Tony stares at the flashing light on his HUD, mind completely blank for a few seconds until he sees the faint outline of a spider symbol and remembers what this particular alert is for. It’s the panic button—Peter’s panic button. Peter pressed the panic button.
The words don’t make sense to his brain. Peter barely calls Tony for help. He would never press a panic button.
Of course, Tony didn’t call it a panic button when he’d explained it to Peter (and it’s not really a button, more of a command), but that’s how he thinks of it. It sends out a beacon to any Avenger within a 100 mile radius of Peter’s location, signalling that back-up is needed. If nobody within that range responds, it tries a 200 mile radius, and the search area just gets bigger until someone shows up.
Peter pressing the button means one of two things. Either he’s grown up a bit in the last year, gotten mature enough that he realizes when it’s an Avengers problem rather than a solo job, or the kid’s in deep shit. Tony prays for the former, but the latter seems much more likely. Just last week he’d realized that Peter had disabled some of the suit’s safety protocols, again. There’s no way he’s calling for help unless he’s in real trouble.
Natasha cringes and brings a hand up to her ear. “Is that the Spider-Man alert? Christ, you made it loud.”
Obviously, he made it loud. It means that Peter’s in trouble. He ignores her knowing smirk (the grief he gets for acting like a mother hen about Peter is getting old) and checks the location of Peter’s signal. It’s near Queens—not surprising.
“Almost wrapped it up over there, Rogers?” He’s a little stunned at how hollow his voice sounds and how it wavers, just slightly, but still noticeable. He hopes it’s masked over the comms. “We’ve got to go.”
“All the dealers are detained, law enforcement should be here in five.”
It’ll take them thirty minutes to get back to New York in the quinjet. FRIDAY tells Tony that he can make it in the suit in twenty-one. He cocks his head to the side. If he really pushes it, he can shave that down to eighteen.
“I’m out, get there as soon as you can,” he says as he fires the repulsors.
No one tries to stop him. Even Steve just tells him to be careful.
“Any extra juice, Fri?”
She kicks the repulsors into their highest gear.
He had thought that being on the move would calm the icy panic zipping through his veins, but the flying isn’t cutting it. It’s not enough of a distraction. He orders FRIDAY to try to make contact with Peter.
“Mr. Stark!” The relief in Peter’s voice matches the same feeling that causes Tony’s muscles to sag slightly. “Are you here?”
“Not yet. Fifteen minutes. Alright?”
“Y-yeah. There’s just—too many for me to take out. Is the whole team coming? We might need the whole team. Yeah, we definitely need the whole team.”
Tony tells FRIDAY to go faster. A command which she ignores because they both know that the suit is already using maximum power.
“Too many what? Take cover until you have back-up.”
“Can’t exactly—do that,” Peter mutters.
Tony takes a deep breath. He would be pinching the bridge of his nose if he wasn’t soaring towards Manhattan. “Why is that?”
“Like I said, there are—a lot of them.” For the first time, Tony registers that Peter sounds out of breath. It’s not easy to get him there with his enhanced lung-capacity. “I’m distracting most of them, for now, but they’re—fast. And have big weapons.”
Tony’s chest pangs and he swipes away FRIDAY’s warning of his elevated heartbeat. If this job wasn’t going to kill him before Peter took up a permanent position in his life, it certainly will now.
“What are they, kid?”
There’s a long hesitation and Tony can hear air whistling. He talks himself down from the images of Peter falling and assures himself that it’s just from swinging.
“Sorry.” Peter’s audible gasps for air are getting louder. “Aliens—it’s an invasion. Like, it reminds me of the pictures from the Battle of New York. Except—they look different. But, the same concept.”
Tony lets his eyes flutter shut for a moment before forcing them to reopen and steeling himself for the scene that is awaiting him in the city. It’ll be a battle then, a serious one.
“I’m ten minutes away, the rest of the team is a little behind me.”
He sends a message to them so that they realize what kind of fight they need to prepare for. The situation looks bad. Tony can see the city skyline now, and more importantly the dark shapes, that must be ships (he hopes that they’re ships and not giant creatures) looming above it. Tony blinks because he swears a portal is coming into focus. It’s too similar to last time. He pushes the fear away, focuses on getting to Peter as fast as he can.
“Take me to him, Fri.”
When he finally sees Peter, any relief he found from their phone call fades away. Peter wasn’t
exaggerating about using himself as a distraction, in fact that was a severe understatement. A whole hoard of triple-horned, flying aliens follow his every movement, banking left and right just as fast as Peter is. The sound that they make is jarring—a high-pitched buzz with deeper clicks. Tony can’t tell if it’s from their movement or if it’s a form of communication. They don’t have wings, they seem to be able to levitate in some other way, and it makes their directional changes more swift than if they had to physically change directions. Peter’s attempts to dive or lose them on sharp turns into narrow alleyways are futile.
Tony pulls up beside Peter, shooting repulsors at the closest ones. “What on earth did you do to get them all to follow you?”
“Web fluid over—one of their ship’s cannons. Managed to—blow up the whole thing when they—tried to fire it. Then yelled at them a bit—to get their attention.”
He’s exhausted. Not only is he struggling to talk without pausing for air, but his motions are becoming sloppy—probably not to the average bystander’s eye, but Tony can tell. Knowing Peter, he didn’t use the panic button until after the chase started, so he’s probably been at this for almost a half-hour by now. That’s a long time to keep up the pace that he’s going at.
Tony has to do something about it.
“You said that damaging their ships pisses them off?” Tony doesn’t wait for Peter’s response before changing course and shooting straight up. It’s a familiar motion and he can feel the phantom weight of the nuke on his back, but he’s not going that high, not his time. He hopes never again.
Once Tony’s close enough, he starts firing rapidly at the ship. Sure enough, he hears the buzz-click noises that the aliens make. He glances over his shoulder and sees the swarm approaching him at an alarming rate. He just hopes that all of the creatures have followed him and left Peter alone.
But, of course, the kid doesn’t know how to let himself be saved. Tony can’t get mad about it without being severely hypocritical. He’s the same way, so is every hero that he’s ever met. They’re a load of self-sacrificing idiots with a giant laundry list of issues that made them that way. All he can do is sigh as he sees the familiar red and blue suit scuttling up a nearby building towards him.
“Mr. Stark! Look out!”
“Yup, I see ‘em kid. You should have stayed back.” There’s no real conviction behind it.
“Well, I couldn’t do that, you see, because I knew that they would follow you and there are so many of them and they’re pretty tough and fast and I want to help and woah, what is that?”
Tony doesn’t look away from the ship that he’s trying to obliterate with his repulsors. “What is what?”
“They’re doing something.”
Tony stifles a groan. The kid has two settings. It’s either long, rambly sentences that flow out of his mouth so fast that Tony misses all of the important bits while trying to figure out how he got from gym class to web fluid density or it’s vague fragments of ideas that convey absolutely no meaning whatsoever. Tony should explain the importance of clear and concise speech, but now isn’t the time for a leadership lesson.
“You’re going to have to be more specific.”
Two words to get the point across. Clear, concise, not bad. Maybe Peter doesn’t need that lesson afterall. Tony glances over his shoulder to see that there is indeed purple smoke billowing out from the alien’s skin. Maybe it isn’t skin at all, more of a protective barrier, an armor, or a suit, that houses whatever this chemical is.
“Uh oh,” Peter says.
Tony glances away from the ship, just in time to see Peter’s grip on the building go limp. His body starts to plummet towards the ground. Before Tony can rouse himself into motion to catch him . One of the aliens breaks ranks from the swarm and phases down to Peter, scooping him into his arms.
“Put him down,” Tony yells, even though he doesn’t think that the aliens can understand English.
He ploughs through the smoke to get to Peter, but the alien carrying him is fast, zipping this way and that, trying to evade him. The quick motions are making Tony dizzy. He shakes his head to get rid of the fuzzy, floaty feeling, but all it does is cause pinpricks of black to fill his vision.
Uh oh, he thinks. Just as Peter had said less than a minute before. It must be the smoke, but that shouldn’t be possible. His suit is airtight, so is Peter’s. They both receive filtered air. Unless whatever alien chemical is in this purple smoke is too fine, or unrecognizable to the filters somehow. Tony holds his breath and tries to fly out of the smoke, but it’s too late. The world fades away.
Tony comes to with a pounding head and nausea swirling his stomach. He groans slightly as he tries to shift, but finds that he’s held in place. He tries to bring up a hand to rub at his aching temples but he can’t do that either.
“Oh, thank god.” Peter’s voice brings the events that lead Tony to the current situation back. “Mr. Stark, can you hear me?”
Tony opens his eyes, just to a squint, but the light is still too much. It’s like a goddamn hangover on steroids. He grunts and hopes that answers Peter’s question.
“Okay, I’m going to assume that means yes.”
Tony can tell that Peter’s whispering, but it’s still far too loud in his current state. Every word is answered by another pang that seems intent on splitting his skull in half. He tries to convey that by wincing.
“Yeah, sorry, I felt terrible when I woke up. I got over it pretty fast though so you should too! Unless that was because I’m—uh—me. That might be why actually, fast metabolism, sorry.”
Now, Tony’s just guilty that Peter woke up in pain and alone while simultaneously pissed that the kid’s body works so fast for him.
“Where?” It’s barely audible, but Peter understands it anyway.
“It looks like a hotel room. Weird, right?” Peter laughs. “Think they just strolled up to the Ritz with Spider-Man and Iron Man slung over their shoulders and asked for a room?”
“Ritz is too classy,” Tony mutters. “They must have found a Holiday Inn or some shit.”
“Hey! Holiday Inn’s are nice.”
Tony would argue if he wasn’t about to be sick. He makes a mental note to make sure that the kid gets put up in nicer places if he ever goes on vacation before rolling to the side and gagging. Thankfully, nothing comes up but some spit. He wouldn't be fond of laying right next to a pile of his own vomit.
“Are you okay?” Peter’s voice is softer now, laced with concern—which isn’t right, that’s Tony’s job.
He nods, but that turns out to be another mistake, so he lets his head sink back as he rides out the spikes of pain.
“I have a tentative plan,” Peter says. “Do you think you can move? That’s kind of an integral part of it.”
Tony sighs and throws a thumbs up.
“You realize that your hands are tied behind your back, right?”
Tony hadn’t, actually, but that makes sense. “You still could see the thumb, couldn’t you?”
“Then why are you questioning me?”
Peter sounds nervous. Tony’s got to get a grip. Even if he feels like he’d prefer if the aliens had killed him rather than let him suffer like this, he needs to put on some sort of front. That’s what he’s good at. Time to stop wallowing in the pain.
“Hit me with your plan, kid.”
There’s a long silence, and Tony’s about to open his eyes, he really is, if only to see what Peter’s doing. He hears a snap and the sound finally rouses him to deal with the light in the room. He realizes that it’s actually pretty dim, the shades are drawn and the lights are off. It’s a small blessing.
Peter’s torn the cuffs that had bound his hands in two, so that he just has a shackle around each wrist with the chain dangling from one. Tony grins. The aliens are so stupid, putting Peter of all people in simple metal hand cuffs. He makes quick work of Tony’s as well and then hauls him to his feet.
“So, now we run.” Peter looks at Tony, sheepishly. “That’s it, that’s the plan.”
Well, he is a little young to be a master strategist. “Simple, direct, hopefully effective. Let’s get out of here.”
Peter keeps his grip on Tony for a little longer than he needs to, to make sure that he’s steady on his feet. Tony would gripe about it if he didn’t need the extra support as the room spins and wavers around him. Usually he has stabilizers that help with this sort of thing.
“They took our suits,” he realizes aloud.
It should have been one of the first things he noticed after he came to. Whatever was in that smoke is making him slow on the uptake.
“Yeah, so stay behind me.”
Peter moves toward the door and jerks the handle sharply to the side to break the lock. Tony gapes at the back of his head.
“You did not just say that to me.”
“Mr. Stark, I’m strong and you—“
“Don’t finish that sentence.”
Peter glances back at him. He looks slightly apologetic, but mostly just determined. Tony can give him this one. If he runs through scenarios in his head, there are countless strategic advantages to letting Peter lead their escape. He is stronger, and faster. But, more importantly, Tony’s not as defenseless as Peter believes he is. He feels the groove in his chest for confirmation. He’d implanted another microchip—Pepper had sighed when she’d inevitably felt it, he was stupid to think that she wouldn’t, and called him paranoid. He can admit to that, and he’s not proud of the fact. He would work harder to break old habits if they didn’t keep coming in handy during times like this. The microchip will call the nanotech housing compartment from wherever the aliens took it and bring it to him if they need it. It’s best to keep that bit of information secret until it’s time to use it. The element of surprise can only help them against these guys.
Tony nods and Peter shoves the door open and steps out. He follows, only to run straight into Peter’s back.
“This isn’t a hotel,” Peter whispers.
Indeed it isn’t. There’s no tacky decorative carpet or uncontroversial subpar paintings of hillsides or potted plants. The hallway is gray, the walls, floors and ceiling monochrome—all some sort of metal. It’s dimly lit, much like the room and could stretch for miles for all that Tony can tell. He can’t see an ending in either direction.
“Didn’t think they’d actually put us up in that Holiday Inn, did you?”
Peter gulps. “Guess not.”
“Maybe we’re underground,” Tony says.
It does sort of look like a tunnel. But, Tony’s perception may also be shaded by past experiences in the captivity department.
“Why would aliens take us underground? It’s not like they’re going to have a secret bunker on Earth.”
The question is very valid, but Tony doesn’t want to voice the more realistic scenario—that they’ve left Earth entirely. He’ll worry about that when all the information about their predicament is present.
The hallway is still—eerily so, and the dreary lack of color adds to the affect. Tony tries to walk softly, but his footsteps still echo off the walls. They both wince every time their feet hit the ground.
“Just keep going,” Tony says when Peter looks back at him for what feels like the thousandth time. “There’s got to be an exit somewhere.”
There doesn’t have to be, but Tony can pretend. There will be something eventually. It could be a different room or a glimpse of some of the aliens, but something has to happen. They have no other choice but to keep walking until it does.
As if on cue, as soon as Tony thinks it, a low noise, a pitch that Tony probably won’t be able to hear in a few years time with the amount of explosions that he’s stood in close proximity to. At first, Tony thinks it is just his ears. He frowns and shakes his head, swallows a few times. Then he realizes that Peter’s grimacing, he looks on the verge of pained. It must be worse for him with his magnified senses.
“Can you tell where it’s coming from?”
“You can hear it too? I thought it was just me. It feels like it’s coming from everywhere.”
The volume raises and Peter clamps his hands over his ears. If the goal is to take out their strongest fighter, the sound is well on it’s way to accomplishing that. Tony’s afraid it may have a different purpose. It’s confirmed a moment later as the outlines of the strange aliens appear out of the darkness in front of them.
“Shit, it’s an alarm,” Tony says.
“Okay, you found us! Please turn it off!” Peter yells at the approaching figures, refusing to take his hands away from his ears.
Apparently, the alarm is going to serve two purposes. Tony’s seconds away from calling the nanotech compartment when Peter snaps out of it and sprints at the swarm. Tony can’t help but smile a little, despite the fact that their situation is dire. The kid’s tough. Tony’s proud—or whatever.
It’s over before Tony can even catch up. There were only three of them, and Peter managed to take them out easily enough, each limp in a pile on the floor. Tony knows enough about Peter to assume that they’re merely unconscious rather than dead. Peter bounds back to him with only a gash on his arm, from where one of the horns must have caught him.
“They’ve got to stop this noise, Mr. Stark,” Peter complains, not even mentioning the fight, as he replaces his grip on his ears.
Tony snorts and they unceremoniously make their way over the aliens to continue their journey. They only get a few steps before the alarm ramps up a few more notches. Peter doubles over with a sharp hiss. He stubbornly rights himself, grits his teeth, and keeps walking forward without looking at Tony. It’s starting to get loud enough to give Tony a throbbing headache—he can’t imagine what Peter must feel. Tony’s got to get him out of here.
The sharpening of the alarm sound must coincide with the level of the threat because a larger group of aliens materializes ahead of them. The buzz-clicks are back in full force, mingling with the whine of the alarm in a grotesque cacophony. There’s not as many as there had been chasing Peter around New York, but there are too many for him to handle alone.
Peter launches himself toward them anyway because that’s how he is. Tony winces as he makes impact with the first one. It would be a more even match if he had his webs, his suit, any kind of weapon, but it’s just Peter and his bare, albeit strong, hands.
Tony feels the groove under the skin of his chest once more. He takes a deep breath, watches an alien slam Peter into the wall, and then summons the nanotech compartment.
He feels like Thor. The thought makes him almost giddy, although some of that might be the adrenaline. Screw the warped sense of worthiness of the hammer (there’s got to be some trick, Tony just isn’t buying it), Tony Stark makes his own weapon that flies to its owner. His brain is fucking worthy.
And then his self-righteous attitude fades away because it’s taking a while for the compartment to get him and there’s a large chance that they’re not on Earth right now and the aliens might have ditched it back there.
If it doesn’t get to him soon they might not make it out of this mess. Peter’s quickly losing ground, he’s getting hit more, and harder, than he’s able to hit them. At this rate, he won’t be walking back to Tony with just a small cut and a quip about the noise-level. Tony needs to buy as much time as possible until the compartment (hopefully) makes its way to him.
“Hey,” he shouts. “Have you forgotten about me?”
It gets a few of their beady eyes to flick to him, so he waves his arms for emphasis before taking off back towards the room that he woke up in. He throws a few more taunts over his shoulder and makes sure that he’s being followed. It’s a more high-stakes version of what he’d done in New York—this time with no armor and no weapons. He scans the air around him for a certain flying chunk of metal and prays that will change soon.
“Mr. Stark!” Peter’s running now, too, thankfully not being held captive by the aliens. “This wasn’t part of the plan.”
“Uh, all you said is run. You didn’t specify where to or what from. I would never dream of defying the plans of the great Peter Parker.”
The aliens are close behind them, and gaining. Peter’s definitely jogging to stay at Tony’s pace.
“Just go,” Tony pants. “Full speed, get out of here.”
If you can, he thinks. If we’re not already light-years away from home.
“I’m serious, Peter. This is one of the times where you need to listen to me.”
“I’m not leaving you!”
“No, you’re going to get out of here and get back-up. Okay?”
Odds are that Tony will be dead, or somewhere that the team will never be able to find him before Peter can get the group together. But he’s willing to say anything to get Peter out of here.
Peter can see right through it. He looks at Tony with understanding that he shouldn’t have yet. He didn’t have it when Tony met him. He’s too young to understand death and sacrifice and what it really means to do this job, rather than the triumphs and romanticization of it that they show on TV. It feels like another thing that Tony broke.
And then Tony’s knocked backwards as something slams into his chest. His back hits the ground hard and he gasps for air and tries to struggle to his feet but neither is successful. He flounders for a few seconds before he looks down and sees the nanotech compartment attached to his chest and it’s like the hope that it gives him opens up his lungs again.
“Gotcha.” He grins and rolls to face the aliens, springs to his feet with renewed energy.
The nanites seep over his body. As soon as the repulsors are in place, he arcs his hand across the width of the hallway, firing until all of the buzz-clicks die out and alien bodies line the floor.
“That was awesome,” Peter breathes.
“Let’s go.” Tony pushes Peter in front of him and starts him running with a shove. They can move faster now, with Tony hovering and Peter going full-speed. They pass their room again, going in the opposite direction as last time.
“Fingers crossed,” Peter says. “That we just chose really badly last time and the exit’s, like, in ten yards or something.”
Fat chance. Nothing but black nothingness stretches ahead of them. There’s not going to be any flashing exit sign, and Tony doesn’t have access to FRIDAY for navigation help, even with the suit. They’re somewhere off the grid—which could be due to a lot of things. Tony reasons that it doesn’t necessarily mean that they left the planet. He can’t panic, yet. It’s a mantra in his head. Don’t panic, not yet. They city could be 50 feet above them. He can’t quite believe that, and the farther they get down the hallway without any change in scenery, the more sure he is that they’re somewhere he really, really doesn’t want to be. He’s never been good with optimism.
Peter stops so abruptly that Tony doesn’t even notice at first. “Mr. Stark, wait. It splits.”
Sure enough, there’s a smaller corridor that veers off diagonally from the main stretch they’ve been traveling through. Peter takes a step toward it and then looks back at Tony for confirmation. He shrugs. It’s the first thing they’ve passed that has broken the monotony, might as well try it.
Peter’s barely entered the hallway when he gasps. Tony rushes to his side to see what caused the reaction. It doesn’t elicit the same one from him, just a numb sensation crawling through his body. It’s nothing he didn’t expect after all, but it still, frankly, sucks to be right in the worst possible way all the damn time.
The expansive blankness of space stares back at them, even more oppressive than the vast stretches of hallway they’d been running through, from a small circular window. Tony dips his head in defeat, but quickly rights it so that Peter won’t see.
“Well, fuck,” Peter whispers.
That’s the best way to put it.