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Mind Games

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Peter started at the street sign, blinking as the letters moved around into numbers he couldn't understand. Did that say 37th or 65th? Or 58th? Was he close to Queens boulevard? He lived...close to there? Right? As if in a dream, he stumbled away from the sign, an anxiety buzzing deep in his chest. Something was wrong. He was late and May was going to be so worried. Lifting his wrist, he stared at the watch that Mr. Stark had given him.

The numbers danced in front of his eyes and he couldn't remember what they meant...or why he was staring at them. Dropping his arm, he stumbled forward, crying out when something slammed into his side, sending him flying, and he landed hard on his side in the street. For a moment, all he could hear was ringing in his ears, and blood dripped from his chin.

Groaning, he forced himself into a sitting position and swayed as someone slammed on their horn, the sound making his head hurt even more than it already had. "What the hell, kid?" Someone shouted, and approaching footsteps were the only warning he got before a hand gripped his shoulder. "Kid?"

"Ben?" He asked, trying to wave away the hand. Was Ben here? No...no, this wasn't...no…that man had made him see Ben but Ben was gone. Now...now he had May and May was going to be so worried. Had... had that man hurt May? Where was May?

"What are you on, kid?" The guy holding his shoulder asked, sounding more concerned than before, but Peter lurched to his feet.

Light. There had been light. A flash of light and then...he'd been on his way home. He remembered that much. And he'd been walking and then…

Doctor Strange? Did he need Doctor Strange? Or had he run into Doctor Strange? What had the light been? The guy had made light and then...then Peter had been lost.

He was lost? Where was he?

It was dark outside. When had it gotten dark outside?

Peter stumbled away from the man, staggering back toward the street sign. Where was he? Which street? He was supposed to be in Queens. Was he in Queens?

Something buzzed. Bee? Waving a hand, he groaned when that threw him off balance. He was bleeding...his hand and arm were bleeding and when he brought a hand to his face, there was blood there too. His head throbbed and his right ankle was threatening to give but he felt like he was in a dream. Like the whole world was fuzzy, like he was looking at it through a fog and none of it was real.

He could head water. Was he supposed to hear water. The world seemed too dark and his feet weren't cooperating as he tried to move. He had to get home. He had to...had to…

There was buzzing again, and the honking of horns, and yelling somewhere in the background. The world was far away and none of this mattered, except May was worried. She was worried about...about the news. There had been a story, he remembered. A story about people who had died. Or...or wandered into tragic or off of bridges and something about dreams. Hallucinations. Magic?

Had he seen Doctor Strange earlier. He'd been on his way home from school. He was lost. How had he gotten lost? He'd grown up here. The frustration that rose in his chest was muted but still there, right under the fear. Mostly fear for May. Was he the reason why she was worried?

Was she worried about the dreams?

Was she worried about magic? Something with magic had happened...that's why he'd wanted Doctor Strange. Peter blinked hard, trying to focus, a seemingly impossible task. He wanted Doctor Strange because magic had...something. Something with magic. Something with dreams.

He followed the sound of water, his thoughts slipping away as quickly as they'd come. He was lost. May was worried. He had to...to find her.

There was a car. Another car. And he was walking...toward the water, he reminded himself. Water was important and then there was the screech of tires and breaks and he turned dumbly to find that he was in the middle of the street. How…

There was buzzing. His leg was buzzing.

Slapping at the fly on his leg he continued forward, feet tangling together, ankle burning but holding his weight for the moment. His head hurt and there were flies or...or bees on his leg. Would bees sting him?

He could hear water.

Would water lead him home?

Peter continued forward, and the buzzing continued until his ankle finally gave, throwing him to the ground. He was under a bridge. He could hear water and cars...and he was shaking but he didn't know why. Coughing and flinching when that made his side hurt, he smacked at the bee again, only to pause.

Phone. He had a phone.

Peter reached into his pocket and pulled the thing out. There were letters on the front but they were moving around and he wasn't in Queens...or was he? Didn't he live in Queens? But...but he went to school in Midtown.

He dropped the phone and watched the glass make a spiderweb. Spider...wasn't he a spider? Or...man?

Peter's head swam and he watched the top of the bridge go in and out of focus, like a bad camera. Bad...bad lens. Or bad focus. You focus with a camera but he couldn't...couldn't focus.

Hadn't he seen Ben earlier?

No. No, Ben was gone. What time was it? He lifted his arm to check but the numbers swirled and he tried to stand but his ankle wouldn't take his weight.

A car stopped, brakes screeching. He was on the sidewalk. He wasn't in the road. Why would they stop?

"Peter!" A man called, dropping to his knees at Peter's side. Was this a dream? "Where the hell have you been? What are you doing?" He rubbed his hands up and down Peter's bare arms, then yanked his own jacket off and struggled to put it on Peter, which was strange because he wasn't cold.

"Was...was Ben here?" He asked, watching as Mr. Stark faded away, then came back into focus. A hand gingerly touched his cheek, and the man shook his head.

"No...no, buddy. It's Tony. Hey…". He cupped the back of Peter's neck. "Look at me, Pete."

Hadn't he been? Then Peter dragged his eyes back to Mr. Stark and realized he'd been looking at the bridge again. "I'm lost...May...she's going to worry…"

"You're lost?" Mr. Stark repeated, and Peter felt his eyes inexplicably heating up.

"I think she's worried. But I was...I was...dreaming...I…". He trailed off, the reason for his tears gone before they managed to spill over.

"Okay. That's okay, kiddo. Why don't I get you home?" An arm went around him, and Peter tried to stand but his ankle gave, making his cry out in pain that seemed somehow muted...too far away. Mr. Stark gripped him more tightly than before, holding all his weight. "Are you hurt?"

"I was walking home...I got lost."

"Okay. Okay…". Mr. Stark repeated the word, not sounding okay. Still, Peter hobbled to the car and Mr. Stark eases him into the passenger's side, buckling his seat belt, then shutting the door.

"Water?" Peter asked, head rolling to the side to look at Mr. Stark. Were they near water? He needed water...water was good.

"Here." Mr. Stark grabbed a bottle from the cup holder and opened it, holding it to Peter's mouth and letting him drink. It tasted a little like blood but the cool liquid felt so good on his throat. "It's almost one in the morning, Pete. Have you been walking around this whole time?"

Was that why he wanted water so bad?

"I thought Ben was...Ben was here?"

"No, buddy. He wasn't here." Mr. Stark murmured, reaching over and squeezing his arm as he took the water away. "Did you take something? Or...or smoke something? Inhale any kind of powder?" The words were all kind and gentle but Peter wasn't sure what any of them meant.

"Doctor Strange?" He asked, hoping that meant something to Mr. Stark.

"Did you see Stephen Strange?"

Peter wasn't sure.

He dropped his head back against the headrest, then blinked a few times, staring at the ceiling. May was going to worry. It was late and he was supposed to be going home and he was making May worry. Grabbing the door handle, he unlocked the door, then started to open it, only for Mr. Stark to slam on his breaks in the middle of the road. Peter reached for his seatbelt, but Mr. Stark was holding onto his shoulder, eyes wide with disbelief.

"Peter! What are you doing?" He cried, shaking him a little and swatting away the hand that worked at his seatbelt.

"May...I'm late. She's worried…"

"Hey, hey...focus up, Spiderling. Look at me." Mr. Stark demanded, a hand on his cheek. It kind of hurt, and he must have flinched because Mr. Stark adjusted his hand. "I'm taking you home, remember? I told May that I had you. You're okay. May knows where you are."

"I…" Peter looked at the clock on the dashboard as the door shut...and then Mr. Stark was back in the car? Had he gotten out. "Mr. Stark?"

"Yeah, Pete?" He asked, voice strained.

"I don't know where I am…"

"You're with me. In my car. It's Tony, kiddo. Mr. Stark. You're with me in my car and I'm taking you to someone that can help."

"Doctor Strange?"

"You know what? Yeah. Friday, get the wizard to meet us at the tower. Tell him it's an emergency.

"Mr. Stark?"

"What, kiddo?"

"I can't...the numbers keep...keep moving and I'm...I'm lost…"

The man reached out, putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing as he hit the accelerator. "You're not lost, buddy. I've got you. I'm going to get you home. We're going to figure this out and you're going to be fine."

Was this a dream? Everything was hazy and...hadn't he seen Ben?

He was shaken awake but Mr. Stark, and the man picked him up, only to lay him on a stretcher. Why was he on a stretcher? Was he asleep? They were moving, and Peter tried to sit up but the world spun and his body was stuck and his chest hurt...his head pounded and he was lost...he was lost and May..May was...May?

"What happened to him?"

"No idea." Mr. Stark told someone, but Peter couldn't keep his eyes open anymore. "May called me an hour ago...said she'd just gotten home and that Peter hadn't showed up. His friends had no idea where he was. I found him by the river, no jacket, no backpack. Apparently he was walking home and something happened...he kept saying your name."

"Mine?"

"Well, along with a bunch of other shit that didn't make any sense. Kept saying he was lost."

"Tony? When you found him, what was he doing?" A woman asked.

"Uh...sitting on the sidewalk."

"It looks like he got hit by a car. His ankle is broken and I think he's cracked some ribs." Hands touched his side and he groaned, turning his head away. When he opened his eyes, he was surprised to find Doctor Strange standing there in jeans and a sweater.

"Doctor Strange?"

"Yes. Can you tell me what happened?"

"Had to...to find you…"

"Alright. You've found me. What happened?"

"I was...he made light...he made...Ben?"

Mr. Stark stood behind the wizard, looking just as lost as ever, but Doctor Strange's eyes widened and he put a hand on Peter's forehead, muttering something Peter didn't catch.

And then he was awake.

Peter gasped at the pain the sudden awareness brought, the world coming back into sharp focus. Fighting back a guttural scream, he slammed his head into the pillow underneath him, and Mr. Stark was holding his arms, face pale and afraid. "What the hell did you do?"

"It's a spell...someone was trying to kill him." Doctor Strange murmured. "It places the victim in a dreamlike trance...they're unable to feel cold and they find it difficult to feel pain. Most wander into the street or dehydrate before they're found. Peter?"

"Loud...it's...loud…" He whimpered, bringing his hands up over his ears, and he shut his eyes tight as the lights began to dim. Sensory overload. He'd had this happen a few times, but never this badly...never this intense.

"Friday! You know what to do. Pete? You're okay, kiddo." He was cold. So cold. And his ankle hurt. Shaking so hard his teeth chattered, Peter tried to curl up in a ball, but his side was killing him. "I know. I know it hurts, buddy. Give us just a second and we'll get you warmed up and get you some medicine. You're okay."

"What happened?" He gasped out, hands clenching into fists at his side, and Mr. Stark put a hand over his.

"You got wizard-whammied. But you're okay now. The good wizard fixed it."

"Mr. Stark? Hurts…"

"I know. Just give it a second." Something poked him in the arm, and something warm went into his arms that made it impossible to keep his eyes open.

"I'm...I'm going to…"

"You rest, buddy. We'll get you fixed up."

And then he was sleeping. No dreams, just darkness as Peter slept. He didn't wake until a hand brushed his hair back, and he opened his eyes to find Mr. Stark at his side. The man looked exhausted, with dark purple bags under his eyes.  Behind him, Peter could just see his aunt asleep in a chair, a blanket covering her, and what looked like a couch cushion between her head and the wall.

"Hey, Pete."

"Mr. Stark?" He blinked a few times in the dim room, grateful for the heavy, warm blanket draped over him. He searched his memory for a moment, trying to find any clues as to why he was in his bed at the tower, when something came to him. "Did I get hit by a car?"

The man gave a tired, not all that amused smile. "You sure did, buddy. Broke your ankle and one of your ribs. Cracked three more. And gave you a nasty concussion. Not to mention the spell that some angry wizard put you under."

Peter just blinked at him for a moment. "I had...a really weird dream. I thought Ben was there and...and I was lost…"

Mr. Stark brushes his hair back again, resting his hand on the side of Peter's head. "Yeah, you were lost, kiddo. But I found you."