned hurried to the window and put himself between Peter and his exit. “You can’t just leave,” he implored. “Please, Peter. You don’t have anything; not even money, and I can’t give you anything.”

“I wouldn’t take your money.”

Ned frowned and looked over him before bowing his head, resigned to the fact that he couldn’t do anything. “At least let me get you some food.” Peter nodded and Ned went out of the room. Peter looked at the window. He could slip away; but Ned trusted him to still be there when he got back. He leaned against the window and closed his eyes. This was stupid… all of this was stupid. Where the hell did he think he was going to go?

Ned returned with a few granola bars. Peter took them wit a small nod of thanks. “Ned…”

“Don’t,” Ned snapped. “We’ve got this, right?” Silence. “Right?” Peter nodded. They didn’t have this. Neither one of them did. Ned grabbed him and hugged him tightly. “You tell me when you get where you’re going, okay?”

“Okay.” He had no intention of telling Ned where he was going. “Thank you, Ned. Stay safe, alright?” Ned nodded and Peter gave him one last look before he jumped from the window and started down the street upon landing.

The walk to where he was going was a long and exhausting one. He wanted to avoid public transport and he couldn’t swing. That would have to be fixed at some point. He needed a suit. Running around as a random new spider-person wouldn’t really hide his identity, but he could at least hide his face a little more. The less people saw it, the better.

When he finally got to his destination, the sun was well on its journey to the center of the sky. Peter sighed as he looked up at the familiar building. It had been a staple in New York for as long as he could remember. It used to be a beacon of hope. Now it was a beacon of last resorts. He steeled his nerves and stepped inside, clenching his fists as he did.

He was greeted by an older teen with dirty red hair; not quite red, but not quite brown. He was about Peter’s age; a little older, maybe? He was dressed smartly with a school uniform despite the fact that it was summer. The boy smiled. “Peter Parker, I presume?” he asked taking a few steps in Pete’s direction. Peter took a step back towards the door. This was a mistake. “Calm down,” the boy said. Peter froze just short of turning and running from the building. “My dad’s been expecting you.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Four: The Road to Ruin

William Ginta Riva stood on a balcony of a large chateau situated in Upstate New York, far away from Manhattan and the mess that they were orchestrating. The house was extravagant and a bit too lavish for Riva’s liking. They should be holed up in something less garish, but their mysterious benefactor had insisted they use this building, and Riva wasn’t in charge of this, so he could do nothing but go along with it.

A mechanical whirring caught his attention and he stepped back as Adrian Toomes flew in for a landing. That was another problem that Riva didn’t want to have to deal with. He had no idea why the Vulture was helping them. He had a family to take care of and had done his time during the Blip years. Legal systems had broken down and Adrian had declared that he would do anything to keep his family together.

Now he was aiding a group of terrorists for reasons unknown.

Riva stepped into the office to give the Vulture his space to land the wings. He tried to busy himself with something. He knew what was coming. Before he could get too deep into what he was pretending to do, Adrian came storming into the office, throwing open the French doors with enough force to crack the glass in the door. Riva tried not to wince.

He had known this was coming the moment he saw the news of the attack. “What the hell is your problem?” Adrian shouted, advancing on the smaller man. Riva took a step back. He was used to bosses yelling at him. Having worked with Beck had been enough practice for dealing with the likes of Toomes. What he didn’t like was that he had been duped as well. He had been told the same thing Adrian had. “You said that damn building would be evacuated!” Riva stammered. He didn’t have the answer for this. “And now 100 people are dead, and that blood is on my hands!”

“Our hands,” he reminded Adrian. They were in this together now. Adrian lifted his hand as if he were about to strike, but a cough from another doorway made them both freeze. A man stood in the door with his arms crossed and an annoyed expression across his face. Their mysterious benefactor. He was slightly overweight and didn’t have an air of menace to him. If not for his stance and piercing gaze, one would think he would be better suited in a lab coat or behind a desk. Riva didn’t think that the man looked like someone who could afford this house or this operation, but what did he know? Five years ago, some alien snapped half the universe out of existence. Clearly they lived in a very different world than he had previously thought.

Riva took another step away from Toomes, keeping his head down. He’d rather stay out of this. His hands were already bloodstained. Toomes wheeled on the man in the doorway and he advanced. “Why wasn’t that building clear?” he snapped. “You said we were just trying to scare the kid!”

The man shrugged. It was so dismissive and disgusting. There was something about this man that made him different than Beck. Beck only hurt people if it had been part of his grand scheme. This was wanton murder; and the man didn’t seem bothered by what they were doing. “We’re cracking eggs, Toomes. A few yolks are bound to break.”

Adrian scoffed, shaking his head in disbelief. “Yolks?” he repeated. “We aren’t talking about eggs! We’re talking about innocent lives!”

The man rolled his eyes and waved a dismissive hand at the claim. “Since when did you give a damn about innocent lives, Vulture?” Adrian turned his head away from the argument. The man seemed to think that was enough. Riva moved further away from the two. He didn’t want to be anywhere near this if it came to blows. “The building was supposed to be evacuated. However, accidents will happen.”

Adrian clenched his fists without retorting. Riva had to wonder how much the Vulture was getting paid for this. It had to be a lot to drag him back into the world of crime, and to prevent Toomes from ripping the man apart with his bare hands. Riva didn’t know what the man could possibly promise Toomes; but it was something because Toomes simply took a step back and his clenched fist relaxed. “Accidents,” he murmured with a resigned nod, “will happen…”

 

Peter wasn’t sure if this was a good idea, but he didn’t say as much as the boy held out his hand for Peter to shake. It took him a minute to process what he was being told. He took the offered hand cautiously as the last thing the kid said to him finally registered. “Dad…?” he asked, confused.

The boy nodded, shaking Peter’s hand gently. It was like he was trying to do anything and everything to let Peter feel at ease with what was going on. Nothing was going to make him feel at ease about any of this. “I’m Harry Osborn, Norman Osborn’s son.” It took him several heartbeats to fully process any of this. Harry withdrew his hand slowly when Peter didn’t speak to him. “Right…” He shrugged and motioned Peter to follow as he started walking. “Come on, then. Dad wants to make sure you’re set and ready.”

Peter nodded, but still said nothing as he was led through the building to an elevator. He had never been in this building before and he felt that any other time, he’d be excited to be in the Avengers’ Tower. Now, however, it was under extreme circumstances and it was terrifying. His stomach was twisted in knots and he wasn’t sure if he was making the right choice… but it was too late to turn back now. Where would he go, anyway? Back to Ned to wait until the Vulture attacked again? That still didn’t make any sense. He had saved Toomes. Why was he doing this? He clenched his fists as they walked. Harry was talking excitedly to him, but Peter didn’t think any of this was exciting. Nothing about that was worth celebrating.

When they got into the elevator, Harry’s upbeat demeanor fell once he realized that the kid following him was pale and sick-looking. “Hey…” he said, his voice showing concern for his new charge. “I get that this is scary…”

Peter wanted to laugh. Did he really get it? How could he possibly get this? “No, I don’t think you do…” he muttered bitterly. It was a mean thing to say. Harry was trying to help and also trying to make the best out of this situation and Peter could do nothing but be snarky and annoyed.

Harry sighed, leaning against the wall behind him. He looked up to the mirrored ceiling. “No, I probably don’t,” he admitted with a soft laugh. “But I don’t want you to be scared. Dad’s got this covered.”

Peter bit his lip before smiling. He needed to try and act like this was going to be okay. Fake it ‘til you make it, after all. “Yeah… And I really appreciate your help,” he added quickly. He didn’t want them to think that he was ungrateful for their help. He wanted to laugh or cry or do something to make this a little better or a little less awkward, but all he could do was grimace and try and force a smile. May was going to kill him… if he survived. And crying wouldn’t make anything better. He managed a soft chuckle as a thought entered his mind. “Must be kind of cool being in this tower,” he said. He motioned to the elevator. “I spent so long trying to get here, and all you had to do was buy it.”

Harry turned to him with a confused expression before his face fell into a soft smile; and then he chuckled. “Yeah… I suppose so.” With the tension broken a little more, Peter felt more at ease. His shoulders relaxed a bit and he allowed himself to settle into his heels a little more. “So… Spider-man, huh?”

He chuckled softly. “Yeah… Friendly Neighborhood and all that.” It felt weird to have people know who he was; but it also felt like the weight of the world was off his shoulders a little. He held out his arms. The baggy clothes fell off his small frame. Despite his strength, he didn’t have massive muscles. He was still rather lean. “Am I everything you expected me to be?”

Harry observed him for a moment, feigning a scrutinizing glare. And then he laughed. “Honestly, I expected you to be taller. Those clothes are eating you alive.”

Peter smiled. A real smile. The first real one in the past 24 hours. It felt good. “Well, they belong to my friend,” he explained. “The other clothes didn’t really survive that 90-story drop.”

He shrugged with a nod. “Make sense. Do your clothes usually survive fiery explosions and massive drops?”

“The suits are custom made for that,” Peter answered with a shrug. The whole conversation was surreal. His entire life was crashing down around him and here he was, discussing his suits and clothes with a complete stranger without any real weight behind the words. And it felt so good. Harry seemed good at defusing awkward situations.

Before Harry could answer to that, the door dinged and the elevator opened, revealing a large penthouse office overlooking the skyline of New York. This was probably Tony’s main office when the Avengers owned the tower. It was sparsely decorated, but the pieces that had been chosen to adorn the room were a clear sign of wealth and power. The desk on the other side of the room was lavish and was probably solid wood made from some tree that was hard to find. The art pieces were modern for the most part, but one caught his attention. A large gothic statue of a gargoyle was perched on the opposite wall from the desk, staring down at the man sitting there.

A shiver went through Peter’s spine as he stepped inside behind Harry. “Hey dad,” Harry called. Peter hung back. Any ease he had begun to feel in the elevator was washed away. He was the strongest person in the room, but he felt like the smallest one. He averted his gaze to the skyline outside the wall lined with windows. He wanted to be on that balcony. That way, he didn’t feel trapped. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was making a mistake.

You’re just being paranoid, he thought with a slight shake of his head. Just because Beck had turned out to be a monster, that didn’t mean everyone he met were the same. There were still good people in this world. With that thought, though, his mind flashed suddenly to the dark room and the dizzying illusion. His heart rate went up, but he managed to quell the panic attack before it affected his breathing.

When the image cleared, he noticed that both Harry and Norman, who had crossed the room to them, were standing there staring at him expectantly. Peter took a moment to realize that Norman had his hand out and was waiting for him to shake. He did so with a quick apology under his breath.

Norman cleared his throat. “As I was saying, I’m sorry it’s come to this. I was hoping we would work together under… better circumstances.” Peter nodded, distracted. When he didn’t give a verbal reaction, Norman continued. “But we will make due. I take it you want to get out of New York City?”

Peter nodded again, but this time Norman didn’t continue. He wanted verbal confirmation. “Yeah,” he said quietly. Escaping New York seemed to be the best option at the given time. He didn’t know where he would go, but at least he’d go there and figure this all out. Once he got away, he could work on stopping this.

“Very good.” He turned to Harry. “Why don’t you give me some time with Peter, son, and then we’ll discuss your part in all this.”

“Sure.” Harry flashed Peter a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry. Dad doesn’t bite… much,” he added with a small laugh. Peter responded with a choked chuckle. Norman, however, didn’t seem to like the comment at all. He merely stared at Harry with cold eyes. The son bowed his head and nodded slowly before hurrying out. Peter watched him slink away before turning to Norman.

“Ignore him,” he said with a shrug once Harry was gone. “Harry’s a bit eccentric, but he means well.” He put his arm around Peter’s shoulders and either didn’t feel Peter tense up or he didn’t care. Either way, Peter tried to relax. There had to be a way this all works out. Norman was all smiles as they walked. He didn’t seem to have a care in the world. Why would he? He had everything and his world wasn’t crumbling around him. “So, Peter, what happened with you and Mr. Beck?”

Peter flinched. “He… I guess he wanted to give the world a new hero. By making up problems for him to solve.”

Norman nodded. “I see… a genius plan, if not a bit too misguided.” Peter wasn’t sure that was what he wanted to hear. He wanted Norman to be as disgusted by what Beck had done as Peter was. “And you didn’t kill him?”

“It was an accident,” he defended a little too hotly. He hadn’t meant to aim a drone at Beck. All he had done was keep himself alive. Beck was in the strike zone. He knew the dangers, and he had done it anyway. That was what he told himself. That was how he slept at night.

“Of course it was. Self-defense and all.” Norman didn’t sound like he didn’t believe Peter. If anything, he sounded dismissive about it all. “Now, I think you need to get as far away from Manhattan as you can. I would send you to California, but you’ll have a new set of problems there.”

“Out of country?” Peter suggested. He didn’t like the idea of leaving the United States again.

Norman shook his head. “No. Fleeing the country will add to your list of problems. Fleeing the state is bad enough, but we’re beyond that. No, I’m thinking Georgia or Texas for the time being.”

“Georgia?” Peter, for having gone to Europe and space, hadn’t really explored the United States as extensively.

Norman nodded. “Not too many heroes down south,” he said with a shrug. “Of course, it might be better if you go somewhere with heroes.”

Peter stopped and Norman took a few steps before he realized that the kid he was helping wasn’t with him anymore. “I’m not doing anymore hero work out there,” he said quickly. “I need to lay low.”

“Hero work will keep you lose,” Norman argued. “It’ll help keep your mind off things until I can figure out how to help you here. I’ll make some phone calls. Besides, I need some help with a few things. You and I will have a bit of a mutual agreement. Symbiotic, if you will.”

Peter shook his head and followed Norman down into another elevator. The ride was quiet. Neither spoke. It was awkward and Peter tried not to look at Norman; but the man was watching him like a hawk. He tried to not see it and Norman tried to pretend that he wasn’t watching. Peter didn’t know if this was what he wanted. He wasn’t sure he wanted to go out there and be a hero right now. He wanted to lay low until this resolved. Now the man that was offering to help him was also forcing him to go back out there and be a hero when he wasn’t ready for that. It was like he was being drafted into the military.

When the door to the elevator opened it opened, they stepped into a lab. Peter gawked at the technological marvels of the room as he was led through. Norman was talking and Peter wasn’t hearing any of it. All he could do was look at everything that caught his attention. There were military grade weapons, but also things that looked like they would be helpful to people instead of just harmful. It was almost like walking through Stark’s lab. He hated that he was making that comparison, and maybe it wasn’t a fair one, but that was where his mind went.

Norman paused at another room and opened the door. Peter stepped inside ahead of Norman and he shut the door behind them. When he turned on the light, there was a suit in the room on a mannequin. “If it odd that you have a suit read for me?” he muttered. It felt like it should be odd; but he had made a suit for himself on the flight from the Netherlands to London. Norman could have easily whipped something up while Peter was sleeping at Ned’s apartment.

The man smiled. “Perhaps it is a bit odd.” He motioned to the suit. “Take a look.”

Peter nodded and walked towards the mannequin. The suit looked almost like something that a base jumper would wear. It seemed bulky, but he didn’t say it. The fabric making up the suit was pitch black with silver highlights on the joints and silver stripes on the contours. The metallic color was also on the webbing beneath the arms and between the legs, making them look closer to a bat’s wing. The faceplate lacked Spider-man’s distinctive eyes and instead of a separate face, the silver markings extended from the wings and covered the face with straight vertical lines.

“It’s bulky,” Peter said. It was rude, he knew, but it was all he could say. He didn’t particularly like it, but at least no one could mistake this suit for Spider-man.

Norman nodded as if he were expecting that. He walked to the suit and pressed a black button on the left palm. The webbing that he was sure was supposed to be for gliding folded in on itself and vanished, leaving the spandex runner’s suit. Better, but not perfect. “It will take some time to get used to the interface and we’ve taken the liberty of modifying a set of webshooters for you. They won’t leave behind your trademark webs, however.”

Peter walked up to the suit and put his hands on it, running his fingers over the textured fabric. It was advanced. He put his hand on the face, tracing the smooth texture of the silver markings as it contrasted with the rougher spandex-like skin. He could feel where his eyes would lay and he was sure the suit had the ability to see without the eyes. “Thank you,” he whispered. It felt weird and this suit wasn’t a Spider-man one, but it would do… wouldn’t it? Norman didn’t seem to notice Peter’s hesitation as he stepped away to give the boy a moment. “It’s not called Night Monkey, is it…?” he asked with a soft laugh.

Norman didn’t even spare him a chuckle. He missed Tony and his willingness to humor Peter’s attempts to lighten the mood. “We call it Dusk,” he said with a shrug. He patted Peter’s shoulder. “Why don’t you try it on and we’ll discuss where we’re sending you.” Peter nodded and suddenly, he was alone in the room with the silver and black costume. Getting it on was fairly easy, as it used the same technology as Stark’s suit of being baggy until he had gotten inside. Once on, he looked down at his hands and the silver lines that traced his fingers, meeting each other at the palm like small rivers converging in a lake.

A lump formed in his throat and he suddenly felt like he couldn’t breathe. Usually getting a new suit meant something incredible was about to happen. He was about to save the day or jump into a spaceship to fight a mad Titan. Now, however, it meant he was going into hiding. It meant that his life was being turned upside-down and shaken to the core. It meant that he was losing everything. And it sickened him.

When he looked at himself in the mirror, he could see how the suit moved and how sleek it was. The black fabric was almost Vantablack, which made the contours that the silver markings highlighted seem sharper and more elegant. It moved well. He was worried about how it would do in the sun. It seemed like it would cook him alive, but he was sure Norman had figured out how to keep him from overheating.

He moved his fingers on his left hand to press the silver circle in the palm and suddenly the interface of the suit sprang to life. “Hello,” a voice said. It wasn’t Karen’s voice. Peter wasn’t even sure why he had expected “suit lady” to talk to him. He missed her. This voice was male, and it was calm and soothing. Peter didn’t like it. “Retinal Scan complete. Good morning, Peter Parker.”

“Morning,” he muttered unenthusiastically.

“I detect an elevated heart rate. Are you currently in danger?”

He was getting used to the tightness he was feeling in his chest. Was he in trouble? He didn’t think so. He was in danger, but not at this very moment. “I’m fine,” he told the suit.

“Very well. I have stored today’s vitals check.” The voice, despite being designed to put him at ease, wasn’t helping the weight in his chest. “Would you like to go over the suit functions, Mr. Parker?”

“No,” he said quickly. “Not right now.” He reached up and grabbed the mask, pulling it gently off his face. As Norman walked back in, Peter stared at the faceless mask with its hard silver lines. Dusk… A fitting name, he supposed.

“It looks good,” Norman said with a wide smile. Peter returned it to the best of his ability. “You and Harry will leave immediately.” He motioned for the door and Peter followed after him, still clutching the mask as if his life depended on it.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five: The Parting Glass

Riva hated superheroes and supervillains. He longed for the days when super soldiers were a thing of the past and the weirdest thing he had to worry about was Obadiah wanting a suit of armor to fight Stark. He had seen enough maniacal freaks in his life to know that this only led to death. He stood on the balcony, clenching the stone railings enough to dig into the flesh of his palms with the roughness of the stone. Inside, deep in the bowels of the chateau, his employers were discussing their plans; plans that he didn’t really care for and wanted nothing to do with.

Movement caught his attention and he narrowed his eyes, gripping the railing even tighter. The car moving up the driveway was an unmarked but very expensive black vehicle. Riva shook his head. It looked almost like a car Tony Stark himself would have had trouble procuring. The car stopped at the gate and it opened slowly to let in the driver.

Riva tracked the movement of the black vehicle, keeping his eyes narrowed in thought. It was armor-plated. Not just for show. The thing was built like a tank. Vibranium, perhaps. With the King of Wakanda dead and half their forces decimated, the Blip gave way to mercenaries and smugglers entering the small African nation for its wealth of untapped materials. Even with their diminished forces, not many got out of the country alive; but some, the best, did. The person pulling up in the car was the best.

The car parked several hundred yards from the front door of the house and the driver’s door opened, revealing a tall woman with long dark hair dressed in a black blouse that almost resembled a suit jacket and a long, tight skirt. Riva watched with mild interest. He wanted nothing to do with this. He laughed to himself. If that was true, then he wouldn’t be up there keeping watch. The woman moved like a panther as she walked around the front of the car and opened the passenger side.

Out stepped a hulk of a man. Despite it being summer, even if they were upstate, he was wearing a lavish animal skin coat that had the hem just barely hovering over the ground. His physique was intimidating and Riva watched him like a hawk. The way he surveyed the yard was that of a predator. Even from his perch, Riva could tell that this man was taking in every detail. Just when he thought that the man was finished, he turned his piercing gaze to the balcony where Riva was observing him. He flinched and backed away from the railing as he put his hand to the communicator in his ear. “He’s here.”

“Well, welcome him,” came the soft, soothing tone of their benefactor. Another reason Riva hated these superpowered types was their tendency to like their privacy. The man calling all the shots had not told them a single thing about himself. They didn’t know his name, his motivations… nothing. All they knew was that he wanted the Spider dead. Riva had no idea why. He hadn’t been face to face with Peter, but Beck hadn’t wanted to murder Peter and only made the choice to once he had no other option.

Riva walked down the stairs and met the man and his lady companion in the grand foyer. “You must be Rivera,” the man said. His accent was thick and Russian; rolling the “r” in “Rivera.”

“Riva,” he corrected, holding his hand out in greeting. The man took it. His grip wasn’t too hard, but there was controlled power behind even the simplest handshake.

“Apologies,” the man said with a nod.

“No need,” Riva said, shaking his head. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Kravinoff.”

“The pleasure is mine.” He indicated to his partner. “This is Calypso.”

“A pleasure.” Riva didn’t like any of this, but what did he care? The only reason he wasn’t in prison right now was because Mysterio had died a hero and no one in their building was willing to rat him out; as long as he was useful. He cleared his throat. “Right this w-…” he trailed off and his body went rigid as a low growl came from just outside the door. The door was pushed open and a massive, magnificent lion stepped onto the cold tile floor. Riva thought his heart was going to beat out of his chest. The lion was big; bigger than he was sure lions should be. There were tuffs of black fur in the animal’s mane.

Kravinoff laughed at Riva’s paling face. “Do not worry,” he said with a smile. Riva didn’t find any of this funny… but, again, what did he know? He motioned the Hunter and Calypso to follow him through the empty halls of the chateau. “How much do you know of this job?” he asked.

Riva shrugged. “Have you ever read The Most Dangerous Game?” His tone was laced with dark humor. There was no greater game than this.

Kravinoff paused a moment to think. “Richard Connell?” he asked, turning to Calypso for conformation. She nodded. “Yes. Most hunters have read this text.”

Riva paused at a large door and took a deep breath before opening it. Their benefactor sat at the end of a long room, flipping through some paperwork as he did. “Welcome to the game…” Riva whispered as he stepped aside. Kravinoff nodded his thanks and walked to the prepared seat for him. The woman remained outside with the large cat and once he was sure she wasn’t coming in, Riva shut the door and stood in the corner.

“Hello, Sergei Kravinoff,” the man behind the desk said with a weary grin. “Thank you… for coming all this way.”

Kravinoff nodded. “It is no trouble,” he said. “What is the job? What beast am I hunting?”

“A spider.”

The man slid a file on the desk and pushed it to the hunter, who took it carefully. He opened the manila folder. Riva wished he could see the man’s face. “I see…” He studied it for a moment before closing it gently, resting his hands on the closed folder. “Before you hire me, you must know that I am no assassin. I am a hunter. I play this game fairly.”

The man smiled. “I understand,” he said, his tone even; but there seemed to be a level of excitement hiding underneath those words. “I want this to be fair. If I just wanted him dead, I have plenty of men in this very house that could end his life without a second thought. I’m hiring you for a reason.”

Kravinoff nodded slowly, thoughtfully. He didn’t move at all. “And that reason is…? Do you want me to kill this boy?”

He shook his head. “No…” His response was curt and biting. “I want you to hunt this boy.”

“I do not—”

He raised his hand, silencing the hunter. “I want you to track him down like the beast he is. Chase him. Stalk him. Hurt him. Make sure he can’t go anywhere without constantly looking over his shoulder. Make him feel what true terror really is. I want you to hunt him.”

Kravinoff opened the file again and went back to studying it. The man behind the desk was practically drooling with excitement while the hunter was quietly and calmly studying what Riva could only imagine was a picture of Peter Parker. “I do not usually hunt… humans,” he said. He didn’t sound opposed to the idea. Curious, and maybe a bit apprehensive, but not horrified. He lifted his eyes to the man. “And after I hunt this spider… you want me to kill him, yes?”

He shook his head more firmly this time. “No… After you’ve tormented him… haunted his dreams and made him fear every dark shadow, I want you to bring him to me… alive.

Kravinoff stiffened at the request. His spine went rigid and straight. “What do you intend to do with the boy?”

“I want to see the look on his face as I skin him alive.”

Riva shuddered. Beck had given Peter a quick death. Had Peter been normal, that train would have obliterated his body before he even knew he was dead. This man… this man was horrifying.

If Kravinoff was disturbed by his employer, he didn’t show it in his body language. When he spoke again, his tone was guarded and measured. A smart move. “Clearly… this is personal,” he said, measuring his words carefully. “Might I ask what this boy has done to deserve such a fate?”

“That boy… that creature… took everything from me.” He smiled. “So, I simply want to return the favor.”

 

Harry Osborn was an excitable young man. Peter was glad to have someone with a lot of energy on his side, but he wasn’t following anything that Harry was saying. Peter tried, but he couldn’t. He was too busy thinking about how he should call Pepper and let her know that he was okay. He stopped and it took Harry several heartbeats to realize that his newfound charge had left him. “What’s up?”

So nonchalant… Peter smiled. “You know, the usual. Life falling apart. Just another day in superhero life.” Harry frowned, leaving Peter’s smile to fade. “I should call Pepper Potts,” he said in a more serious tone. “I want them to know I’m okay.”

Harry shook his head. “Dad wants you to go dark completely,” he explained. “Says it’ll be better if no one knew where you were.”

“Are you saying—”

“No… You can call them if you want.” He gestured to Peter. “The Dusk suit has your contact list built in.” Peter didn’t want to know how the Osborns got his contacts. “If you want to call anyone, we can’t tell you that you can’t.” He paused with a sigh. “But it’ll be better if you didn’t. They could be in danger just knowing that you’ve skipped town.”

Peter nodded. That made sense. He felt his throat tighten and his breathing come quicker. “I… uh… I’ll be right back.” He slipped away into a room and shut the door behind him. He found himself in some kind of a dark lab and he leaned against the door, holding a hand to his chest. The need to shout was almost overwhelming. He dug his fingers into the black fabric of the Dusk suit. “Don’t panic,” he whispered to himself. Panicking would do him no good. This was only temporary. He wasn’t leaving for good. He’d be back. He’d see them again. He had to see them again.

“Mr. Parker?” the suit inquired. Peter nearly jumped out of the suit. His breath came in a short, sharp gasp. “I have startled you.”

He shook his head with a gasping laugh. “N-no… It’s fine.” He had gotten used to talking to AI’s like they were people. “I’m sorry… What do you want?”

“Your heart rate is elevated again. Are you in danger?”

“No.” He didn’t mean to get snappy with the AI. Of course, it wouldn’t be bothered by his attitude. “I’m not in danger. I just need to calm down.”

“Oh… a panic attack?”

“No, not a panic attack!” Peter snapped at the voice. He sighed. “Sorry.”

“No need to apologize, Mr. Parker.”

“Peter.”

“Would you like me to change how I address you?”

“Yes.”

“Very well.”

Peter leaned his head against the wall and laughed softly. He was arguing with a suit voice over how it was supposed to address him. It was absurd what small things bother you in the midst of a crisis. There was no reason why he should care what the suit called him. It could call him Night Monkey and he shouldn’t care. He smiled and dropped his head into his hands, taking deep breaths. He had to beat this… but this wasn’t a fight he could just win. He couldn’t punch his way out of this. He had to trust Norman Osborn and Pepper Potts to make this go away. “Wouldn’t it be better if I just faced trial?” he asked the suit. “I mean, once they see how loveable and witty I am, they won’t think I’m capable of committing murder.”

“I do not think your ability to tell jokes correlates with your ability to commit murder,” the suit said dryly. “Many famous murderers had rather charming personalities.”

Peter laughed. It was a good sound and it actually made him happy to hear it come from his throat. Was he sure that this AI wasn’t made by Tony? “Oh, you have jokes, Suit-man?”

“It was not a joke.” 

“I know,” Peter said with the end of his joyous laugh. “Just… give me my moment.”

“Of course.”

As much as Peter didn’t want to admit it, the suit was right. He wasn’t going to win this by making the public like him. He had seen smear campaigns turn the nicest people in the world into hated figures… and he had seen the most abhorrent people turned to media darlings. He needed to trust people who were better equipped for this kind of fight. This wasn’t his level of expertise. “Thanks, Suit-man.”

“You are most welcome, Peter.”

He was sure the AI didn’t even know what it had done. It had merely stated facts… but Peter’s heart rate had slowed significantly, and his chest didn’t feel as heavy. It had helped him feel better about his situation. That was something a lot of people had been trying to accomplish; and a random AI had done it for him.

He stepped out of the lab and Harry was waiting for him with his arms crossed in a relaxed pose. He smiled at Peter. “Atlanta,” he said.

“What?”

“Dad wants us to go to Atlanta, Georgia. He has a branch down there and we can hunker down for a little while. Not for long, though. We’ll move to Huston in a couple weeks.”

“Weeks?” Peter asked, cocking his head.

Harry nodded. “This won’t go away in a few days. Dad says we need to keep moving.” Peter leaned against the door behind him. The next semester was starting up in a few weeks. He had a life outside of being a superhero. He had wanted a life outside of it. That was one reason why he had wanted his identity a secret. He didn’t want his life ruined by being a hero. “You okay?”

He nodded. “Perfect. I suppose I should be used to my life being ruined by this job.”

“I suppose so,” Harry said with a shrug. He pushed off the wall and Peter followed him down the hall. “We aren’t taking a plane,” he continued. “A bus will be less conspicuous and more anonymous. Dad thinks there’ll be people after you pretty quickly.”

“What about my family?” Peter asked. He didn’t much care what happened to him as long as May was safe.

“I assume either dad or Mrs. Potts will be keeping your family safe.” He shrugged. “As for your friends… Probably the same treatment.”

“Good.” Harry led Peter into another room where he was given something to wear over the suit. It was another school uniform; long sleeved and pants. Peter felt like he would die of heat stroke long before a heart attack got him. He put on the uniform and stared at himself in the mirror. Aunt May could have never afforded to send him to a fancy private school. Midtown was a magnet science school, but it still wasn’t a private academy. He ran his hands over the royal blue sweater vest. He was wearing the uniform of a school he didn’t belong to over a suit that didn’t belong to him.

Harry stepped into the room and Peter watched him through the mirror he was staring at as the other boy leaned carelessly against the doorframe. “Why didn’t you just let Stark pay for tuition?” he asked.

Peter flinched. The question was probably innocent to Harry’s mind. Why hadn’t May just taken Stark’s money for a better school? It was probably an obvious solution to Harry. People who had never had to “go without” probably had no idea what it was like to accept charity. “She wanted to do it on her own,” he said with a shrug. He couldn’t blame her for it, and he respected her for that choice. He was sure the conversation had come up between her and Mr. Stark at least once.

Harry nodded slowly. “I get it.” He didn’t. Peter could see it in the way he shook his head almost unnoticeably. Maybe being rich meant you looked at people who had pride as just being stubborn. He didn’t want to argue the point, though, so he kept his mouth shut as he turned to Harry and smiled, trying to lighten the mood. Harry nodded and the two headed out of the room. Peter followed him silently, gripping the mask in his hand.

He was getting tired of following people everywhere. Any other day, he’d be geeking out about all of this. It seemed right up his alley. Instead, he just felt like a little lost puppy.

Harry led him back into Norman’s office and the man rose to meet them. He studied Peter with a critical eye as he walked towards them. Harry took a step back and averted his eyes after giving Peter a nod of encouragement. Norman paused with arm’s length of Peter and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Are you ready?”

“As I’ll ever be, sir,” he said with a forced grin. Norman’s laugh was genuine. Harry’s wasn’t.

“That’s all I can ask for at this point,” he said, patting Peter’s shoulder. “The uniform is one of Harry’s. Just keep your head down. Have you ever been on a highway bus, Peter?”

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He had been on an airplane. He’d been to Europe. Hell, he’d been to space. Norman Osborn had probably never been to space before. He didn’t need to be talked down to by a man because he didn’t have money. Peter didn’t voice that, though. There was no point in angering the person putting himself in danger to get Peter to safety. “Yes, sir…” he answered instead. “Now, my family…”

“Of course.” He nodded. “Don’t worry about them. I will contact Mrs. Potts and let her know that you are alive in under my protection until further notice. If she decides to tell your aunt, then I won’t stop her. However, I feel it would be in your best interest not to contact anyone without me knowing about it.” Peter looked away. “I understand that this is hard, Peter, but please try to understand my position as well. The more people who know I’m helping you, the more dangerous it is for me, them, and you. The less people who know, the better.”

“I understand,” Peter whispered, keeping his head down. Norman reached down and lifted Peter’s chin to meet his eyes. “I won’t tell anyone,” he reiterated.

Something flashed in Norman’s eyes. Peter couldn’t quite place it, but his Spider-sense sent a shiver down his spine. The flash was almost like hunger. He didn’t react to it and the moment between them passed. “Smart young man,” Norman said with a smile, turning to Harry. “Keep me posted and call me when you get to Atlanta.” He handed Harry two tickets and itinerary. “Your bus leaves at eleven and I expect you there at 10:30, barring any traffic jams.”

Harry took the papers gingerly. He seemed like a different person around his father. He looked at the itinerary and frowned. “Transfers?” he asked. Norman nodded. “I suppose that’s to be expected.” He pocketed the two tickets and turned to Peter. “We should get going. It’s a ten-minute walk to the terminal.” He waved to Norman and then they got into the elevator in silence. Harry leaned against the back of the small room once the door was shut.

“You and your dad…” Peter started, but a look from Harry stopped the question in its tracks. Peter backed down. “I was just wondering,” he muttered sheepishly.

Harry was quiet for several floors before speaking again. “It’s complicated.” His tone was quiet and guarded. Peter could respect that.

“Yeah… my life’s pretty complicated, too,” he said with a soft laugh. “Trade?”

Harry smiled. “Sure. How hard can it be being a superhero whose life is falling apart?” Peter looked away. Hearing Harry say it was surprisingly harder than having it play out in his mind time and again. Harry seemed to notice the change in Peter’s demeanor. “Look… I’m going to say that I understand, and other people are going to try and say it as well. But I know I don’t get it. I have no idea what you’re going through. I can’t possibly know. But… I want you to know that I’m here for you. Dad is here for you. We may not get what’s going through your head, but you have to let us help you. You have to trust us.”

Peter said nothing as the elevator finished its ride. Harry’s words played in his head as they walked down the street after picking up the bags waiting at the back door that had been prepared for them. He mulled over the short speech. They didn’t know. They couldn’t possibly know. Regardless of what Harry had been through in his life, there was no way that his life could compare to the hellhole his life was turning into. Or… was he jumping to conclusions?

His mind flashed to his accidental reading of Flash’s texts when he was trying out EDITH. Just because he was rich, that didn’t mean he didn’t have hardships. Maybe, Peter thought, he was being a bit too judgmental. Both Norman and Harry were going out of their way to help him. They were putting their reputation, and maybe even their lives, at risk to help someone, and they weren’t asking for anything in return.

The bus pulled up and they were loaded in under assumed names. The bus was nice. Nicer than the plane. Each seat was a large and wide recliner with curtains separating each seat for privacy. The seats to their left were rows of one. More privacy than any plane Peter had been on. The seats to their right were in rows of two. Peter had never seen an overnight bus before. Just because he had gotten annoyed at Norman’s question, it didn’t change the fact that he, indeed, had never been on a highway bus. As they settled in their seats, the two in the back on the right, Peter turned to Harry. “I do,” he said quietly.

Harry looked at him, scrutinizing his words. “Hm? Do what?”

“I trust you.”