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it's always who is spider-man, never how is spider-man

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To be completely fair, Peter didn’t mean to arrive at the battle the same time the Avengers did. In fact, he usually did everything he could to avoid it. He didn’t want to have to deal with the snide remarks and the absent-minded attacks that they always sent his way. Didn't want to have to fight off two sources of attacks at once: one set of attacks coming from the guys who were supposed to be on his side, and the other from the actual enemies. And he especially didn’t want to miss the appointment he had made with the homeless shelter down in Queens. They were only serving Thanksgiving dinner from five to seven, and that was one of his favorite meals they offered. And yet, according to the giant, yet rather helpful clocks displayed on one of the glowing billboards surrounding him, the time was approaching 6:30. With the vicious way both of his enemies were attacking him, he knew he wasn’t going to get out of this any time soon. 

When he had arrived on the scene, he could hear the various expletives that accompanied his approach coming from the team of heroes on the other end of the street.  

“Howdy folks!” he greeted amicably, though he knew it was pointless. “Anyone wanna explain why we’re currently fighting an army of weaponized and rather overgrown Sea Monkeys?”

Much to his chagrin, he only received exasperated grumbles in response. The Avengers had been trying (and failing miserably) to get a hold of him for almost a year now. From what he could gather, SHIELD had deemed him such a perilous threat that they had sent the Avengers to bring him in. Of course, by “bring him in”, they meant “beat him so far down into the ground that eventually he is so near death that you are able to take him to us so we can interrogate and perform experiments on him.” Or something. And while he couldn’t help but think that being such a high level threat to SHIELD was something of a compliment, he really didn't want to get tortured. Again. 

Tony Stark’s order of, “Nat, handle Spider-Man, would ya?” brought Peter back to the present.

“On it,” Natasha Romanov replied. In an instant, she was at Peter’s side delivering barely-avoided kicks to his relatively (read: extremely) frail body. Since May died about a year and a half ago (ow), Peter had been relatively on his own. Well, that's if you didn't count the hell that was his first and only foster home. He got out of that shit shack a little too late for comfort, but it was hard to develop an escape plan with his foster father, Richard, constantly breathing down his neck. Once he was on the streets, it was even harder to find a source of food for his stupid insane metabolism than it was in that house. His body and health deteriorated way too quickly for his liking, and that was before he had injuries inflicted by the Avengers to heal alongside his nightly patrol injuries. Peter’s survival was fueled purely by the need to help others—and spite, of course.

Peter’s Spidey Sense was pinging like crazy, forcing him to constantly turn between Romanov and the weird-ass alien like some sick form of hokey pokey.

“You do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around,” Peter mumbled, “that's what it's all about! Hey!” He delivered a particularly hard kick to the shrimp fuckhead on his final shout and sent it flying into the street, where it bounced once, twice, three times before it came to a rest and promptly shattered like broken glass. “Oh god, that is so weird, why do they do that.”

The miniature version of Iron Man appeared by his side in an instant, taking the place of the alien. Not much of an improvement, if Peter was honest, because this kid had blasters. And yes, he knew Iron Lad was a kid, specifically one 17-year-old named Harley Keener. He knew this because he hacked into FRIDAY, Stark’s A.I., which told him that Harley had moved into the Avengers tower close to six months ago from his home in Tennessee to get a better education at Midtown. Peter used to go there, before he had to run from CPS. Good times, good times. Also, the dumbass had Lad in his name. If he wanted to maintain any form of a mature hero persona, he shouldn’t blatantly state that he was a literal child. Come on, didn’t Harley learn that in How To Be A Teenage Superhero 101?

“I know right? Freaks me out every time,” Harley jumped in. He aimed a repulsor blast at Peter’s head, which he dodged just in time for it to only hit his right shoulder. He made no sound, despite the intense searing pain that would knock anyone else off their feet. He wasn’t allowed to show weakness.

At least, Peter thought, this dude has a sense of humor.

“Iron Lad,” Romanov chastised, refusing to use his real name, “we all told you to keep away from Spider-Man. You know he’s dangerous.” She threw three knives at Peter in rapid succession, all but one he dodged before rolling away from her next attack. One of the knives had lodged itself into his side, and boy, Peter was not jazzed about that. He let out a quiet hiss before he composed himself, ready for the next attack. 

Harley flew to the other side of Peter so that he was fighting next to the ex-spy as he groaned, “Nat, come on! I am in a literal suit of armor. I’m fine, and I will remain so.”

Romanov rolled her eyes. “You’ve seen what he’s done to Tony’s armor. The same thing could happen to you,” she told him, saying it like it has been said a million times before. Peter smirked when he thought about how that meant they must talk about him often. That smirk stayed on his masked face as he flipped over Romanov so he could web her to the stop sign they had been fighting near. She didn't even struggle, knowing from experience that it was impossible to get out of his webbing. He turned back around to see Harley running, rather slowly might he add, towards him. Seriously, why would he run when he could just fly a little?

“Dude, how many times do I have to tell you guys?” Peter shouted over his shoulder while trying to find the weak spots in Harley’s armor that wouldn’t cause him any pain. “I don’t want to hurt any of you! You’re the ones hurting me.” Wouldn’t be the first ones, Peter sulked. He decided to keep that one to himself.

Harley hesitated slightly before he told Peter, “We are under orders from SHIELD to bring you in.” And really, Peter was just so tired of hearing that. He jumped and spun through the air over Harley to rip out a panel on his neck, effectively powering down his suit. He quickly webbed him to the side of the building close to Romanov. He began a slow approach towards the other teen.

“And what fine lap dogs you guys are,” he sneered. “Ever think for yourselves for once? Think to notice how we are both fighting against the same villain of the week? But no, you guys have to bring in one of the most valuable assets New York has to protect them from whatever fuckers decide to torment this godforsaken city.” Peter scoffed. “I don't even know why I try to explain this anymore. It won't ever sink in with you guys.” He quickly backed off of Harley, let his webs grab hold of a building across the street, and flung himself away before the boy could respond. 

Peter swung to a building where his own A.I., Karen, detected several heat signatures. He created Karen back when he was still trying to figure out the inner workings of being a random arachnid-themed superhero. He was a bit lonely at the time (still was, but that was besides the point) because he hadn’t told anyone about his alter-ego quite yet. He made her to be a sort of confidant for him, along with actually being able to help him in battle. Karen was one of his few sources of comfort.  

“Karen, show me where my new friends are,” Peter instructed her.

“There are currently four heat signatures on the second floor, so I would recommend getting up there as fast as you can,” she replied.

He was already in the building. This posed an awkward question not many people think about: should he use the stairs or the elevator to get to the civilians? Like seriously, which was faster? He knew that the stairs were safer during a fire, but what about an alien invasion? He decided on the stairs, if only because of the mental image of him listening to elevator music on his way to get civilians out of a building that had a small chance of surviving the battle.

Peter ran up the stairs to get to the second floor and allowed the four people he found to stick to him in any way they could. Since it was only the second floor, he figured it was easiest to just jump out one of the windows. There were yelps of shock and fear as they quickly flew through the air, but they quieted by the time he landed and sent them off to go in the opposite direction of the fight. He literally had to tell them to go the other way because he had witnessed many utterly stupid civilians run towards the fight before. What grand hero complexes they had. Once he saw that none were coming back, he climbed up to and slipped into one of the third story windows to repeat the process.

By the time he was on the final floor, Karen had warned Peter that the structural integrity of the building was, as he had predicted, not doing so hot. He ran through the halls of the last floor, throwing anyone he saw over his shoulder. In the end, it was only three people, all of whom had apparently been watching him rush out of the building with the other civilians. Why they hadn’t made his job easier and gone down at least a floor, he didn’t know. God, people were so clueless sometimes. Since he was currently on the 10th floor of the building, he had to get down to a lower level to safely get them out of one of the windows. He all but flew down the stairs until he could feel the building shaking. He looked up to see that they were on the fifth floor. That would have to do. He jumped out of the first window he saw, and deployed one of his web bombs below him. He heard the fwump that indicated it had exploded into what was essentially a huge mattress made out of webs.

They landed onto the sticky cushion and looked up to see the structural supports of the building finally give up. It slowly crumbled to the ground, and Peter heard one of the civilians he was holding onto start crying. That was pretty valid. He set them on the ground and turned to face all of them.

“Go to an open area far away from here,” he instructed, “and wait until you don't hear the tell tale sound of aliens getting their asses kicked to come back.” They all nodded, a few grateful acknowledgements being sent his way. 

Peter heaved a deep sigh, and looked at the ground surrounding the dilapidated building. There were dozens of shattered aliens on the ground, and he startled when he saw Captain America fling yet another towards the mess. So Rogers was the demise of the poor building. Peter should have seen that coming. 

Peter reentered the fight, but it was coming to a close. There were only a few handfuls of Sea Monkeys left, and thank fuck for that. The shoulder wound from Harley was still aching, and the blood loss from, you know, being stabbed was starting to get to him as his adrenaline wore off. He really missed when his super healing was up to par. If it were, his blast wound would have been healing over by now. Man, he really wished he could have made it to the Thanksgiving meal. He could do with some food right about now. He hadn’t eaten in two days, and for some completely unknown reason, that meant his super healing had taken a break. Stupid metabolism.

As Peter’s current sparring mate shattered, he looked around to see that the Avengers were quickly overpowering their own battles. That meant that in a few minutes, he was going to have to fight them all off once again. He chose instead to launch himself into the air, wary of his injuries and go home, home being a condemned apartment complex that he found to be a very suitable living space for him. However, as he passed the spot where Romanov and Harley should have been, there was only melted webbing. 

He landed to inspect his mess of webs, trying to ignore the rancid smell of burned webs. Stark must have come by to free his teammates. God only knows how long it took him to melt through Peter's webs, but knowing himself and his inventions, it must have been pretty damn long. 

He once again departed the battlefield, only to be stopped not a minute later. There was a boy leaned up against the side of a building about a block down. But he knew it wasn’t just any boy—Harley Keener was slumped over, with the parts that composed his helmet on the ground next to him. He looked exhausted, and Peter didn't think that he was the one who caused that. After all, the only thing that he did was disable the weaponry on the other's suit. Peter landed and approached the boy silently. Harley had his eyes closed, and oh god was he dead, but no, Peter could hear the boy’s pulse beating steadily. Harley didn't notice the vigilante’s presence until he was squatted right beside him. 

Harley flinched slightly, and his eyes shone with fear. The sight made Peter’s heart ache. And his shoulder. And his torso. Holy fuck he was in so much pain. But another look at Harley’s undeniably attractive face told him to push down his own pain in favor of Harley’s.

“C’mon man,” Peter chuckled quietly, “I told you I wasn't in the business of hurting people. Not really my style. I’m here to help.” Harley looked skeptical to say the least, and he still didn't say anything. So, while he waited for Harley to realize that he couldn’t help himself, Peter sat on the ground a few feet away from him.

Every now and then, Harley would shift slightly, and with that came a groan. Peter internally cursed the wounded boy because fucking hell, he was trying to help! Peter himself had cuts lining his legs from whatever weapons those Sea Monkeys had, along with a blast wound and a goddamn knife in his side that he was resolutely ignoring. 

Peter sighed as he watched another bead of sweat drip down Harley’s face, despite the chill in the air. He came to a decision and slowly crept forward, with his hands held up by his face. It felt like approaching a wild animal, and it didn't hurt any less the second time Harley flinched. His hands came to a stop right above the arc reactor, and he froze. Peter didn’t want to do anything without Harley’s permission. Harley saw him as the enemy, no matter what Peter was going to do to help him. But when he looked up, a question of consent in his eyes, Harley’s face had become infinitely calmer. His eyes were still wary, but he gave a reluctant nod for Peter to remove his suit. Relief flooded Peter’s body. Finally.

When he tapped the arc reactor, the suit fell off Harley’s body to form a neat little box on the ground. Peter looked at the other teen's body and came to the conclusion that Harley must not have been very used to getting hurt. Which was fair, seeing as he was just a teenager (no, Peter wasn't a hypocrite). His visible injuries didn’t look that serious, just bruising on his arms. Of course, the injuries underneath his clothing could be a bit worse. 

Before he began his first-aid, he listened for the Avengers a few blocks down, and noted that they still sounded like they were fighting. There must have been more Sea Monkeys than he saw before he left. Whatever, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes could handle a few more glass-like shrimp bitches. 

“Karen, run a scan,” he mumbled. He could see the confusion in Harley’s eyes before a light from his mask briefly shined on Harley’s battered body. 

“Harley has one bruised rib, a minor concussion, two minor lacerations across his torso, several small cuts on his face, and many bruises across his body,” Karen replied. Peter nodded and looked up to Harley in a silent question to take off his shirt, to which Harley nodded hesitantly. He produced a small first-aid kit he kept in his suit. Don't ask him how, a magician never revealed their secrets. He got to work.

While he was patching Harley up, Peter thought about how many times he had done so on himself. The last time was not even two days ago, from when he had to spare some of his limited sewing materials in order to stitch up a stab wound he received that night on patrol. Not a very kind gift, he must say. He was used to having to put himself back together, he had been doing so for years. His best friend, Ned, never did it because Peter didn’t let him. Peter knew it was probably traumatic to see your friends blood on your hands. Actually, it was definitely traumatic—he would know. But soon after the Homecoming Fiasco, Ned had moved away. To Colorado. And a bit after Ned left, there was… an incident. Peter couldn’t—Peter couldn’t save her. He couldn’t save MJ, couldn’t save her, didn’t make it fast enough couldn’t save her couldn’t get her blood off his hands couldn't save— May was killed in a car accident three months after MJ died. And then it was into the foster system with Peter, where he met Richard. And, well. 

Here he was, finishing the cleaning of the cuts on Harley’s face. 

Peter was thankful for the mask because when he realized he was almost sitting on top of Harley to reach his face, all his blood immediately rushed to his cheeks. He hurriedly jumped up, an apology and goodbye on his tongue when his wrist was grabbed and he flinched on instinct. The hand was then pulled away, with a single word uttered with it.

“Stay?” 

Peter finally looked down to see Harley Fucking Keener, Iron Lad, the boy who had caused his shoulder to be throbbing all night, looking away with a slight tint to his cheeks. Peter opened and closed his mouth, no sound coming out.

And he sat back down.

And they sat in silence for who knows how long. Long enough for the Avengers to finish fighting apparently, because he heard them approaching quickly, calling out Harley’s name.

Peter moved to get up again, but hesitated. Then, mindful of his own injuries, he idiotically swooped down to Harley in order wrap his arms around him. The other boy froze, but before Peter could pull back to apologize, he felt arms slowly reach up and around him, and he could have cried. Scratch that, Peter totally cried. Because this was the first time he had been hugged in over a year. The first time he had non-violent physical contact in just as long. It was a breath of fresh air.

But as soon as he started the completely unprompted hug, Peter ended it because the yells of the Avengers were getting closer, and he knew it was time to go. So, ready to depart for what felt like the sixth time, he nodded at Harley, who just stared back with the most confused (and slightly concerned?) expression one could manage. Peter flung himself through the air and ow ow ow shit why did I do that what the fuck holy shit I hugged him why the fuck did I hug him shit shit ow there is still a knife in my body ow.

Peter rounded the corner of a storefront a few buildings down and watched as the hoard of Avengers surrounded Harley, bombarding him with questions and concerned badgering. But Harley ignored them and looked straight at Peter, and Peter held his gaze once more, before he swung away into the cold November night.