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The Disappearance of Peter Parker

Chapter Text

The Death Star sat between them, 4,000 pieces.

“How much was this thing, anyway?” Peter mused while looking from the instructions to the pieces in his hands.

“Like a thousand bucks or something. My dad said it’s my combination Birthday and Christmas gifts until I go to college.”

“That sucks,” Peter commented.

“Nah, it’s totally worth it.”

“Totally.”

Peter’s phone pinged for the hundredth time.

“Who even is that, anyway?”

“It’s May. She says I need to go soon.”

“But it’s not even ten,” Ned protested. “Besides, you can just spend the night here.”

“Eh, you know how she’s been since Ben…” Peter rolled his eyes.

“Yeah.”

“What?” Peter asked defensively.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Peter, but you’ve been kind of weird lately.”

“What? No, I haven’t,” Peter snorted. “I mean, how do expect me to act? My uncle was shot right in front of me. I can’t exactly be the same old Peter anymore, Ned.”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry,” his best friend said. “I’m just concerned about you.”

“Well, don’t be.”

Silence fell over the pair until there was a knock on Ned’s door. Mrs. Leeds appeared with a plate of cookies.

“Thanks, Mom!” Ned chirped.

“I thought you boys could use a treat. Wow, look at that!” She exclaimed, though they had only built the base.

“Yeah,” they both said simultaneously.

She left them to their own devices, and a little while later, Peter’s phone pinged again. He frowned at it and began texting back.

“Well, I better get going,” he said, standing up and stretching.

“You’re not on drugs or anything, are you?” Ned asked abruptly.

“What?! No, no, no. It’s just May is being a super pain in my ass lately.”

Ned frowned at his friend. Peter didn’t usually speak that way, much less about his aunt.

“You don’t believe me or something?”

There was another ping as if to support Ned’s suspicions.

“Look, man, I gotta go.” Peter slung his backpack over a shoulder. “I’ll see you later.”

“Peter, wait!”

He stopped at the door.

“Just be careful.”

“I told you, Ned. Nothing’s going on.”

“I know. Just be careful getting home.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” The defensive tone was back.

“Nothing. It means be careful getting home is all,” Ned said, innocently.

Peter turned back around, holding out his hand. “Bring it in, man.”

They did their secret handshake, and Peter flashed a smile on the way out the door.

“I can drive you home, Peter,” Mr. Leeds offered when he got to the living room. Ned’s parents were on the sofa watching a crime documentary.

“You’re more than welcome to stay the night,” Mrs. Leeds offered.

“No, I’m okay. Thanks for having me.”

“Come back anytime,” Mr. Leeds said.

“You’re always welcome here, Peter!” Mrs. Leeds called after him as he opened the door.

“Thanks!”

The street was dark except for the headlights of a few passing vehicles. He pulled his hood up against the cool wind and took his phone out to read over the last message he received and squinted. His glasses were in his backpack, but he couldn’t be bothered to pull them out at the moment.

“Ah!” Someone gasped.

He had run straight into a woman on the sidewalk.

“Oh, I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you.”

“Yeah, no kidding!”

“I’m sorry,” Peter repeated gathering her groceries back into her bag.

The lady waved him off. “Just get home, kid. Nothing good ever happens after ten o’clock.”

“Right. Sorry, again.”

When he retrieved his phone from the sidewalk, there was a crack in it that resembled spider webbing.

“Ah, come on!” He whispered under his breath.

Peter Parker was reported missing later that evening.

Chapter Text

May Parker frowned at the last message she had sent to her nephew.

May, 09:23pm: Let me know when you’re on your way.

Peter, 09:24pm: Sure thing

Then, radio silence. It was almost 11:30, and Peter still hadn’t come home nor had he sent a message saying he was on the way.

She went to the kitchen to heat up the kettle and make herself a cup of herbal tea, one of the things the therapist had suggested when she began to worry.

It’s okay, May. He’s with Ned. He doesn’t know how late it is. You know how they get when they’re building Lego… You know…

Despite her self-reassurances, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. While the kettle heated, she went over to the window as if doing so would bring Peter home.

The kettle went off.

She jumped. “Dammit!”

So much for calming her nerves. While the tea steeped, May moved the bag up and down, aimlessly, watching the mint diffuse into the water. When the tea was ready, May went back to the couch and flicked through the channels, shivering as she passed a true crime story.

Once upon a time, May Parker was a fan of the ID channel, until her husband was shot right in front of her in an armed robbery.

May checked her phone again, still nothing. She shivered again, this time at nothing in particular.

“Well it couldn’t hurt,” She murmured to herself and dialed the Leeds’s house phone.

“Leeds residence,” a male answered.

“Mr. Leeds, it’s May Parker,” she began.

“Ms. Parker, what can I do for you?” He sounded confused, immediately putting May on edge.

“I was wondering if I could speak with Peter.”

“He left almost two hours ago. I’m sorry, May, did you say he’s not home yet?”

Cold dread went through her body. “What do you mean, he left two hours ago?”

“What’s going on?” Mrs. Leeds was saying in the background. “Is Peter not at home?”

“Peter isn’t here,” May said, quietly.

My child is missing, my child is missing.

“I’m sure he’s probably fine,” Mr. Leeds tried to reassure. “You know how they are at that age.”

“Yes, I know perfectly,” May was speaking from experience. “But Peter isn’t like that. He’s a good kid.”

“I think you should call the police, May.” Mrs. Leeds had apparently grabbed the phone from her husband.

“Yeah,” May said, shakily. “I should. I have to go.”

“Let us know what happens-”

She hung up and dialed 9-1-1.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“My son didn’t come home. He’s 15 years old. His name is Peter Parker. He left his friend’s house two hours ago, and he still isn’t home. This isn’t like him!”

“Ma’am, I need you to slow down. Take deep breaths.”

“Okay,” May sobbed.

“Okay. Now, tell me again. What’s your son’s name?”

“Peter Parker.”

“What was that?”

She cleared her throat and tried again. “Peter Parker, and he’s my nephew, actually. I’m his legal guardian.”

“And you said he’s fifteen, is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“When was the last time you saw him?”

“This morning. He went straight to his friend’s house after school.”

“And you can confirm that he was there?”

“Yes, I just talked to his friend’s parents. They said he left two hours ago, but he’s not home yet!”

“Okay, okay. Stay calm. Officers are on their way to ask you some more questions. Please stay on the line until they get there.”

 

May eyed her cup of tea in disdain while she waited. She knew something was wrong, knew it. She thought of Ben and Peter’s parents who probably never would have waited this long to call the police. If something happened to Peter, it was on her.

The pounding on the door broke her from her trance. “NYPD!”

“Okay, they’re here.”

“Alright, I’m going to hang up now. Good luck with your son.”

“Thank you,” May whispered, but the woman had already hung up.

 

“No! I’m telling you that this is unlike him. He- he would never do something like this. It’s completely out of character,” May cried, desperately trying to get the officer in front of her to understand the situation.

“Ma’am,” Captain Rogers interjected, elbowing the other. “My partner meant no disrespect. We’re just asking some routine questions.”

Captain Rogers was a tall, blonde hunk of a man with a calm, authoritative voice. She sat back in her chair and put her face into her palms.

“If we’re going to report Peter missing, we need a little bit more information about him. Do you have a photo we could use for reference?”

May sat in shock. She couldn’t believe this was really happening. They were going to put his picture on the news. “Absolutely. One second.”

She pulled Peter’s most recent school picture from its frame and handed it to Captain Rogers with shaking fingers.

“Thank you.”

“No problem,” she whispered but didn’t sit down.

May listened as Rogers began rattling off some details to his companion, Officer Barton. “Caucasian, brown hair, brown eyes. Ms. Parker, how tall is Peter?”

“5’7,” she answered automatically.

“Weight about 145?”

She nodded. Her nephew was thin.

“And he didn’t have his learner’s permit?”

“No.”

“It’s not uncommon, especially in New York. Don’t worry, but in the future, it is a good idea to get him an official ID even if he doesn’t drive.”

May nodded.

“We’ll find him,” Barton assured with a smile.

She didn’t miss the look that the captain gave the other officer. “We’ll do our best.”

Then, he turned steely eyes on Barton, “Get this information to the station. I’m going to ask Ms. Parker some more questions.”

“Okay, you gave us the Leeds’s address. We have already sent officers to talk to Ned’s parents and give official statements. Tell me, are Ned and Peter close?”

“Best friends.”

“Okay. Does he hang out with anyone else?”

“Not that I know of. Peter is kind of a loner, especially after his uncle passed.”

Rogers raised his eyebrows at that information.

“When did this happen?”

“February 2016.”

“And was the person caught?”

May shook her head.

“Okay, what activities is Peter involved in at school?”

“Academic Decathlon, Marching Band, Robotics Lab-”

“One second, let me right this down.”

“He’s a good kid,” Rogers said to Barton, showing him the information he had collected.

“Yeah, almost too good. Wonder what he’s hiding. What?” Barton asked when Rogers gave him a look.

“Don’t think for a second that I’ve forgotten about earlier.”

“It was just a question. We ask everyone if they’re on drugs. Totally valid.”

“Really, though? The kid’s aunt is terrified, and you’re accusing her son of being on drugs.”

“Nephew,” Barton corrected.

“What?”

“He’s her aunt. You said her son.”

Rogers rolled his eyes. “Alright, alright, smart aleck. Just get this information to Fury as fast as possible. I’m going to the friend’s house to oversee Banner and Thor.”

“You do realize who deals with missing persons, right?”

“How could I forget?”

“Want me to tell Stark that you said hello?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Are you disobeying my orders?”

“No sir,” Barton said with a grin.

“Yeah, yeah.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Tony Stark’s wife had gotten everything in the divorce including the penthouse and even their daughter. He was allowed to see Morgan every other Wednesday and in the presence of a counselor until he was deemed fit to take her every other weekend.

Aside from Morgan, losing the penthouse was one of Tony’s biggest failures.

“It doesn’t belong to you!” He had screamed during a drunken phone call. “My father left me that penthouse in his will!”

Other things were said, and it turned out Pepper had been recording him the entire time. He can’t say he remembers much of court, but he knows that he embarrassed himself greatly.

An alert had woken him up which was highly annoying since it had taken half a bottle of his single malt to drown out the sirens and horns that came through the thin walls of the dinky apartment.

“What is it?” He grumbled to himself. “Better be a fucking alien invasion coming through the sky over New York.”

05:21am: AMBER ALERT. MULTIPLE COUNTIES. REFER TO LOCAL MEDIA.

“For fuck’s sake,” he muttered, rolling over in bed before remembering that he was supposed to respond.

There were thirteen missed calls on his work phone.

5 from Barton.

6 from Steve.

2 from Fury.

“Shit.”

Tony remembered that he had silenced his work phone last night, so he could get some shut eye. He wasn’t sleeping and refused to take the pills afraid that his liver was already mush. It was only a matter of time before his skin and eyeballs jaundiced just like his father’s.

On his personal phone, there were two missed calls and a voicemail from Happy Hogan, his sponsor at AA. Oh yeah, there was a meeting last night.

He pushed himself out of bed, wincing at his aching muscles.

“Coffee,” he whispered in the dark. “Need coffee.”

 

The precinct was alight with activity for so early in the morning, Gotta love New York. The incessant typing was already making his hand twitch for a bottle. He pulled at the tie around his collar feeling uncomfortable in his work clothes he had worn the day before, and maybe even the day before that.

Tony couldn’t afford the dry-cleaning bill anymore with the child support he owed Pepper every month.

“Fury wants to see you,” Natasha said as he walked by her desk.

“No doubt.”

Several boxes of donuts were lined up on the tables in the breakroom. He rolled his eyes. Typical cops. Despite his negative feelings towards the fried, sugary dough, he plucked a couple for himself, the powder fell from his mouth and coated his chin.

“You been snorting something?” Rhodey teased.

“Yeah, yeah.”

Tony went past him straight to the office of Nicholas J. Fury, Director.

“Where the hell have you been?” The man himself demanded, staring Tony down with the eye that wasn’t covered with an eyepatch.

“The better question is, why was the Amber Alert put out five hours after the kid was reported missing? The first 24 hours are crucial. We don’t know this yet?” Tony fluttered his fingers imitating fairy dust floating off into the air.

Fury wouldn’t have any of it, however. “You were on call last night. I had to call Rogers and Barton in to cover.”

“Oh captain, my captain, I’m so scared.”

“Cut the bullshit, Tony, you smell like a brewery.” He lowered his voice. “I thought you had a meeting last night. You skipped it, didn’t you?”

Tony didn’t answer. He picked up an empty frame from Fury’s desk. “Nice family.”

It was a running joke of Tony’s. Fury refused to mix his work and family life and kept a frame with a bow still on it that his daughter had given him for Father’s Day.

“I should take your badge, I really should,” Fury mused, pacing his office.

“Yeah, you know I’m the best.”

“Only when you haven’t been drinking.”

“Eh, just give me everything those numbskulls have so far. I’m sure I’ll have to go back and get everything they missed. Better get started.”

Fury handed him a folder, and Tony opened it, flicking through the pages.

“No phone records, no pictures of the kid’s room. Looks like I have my work cut out for me.” He stood up to leave.

“Your badge is already on probation,” Fury threatened. “Don’t fuck this up.”

 

Tony went straight to his cubicle in the back of the office. He demanded peace and quiet when he was working. He rolled his eyes when he felt a certain presence behind him.

“I’m a detective, Rogers, let me work.”

“How’d you know I was there?”

“I could hear you breathing.”

Steve walked further into the cubicle and sat down in the chair beside Tony’s. “I need to give you everything I have.”

“Already got it,” Tony said, holding up the manila folder. “By the way, you and Barton are surprisingly terrible at data collection. Actually, no. That’s not surprising at all.”

“Yeah, because we were trying to do the job designed for you. I can’t be everywhere at once, Tony.”

“Are you not the Captain?”

Steve sighed. “I knew you were mad about that.”

“Hey, I was just going through a divorce, and my partner in crime, literally, swoops in and takes the position.”

“You know you weren’t fit for the job,” Steve said tilting his head to look Tony in the eyes.

A brief moment passed between the pair, and Tony almost missed working with Steve. But he was terrible about holding grudges.

“Shoo!” Tony said sweeping his hand toward Steve. “I’ve got work to do.”

“I’m going home to get some rest. If you need anything, have any questions, call me.”

Steve finally stood up and turned to leave. He held his breath.

“Oh yeah, and Wilson is on the case with you.”

Tony swiveled around so fast, the mechanism on the chair almost broke. “Excuse me?”

“Sorry. Rhodey’s already working on something else.”

He rolled his eyes at that. “You know that’s a dead end, a cold file.”

Steve shrugged. “You never know. Everything that’s come out recently, new technology. We could actually find a connection this time.”

 

Wade Wilson was exactly where Tony expected to find him, on his computer playing a videogame. He quickly exited out when he realized Tony was standing behind him.

“I saw that.”

“Yeah, well. I’ve been waiting for you to show up since like forever.”

Tony rolled his eyes. What was up with these millennials?

He turned and walked away, only stopping when he realized Wade hadn’t followed him. “Let’s go!”

Wade jumped up from his seat and followed Tony out like a little puppy.

“So, what’s first, boss?”

Tony paused when they got to the black car without any police insignia.

“Let’s set a few ground rules,” Tony began. “Number one, I’m not your boss, I’m your partner.”

Wade’s eyes filled with excitement, and he opened his mouth to say something.

“Ep! Not finished talking. Number two, where I go, you go. Number three, I’ll save your ass, and you better save mine. Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What’s rule number one, Wade?”

“You’re not my boss.”

“Exactly. So, don’t call me sir.”

“Right.”

 

“The incompetence!” Tony growled to himself on the way over to Queens.

“What are we doing first, boss? I mean, Tony.”
“We’re going to the kid’s apartment to get photos of his bedroom. You good with a camera?”

“Y-yeah, I think so.”

“You think so? Well, it doesn’t matter anyway. I just need to get a feel for the kid’s space.”

He could feel Wade’s wide eyes on him. “Oh, I’ve heard about this. You have some sort of sixth sense.”

Not sixth sense. I just notice things others don’t.”

“So, like a sixth sense.”

“Whatever floats your boat, Wade.”

Chapter Text

Mrs. Delmar lived with Mr. Delmar above their deli on a busy street corner in Queens. They rose before the sun to bake the bread fresh for their famous sandwiches. This morning, the couple was particularly groggy as they had stayed up late the evening before.

The smell of coffee permeated the air; this was their second pot of the day. Mrs. Delmar chastised her husband on the amount of coffee he drank, but at the last minute, she would always say: “Well, go ahead and pour me one as well.”

The news cycled three times before the matron took notice of the familiar face on the television screen.

“Turn it up!” Mrs. Delmar demanded.

“And this morning, breaking news, about a local teenager reported missing last night in Queens. 15-year-old, Peter Parker, student at Midtown Tech, was last seen leaving his friend’s house around 9:30 last night. When he didn’t come home, his aunt called 9-1-1. Here is a recent picture of the teen. He is Caucasian with brown hair and brown eyes. He is 5’7 and around 145 pounds. If you have any information, we ask that you please call the number at the bottom of the screen.”

Mr. Delmar stopped what he was doing. “Peter?”

“I saw him last night!” Mrs. Delmar exclaimed. “He was looking at his phone and ran straight into me!”

“What? That doesn’t sound like Peter. Did you have your glasses on?”

“Yes!” She spluttered. “It was Peter! Oh my God. I need to call that number.”

…….

“Five dollars for a Cuban? Not bad.” Tony murmured to himself while Wade alternated between pushing his hands into his pockets and crossing his arms.

Steve had called that morning on their way over to Queens.

“Tony, where are you?”

“On the way to Queens, where else?”

There was a sigh. “Okay, listen. There’s a new lead. A woman saw Peter on his way home that night.”

Tony’s ears perked up at that.

“What time?”

“Just before ten, she thinks.”

“She thinks or she knows?” Tony said in irritation. He couldn’t stand other people’s non-concept of time.

“Tony…” Steve knew him too well. “This is our first lead. Don’t screw it up.”

“Alright, alright. Where am I going?”

“Delmar’s. It’s a sandwich shop the woman owns with her husband.”

“Good. I was feeling snackish.”

He went to hang up, but Steve’s voice stopped him.

“And Tony?”

“Listening.”

“Good luck.”

It was the captain who hung up first.

The sandwiches ended up being on the house. Apparently, the couple were fans of the young Mr. Parker.

“How long have you two known each other?” Tony asked casually, wiping his mouth with a napkin. “Delicious, by the way.”

“Twenty-two years,” Mrs. Delmar whispered. The woman looked as if she’d seen a ghost.

“How long have you known Mr. Parker?”

It was Mr. Delmar who spoke this time, slowly rubbing circles into the back of his wife’s hand. “Pff, Peter? Since forever. His parents used to bring him in before they passed, then it was his aunt and uncle before the uncle passed.”

Tony’s eyebrows shot up. He had seen something about it in the file but hadn’t read too closely.

Well, he thought, That’s really fucking sad.

“But now he comes in everyday after school for a sandwich. Let me tell you something, that kid can eat, but he never gains a pound. I’m jealous,” Mr. Delmar joked before remembering the circumstances of the situation. “Have you heard anything yet?”

Tony held out his hands. “You’re looking at it.”

“This is really something,” Mr. Delmar mused. “Kids can’t even walk home at night. Didn’t used to be this way.”

Did the man live under a rock? Tony refrained from letting this sentiment show on his face and turned to Mrs. Delmar.

“I understand that you were the one who saw Peter?”

“Yes,” she answered. Her pallor had not changed throughout the detective’s conversation with her husband. “I think I need a glass of water.”

“Take your time,” Tony said smoothly while he really felt like strangling the woman. Did she not know they were on a time crunch? The first twenty-four hours were crucial

Wade nudged him, and he relaxed.

When Mrs. Delmar sat down again, she readjusted her skirt a few times before folding her hands in her lap. “Okay, I’m ready.”

“What time did you see Mr. Parker?”

“About ten o’clock?”

“Before or after, would you say?”

“After.”

Tony exhaled through his nose. Jesus.

“No! Before, before.”

Wade patted her hand reassuringly.

Tony wondered if the sandwich shop owner’s wife was like this then how must the aunt be?

“Describe the situation to me.”

“Well, I was leaving the grocery just down the street. I had to get some last-minute things, creamer, lettuce, things like that so we could open the shop the following morning.”

Wade smiled encouragingly. “And then?”

“And well, then Peter ran straight into me, but I didn’t recognize him until I got home. I was tired.”

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“I, uh-” She looked to her husband for help.

“Go on,” He encouraged.

Tony interrupted, however. “But you’re sure it was him?”

“Without a doubt.” And on that, the woman lost all shakiness. Tony could see the certainty in her eyes, could feel it more, really.

“Okay.” Tony sighed looking at the paper where Wade was recording everything. What was he saying? Oh, yes.

“You said that Peter ran straight into you as if he didn’t see you. Why do you think that is?”

“Well, you know how kids are these days. I love Peter, but he really shouldn’t be on his phone so late at night. He could walk right out in front of a car, and he’s not very big, he could be mugged or, or…” She trailed off when she realized that what she was going to say next was certainly on the table. Yes, kidnapped.

“Okay, so he was on his phone,” Tony prompted. “Would you say he was distracted by what he saw?”

“Yes, I suppose so. He seemed,” She paused, searching for the right word. “Concentrated.”

Bingo.

Tony recalled something from Barton’s notes about the kid being distracted the previous evening, checking his phone often.

One thing was certain, there was definitely something on that phone.

On their way back to the car, Tony barked out his orders to Wade. “I need phone records. Text messages, emails, Facebook messenger, weird chatrooms. Everything. Go.”

Chapter Text

Aaron Davis waited underneath a bridge in Queens.

Beck was late which had Aaron annoyed; he was missing his nephew’s birthday party for this. However, he was sure that he could find some wall for the kid to spray paint, and all would be forgiven. And anyway, no one else in the family wanted him there.

It was after ten, when the utility van sped up. Aaron was immediately on edge at the crazed look in Beck’s eyes. In his experience, that look meant one thing. Trouble or murder.

Aaron raised an eyebrow at the other man. “What’s up?”

“Hey, man,” Beck responded, not meeting his eyes as they shook hands.

Maybe he was tweaking…

This wasn’t likely as Beck, himself, had been known to give the advice of never using anything you were dealing, be it weapons, drugs, hookers. None of the outcomes were good. Prison, addiction, disease to name a few unwanted effects.

When Beck opened the van, Aaron detected movement from underneath a blanket. Something, or more likely, someone was struggling.

He raised his eyebrows but didn’t say anything as Beck unloaded the weapons. Aaron quickly popped open his own trunk. While they loaded Aaron’s trunk, he could make out a few muffled cries, and when his back was turned, he heard a thump and then nothing.

Aaron felt uneasy. Beck was usually charismatic, so something was amiss.

“Yo, bro. What have you got in there?”

Beck smiled. “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”

Aaron returned the smile but felt even more uneasy. It wasn’t the first time that he had suspected Beck was into more than weapons dealing.

One thing was certain, he didn’t want anything to do with the person in the back of the van.

 

The following morning, Aaron played his nephew’s voicemail as he dried himself off and dressed for the day.

“Hey, Uncle Aaron. I was wondering what happened to you last night. Are you okay? I mean, I’m sure you had some important business going on. I miss you. Call me back. Um, it’s Miles. Love you, bye.”

Aaron’s heartstrings tugged at the disappointment in Miles’s voice. He wished he could make his nephew understand, but it was impossible as he wouldn’t involve Miles in this business in any way, shape, or form. Besides, his father was a cop and mother a nurse.

They were good people who lived in the good part of Queens while Aaron had his apartment a little more towards the riffraff. From experience, he knew this didn’t mean much, however. Bad things happened everywhere.

There were a few messages that he had refused to look at the previous evening.

Miles, 08:31pm: Hey, everyone’s here. Where u at?

Miles, 09:01pm: Sorry. We cut the cake without u

Miles: 09:31pm: Are u ok

He was in the middle of typing a message when his phone emitted a loud noise.

Aaron dropped to the ground.

His breathing changed to one of panic until he realized that it was just an amber alert.

05:21am: AMBER ALERT. MULTIPLE COUNTIES. REFER TO LOCAL MEDIA.

Curious, he turned on the TV and flicked through the channels until he found the news.

There, a picture of a teen about his nephew’s age filled the screen. He furrowed his eyebrows as a streak of protectiveness went through him. Fifteen-year-old boys didn’t just go missing. Sure, they were mugged or beaten up, but missing? And in his neighborhood?

Aaron didn’t like that one bit.

Peter Parker was the kid’s name, and he attended Midtown Tech, Miles’s new school. He wondered if the pair knew each other.

“…about a local teenager reported missing last night in Queens. 15-year-old, Peter Parker, student at Midtown Tech, was last seen leaving his friend’s house around 9:30 last night. When he didn’t come home, his aunt called 9-1-1. Here is a recent picture of the teen. He is Caucasian with brown hair and brown eyes. He is 5’7 and around 145 pounds. If you have any information, we ask that you please call the number at the bottom of the screen.”

Aaron didn’t know why, but he immediately thought of Beck. He had forgotten about the man’s odd behavior up until he saw the news.

The two couldn’t be connected, could they?

He felt uneasy, and his sixth sense was tingling. Something was not right.

Aaron erased the message he had originally written to Miles.

Aaron, 06:02am: Hey, little nephew. Sorry I couldn’t make it last night. Something came up. Stay safe, my man

Aaron, 06:04am: Do you happen to know this kid

He sent a link to an article online.

The anchor woman’s voice seemed to be on repeat in his head. “If you have any information, we ask that you please call the number at the bottom of the screen.”

Aaron liked to think that he was still a good person despite all of the things he had done, but he hesitated. Crossing Beck would only cause trouble for himself and his family. Miles. But he liked to think someone would do the same for his own nephew if he were missing.

He struggled with these thoughts the rest of the day before pushing them out of his mind. He needed to focus.

Chapter Text

An unusually attractive woman with brown hair and glasses answered the door. Looking past her natural beauty, Tony could see the kid’s aunt was visibly shaken. There were bags under her eyes and a stain on her shirt.

It was clear that Peter Parker was not a kid who just didn’t come home.

“Good day, madame. My name is Tony Stark. I’m the detective in charge of your nephew’s case. This is my partner, Wade Wilson, who will be assisting me today.” If he’d had a hat, he would have taken it off and held it in his hands like in one of those old crime TV shows.

“He-llo,” She cleared her throat and started over. “Hello, I’m May Parker.”

She held out a slim hand for the pair to shake.

“It’s a pleasure. May we come in?”

May stepped aside to reveal a living room that had been ransacked by devastation. Tissues and teacups littered every surface. If one looked closely, one would notice that none of the cups had actually been drunk. Teabags had been left in water to steep, forgotten in the woman’s grief.

“I-I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I didn’t think that anyone would be back by today.”

“It’s quite alright,” Tony assured.

This was the first time that Wade had heard Tony sound so caring. He wondered if it had more to do with the fact the woman was unusually attractive than the case itself.

They sat down while May quickly stuffed her used tissues into a grocery sack.

“Don’t worry, dear,” Tony said, and Wade looked at him as if he had a third head.

May eventually sat down after offering them coffee and cookies multiple times; they had refused.

“We got a call this morning,” Tony began.

May sat up, hope gleaming in her eyes. “Yes?”

“Are you familiar with the Delmar’s deli?”

“Of course.”

“Well, Mrs. Delmar ran into Peter last night, literally, I’m afraid. He was on his phone and ran straight into her.”

“Oh.”

“Ms. Parker, I need to ask you a question.”

“Go ahead. Anything.” May sat forward, eagerly.

“Have you noticed anything off about Peter?”

She thought. “Nothing more than the usual. He’s been different since his uncle passed. I don’t know how familiar you are with the case. Um, his parents passed when he was younger, and his uncle and I took him in. His uncle, my husband, passed just last year.”

Tony was silent for a moment, letting May experience her grief before he asked his next question.

“Would Peter ever run away from home?”

“No,” May shook her head frantically. “Never.”

“But you said he has been different since your husband passed.”

May nodded. “Withdrawn, I suppose. He still goes to all of his activities. He’s an excellent student.”

Tony smiled, encouragingly. “I heard. You must be proud.”

“I am,” she smiled despite the situation. “He’s an excellent kid. Never gives me any problems. Sometimes, I have to push him to be social. Ned’s his only friend, but that’s not really anything new. He’s always been somewhat of a loner.”

Tony nodded as Wade wrote and adjusted the recorder on the table.

“Maybe, he’s just been distant from me. We’re still trying to find our footing without Ben.”

“Would it be okay if I took a look at Peter’s room and took some photos as well?’

“Absolutely. It’s kind of a mess. I haven’t touched anything.”

“Don’t touch anything,” Tony said in a stern voice. “I need to see it just the way he left it.”

May led the way down a small hallway. The kid’s room was even smaller than he expected. Space was not cheap in New York, even in Queens. Tony was well aware of this fact as he had scouted for real estate for the first time in his life during his divorce.

“You have the camera, Wade?”

Wade nodded and uncapped the sleek, professional device.

“I’ll leave you to it,” May said, about to close the door.

“Uh, one more thing, Ms. Parker,” Tony said.

She paused, expectantly.

“We’re waiting for the phone records to come back. May I, by chance, see your last conversation with Peter?”

“Sure.”

She handed the device over. He noticed that it was not password protected and that her battery was at 100%. Attentive.

May, 09:23pm: Let me know when you’re on your way.

Peter, 09:24pm: Sure thing

After that, it had been a one-sided conversation with worried messages from May.

Tony read over the messages before handing May’s phone back to her. “Thank you.”

May nodded and excused herself, shutting the door behind her.

While Wade took photos, Tony closed his eyes and held his palms open.

Wade interrupted almost immediately. “Are you doing the thing?”

Tony sighed. “Wade.”

“Sorry.”

He closed his eyes once more.

Immediately, he felt a surge of emotions and energy. The kid was sad, no doubt. There was a tinge of sexual energy. That was the next strongest thing he picked up. The third was fear. He supposed PTSD could do that to anyone especially surrounding the circumstances of Ben’s murder. He’d look up the exact police report and autopsy when he got back to the station.

There was something specific, akin to radio waves emanating from the corner, a clue perhaps.

Behind his closed lids, Tony saw message after message in rapid succession, too fast for him to read any. It was too much, and he opened his eyes, swaying with dizziness.

“Boss, you alright?”

Wade had a hold of his arm, steadying Tony.

He felt sick to his stomach. Something awful had happened to Peter Parker. He could feel it in his gut.

“The computer,” he managed to get out.

Wade turned the old thing on. “This thing’s ancient. Suppose the kid built it himself?”

“He’s a smart kid from what I gather.”

Tony wiped off the sheen of sweat that coated his brow while they waited for the computer to boot up.

“It’s password protected, boss.”

“Were you not a hacking major, or whatever?”

Wade snickered. “Computer science.”

“Same thing.” Tony frowned. “Stop calling me boss.”

“Let’s be honest. You’re a boss.”

“Fine.”

A few minutes went by while Wade hacked into the computer.

“I’m in,” Wade finally said.

Tony went to stand over his shoulder to get a peak. Wade glanced over his shoulder at Tony. “There’s no way that a kid knew this. He had help.”

He nodded. The energy of the room was starting to make sense.

“You don’t suppose someone online…” Wade began.

“That’s what we’re trying to find out.”

They eventually made it to a chatroom after a series of complicated hacking tricks. Oh, Peter. Tony thought. Please, no.

It turned out the chatroom was empty, no messages, no contacts. Everything had been deleted.

“Let’s take it into the station,” Tony ordered, and Wade began unhooking it. “I’m sure the kid’s aunt won’t mind.”

Tony looked from the Star Wars Lego set to the unmade bed to the pajamas on the floor, all evidence of a boy being picked up from his life without any warning. He sunk down on the bed and put a hand to his face so that it covered his eyes. Maybe the pressure would keep the tears there.

Tony played the recording of Ned Leeds’s interview back.

Steve’s voice filled the room.

“Did you notice anything off about Peter before he went missing?”

There was the sound of leather crackling as if the kid were shifting around.

“He’s been kind of weird lately, distracted I suppose.”

“What about last night? Anything specific that was off?”

“Just that his aunt was texting him the whole night.”

Wade and Tony exchanged looks.

Something wasn’t adding up; May had shown them messages off her phone.

They needed those phone records.

On the way out, Tony had one question for the kid’s unusually attractive aunt.

“Is there anyone significant in Peter’s life that you know of?”

May furrowed her eyebrows. “What? Like a girlfriend?”

Tony nodded, preferring to keep the pronouns ambiguous.

“No, not at all. He went to Homecoming with a girl, Liz, but she moved away.”

“Thank you.”

Chapter Text

 

The smell of burnt coffee permeated the office, and Scott apologized for the millionth time. Rhodey’s voice came from down the way.

“Yeah, and no one cares. Move on.”

Tony smirked. His friend had such a way with words.

He couldn’t help snagging a few pieces as his colleague passed with the large bowl.

“Hey!”

“Sharing is caring,” Tony called after Scott who had his shoulders hunched over the bowl while batting Quill’s hand away.

The clicking of heels accompanied by the scent of a floral perfume was all the anecdote needed for Peggy Carter. She was carrying a stack of papers about three inches thick.

“Finally,” Tony scoffed then winked.

She sucked her cheeks in and held the papers out.

“I don’t like to be handed things.”

The stack landed with a loud thwap on his desk.

“Thanks, dear.”

Peggy didn’t dignify that with a response and turned on her heel. He would be lying if he said that he didn’t watch her go.

He rubbed his hands together eagerly. “Alright, Mr. Parker.”

One moment, Tony was in a cheap office chair, and the next, he was in a teenager’s body.

 

Peter sat excitedly in front of the computer he built himself. He had created his profile the evening before but took all of the following day to work up the nerve to reply to any of the messages the other users sent, most of which were pretty crude.

X309lq: hey pretty boy, wanna play

He deleted that one straight away. The others weren’t much better. Although Peter didn’t appreciate being talked to so vulgarly, he couldn’t help but feel intrigued by the idea that someone though he looked good enough to ‘play with’.

After scrolling for some ways, Peter came across a polite message.

ADEN: Hey, how are you? I couldn’t help but notice the science pun on the shirt you’re wearing in your profile pic. That’s funny; I like science, too.

An electric zing went down Peter’s spine. Someone thought his shirt was funny and a very attractive someone by the looks of it. A click on ADEN’s profile showed a muscular brunette holding a puppy and looking into the camera.

“Aw,” he said aloud while pouting his lips at the screen. “Aren’t you just the cutest?”

PP2001: Hi

PP2001: I’m good. How are you?

PP2001: Thanks for the compliment. Most people think it’s super nerdy… Anyway, that puppy in your profile pic is sooo cute. What’s its name?

He didn’t get a response until it was time to go to bed.

ADEN: Her name is Tessa. I’m good as well.

ADEN: What are you up to?

PP2001: Nothing, really. Was about to go to bed but saw that you replied.

He felt like such an idiot after sending something so immature sounding.

ADEN: You sleepy?

PP2001: Yeah.

ADEN: Go to bed. We can pick this back up tomorrow.

ADEN: Sweet dreams.

Peter frowned in confusion at how considerate this random stranger was being. Maybe there were normal people on this site after all.

PP2001: Ok :)

ADEN: Ttyt :)

When Peter arrived home the following day, he zoomed through his remaining homework so that he could jump online to check his inbox.

There was one from this morning.

ADEN: I hope you have a good day!
Peter smiled. A welcoming warmth entered his body and spread from his core to his extremities. Nothing had felt this real since before, well since before.

He didn’t like to think about Ben’s death and side-stepped any though train leading in that direction.

PP2001: Just got home and saw your message. You’re so sweet. I did have a good day, actually.

ADEN: This may seem like a weird question but are you in high school?

Peter’s stomach dropped. Oh, no.

Lie, lie! His brain screamed, but he was honest to a fault.

PP2001: Ok, you caught me. How’d you know?

ADEN: Well you’re username. It’s okay, though.

PP2001: I’m sorry! I know the site says 18+ but I’m like really lonely. I know how pathetic that sounds or whatever, but I promise that I delete anything inappropriate.

He waited while ADEN typed out his message. The three dots appeared and disappeared like the other was working really hard on how he worded his response.

ADEN: It’s cool. I could report you, but I won’t. You seem like a good guy.

Peter felt like he was going to cry when he read the response.

PP2001: Thank you! You don’t know how much this means to me, for real.

ADEN: I might have an idea.

 

“Gah!” Tony gasped as he was thrust from a bedroom in Queens back into his dinky chair.

He was honestly scared to touch the pile of paper for fear of getting sucked in again. He quickly glanced at the clock that showed only five minutes had passed, however. The time space continuum was funny like that.

Five minutes or two days, a pot of coffee was in order. If he slipped a little extra something into his cup, that was his business, but necessary as further investigation proved ADEN to be not so nice.

 

“Tony,” Steve said.

The detective didn’t jump; however, he had been aware of Steve’s presence long before he announced himself.

“I’m working.”

“I can see that. I can also see that you’re in the same spot that I left you. That was twelve hours ago. You’re shift’s over.”

“I can’t go home.”

“Tony…”

“No. You don’t understand. I can’t.” He slid over the phone records that had come through.

There was page after page of messages between Peter and some pervert.

Steve reluctantly picked it up.

ADEN, 20:03: We’re so close, baby

PP2001, 20:04: I’m not sure…

PP2001,20:05: I wanna see you daddy but

ADEN, 20:06: But what baby? It’s just me

That was from the night that Peter went missing. What had once been a suspected abduction was now a confirmed abduction.

Tony felt sick as he read up until the moment Peter had been taken. The worst part was that Peter didn’t want to go with this ADEN person. He was trying to talk his way out of meeting with the creep, and that’s when the threats towards his aunt started.

The messages started in November, and it was April. Six months of grooming. The predator’s words were stuck in Tony’s brain, repeating over and over.

Touch yourself, baby

Yes just like that…

Oh baby boy, when we’re together I’m going to love you so hard

And Peter’s responses were worse.

Daddy yes

I like it

Do I have your permission to cum?

Tony was no stranger to being called daddy in the bedroom, but in this context, it was disgusting.

The worst conversation went like this.

PP2001: I came today by myself, I’m sorry…

ADEN: Peter, what have I told you about that?

ADEN: You must ask permission

PP2001: :(

ADEN: Now, use your dildo until I tell you to stop

ADEN: And send video footage so I know you’re not lying. Again.

And not a few hours later:

PP2001: I just feel like I can really be myself with you

PP2001: You make me feel safe

Steve himself looked as if he would be sick now.

“I can’t go home,” Tony repeated. “Not while this sick fucker is out there, and Peter is with him. Steve, he could be trapped somewhere in a basement, or worse.”


“I understand,” Steve said nodding his head understandingly. “But if you don’t sleep, you can’t do your best.”

“We’re coming up on the 24 hours.”

Steve sighed. “Fine, but I’m going to help.”

“Tony,” Peggy interrupted. “There’s a May Parker on the phone for you.”

The detective was so distraught that he didn’t even comment on how Steve’s gaze lingered a little too long on the agent.

“Oh, my God, his aunt,” Tony put his face into his hands. “What am I going to tell his aunt?”

Steve placed a hand on his shoulder. “Tony, it’s going to be alright.”

Tony looked at the man as if he were a loon. Did he not see the evidence?! Did he not know the statistics? And every second, every minute that ticked by made the odds of finding Peter Parker more and more slim.

“It’s going to be alright; it’s going to be alright,” Tony said lowly. “It is not going to be alright!”

He snapped, his body heaving heavily as he glared at his former partner.

The precinct went silent for a moment before activity picked up again.

“Do you have any idea what we’re dealing with here? Because I sure as hell don’t. The kid could be in fucking Asia for all we know. Nobody has been able to trace a single message. Nada.” Tony slammed his hand on his desk. “For fuck’s sake!”

“Well, what does your gut tell you?”

Tony widened his eyes.

Steve lowered his voice and stepped closer. “I know a lot of people here take you for granted, but Wade told me what you did earlier. Your gift led you right to that computer.”

Of course, Wade had told everyone, but Tony hadn’t said it was a secret, either. He’d just assumed the young detective was bright enough to keep his trap shut. He assumed wrong.

Tony sighed. “I can’t just make it work. I- it takes time, preparation. Energy.”

“Energy that you don’t have because you’ve been drinking. I know how this works. I was your partner for twelve years. That’s gotta count for something.”

Well, shit. Tony nodded and sat back down with a huff.

“Right now, Tony, you need to talk to his aunt.”

He looked at the picture of Peter Parker in the open file of his desk. The kid had an angelic face right down to the cherub lips, his rosy cheeks, and bright eyes. No wonder he was a target.

Tony looked at the blinking light that signified that May Parker was on hold.

Where are you, kid?

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Ms. Parker,” Tony began.

Steve could tell the detective was nervous by the way his voice rose just the slightest and how he twirled the cord around his finger.

“I’m well- well, actually, we did find something in the phone records. Captain Rogers and I will be by shortly to explain the situation, if that’s alright, honey.”

Steve frowned at the pet name Tony used. He had, in fact, seen the kid’s aunt and knew she was attractive. This was something he chose to ignore unlike Barton.

Oh, God… Okay, okay. That’s fine.

May’s distraught voice could be heard over the receiver. Steve met Tony’s eyes, and they both frowned at the same time.

If it was possible, May looked even more disheveled than when Tony had seen her that morning.

“Ma’am,” Steve nodded, taking off his cap.

They stood awkwardly in the entryway until May seemed to remember herself.

“Oh, yes, sit down, please. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Steve said, politely. “We understand.”

Tony suddenly got a flash of something.

A slight figure was walking briskly, looking over his shoulder then down at the glowing device in his palm.

“Tony?”

The screeching of tires filled his ears followed by the boy’s screams. Peter.

“Mr. Stark?”

Tony could feel the whiteness in his face as his blood pressure dropped, and he threatened to fall over.

“Tony…” Steve said, worriedly, eyes searching his own, knowingly.

Oh, he wanted to know what Tony had seen.

“I’m fine,” he kept insisting over and over.

“When was the last time you ate?” Steve raised an eyebrow.

Tony wanted to roll his eyes. “Let’s just get on with it. I’ll be fine.”

What he needed was a drink, to make the visions go away.

Steve clasped his hands together, entering business mode. “Ms. Parker, we found evidence of a hidden relationship.”

That was a nice way to put it. Flowery.

The other nudged Tony’s thigh as if he knew exactly what he was thinking.

“What kind of relationship?” May’s tone had shifted to one of shock.

“How do I phrase this? The relationship, we suspect, was predatory.”

“Oh, my God…”

Nothing made sense to her anymore, not the pictures in their frames, not the flowers on her throw pillows.

“Why would he do something like that?”

“It’s not uncommon for kids of the LGBTQ+ community to become victims of sexual predators, especially online. Often times, they feel as if they have no one to turn to.”

“I- I didn’t know.” May looked as if she’d seen a ghost.

Steve and Tony exchanged a look that meant more or less, is that a problem?

Tony was briefly aware of Steve softly speaking to May when another vision hit him. He felt as if he were suffocating.

There were voices speaking; he called out, but his voice was muffled.

Then, he was back on the sofa, and May was mumbling things, denial.

But it was just too much for Tony, and he couldn’t even have a drink. He stood up abruptly.

“How the hell do you not know something like that?” Tony snarled.

May was curled in on herself.

“Tony, Tony, Tony, hey,” Steve had a hold of his arm and was pulling him back. “I think it’s time to cool down, huh?”

Tony tore his arm from Steve’s grasp and left the apartment. He went to the unmarked car and pulled his emergency cigarettes from the glove box.

He sucked the lightning hot smoke into his lungs practically feeling the tissue in his chest crisp up. He coughed but took in a few more drags.

Steve didn’t look happy when he exited the building a little while later. There was a smattering of drops on his shoulder as if he had held May while she cried. It was a silent ride back to the precinct.

In the breakroom, Tony fell into a chair with his head in his hands. He had taken out his contacts in the bathroom and replaced them with purple tinted lenses. The whole situation was a mess, and he could feel the Parker boy slipping from his grasp. It was maddening.

It wasn’t even five minutes later that the director stepped into the breakroom, closing the door behind him. He waited for the chastising but didn’t bother sitting up straight.

“Rogers told me what happened tonight,” Fury said as he walked around the table. “You want to know what I think?”

Tony fought the urge to roll his eyes at the rhetorical question.

“I think you’re getting too close to the situation. You need to back up and do so quickly, or I’ll pull you off the case.”

He inclined his head to look over the rims of his glasses at the director. “You know that without me, the odds of finding the Parker boy are next to nothing.”

“Which is why I’m counting on you to get your head right. May Parker is counting on you to find her son.” Fury was used to his antics.

“Nephew.”

“I don’t see the difference,” Fury paused. “And I don’t think you want me calling in reinforcement.”

The threat hung between them in there, and Tony nodded his head to let Fury know he had been heard. The last thing he wanted was for the case to be handed over to another detective, especially not Justin Hammer who had recently transferred. Tony didn’t think there was one person in the office that wanted that idiot back.

He had thought Nebula was going to strangle the man, and Tony had a bet going with Scott. Nobody won in the end, but they were ecstatic with Hammer’s departure, nonetheless.

 

The next thirty-six hours yielded absolutely nothing aside from what they already knew. No one on their team was able to trace the messages.

“48 hours,” Tony said more to himself than Steve who had perched against the wall with his arms crossed. He could practically feel the pity rolling off the captain.

“There could still be a lead.”

“What if we’ve failed him?” Tony turned his head to look into Steve’s eyes. “What if I failed his aunt? What if Peter never comes home?”

Steve sighed. “I’m not going to pretend that it’s not a possibility.”

He put his hand on Tony’s shoulder to really drive his point home. “But I can promise you that we will do everything and exhaust all of our resources before we stop looking, and even then, we may still keep looking.”

His heart warmed at the fact that his once partner was trying to stay optimistic for his own sake. It wasn’t helping, but he appreciated the thought.

“What’s got you so in your head about this case, anyway?” Steve asked.

Tony had been hoping that Steve wouldn’t ask that question. He didn’t want to think long enough about it to answer.

He shrugged. “I guess I can relate to the kid. Dead parents and all.”

“Is that all it is?”

“Is that all it is,” Tony scoffed. “Like there needs to be more.”

But once again, the captain had hit the nail right on the head. He needed a distraction.

“You know what sounds good?”

“Tony,” Steve warned.

“I’m not going to drink, promise.” His right hand was twitching at the very thought, and he curled his hand into a fist so that the captain wouldn’t notice.

“You know you can call me, right? If you need to talk it out. There’s Happy as well who is worried sick about you, by the way. It wouldn’t hurt to give him a call.”

Tony waved that away. “I’ll call when I’m ready. He needs to learn boundaries.”

“He’s supposed to be the one to break past those boundaries, to protect you from yourself.”

Damn it, Steve.

“Bingo.”

Steve didn’t look enthusiastic at Tony’s sarcasm, and then Tony felt bad. He had all these people that cared about him, and he didn’t have the will to return any of their sentiments when they truly meant well.

When Tony got home that evening, he didn’t drink. He simply fell into bed and was soon fast asleep.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Senator Stern was a pudgy, balding man in his early fifties. He took the evening flight from D.C. to the small stretch of land in the Caribbean. It wasn’t terribly big; if you blinked, you would miss it.

At approximately 8:30pm, he was served his in-flight meal of charred mahi-mahi with a side of asparagus and brown rice. Because he was good, he allowed himself the small bowl of passion fruit gelato the lovely flight attendant offered.

The drinks began shortly after the empty dish was swiped away. It was around 11pm when he got a lap dance that led to the small cabin at the back of the jet. Around 4:30am, a young girl gently woke him and led him through the foggy, humid air to his cabana.

Cushy clouds of pillows surrounded Stern when he awoke. Past the mosquito netting, he could make out sky-blue walls with abstract nude figures painted with light brush strokes. It was the best he had slept in a long time.

When he appeared at brunch, the host had already eaten, and a small glass of juice and a newspaper was all that was left on the table.

“Good morning,” a brunette greeted with a polite smile.

The host glanced up then clapped his hands together. “Welcome to Titan,” he boomed. “Tell me, how was your flight, Senator? Gamora tells me you enjoyed the in-flight- er, service.”

Stern smiled tightly at the reference to his late-night activities. He didn’t realize they would keep such a close eye on him. He sat stiffly beside the large man at the head of the table. A heavy hand dropped on his shoulder.

“Relax,” Thanos teased.

A brunch consisting of crab benedict, various fruits, and espresso was presented to him.

“So, tell me,” Thanos drawled hallway into Stern’s second biscuit topped with creamy crustacean. “How’s everything on Capitol Hill?”

His fingers were steepled and shoulders hunched forward in great interest.

Stern shrugged. “The usual. You probably know more than me given your contacts.”

“I find it… useful to have friends in high places.”

They chuckled together at this.

As Stern’s mind de-fogged from the late-night, he took in more and more of his surroundings, from the hand-crafted wood of his chair’s armrests to the gold trimmed champagne flutes Gamora offered before making herself scarce again.

He felt Thanos watching him as he turned his whole body to look out the window behind him. The soft morning light was rapidly turning into high sun as noon approached. He squinted past this to the pool where a young man who couldn’t have been more than sixteen waded through the water with a net, pulling out articles of debris. He was perhaps the most clothed out of all the staff members Stern had seen thus far aside from Gamora.

Thanos hummed softly at his fixation of the boy wore a pair of swim trunks that fell to the midpoint of his creamy thighs. The hair there was a light blonde down giving his legs a soft glow. Around him, girls sunbathed in the nude, but the boy didn’t give them even a glance. One of them even nudged his leg. He smiled demurely before taking off his tank top perhaps to not get any tan lines.

Stern’s breath caught in his throat at the thin hips just barely held up by his trunks. He could just make out the slight V there as well as more, darker hair that crept up from the waistline.

“Enchanting,” Stern murmured.

Gamora smiled coyly as she offered the pair a top-off of mimosa. “Would you like to request a private audience with young Peter?”

His cock, already alive with interest, took a dangerously revealing form under his napkin. “I-” he cleared his throat after emitting a strangled sound. “I would.”

Not a half-hour later, Stern padded across the hot concrete in a pair of slippers and white bath robe. The boy, Peter, appeared to be asleep on his tummy under the canopy. He quietly laid down on the cushions next to him and opened his robe. Underneath, his protruding, freshly waxed belly covered most of his blue speedo.

A bead of sweat ran down his chest and into his navel, so he tossed the robe aside and turned over so that he was facing the younger.

Peter’s back rose and fell softly. His head was held up by the crook of his left elbow where dark curls highlighted in various places by the sun spilled over and onto the white cushion.

There were pieces of art around the buildings of the island with young girls and boys in varying states of dress. Around the pool, a flower garden contained sculptures of the beauties. He had yet to see even one of Peter, making the boy even more of a mystery.

Stern couldn’t help himself as he reached a hand out to graze the nodules of the young man’s spine. His breath stuttered for a moment indicating that Stern had, indeed, disturbed him. Stern didn’t stop his caresses, however, and continued higher to the soft curls at the base of Peter’s neck. He scratched lightly there, not unlike the way in which he scratched the fur of the puppy he had given his daughter for her fifteenth birthday the year before.

Peter roused with a light groan that Stern’s cock interpreted as a sexual moan. He couldn’t help his other hand that went to his crotch, and he rubbed himself through the thin material of his speedo.

Eyes still closed, Peter turned over onto his back, stretching his arms lazily above his head, then covering his eyes with the left.

After some minutes, Stern who had snatched his hand away so as not to disturb the sleeping boy, carefully returned his hand to the creamy skin, this time to Peter’s chest. His nipples were the color of a blushing peach. He squeezed one lightly all the while slipping his other hand into his speedo.

Despite being alone, Stern glanced around them, feeling eyes prying into this private, intimate moment he was having with the teen. No one was around that he could see, so he relaxed back into the cushions and returned his caressing.

The boy’s skin was so soft that Stern felt even more enchanted than he had at brunch. Up close, the soft down that led to his most intimate parts was golden, and Stern followed it with his fingertips beneath the waistline of Peter’s swim trunks.

If he hadn’t looked up, Stern would’ve missed the way Peter’s eyes flooded into hooded wakefulness.

Peter’s brown eyes pierced him with an intelligence that Stern found utmost arousing as well as disconcerting. The boy knew what he would do as he took the soft member of his crotch and fondled it until it was stiff and ready, all the while letting out grunts of appreciation.

Peter’s plump lips parted, and his eyes became innocent, doe-like orbs, leaving behind whatever awareness that had been there moments before.

It was the soft moan the young man emitted that had Stern heaving his sweating, aroused body onto him. He pulled his dick of free of the constraining fabric and frotted against Peter whose lower body was still clothed.

Slim arms wrapped themselves gently around the senator’s back, pressing into his skin while gasping softly into the sensitive area of Stern’s neck.

Stern continued masturbating the boy until he felt the spurts of liquid pleasure in his hand which he then used to lube his own dick. After a little while without orgasm, Stern abruptly sat up and pushed Peter off the cushions onto the ground to his knees. He forced his mouth down to his dick where he came strongly thirty seconds later into the warm, wet heat.

Afterwards, Stern slumped onto the cushions in exhaustion, barely aware of the small hands wiping him clean and massaging the muscles of his back.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“We’re a long way from Tennessee.”

Harley jumped and turned around then smiled. “Hey, Quen!”

The handsome, older man had changed into board shorts and a loose, white tee since Harley had seen him last. Harley was still in the jeans and long-sleeve, black shirt he arrived in. Titan Island was too exciting for him to stop even twenty seconds. He had been exploring for two hours, and he still had yet to reach the smaller Greek building on the cliff about a half mile away.

“Here, champ.”

Harley caught the bottle Quentin threw his way and took several gulps from the Fiji water bottle then wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Quentin watched as he did so with an indecipherable expression.

“Thanks, man.”

“What do you say, we go back and have lunch?”

Harley looked from the water expanding in three directions around them and back at the mini-Parthenon he was so close to. “Right now?”

Although the water below them was at least a hundred-foot drop, the cool blue of it looked so inviting. The daredevil that he was, Harley wanted to leap from the rocky cliff and into the depths below not just to feel the coolness of the water but for the sheer thrill.

The elder brunette looked annoyed before tucking his expression smoothly back into his marble-like façade. He rubbed his neck and smiled sheepishly giving the impression that he didn’t want to go back inside either, but that it wasn’t necessarily up to either of them. Ah, the rules he had spoken to Harley about before they had landed.

As Harley followed Quentin down a path through some brush, he wondered what exactly these rules entailed. He knew he would have plenty of off-time as long as there weren’t any visitors on the island, but when there were visitors...

A golf cart awaited them at the end of the path.

“Wow! Is that yours?” Harley exclaimed with childlike excitement.

“Sometimes,” came the indifferent response.

“Can I drive?”

“No.”

He pushed his disappointment down the back of his throat hoping there would still be room in his stomach for lunch. He had a feeling there would more disappointments in the near future.

Indeed, a couple of months later, Harley swung lazily on a rope swing he had made himself by scurrying up a large tree and wrapping a rope around a thick branch after testing it a few times. He didn’t like to think about it, but there was a moment when he wondered if anyone would miss him or really blame him if he hung himself on that very rope. Later, after he had come down from that branch, he was appalled at himself for even thinking that way. His Christian mother would be so sad if she ever found out about his almost suicide.

That day, when he swung on he rope swing, Harley ended up being very happy that he had not ended his life a mere week before as there was the familiar noise of a private jet circling above, getting ready to land.

No one had mentioned that there would be any visitors arriving that day, so Harley was intrigued by this mystery arrival. He carefully pulled his sandals back on his feet.  He preferred to go barefoot, but it turned out that clients didn’t like for him to have rough, calloused feet.

The path from the rope swing back to the main house was so familiar now that Harley could run with his eyes closed if he really wanted. The only thing that stopped him was all the possible spiderwebs he could run into.

By the time he got back to the main house, a golf cart was sitting in the driveway with a tired looking brunette in the front. He did not look very thrilled to be there, but Harley could tell the new arrival was curious.

“Peter!” Thanos exclaimed when he exited the house with his arms wide open. “Welcome.”

The large man wrapped his arms around the teen and kissed him on both cheeks. Peter looked like a small lamb in a lion’s embrace, and Harley couldn’t help but feel terrible for the other boy. He knew what lay ahead, and he wanted to jump from his hiding spot and scream, flailing his arms around. Run, Peter, run!

But there was nowhere to go, and they would only get into trouble for trying. Not to mention that Harley suspected there were hidden cameras everywhere watching their every move.

A small part of Harley, the part he wasn’t very proud of, was happy that he had someone else to share this miserable fate with.

As it turned out, Peter was excellent company to keep once he stopped running away. In the beginning, Harley distanced himself from the other boy so as not to become guilty by association. After a few weeks, however, the other seemed to accept his fate and sat down at breakfast one morning with zero apathy and simply said. “Pass the butter, please.”

After that, Harley and Peter were inseparable. He even showed Peter his secret spot and rope swing which the other loved. For a brief moment, Harley caught a ghostly look on Peter’s face when he tested the sturdiness of the rope and the branch as if the other had, too, had the same, horrific idea that had once passed through his own mind.

They didn’t talk much about what went on though it was their constant companion. They silently dreaded the low hum of plane engines that would grow steadily louder before finally circling once, blocking out the sun, and landing.

The worst part was perhaps the fact that their clients were well-known, public figures. Peter had been excited about one guest in particular, a scientist, until he realized with clammy embarrassment that he would be servicing the older man who was in his sixties. Unfortunately, the scientist had been so smitten with Peter’s chatter at dinner and his shy performance in the bedroom that he requested Peter by name in his subsequent visits.

Harley was glad this hadn’t happened to him and felt terribly guilty for it.

If there was one thing the pair agreed on, it was that they both despised Senator Stern and that Peter was better at hiding it. Peter was better at a lot of things which made Harley feel both secure and threatened. Over time, he became more charming towards their clients while Peter would sit shyly offering commentary every once in a while.

Many times, the pair wouldn’t have anything to do if their clients were particularly of the hetero inclination. They felt quite sorry for the girls when this happened but always relieved that they would get a break.

It was during one of these breaks that Peter and Harley went camping one evening. They were to build a campfire on the outer cliff of the island and sleep under the stars. By the time, they reached their site, they flopped down in exhaustion and argued for a bit over who had the heavier backpack.

The pair had brought loads and loads of snacks and beverages. Harley, the more cunning of the two, had even snuck a bottle of Thanos’s scotch.

“Harley!” Peter lightly chastised when the other pulled the small bottle out.

Harley simply rolled his eyes and took a swig. “You gotta live a little, Parker.”

“Whatever, Keener.” He took the offered bottle anyway and choked after a large gulp. “Bleh!”

The other found this hilarious and laughed wildly rolling around on his back and pointing at Peter.

“Oh, shut up,” Peter grumbled and built their campfire.

There was a cool breeze coming in from the ocean now, and it wouldn’t be long before the pair caught a chill.

Harley stretched out in the grass next to Peter, lazily sipping the scotch. After a while of stargazing, he turned toward Peter.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“We are grown up, Harley.”

He didn’t like this answer very much and sat up. “No! I’m serious. If you and I escape, or, or if they let us go, what do you want to be?”

Peter became sad. “I wanted to be a scientist.”

“You don’t anymore?”

“No.”

Harley wondered if it had anything to do with the scientist that was smitten with his friend.

“What about you, Keener, what do you want to be ‘when you grow up?’”

“An engineer,” he answered immediately. “I had a potato gun back home. Is was badass.”

 They both lay back down and became pensive.

“I’ve never been to Tennessee,” Peter mused. “I hadn’t even been outside of New York until…”

“Yeah.”

They didn’t ever talk about it, but Peter turned to him with absolute clarity in his eyes. “When we get out of here, let’s explore the world together. We’ll go to France, Mexico, China!”

Harley didn’t know what overcame him, but he pressed his lips quite sloppily against Peter’s. Neither had discussed their sexual preferences, but they both somehow knew that the other liked boys. Whether it was not casting a single glance to the nude girls at the pool or not being particularly bothered by their male company other than the obvious dubious consent, they didn’t know.

They made love to each other that night, for the first time. Harley didn’t argue when Peter mounted him and pushed into him almost shyly. It was different from any other sexual experience he had on the island, and he never wanted it to stop, not when he came, not when Peter came, and not when they did it again two more times that night while the stars winked from above.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Happy. Happy!

Tony pulled his longtime friend’s sleeve so that he stopped short.

“What is it?” He hissed.

“How do I look?”

“Like shit.”

Tony glowered.

“Did you want me to lie to you?”

“Well, yes, no! I don’t know.” He pulled at his wrinkled shirt, tucking into his jeans in an attempt to straighten it out again.

“Here she comes, here she comes!”

“Happy!” Pepper glided over and kissed him on both cheeks. “You keeping him in line?”

Always observant Pepper had hit the nail on the head.

“Yeah, yeah,” he blushed.

Tony was miffed.

“Tony,” Pepper nodded curtly.

“Peps!” He aborted his hug and opted for an awkward pat on the shoulder.

“Don’t touch me.”

“Right.”

Tony put his hands in his pockets and sucked his cheeks in. “So, where’s Morgan?”

His voice sounded strained and unnatural; he was never good at playing make believe.

“In the car,” Pepper said as if it were obvious.

Tony raised his eyebrows, “You left her alone?”

That was a very un-Pepper like thing to do.

“No,” she said hesitantly.

“Oh,” Tony swayed thoughtfully. “So, who’s she with?”

“That’s none of your business,” Pepper said tightly.

“I think I have a rite to know who my kid’s with.”

Happy put a hand on his chest, and Tony realized how close to Pepper he was standing.

As if on cue, a car door opened, and the three turned to where a tall, blonde man with a nice build was climbing out.

In another scenario, Tony might find the guy attractive but not when he was probably banging his wife, ex-wife, he mentally corrected.

“Everything okay?” The man asked.

Happy gave a thumbs up. “All good here.”

“Who’s this?” Tony managed as he watched another man help his daughter out of her car seat and slip a small backpack over her shoulders.

“Tony-” Pepper began.

The blond held his daughter’s hand until she broke into a run, “Daddy!”

He caught her and pulled her into his arms in a giant bear hug.

“Oh, I missed you!”

A strand of her hair tickled his nose, and he breathed in the familiar strawberry shampoo that he recognized immediately as Pepper’s. It smelled slightly different on his daughter but was still a blow, nonetheless.

“How’s my leading lady, hm?”

She shyly giggled and kicked her feet to be let down. Tony set his daughter on the pavement and turned to the group of adults surrounding them. He had not yet forgotten the mystery blond.

Happy gave Morgan a high-five and questioned her about school. Pepper had an indecipherable look on her face, but Tony could just make out the tears shining in her eyes.

“Hi,” Tony said awkwardly.

“This is Aldrich Killian,” Pepper introduced.

“Wow, I didn’t know I’d get to see my daughter and meet the boyfriend all in one day.”

Pepper exhaled through her nose. “Tony.”

The blonde smiled and held out his hand confidently, condescendingly as if Pepper had spilt the entirety of their relationship laying in bed, post-coital.

Tony tried not to wince at the tight grip and forced his own fingers tighter. It was a weird tug-of-war before he pulled his hand away. He put on the meanest poker-face, one he used for the really bad guys during questioning.

It was then that he noticed Aldrich Killian sort of looked like the smiling man from YouTube.

“Daddy has to help me with my homework tonight,” Morgan was saying.

Tony turned to Pepper. “Seriously? You couldn’t have had her do this beforehand?”

His plans for the night were slowly unraveling.

Pepper shrugged and spoke in a bored voice, “It’s Wednesday night, Tony. It can’t all be fun and games, you know.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Guys…” Happy warned while Aldrich, the smiling man, was relaxed as ever, probably enjoying the turmoil.

“It means that you’re her father and that you need to help her if she has homework.”

“C’mon, Peps,” Tony pleaded lowly with her. “You know I haven’t spent any real time with her.”

“What were you planning on doing, going to the movies? It’s not Friday. She needs consistency in her life.”

“No,” he said defensively. “I was planning on making dinner.”

“Good, because I need her back at 7:30. Bedtime is at 8 o’clock.”

He checked his watch. “That’s in like two hours.”

She shrugged then bent down to hug their daughter. “I’ll see you in a little while.”

Morgan pouted. “Why can’t you come with us?”

Pepper knelt down this time. “Because this is you and Daddy’s time. We talked about this.”

Their daughter nodded, sadly, resigned.

“Okay,” Pepper stood up. “7:30.”

“On the dot,” Tony responded. It was a challenge, now.

He opened the car door for Morgan only to realize, “Shit.”

“You don’t have a car seat, do you?” Pepper sounded as if she had expected this.

“Too small,” Tony croaked as he realized how much time had actually passed since he was allowed to spend any time alone with Morgan, and even tonight, Happy would be there. It was part of the deal.

Pepper suddenly lost her cool façade and gave him a small smile. “You can borrow ours.”

After they got the car seat situated with Morgan in it, Tony watched Pepper and the smiling man walk hand in hand to the SUV where Aldrich held the door open for her and claimed the driver’s seat for himself. So, it would be a date, then. He was giving his ex-wife and her new boytoy a free night.

Great.

Tony glowered from the driver’s seat as Morgan chattered non-stop about kindergarten. Happy kept the conversation from being one-sided and kept glancing anxiously at his friend. If it weren’t for the situation, Tony would enjoy the fact that Happy was squirming under his daughter’s tirade.

When they got back to the apartment, Morgan went straight to the bedroom and frowned. “Where’s my room?”

His princess in her penthouse tower had never even been inside a one-bedroom shit-hole apartment, and this was where her father lived.

Tony couldn’t take it anymore, and he busied himself looking through his cabinets and fridge.

“You don’t have anything, do you?” Happy asked quietly while Morgan flicked through the kids’ section of Netflix. Since when had she gotten so technologically savvy?

His shoulders sagged in defeat, and he turned around to face the other who was watching him with a sad expression. He had his phone out. “Do you want me to order something?”

“Please.”

Tony was grateful for his friend, but he hated that there was some truth to not being allowed alone with Morgan. When it came to parenting, Tony was clueless. Hell, when it came to anything lately, he was clueless. The Parker kid was still missing…

But Tony wouldn’t allow his time with Morgan to be taken up by the missing kid when every other second was spent on someone who wasn’t even his biological child. He was fairly certain he knew more about Peter at that moment than Morgan.

As they waited for their dinner to arrive, Tony attempted to get a head start with Morgan on her homework, but she was running around the apartment on a sugar-high from the cookie Tony had given her for snack. He made a mental note not to make that mistake again.

“Morgan, please, sit down,” Tony chided from the table with his daughter’s homework laid out around him.

“Can’t we just play cops and robbers, Dad?”

He smiled at the fact that she remembered their old game. All was not lost, maybe things would be better. They wouldn’t be the same, but alcoholic fuck-ups didn’t get a lot of choice in the matter.

His daughter stood before him smiling like a coy kitten with one arm behind her back.  

“What do you have there?”

She dangled his handcuffs mischievously.

He put his hands to his hips and did his best to not sound amused. “Now, where did you get those?”

“Found ‘em,” she said with those wide, innocent doe eyes.

He took one last look at the homework they were supposed to be working on together and decided there would be enough time left after dinner to work on it.

“Fine.”

Happy raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. Tony bet that his friend was only glad not be held hostage with Peppa Pig.

An hour later, their food still hadn’t arrived. Tony crept low behind the couch and peered around it, accidentally bumping into Happy’s leg who rolled his eyes and turned the volume of the basketball game up.

Tony felt lighter than he had in while and deeply missed all the great times he had spent playing with his daughter. He truly wished he could get some of the past few years back.

“Gotcha!” Morgan screamed and pounced on his back.

“No, no!” He shouted and pretended to make a break for it.

“You’re under arrest, Tony Stark!” She cried and placed the handcuffs around his wrist, clicking them into place.

Happy huffed in annoyance and shifted on the couch to see around them.

“You got me,” Tony conceded.

Morgan giggled and hugged him, then doorbell rang signaling dinner had finally arrived.  

“I’ll get it,” Happy said heaving himself off the couch.

“Now, why don’t you get the key and get me out of these things?”

His daughter looked at him with wide eyes. “What key?”

“Very funny, Morgoona. Now, get the key please.”

She was starting to look distraught. Tony’s heart skidded a few beats. He always kept the key with the cuffs, but he hadn’t used the cuffs in years. If Morgan didn’t know where the key was, that could only mean one thing.

“At Mommy’s, we just touch here…” She pressed against the non-existent release mechanism then clamped her hand over her mouth to stifle a surprised laugh. “Uh-oh.”

“Shit.”
“Shit,” Morgan repeated with a serious face.

Tony wanted to be upset, but he just didn’t have it in him.

“Shit,” he repeated.

 

 

The car was already waiting with Pepper pacing the pavement beside it.

“Here we go,” Tony muttered under his breath.

“Here what goes?”

Ah, super-kid hearing.

“Here what goes, Daddy?”

Happy opened both their doors as Tony’s hands were still occupied.

“You’re almost an hour late,” Pepper began as she grabbed Morgan’s backpack and swung it over her own shoulder.

“Let’s not do this in front of Morgan,” Tony said quietly.

“Did she at least get her homework done?”

Happy and Tony exchanged a look.

“Unbelievable,” she scoffed. “Say good night to Daddy.”

Tony got down onto one knee to lean awkwardly into Morgan.

“What are you doing?” Pepper asked in bewilderment. “Why are your hands, what-”

Before Tony could stand up, Pepper circled around him.

“Are you kidding me?!”

“We were just playing, Mama.”

“How did she even get these?” Then Pepper looked absolutely stricken. “Where was your gun, Tony? Did she get a hold of that, too?”

Then, Tony his lost patience.

Of course not!” He snapped. “You wanted this whole night to go sideways, ever since the beginning. What do you want to prove, Pepper? That I was bad husband, and that means I’m a bad father? Well, congratulations!”

Pepper jumped at his outburst.

Everyone was silent for a moment, and Tony closed his eyes in an attempt to ground himself once more. This is what she wanted: to push and push until he lost it so that the judge would not allow him to see his daughter again.

“We were playing cops and robbers, Mommy,” Morgan said tearfully.

“Don’t you ever touch Daddy’s work belt again,” Pepper said sternly.

“I didn’t know!” Morgan insisted. “I thought it was a toy, like at home.”

Home. Of course, Morgan wouldn’t think of his dinky apartment as home.

“Alright, say good night to Dad,” Pepper said impatiently.

“Night, Daddy.” Morgan wrapped her tiny arms around his neck when he bent down.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered into his ear.

“It’s okay,” he whispered back and kissed her forehead. “Night, pumpkin.”

His throat was tight, and he felt like the biggest idiot in the world because he couldn’t be sure himself if he had put the gun away. He had blown it, big time.

“Love you,” Tony managed to choke out as Morgan waved from beside the car while Aldrich reinstalled her car seat. She made a heart with her hands and held them up to her chest, and Tony just smiled because his hands were still cuffed behind his back.

Chapter Text

 

When Tony finally got over to Wade’s to get out of the handcuffs, he was so spent and distraught that the young detective tried to keep him there overnight.

Tony was beyond annoyed and frustrated with how the night had turned out. There were too many things to cope with, and he needed to cope with them alone. No amount of Happy or Wade goading him with a guy’s night in could keep him from driving back to his own place.

If he let down his own kid, maybe he could at least be there for another. A kid who was in such immediate danger or dead that it made his daughter in her tower with her new daddy look like paradise. He was sorry that he couldn’t be the man he was supposed to be: husband and father. But that’s just how these things go. Like father, like son, eh? His own father was a disaster, so where did that leave Tony?

“Fuck, Happy. I’m not going to drink; do you not have any faith in me?” He accused.

“Yeah, that’s what they all say.”

Happy and Wade exchanged looks, and Tony was growing apprehensive that he would be held there against his will by the strong, younger man.

Tony turned to Wade next. “Don’t get into this if you know what’s good for you.”

The young detective had a dangerous look in his eye that Tony had never seen before. He was actually nervous about the finger he was waggling in front of the young man’s face; didn’t know whether Wade would push it out of the way or bite it clean off. Wade didn’t say a word, however. At least somebody around here cared about their career.

When Tony was finally alone in his car, he realized he didn’t feel better but was too proud to go back and ask for help like a dog with its tail tucked between its legs.

The apartment wasn’t dark when he arrived. All the lights were on, and the pizza boxes were scattered everywhere. Tony felt as if he was being mocked. Every illuminating bulb showed off how much of a failure he really and truly was.

Pepper was with another man, probably going over Morgan’s homework that he had failed to help with. The dinner he had provided was subpar; there were no vegetables on Morgan’s pizza, anyways. Since when had she stopped liking them?

Tony was missing so much of his daughter’s life, but, then again, he knew memory was selective. He hadn’t really been all that present before. Out of the five years that Morgan had been alive, he could only pick out a handful of times that he had spent with his daughter, just the two.

It drove him a little bit insane to think of Aldrich taking his daughter to the park or even playing cops and robbers with Morgan. A small part of his brain, an evil part whispered, would it not be better to let her go?

 He shuttered. It was too bright; he couldn’t handle those damn lightbulbs.

One by one, he turned each one off until he was left in the semi-dark with one lamp over his makeshift desk in the corner of the living room. A copy of the Parker file was scattered across the desk from the last time Tony had picked through it. He didn’t really need to look at it anymore to know its contents. They were etched into his mind, invading his sleep, and slowly driving him insane.

He wondered if someone else had the case if they would do any better. So far, his visions had gotten him no closer than if he hadn’t seen them at all. And, maybe, he was losing objectivity. Part of Tony wondered if Peter even wanted to be found. Was he not on an island in paradise? And from what he had seen, the boy seemed to be enjoying himself with that other boy, Harley.

There was a bitter feeling in his gut that he couldn’t quite place whenever he thought of Peter and Harley together. But he mentally shook himself. Of course, Peter wanted to be found.

And what to make of Senator Stern? Tony hadn’t said anything about what he had seen of the senator and Peter. If someone of his caliber was involved, there were no doubt many more. Who even was this Thanos guy? No amount of searching had come up with the man he had seen. Was it an acronym?

Wade didn’t know what Tony had seen, but he knew that his young partner suspected him of hiding something. He tried not to feel too bad about leaving his partner in the dark and convinced himself that it was for Wade’s safety. In reality, they had no idea what they were dealing with.

However, Tony was tempted to take some of the responsibility from his own shoulders and give it to Wade to handle for a little while. After all, he was young and eager. He would make a great detective one day.

But there was something dangerous about this case, sinister. If Tony poked the bear in just the right place, the bear would poke back, and what about Morgan? What if he put her in danger?

He wanted so badly to relinquish the case, but his ego wouldn’t let him. The idea of Hammer taking over was horrifying, so Tony picked the papers up and carried them over to the sofa. It would be another evening of sifting.

The picture of Peter in his school uniform was always chilling to look at. Tony knew the photo had been taken after the boy had met ADEN, and, yet the youth’s eyes screamed innocence even more than his outfit screamed nerd. The kid was smart, no doubt, according to the school records and his extracurriculars. He would have had a bright future. Would have, Tony corrected, because he would find Peter. Things wouldn’t be quite the same, but the kid showed promise. He wasn’t an idiot.

Those eyes, those brown eyes that weren’t so innocent the more Tony looked. They were sad. They told a story all of their own. Tony felt weightless for a moment and then rushing feeling; it couldn’t be anything else but falling through time.

   

Peter was nervous to say the least. He rubbed his chilled, sweating hands together and waited for ADEN to call.

Tonight, was their night; he had been looking forward to it all week. For months really, when he realized that he and ADEN had a connection, like a real connection.

Everyday Peter rushed through his homework to talk to ADEN who he had found out was 36 which although had been a shock at first, was definitely part of the attraction. He adored the age gap and the experience the older man harbored.

Slowly, Peter was discovering his sexuality. So far, they had only sent dick pics back and forth into the wee hours of the night. ADEN would coax Peter into orgasmic bliss.

His phone rang, interrupting his reverie.

“H-hello?”

“Peter,” ADEN said smoothly, ever the charmer.

“Hi, ADEN,” he said sweetly into the receiver.

“How was your day, baby?”

Peter fiddled with the curl hanging over his forehead. He had taken a shower for the occasion; he didn’t know why as it was just phone sex.

“It was fine,” he whispered.

“What happened?” ADEN cooed.

A sigh. “Just Flash, as usual.”

“If I were there, I would kick his ass, baby.”

“Thanks.” He paused. “How were you in high school?”

“Well,” the other began, then seemed at a loss for words.

“You were bad, weren’t you?”

“Peter, I- I wasn’t nice, but only because I didn’t know what I wanted. It was a difficult time, really.”

“You were a homophobe.”

“You really are just the smartest thing,” ADEN chuckled before turning serious. “If I had known you, we would have been friends, lovers even. I wouldn’t have been able to resist you.”

“Tell me more,” Peter implored like a sex call taker. “Oh, God. That sounded stupid, didn’t it?”

ADEN cleared his throat. “Trust me, Peter. It was sexy as hell.”

There was a rustling sound.

“Are you touching yourself?” Peter breathed.

“Yes. D- does it bother you?”

“No. I am, too,” Peter admitted. In truth, he had been frotting subconsciously into the pillow that was slung over his lap.

ADEN groaned. “God, Peter. You have no idea what you do to me.”

“Tell me. Tell me what I do.”

“Are you naked?”

“I can be.”

Another groan. “You really shouldn’t say those things.”

“Why? What are you gonna do about it?”

“Oh, Peter, I would kiss your neck and especially that little place behind your ear, bite down on the skin at the top of your spine then down until I reached your waste. You are shirtless, aren’t you?”

Peter quickly shrugged out of his shirt and tossed it on the floor.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Good boy.”

He shivered, a little moan escaping his lips.

“You like that, don’t you?”

“Maybe more than I should.”

“Oh, Peter, you’re so innocent.”

“T-tell me more, please.”

“And polite. Are you touching yourself?” ADEN cooed.

“Yes,” Peter groaned back.

“Stop.”

Peter obeyed immediately.

“Listen to my commands, darling.”

“Darling?” Peter repeated.

“Darling,” ADEN confirmed.

“Oh,” Peter sighed, quite wistfully this time. “ADEN, I might-”

“Go ahead. Come, sweetie, you deserve it,” he whispered right into Peter’s ear.

With a mighty spurt, Peter came inside his boxers. Only in the back of his mind, did he worry that May might find the evidence when she did laundry.

Afterwards, Peter lay on his back, panting with the phone pressed to his cheek.

“Oh, God, that was so good. What about you? Did you-?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“It’s okay, though. Tonight, was about you. There will be more for me later.”

 

Tony was cast from the memory with an embarrassing side effect; he was hard.

“No,” he cried, but he already knew where his hand was headed.

Like an out of body experience, he spit into his hand and worked himself until completion, disgusted the whole way.

He moaned into his pillow willing himself to think of Pepper, Steve even, anyone but the teenager he was supposed to be looking for.

Goddammit!” He cried and tossed his arm over his eyes so that he wouldn’t see the mess that he had created.

Tony was sure that he could not feel any more pathetic than he did in the moment he cleaned himself off. He was so conflicted over what had just transpired that he sat down on the toilet with his head in his hands and sobbed quietly.

It wasn’t the first time that Tony had seen too much and satisfied himself, sexually, but he couldn’t live with himself because it was Peter Parker. The boy was missing, and Tony was turned on by what ADEN had said to Peter. He was turned on by a predator preying on a 15 year old.

While Tony showered the rest of his shame off, he tried to reason with himself that it had been a while and that it wasn’t entirely questionable that he had gotten off by what he had seen. It was like watching a porno. How was he not supposed to become aroused? He was a human, and humans did human things.

It was a far reach, he knew, given the circumstances.

The only thing to come of this was that ADEN’s voice was familiar. It sounded a whole lot like Quentin, the man who had been on the island with Harley. There were a couple of things Tony could do at this point, and the first would be to see Steve. The captain had started as a police sketch artist before becoming a cop. Tony had no last name, but he had faces. He would go to Steve first, and finally, he would reveal to Wade everything that he knew.

Satisfied with this resolution, Tony rewarded himself with more than a few fingers of scotch and two ice cubes. That was enough for tonight.

 

 

Chapter Text

Ned let out a groan of frustration. “Come on, bruh!”

“What?” The other said innocently

He wanted to pull his own hair out at the fact that Flash couldn’t put the final touches on a project without knocking it over. This was the third time they were close to completing a Lego masterpiece, and the other boy had clumsily put the last piece in and knocked it over. Peter never would have done that.

Ned immediately felt guilty for the unkind thoughts towards his friend. Yes, it was an unlikely friendship that had sprung between the two, but when Flash had come to his door one rainy evening late April absolutely distraught over Peter like some RomCom, Ned simply couldn’t turn him away.

He hadn’t been feeling great at all after losing his best friend, and the cops were seemingly doing nothing to help the situation. It was frustrating, and he grew depressed. Ned knew very much about the 24, 48, and 72-hour windows when searching for a missing person. He wanted to stay hopeful, but the odds were against them.

“Ned,” his mother said when she poked her head into his room. He had ignored her knocks as usual, and she gingerly approached him. “Someone is here to see you.”

Laying on his side offered a great view of the partially completed Death Star. Ned hadn’t touched it and refused to until Peter was safely home. A faint glimmer of hope swam through his chest like the trails of a comet, but he knew if it were Peter, he would have come up to Ned’s room already.

If it wasn’t Peter, then who? His curiosity was piqued.

One last look at the Death Star, and he heaved himself up from the bottom bunk of his bed. The top was reserved for Peter and sleepovers.

“I didn’t get his name,” his mother said earnestly, and Ned knew that she was just excited that he had friends other than Peter especially at a time like this. Sure, there was MJ, but her political views didn’t make her the most appealing dinner guest among his conservative parents.

To sum it up, Flash was the last person that Ned expected to show up on his doorstep. The boy stood shivering and blowing warm air into his cupped hands to keep warm. Despite it being late April, the weather took a turn for the worst, and there was even a chance for snow. He barely registered the sportscar illegally parked in front of his townhouse as he blinked into the icy rain.

“Well,” Flash said in annoyance. “Are you going to invite me in?”

“No,” Ned replied.

“What the fuck, man?” The bully hissed and stamped his feet, kicking up the salt the city hastily placed when the storm warning came through that morning.

“Why are you here?”

The other rolled his eyes. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“No,” Ned crossed his arms and blocked the doorway which Flash had been leaning toward in search of warmth.

“C’mon, let me inside, and I’ll tell you.”

He was trying for cunning now. Must be really cold, Ned thought bitterly, but he wasn’t a mean guy no matter how much he should have been considering the circumstances. He stepped aside without a word, and Flash darted into the soft glow of the living room.

His mother, who was hovering in the entryway, immediately took Flash’s coat and glared over his head at her son for his lack of hospitality. “Clearly, the boy is freezing.”

Ned didn’t say anything as he followed his mother and the menace into the kitchen for a cup of green tea which Flash gratefully accepted. If he were lucky, he would just get a cold and not the second round of the flu. Whatever had possessed him to drive his sports car with the top down that afternoon, Ned had no idea.

Peering more closely at Flash, Ned knew something was amiss. He looked… sad, distraught dare he say? There wasn’t anything that Ned knew of besides losing the Academic Decathlon that could make Flash sad.

After a while, Ned’s mother got the hint and left the pair alone to talk in the kitchen.

“So,” Ned said at last when the other didn’t speak for a long time. In fact, he was glaring into his half-empty mug as if the tea bag had jumped up from the saucer and bit him in the nose.

Still nothing. He nervously sipped from his own cup. But dammit, why did the bully still have an effect on him? This was nothing, inconsequential, compared to what had happened to Peter. Really, Flash should be happy that his competition was taken out.

“What are you doing here?” Ned asked finally. His patience was worn way too thin to play around any longer.

Flash sighed, the distraught expression reappearing, and to Ned’s utter surprise and slight mortification, Flash’s face crumpled, and he began to cry.

“What-?” Ned barely got out before Flash threw his arms around him and sobbed into his collar. “The fuck.”

“Why…. Why…” Flash whimpered between gut-wrenching sobs. “Why him?”

Ned tried in vain to extricate himself and get a handle on the situation, but Flash had quite the grip. In the doorway, Mrs. Leads looked very concerned with one hand on the telephone as if she were going to call the authorities for such an unexpected display in her kitchen.

He waved his mother away because Ned understood. Even if he didn’t understand why Flash, of all people, was crying into the nape of his neck, he understood how the other boy felt. It was unmistakable in that moment how devastated the bully was. Or… friend? A terrible friend if that were the case.

“There, there,” was all Ned could say.

Eventually, Flash stepped away, sniffed, and wiped his nose on the back of his hand. “Sorry,” he muttered. “I don’t know why I came here.”

Stupid, stupid, “I do.”

And Flash looked so vulnerable in that moment with his guard down that Ned heard himself saying, “Do you want to stay the night? They say there will be at least six inches of snow by midnight.” He shuffled his feet, fearing rejection. “It’s too dangerous to drive right now, anyway.”

The other boy regarded Ned and looked as if he was on the verge of saying something nasty, but his shoulders slumped. “That would be nice.”

Then, they smiled softly at each other, and Ned showed him to his bedroom.

Later, when the pizza arrived, Mrs. Leads pulled her son aside and said in a low voice. “That boy. The crazy one. He staying the night?”

“Yes, mom,” Ned replied, and they both looked to where Flash was sprawled across the floor with a piece of pizza in one hand and his phone camera open in another. He was filming for his YouTube channel.

Ned rolled his eyes and exchanged a look with his mom. Tomorrow, Flash would be out of their hair.

Except that he wasn’t because it was the biggest snow that they had ever seen on the first day of May. Plus, Flash’s car was towed, and his parents were out of town. It was easier for him to stay another night than send him off in an Uber to a house that may or may not have electricity.

They spent the day playing videogames, and as usual, Flash was a sore loser. Ned didn’t feel like dealing with him, so he let him win a few times so that he would shut up. For dinner, they made do with leftover pizza.

Sometime during the second night, Flash began talking.

“I wish Peter were here,” the sigh came from the top bunk, Peter’s place.

Ned had just convinced himself that it was Peter laying up there instead. He frowned and didn’t say anything because he could care less about a friendship that didn’t even exist. Flash was delusional.

After a little while, Ned realized that maybe it wasn’t that he considered Peter a friend at all. Flash had a crush on Peter.

“His eyes. The way he would look at me sometimes. I just knew that he knew what I was trying to say.”

Ned snorted but turned into a cough. After all, he couldn’t stomach being the one to tell Flash the cold, hard truth when he was just a heartbroken teenage boy.

 “You’re still awake, right?” Flash said and leaned over the side to make sure that Ned was listening.

“Yep.”

“Anyway, do you remember that time…”

Ned ended up wrapping his pillow around his head to drown out Flash’s pining.

That was the only time Flash talked about his crush on Peter so openly. The following morning, when Ned teased him about it, the other just looked at him blankly and continued eating his cereal.

The following week at school, MJ was confused at the sudden addition to their friend group, but after Ned begged her not to say anything, he told her about Flash’s crush.

“That’s rich,” she laughed darkly.

“Come on, MJ. The dude is sad,” Ned insisted.

They both looked to where Flash sat scrolling through his phone by himself at the lunch table. MJ didn’t like him much, but she was never openly mean to him.

Two months later, there they were in Ned’s room with pizza, movies, and Lego, not the Death Star, which still sat unfinished in its place of honor on his bookshelf. Sometimes, the sight would make Ned so sad that he would cover it with a blanket for a few days until he felt guilty for feeling like he was forgetting his friend and took it down to endure the pain.

Flash had his camera open, talking to his viewers. “You guys won’t believe what I just did.”

Then, he turned the camera on Ned who shook his head solemnly back and forth. Flash was having a hard time keeping a straight face when he turned the camera back on himself. “I will update you guys later.”

They both burst out laughing once the camera was off. It wasn’t particularly funny, just one of those things that has one in stitches with no good reason.

Flash collapsed onto his back. “Oh, man. It is so cool to have friends.”

Ned snorted. “Dude, that is perhaps the lamest thing you have said yet.”

“Sue me, I’m in love,” he replied with his arms open to the ceiling.

The rare admission had them both looking into different corners of the room, each thinking about what it would be like to integrate Peter back into this mysterious friendship. Ned hoped that his best friend would understand. Despite everything, he and Flash needed each other. One thing he didn’t ever want to happen was forgetting Peter. Flash helped him to remember, even if it was the bad things.

“I miss him,” Ned said, emotionally.

Flash turned onto his side and swept Ned’s bangs from his forehead and sighed. “What are the cops even doing?”

They both groaned in frustration. “I don’t even fucking know at this point. That one cop looks drunk half the time, and the other is incompetent.”

He was unknowingly referring to Tony and Wade, respectively.

“The only one who seems to have a clue is the hot blonde one,” Ned offered. “Think he’s the captain or something.”

Flash glowered silently with one raised eyebrow. “You know what we should do?”

Uh-oh. Ned never liked that expression on his friend. “I don’t think I want to know.”

“No, no. Listen,” he said, sitting up. “I say we find this guy and ask him what the fuck he’s doing with our tax dollars.”

As appealing as it sounded, Ned couldn’t play the tough guy, ever. Look how far it got him with his missing best friend’s bully.

Except Flash was putting on his shoes. “Come on. Let’s go.”

“Oh, my God,” Ned said to himself as his feet followed the other of their own accord down to the sportscar that was miraculously still there. After months of towing, it seemed the city had given up.

“Don’t slam the door,” Flash cautioned. “It’s still my dad’s.”

Ned wanted to choke his friend, but instead, smiled at him fondly.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“No, no, a little more curved.”

A heavy sigh. “Do you want to draw him?”

“Uh, no. That’s why I called you, butterballs.”

“Tony,” a warning.

“Steve.”

“Let me work.”

A few more moments.

“Would you back off?”

“Alright, alright guys, let’s cool it,” Rhodey said tiredly as he came back from the bathroom and settled tiredly into the leather cushions.

His long-time friend was just about on the Captain’s last nerve, and he knew it wasn’t long before Steve really did have enough of Tony’s antics and either walked out or punched him right in his mouth.

Because Rhodey had known Tony since college, he could say that his friend was well and truly annoying.

“Oh, dear God,” he muttered to himself as Tony snatched the drawing and pencil.

“Now look what you did!”

“That is a curve!”

“His nose looks broken!”

Calmly, Rhodey stood, knees protesting all the way and snatched the paper from both of the children’s hands. “That’s enough!”

The two glowered at each other but backed away at the order.

The news playing in the background suddenly seemed a lot louder after the bantering quieted down, and Tony stared mournfully at the TV screen.

Rhodey had never seen his friend so… distraught over a case. He was well aware of Tony’s gift and had been wondering if it was finally taking its toll. It was unnatural to be able to see into people’s lives, and he wondered if Tony would succumb to his drinking eventually. It was worrisome, and if Rhodey weren’t so busy, he could pay better attention to his friend. He felt guilty about this.

“Tony…” It was Steve who spoke this time, but Tony just stared emotionally at the news.

The anchor woman was standing amongst a large crowd of students holding candles and placing flowers around a vigil for Peter Parker. The kid’s school picture remained in the corner of the screen.

“This morning marks sixty days since Peter Parker from Queens went missing. Tonight, we will see a dedication from the marching band at Midtown Tech in Peter’s honor. Please, if you have any information, we urge you to come forward at this time.”

The school picture expanded across the screen so that Peter’s smiling face became almost life-size on Rhodey’s wall. It was always eerie to see pictures of kids who went about their day, carefree, not even guessing something like this could ever happen to them.

It was times like this that Rhodey felt justified in never finding a girl to bring home to his parents’. There wasn’t time for a family with all that was going on in the world, and Tony’s failed marriage was proof of that. You couldn’t be the good guy and still have a good life. Only bad guys got a happy ending.

Tony sat down with a huff and put his face into his hands then pulled his hair in frustration. Rhodey took this time to observe the picture. He snorted.

“What?” Tony asked, miserably.

Rhodey stared at the picture, not saying anything.

Steve moved behind the sofa to peer over Rhodey’s shoulder at his drawing and hummed softly to himself.

“You seeing what I’m seeing?”

“That depends,” Steve answered, eyes growing wider by the second.

Tony perked up at this exchange and scooted over.

“That looks an awful lot like Jeff’s brother,” Rhodey finally said.

“Aaron Davis,” Steve confirmed.

“Looks, like you did get his nose right. He broke it, remember?” Rhodey said, amused, but Tony was very still. He knew that look.

 

They found him in Brooklyn, under a bridge and on his way to the car. He immediately stiffened when he heard the car approach and became expressionless when he recognized the unmarked car for what it was, cops.

Rhodey pulled up, and Tony put down his window. “What’s up, buddy?”

“Look, man. You stick to the streets, and I’ll keep to myself. That was the deal.”

Aaron Davis was a known narc, playing dirty for both sides. It wasn’t uncommon for him to have a $20,000 bounty on his head until his brother got him out of trouble, again.

“Listen, we just want to talk.”

“Where’s Jeff? My brother know you’re here?”

Tony raised an eyebrow. “We’re not here for that.”

Aaron relaxed a little but looked incredibly annoyed. “Then, what the fuck you want from me?”

When Steve opened the door, Aaron got spooked and pulled a gun. Things were kind of dicey for a moment. Eventually, they coaxed him into the back of the car with Steve who made sure everyone’s hands were visible. No funny business.

They drove away from the bridge and merged into traffic.

“A couple of months ago, a boy named Peter Parker went missing on his way home from his friend’s house. A little birdy told me that you were in a deal and saw the very van he was taken in.”

Aaron sighed heavily. “You’re fucking crazy, man. Just call it what it is, that devil bullshit, Stark.”

“Just tell us who owns the van, and we’ll let you go.”

Aaron burst out laughing making the other three very uneasy. “Hell nah. You don’t want to mess with him, Stark. He’s too much for you to handle.”

Of course, this was just bait for Tony to press harder. They all knew that Aaron was a softy at heart, however, and wanted the right thing in the end. He just had a convoluted way of getting there.

Tony turned around in his seat, eyes glowing dangerously with the passing of every streetlight. “You don’t want to play games with me.”

“I think I do.”

The seatbelt got in the way of Tony lurching straight into the backseat.

Aaron laughed even harder. “You get wound up so easily. It’s cute.”

He wiped a tear from the corner of his eye.

“I bet if it was your nephew, you wouldn’t be making any jokes,” Tony accused. “Bet you’d be busting our balls over the case. Did you know they went to school together?”

Aaron sobered up at that. “Don’t bring my nephew into this.”

“Did you not miss his birthday because you were in the middle of a deal with van guy?”

“The fuck…”

“What’s his name, Davis?”

“What the fuck is wrong with you, man? You been searching my phone records?”

Tony turned around in his seat again and smiled twistedly. “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”

  Rhodey could see in the rearview mirror when Aaron made the connection. His face went completely blank again, guarded.

“You like to watch the early morning news.”

Aaron snorted. “Yeah, me and the rest of New York.”

“Your phone case is black with a red stripe around the rim.”

“You’re cute,” he tried again.

“Someone was tied up under a blanket in the back of that van, Davis. Who was the man with the dark hair and beard?”

“Please,” Aaron begged, all of the sudden. “Don’t make me say it. He’ll know it was me.”

“I don’t give a shit.”

“Tony,” Steve said, gently. “Maybe we can cut a deal.”

Aaron perked up at that. “I need protection if you want a name.”

“Goddam it, Steve,” Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. “Fine. Now, spit it out.”

“Nah, nah,” Aaron grinned. “I don’t want to talk to you. I wanna talk to your boss.”

 

Fury wasn’t too pleased afterwards.

“On my day off, Stark,” he said when he slammed the door of his office. “On my mother fuckin’ day off. Who even authorized you?”

“I did.”

The uncovered eye turned on Steve next.

“You two have no idea what you have done. We all know Aaron Davis plays games, was probably waiting for this. You should have done this through the proper channels, and now, we’re just going to turn a blind eye? No, you cannot giggle at that.”

Rhodey made the mistake of glancing at Tony who was grinning at the “blind eye” comment.

“And Rhodes?’

“Yes, sir,” Rhodey became serious.

“What the fuck?”

Okay, that was a little funny, but he couldn’t laugh.

“I should take all three of your badges. I really should.”

He paced around his office. “Bruce, Natasha, Quill, Scott, no not Scott. The point is, I have good- great detectives without the three of you.”

“Except Scott,” Tony reminded him, still smiling.

It wasn’t the first time that Rhodey had gotten his badge threatened on behalf of his best friend, and he was certain that it wouldn’t be the last. But right now, he really needed Tony to shut up.

Goddam it!” Fury’s fist came down hard on the desk between them. “I need to call Jeff. Get out.”

Tony stayed in his seat. “What’s his name?”

“Uh-uh,” Fury shook his head. “The fuckin’ nerve.”

Tony just expanded his hands in an expectant gesture.

“Quentin Beck. Now, get the fuck out of my office.”

With the office door closed, Rhodey blew out a shaky breath of relief and looked at Tony who was very smug. Steve just looked sick.

“Excuse me,” he said and headed towards the men’s room leaving Tony and Rhodey in the hallway.

“Tony…”

“Yes, honey bear?” The fucker just grinned like an idiot, and Rhodey couldn’t do anything but clap his friend on the shoulder.

“You’re a mess.”

“You want to go out for a drink?”

Rhodey put the back of his hand to Tony’s forehead. “You feeling sick? Cause I know you just didn’t ask me to the bar.”

Tony sighed. “I meant something along the lines of both of us getting a coke and eating wings at the Applebee’s. It’s late night snack time, or whatever.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Nice save, alright. I’m down. Should we wait for Steve?”

“Nah.”

They both laughed and made their way to the front of the precinct.

“Uh, Tony?”

It was Wanda Maximoff, the nightshift secretary.

“Uh, yeah?”

He leaned against the counter, chin in hand grinning. It had been a productive day, and even Rhodey had to admit the secretary was cute.

The girl was in her early twenties, with long hair and tattoos curling their way up her forearms. Technically, she was supposed to keep them covered, but it was night shift. No one gave a fuck.

She averted her eyes to the left, towards the waiting room. “Someone is here to see you.”

Both Rhodey and Tony frowned, hands on their guns as they exited into the waiting room. However, there were two school-aged boys waiting for them looking simultaneously anxious and pissed.

Tony seemed to recognize one of them, the Asian kid with a Star Wars shirt. The other kid looked like he was straight out of a Hollister magazine.

“Mr. Stark?” He asked, hopefully.

“That… is me, yes. What can I do for you?”

“Um,” the kid shifted nervously. “Hi, I’m Ned Leeds. We were wondering if we could get an update on Peter Parker’s case.”

God, this was turning out to be a long day, Rhodey thought.

“That’s classified.”

Perhaps, the cocky attitude was a bit too far for the situation because the other kid stood up suddenly, toe to toe with Tony.

“Sit your ass down, kid.”

“I will when you do your job. It can’t be that hard.”

Rhodey held his breath as Tony went a little too still.

“Sit down before I make you sit down.”

“Hey, hey- Tony,” Rhodey interjected, not liking where the situation was headed.

The kid just spread his hands out, much like Tony had done to Fury. This wasn’t good. “Go ahead.”

“Flash!” Ned said, pulling on his friend’s arms.

Tony’s body jerked, involuntarily at the name, and his eyes went far away.

“What the fuck is wrong with you, man?” Flash said, looking Tony up and down.

“Alright, kids. I think you need to get home,” Rhodey said, sternly.

“Come on,” Ned said, still pulling on Flash. What kind of name was that, anyways? Rhodey hoped it was just a nickname.

Suddenly, Tony gasped, and his whole body pitched forward.

Flash actually laughed. “I think I know what’s wrong. This guy’s on something.”

He turned to Wanda who was watching from behind the glass with muted interest. It wasn’t the first time.  “You guys need to start drug testing.”

Suddenly, Tony had the kid by the collar, red in the face. “How dare you come in here acting like you give a fuck about Peter? I don’t care what feelings you have for him, but don’t ever let me see your face again.”

His voice was low, deadly, and Rhodey used his full force to pry Tony’s hands from the kid. This was not good.

“Tony! Stop. Stop.”

Ned watched, mesmerized, and horrified. “Mr. Stark, please. We just want an update.”

The kid’s pleading was truly heartbreaking, and when Tony had let go and collected himself, Rhodey nudged him. “Tony? Can you tell him something?”

“I’ll talk to you, but I won’t talk to your friend,” he finally said.

Flash whirled around at that and sauntered out of the precinct, throwing a few words over his shoulder. “I’ll be in the car.”

When Rhodey turned back, Tony was watching Ned, cool as a cucumber. “How can you stand that guy?”

Ned shrugged.

Rhodey guessed the poor guy was just lonely after his friend went missing.

He was looking at Tony expectantly and sort of… hopeless?

Tony must have picked up on it, too, and clapped Ned on the shoulder. “We have a lead. Don’t tell anyone this. It’s top secret stuff, alright? Don’t even tell the aunt, for obvious reasons.”

Ned’s face burst into a grin and he began nodding, excitedly. “Okay, okay.”

“Don’t get too excited.”

“Okay.”

“But don’t not be excited.”

More nodding and grinning.

“There’s a grey area there,” Tony said with a vague waving of his hand. “Yep, there you go.”

“Thank you so much, Mr. Stark.” Then, Ned actually hugged Tony.

Rhodey had to bite back a laugh, somewhat hysterically because, really, this was some tough shit.

“No, thank you.”

They both watched as Ned ran out and towards the ridiculous sports car that they had apparently drove in. There was a huge poster of Peter glued to the side, and Rhodey guessed they were headed over to the school for Peter’s dedication. When their eyes met, they both had tears there, but they pushed them down and headed to the closest Applebee’s.

 When they got back to Rhodey’s place, Tony sat down heavily in the armchair while he went to the bathroom down the hall. As promised, they both kept it to cokes and wings in the little booths by the windows. Tony couldn’t be trusted at the bar after such a stressful day.

He knew his friend was probably sifting through the visions in his mind like scenes from a movie, trying to fit all of them into place, to see how the story fit together. There were bits and pieces of information they had collected throughout the evening, but the name was probably the most helpful.

From the bathroom, Rhodey could hear Tony on the phone with Wade, explaining everything. He gave the name and orders for an extensive background check. They needed to find this Quentin Beck, “like yesterday.”

When Rhodey exited the bathroom, Tony was no longer in the living room.

“Tony?”

“Hmmm?”

He went back down the hallway, following the faint glow coming from his office. A deep sigh.

“Tony, I don’t appreciate you going through my stuff without asking. All you have to do is ask, and I’ll let you.”

“Exactly. So, why ask?”

The man had his filing cabinet open, opening manila folders briefly to see the picture of the victim and putting it back. They were all missing children, part of the biggest case Rhodey had ever been put on in his career, the international sex ring.

“Tony?”

“Hmmm?”

“What are you doing, exactly?” Rhodey felt his heart jump because he knew.

“Looking for connections.”

“Who are you looking for exactly?”

“Harley. He’s a kid with light brownish hair, blue eyes. Cute. Heard of him?”

“Not the Keener boy?”

“Keener?” Tony quickly flipped to “K”. “Dear sweet Jesus. I could kiss you right now, Rhodey.”

Though Tony looked like he had seen a ghost, he rushed Rhodey and pressed his lips firmly to his cheek.

“Hey, hey, hey!” Rhodey protested, wiping his cheek. “Bleh! What the hell, man?”

Tony just laughed, quietly, hugging the file to his chest. “My friend, I think we have a lead.”

“Two, actually.”

“No, just one.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

On the surface, the island was paradise. Scratch beneath, and the island was a cage. Gamora knew this very well, but she couldn’t bring herself to escape. No one was holding her there but herself. She would always be her own greatest enemy.

The view from her window was of the sea, freedom in a way- if one wanted to brave the rocks below and the shark-infested waters beyond. The hammerheads were absolutely tremendous here, but Thanos treated them like his guard dogs. He was very fond of them.

That morning, he would have gotten up before dawn to chum the waters with the remains of a “helper”. Gamora wanted to kill him for it, too, but that wasn’t new. It wasn’t fair to the boy, not at all.

If only Thanos had known of her own-involvement or purposeful noninvolvement, he would throw her to the sharks as well. 

The only person who had ever escaped was Nebula who had been thrown to the sharks about a year ago and had survived with nothing but a spear and a flair gun. 

“Daughter, you have failed me,” Thanos said whilst Nebula clung to the ship.

“Father, please.”

“You get the same punishment as the rest. I will not spare anyone, daughter of mine or not. You will be an example to the others.”

Gamora kept her gaze down. If Thanos knew of her own involvement, she would be up there with her sister. And Nebula wasn’t saying a word, actually sparing her despite everything else. The only thing they had ever agreed on was Thanos’s death, and even then, they had sought and craved his approval. It was disgusting.

“Start the engines.”

“No!” Gamora screamed.

Nebula let go just in time to not be pulled into the propeller.

She wasn’t panicked, and that was the key to her survival. Nebula swam stealthily under the boat and popped out on the other side, spear in hand.

Thanos’s upper lip twitched. 

A few of the hammerheads circled Nebula, fins cutting through the clear water.

Gamora felt a swell of pride when her sister stabbed through the fin of the largest shark, and the others attacked him while she darted under water.

Thanos was not pleased. “Give me a gun.”

He fired several rounds into the water, barely missing Nebula each time. He was corralling her. 

Nebula swam quickly now towards the sandbar. There, she stood and pulled what appeared to be a gun out of her bra and fired three flares into the sky.

A loud boom echoed around them as Thanos shot Nebula in the shoulder. She swayed with the impact but didn’t fall over, determined to stay on her feet.

Thanos fired at her feet, chasing her away and back into the shark-infested waters where he fired bullet after bullet. Nebula didn’t surface again.

The only thing that gave Gamora hope was the tell-tale buzz of a jet ski taking off in the distance. 

That and the fact that someone very similar to Nebula was seen walking through Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

 

She came back to herself remembering the day’s objective. 

Usually, two boys were seen out and about the grounds, running about the island, especially if there were not any guests staying at the moment. Harley and Peter.

Recently, the boys had been disappearing for lengthy periods of time, and she was suspicious. If they were plotting some sort of escape plan, she wouldn’t be a hindrance, not at all. Gamora simply liked to know what was going on around her. 

So, she followed them.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Hi.”

Peter looked up to see Harley resting his arms on the fence lazily while grinning like the devil. He sat up from where he was lounging by the pool. Something was definitely up.

“What’s up, Harls?”

“Not much, just putting together a satellite some imbecile carelessly disposed of in the dumpster.”

He was on his feet so fast that his head spun, but he ignored this, grabbing Harley by the arm to pull him close and hissing in his ear, “Keep your voice down.”

Harley yanked his arm out of Peter’s grip, nostrils flaring. “That wasn’t obvious at all.”

They both looked around quickly before deciding the coast was clear, and Peter hopped over the fence to follow Harley down to their secret workshop. It was frequently used for fucking as well as basic engineering to pass the time. One thing they could both agree on was that they never thought they could miss school. Peter had always liked school but never exactly looked forward to it. 

They scanned the area before entering, eyeing the treeline and looking for any sign of movement before nodding to each other. 

Peter couldn’t explain it, but even when he was alone, he didn’t feel alone. He was used to being watched at the very least through the cameras, but this felt otherworldly in a sense. Or maybe he finally had lost his marbles. 

“Wow. Looks like a piece of shit.”

“Like you could find anything better.”

“You really think this is our ticket out of here?”

“I really do.”

 Considering all the hacking the pair had done on behalf of Beck, they each had a considerable amount of knowledge split between them. What Harley didn’t know, Peter could usually figure out. What neither knew, they theorized and experimented until they got it right.

The bad part about using a satellite as their escape plan was the fact that they couldn't actually use it until it was time to send a signal because the other satellites around Titan would surely pick up on it. Therefore, the plan was a bit… questionable and slightly (mostly) suicidal. When they jumped off the cliff, if everything went accordingly, the US navy would be waiting for them below. If not, well. Au revoir.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“You need to listen to me. There needs to be a boat out there when that satellite sends its signal.”

Fury looked at him with his one eye. “But you don’t know where the boat needs to be.”

“We need multiple boats,” Tony admitted.

“Based on what, Stark? I need proper evidence. Not something your mind may or may not have shown you. I can’t swing it this time. The country is following this case, and they are not happy with the way things have gone thus far. You may not just lose your job, Stark. You may have to answer in court for the mishandling of the Parker case.”

Tony turned to Natasha next who was listening with her chin resting in her hand, thinking. To Tony, she said, “Do you know when this could possibly take place?”

“Within the next week.”

“You hesitated.”

“Nat, please!”

“Tony… I can’t put my badge on the line. Some of us don’t get third and fourth, hell, maybe fifth chances.”

He wanted to point out Natasha’s rocky start but didn’t want to anger his teammate even further as he needed her if he was going to get to Peter in time. Though the improbability of rescuing Peter seemed higher than ever. He wanted, no, needed this to work.

Selfishly, Tony needed it for himself whether he wanted to admit it or not. He needed it for Morgan. On top of everything else, he couldn't lose her forever. In other words, losing Peter would mean losing Morgan. Then, he really wouldn’t be able to live with himself after that.

His last few days would be spent with a bottle in one hand and a loaded gun in the other. 

Fury interjected. “Why don’t you have any more information? You been drinking again?”

“Of course not! Look, I want to find this kid as much as the next guy if not more. I can’t drink at a time like this. I don’t know why things haven’t been coming as easily. I-” He cut himself off, well aware that he was digging himself a grave.

Fury shook his head. “It’s not good enough. I’m sorry. My hands are tied.”

He looked at Natasha one last time, but she just shook her head at him. 

Tony felt hot and cold all over. Peter and the other kid were royally fucked. He felt like he might throw up or worse. Before he could have an accident, he exited the director’s office, slamming the door shut.

In the men’s room, he locked himself in a stall. “Fuck!”

His very core shook with the knowledge of being a failure. He felt like he was drowning, like he was up to his neck in water with a cement block tied to one foot pulling him down. The pounding in his head implored him to drink, and maybe that’s what he should do. There was a bar just down the street...

When his mental breakdown was manageable, he exited and washed his hands. In the mirror, his face was white as a ghost. There was movement behind him.

“Gah!” He gasped, hand immediately going for his gun.

“Whoa, easy there, killer. It’s just me,” Natasha said, hands raised. “Listen, I know how we can save him.”

Tony squinted, distrustful of his work colleague. What was in it for Natasha? A promotion. More like recognition , a voice in the back of his mind said. Undo all the dirty. He covered his emotions with a joke, like he always did.

“What is this? Some cheesy thriller novel from the 80’s?”

Natasha rolled her eyes. “No. And that writing was way better anyways. So, are you going to let some dumbass, social climbing asshole solve your case?”

She moved closer to him, tits brushing his chest. “Or are you going to find your balls?.”

All the months of being a single man with no other flirtation but his right hand were making Natasha’s proximity unbearable. It would be rather unfortunate (or fortunate) if he got a hard-on at that moment. He had thoughts just like everyone around the office, he was sure. She was gorgeous with flaming red hair and an hourglass figure to die for, but in nature, things that were brightly colored held a clear warning: Danger! Do not touch.

“I- uh.” Tony backed away against the sink. “I’m sort of seeing someone right now, so this sort of thing can’t happen.”

“Bullshit. You’re not seeing anyone. God, and to think they were actually considering you in place of Steve. Now, who can we trust from the team?”

Tony blinked stupidly at her while his mind caught up with what he knew about the woman in front of him and what she was clearly insinuating. A rescue plan.

Either way, he was fucked, so why not go down fighting?




Steve, Rhodey, Wade, and, weirdly, Scott rolled out of the police station in Natasha’s black escalade.

“So,” Scott said conversationally. “What’s in this for me?”

“I’ll get you hired on with a private company,” Natasha said unemotionally. 

“Why are you here, Steve? I mean, Captain Rogers?” Scott asked next.

“To make things legit. If things go South, I want to make sure we can get our jobs back.”

Natasha snorted. “We? What makes you so sure you will even get yours back? Just to be clear, this could go terribly wrong.”

“But it won’t,” Rhodey said, leaning forward to rest his hands on Tony’s shoulders. “So. When’s the flight?”



Intrducing:

Natasha Romanoff: The sexy but deadly flight attendant.

Wade Wilson: The sex(ier) but deadly flight attendant.

James Rhodes: The ex-Air Force pilot gone rogue 

Captain Steve Rogers: Co Captain but just making sure everything is legit 

Tony Stark: the man waiting in the wings with a knife.

Team name: Avengers 

(Scott Lange aka Antnan: The ex-hacker or The guy everyone forgets about including the author)

 

“Um, Natasha, this was not what the team agreed on,” Steve interjected, adjusting his uniform.

They were standing in a small waiting area in the back of the airport meant for private planes and important, official people. There were comfortable lounge chairs and recliners, and the space was lit with fancy lighting and even included a full service bar that Tony was eyeing every couple of minutes.

Several in the group had a drink in hand for appearances sake and only Wade could stomach drinking any.  

“I didn’t realize that there were stipulations. I thought we were trying to save two kids and put a sex ring under,” Natasha looked him up and down. “Besides, the uniform suits you.”

His cheeks colored at her words, and Tony almost wanted to tease him. It was good that Peggy had stayed behind in the office, or somebody would be in a chokehold. He’d love to see Peggy go up against Natasha. Maybe if they lived through this whole thing, he’d stir the pot a little at this year’s Christmas party.

“No offense, but it’s been a while since I’ve flown. I’m sure Rhodes here is shitting himself as well,” Steve replied. They were both ex-military pilots. 

“This is insane. No,” Scott said walking back towards the terminal, pulling at the collar of his uniform.

“So is hacking, but I guess we’re just going to ignore your past. Pussy.”

The group took a collective breath. No one talked about Scott’s past. 

Scott stopped in his tracks, deliberated and walked back towards Natasha. “I’ll do it but not another fucking word out of your mouth.”

Rhodey sighed, putting his face into his hands. “Enough.” He gazed out at the jet sitting on the runway. “What’s the plan when we get on the ground?”

“We infiltrate.”

“Which entails?”

“Never mind that. We have to focus on actually getting there in one piece which from everything you’ve said up to this point has me questioning,” She said with a furrowed brow, the only indicator that she was just as nervous as the rest of them. “Now, Rhodes, you’re the pilot. Steve, co-pilot. Scott and Tony will be hiding in the back bedroom ready for ambush. Which leaves Wade and I to serve our guests.”

“I thought there would be a boat involved somewhere in there,” Tony said quietly. “Those kids think the Navy will be waiting for them.”

“Well,” Natasha shrugged. “They get something better. Us.”

“And that’s supposed to make me feel better?” Tony said to himself. He caught Rhodey’s gaze and knew his friend had heard him and sympathized with him.

 

They were soon allowed to board the plane in order to prep the cabin for the arrival of their guests or, in other words, a few very sleazy members of the government with questionable morals and an expensive taste in champagne. 

If they had any inkling before as to what was to occur on the flight, they needn’t question any longer. There was a stripper pool in the middle of the plane, and the seats all swiveled at the push of a button in order to face the main event. Another button caused a disco ball to release from the ceiling and a bass to drop into a deep, sultry beat.

“Enough, children,” Natasha barked, getting everything back into order. 

“God, I feel like we need a team name,” Scott murmured. “This feels like a real mission.”

“Be quiet,” Tony ordered, gazing uneasily out one of the many small windows. “The guests are arriving.”

Indeed, a group of greasy men ranging from the age of forty to sixty approached with a horde of security and aircrew. They exuded self-proclaimed importance. Luckily, the security was left on the steps, and Tony had to guess it was to limit the knowledge of the occurrences on the very island the team was to expose that night. 

“Welcome aboard,” Natasha and Steve greeted interchangeably. There were four of them in total, all in business suits of the expensive variety.

“Is that Senator Stern?” Scott gasped from the galley, and Tony decked him.

“I said shut up,” Tony hissed into his ear.

 

Everything seemed normal at first. They successfully completed takeoff, rose to the given altitude, drinks were passed, the inflight meal was prepared and served, and the men talked amongst themselves. Tony waited with dread for what was to occur on the three hour flight. He could tell something was off whether it was his own intuition or the anticipation in some of the men’s faces, he didn’t know.

About an hour into the flight, things took a turn. Natasha and Wade began dancing on the tables and giving lap dances. Natasha had her shirt unbuttoned and her skirt hitched up while Wade was in his boxers and flight attendant tie. 

One of the men grabbed Natasha and stuck his hand into her panties. She and Wade both ended up on their stomachs getting pounded into by politicians of various different branches of the government. 

This was not how it was supposed to go. Tony felt so sick to his stomach that he had to go through the first aid supplies to find something to appease the nausea. There was a little packet of Dramamine that he found and took it with some water.

Scott was also pale and looking greener by the second, so Tony shoved the remaining meds into his hand. 

They continued serving drinks as if they weren’t witnessing their coworkers being raped and abused by high-ranking government officials. Tony wanted to kill every last one of them and vowed that he would do so if given the chance.

In the back of his mind, he knew one if not all had been inflicted upon his Peter, and he was going to avenge him. And if Peter died tonight, it would be a slow, painful death.

Not soon enough, they descended until Tony actually feared they would dive straight into the water until at the last minute, grass, rocks, and finally, a landing strip appeared. They touched down only swaying slightly due to the wind. It was a phenomenal landing.  

The business men were greeted by a man with dark hair and beard dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts. There was a group of young men and women decorating the new arrivals with leis of fresh flowers. Tony craned his neck to see if Peter or Harley were among them, but no such luck. It would’ve been too great to simply fire a few rounds, grab the kids, and leave. They had the coordinates now.

But they couldn’t do that. It was too risky. They needed to get everyone off the island, Tony could see that now. Looking into the faces of the young men and women, he knew he couldn’t leave them behind. 

 Wade nor Natasha seemed bothered, at least not openly when the team converged in the aisle of the plane, not sure what to do next.

“Oh my God!” Tony gasped as he exited the back room. “What the hell was that?”

Natasha wiped her lips on her sleeve. “Don’t ever mention that to anyone.”

Wade shrugged. “It’s for the kids.”

“What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck,” Scott kept saying over and over again. “I’m going to fucking kill those those guys.”

“No, you’re not,” Steve said in a loud whisper. “And I’d like to kill them as much as the next guy, but they deserve to face justice.”

“Yeah, I’ve got justice for them right here,” Rhodes said, holding up his fist.

“Okay, everyone, cool it,” Steve said sternly. “We’re here, and that’s what matters. If you can’t handle the job, then you can stay on the plane.”

Through the windows, they could see golf carts disappearing one by one, each occupant with a fruity drink in hand.

A young woman began climbing the steps of the plane with a pleasant smile on her face, as if she enjoyed her job very much.

“Hello, I am Mia,” she said, curly brown hair blowing in the breeze. It was, indeed, becoming very hot on the aircraft in the tropical weather. “An invitation has been extended to the crew to dine and stay the night. It would be our honor to have you. We have prepared a special hut for your group.”

They each looked at her as if she had three eyes.

She shifted in her sandals. “You must be new. I’ve never seen your faces before.”

“Yep, that’s right,” Steve answered for them. “You’ll have to show us around, if you don’t mind.”

She smiled flirtatiously. “The pleasure is all mine.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It had been a few hours since the tour of the island had ended. Mia had driven the long golf cart around the island, letting the aircrew take in the views, and even showed them the guest swimming pool, which they would have access to for the duration of their stay. This pool was very different from the one the esteemed guests were currently using. There was no staff, only a fully stocked bar and essential items available in the pool house.

There were especially no boys and girls roaming about in various states of undress while important and expensive-looking people groped them. No, this was for show.

Tonight, Mia was on her way to the hut, with a picnic basket containing dinner for the crew in one hand. The staff was not allowed unlimited access to the golf carts, even at her rank, and Mia preferred to walk anyway because it was the only time she had entirely to herself. 

One of her favorite things about the night was that it wrapped around her, concealing her from the male gaze. She told God that she would never again complain about wearing the veil. It would be her protection as it was written to be.

Mia could remember her life back in Italy, but the picture was grainy now as if it had been filmed with one of those old cameras from the 1940s. The lighting was off, and the movement was choppy.

She longed to wake up in her bed with the day appearing along the horizon, lay for a few minutes taking in the warmth and safety of childhood, something that one does not cherish until it’s over. But more than that, she missed the smell of fried dough wafting from the kitchen into the tapestry, burning itself in. She missed the soft clay of the garden where her father showed her how to chew mint.

In her life on the island, Mia found ways of bringing her past into the present. She and a few other girls would wake up early, wash, and worship, using their bedding as sufficient cover to pray. They were never given dresses or skirts that went past the knee. 

Of the girls on the island, few proved to be loyal friends. It was cutthroat. Mia couldn’t ever really hold it against them in the end because she would do the same in the name of self-preservation, and for that, she asked forgiveness and compassion from her God, hoping that He wouldn’t hold it against her too much on Judgement Day.

Aside from the competition and the violence, the island was like a never-ending sleepover, or, at least, that was how Gamora had told her to look at it when she arrived, just barely thirteen. In a way, it was. In their off time, they would chat and play games, even go swimming. At night, a lot of the girls cried, especially the young ones. So, they invented a game where they made a train with beds and braided each other’s hair. They would take turns being the caboose which made for a very lonely night.

Meeting people from around the world was probably the best part of their predicament. It was just so interesting to learn about cultural traditions, and Mia sorely missed her school and education. She longed to return, finish her education, and become a history teacher. 

During the holidays, Mia never felt a greater sense of comradery with the others. Everyone put aside their traditional differences in order to help decorate. She would never admit it aloud, but Christmas was her favorite, even over Eid, due to the majority of the girls being Christian. There was so much spirit that it almost made up for the darkness of the place.

They didn’t see much of the boys; at least Mia didn’t. Every once in a while, one of the girls would develop a crush and sneak off to see her beau, but it was forbidden and, despite warnings, never ended well. Especially if the girl became pregnant, which occasionally happened despite the implant in their arms.

But Mia had heard the stories, and in the course of her time on the island, five young girls had gone missing, pulled from their beds in the night. It was rumored that three of them had been auctioned to a foreign entity, while the other two had passed away from failed abortions. 

Mia’s heart ached for them. She didn’t know what was worse at times. Life or death.

The competition, the comradery, the sorrow.

Three years.

It had been three years of rape, coercion, and manipulation. But it wasn’t all for nothing. The longer Mia was there, the less undesirable tasks she had to perform. It was funny how that worked. Once she finally submitted to the violence and proved that she was moldable, she was promoted.

Now, as she passed the guards at their posts along the trail, she pulled at her skirt so that it fell closer to her knees than her bottom to cover the tanned skin of her thighs. With every post she passed, she lowered her gaze and continued on, basket in hand.

No one bothered her; they all knew who she was. She was the prude of the bunch for not craving their attention. No, she wouldn’t entice her captors. She would play the game, but she wouldn’t allow them any benefit.

The balmy night air was cut by the cool ocean breeze coming off the water. Just to the right of the trail was a grouping of trees, and beyond that, a cliff with a steep drop.

Mia held the flashlight higher now that she was past the guard post and headed towards the hut that housed the flight crew from that day’s flight. The only other light came from the stars and the moon until she reached the glowing tiki lights surrounding the hut.

It was oddly still.

Mia approached carefully, from the side, staying out of view from the windows though they appeared to be shuttered once more.

She squinted in confusion. They were an odd group, to be sure, constantly murmuring amongst themselves, too fast for her limited English to interpret. 

As she crept closer, Mia could detect voices, hurried whispers of frustration. There was enough space under the hut that she could squat down to listen, and she shone her flashlight around to navigate the spiderwebs and snakes. It wasn’t the first time, and they were mostly harmless, anyway.

“We needed a plan, like yesterday!”

“This is the plan. Worst case scenario is that we fly out in a couple of days with just coordinates and photo evidence, but it’s still a great plan, better than anything you have come up with so far!”

“Photos of what? An empty swimming pool?”

“We might have to come back.”

There was a growl of annoyance. “I am not leaving them behind.”

“Tony, none of us want to, believe me,” said a female voice. The redhead. “But, we don’t really have a choice. We are way in over our heads with this one. The extent, the extent of this network is… I think we should call Fury.”

“No! Nobody makes a call from the sat phone until it’s time.” This was another voice, a more authoritative voice. Mia shivered.

The voices continued, but she was no longer listening, actually dazed by the thought that these people who had flown in earlier that day were their rescuers. It didn’t seem possible. She hadn’t even allowed herself to dream of escape in years.

And now, on just another day, there they were.

Heavy stomps echoed above her, and the door of the hut slammed. Someone paced above on the patio before eventually sitting down. There was a heavy silence until the sound of soft sobs sank down to Mia’s ears.

She carefully crept out from under the hut and circled back around to the path. From a distance, she could see that it was the red-haired woman sitting on the deck, facing the ocean.

As she drew closer, she could detect the look of heavy frustration in the woman’s profile and contempt in her lips. Mia knew that look very well. A fat tear rolled down the woman’s face and over her chin. She was close now and decided to announce her presence before she put a foot on the stairs.

“Excuse me, miss,” she said.

The woman jumped to her feet, whirling around and clasping at her belt only to find that there was nothing there. It was like a scene from the detective show her mom would watch. “Cover your eyes,” she would instruct before slapping a hand over Mia’s face.

It was easy enough to put two and two together.

“You’re a cop,” Mia blurted.

The woman’s eyes darted around the darkness surrounding them.

Very slowly, Mia bent to set her basket down, keeping the flashlight in one hand. She raised them both above her head.

“I’m not going to tell anyone. I want to help.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed. The wetness on her cheeks disappeared with her alarm, and she stuck out a hand. “Give me the flashlight.”

Mia slowly held it out to the woman, who grabbed it quickly and held her arms up in a pose that would have made sense if she’d had a gun.

Mia found herself raising an eyebrow at the theatrics, and she began giggling for no reason. The giggles soon turned into deep belly laughs, and she clutched at her stomach, bending in half to control the noise.

“I’m not going to do anything. Me? Who am I?”

The woman waited for her to be done, still posed in her ridiculous manner.

“Oh, my God. Could you put it down already?” Mia gasped.

“What are you doing here?”

She nudged the basket with her foot. “Delivering dinner. It’s not a crime, you know.”

“Were you listening?”

Mia shrugged.

They eyed each other again.

“What’s your name again?” 

It was just perfect that she wouldn’t remember the name of the help. “It’s Mia. And yours?”

“Natasha.”

“Ah, you’re Russian.”

She shifted uncomfortably, eyes narrowed to slits. “Why were you laughing?”

“I was in shock, okay?” Mia felt tired all of a sudden, so she sank down to her knees and sat down on the wooden patio. “There are cops here that don’t want to get under my skirt.”

Natasha grimaced. “There have been cops here before?”

“Cops are easily coerced,” she widened her eyes playfully at that. “Low salary, no morals, I don’t know. What’s your price?”

“For the rape of children?”

“For keeping silent.”

Mia let Natasha digest that piece of information before speaking again. “If I were to help you, how do I know that you won’t take a deal? Get paid off like the others. I hear houses in the Maldives are selling at a very rapid rate.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“No shit.”

Once again, they had a staring contest.

“They’d throw me to the sharks, you know. Chum the water a bit to get them active, throw me in. They’d all laugh and eat their popcorn as my body is torn apart and eaten like it’s nothing, like I’m nothing but entertainment. I hate money. I spit on it.”

Natasha’s eyes were softer, and the flashlight wavered. “I have no price. You should know that.”

“I should alert the proper authorities right now,” Mia bluffed. “Get a promotion, could be nice.”

“Don’t do that.”

“Why not?” She said, looking at her manicured nails, as if freedom was nothing but a tease.

“Because you can trust me.” When Mia didn’t respond, Natasha continued. “Because I’m like you.”

“Like me?” She scoffed, offended that the woman in front of her had the audacity to compare the two. “No offense, honey, but I don’t think so.”

Natasha’s face grew darker, and her red hair somehow seemed to like a sinister halo around her face where it fell from its braid.

“I was abducted at the age of ten and held in a dark cellar for two years. I was raped every night and had two at-home abortions. The last one nearly killed me, and he left me for dead on the side of the highway. Cars actually passed me. They didn’t stop. Nobody saw me until I pushed myself up and began walking, delirious with blood loss. Finally, a truck driver picked me up. And even now, I can’t say he had good intentions, initially.

“I hate what he did to me, and I vowed to spend my life trying to find every single low life out there and have them convicted. And, don’t get me wrong, there are some days when I look into the faces of young victims, I’m not sure that I won’t become unhinged and strangle their abusers myself.”

As Natasha spoke, she drew closer and closer to Mia until there was barely a foot between them, the flashlight now resting against her leg. She sank down onto her knees and even dared to put a hand on the other’s shoulder.

“So, yeah. You can trust me. I have no price, and I can’t promise that if you cross me, Mia, that I won’t come after you.”

“If I cross you, you have permission to kill me because I wouldn’t be able to live with myself after that.”

Natasha smiled. “Deal.”

 

She clutched the pen Natasha had given her in one hand as she walked along the trail back towards the main house. There was a buzzing in her blood, making her knees wobble and fingers shake, but despite her anxiety, Mia felt something she had not felt in a long time—empowered.

Taking a chance, she took the long way back, circling through the large pool where there were various cabanas in different states of occupancy. Holding the pen to her side, she clicked away just how Natasha had shown her.

There was a man with a much younger girl in one of the cabanas. The curtains weren’t pulled all the way, and why should they be? A pit of disgust settled in her stomach as she realized the safe environment they had created for these atrocities to occur, and she had been a part of it.

The photo evidence she gathered would be damning enough for the creep all over the girl, and Mia made sure to get a good profile shot of the man. She wondered if he even knew how young the girl was in his arms. It was the first time Mia had ever seen him on the island; he was just tagging along with his buddies. His life would be ruined over a drunken trip to paradise.

And it almost happened: she almost felt guilty.

A noise behind her alerted her to the gate being opened, and in came a couple of boys followed by a chubby businessman in all his glory with a towel wrapped around his neck. He was busy tapping away at his phone when they passed, so she thought she could remain invisible until he stopped.

“Hey, sweetheart.”

She felt her eyes widen for a second, like a scared rabbit.

“Can I borrow your pen for a moment?”

“Um…”

“Come on, baby,” he implored, the alcohol on his breath washing over her face.

“Of course.”

“Perfect. It’s got that stylis on the end of it. Excellent. I just have to send an email. You know, important business.”

The two boys accompanying him dove into the pool headfirst and swam around.

Mia waited, keeping her head bowed in a position of servitude. Her heart hammered in her chest as she fought to keep her calm. The pen was everything, and she couldn’t lose this chance.

It was satisfying to know that every touch of the stylis to his screen meant he was taking a photo. She just hoped that there was enough space in the small device after this.

When he was finished, he analyzed the pen. “This is great. Do you mind if I keep it?”

Her heart dropped.

“I’m just messing with you, sweetheart.” A meaty hand landed on her shoulder, squeezing.

Mia wanted to kill him, take that towel around his neck and strangle him.

His naked, hairy body was so close to her that his protruding stomach brushed her hip.

“Thanks, doll,” he said, handing it back to her. “You’re an angel.”

She smiled sweetly. “No problem, Senator.”

The boys in the pool called out to him. They had removed their swim trunks and were swinging them around in the air, goading the older man to join them.

“If you’ll excuse me. Duty calls.”

 

Most of the girls were already asleep by the time she crept into her sleeping quarters.

Janie, an 11-year-old from Wisconsin, shuffled towards her in the dark with her bunny in one hand.

“Where have you been, Mia?”

Mia opened up her covers and scooted over to the very edge of her twin bed. “You know not to ask questions.”

“Right,” the smaller girl said as she cuddled into her side.

She tucked Janie's head under her chin and smiled to herself. Soon, the suffering would be over. In the dark, she held the pen up to her face trying to find exactly where the camera was hidden, but it was too dark to see anything.

Sleep didn’t come easily to Mia as she found it difficult to process the day’s events. The adrenaline from everything that occurred that day soared through her body. On the precipice of dreaming, her family’s faces transitioned through her mind like a slideshow.

She wondered what it would be like to wake up in her own bed again, if it would even feel like home anymore or just a foreign place, like she was sleeping in someone else’s bed. There would always be a part of her that this island took up, and she didn’t know if she would ever be able to claim it.

Around two in the morning, just as she was falling asleep, her bed began vibrating. Surely, it was an earthquake, but a loud boom shook the walls of the bedroom.

The girls began waking up in various states of alarm.

“Mia,” Janie shook her arm.

She felt paralyzed; this certainly wasn’t part of the plan.

A loud siren started up around them, then a voice came.

“We apologize for interrupting your regularly scheduled programming, but there are about two dozen ships off the shore of this very island. Anyone who would like to escape, I advise you to do it now, as we have planted bombs in various parts of the island that are scheduled to detonate in T minus thirty minutes. And don’t worry about those scumbags; they’ve been given a mighty fine cocktail. They’ll sleep right through it.”

The voice was young, belonging to a teenage boy.

“Oh, my God,” Mia whispered.

They had no idea that there were cops already infiltrating the island and that this plan was pointless and unnecessarily dangerous. And nobody had any choice but to follow through.

“Girls, leave everything the way it is and get down to the beach.”

Her voice shook as she searched for the pen in the covers.

“Mia?” Janie asked tearfully.

“Gotcha!” She cried when she finally found it. “Come on, Janie. Let’s go.”

There was chaos outside as various groups of people hurried from their bedrooms. Anxiety was apparent as well as general excitement.

“We’re being rescued!” Someone cried out.

There was another explosion, and she realized it was a guard post. She ducked as fiery palms blew over their heads in the wind towards the main house. The roof was on fire.

On the beach, there were men and women in uniform directing the children through the shallow waters and into the lifeboats, while another group in uniform headed towards the house.

Just as she entered the water with the others, it struck her that the flight crew may have been given the same cocktail meaning they were asleep while the island was being blown up around them.

“Oh, my God.”

Harley, one of the boys from what she liked to call double trouble, was shouting something else into the megaphone when Mia ran up to him. “Hey!”
He glared at her. “What?”

“Did you give the flight crew the same thing as the others?”

He raised an eyebrow.

“The stupid cocktail thing! I ran a picnic basket up to the hut on the east end.”

“What does it matter, anyway?”

Mia grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him frantically, upset that he couldn’t answer a simple question. “Did you or did you not?”

“Well, yeah.”

“You stupid idiots!” She cried. 

Peter and Harley exchanged looks, and then Peter spoke. “What’s going on?”

“Never mind that, now. I have to go to them.”

There was a fire spreading through the trees due to the wind blowing the debris from the guard posts. 

“Mia!” Janie cried, clutching onto her arm.

“Get into a lifeboat, Janie. I have to go back. I’m so sorry, love.” She wrapped her arms around the small girl, squeezing her to her body. “You’ll be okay. Everything is going to be okay now.”

When Mia ripped herself free, she began sprinting towards the garage. Her knees wobbled with every step in the race to get there.

The building was deserted, and she had her selection of keys. She deliberated for a minute before choosing the ATV as it would be the fastest.

“Okay, Mia,” she said to herself when she straddled the seat. “You can do this, like a bike.”

 Just as she turned the key, two figures burst in.

“Alright, move over,” Harley called to her.

“What are you doing?”

“Helping you, obviously.”

“I think we should grab lifejackets,” Peter said, frowning. “I don’t think they’ll be able to swim in their state, and I’m not sure that we’ll get back to this side of the island with all the explosives we planted.”

Mia growled in frustration. “Boys. You ruin everything.”

“Well, that’s no way to thank your rescuers,” Harley said, offended.

“Oh, shut it. Those people you sedated are cops, you idiots!”

She watched in satisfaction as their eyes grew wide. “And never mind that now. You’ve murdered the plan, and we’re wasting time talking about it. I’m ready to go home.”

“Alright, move over, darling, and let the master drive.”

So, they rumbled through the dark, Mia clinging to Harley’s waist for dear life while Peter led the way on the other ATV. The fire was spreading rapidly through the trees on either side of them, and they kept their heads low to avoid branches as well as smoke. 

“What did you do?” Mia demanded between fits of coughing. “Pour kerosine all over the place?”

“Yup!” Harley grinned over his shoulder.

“And if the Navy hadn’t come?!”

There was no reply.

She couldn’t believe that her life was actually in the hands of an imbecile. Maybe she should have just climbed into the damned liferaft. 

When they stopped off at the pool to grab the lifejackets, the tiki bar was on fire.

By the time they reached the hut, they were all coughing violently. The boys took turns throwing themselves against the door until it finally gave way.

“Up and at ‘em!” Harley cried once they finally got through.

Just as they expected, the group was passed out, snoring heavily.

Mia could have strangled both Harley and Peter at that moment, but instead, she went directly to Natasha and began shaking her wake.

The redhead groaned in her sleep. “Go away, Scott.”

“Natasha!” More shaking. “Natasha, please!”

Finally, her eyes cracked open, and Mia could tell she was annoyed.

“Please, Natasha. The island is on fire, and the Navy is evacuating everyone.”

She sat up. “What?”

She swayed a bit, and Mia steadied her shoulders. “Come on, we have to get out of here. These two imbeciles bombed the place.”

The sound of pans banging together made her ears ring, and Natasha shot death glares in Harley’s direction. Peter was busy shaking everyone awake.

Natasha suddenly bolted up. “Tony! Tony, wake up! It’s Peter… oh, my God. Harley?”

“Everyone strap in!” Harley cried out, throwing life jackets around the room.

The group was slowly but surely catching on, if still groggy. Peter and Mia went around and made sure everyone was secure in their vests. One of the cops grabbed hold of Peter’s wrist when he came around to strap him in.

“Peter?”

“The one and only. Alright, tough guy. Let’s get you up.”

“I can’t believe I found you.”

“Technically, I found you. Also, I have no idea who you are, and no offense to you, but we’re kind of in a hurry.”

The man seemed to be in a daze and clung to Peter’s arms. “Your aunt is going to be so happy.”

Mia watched this exchange with increasing interest. The man seemed to know Peter personally, but Peter had no idea who he was. She guessed that the man had worked on his case and briefly wondered if someone was still working on hers after three years or if they had given up. Maybe her family thought she was dead.

By the time everyone was settled, the fire was creeping closer on either side of the path leading back to the beach.

“Looks like we’re jumping,” Harley called out, holding his hand out to Peter, who was holding a device in his hand. “What’s that, Pete?”

“Sat phone. I’m going to call and let them know we’re on this side of the island, so they can send a boat around.”

“I told you we’d need a boat,” someone complained behind them.

“Yeah, yeah. We get it.”

They waited on the edge of the cliff with the island burning magnificently behind them. Mia hoped that everyone had gotten off the island safely and wished that she had seen  that Janie had gotten into a lifeboat with her own eyes.

The group was slowly becoming more and more aware as the effects of their sedatives wore off, and they chatted amongst themselves familiarly.

A blond man with an authoritative voice seemed to take charge of everyone and instructed them on how they would jump from such a height to avoid injury.

Finally, finally, lights appeared coming around the island, indicating a boat was approaching. They had a giant spotlight shining back and forth, searching the water. 

“Alright,” the blond man said. “Scott, you’re up first.”

“Why me?”

“Rhodey, then?”

One of the other men glared at the one that refused to jump first and edged toward the front of the line and took a deep breath, shook out his limbs, then jumped.

One by one, they jumped.

By the time Mia landed in the warm water, the boat had spotted the group and was wading towards them, instructing them to keep their hands in the air. They floated together in a cluster, and Mia prayed that the sharks weren’t lurking somewhere beneath them, waiting to give them a cruel ending.

Several others looked a bit uneasy, but no one said anything.

Mia squinted past the bright light shining on them. It was so strong, the water appeared a greenish-blue like it was daytime. She looked around and below her for shadows. 

“Now, can I ask what in the hell my team is doing in the middle of the Caribbean?”

The voice came from a man with an eyepatch standing in a trench coat on the bow of the boat.

“What are you doing here, Nick?” Natasha called out as they swam toward the boat.

“I thought you said you needed a boat.” He spread his arms. “Here it is.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It turned out that they had been on an island in the Caribbean all along, not in the Pacific nor Mediterranean oceans, but just a few hundred miles south of the US near Cuba. He and Harley both agreed that they felt like they had been duped when they found out this information. It was almost insulting how close they were to everyone, yet so completely off the map at the same time.

They were being held in a big room in the back of the Miami International Airport. Most were clustered in groups, but some sat by themselves. They were in shock, either silent or crying hysterically.

There was a little girl that Peter barely recognized, periodically crying in Mia’s arms. They would play games in between these crying spells, and Mia had somehow become the unofficial camp counselor figure of a large group of girls.

Peter and Harley were like celebrities. They were actually being hassled so much that they were allotted a separate area away from the rest of the kids.

Harley had flipped through the channels on the large flat screen hanging from the wall. They were the breaking story everywhere. “Human Trafficking Scandal” and “Trouble in Paradise” were among the most popular titles. Thanos’ face appeared several times. He was wanted in 176 countries. A few were offering the criminal asylum, which, of course, didn’t sit well with Peter and Harley.

They almost had their TV privileges revoked when Harley threw the remote at the screen.

“Can’t they get us a hotel room or something?” Harley grumbled from his sleeping bag that night. “Or at least a cot.”

“Where do you think he’s hiding?” Peter whispered into the dark.

“Some rich asshole is probably hiding him away. They all know each other. They’re all buddies,” Harley said bitterly.

Peter didn’t like the way the FBI was handling the whole thing. The way they had questioned Peter made him feel like he had done something wrong. Albeit, he had. He was stupid, and he would be the first to admit it. But the man, Hammer, was relentless, wanting all the gory details.

“Peter,” he had said, laughing obnoxiously. “The sooner we get this over with, the sooner you can fly back to New York and see your aunt.”

When Peter didn’t respond, Hammer tried a different tactic with a sigh, rubbing his forehead as if Peter were giving him a headache.

“Look, Peter. The others fall under different jurisdiction. They're not American. We really need your cooperation in order to fight the bad guys. Don’t you want to bring Thanos down?”

Well, obviously, he did. He wouldn’t have set an entire island on fire and blown it all to hell if he didn’t. He could be relaxing on the pool deck with Harley plotting their next scheme, in between rapings, of course.

Peter stared at the floor, bouncing his knee. He was beginning to close off and didn’t want to speak to this Hammer character anymore.

Luckily, the door burst open, and a man appeared looking much different from when Peter had seen him last.

He was wearing black slacks with a vest and tie, no jacket. And he was fuming.

“Let’s give the kid a break, let him get something to eat.”

If this guy was fuming, Hammer looked as if his head would explode. “This is my interrogation, Stark.”

“This is my case,” Stark said with conviction.

“Not anymore.”

Stark narrowed his eyes, challenging. “I think you’ll find that I have been hired into the bureau, and I’m taking this case. You can have Keener’s case.”

Peter swallowed uncomfortably. He hated them talking over his head and treating him like he wasn’t there.

Now, they were saying Harley would have to deal with this guy? Peter felt bad but smiled to himself, knowing Harley would give Hammer a run for his money.

Hammer pushed out of his seat, the metal grinding against the tile floor putting Peter even more on edge than he had been. He pushed past Stark, their shoulder bumping, but Stark didn’t even flinch. His smile was amused as if he had won the lottery, and no one but him knew it.

He clapped his hands together. “Food?”

Peter didn’t know what to think of the guy any more than he knew what to think about being back in the real world. It was surreal, information overload as they pushed through the hordes of hurried travelers and their luggage. Stark buffered most of it, keeping a hand on Peter’s shoulder.

He had a feeling that the others weren’t being given the same field trip when Stark had bribed security to badge them through to the main part of the airport. Maybe he was hoping to get more information out of Peter by pretending to be his friend. Little did he know, Peter was going to make him work for it.

To his surprise, Stark didn’t say anything and wolfed down his burger faster than Peter could unwrap his own, followed by the fries, then the coke.

Peter wanted to smile but didn’t want to let the detective know he was winning him over.

Stark didn’t say anything to him for the whole meal, and it was beginning to make Peter itch for conversation. He couldn’t just sit there, never was able to.

“So, Mr. Stark,” Peter began between bites. “Where are you from?”

Stark gazed around the airport, eyes always traveling in a sweeping manner before landing back on Peter. “New York. And it’s just Tony, by the way. Mr. Stark is my father.”

Peter nodded to himself, noted. “Okay. So, um, Tony. Have you always been a cop?”

He raised a brow. “No.”

“Okay. So, what did you do before?”

Tony regarded him before looking somewhere over his shoulder into the middle distance. “Stuff. Things.”

Peter smirked at that. “Stuff and things. I like stuff and things.”

“Clearly. You and your partner blew up the whole island without as much as a chemistry book.”

“So, you were into illegal stuff and things.”

“I didn’t say that.” Tony seemed accosted now, like a dad trying to cover up the fact that he ran with the leather jacket squad in high school.

They were silent for a little while, and Peter gave himself a victory lap in his head. He could outsmart the detective if he really wanted to. Why should he cooperate? They were off the island, and that’s all that mattered. And hey, he wanted to catch Thanos as much as the next guy, but more than that, he just wanted to move on with his life and not be stuck in an airport. May would throw a fit if she knew he was on American soil and he wasn’t allowed to go home until he answered some questions.

Peter frowned. “How did you know we didn’t have a chemistry book?”

“Lucky guess.”

Peter was about to question him further when Tony sighed in exasperation. “Oh, great.”

He looked over his shoulder. There was a man with an eyepatch and long leather jacket approaching them with a face like thunder that Peter now knew as Fury. He caught the attention of several people at the tables, but he didn’t strike Peter as the type of person to care.

“Stark,” he said before turning to Peter. “Mr. Parker, I would like you to go grab some snacks from the vending machine.” Fury gave him a twenty-dollar bill. “Bring me back a Baby Ruth, if you don’t mind.”

Peter didn’t question this as he was thrilled to see the selection of snacks that he had missed out on for almost a year.

He stood by the vending machine, coins jangling around in his pocket after getting almost every single thing he wanted aside from the snickers at the bottom right, Harley’s favorite. Feeling forlorn and torn at the prospect of not getting something for Harley, he stood staring into the glass, feeling a bit less than a human being.

Harley was his everything, and he could forget him so easily. He didn’t even remember to order a burger for his friend, so he would be stuck eating the shitty prepackaged food they were handing out to the victims while passports and visas were sorted out.

They weren’t just friends, though. Not really.

They were accomplices; they were lovers. But what if they were nothing now that they were off the island?

Peter was pulled from his thoughts when he recognized the reflection of Tony approaching him. He turned around to meet him.

“Why the long face?” Tony asked.

Peter sighed. “It’s nothing. I just forgot to get Harley’s favorite, and now he’s stuck with that Hammer guy. I feel bad.”

Tony reached into his pocket. “How much do you need?”

Peter smiled in relief. “Just a quarter.”

 

By the time they got back to their designated area, Peter was smiling to himself with his pockets bulging with snacks for the flight.

He went through the groups of kids, asking if anyone had seen Harley. It was hard to move along because everyone wanted to thank him for getting them off the island. He didn’t know what to say to the other kids most of the time, so he just smiled and patted their backs.

Finally, he spotted Harley walking with Hammer and a woman he didn’t recognize. He had a bag slung over his shoulder and seemed upset.

“Harley!” Peter shouted.

Their eyes met, and Harley ran over to him.

“Peter,” he said desperately. “Where have you been?”

“I went to the food court. What’s going on?”

Harley huffed and slugged him in the arm. “You bastard, I was looking everywhere for you. I have to go. They’re flying me back.”

Peter swallowed, looking at the ground. He didn’t want to say goodbye to Harley in front of everyone. He pulled Harley over into the corner, behind a pillar.

They didn’t say anything, their eyes searching each others. Finally, Harley opened his arms, and Peter stepped into his embrace. He rested his head on Harley’s shoulder.

“I’ll never forget you,” Peter said, and the emotion almost didn’t let the words escape his lips. He sounded strangled as he tried not to cry.

“I wouldn’t want you to.”

Peter reached into his pocket.

“What are you doing down there? I didn’t realize you were an exhibitionist,” Harley joked through his tears.

They looked beautiful on the boy.

“I got you something,” Peter said, holding out the Snickers bar.

Harley smiled. “Now I feel guilty for not getting you anything.”

Peter rolled his eyes, shaking the candy. “Just take it before I change my mind, Keener.”

They hugged one last time, ignoring Harley’s name being called.

“I’ll be in touch,” he called as he walked backwards towards the door.

Just before he disappeared, Harley held up both middle fingers, which Peter returned, much to Tony’s amusement. When he disappeared through the doors, Peter stared after him for a long time, watching through the floor-to-ceiling windows as the plane taxied and eventually took off. That’s when he felt truly alone for the first time.

He didn’t realize he was crying until Tony put a hand on his mid-back, but he ignored it and slid down the pillar where he stood to the floor.

Tony crouched down in front of him as he rocked back and forth. “Pete,” he said gently, shaking his arm. “Let’s not do this here.”

Peter saw there were several pairs of eyes looking at him, but Tony’s body blocked most of their stares.

“Come on, buddy.”

He let Tony haul him up and lead him to the bathroom.

“Can we have some privacy?” He barked out to a group of kids whispering at the sink. They scattered.

Peter grasped the sink feeling as if he would throw up his lunch at any moment. He gulped down air and wet his face with water from the faucet until the nausea subsided. Tony even put a wet paper towel on the back of his neck, which Peter acknowledged with a small, “Thanks.”

He didn’t have the nerve to tell Tony to back the fuck up, but the older man seemed to understand the concept of personal space well enough. He leaned against the wall playing on his phone until Peter felt well enough to stand up straight.

“You good?” He asked, eyes serious.

Peter nodded and rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah.”

Tony squinted at him but let it go. For that, Peter was grateful.



Now Peter was on the plane, wide awake. He replayed their earlier conversations in his head and realized that Tony hadn’t asked him a single question. 

Across from Peter, the detective dozed in his seat with his arms folded against his chest.

The turbulence jostled the plane, and Tony cracked an eye open.

Peter averted his eyes.

“You okay, kid?”

“Yeah, of course.”

Tony frowned moodily and cuddled further into himself, although the angle that his neck was in made Peter cringe. That would hurt like hell in the morning. As he wouldn’t be getting any sleep, he removed his own neck pillow, unbuckled, and slid forward in his seat.

“Tony,” he whispered, shaking him gently.

“Why are you touching me?” The man grumbled without opening his eyes.

Peter held his breath, trying not to laugh as he latched the neck pillow around Tony’s neck.

His eyes opened, and he stared at Peter. The pillow around his neck was comical, making him look like an angry rooster with its neck feathers ruffled.

They didn’t say a word as they stared each other down.

“You’re welcome,” Peter finally said with a giggle.

Tony’s eyes slipped shut again. “I’ve lost a lot of sleep over you, kid. It’s the least you could do.”

Fury was watching them, and Peter offered a small smile that went unreturned. The rest of the team was either sleeping or talking quietly to themselves.

Satisfied, Peter returned to looking out the window, watching the city lights and dark forests move past underneath them interchangeably.

Sleep never came to Peter throughout the three-hour flight. He was awake, bouncing his knee up and down, much to the annoyance of Fury, who had turned his body fully away. 

They would be landing in New York soon, where his aunt would be waiting, and Peter began wondering what it would be like to return to his normal life. For so long, his life had been about coping with his life on the island, and then all he thought about was escape. But what would happen now? Would everyone treat him differently, tiptoeing around the poor kid who had fallen victim to human trafficking?

Peter sincerely hoped that things would just return to normal, but he was more intelligent than that.