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Roots Before Branches

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Peter jolted awake with a startled gasp, immediately sitting up as he frantically felt his body to ensure that he was still a solid human being and not crumbling to ash.

Ash .

Some people view ash as a melancholy version of rain, which to Peter confuses him since rain essentially represents the sky crying. However, rain usually doesn’t kill people as much as breathing in the smoky remains of ash. Ash represents death. If people choose so, they get reduced to ash when they die. So in a way, when Peter was dusted and turned to ash, he did die. In the eyes of everyone else who survived, he died.

Shuddering at the memory of feeling his body falling apart against his will, Peter leaned back against his headboard and pulled his knees to his chest. It wasn’t the first time he has dreamed of Titan since coming back home, and it certainly won’t be the last time the nightmare scares him out of a restless night’s sleep. It doesn’t stop him from wishfully craving a dreamless night’s sleep, as he could feel the fatigue that resided deep in his bones. However, to everyone else, he was “coping” very well, but to him he knows that he’s just able to fake a smile better than anyone else would expect. He’s not okay, and Peter didn’t know if he’d ever be okay again.

Peter glanced over to his window, he had forgotten to close the curtains last night and so he could see the faint light trying to breach the horizon, signaling that dawn was right around the corner. It’s only been two months since Carol Danvers had snapped her fingers and Thanos was defeated, dusted like the titan had done to them, only this time it was the heroes that emerged victoriously. Learning that five years had passed was the hardest part of the entire traumatic situation. To Peter, it had felt like a few seconds, and even though he knew it was an unrealistic expectation, Peter had thought that maybe it would’ve been a few months at most and that was that. Then Doctor Strange was helping him to his feet and telling him that it had been five years and that they were needed on Earth and Peter felt like he had experienced a severe case of whiplash. Sure enough, when reuniting with Tony on the battlefield, the billionaire had more grey in his hair and the broken look on his face almost made Peter break down into sobs then and there. He knew that Tony put the world before himself every time and he knew what the Snap would’ve done to the older man. However, all those thoughts went right out the window when Tony pulled him into a hug, and for the first time since coming back to Earth and even in the middle of a battlefield, Peter felt like he was home.

Peter blamed himself for luring himself into a false sense of security because shortly after the battle, Peter found out how much things had really changed since he had been gone. Apparently Tony now had a flesh-and-blood daughter named Morgan who was a spitting image of both her mother and father. Peter saw the way Tony looked at his daughter like she was his entire world and he felt his heartbreaking slightly. Once upon a time, Peter believed that Tony looked at him that way as if he had taken Peter to become his non-biological kid. Now that Tony had a biological kid, Peter doubted that Tony would ever look at him that way again.

Then Happy came around and told him that May was on her way and Peter nearly collapsed in relief that she was okay. Then Happy said that she had not been dusted and Peter's heart stuttered in sadness. May had believed that Peter had been dead for five years. Peter had left May mourning by herself for five years. Logically, Peter had known that it wasn’t his fault that he was one of the people that had been dusted, but it didn’t stop the guilt at leaving May to her own devices. Not only had she lost Ben but she thought that she had lost Peter too.

Soon after May arrived, Peter found out about MJ. May had been trying to keep that information from him at first, but Peter had overheard her conversation with Happy about it and things spiraled down from there. May had then explained to him that MJ didn’t get dusted and that she was now married with a newborn son. As soon as Peter heard the news, the overwhelming sense of drowning in the past hit him full force and he emotionally shut down. His high school crush, one of his closest friends, was no longer his age and had moved on to build a life of her own. He knew that part of him was genuinely happy for MJ, but it was also a reminder of the five-year gap between him and everyone who survived the Snap.

Peter was jolted out of his self-pity when a knock sounded on his bedroom door.

“Peter?” A male voice called from the other side. “Time to get up for school. Breakfast is on the table when you are ready!”

Then there was that big change.

Peter first found out about George when he was driving back to Queens with May. He could tell that his aunt was trying her best to ease her way into the revelation, but it didn’t make it any easier when he found out that his aunt had remarried to a man named George. George Andrews was an orthopedic surgeon at the hospital that May worked as a nurse. George had moved to New York with his son Alex to search for a new life post-snap. Apparently, they had both met when they were on shift and according to May, things just happened from there.

George’s son Alex was a senior quarterback at Midtown High. He had been younger than Peter when May had first met him, and she had been the one to recommend Alex attending Midtown High as a freshman. Now Alex was technically older than Peter, as Peter was still stuck attending his junior year of high school in Midtown. In all honesty, the entire age situation sincerely confused him more than anything.

Peter had wanted to hate them from the beginning, he really did. Part of him thought that May had been betraying Ben when she told him she had remarried. As soon as he met them, he couldn’t find it in himself to hate the newfound family. George was genuinely a nice guy and was really good for May. Peter could see the support that George never hesitated to give her when she needed it the most and who was Peter to stop May from having that? Also, Alex had been very willing to get to know Peter even though it was evident that they were polar opposites. Even after living with them for two months now, Peter feels like he connects with Alex much easier than he originally thought he would, and for that he was grateful.

Getting out of bed on shaky legs, Peter made his way over to his bathroom to take a shower. The scalding hot water did nothing to chase away the remnants of the nightmare. It was almost like Peter was hoping that feeling the hot water’s sting would show him that he was indeed no longer crumbling to ash. The only thing he achieved was making himself sweat once he was out of the shower.

As Peter entered the kitchen, he could see George and Alex sitting at the table, George reading the newspaper, and Alex scrolling through something on his phone. In the middle of the table, there was a plate that was stacked with a ham-and-cheese omelet and two pancakes. It wasn’t nearly enough food for Peter’s metabolism, but that was only because May had never told their new family about his Spider alter-ego, something he was forever grateful for. He may be accepting his new family, but that doesn’t mean he was ready to tell them every secret he’s ever had. Anyways, he had some protein bars that Tony made stashed in his backpack at all times so he'd never fully starved. Maybe he’d tell them one day, but until then it was his and May’s secret.

George looked up at the sound of his footsteps and smiled kindly, “Good morning, Pete, I set a plate for you.”

Peter sat down and reached for the plate, “Thank you. You really didn’t have to do that.”

George shrugged off the comment, “Nonsense, it was really no trouble.”

Peter immediately began to eat, even though the silence that fell upon them was still a little uncomfortable. It wasn’t George or Alex’s fault, Peter was an awkward teenager who didn’t have the best social skills. He knew the conversations would come naturally in time, and until then Alex and George didn’t seem to mind.

Alex looked up from his phone to greet Peter but frowned in worry at the sight of the tired teen. “You feeling okay?”

Peter was taken aback by the question but lied easily, “Yeah, just had a rough night.”

Alex nodded, seeming to understand that Peter wasn’t willing to talk further about it. That was another thing that Peter liked about Alex, the older teen knew when to respect Peter’s boundaries.

The rest of breakfast went by quietly, and before Peter knew it he was walking to the subway with Alex to hop on the train towards Midtown. If it was one thing that Peter never thought he’d miss, it was the train ride to school, but since it was one of his only constants in this new Post-Snap world, he readily welcomed the comfort of familiarity.

The first half of the school day went by smoothly, with his first three classes going by rather quickly, a rarity that doesn’t happen as often as Peter would’ve liked. One thing he looked forward to, however, was finally seeing Ned when lunch rolled around.

Peter was forever thankful that Ned was still a solid presence in his life, even if Peter would never have wished for Ned to be dusted like he had been. The selfish part of him was just glad that it was still the two of them against the world, unlike MJ who had to find her way in life after her friends disappeared off the face of planet earth.

“You’ll never believe what just came in the mail yesterday,” Ned began as he sat down next to Peter.

Peter turned to look at his friend with raised eyebrows, curiosity sparking instantly. “What?”

“The brand new Millenium Falcon Lego set! 2500 pieces, Peter! Can you imagine the paradise that comes with that?” Ned exclaimed excitedly.

Peter’s eyes widened, “2500 pieces?”

“So, what do you say, want to come over after school and build it together?” Ned asked, his eye sparkling brightly.

Peter was about to accept the offer when a thought occurred to him and his smile fell. “I can’t tonight, I promised Mr. Stark I’d drop by the compound for the weekend.”

Ned just waved off the apology nonchalantly, even though Peter could see the underlying disappointment in his features. “Don’t sweat it, Pete, what about next weekend?”

Peter’s smile returned despite the guilt that coursed through his veins at staunching his friend’s excitement. “It’s a deal.”

Ned’s smile returned and they performed their handshake to seal the deal. They spent the rest of the lunch period talking about random things, but it was those random things that made Peter feel like everything would be alright in the crazy world that felt like it was pitted against them.

***

Once the dismissal bell rang to end the school day, Peter immediately set off towards the nearest alleyway to safely change into his Spider-Man suit away from the prying eyes of the public. Happy had offered to pick Peter up from school to drive him from the compound, but Peter had been itching to get some fresh air since he had to be more careful about going on patrol with George and Alex now living in his and May’s apartment. So, when he had the opportunity to change into the spider suit he jumped on it.

Swinging through his city as he made his way upstate towards the compound, Peter felt a calming sensation course through him. If it was one thing that Peter had learned very early on in his Spider-Man career, it was that he felt most relaxed when he took to the skies. There was no better feeling than the cool air flowing over him as he soared past the buildings and streets. It was the best way he could forget his troubles and just focus on being there in the moment. There was no room for distractions when he was swinging, for if he broke concentration for even a second it could lead him to falling to his potential doom.

At least I didn’t lose the ability to be dramatic, Peter chuckled to himself.

It was the first time Peter was going to the newly rebuilt compound since the battle with Thanos and part of him was excited. Another part of him was also apprehensive, as the other Avengers were now living in the compound once more, and even though they knew his true identity he couldn’t help but feel like they judged him for being too young in a career like this. No matter how much they tried to be subtle when they talked about him, sometimes Peter wondered if they forgot that he has super hearing. He tries to not let it get under his skin because they treat him with the utmost respect, almost as they do truly like his presence, but sometimes getting judged by your childhood heroes hurts more than anyone could ever comprehend.

By the time Peter swung onto the compound’s front yard, his muscles were aching from lack of use, but it was a good kind of burn. Almost like a post-exercise burn, if he was being honest with himself. Walking inside, Peter made his way to the Avenger’s area of the compound, pulling off his mask as he entered the familiar living room.

On the couch, Bucky, Clint, Sam, and Steve were currently playing Mario Kart, with Clint yelling dramatically when things weren’t going his way.

“Sam, you pushed me!” Clint complained, “So not cool!”

Bucky smirked in amusement. “It’s like the battle of the birds.”

Clint scoffed at that. “Oh please, everyone knows a hawk is superior to a falcon.”

Sam rolled his eyes at that as he sped ahead of Clint to take first place, “You were saying?”

“That’s not fair, you cheated!” Clint protested.

Peter chuckled at their antics and cut in, “Falcons have longer wings than hawks and therefore are faster.”

Sam pointed at Peter and exclaimed. “Thank you! See, the kid gets it!”

Clint pouted at Peter, “I thought I was the favorite one!”

Peter crossed his arms, “I never truly said that.”

Clint gasped and clutched his chest in mock hurt.

Steve stood up and walked up to Peter, “Was the trip alright?”

Peter smiled at the kind greeting, “There wasn’t any trouble if that’s what you mean.”

Bucky also stood up and walked over to stand beside Steve, “Trouble usually comes to you, Kid. There’s a reason why Tony always said you were a magnet for trouble.”

Peter groaned, covering his face with his hands. “I resent that statement.”

Steve laughed, “Considering the stories, I’m assuming it’s true.”

Peter let his hands fall back to his side and joined in on the laughter, not being able to remember the last time he felt this genuinely happy and carefree.

Clint set down his Wii remote and asked, “How long are you staying, kid?”

“Just for the weekend,” Peter replied, “I promised my aunt I’d be home Sunday night so I’m ready to go to school on Monday. Speaking of Mr. Stark, is he in his lab?”

Peter felt a pit in his stomach tighten painfully when he saw the apprehensive look between the four Avengers.

A wave of sadness washed over him when he realized why. So, he asked a question he had a feeling he already knew the answer to. “He isn’t here, isn’t he?”

Steve shook his head, sympathy etched on his face. “He said something came up and wouldn’t be here until sometime tomorrow. He said he wanted us to tell you he was sorry.”

Peter felt bitterness course through him. At this point, he shouldn’t have been surprised anymore, it wasn’t the first time that Tony hadn’t shown up for something. He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths before he spoke again, “Guess I shouldn’t have come then.”

Steve’s eyes widened, “No, we didn’t mean it like that! You’re always welcome here, Peter, you don’t need Tony’s permission for us to be cool with it.”

“Steve’s right,” Clint perched himself on the back of the couch. “You’re chill to have around, Kid.”

“Even though I offended your pride?” Peter made a weak attempt at a joke, but the sadness was still there in his voice.

“No, I will get you back for that,” Clint amended.

Sam rolled his eyes, “Don’t listen to him, he’s all talk and no brawn.”

Clint narrowed his eyes at the comment, “I take that back, Peter, I have set my eyes on my new target.”

Steve rolled his eyes and turned back to Peter, “I know Tony’s not here, but what do you say on maybe some training? I don’t know about you, but I could blow off some steam.”

Peter could see that Steve was trying his best to cheer him up, and Peter did have to admit that training seemed rather appealing at the moment. So he nodded and said, “Yeah, I’m up for it.”

***

Six hours later, Peter was laying in his bedroom at the compound, staring at the ceiling. He was so tired that he wanted to go to sleep, but part of him was terrified about the images that his brain would conjure in his dreams. He dreaded going back to Titan and experiencing the feeling of his entire body falling apart as he turned into ash, begging Tony to not let him go.

Part of the reason that Peter was looking forward to being at the compound that weekend was to be around Tony. He would never admit it aloud, but hearing Tony’s heartbeat from the floor above him, even from before the Snap, comforted him in a way that let him dream a dreamless sleep. It was creepy and weird, but to Peter, it made sense to himself. Before the Snap, Tony had become another father figure to him, and even if Tony hadn’t felt the same, he still protected him the way a father would protect their son. It was that protectiveness that gave Peter a sense of security, so wherever Peter was around Tony, he felt safe and secure.

Now, Tony wasn’t there and Peter didn’t even know if he should keep up the hope that he would be there before Peter went back home. Sure, being around the other Avengers was still amazing and a wonderful change from his life at home, but in a selfish way, it wasn’t the same. Tony was a busy man and he talked to Peter every once in a while over the phone but Peter hasn’t seen the man since he went home with May after the battle with Thanos. He knew that Tony had a kid now, but it didn’t stop the hurt of lack of visiting him face-to-face.

Eventually, Peter did drift off, but before he knew it he was crumbling without control, turning into dust. Gasping awake, Peter sat up and placed a hand over his racing heart and he tried to get his breathing under control. His entire body was covered in sweat and he still had the sense to feel disgusted at the feeling of sweat drying on his skin. When his legs were no longer fully jelly and he was confident he wouldn’t fall on his face, Peter took a quick shower before changing into a different t-shirt and pair of sweatpants.

When he was situated, Peter snuck out of his room and made his way to the kitchen. Turning on the stove light to cast the room in a faint glow of light, Peter grabbed a glass from the cabinet before pulling a gallon of milk from the fridge. Pouring himself a glass, Peter put the milk back in the fridge before taking a seat at the kitchen counter.

Peter knew that keeping his sleeping troubles a secret would come back to haunt him. Right now he was so tired that he wanted to sleep but was too scared to sleep alone.

Don’t lie to yourself, Pete, you can’t sleep because one person isn’t here , Peter berated himself. However, that thought did little to make him feel better. The last person he wanted to talk to about his nightmares was Tony. Tony didn’t need to relive that horrific memory just because Peter was carrying a lot of his own personal baggage. He was almost an adult, he should be able to deal with it himself.

No one knew that he had felt himself turning to dust. It was almost like his enhanced healing had been trying to stop him from crumbling into nothing. It was painful and more than that, it was haunting. In that particular moment, Peter knew what people meant when they said that they could feel like they were dying. Peter knew he had been dying and he had been terrified. Part of him knew whatever was happening then wouldn’t take himself to the same place Ben had gone. This had been a different source of power. Sure enough, Peter couldn’t remember what had happened after he had been dusted. It was almost as if he had literally ceased to exist. When he closed his eyes, he would once again experience that feeling and it was something he never wanted to feel again.

He vowed to himself he would never tell anyone about him feeling himself dying. That was a secret he would keep to himself until his true dying day.

“Peter?”

Peter jumped out of his skin, nearly spilling his milk in the process. Turning around he saw a sleepy-looking Bucky Barnes leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed against his chest. The metal arm glinted slightly in the faint light of the kitchen.

“You scared me,” Peter’s eyes flickered down to his glass. “What are you doing up?”

“I could ask you the same thing,” Bucky cocked his head in a questioning manner.

Peter shrugged, turning back around to take a sip on his milk, cringing a bit at the warm temperature of the drink. He must’ve been stuck in his thoughts for a while.

Bucky came to sit beside him, “Couldn’t sleep?”

“Who says I couldn’t sleep?” Peter returned tiredly.

“You might be fooling other people, Kid, but it takes an insomniac to know one,” Bucky said.

Peter flinched at the word insomniac. Surely it wasn’t becoming that much of an issue, was it?

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say you had a nightmare,” Bucky guessed.

The milk left a sour taste in Peter’s mouth, “What gave it away?”

Bucky studied him for a moment before saying, “My momma used to tell me a glass of milk would soothe away all your troubles.”

“That’s what my Uncle Ben used to say too,” Peter replied in acknowledgment. “So far, it isn’t working like it used to.”

Bucky hummed in agreement. “It took me a while to realize why the trick stopped working. I think our minds have a breaking point when it comes to dreams. Usually, the mild and unrealistic nightmares went away after a glass of milk because for some reason it grounds us to reality. However, the dreams that reflect what we’ve seen, what we’ve gone through, they’re so ingrained in our minds that it just doesn’t go away as easy as those other dreams.”

Peter’s shoulders slumped, “I’m just so tired.”

Bucky sighed, “I feel you. Look, Kid, I know it’s none of my business but have you talked to someone about it? As much as you don’t want to, speaking from experience, it does make it easier to sleep. They don’t fully go away, but they become tolerable where you can sleep.”

Peter shook his head, cursing the tears that began to form in his eyes.

“Not even Tony?”

“Especially not him,” Peter’s voice broke and he winced. “He doesn’t need that on top of everything else he deals with.”

Bucky bit his lip as if he wanted to disagree. “Is it about your time in space?”

Peter didn’t answer, but that seemed to be answer enough.

Bucky sighed, “I’m not going to force you to talk if you don’t want to. I can’t tell you how to make it go away, because it won’t and we all have different ways to cope. For me? I try to focus on something soothing. Have you ever heard the sound of the ocean or rain? Sometimes it fills my mind with so much noise that I drift off with nothing else on my mind.”

Peter’s eyes flickered to see the genuine expression on Bucky’s face.

Bucky placed his non-metal arm on Peter’s shoulder. “You have to talk to someone eventually, Pete, or else it’ll swallow you whole.”

“How do you know when you’re ready to talk about it?” Peter wondered quietly.

“Trust me, you’ll know,” Bucky squeezed his arm one more time before saying. “Go back to bed. Ask FRIDAY to place some sounds of rain. You might be surprised at the comfort it brings.” With that said, Bucky walked out of the room and left Peter alone.

A few minutes later, Peter was back in his room and did just that. Sure enough, the soothing patter sounds of rain allowed him to drift into an uneasy sleep. 

Chapter Text

When Peter finally opened his eyes the next day, he was pleasantly surprised to see the light streaming in from the windows that lined the left side of his bedroom. He had slept through the night, and to him, that was a miracle. To further his surprise, Peter couldn’t remember if he dreamed while he slept. Turns out Bucky had been right, the sound of rain did really help him get some sleep. He still felt tired, but he felt more refreshed than he had since he came back from Titan.

Sitting up in his bed, Peter reached his arms over his head in an effort to stretch his stiff muscles. Almost immediately, his body gave off a faint shiver from the coolness of the room. If he had been more awake, he would’ve just asked FRIDAY to turn the temperature in his room up a bit, but instead, he got out of bed and dug in his closet for a hoodie. The hoodie he eventually decided on was a faded navy blue MIT hoodie that he had taken from Tony a while back.

Guess it’s been years now, Peter thought sadly as he pulled the garment over his head. A feeling of warmth and comfort flowed over him and he let out a sigh of relief as his tense muscles finally fully relaxed.

“FRIDAY, what time is it?” Peter wondered.

“Good morning, Peter, it is currently one in the afternoon,” Friday answered. “My sensors indicate you are cold, do you want me to turn on the heat?”

Peter felt a faint smile form on his face at the AI’s concern. “That’s alright, FRIDAY, I’m not cold anymore.”

“Very well, Peter.”

Once FRIDAY went silent, Peter’s stomach let out a loud growl.

“Geez, alright,” Peter placed a hand on his stomach. “Okay, food.”

Walking downstairs, Peter emerged into the living room to see Sam and Clint playing Call of Duty while Wanda and Vision were sitting on the couch, lost in their own little world. Natasha was watching the action on the screen with practiced disinterest, but Peter secretly knew that she was really waiting for an opportunity to give Sam and Clint crap.

Sneaking his way past them, Peter walked into the kitchen to see Bucky sitting at the counter while Steve was standing at the stove, cooking something that smelled like absolute heaven. As soon as the smell entered his senses, his stomach let out a loud growl. The sound was loud enough for the two super soldiers to turn and look at him and Peter flushed in embarrassment.

“Well, look who’s finally awake,” Bucky smirked. “We were worried you turned into Sleeping Beauty.”

Peter raised an eyebrow at that, “How do you know about Sleeping Beauty?”

Bucky’s cheeks tinted a faint pink at that. “I heard you talking about it?”

Steve chuckled, “Don’t let him fool you, Pete, he’s been on a Disney animation marathon.”

Bucky spluttered at that, “I am not! Steve’s the one watching them!”

“Because you invited me to watch them with you,” Steve stated.

Peter laughed at that, “Well I mean they are good movies.”

Bucky rolled his eyes before his face softened, “Did you sleep okay?”

Peter glanced between the Winter Soldier and Steve, wondering if Bucky had spilled the beans about their late-night conversation. He could see that Steve was trying not to obviously eavesdrop on the conversation but subtly was never his strong suit.

“Did you tell him?” Peter asked.

Bucky looked guilty.

“I’m sorry,” Steve apologized. “I pried it out of him.”

Peter just shrugged, “I’ve never been good at hiding things. For the record though, what you said, it helped a lot.”

Bucky looked satisfied at that. “Good, I’m glad.”

“So, uh, thanks, I guess,” Peter shuffled back and forth on his feet.

“No thanks needed,” Bucky shook his head before gesturing to the seat beside him. “Sit down, Steve’s making lunch.”

Peter’s eyes widened, “I can make something for myself I don’t want to intrude…”

Steve turned around to look at him sternly, “You’re one of us now, Pete. You’d never intrude. Sit.”

Peter raised his hands in surrender and went to take a seat beside Bucky. In his still half-asleep state, Peter just stared at the stove and watched Steve steaming some vegetables. He wasn’t sure how long he zoned out before a thought occurred to him.

“Has Mr. Stark arrived yet?” Peter wondered, breaking the silence.

Bucky and Steve shared a look that crushed any of Peter’s hopes of seeing his mentor this weekend.

Peter just sighed while muttering, “Typical.”

Steve looked sad when he said, “He reached out to us this morning saying he wasn’t sure if he was going to make it this weekend. Morgan fell ill yesterday. He wanted us to tell you he was sorry.”

Peter wanted to believe Steve when he said Tony was sorry, but he couldn’t find it in himself to do so. Things had changed ever since Peter had gotten back from the snap. He hasn’t been Tony’s priority in the few months since his world had been turned upside down. The weekly lab sessions that have happened before Thanos had ceased completely and Peter would be lucky to even receive a call from the billionaire once every other week. Even when Tony did call, it was never really about Peter. Instead, Tony was always focused on the life that he had managed to build for himself. The thing is, Peter was really happy for the older man, he truly was. All Peter ever wanted was for Tony to be happy, he just always thought that maybe he’d also be in the picture.

When Steve served Peter a plate, he accepted it politely before excusing himself from the kitchen and making his way down to the lab. At that moment, Peter had just wanted to be alone and find something to distract himself from his pessimistic thoughts. So, as he ate his lunch, Peter began sketching out some new features to install in his web-shooters. From then on, Peter let himself get drawn into his work, forgetting everything that was happening in the present time.

If it was one thing that Tony and him had in common, or at least had in common, it was that there was no better distraction from reality than working. Whenever Peter was stressed, he needed to find an outlet that would clear his mind. Just like swinging in the streets as Spider-Man forced him to focus on what was happening in the present, working in the lab with Tony made him soak in the joy of the moment. Now, as Peter worked alone in the lab, the quiet was overwhelming but not fully unwelcome. For, he was still able to work to the point where he couldn’t think of anything but what he was doing in the present moment. However, Peter would give anything just to have Tony there with him, looking over his shoulder and offering suggestions to make his blueprints perfect.

You are too codependent for your own good, Parker, Peter chided himself. No one likes a crybaby. Maybe that’s why Tony decided you weren’t worth his time anymore.

Peter frowned at the intrusive thought and quickly shook off his sour mood.

Remember what Uncle Ben used to say, He took a deep breath. You can’t know what another person is going through and therefore you should never jump to conclusions without knowing the facts…

Peter sighed and looked up at the ceiling, fighting back tears. “Wish you were here, Uncle Ben. You always knew what to say.”

You always knew what I needed to hear to feel better, Peter couldn’t bring himself to say.

“Peter, you seem distressed,” FRIDAY spoke up. “Would you like me to alert one of the Avengers upstairs?”

“No, no, no” Peter burst out louder than he intended. “Wait, no, I didn’t mean to raise my voice… No, Friday, I’m alright.”

“Your current state of emotions says otherwise,” The AI noted. “Are you sure? My protocols indicate that…”

“FRIDAY, please,” Peter nearly begged. “It’s nothing, it’s just me being stupidly overemotional. I… I was thinking about Uncle Ben.” At least that small part was true and not fully a lie.

“I understand.” Peter could’ve sworn he detected a trace of sympathy in the AI’s voice. “However, if your vitals fluctuate again, my protocols require me to reach out for assistance.”

Peter pinched the bridge of his nose to try and rein in his emotions. “Got it, FRIDAY, thank you.”

Stupid, Peter, you’re causing a fuss just because you’re lonely. Peter scolded himself. People have moved on, maybe you should too.

Closing his eyes, Peter forced off the negative thoughts and turned back to his work. He wanted to get lost in a project and forget how his life has essentially gone to shit. Peter had been a superhero for a little less than three years, that he’s been alive for at least, and the universe just hands him a giant “Fuck You” card like he’s been given a birthday present. He never asked for this to happen to him, he never asked to be dusted for five years. He never asked to have ceased to exist like he was expendable. He never asked for Tony to essentially boot him to the curb, or for his Aunt May to remarry to a really kind guy with a son who was willing to welcome him, a stranger, to his home. Sure, he wasn’t fully a stranger, but to George and Alex, he was. They didn’t know Peter the way May knows him.

Stop being negative, Peter mentally shouted at himself . You’re the one sulking in the lab alone when the others upstairs were more than welcoming to you.

The truth behind that though? Peter was scared to open himself up to the other Avengers. He had lost so many people over the years that he was scared they would eventually either leave him or be ripped away from him. Besides, Peter had so much baggage that none of the Avengers should have to bear on top of their own baggage. In a way, Peter just figured this would be his way of blowing off steam before going back upstairs with a convincing fake smile plastered on his face.

Peter didn’t know how long he sat stewing in his own negativity, but just as he was getting into the zone, the elevator door opened and Steve walked out, carrying two plates full of lasagna towards him. Peter didn’t dare to look up, worried that Steve would see straight through him and call him out for not being okay.

Instead, Steve set the plates down beside him and asked, “What are you working on?”

Peter was taken aback by the genuine curiosity in the soldier’s tone. “I don’t want to bore you with the details.”

Steve chuckled, “I may be old, but I’m pretty spry, Kid. Try me.”

“Okay, uh, well, I ran into this issue recently when out patrolling,” Peter began and looked up at Steve. “I just… Can you keep a secret?”

Steve’s eyebrows furrowed in concern. “What kind of secret are you talking about?”

“It’s nothing serious, at least I don’t think it is…”

Steve’s eyes narrowed at that, “Peter.”

“Okay, so, uh, I’ve noticed a few changes ever since I came back.”

Steve raised an eyebrow at that, “Look, Kid, I don’t know what you’ve been told but change at your age is perfectly normal…”

Peter’s face scrunched up in confusion. “What? No, that’s not what… no! Geez, I meant my powers, not…”

Steve’s eyes widened “Oh! Uh…”

Peter waved it off, “Look, I was swinging through the city one night on patrol and everything was fine. Usually, I go through at least one container of web fluid a day, but that’s just because I use it a lot. Well, I noticed that night I hadn’t needed to replace any of it, and then I realized that I kinda… wasn’t wearing them?”

That caused a confused look to appear on Steve’s face. “How were you using web fluid with no web-shooters?”

Peter shook his head, “That’s what I was asking myself, and then I pulled up my sleeves and…” Peter pulled up the sleeves on his hoodie to show thin-white patches on the inside of his wrists.

Steve’s eyes widened once more before taking one of Peter’s wrists in his hands. “Is that what I think it is?

“Organic webs? That would be correct,” Peter nodded. “Somehow when I came back, they were there as if they’d always had been.”

Steve dropped his wrist, “Does Tony know about this?”

Peter felt a spark of anger at the mention of his name. “How’s he supposed to know? Not like he’s made an effort to give a damn about me recently.”

“That’s not…”

“Don’t tell me it’s not the case, Mr. Rogers. He doesn’t even seem to want to talk to me anymore.”

Steve sighed before coming to lean against the workbench. “Look, it’s been a weird adjustment for all of us since everyone came back. People cope in their different ways, but Peter, I swear to you, Tony cares.”

Peter’s mouth twisted into a bittersweet smirk, “Tell that to him ghosting me and only reaching out on his own time. And let me just say, the term ‘reaching out’ is a very kind, but inaccurate way to put it. He never talks about me, he only talks to me.”

Steve frowned at that, “Isn’t that the same thing?”

“No, it is not. You see, when someone talks to you, they talk to you about what is happening in their life, not yours. So when they don’t talk about you, they really don’t give a crap about you.”

Steve was silent for a moment, “I still think you should tell Tony, Peter. He’d want to know.”

“Know what? That I can’t wear short sleeves anymore because I have organic webbing that would essentially give away my identity?” Peter shuffled in his seat. “People notice too, they always question why I wear long sleeves or hoodies during the hottest part of the fall season. I can hear what people say at school, they think I…” His voice broke and he turned away in embarrassment “I just thought that if I could find some way to either hide it naturally or maybe extract it…” Peter shook his head in frustration

Steve placed a grounding hand on his shoulder. “All the more reason to talk to someone who might be able to help you. You might be a genius, but sometimes it takes two geniuses to brainstorm the perfect idea.”

Peter glanced off to the side, cursing at the tears he could feel forming in his eyes once again. Hasn’t he already teared up enough?

Steve cleared his throat, dropped his hand from Peter’s shoulder and said, “We missed you today.”

That just made Peter feel even guiltier.

Steve looked like he wanted to slap himself. “That was not supposed to come out like that. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.”

“I know,” Peter managed to get out. “You’re worried.”

Steve bit his lip before saying, “You’re just really quiet, Pete. Tony always went on about how you were the joyful, talkative kid that never knew when to stop talking. He always said that was his favorite part about you.”

“Yeah, well, this Peter’s been through quite a lot,” Peter muttered.

“Look, this is coming out all wrong,” Steve waved his hands in a dismissive manner. “We’re having a game night if you’re interested in joining us, and we’d really love it if you did.”

Peter was quiet for a moment before the guilt won out and he nodded to Steve. “Yeah, I’ll join. No use hanging by my lonesome if I just get lonely.”

Steve didn’t like how he phrased the answer, but he looked relieved that Peter was at least coming up to join them. For the next couple of hours, Peter did his best to be that joyful kid that Tony bragged about, not just for his personal sake but for the Avengers' as well. After all, there’s no use in being selfish if the one person you wished was there seemed to vanish into thin air.

***

That night, Peter couldn’t sleep. He had tried Bucky’s trick with rain sounds and when that didn’t work he tried sounds of the ocean. Both things failed to calm his raging mind and so he just laid there and stared at the ceiling. Usually, it’s the fear of nightmares that leave him terrified to close his eyes and go to sleep. However, this time it was a mixture between anger and uncertain trepidation. Overall, it was a weird combination. He was angry at the world for messing with him just for the sake of a plot he didn’t want to be a part of. He was angry at Tony and his lack of communication. Apparently Tony could tell the Avengers he was not coming, but he couldn’t reach out to tell Peter directly? It was those instances where Peter missed how things used to be before Thanos. It was those instances where Peter wished more than anything that this reality was a sick and twisted nightmare that he’d eventually wake up from.

Then there was the anxiety that had no cause. Peter wasn’t a stranger to the feeling of his Spider Sense going wacky. When he first got the sixth sense to detect incoming danger, he thought he had lost his mind. He couldn’t control it and he’d jump out of his skin every time a door slammed or a phone would ring. He worked his ass off finding a way to get the sense under control and since then, it only flared up when he had the beginnings of a sensory overload. This wasn’t a sensory overload, that much he was certain. He didn’t have any other tell-tale signs: the periodic chills, a low-grade fever, his ears weren’t ringing infinitely, and his eyes didn’t feel like they were being blinded by the light. The fact that his Spider Sense was going off faintly for no reason caused him to be a little uneasy.

Maybe it’s stress, Peter wondered. That was a fair possibility. His powers did act up when he was under a lot of pressure.

After laying in bed for a few more minutes, Peter got up before changing into a pair of sweats and a loose tank top. Another few minutes later and he was in the gym, punching the shit out of a punching bag. He wasn’t sure if he was imagining the bag to be someone or just if it was representing the overall current situation he was in, but either way, the anger flowing out of him was rather concerning. He never used to be an angry person, Peter was usually a calm-minded human being that worked out a peaceful solution if given the chance. This anger was pure anger, something he hadn’t felt since the day that Uncle Ben was wrongfully taken from the world.

“Geez, Kid, what did that bag ever do to you?”

Peter almost jumped up onto the ceiling at the voice scaring the shit out of him. However, his feet managed to remain fully planted to the ground and instead he let out a scream of surprise, something he’d never admit to in the future. Turning around, he saw that Natasha was standing in the gym’s doorway in a pair of joggers and a black t-shirt.

“You scared me,” Peter clutched his chest as he gasped for breath.

Natasha looked amused, “You flatter me.”

Once Peter’s breathing was under control he walked over to the bench where a towel and water bottle sat. Reaching down for the water, Peter opened the bottle before taking a big gulp of water.

“You never did answer my question,” Natasha said. “What did that bag ever do to you?”

Peter just shrugged.

“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” Natasha raised an eyebrow at him.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Peter wasn’t going to be caught lying by the famous Black Widow. He knew she’d be able to read the lie for what it was. “My senses were going haywire. Just wanted to blow off some steam.”

Natasha looked thoughtful for a moment before nodding, “Alright, come on.”

Peter frowned as she walked towards the sparring mat. “What?”

“You said you needed to blow off some steam and I do too so come on,” Natasha stood in the middle of the mat.

Peter looked hesitant. “I don’t want to accidentally hurt you.”
Natasha scoffed at that. “Look, you couldn’t hurt me even if you tried. Now come on, I don’t like waiting.”

Against his better judgment, Peter walked over to where Natasha was standing on the sparring mat. “Tell me to back off and I will, I don’t want to…”

Peter didn’t get to finish that sentence, as Natasha took him by the arm and flipped him onto his back. Peter let out a startled huff as all of the air rushed out of him involuntarily.

“Stop talking, Kid, it’s just sparring. I spar with Steve all the time. Trust me, I can handle myself just fine.” She held out a hand and Peter took it, Natasha hauling him to his feet.

For the next couple of hours, Peter let himself get lost in the fight choreography that kept him on his toes. As much as he tried to hold his punches, it didn’t matter. Natasha always managed to dodge his punches with ease, making the sparring more of a dance than an actual fight. It wasn’t until Peter was thrown into the mat for the fourth time that he finally surrendered.

Natasha scoffed in amusement, watching as Peter struggled to sit up into a criss-cross position. She walked over to him, handing him a new towel and his water.

“Thank you,” Peter said.

“Feel better?” Natasha came to sit beside him.

Peter was relatively surprised that he did indeed feel better. He felt physically fatigued to the point where he felt like he could pass out for a solid night’s sleep. Not only that, but his mind had quieted and his sixth sense was no longer causing the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up. “Yeah, thanks.”

Natasha shrugged off the comment. “No thanks needed, sometimes the best way to blow off steam is to just punch something.”

Peter snorted at that, “That’s quite the role model compliment.”

Natasha smirked at that. “What can I say? I’m an assassin not a philosopher.”

“For an assassin, you sure have a soft side,” Peter gave her a friendly nudge.

“For the record, if that had been anyone else, I would’ve decked them,” Natasha warned.

“So I’m a favorite then?” Peter beamed at the possibility.

Natasha fought off a smile as she said, “Us spiders have to stick together.”

“So I’m essentially your padawan then?” Peter’s eyes widened.

Natasha shook her head at that, “You and your random references. I have no idea what you just said so I’m going to say no.”

Peter laughed at that.

Natasha studied him. “You seem more carefree than you have been since you’ve been here.”

A wave of sadness washed over Peter at the mention of it. “I guess in the moment I was just able to forget it all.”

Peter could’ve sworn he saw tears in Natasha’s eyes when he said that. “You have no idea, Kid. Think you can sleep now?”

Peter thought for a moment before nodding cautiously. “Yeah, I think so.”

Natasha hummed and said, “I’d go before the feeling wears off, then. It never lasts as long as you’d like it to.”

Peter sighed, knowing Natasha was right. Getting to his feet, Peter began to walk out of the gym before Natasha stopped him.

“Kid?”

Peter turned back around to see Natasha getting to her feet. “Yeah?”

“How’re you handling everything?” Natasha wondered curiously. “Usually I can read people like a book, but there’s something different about you…”

Peter smiled sadly at that, “Aren’t we all a little broken?” Leaving it at that, Peter left the gym, thankful that Natasha didn’t follow him.

Once Peter got to his bedroom, he didn’t even bother to take a shower. As soon as he fell into his bed, he was out before his head even hit the pillow.

 

Chapter Text

When Tony finally drove up to the Compound’s entrance, it was close to seven in the morning. He had trouble falling asleep last night which left him to leave the lake house as soon as the sun began to cross the horizon. In retrospect, he was supposed to be at the compound when Peter had arrived on Friday, but Morgan had clung to him, telling him that she wasn’t feeling good. However, when Tony went to check her temperature, she just broke down crying and Tony couldn’t say no to staying. To make matters worse, Pepper had been called away for an emergency SI meeting that afternoon so Tony opted to stay behind and watch Morgan.

It wasn’t until the following morning when Morgan woke up and was miraculously feeling better that Tony had called her bluff.

“Morgan, darling, did you fake being sick yesterday?” Tony had asked.

Morgan wouldn’t look at him, but Tony could tell by her slumped shoulders that she knew she had done something bad.

“Morg… Why would you do something like that?” Tony knelt beside her, gently coaxing her to look up so they were eye level with one another.

“I just didn’t want you to leave,” Morgan confessed. “I miss you when you’re gone.”

“Honey, I know you miss us, but we always come back don’t we?” Tony poked her cheek gently. “Just because we have to go somewhere doesn’t mean we’re leaving you behind. What you did was a very bad thing, miss. You can’t fake sick to manipulate people like that.”

“But it was the only way I know to make you stay and not leave,” Morgan was on the verge of tears.

Tony sighed. “This is what’s going to happen. You’re going to go to your room for a few hours and think about what you’ve done. After that, you’ll give me a promise to never do it again and we’ll go get some ice cream while mommy’s working, yeah?”

Morgan nodded, a tear falling down her face. “I’m sorry.”

Tony shook his head, “I know you are. I’m not mad, I’m just a little disappointed. Honestly is the number one rule in this house and you broke it.”

“I’ll never do it again,” Morgan promised. 

Tony kissed the top of her head. “Go upstairs, I’ll see you in a few hours.”

Tony hated being the one to discipline his daughter. Pepper always made it look so easy and painless. When Tony saw Morgan cry, he wanted nothing more than to scoop her into a hug and never let go. However, he knew parenting was never easy and Morgan did have to learn that what she did was wrong. When Pepper had gotten home that night, he decided he was going to set out for the compound first thing in the morning. At least that way he can spend at least one day with Peter.

Peter.

That name brought a wave of guilt with it. Tony hadn’t been the best at keeping in touch ever since Peter was brought back. He had tried his best, calling him when he could, even if it was just for a few minutes at a time.  He knew that Peter was probably just as busy trying to come to terms with how much things have changed since the kid had come back from being dusted. The kid had two new additions to his family that have been in May’s life for close to four years. Tony didn't even want to imagine the overwhelming sensation of Peter’s situation. However, if it was one thing that Tony knew, it was that Peter was a resilient kid, and he wouldn’t buckle under the weight of the new world so easily. Peter never went down without a fight, and because of that fact, Tony wasn’t as worried about him as he would have been. No that’s a lie, he still worries too much about Peter for his own good.

Quietly making his way to the Avengers’ kitchen, Tony paused when he saw Natasha sitting at the kitchen counter, a cup of tea in her hands.

Natasha’s eyes flickered up to meet him at the sound of his approaching footsteps. “Well, look what the tide washed in.”

Tony rolled his eyes at her sarcastic comment, “Good to see you too. What are you doing up so early?” He asked, walking over to the coffee machine.

“I could ask you the same,” Natasha shot back, but her voice wasn’t unkind. “Does Pepper know you left at the break of dawn?”

Tony sighed at that, placing a cup under the coffee machine before pressing the brew button. “I left her a note and a text message. Guess I couldn’t sleep, so sue me.”

“You’re grumpy when you’re tired,” Natasha remarked, taking a sip of her tea.

Tony frowned at that comment as he turned around to face her. He noticed a bruise on her jaw and he turned his head in a questioning gesture. “Nice shiner.”

Natasha pointed at her jaw, “What this? It’s nothing.”

“Nothing, huh? Something go down recently?” Tony wondered, genuine curiosity in his voice.

Natasha shook her head. “Just some sparring.”

“Did Rogers actually manage to punch you?” Tony smirked.

“It was Peter actually,” Natasha correctly smoothly.

That caught Tony’s attention immediately. “Peter was sparring with you? Steve said he was in the lab all day yesterday.”

“He was up early this morning, said he couldn’t sleep,” Natasha shrugged. “He said his senses were going haywire and he just needed to blow off some steam.”

Senses going haywire… A pit of dread formed in Tony’s stomach. 

“Hey FRIDAY, has Peter mentioned if he’s having one of his episodes?” Tony inquired.

“Peter does not seem to be having a sensory overload, Boss, his vitals are stable while he sleeps,” FRIDAY replied.

Natasha looked confused. “Sensory overload?”

“Sometimes his senses get all screwy,” Tony explained. “Think of it as a migraine on steroids.”

“I’m not an expert or anything, but maybe it’s because he’s stressed? He thinks he’s good at hiding it, but the kid hasn’t been sleeping well.”

Tony felt a little hurt at this new information. “He hasn’t said anything…”

“Do you honestly think he would?” Natasha asked. “He’s a lot like you, Tony.”

Tony grabbed his cup of coffee and took a sip. “I don’t think that’s a good thing.”

“In some ways it is,” Natasha admitted. “In other ways, it’s worrying. Steve was able to pull him up for game night last night, but he just shut himself in the lab all day.”

Tony ran a hand through his hair, a nervous habit he has yet to break. “I knew it was too easy. For the longest time I thought that he was coping fine…”

“Maybe I’m crying wolf,” Natasha held her hands up in surrender. “Talk to Steve, he seems to know more than me.”

Tony nodded, “I’ll talk to Peter when he wakes up.”

Until then, down to the lab I go. Tony thought as he picked up his coffee and walked out of the kitchen.

***

When Peter finally woke up around ten o’ clock that morning, his body felt rested but his mind felt fatigued. It wasn’t the first time that Peter felt that way, and he knew it was because it was the sparring that mentally drained him. No matter how good it felt to forget his troubles in the heat of the moment, sparring strained your mentality just as much as it physically strained your body. It was one of the reasons why Peter tried not to let himself use daunting exercises as a coping mechanism, especially if he already had trouble sleeping. In the end, it always left him more tired than before.

Peter got dressed in a black long sleeve and gray sweatpants before he left his room and made his way down to the kitchen. Just as he was about to enter the room, two voices made him pause.

“When did he get in last night?” That was Steve.

“He got here this morning, actually,” A feminine voice… Natasha.

“It doesn’t matter, that still means he didn’t sleep, we know him better than that,” Steve protested.

“What was I supposed to do? You can’t stop Tony from doing something, you know that,” Natasha replied

Steve sighed. “I still don’t like it.”

“You always hated his wacked up sleeping habits, that seems like it hasn’t changed despite having a kid,” Natasha sounded agitated.

“I just wish he’d take better care of himself,” Steve amended. “I wish he could see that he matters too.”

Peter decided to walk in at that moment and asked, “Tony’s here?” He hated how excited he sounded at the prospect of his mentor actually making an appearance.

“He got in this morning,” Natasha nodded.

“Where is he?” Peter asked.

Natasha raised an eyebrow at him. “Where do you think?” 

Lab , Peter’s mind answered immediately. He went to turn on his heel, but Steve stopped him.

“Peter,” The tone in the older man’s voice was condescending. “Forgetting something?”

At that, Peter’s stomach let out a loud growl and Peter turned back around towards the kitchen counter.

Steve chuckled at that, “Thought so.”

After Steve made him a triple stack of pancakes, Peter was on his way down to the lab, bouncing on the balls of his feet in anticipation. This was the first time that Peter was going to see Tony in person since Thanos and it was more nerve wracking than he’d like to admit. Would it be awkward or would it be just like it used to be? Peter was really hoping for the latter because he didn’t know what he’d do if it was the former.

When the doors opened, Peter’s smile evaporated when he saw Tony glancing over the work he’d been doing yesterday.

Tony must’ve heard him because he turned around with an unreadable expression on his face.

“I can explain,” Peter began.

“Please do, because I am completely confused,” Tony crossed his arms. “What is this?” He pointed to the screen behind him that showed ideas for creating an invisible skin sealer, invisible skin cover and other web extraction ideas.

“Um… Did Steve tell you anything?” Peter wondered.

Tony raised an unimpressed eyebrow at that, “Was he supposed to?

“Um… No?” Peter winced at the obvious lie.

“What the hell is going on?” Tony more-so demanded an answer, but Peter could’ve sworn he saw a spark of concern in the billionaire’s eyes.

“So… You know how we like came back after…” Peter trailed off, not wanting to say.

Tony nodded, “I’m following.”

“When I came back, some things had changed,” Peter fiddled with the end of his sleeves.

“I’m going out on a limb and guessing you don’t mean the people around you have changed.”

“Yeah, uh, some of my powers changed,” Peter confessed.

“Changed how?”

“Well really only one thing I’ve noticed so far and really isn’t that big of a deal,” Peter rambled. “It’s not life-threatening or anything, it’s just really inconvenient.”

“Kid, stop right there,” Tony pinched the bridge of his nose to staunch his agitation.

Peter’s mouth clamped shut for a minute before he just got straight to the point. Walking over to Tony, he pulled up one of his sleeves and held his wrist out to the billionaire. The white patches on his wrist stuck out against his tan-colored skin, taking on a complex web-like pattern. In retrospect, it could pass as a scar, but it was hard to ignore when an identical patch was also on his other wrist.

Tony’s eyes widened when he saw what Peter was trying to say and he poked at the white patch on Peter’s wrist. “Is that…”

“They’re organic webs,” Peter confirmed.

“But how is that even possible?” Tony asked. “You didn’t have this before…”

“I don’t know how it happened,” Peter was starting to get uneasy at the scrutiny.

Tony poked the patch once more, “How is it you can see it but it’s not sticky?”

Peter shook his head, “I don’t know, I don’t know how any of it works. It’s just a white patch with a web outline that shoots out webs when I need it to.”

Tony glanced between Peter and his wrist before letting go. “How long have you known?"

“I didn’t know at first, I swear,” Peter promised. “I didn’t even get sick like I did when I first mutated so it completely blindsided me. I didn’t find out until like a month ago when I was on patrol and realized I was using webs even though I left my web-shooters at home.”

Tony blinked as he processed that, but his face grew stony. “You knew for a month that you have a new ability, something that is visible on your skin and you didn’t tell anyone? You should’ve picked up the phone and called me, Pete. I mean, do you know how reckless that is? What if someone saw that patch on your wrist and connected the dots, huh?”

Peter’s temper flared, “I’m not that stupid, Mr. Stark. I’ve been hiding it when I’m in the public eye.”

“How exactly are you doing that?” Tony questioned.

“I just wear long sleeves,” Peter shrugged.

“Long sleeves in 80 degree weather,” Tony pinched the bridge of his nose once more. “You can’t thermoregulate, Kid, that’s even more reckless.”

“What else was I supposed to do?” Peter asked, his voice tired, he really didn’t want to fight.

“You could’ve asked for help,” Tony said.

Peter looked away, ashamed of himself. Tony was right, if he hadn’t been so stubborn… “I’m sorry.”

Tony sighed and ran a tired hand through his hair. “Well now you have help at least. I think our best bet is to try and find a way to cover it, maybe I can work something with the nanites to make it camouflage your skin or something.”

Peter’s eyes lit up at the possibility, “I didn’t even think of that.”

Tony smirked at that, a smug look appearing on his face, “Of course you didn’t, but I’m here now so you have nothing to worry about. But honesty is a two way street, Pete, no more secrets, alright?”

Peter nodded, signaling a promise, “Alright.”

At least that way I can pretend that you care. Pick up the phone and call he says, if I did that would he have even answered? Peter thought bitterly but pushed the thoughts aside.

For the next couple of hours, Peter let himself get lost in the familiarity of working in the lab with his mentor. For a moment, Peter could honestly believe that nothing had changed and that the world he had been living in the past two months was indeed a nightmare. However, the science talk quickly turned into a Morgan talk and reality slapped Peter right in the face. Tony had been telling Peter all about Morgan’s fake sickness due to her not wanting Tony to leave. Peter knew the feeling of not wanting to let go of the person you cared most for, and in a way he couldn’t blame Morgan for doing what she did, even if there was a better way to handle the situation. But Peter didn’t want to talk about Morgan, he wanted the conversation to be about what was happening in the present situation. Talking about what they were working on and maybe Tony asking about Peter for a change

Just as the clock turned towards four thirty in the evening, Tony had finished what he had been doing and called Peter over.

“Here, put this on your wrists,” Tony handed two thin gray bracelets.

Doing as he was told, Peter put the bracelets on his wrist and a moment later the nanites activated and crawled over the inside of his wrists, covering the web patches seamlessly. As soon as they were covered, they changed to match Peter’s skin, making them essentially disappear and making Peter’s skin look completely normal, just minus the obvious webbing.

“Oh my god,” Peter exclaimed happily. The nanite layer had been so thin that nothing abnormal was noticeable, hell, Peter couldn’t even feel the little metal bots on his arms.

“They won’t let you use the webs in the meantime since it’s a temporary fix, but I figured it’s better than nothing.”

“Thank you,” Peter was genuinely appreciative.

Tony waved off the comment, “No thanks needed, glad it worked. Now we both don’t have to worry about you falling on your ass from a spider-induced heat stroke.” He turned around on his barstool to face Peter fully. “So, let’s talk about you.”

Peter’s eyes widened, “What about me?”

“Geez, kid, I’m not going to interrogate you,” Tony frowned at the apprehension in the younger man’s features. “Just, you know, how’s everything going back in Queens?”

Peter’s shoulders slumped shyly, “I mean, everything’s going just fine.”

Tony didn’t look convinced.

Peter sighed in resignation. “It’s been a little difficult getting used to it not just being May and I anymore. It took me a while to even come to terms that May remarried, you know. May loved Ben, and she still does even though he’s gone, but I could tell how lonely she was, even before… before Thanos .” Peter’s voice cracked at the name of the mad titan, but he pushed on, thankful that Tony didn’t seem to notice his little hiccup. “So when I met George, it didn’t matter what I thought about him because he was so good to May, and he welcomed me, a complete stranger, with open arms like I had been a part of this family since the very beginning.”

“He has a son doesn’t he?” Tony pressed gently.

“Yeah, his name’s Alex,” Peter said, fiddling with his thumbs. The more Peter talked about himself, the more he realized he genuinely didn’t want to. He had been so sure that talking to Tony and spilling the beans would help make things easier, but it made him realize just how difficult of a time he was having adjusting to the present. “I guess once upon a time I was older than him, but I try not to think about it because it just confuses me. He’s a really kind guy, and I can tell he’s trying really hard to get to know me, but we’re polar opposites. He’s a popular student and the quarterback of our high school’s football team. I wanted to hate them when I first met them, but now that I know them better I can’t. They’re too kind.”

“What about your friends?”

“Ned’s fine. I mean, he didn’t… he got dusted so like we’re still the same age,” Peter stuttered out awkwardly. “His family’s still intact and nothing else majorly changed when he was gone. I mean, he’s still dealing with a lot on his own end, but he’s coping alright I guess.”

“What about the girl?” Tony asked.

A wave of sadness washed over Peter and he had to clear his throat before he could speak. “MJ’s…” His voice cracked and he covered his face in his head. “Shit…”

Nice going, Pete. Tony’s being polite, you know he hates the mushy stuff, he doesn’t want to see you sobbing over the loss of a pathetic crush. Peter scolded himself, trying and failing to reel in the tears. However, the last part was a lie. It wasn’t just losing a girl he loved at first sight that broke his heart, he had essentially lost a friend too.

“Whoa, hey, easy there,” Tony stood up and came forward to guide Peter to sit down on the bench that Tony had been occupying.

“I’m sorry,” Peter apologized, angrily wiping the tears from his face.

“She survived didn’t she?” Tony prompted sadly.

Peter just nodded, sniffling as he said, “She’s married now and has a kid. I tried reaching out to her, but she hasn’t even answered my texts or called.”

“It’s probably a lot for her too,” Tony tried to reassure him.

Peter shook his head, “Why? That’s what I keep asking myself. Why me?”

Tony sighed, pulling Peter into a hug by his shoulders and Peter just rested his head on Tony’s chest. He relished the comfort that his mentor and father figure was providing him. In the past, Tony didn’t do well with human contact but Peter wondered if that changed the moment he had his own kid. He half expected Tony to pull away after a few seconds, but the billionaire didn’t seem keen on letting him go anytime soon.

“I know you got dealt a bad hand, Pete, and there’s nothing I can do to make that go away,” Tony said quietly, his voice surprisingly soft. “But you are not alone in this. You have May, and now you have two more family members at home who seem more than willing to help you in any way they can. You have a new family here, one that probably understands you a lot more than the ones at home. We’re a team, Kid, one that catches you when you fall. One that will stand by you during your worst. One who will hold on hope even when you don’t see it anymore.”

“I just miss how things used to be,” Peter confessed. “Things seem so difficult nowadays.”

“We’ll get through it,” Tony promised. “That I’m sure of.” He pulled away to put his hands on Peter’s shoulder. “Until then, I got a gallon of your favorite ice cream in the freezer with your name on it.”

Peter smiled sadly at that, “Ice cream sounds really good right now.”

Five minutes later, Peter is sitting on the couch in the Avengers’ living room, a gallon of chocolate ice cream curled into his chest as he leaned back, watching the Empire Strikes Back with Tony Stark sitting beside him. The ice cream lasted only for the first half-hour of the movie but the sugar therapy did help ease his troubles a small bit.

Halfway into the movie, Steve came into the room and surveyed the scene before him for a split second before coming to sit on the other couch next to the one that Tony and Peter were sitting on. Clint came in next, coming to sit beside Steve. Eventually, Natasha, Wanda, Sam, Bucky and Vision also gathered around to watch the movie. Peter barely registered what was happening, because his eyes were closing against his will. One moment he was sitting up straight and the next he was aware of his head resting against Tony’s shoulder. He sat up with a mumbled apology, but Tony carefully guided him back down so he was resting against his shoulder once more. When Peter finally dozed off to Tony’s heartbeat sounding in his ears, he was faintly aware of how safe he felt in that moment.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Peter found himself taking the subway by himself to school. Usually, Alex was there to accompany him, but apparently, the older teen had gone into school one hour early to meet up with a few friends to work on a group project for one of his classes. Peter, of course, had not gotten that memo because he didn’t stroll into his house until six o’clock that morning. When Peter had dozed off at the Avenger’s compound yesterday evening, his entire body just completely crashed from exhaustion. One moment he was sleeping on Tony’s shoulder, and the next moment he was waking up in his bedroom in the compound, light barely breaching the horizon, indicating that dawn was just around the corner.

It took a moment for reality to hit him like a bulldozer and erase any remaining remnants of sleep. A minute later, Peter had pulled on his spandex suit, slung his school backpack over his shoulder, and was swinging back to Queens as fast as he could. He almost crawled straight into his bedroom window at six o’clock in the morning before he realized that probably wasn’t such a good idea. If it had been five years earlier it would’ve been fine because it would’ve been just him and May. Now, in the present, however, there were two new people in the apartment who didn’t know his alter ego, and Peter didn’t have any intention to let them know any time soon.

So, instead, he disappeared into an alleyway and peeled off his suit. He was secretly grateful he had been in such a rush that he didn’t take off the gray sweatpants and navy blue MIT hoodie he was wearing because all he had to do was stash the spandex suit in his backpack before making his way to his apartment on the third floor of the apartment complex. To his surprise. No one was awake, so he quickly retreated to his bedroom where he took a shower and started to get ready for the day. Thankfully, when he did emerge for breakfast, George didn’t seem surprised that he hadn’t come home last night, merely mentioning that Tony had told May he had fallen asleep early.

Back to the present moment, Peter’s pace slowed as he approached the school grounds, a faint wave of trepidation passed over him. It wasn’t a gut feeling, no, this was the type of anxiety that caused the hair on his arms and the back of his neck to stand up. This trepidation definitely was his spider-sense trying to warn him of something, but it was a different kind of feeling that he never had before. Usually, his spider-sense was an urgent warning, telling him to dodge or expect some kind of danger. It was enough anxiety to cause his entire body to move on instinct. Instead, this feeling was a faint lingering sensation that made him feel a little queasy.

You’ve been feeling uneasy since you’ve been back, Pete , Peter thought to himself. What’s to say it’s not you who’s setting your Spidey-Sense off?

That was also a solid point. He was already mentally broken, maybe that means his powers are broken too. Peter lived in a constant state of anxiety nowadays, it shouldn’t surprise him that his spider side is picking up on that too.

Taking a deep breath to try and soothe his nerves, he pushed down the anxiety and nausea and made his way into the school, making a direct path to his locker. Once at his locker, he plugged in his combination, or at least he tried to. The combination lock was one of the dial-turners, something that he usually had no problem with. However, today, after the third unsuccessful try, he let out a defeated groan and rested his head against the locker.

“Trying to get a concussion, Pete?”

Peter’s heart sped up at the unfamiliar voice, his spider-sense going haywire. Spinning around, Peter froze in complete shock at the sight of a person that struck a small chord of familiarity. The person in front of him was an average-built man who was a head taller than him, his brown hair neatly combed over. As weird as it was, Peter felt like he knew who the person was based on a familiar sparkle in the person’s eyes and the way his cheeks morphed into slight dimples at the turn of his smile.

The taller teen chuckled at the dumbstruck expression on his face. “I know it’s been a long time, but surely you didn’t forget me, right? Two of us against the world, sound familiar?”

Peter felt his eyes widen at that, there was no doubt who this person was anymore. “Harry?”

Harry beamed at that, “Knew you couldn’t forget me.”

Peter let out a surprised laugh but felt a wave of pure giddy course through him. “What? How? What are you doing here?”

“Well, uh, guess I’m back in Queens or else I wouldn’t be here,” Harry held his arms out to gesture at the entire room.

“No, I mean, like I thought you and your dad moved,” Peter stuttered, and he realized how stupid that sounded. “No, wait I mean you obviously did move because you were here and then you were suddenly gone, but now you’re standing here and I can’t believe it!”

“Wow, so the rambling definitely hasn’t changed,” Harry was amused. “It suits you.”

Peter felt himself flush at that. “Sorry, I just, I don’t know if this is my mind playing tricks on me or if you’re actually here.”

Harry placed his hands on Peter’s shoulders and said, “I’m here, Pete. I’m back.”

Peter felt hysterical laughter overtake him and he pulled Harry in for a quick backslap before pulling away. “What happened? How are you here? Did you convince your dad to come back?”

A shadow fell over Harry’s face and he said, “Not exactly, uh… My dad passed away apparently sometime over the summer, but I mean I didn’t even see it happen.”

Those words felt like a slap to his face, Harry had been dusted, of course, he had. He wouldn’t be standing there, obviously, the same age as Peter, if he hadn’t been.

Harry cleared his throat, “But I mean, I moved in with my uncle downtown and I just enrolled here. I didn’t even know you attended here, but I can’t say I’m surprised. You were always a science wizard when we were younger.”

Peter grew sad at the revelation. “I’m really sorry, Harry. I know what it’s like to lose someone you care about.”

Harry brushed it off, “Don’t be. So, what’s the beef between you and your locker?”

Peter frowned, glancing at the lock, “It’s just giving me trouble this morning.”

“Let me try,” Harry offered, “What’s the combo?”

“10-15-11,” Peter recited and Harry stepped forward to try his hand at the lock.

“Always saving your ass,” Harry jested as the lock popped open on the first try.

Peter rolled his eyes at that, “I distinctly recall it being the other way around.” He walked over, digging into his backpack to put away his class materials that were after lunch. “So, what’s your schedule look like?”

“Oh!” Harry reached into his pocket to pull out a folded piece of paper. “Uh, looks like I have Biochemistry first hour with Miller, Calculus with Bowler, Economics with Ackerman, and then Lunch B.”

Peter’s eyes widened at that, “Guess we have the same classes, but a different lunch. What about after?”

“Gym fourth hour, European History fifth hour, and then Study hall to end the day,” Harry read aloud.

“Looks like we part ways for the rest of the day,” Peter closed his locker. “Miller’s pretty chill as long as you pay attention, Bowler’s the same way. Ackerman is essentially a free period, she usually falls asleep behind the desk and we just do independent study.”

A second later, the bell rang, beginning the school day. The rest of the morning felt surreal, and Peter was genuinely surprised with how easy it was to fall back into their usual bantering considering they haven’t seen each other since they were ten years old. May had always told Peter that the two of them were like two sides of the same coin. To Peter, Harry had been the brother that he never had the chance of having, and Harry had said he felt the same way since he was an only child.

Peter had always been an intelligent kid, with the promise of going far with his increasing passion for science. Harry had been more interested in mathematical studies, but his wit and determination rivaled Peter’s natural intelligence. It felt nice having conversations with a person that Peter felt had matches his intellectual integrity. That’s why it hit so hard when Harry had suddenly disappeared off the face of the planet. He remembered feeling betrayed that something so sudden had left him so broken-hearted. He had already lost his parents, but this was the first time he remembered losing someone close to him, even if the person was presumably still alive. However, there was no contact between him, the phone numbers for Harry’s residence were all out of service and he was just gone .

For the first time in Peter’s life, he actually remembered what it felt like to mourn. Then four years later, Ben passed, and even then, the grief felt worse than it ever had been. If it hadn’t been for May, and later on Tony, Peter didn’t know if he would’ve been strong enough to survive the tragedies that his life threw at him.

The first three classes of the day flew by quicker than they ever had, and by the time that lunch had rolled around, Peter never felt happier to be back in his normal human life.

Ned must’ve sensed a change in his mood because had a curious expression on his face when Peter sat down across from him at their usual lunch table.

“What’s got you all giddy?” Ned asked. Then he gasped dramatically, “Did a girl talk to you?”

Peter blinked at him before saying, “You’re an ass.”

Ned laughed at that, “I’m sorry, but damn, Pete, I haven’t seen you smile that wide since MJ gave Flash a wedgie in retaliation to him humiliating you.”

The mention of MJ soured his mood slightly, “Gee, thanks.”

Ned’s eyes fell at the change in his friend’s expression, “Aw, man, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything…”

Peter shook his head, “Don’t be, It’s been months you know, I should be over it by now. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” Ned reassured him, “I miss her too sometimes, you know? She was my friend too, I understand more than you think I do.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Peter gave him a small smile.

Ned was silent for a moment before changing the subject, “So, have you heard the rumors about the new kid?”

Peter frowned at that, “Rumors?”

“Apparently a new rich kid is attending our school! People are saying he’s a millionaire , Pete. Can you imagine? I mean you probably can since you’re literally over Tony Stark’s house every weekend.”

Peter cringed at that, “Don’t say it like that, dude, it makes it sound way too creepy. It’s not his house, the Avengers stay there too.”

Ned scoffed at that, “I mean what is your life, Peter? People would do anything to be in your position! Anyways, have you met him?”

“Actually I’ll do you one better, I know him,” Peter revealed.

Ned’s eyes widened, “You do?”

“The new kid? His name’s Harry Osborn. I knew him when I was a kid.” Peter shrugged. “He’s just a normal kid, money or not.”

“Wait, the Harry Osborn?” Ned’s eyes widened. “The friend that you said disappeared off the face of planet earth without a goodbye?”

“I mean, he was a kid too, Ned, it’s not like he had any choice in the matter,” Peter shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I don’t even know all the details. I didn’t even know his mother had passed away until I confronted May about Harry being gone. Harry’s dad just grabbed him and ran, that’s all there was to it.”

“And you never heard from him until he just suddenly comes back to Queens?” Ned tried to hide his uncertainty, but Peter could read him like a book.

“Why are you so put off about it?” Peter wondered curiously.

“It just seems a little weird doesn’t it?” Ned leaned forward to lower his voice. “You didn’t tell him, did you?”

Peter’s eyes widened at the implication, “No! Of course not! Geez, Ned, I only saw him for a couple of hours this morning, I’m more careful than that.”

“I’m not saying you aren’t, I just don’t want you to be blinded by a familiar face.”

“Ned, you have nothing to worry about,” Peter reassured him. “Look, I don’t know what brought Harry back to Queens, alright? Maybe something happened and he just missed the city? This was his home for ten years and he had to put it all behind for the sake of his father, not by his choice. What’s so weird about that?”

“I’m happy that you’re happy, Pete, but I just… I don’t know, my gut feeling is that something is fishy with it.” Ned admitted.

Peter leaned forward to place a comforting hand on Ned’s shoulder, “You’re still my guy in the chair, Ned. I got this, don’t worry.”

Ned, not looking reassured, just smiled, “You’re right, I’m probably just being paranoid.”

***

When the bell rang to dismiss school for the day, Peter found himself walking out with Harry, who had waited for him by the library where he had been for study hall. Ned’s conversation had been on replay in his mind since lunch had ended, and Peter didn’t know why his friend had been so put out about Harry suddenly appearing out of the blue. To Peter, it felt more like a small blessing rather than a curse. It was a sense of normalcy for him, it brought back so many childhood memories that had made him so happy, and still continue to do so.

“Do you want to come over? Peter asked, a small part craving to spend more time catching up on the past six years, that they’ve both been alive for at least.

Harry’s face scrunched up into a guilty expression as he replied, “I can’t today, I still have a lot of unpacking I have to do and I promised my uncle I’d get it done today.”

Peter fought off the disappointment as he nodded, “Don’t sweat it, I understand.”

“See you tomorrow?” Harry tried to lighten the mood.

Peter smiled at the promise, “Yeah.”

A horn honked and Harry looked over and sighed, “Well that’s my ride.”

Peter readjusted the strap of his backpack on his shoulder. “Well, see you, I guess.”

Harry gave him a light punch on his shoulder, “See you, Pete.” With that said, Harry headed over to his uncle’s car as Peter turned towards the subway and scanned the crowd. When he spotted Alex leaning against the railing of the stairs that lead to the platform, Peter made his way over to him.

Alex’s eyes brightened when he laid eyes on Peter and he smiled as Peter approached him, “Hey! Ready to head out?”

“Yeah,” Peter nodded, stopping right in front of him. 

Alex nodded his head towards the stairs, “Alright, let’s go home!”

The walk to the subway was silent as they climbed the stairs together. It wasn’t until both of them were standing in the aisle of the train near the doors that Alex broke the silence.

“Who were you talking to back there? Was that the new kid? The supposed millionaire?” Alex inquired, genuine curiosity in his voice.

Peter shrugged, “I don’t understand why people started that rumor. I knew him, he used to live in Queens when he was younger. We were close growing up.”

Alex’s eyes widened at that, “Really? What’s his name?”

“Harry Osborn,” Peter answered. “He’s really just a normal guy. I mean his Dad was wealthy but he wasn’t this famous millionaire that people are making Harry out to be.”

“You said he used to be in Queens, did he leave?” Alex wondered.

“Yeah,” Peter’s eyes flickered to look out the window next to him. “Harry’s mother had passed away and his Dad took Harry, cut off all ties here, and jumped ship.”

“That really sucks,” Alex sounded sad. “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

Peter shrugged once more, “It is what it is.”

“But he’s back now right? Is he here to stay?”

“For the moment it seems so,” Peter nodded. “He moved in with his Uncle. I guess his Dad passed away recently.”

Alex whistled, “That’s rough. I can’t even imagine what that must’ve felt like.”

“I can imagine exactly that,” Peter replied sadly.

Alex silently cursed under his breath before quickly saying, “Oh god... Pete, I’m sorry I didn’t even think when I said that.”

Peter looked confused at that, “I didn’t think you did. It’s fine, really, you didn’t say anything wrong.”

It was silent for a few minutes before Alex spoke up, “Well, I’m sorry I killed the mood.”

Peter turned to look at Alex in bemusement. “What do you mean?”

“I just… before I said anything you looked happier than you’ve been since you’ve come back.”

Peter winced at that, but couldn’t find it in himself to deny it. Alex was right, Peter had felt so happy to be himself and to be back in his neighborhood for the first time since he came back. Peter didn’t know what it was, maybe having Harry back meant that things were finally changing for the better and that maybe the world was finally changing in his favor.

“I tried to give you space about it,” Alex continued. “I always heard these stories about you being famous for your giddy and rambling self and you’ve just been really quiet. I don’t know, I just figured the silence meant you wanted nothing to do with me. I know how awkward it must’ve been to come home to two strangers living in your house and, maybe to you, intruding on your life. I guess I was just hoping that would pass and we could maybe find a way to be friends.”

Peter felt a wave of guilt and shame wash over him at Alex’s words. It wasn’t the first time someone had told him he wasn’t the same charismatic person that he used to be before Titan, before he essentially lost five years of everyones’ lives. Peter knew it was selfish of him to be so self-absorbed when everyone else around him were also reeling with their own aftermath. Peter wasn’t the only one who got dusted, and he wasn’t the one who had to deal with his loved ones vanishing before his eyes. 

Was it selfish? Yes, it was, but could Peter find it in himself to care? No, and he’s tried so hard to care on numerous occasions. It was so hard to try to be okay just because people expect you to be happy or to be coping in some way. It was so hard to find appreciation in anything when you feel so lost in a world that was so quick to erase you.

That didn’t stop him from looking at his feet and saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel like that. I want that too, I just…” I just don’t know how to let go of the past. Peter couldn’t find it in himself to say that last part.

A few minutes of silence passed between them before a thoughtful expression fell across Alex’s face. “So you know how the football coach has a weird name?”

Peter frowned at the sudden conversation change. “What?”

Alex leaned against one of the metal train poles and crossed his arms. “The football coach. He just has a first name and not a last name, so his name is Axel.”

“What happened to his last name?” Peter felt a spark of curiosity ignite deep in his bones.

“Apparently someone on the team found out he legally changed his name as soon as he was legal to do so.”

“So he changed his name to Axel?” Peter asked. “What’s so weird about that?”

Alex smirked in amusement, “I guess someone found out his original name was Willie Kazoo.”

Peter let out a surprised laugh at the revelation, “That’s got to be fake.”

Alex held his hands up in defense, “I’m just telling you what I heard, although when someone asked about it I’ve never seen Coach Axel’s face so red.”

“Oh my…” Peter was still laughing. “No wonder he changed his name. But that’s so mean, I didn’t mean it like that… Oh god what am I even saying.” Peter took a second to calm down and catch his breath, when he got his senses back he looked over at a smug Alex.

That's when it dawned on Peter, “You made that up, didn’t you?”

Alex smiled at that, “It got you to laugh, didn’t it?”

Peter rolled his eyes at that, but there was still a grin on his face. “I don’t know whether to feel thankful or betrayed.”

“I think being thankful would be a better option,” Alex jested.

Peter scoffed in amusement. “Then consider me thankful just this once.”

Another wave of silence washed over them, but this time it was more comfortable than the awkward silence that usually ended their short conversations. Alex was right though, Peter never gave him a full chance.

Pushing down every pessimistic thought on his mind, Peter broke the silence for a change. “Did May ever talk about me? When I was… well…”

Alex shifted uncomfortably at that and he said, “Yeah, she talked about you a lot. I mean, whenever she did talk about you it usually ended in tears, but there were days she would smile back on the memories between the two of you. She told us that you were this smart kid that was going places.”

Peter closed his eyes to fight off the overwhelming sadness at the misery his aunt had faced alone.

Alex sighed, “You gotta stop blaming yourself, Peter.”

Peter’s eyes snapped open at that. “What? I’m not…”

“Don’t deny it,” Alex shook his head. “May was right about one thing. You’re an open book even if you don’t want to be.”

Peter gasped and clutched his chest, “You wound me.”

It was Alex’s turn to roll his eyes, “I’m being serious. I know what it feels like to get so deep into your own head that it just consumes you, even if something happened that wasn’t necessarily your fault.”

Peter was taken aback by the genuine pain in Alex’s eyes. In response, Peter bit his lip before he decided to give in just a little bit. “I just don’t know how to make it stop.”

Alex pulled his arms away to fiddle with the straps on his backpack. “You won’t. It’ll never go away, but it will ease up. You just have to be willing to work through it and not wallow in it.”

Peter was silent for another minute before confessing, “I haven’t felt like this since my Uncle Ben passed away.”

An unreadable expression fell across Alex’s face before he said, “In a way, I know what you mean. My mom… she died in a car accident when I was twelve. She uh… when everyone got dusted… an empty car hit her full speed and she, uh… she was killed on impact..”

Peter flinched at the revelation, a nauseous feeling forming in the pit of his stomach. He didn’t even consider something like that would happen.

It’s because you’re stuck in your self-pity, all you think about is yourself. Peter berated himself. You’re so selfish, Peter…

Alex ran a hand down his face to try and reel in his emotions. “We got in a fight a few hours before it happened and the last thing I ever said to her was that I hated her. The thing is? I can’t even remember what the stupid fight was about. We were so close growing up… She and Dad were my anchor and I let one stupid cloud of judgment…” His voice broke. He shook his head and cleared his throat before pushing on, “I know what it’s like to feel like you’re selfish for grieving and I know what it feels like to lose a part of yourself. You can’t stay there for eternity, Peter, or else it consumes you and there’s no return.”

Peter knew Alex was speaking the truth but a tear ran down his cheek as he said, “It’s easier said than done.”

“I know,” Alex agreed. “But I promise you, I’m here for you. May gave me a second chance at having some semblance of a mother and I want to get to know you, Peter. Maybe in time, you can consider my Dad and I family too.”

A second later, the train pulled into their station and the two of them disembarked in silence. Guilt wracked Peter after his talk with Alex, but he knew the other teen didn’t talk to him to make him feel bad. He knew Alex was trying really hard to let him know that he wasn’t alone, not if he had anything to say about it. Deep down Peter was grateful, there was no denying that. It was just so difficult to push through all the grief and misery and try to act like everything was alright. Peter never knew why the waves of happiness came and went, but maybe if he just tried, things would turn out for the better.

So, Peter turned to a safe subject and talked to Alex about his time on the decathlon team. He told Alex of DC and how his team has been saved by Spider-Man after the elevator at the Washington Monument spontaneously collapsed. Alex had been intrigued about Peter’s adventures, and Peter felt pleasantly surprised that the other teen wanted to know more about him. For a moment, Peter let himself believe that someone actually wanted to be around him, despite his messy life.

In turn, Alex told Peter about his time on the football team and how it had given him an outlet to channel his grief. When he was on the football field, he let himself get lost in the moment and focus on his sole purpose: leading his team to victory. In a way, Peter found something that he and Alex had in common. They both were broken and messy, but they were trying the best that they could to be okay.

At that moment, Peter found it easy to believe that in time, Alex and him would become friends. Talking to the older boy made a weight lift off his chest and Alex’s clever wit never failed to make him smile or even better, laugh.

Peter walked into the apartment, laughing at something that Alex had said. He paused in his footsteps when he saw George leaning against the entry archway, a smile on his face.

“Did you two have a good day?” George asked kindly.

Peter, putting a smile on his face with a little difficulty, replied, “Yeah,” he looked over to Alex. “I think we did.”

Alex gave him a smile before sparking a conversation with his father, and this time Peter followed them as they made their way to the living room area. For the first time since Peter had met him, he had hope that maybe they would eventually become family. For the first time in a while, Peter felt like he was home in his apartment back in Queens.

Chapter Text

Dinner that night went a lot smoother than Peter would have ever anticipated. It was a rarity that all four of them were available to have family dinner, especially since May and George usually alternated night shifts at the hospital. The times that they have had family dinner in the past consisted of Peter just aimlessly eating while pretending to listen to the conversations around him. It had just been easier to listen than it was to talk, it was easier to seem engaged than it was to actually engage in something he didn’t know how to be invested in.

This time, however, Peter had actually felt motivated to talk. Maybe it was the new vibe between him and Alex, or maybe the day just left him in a good mood, Peter couldn’t figure it out. In all honesty, Peter didn’t want to figure it out, it’s better to be surprised. Usually, you’re happier when your pessimistic thoughts are shoved to the back for a change.

The conversations bounced back and forth with Alex talking about Midtown’s football coach and how he was pushing the team hard, but Alex was optimistic that the team will do well this upcoming season. Peter had told them about the upcoming decathlon practice and how he managed to be nominated team captain that year, despite him only being back a week before the start of the new academic year. May had seemed especially thrilled at this news and Peter couldn’t help but share her infectious smile.

When the conversation finally thinned, Alex decided to pipe in, “Apparently there’s this new kid at school, and Peter and him have a history.”

Peter blushed at the statement, “Gee, thanks, Alex.”

Alex just winked at him with an amused grin on his face.

May glanced over at Peter, “Really? Who is it? Is it a girl?”

Peter rolled his eyes good-naturedly, “Not everything is about a girl, May.”

May’s eyes widened, “So it’s a guy?”

Peter frowned, “What? Geez, May, no! Not like that! God… May, do you remember Harry Osborn?”

May’s fork froze halfway to her mouth. Then she put the food back down, her expression showing her surprise. “You’re joking.”

Peter shook his head, “He’s back in Queens.”

“Wow! I never thought… I mean after Emily passed away I didn’t think… Is his father back too?” May asked.

Peter’s eyes grew sad at that, “His dad passed away before we uh…”

May’s face crumpled at that, “Poor thing, I can’t imagine…”

George cleared his throat awkwardly, “Who’s Harry Osborn?”

“Harry used to live in Queens when I was a kid,” Peter answered kindly. “He was my best friend. May always said we were two sides of the same coin.”

May chuckled at that, “They were definitely a mischievous duo. There was one time I came home to the apartment covered in flour because a chemistry experiment went awry.”

“That was an accident,” Peter defended himself. “We just wanted to see how it would react… We didn’t expect it to blow up in a giant powder cloud!” Alex started laughing at that.

Peter shot him a hurt look, “Hey! I thought you were on my side!”

Alex was still laughing, “I just… I can picture you standing with those puppy eyes, covered head to toe in flour… Oh my god, that’s priceless!”

“It wasn’t head to toe! I mean it was everywhere but I had clothes on!” Peter stuttered at that. “Wait no! I mean… It was flour ! You can’t just expect it to go where you want it to!”

May and George had joined in on the laughter and Peter was left a stuttering mess, his cheeks flushed in embarrassment. However, a small part of him felt accomplished at the fact that he made someone laugh. It had been so long since he had been able to see a small ounce of his old self.

About ten minutes later, George had retired to his room because he had to be up by four o’clock the next morning for his shift at the hospital. Alex had been excused to go work on an essay and so Peter was left to help May do the dishes. Peter had taken on the role of washing while May was tasked with drying.

“Does the decathlon have any trips planned yet?” May sparked a conversation.

Peter glanced over at his aunt before turning back to the dishes. “Not yet, I mean Mr. Harrington doesn’t know if we’re traveling anywhere extravagant this year just because the entire world is still kinda… you know, adjusting.”

May hummed her disapproval, “People are letting this go on way longer than it needs to be.”

Peter flinched at that. If only you knew how broken up I am inside. “Can’t really blame them though. The universe screwed us all over.”

May sighed, putting down her dish and coming to stand behind Peter, her chin resting on his shoulder and a comforting hand came to rest on his upper back. “That is something we can all agree with. I’m proud of you, Pete. I mean, I always have been proud, but you’ve been fighting so hard and… just thank you for being you. I know it hasn’t been easy, but thank you for being my resilient boy.”

Peter felt a wave of sadness wash over him. I’m not as strong as you give me credit for. I’m just really good at hiding it.

“So, Harry’s back,” May changed the subject.

“Indeed he is,” Peter agreed, handing her another plate to dry.

“How did Ned react?” May asked knowingly.

Sometimes it still surprised Peter how much May knew him and his friends. He shouldn’t be surprised, he knew that, but it still caught up to him sometimes. “Not the greatest. He got really paranoid about the entire thing.”

“You can’t blame him for that, Pete. He’s used to being by your side.”

“I know that,” Peter reassured her. “Yes, Harry and I have history but we haven’t seen each other since we were ten years old. Ned has been there for a hell of a lot, he doesn’t need to worry about anything, I just wish I could prove it to him.”

May chuckled sadly at that, “Most likely he’s a little jealous. People do weird things when they think a person they care about is slipping through their fingers. Show him reassurance that isn’t the case and things should go alright.”

Peter smiled at that, “Thanks, May.”

May nudged his shoulder with her’s. “That’s what I’m here for.”

Peter handed her the last dish and turned off the sink. Grabbing a clean dish towel, Peter began to dry his hands. Unconsciously he checked his wrists and felt the faint pressure of the nanites still holding strong over his organic webs. Maybe he’d tell May one day, but since it wasn’t life-threatening, there wasn’t any need to tell her at that moment.

Instead, he asked, “Can I go patrolling?”

May raised an eyebrow at the question, “Since when do you ask permission?”

Peter glanced between the master bedroom door and the hallway he shared with Alex. May followed his uncertain gaze and an understanding expression came across her face.

May bit her lip, deep in thought for a moment before saying, “George and Alex are going downtown to visit Alex’s grandparents Friday evening when George gets off of work. They won’t be back until Sunday night.”

Peter’s heart soared in appreciation. “Thanks, May.”

May rested a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Just be safe.”

Peter smiled and nodded. “Always am.”

With that said and done, Peter retreated to his bedroom where he fell asleep soon after.

***

The next two days went by rather uneventfully, and Peter didn’t know if he should’ve counted that as a blessing or a curse. He had talked to Harry more often, both of them catching up on the time they had spent separated. Harry had told Peter about how he didn’t fully remember leaving New York when he was ten years old. He knew that he lived somewhere else as he grew into his pre-teenager and teenager years, but he couldn’t remember the feeling of leaving behind a place that he had called home for the first ten years of his life.

“It’s almost like it wasn’t home anymore after Mom passed away,” Harry had told him sadly. “It’s weird, you know? I didn’t miss the city, but I missed the people I had grown close to.”

When it was Peter’s turn to share his sob story, he opened up gradually about Ben being shot in front of him, the agony of being so helpless to stop the light leaving the eyes of the man he essentially thought of as a father. He omitted a few key details, one of which was his alter ego. He might’ve been close to Harry at one time in the past, but that didn’t mean he was ready to reveal his spider extracurriculars to just anyone. It was the same reason that Peter hadn’t told George or Alex that he was Spider-Man. Would he tell all of them someday? Maybe, but Peter didn’t really know when that would be. He didn’t even know if he would ever be ready for that.

Overall, Peter was genuinely surprised at how easy it was to pick up where Harry and him had left off. The inside jokes were still there, and there were more that were easily formed between them in the first week that Harry had been back in Queens. If Peter were truly honest with himself, he couldn’t remember the last time he had felt like his charismatic self with minimal effort. In a way, Peter saw it more as hope that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. This was his second chance, something that Thanos didn’t affect.

Peter made sure to evenly divide his time between Harry and Ned, swearing to himself that he would never let Ned feel like he wasn’t there to support and hang out with him. Ned was the closest thing he currently had to a brother, something that even Alex hadn’t accomplished yet. Sure, Peter had known Ned since he was twelve, but the two of them had gone through thick and thin together, and Ned had always been there for him when he needed it the most. He had been there when Ben had died, and he had been there for him during his spider activities since he found out about his identity. More than that, Ned had saved Peter’s ass more times than he would ever admit aloud.

However, Peter was starting to get disheartened at the distrust on Ned’s face whenever he talked about Harry in his presence. It was like a storm cloud had taken over his expression, an expression that was usually full of a mixture between calm and giddy. Seeing Ned so put out at the mere mention of Harry’s name made Peter feel both guilty and unnerved. Guilty because Ned should never have been made to feel like that, especially if Peter was the cause of his friend’s foul mood. Also, unnerved because Ned wasn’t one to distrust someone so easily without getting to know them. Unnerved because his sixth sense has still been lingering still, leaving Peter tense and a little nauseous. Still, he couldn’t find out why his sixth sense had been going haywire, and he hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, not the Avengers, and not even Tony. He had a feeling that Happy, Ned and May knew something was going on, Peter was usually an open book to the people who know him the best. If Tony had bothered to check on him like he used to, the billionaire would have undoubtedly called him out on it. It took Peter an hour to beg Happy to not say something to Tony, lying and saying it’s because things are still so out of whack, but they were getting better. He wasn’t sure if Happy bought it, but Tony hadn’t said anything to him so Peter likes to think that he had kept his word. It was better than thinking that Tony had heard about it but shrugged it off.

In regards to Ned’s strange behavior, Peter had wondered if jealousy might’ve played a role in how his friend has been acting. May’s words from earlier that week at dinner had continuously been ringing in his head.

People do weird things when they think a person they care about is slipping through their fingers. Peter recalled, May’s voice echoing in his head.

Logically, Peter knew that Ned had nothing to worry about, but Ned might not be on the same page about that. May was right, Ned was used to being by his side, knowing he never had to ask for Peter’s attention. Things had gone a little south when Peter’s silence had accumulated after Thanos. So, in an effort to reconcile for lost time, Peter had asked Ned if he could come over after school so they could finally get started on that Millenium Falcon lego set. Seeing Ned smile so wide at the question made it completely worth it. Peter would do anything to make his friend that happy all the time. It was a smile he hadn’t seen from Ned since they’ve been back.

That revelation had been a slap to the face and Peter got angry at himself for being so self-absorbed in the aftermath of Thanos that he managed to become so oblivious that he failed to see how badly Ned was struggling to be happy.

Just another reason why you’re so selfish, Peter chided himself. Why can’t you just be happy like everyone expects you to be?

Peter shook off the pessimistic thought quickly. He had gotten better at not slipping into self-deprecation so easily anymore. He was happier… at least he was happier to an extent. He was happy in that moment because he had something to look forward to.

That Wednesday afternoon, Peter and Ned found themselves sitting on the floor of Ned’s bedroom, a pile of loose legos sitting in a circle as Ned and Peter began to read the blueprints. They started by organizing the pieces to make the construction part easier.

They sat in concentrated silence for a minute before Peter decided to just rip the band-aid off. “Can I ask you something?”

Ned looked up, a curious expression on his face, “What’s up?”

“What’s the deal with you and Harry?” Peter asked, his voice soft and hesitant.

Peter almost slapped himself when he saw Ned visibly tense. “There’s nothing.”

“Ned,” Peter shot him a knowing look. “You can’t lie to me that easily. You can talk to me, dude, I won’t judge.”

Ned was silent for a moment before he sighed. “I just get a bad vibe about the entire thing. This guy you knew when you were younger disappears after his mother passes away and suddenly moves back to Queens? I mean I know you can feel the sketchiness about it too.”

Peter’s eyes widened at the implication. “What do you mean I can feel it too? Ned, that makes no sense.”

Ned fiddled with a few lego pieces as he sorted through them. “I can see how you’re always tense, man. I know you, you don’t stand like a rigid pole all the time, at least you used to not stand like one. I know you try to hide it, but you keep looking around your surroundings like you’re waiting for something to jump out at you.”

Peter’s guess that Ned knew about his sixth sense being wacky was confirmed. “Ned… What my Spider-Sense is picking up on isn’t because of Harry. It’s been going on since before Harry even came back to Queens. I don’t know what’s causing it, but my powers evolved when I came back from my time in space. Whatever is going on, my best guess is that with all the stress I’ve been going through, it’s making me extra paranoid.”

Ned’s head snapped up, his face a mixture of concern and intrigue. “What do you mean your powers evolved? Why haven’t you said anything?”

Peter sighed, “I didn’t even know it happened at first, I promise I wasn’t hiding it. Anyways, it wasn’t like hurting me or anything so I just kept it quiet until I could figure it out. Not a lot’s changed, anyway. My senses are a little more focused than they had been in the past. Also, uh… this is really gross but you remember when you first started asking about my spider-powers and all that?”

Ned hummed in acknowledgment.

“Well you asked whether or not I made organic webbing and I told you no, and back then it was true! I didn’t have organic webbing, I made it all myself, but I came back from space and suddenly I’m shooting webs from a white-webby patch on my wrist.”

Ned’s eyes widened at the revelation. “Wait, you’re serious?”

Peter nodded, he placed a hand over his wrist and felt the small release button, a tiny groove in the nanites on the inside of his wrist. As soon as he pressed the release button the nanites retracted into a silver bracelet. Peter slipped off the bracelet and held his wrist out to Ned so he could see the web-like structures etched into his skin.

“Oh my god!” Ned gasped in surprise and fascination. “Dude, what the hell? That’s awesome!”

“I’m not sure ‘awesome’ is what I was labeling it as,” Peter admitted. “I have to wear stupid devices because the patches are obviously not normal and someone could put two and two together if they really thought about it.” Peter gently brought his wrist back towards him, slipping on the bracelet and activating the nanites once more.

“But think about it, Peter!” Ned urged. “You make your own webs! Human anatomy isn’t supposed to be built for that, but your body found a way to accommodate such changes! That's a breakthrough scientific discovery!”

Peter shot him a look, “Something I’ll never voice aloud.”

Ned held his hands out in defense, “I solemnly swear I’ll never tell, but come on, dude, just bask in the fact that you are essentially what they title ‘Freak of Nature. But like a good kind of freak, the one that is so unique it makes others jealous.”

Peter snorted in amusement at the title Freak of Nature. “Gee, thanks, Ned. You sure know how to make a guy feel complimented.”

Ned rolled his eyes good-naturedly at that. “You know what I mean! Peter, this is amazing! Does anyone else know?”

“Just you and the Avengers. May doesn’t know, but I’m not actively hiding it, it just hasn’t really come up yet,” Peter shrugged. “But we got way off topic, Ned, we were talking about Harry. Is that why you didn’t like him? Because you thought my sixth sense was warning me about him?”

Ned’s excitement drained from his face and Peter felt his heart break at that, wanting more than anything to bring that smile back to his friend’s face. “I mean, I was kinda scared too, Peter. This guy who was your closest friend as a kid left and now he’s suddenly back? Usually, that doesn’t bother me, you know that, but this time it was different… It was the first time I saw you that happy since before you came back from space, alright?”

“Ned…” Peter shook his head. “Being here with my friend s, with you too, makes me happy. We all were in a bad spot when we got back, and maybe we still are, but I promise you I’m trying to get better. Harry being back here isn’t the reason why I’m happier. Him being here simply reminded me that I have family and friends who have been there for me, and are still there for me when I need it the most and I won’t let what happened take that away from me anymore. I might’ve been more quiet than I used to be, but now I know and I’m trying to find a way to make the pain bearable. You’re my best friend as Peter Parker, but you’re also my Guy in the Chair when I’m Spider-Man. Having the former is a blessing, one I don’t take for granted, and the latter is a bonus, more than I could ever ask for. You have nothing to worry about, Ned. Maybe if you gave him a chance the three of us could become unstoppable. He’s really not that bad of a guy.”

Ned bit his lip, and if Peter looked closely he could’ve sworn he saw his friend’s eyes water slightly. “Can we just not talk about this right now?”

Peter sighed in defeat but didn’t want to push his friend further. “Yeah, Ned, we can just skip the sappy stuff for now. Let’s go take a trip in our favorite rocket ship.”

Ned let out a watery laugh at that, “You’re such a goof, Pete.”

Peter smiled at that, “Why thank you, kind sir!”

The next three hours passed in short conversations, mostly reminiscing about the Star Wars films as they put together the Millenium Falcon. There were some wisecrack jokes between the two of them that had left them curled over laughing until their sides hurt. In a way, Peter could feel his entire being taking another slow step towards finally being okay. 

It wasn’t until Ned placed the final piece did he say, “Okay.”

Peter cocked his head in bemusement. “Okay, what?”

“I’ll give Harry a chance,” Ned elaborated.

Peter felt his face brighten at the possibility. “Really?”

Ned nodded, “I’m still uneasy, but you’re right. Between the two of us, I’m still the forever favorite right?”

Peter rolled his eyes at that, “Yes, Ned, you’re my lego buddy.”

Ned groaned at that, “That makes us sound like toddlers!”

Peter laughed but said, “You’re the only one I have a handshake with, Ned, I think that is enough to qualify you as my sidekick if you wanted to be one.”

Ned scoffed in amusement, “You’re lucky I tolerate you, Pete.”

Peter grinned dopily, “But what would you do without me?”

Ned’s face darkened at that, “I don’t know.”

Peter’s smile dropped and he said, “Bring it in, Ned.”

Ned scooted closer and Peter did their handshake for the first time since they reunited in the halls of Midtown after Thanos. It felt like a promise that he’d never leave Ned alone if he had anything to say about it.

***

The next afternoon, Peter found himself walking down the streets in the heart of Queens with Harry and Ned.

“Come on, Harry, where are we going?” Peter asked as they continued their trek.

“It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you,” Harry chided, but there was an edge of laughter in his voice.

Peter just huffed and looked over at Ned, the tone of his voice failing to hide his amusement., “Can you believe this guy? He’s back in Queens for less than a week and he’s already bossing us around.

Ned crossed his arms, still looking a little uncomfortable, “You’re the one who lost the coin toss of choosing where to go, Peter. If we get lost I blame you.”

Peter stuttered a defensive response but was cut off when he ran smack into Harry, who had stopped in front of a store.

“Harry, what the…” Peter trailed off as he saw where they were. “ The Frozen Snowman????”

“Best ice cream in Queens,” Harry stated proudly.

“Oh, man, Pete we haven’t been here in years,” Ned sounded excited at the premise of the sweet treats that were housed inside.

“Yeah,” Peter was dumbfounded, taken aback by the happiness that he had felt at just seeing the ice cream parlor again.

Harry chuckled, “Quick gaping, Pete, if you just stand there we don’t get to actually have the ice cream.”

Ned gave Peter a playful shove on his shoulder, “For once, I agree with Harry! Let’s go, Pete!”

Peter shook off the shock and smiled as Harry and Ned walked side by side into the parlor, Peter trailing shortly behind them. 

Who knew it would take ice cream for Ned to actually address Harry directly, Peter mused as he waited to order his ice cream.

Once the three of them had their ice cream, they sat down at the table near the window and just started to devour the cold sweet treat that evaporated the fall heat that lingered outside. The first time that Peter had been to the Frozen Snowman, it was with his Uncle Ben. It was shortly after he had come to live with Ben and May and he had been struggling to cope with the loss of his parents. Ben had simply asked Peter if he wanted to join him on a walk downtown and Peter decided maybe it wasn’t a bad idea after all. Ben had brought him to the family-owned business and it had been the best ice cream that Peter had ever had in his life. Something about the freshness and creaminess of the ice cream that just felt so satisfying. He hadn’t been to the ice cream parlor since Ben had passed away, even though it had been a frequent place to go for him and Ned. Ned had never minded Peter’s avoidance of the place, and Peter knew it was because Ned knew it made him feel sad. Now, sitting there with two of his friends, he realized how much he actually missed the place. Peter just couldn’t figure out if it was because of the happy memories he shared there or if it was because it was one of the few things that still remained from his old life before the Snap.

Peter was jolted back to reality when he became aware of someone snapping their fingers in front of his face.

“Hey, Pete,” It had been Ned, who was sitting across from him, Harry sitting to Ned’s right.

Peter shook off his thoughts, “Sorry.”

Ned looked worried, “Where did you wander off to?”

Peter shifted in his seat, looking down at his ice cream that he was mindlessly moving back and forth with his spoon. “Nothing,” Peter replied, but it sounded unconvincing even to his ears.

Harry shot him an unimpressed look, “No lies, dude.”

Peter sighed, “It’s stupid, it’s just… I haven’t been here since…”

Ned’s eyes widened. “Oh… Pete…” His face grew sad.

“Since what?” Harry looked between the two of them, genuinely confused.

“I haven’t been here since my Uncle Ben passed away,” Peter admitted.

Harry looked like he had just been slapped in the face. “What? Oh my god, Peter, I didn’t even think about that…"

Peter shook his head, holding up a hand to halt Harry’s apology, “No, it’s fine, I just didn’t realize how much I actually missed the place. Lots of good memories, you know?”

Ned smiled sadly, “You’re such a sap, Pete.”

Peter returned the smile at his friend’s attempt to lighten the mood. “Wonder who I learned it from.”

“Are you sure you’re alright to be here?” Harry asked kindly.

Peter nodded, “Yeah, I’m not sad or anything. It’s maybe a little bittersweet, but I can’t let one thing ruin the good memories here, right?” He cleared his throat to get rid of the lump that had formed there and then took a bite of his chocolate ice cream. “Besides, you promised to tell me about LA.”

“Wait, you lived in LA?” Ned was suddenly interested.

“I told you that,” Peter pointed out.

“But like you rant a lot, dude, and sometimes things just go right over me,” Ned protested.

“Okay, ouch,” Peter muttered.

“Oh, come on, you even admit it yourself sometimes,” Ned defended himself. “Besides, it’s what makes you yourself and you own it, dude.”

Peter just raised an eyebrow at that, “You’re not digging yourself out of that hole anytime soon.”

“What’s there to dig out of?” Ned feigned innocence. “Now let the man speak.”

Harry laughed at the exchange before saying, “There’s not much to talk about. LA is just another city, I mean it’s hotter than New York and maybe a little more stereotypical since a lot of actors live there, but it will never compare to Queens. Queens was my home and finally I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

Ned looked at Harry sadly, “I can’t imagine how hard it was to just leave everything behind on your father’s decision.”

Harry shrugged, “Didn’t have much of a choice. Besides, that time in my life was kinda weird. I don’t remember the emotional impact of leaving Queens at the moment, I already felt like I had this hole in my heart and so I couldn’t see how much leaving Queens was like losing a part of myself. I didn’t realize it until I finally came back, if I’m being honest with myself.”

“This is gonna sound rude and I apologize,” Ned began. “Why did you come back? I’m honestly curious, I promise I’m not judging.”

Harry waved off the apprehension, “Don’t sweat it, I know it’s really weird. Part of me didn’t have anywhere else to go after I came back to my father being gone. I knew of one other family member and it was my mother’s brother, my Uncle Johnny. He took me in when he realized what had happened and here I am now.”

For the next hour, Peter, Ned, and Harry sat in the ice cream parlor, taking turns in telling random stories and answering any questions about their life. Peter and Ned had a good time telling Harry about some of their crazy adventures on their Decathlon field trips, especially about their time at the Washington Monument.

“Wait,” Harry stuttered out, his eyes wide. “When you say the Washington Monument… Were you there when Spider-Man saved a group of people from a falling elevator?”

“I wasn’t, I stayed outside, but Ned was,” Peter pointed over at Ned, his automatic reaction.

Ned laughed and shifted uncomfortably in his seat, “We were the kids Spider-Man saved. We were falling and suddenly he was there, holding the entire thing up and helping us get to safety.”

“Oh my god!” Harry sounded excited. “I haven’t seen him since I’ve been back, but a lot of people talk about him, you know? No one knows who he is, which I mean good for him because that’s gotta be stressful enough to do something like that anonymously, but like this guy can stick to walls and essentially fly through the city!”

Peter laughed at the enthusiasm, even though his stomach clenched in anxiety at the subject.

“Did you hear the story of him crashing Tony Stark’s plane?” Ned asked curiously and Peter shot him a warning glare.

“Spider-Man crashed Iron Man’s plane?” Harry asked dumbfoundedly. “How did Iron Man not fry his ass for that?”

He didn’t do it on purpose,” Peter interjected before he could stop himself. He immediately tried to backtrack. “There’ve been rumors at least, I don’t know. Some people have said he was trying to stop this guy with mechanical wings strapped to his back. There was this giant ferry accident that was caused by this guy. Spider-Man was just a hero who just happened to be there.”

Harry looked thoughtful at that comment, “I didn’t think about it that way.”

Peter was about to say something else to try and cover up his slip-up but was saved by his phone ringing.

Checking the caller ID he saw that May was calling him.

Peter frowned, May was supposed to be on shift until that evening. He answered the phone immediately.

“May, everything okay?” Peter asked worriedly, earning concerned looks from both of his friends across the table.

“What? Why wouldn’t I be okay?” May was taken aback at the sudden answer.

Peter sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “You don’t usually call in the middle of your shift unless it is urgent.”

“Oh!” May sounded guilty. “I kinda… uh… forgot about that?”

A wave of coldness washed over Peter at the reminder of his time gap. “Oh, uh, no worries? What’s up?”

“I was just checking in with you, Alex said you weren’t home yet, and I got worried,” May admitted.

“You could’ve texted me,” Peter told her gently. “I know how busy you are, May, I don’t want to cause you any stress.”

“I know, sweetie,” May sighed. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize, you never have to apologize for that, May,” Peter told her sternly, but his voice was still soft. “I’m at the Frozen Snowman with Harry and Ned, I thought I told you that last night? I’m sorry if I forgot.”

“The Frozen Snowman?” May sounded surprised at the mention of the name, but there was a layer of glee in her voice. “Oh, Pete, they have the best ice cream! Gosh, I can’t even remember the last time I was there.”

Peter chuckled, “Yeah, I know that feeling.”

“Alright, well just text me when you get home, okay? Enjoy the rest of your time with you friends, I’ll see you tonight.”

“Sounds good, May,” Peter smiled, “See you tonight.” He hung up the phone and looked up to see curious expressions on his friends’ faces.

“What was that about?” Ned asked first.

“May was just checking up on me,” Peter just waved it off.

A look of understanding washed over Ned and Harry’s faces. A few minutes later they were walking back towards the subway. About two blocks from the stations, Harry came to a slow stop.

“Well, this is me,” Harry gestured at the four-story brick apartment building.

“Oh!” Peter’s eyes widened.

“I thought you were a millionaire?” Ned sounded amazed and yelped when Peter elbowed him in the ribs.

Harry laughed at the comment, “The beliefs regarding my father’s fortune are sadly highly misconstrued. Trust me, I’m just a normal guy. It was really nice meeting you, Ned, I’m glad you were able to come along today.”

Ned held out his hand for Harry to shake, “It was nice getting to know you, too.”

Peter smiled at the two of them and then he just waved to Harry, “See you tomorrow?”

“Thank god it’s Friday,” Harry agreed and turned to walk into his building while Peter and Ned walked to the subway station.

“Thank you for coming,” Peter told his friend appreciatively.

“I honestly had my doubts,” Ned confessed. “But after talking to him, he seems like a nice guy. I’m sorry for being an ass about him this past week.”

“I’m sorry I made you feel like you had to be one,” Peter returned.

Things still weren’t perfect, but Ned’s acceptance felt like another light that just ignited at the end of this wacky post-snap tunnel. For Peter, that was a victory that he was more than willing to take for what it was.

Chapter Text

When Peter walked into his apartment that evening at 5 o’clock, he wasn’t expecting it to be so quiet. Usually when George had the afternoons off, he was always there to greet Peter when he got home. At first it had been awkward, as Peter wasn’t used to having a male figure in the apartment, but over time it was something that Peter secretly looked forward to. It was nice to have someone excited to see you when you came home, even if it was just from school.

“Alex?” Peter called out, “You home?”

“In the kitchen,” Alex returned.

Walking into the kitchen, Peter saw Alex sitting at the kitchen table, his laptop sitting in front of him while his school binder rested to his left.

“Hey,” Peter greeted. “Where’s George?”

Alex glanced up at him for a moment before returning back to what he was typing on his laptop. “Dad had an emergency board meeting with the hospital executives. Something about one of his residents or something. Either way, he won’t be home until sometime tomorrow.”

“Oh,” Peter replied lamely before coming to sit down at the table across from Alex, dropping his backpack beside him.

Alex finished typing something and he let out a victorious “Yes!” which left Pete raising his eyebrows.

“What’s got you so happy?” Peter was amused.

Alex fist pumped the air, “Damn essay for my history class. I’ve been struggling with it this past week and it’s finally done !”

Peter nodded in congratulations, “One day before your game too.”

Alex smiled bitterly at that, “You have no idea. Only September and my teacher already has an essay due that’s 10% of our grade.”

“What?” Peter was shocked. “It’s only the second week of school!”

“My sentiments exactly, but Mr. Grimes is out to kill us, I swear.” Alex huffed, crossing his arms. “Although everyone is starting to call him Mr. Grinch.”

Peter laughed at that, “That’s going to become a hit when it hits December.”

“Are you serious? It’s gonna hit after Halloween, dude,” Alex disagreed. “Christmas comes earlier every year.”

“What’s wrong with Christmas?” Peter asked jokingly.

“There’s nothing wrong with Christmas, it’s just sad that turkey season gets cut out because people just want Santa to hit the streets.”

“Turkey season? You mean Thanksgiving?” Peter couldn’t disguise the amusement on his face.

“Oh hardee harr, Pete, you know what i mean,” Alex rolled his eyes good-naturedly. “Anyways, how did it go with Ned and Harry? Did Ned claw out Harry’s throat?”

Peter’s smile fell at that, “That’s not funny.”

Alex leaned over and gently punched his shoulder. “Don’t look so put out, Pete, I was only kidding.”

Peter sighed, “I know.”

Alex grimaced, “Did it really go that bad?”

Peter shook his head, “It actually went surprisingly well, much better than I ever expected at least.”

Alex’s eyes sparked in excitement, “So are they best friends now?”

Peter chuckled, “Not yet, but maybe in the future, I don’t know. I mean they obviously didn’t hate each other, so that’s good news at least.”

Alex studied him, a frown on his face, “Something’s bothering you, though.”

Peter’s mouth dropped open, “Am I that obvious?”

“You get tense when something’s bugging you,” Alex admitted. “It’s like you’re waiting for something to jump in front of you and scare the crap out of you.”

Wow, Peter thought to himself Maybe I’m not so good at hiding after all. “Okay, something’s bugging me, alright?”

Alex leaned forward on his elbows, giving Peter his full attention, “What’s going on?”

Since when did I suddenly become so comfortable around you? Peter wondered. “It just seemed a little easy, you know? Ned was so put out about Harry for the past week and after meeting him once he’s suddenly kinda buddy-buddy? I mean, don’t get me wrong I’m happy they are finally getting along, I just don’t know how I feel about the whiplash of it all? What if Ned is just saying he likes Harry because he knows it makes me feel happy?”

Alex frowned, “Why would Ned do that? From all the stories that I’ve heard about him, not just from you, but from May, Ned doesn’t seem to be that kind of guy. Maybe don’t look a gift horse in the mouth? This is what you wanted ever since Harry had come back to Queens. Don’t let the paranoid thoughts take that away when there is genuinely nothing to worry about.”

Peter shook off the pessimistic thoughts, “You’re right, I’m just being stupid.”

Alex grinned goofily at that, “You ain’t stupid, Parker. You’re a genius that can rival the great Tony Stark for all I care.”

Peter rolled his eyes at that, “Gee, thanks, but don’t let Tony hear that or else he might just fry you with his suit.”

Alex laughed, “Duly noted. Consider me warned.”

Once the laughter died down, Peter decided to change the subject. “May told me you and your dad were going down to visit your grandparents this weekend?”

Alex began rummaging through his school binder, but Peter didn’t know if he was actually looking for something or if the question bothered him. “Yeah. My grandparents are moving a little further downtown and Dad and I are going to go help them unpack. They, uh, wanted to be closer to us. Actually, no, Dad convinced them to move closer to us. My grandma, she’s not doing too well in her old age and Dad’s not sure how much time she has left. Dad’s really worried about Grandpa, and so he convinced them it was better to be closer to family.”

Peter visibly flinched at the revelation, guilt and sadness washing over him. Guilty because he brought up the sore subject and sad because he knew exactly how it felt. “I’m really sorry,” Peter apologized. “It really sucks losing someone close to you.”

Alex brushed off Peter’s comment and said, “It’s fine, I was never really close to my grandparents growing up. It wasn't their fault, but life always kinda got in the way. They lived halfway across the country my entire life, even before I moved to New York I was in Connecticut and they always were in Oregon. I’m more worried about how it’s gonna hurt my dad, they’re his parents.”

Peter was silent for a moment before he said softly, “George has a family who will catch him when he needs it.” Peter was genuinely surprised at how easy it was to utter a promise that he knew he would keep.

Alex smiled kindly at that, “Thanks, Pete, that means more than you’ll ever know.” Alex then cleared his throat, “I gotta go work on a project, so I’m just gonna…”

Peter could see Alex losing his battle with his emotions and he nodded, “Yeah, I got you.”

Alex hummed in appreciation before he stood up, grabbed his things and made his way into his bedroom before closing the door. In the end, Peter just lets him leave.

***

Later that night, Peter finally gave into the temptation and found himself perched on a rooftop, surveying the streets below as he looked for any kind of trouble that usually followed that time of night. Peter knew it was reckless; it was just Alex and him in the apartment that night, and even though Alex had gone to bed relatively early, Peter was paranoid enough to worry about Alex stumbling on the discovery that Peter had snuck out. He should’ve played it safe and waited until Friday night when George and Alex were safely out of the apartment, but Peter would be lying to himself if he said it wasn’t worth it.

Peter ended up decking out in his Stark Tech suit that night, as the Iron Spider suit was still out of commission from the battle with Thanos. Peter could’ve repaired it if he had wanted to, but he didn’t have the energy the past few months to dive into something completely new. Anyways, he’d never admit it to Tony, but he really liked the spandex instead of the armor. The loose fabric accommodated his flexibility a lot better than the Iron Spider suit ever did.

However, the lack of the Iron Spider’s suit repairs also fell partially on the billionaire. It just served another reminder of how different post-snap Tony was from the Tony before Peter had been dusted. Pre-Snap Tony would’ve instantly started on the suit’s repair after the battle before Peter would ever have the chance to ask him. Post-Snap Tony, however, was so far gone in the world of “retirement” that he didn’t even bring Peter’s suit up once.

The only thing that Peter missed was KAREN. The AI had been his one constant source of comfort when he was patrolling Queens. Before Peter had been beamed up to space, a blast from one of the alien’s weapons had short circuited some of the suit’s functions, causing KAREN to go offline because her motherboard in the suit had been fried. Peter didn’t even know where to start on repairing something that colossal. He remembered mentioning it to Tony at least twice, and both times Tony had promised to fix it, but that proved to be a false promise.

In other words, Peter’s patrols got lonely and he hated getting lost in his own thoughts, especially since his thoughts never seemed to be happy nowadays. At least now, he had something positive to think about. Alex and George were finally bonding with Peter, Harry had come back, and Ned is finally starting to try to become friends with his childhood friend. The happy thoughts helped this time around, but Peter was still bored out of his mind with no one to talk to. Peter couldn’t even call someone with his suit even if he wanted to with KAREN’s mainframe down.

By the time midnight rolled around, Peter had successfully stopped two muggings and an attempted robbery at a 24 hour diner. Overall, Peter had come out unscathed and every encounter had ended smoothly with little property damage and no civilian casualties. The victories aided in boosting his increasingly good mood and the diner had given him a free BLT for saving their business.

Perching on top of a roof, Peter took off his mask, his identity safe in the shadows of the night. He ran a hand down his face and tried to shake off the feeling of dread that had formed a pit in his stomach. His sixth sense has been lingering for weeks, but it has steadily been growing increasingly powerful throughout the night, enough where it felt like someone was watching his every move. The fact that it didn’t subside after stopping the muggings and robbery made Peter feeling incredibly uneasy.

You just got too much free time without someone there to keep you company, Peter told himself. When you’re alone you stress too much.

Pulling out his phone, he bit his lip and wondered who would be awake that time of night. He just honestly wanted someone to talk to while he ate his free sandwich and surveyed the streets below. If his sixth sense calmed as a result, well Peter would welcome the relief.

Peter scrolled through his contacts and his thumb instinctively hovered over Tony’s number. Biting his lip, Peter pressed the call button before he could second guess himself. Even as Peter heard the endless ringing, he knew it was wishful thinking.

This is Tony Stark…

Peter hung up before the voicemail tone sounded and sighed in defeat. He shouldn’t be surprised. Tony doesn’t do his sleep-deprived lab sessions anymore. He’s probably comfortable in his lake house, asleep at a decent hour because he’s a father now.

Scrolling through his contacts, Peter tried another number.

“Hello” They picked up on the third ring.

“Did I wake you?” Peter asked guiltily.

“Peter?” Bucky sounded worried. “What’s going on? Are you okay?”

“Peter? Is he okay?” Another voice sounded distant.

“I’m fine,” Peter reassured them. “Just wrapping up a patrol and I got kind of lonely.”

“Patrol on a weeknight?” Clint’s voice displayed his sarcastic disapproval. “More than that, a school night? That’s blasphemy!”

Peter rolled his eyes, “Now I’m wondering why I even bothered to call.”

“Get out of here bird brain,” Bucky scoffed at Clint’s dull attempt at humor.

“Okay, I admit, it wasn’t the strongest retort but it’s midnight. You’re a kid, Pete, you should be in bed.”

“I needed some fresh air,” Peter admitted.

“Don’t we all,” Bucky agreed. “How’d the patrol go?”

“Surprisingly smoothly,” Peter admitted. “I stopped two muggings. One of which was a clown carrying a baseball bat. That was traumatizing.”

“You’re scared of clowns?” Clint failed to hide his amusement.

“Don’t you dare laugh at that, Mr. Barton,” Peter warned. “Clowns are the scariest thing in the entire circus world.”

“Why? They’re frickin’ hilarious!” Clint disagreed.

“Have you ever seen the movie IT?” Peter argued.

“The horror movie? Yeah, what about it?” Clint asked.

“What’s IT?” Bucky asked.

“What’s… Are you serious?” Clint sounded offended. “It’s a fantastic movie!”

“Don’t let him wrap you into it! It’ll leave you with nightmares for months!” Peter protested.

“What the hell is IT?” Bucky asked again.

“Two words: Killer Clowns,” Peter summarized.

“Interesting,” Bucky amused. “The fearless Spider-Man is scared of clowns because of a killer clown movie.

“Why am I being ganged up on?” Peter whined. “I’m the one who called you!”

“That’s right. You called us, what did you expect?” Clint jested.

“Technically I called Mr. Barnes,” Peter corrected.

“Kid you got to stop calling us with those titles. We’ve told you numerous times that it’s okay to call us by our names.” Bucky told him kindly.

“Oh, I know,” Peter said. “It just annoys the hell out of everyone and it makes it funny.”

“Smart-ass,” Clint called out.

“What’s going on here?” Another male voice broke through the phone speaker.

“Sam, they’re picking on me!” Peter whined. “Please help me.”

“Why are they picking on you?” Sam asked.

“Peter’s scared of clowns and fought off a mugging that consisted of a clown carrying a baseball bat.” Clint stated.

Sam laughed at that, and even over the phone Peter could picture him bent over on his knees laughing.

“It isn’t funny!” Peter squawked indignantly. He took a bite of his sandwich, “I mean it was a clown with the frowny make-up on his face! Those clowns are sad for all eternity and it’s like they want to infect you with their sadness!”

That caused all three heroes to laugh harder. Bucky finally managed to get out a response, “Low and behold, the one thing that would truly be blasphemy is a clown infecting you with sadness.”

“I’m going to hang up the phone,” Peter threatened.

“No, no, wait,” Clint recovered. “You didn’t tell us about what you’re eating right now.”

Peter rolled his eyes, “Haha.” He took another bite of the BLT. “For the record, I got a free sandwich from stopping an attempted robbery.”

“You got a free sandwich?” Clint was jealous.

“Is it a good sandwich?” Sam asked.

“BLT that could rival Delmar’s,” Peter stated.

“Delmar's?” Bucky was confused.

Peter made an ‘OH’ sound before he clarified, “Best sandwich shop in Queens.” He went to take another bite but a sharp spike of pain in his head caused him to hiss in surprise.

“Peter?” Bucky grew serious in an instant.

“What was that?” Clint sounded concerned.

Peter shook off the feeling, but the tingling in his brain caused him to stand up and survey the streets below.

“Peter!” Sam shouted, trying to get his attention

“Can we track the suit? Why isn’t he responding?” Clint asked.

“What’s going on?” A feminine voice got closer

“Peter, answer me!” Bucky called out to him.

Once he caught his breath, Peter put his mask back on and raised the phone back to his ear, “I’m here.” His voice sounded pained even to his ears. “I’m alright.”

“What the hell just happened?” Natasha demanded, and Peter realized that she must’ve walked into the room when his Spider Sense split his head in half.

“I… I don’t know,” Peter admitted, scanning the streets. “My Spider-Sense just went haywire, but I can’t see…”

Peter didn’t get a chance to finish that sentence because suddenly there was the sound of wind whooshing behind him. Peter had a second to glance behind him and see a hulking figure darting toward him by at least forty to fifty miles an hour before he was sent flying off the rooftop.

Everything that happened after that happened in a blink of an eye. As Peter went flying off the rooftop, he was so dazed from the breath being knocked out of him that he hit the side of the next building front-first at full speed. Instinctively Peter scrambled to reach out and stick himself to the wall, but his powers failed him and his hands and feet gave way, causing him to plummet 10 stories below. Just before he hit the ground, Peter managed to shoot a web upwards to slow his descent. However, the momentum was too much and he landed on his back relatively hard.

Peter laid there, coughing through the pain that enveloped his entire body. Looking at the stars as he tried to take in deep breaths, Peter wondered what the hell had just happened. He literally didn’t know what hit him. When his breathing returned to a bearable amount of pain, Peter tried to sit up, but cursed as his right shoulder gave out in pain. That must’ve been the shoulder he had caught himself on with his web. Trying to sit up once more, Peter carefully hauled himself up with his left arm and wrapped his injured shoulder protectively across his ribs.

Okay, I’m done for the night , Peter told himself and carefully got to his feet. His entire front side felt bruised to the core and he could tell that he definitely broke a few ribs with the way his breath was catching with every inhale that he took. 

Should I go get checked out… No… Peter drawled but then his eyes widened with fear. THE AVENGERS!

Peter looked around to see his Stark Phone shattered on the ground a few feet in front of him. Walking up to the phone, Peter picked it up and tried to turn it on, but the screen refused to turn on.

Well, there goes another phone, Peter thought grimly. Compound it is, or else the Avengers are gonna skin me alive for making them worry like that.

The trip to the compound was difficult, his entire body protesting every swing he made. Thirty minutes felt like an eternity, but when he swung up to the Compound, he wasn’t surprised to see Sam, Bucky, Clint, Natasha and Steve waiting outside for him. He could tell the moment the Avengers set their sights on him because their forms were visibly tense. Peter made to land, but the pain was too much and he fell to one knee, hissing in pain as his shoulder heavily protested and his ribs felt like they were shredding his inside apart.

“Peter!” Someone was running up to kneel beside him. Looking up, Peter saw it was Steve who had reached him first, Sam right beside him.

“Ugh, that sucked,” Peter groaned in pain.

“What happened? What hurts?” Sam asked him urgently.

“Everything,” Peter confessed. “Oh god, I can’t…” His breathing was getting labored.

Sam cursed. “He can’t breathe. We need to get him inside.”

“What should we do?” Clint inquired looking between Steve and Sam.

“Clint go call Dr. Cho, Bucky you call Banner, we need whoever is closer to get here fast,” Steve ordered before turning back to Sam. “Sam what can you do?”

“I can do what I can, but we need to get him inside,” Sam repeated. “Can you carry him to the infirmary?”

“Yeah,” Steve readjusted his position so he could crouch beside Peter.

“I’ll go call Tony,” Natasha said.

“No!” Peter immediately protested.

That caused the three remaining Avengers to raise their eyebrows at him.

“I mean, it’s not that bad,” Peter amended. “Hurts like a bitch, but don’t call Tony.”

“Tony would want to know, Peter,” Steve told him gently.

“Please, don’t call him,” Peter begged, his voice wheezing and a tickle began to form in the back of his throat. “I don’t want him to worry, you know what he’s like…” He was cut off when he started to forcefully cough and he suddenly tasted copper in his mouth. The bitter taste made him want to throw up, but he was too busy hacking up a lung to do anything else but just spit out the blood that bubbled from his lips.

“Shit, we need to get him inside now, the way he’s holding his ribs…” Sam sounded genuinely scared.

“Punctured lung?” Steve guessed, his face pale.

“I’m fine,” Peter managed weakly in between coughs, but he knew he was kidding himself.

“Shut up, Kid,” Sam told him fondly.

“Peter, this is gonna hurt you as much as it’ll hurt me,” Steve said sadly, repositioning Peter so that he had a hand on the small of his back and a hand under his knees. Then Peter was airborne and the blinding pain caused him to blackout.

Chapter Text

The first thing that Peter noticed when he woke up was the consistent beeping that caused his head to feel like it was being split in half. It was like each piercing beep was making his ears bleed. The second thing Peter noticed was that his entire body felt like it had been run over by a bus. He couldn't remember why he felt so crappy, but Peter wasn't surprised to find that he was in the infirmary when he opened his eyes to a squint.

 

If there was one thing that Peter hated, it was hospitals and he definitely hated being in one. He didn't like the pain of being injured and he hated causing people to feel concerned over something that wasn't their fault. After he became Spider-Man being injured was inevitable. Even then Peter hated waking up to a pissed off Tony Stark and a stressed Aunt May. The lecture from Tony is something Peter could handle, but the disappointment? That was worse than anything else.

 

Looking around, Peter was surprised to find that he was completely alone. Usually, in the past, Someone was always by his bedside. Nine times out of ten May had been the one camped out in his room, but Tony had always taken over if May had to go to work. The fact that May wasn't there meant that she either was at work or he hadn't been out long enough for her to have been informed. Tony, on the other hand, Peter didn't know whether to have been relieved or hurt that the older man was absent. Peter had a faint memory of begging Steve to not call Tony, but he honestly didn't expect Steve to have kept his word. However, deep down, Peter wished that his mentor was present. In addition, Peter truly hoped that the billionaire's absence was due to Steve keeping his word because Peter didn't know how to feel if Tony knew he had been injured but didn't come to check on him.

 

Staring at the ceiling, Peter assessed his injuries. Taking deep breaths hurt more than he would've liked which meant at least one of his ribs were still broken and not yet mended. His head was pounding and considering that the hospital lights felt like his eyes were being burned out of his sockets, a concussion was messing with his senses. He was shirtless and a surgical bandage was wrapped around his torso indicating some internal bleeding had to have occurred. Lastly, his arm was in a sling, but the pain in his shoulder was a dull ache.

 

Overall, it could have been worse, Peter thought. You got lucky, Parker. At least if you consider it being lucky when you’re stuck alone in your worst nightmare.

 

"Hey, FRIDAY?" Peter mumbled quietly.

 

"Hello, Peter," Friday replied. "I have notified Dr. Banner that you are awake."

 

Peter hummed in appreciation before realizing he was talking to an AI. "Thanks, FRIDAY."

 

"Of course, Peter. Do you require anything else?" FRIDAY asked.

 

"Can you dim the lights?" Peter asked, closing his eyes to reduce the ache of the light hitting his eyes.

 

Immediately the lights dimmed to a bearable level and Peter was thankful that Tony never removed the AI's protocols for Peter's sensory overload episodes.

 

"Would You like me to activate the Spider-Overload Protocol?" FRIDAY asked, the AI's volume had lowered to a whisper, but Peter heard the question perfectly.

 

"No need, FRIDAY, it's not that bad. Just a little sensitive. Should go away in a few hours," Peter replied.

 

"Very well, Dr. Banner should be up in a few minutes," FRIDAY said before falling quiet.

 

Peter basked in the quietness of the room. Somehow FRIDAY had also managed to reduce the volume of the heart rate monitor to a dull thud. His entire body was fatigued, an unfortunate side effect of his body healing.

 

"Peter?" A quiet voice caused Peter's eyes to open. He hadn't even been aware that they had closed again. Glancing over at the doorway, Peter saw Dr. Banner hovering in the doorway, his hair askew and dressed in a hoodie and a pair of sweats.

 

"Under different circumstances I would be going full geek mode on you," Peter said quietly. "I'm too tired to even think about anything scientific right now."

 

Bruce chuckled and walked over to glance at his vitals on the monitor beside his bed. "Glad to see you more aware this time."

 

"I take it that I've woken up before?" Peter asked

 

"Two times, but that was just protocol." Bruce gently helped Peter sit up by raising his bed to prop his back up. The older man grabbed his light pen before asking, "Is it alright to use this?"

 

"Right, concussion," Peter sighed." Let's get it over with.”

 

Bruce placed a grounding hand on Peter's shoulder. "Deep breaths."

 

Peter followed Bruce's instructions as the older man quickly shone the light to check his pupils. The sudden assault on his overloaded senses made his stomach roll and suddenly he had a trash bin in front of him as he vomited painfully.

 

"Sorry, Pete," Bruce said sadly.

 

When Peter was sure he wasn't going to throw up again, he leaned back against the bed and wrapped his good arm around his abused ribs. "Not your fault, Dr. Banner. I'm okay."

 

"Tony was right, you are a terrible liar." Bruce shook his head fondly.

 

"Okay, yeah, I feel pretty crappy," Peter admitted sheepishly.

 

Bruce crossed his arms, "I don't doubt it, you took quite the beating.”

 

Peter winced at that. "How bad?"

 

"Grade two concussion, three broken ribs, a punctured lung, severe abdomen and back bruising and a dislocated right shoulder," Bruce listed.

 

Peter was taken aback at how much worse it sounded in comparison to what he had initially thought. It made sense however, the fatigue definitely accounted for the extent of his injuries.

 

"Guess that's why it feels like my entire body feels like it's gone through hell and back," Peter mused tiredly.

 

"If you didn't heal so fast I would've been more worried," Bruce admitted. "You'll make a full recovery, but it could take a few days."

 

"Probably tomorrow night,” Peter corrected.

 

Bruce raised an eyebrow at that. "Really? How fast is your healing factor? Even Steve would need at least four days to fully heal from this."

 

Peter shrugged with his good Shoulder. "I don't know, it's not something I look to test. I get enough lectures from my Aunt May over a mere paper cut."

 

Bruce looked lost in thought, "Interesting."

 

Peter just hummed disinterestedly, throwing up had completely drained the little energy that he had left. The ache of his body plus his sensitive senses made his surroundings slow down around him to a sluggish pace.

 

"Why don't you get some rest?" Bruce suggested quietly. "Your body needs time to heal."

 

"Yeah," Peter agreed, his speech growing more slurred as he spoke. "Sleep sounds really good."

 

Bruce chuckled, “Rest easy, Pete."

 

A few seconds later, Peter was out like a light.

 

***

The next time that Peter woke up the first thing he noticed was that he was mostly painless. The sharp aches that had been there before were mostly reduced to a dull ache. In addition, breathing hurt a lot less and Peter wondered if his ribs were mostly healed. He still had a headache but it was a lot more bearable than it had been. His senses were also mostly back to normal since the consistent beeping of the heart monitor was no longer stabbing his brain. Finally, his arm was still in a sling, but his shoulder had little pain.

 

"No change?" A voice asked quietly and Peter immediately zeroed in on the newcomer.

 

Something shifted to his right and another voice replied. "Not yet, he's still asleep."

 

"Dammit, kid," The newcomer sighed as he came forward. A calloused hand came to rest against the inside of his good wrist, fingers resting against his pulse.

 

"He's alive, Buck," The other voice reassured him. Steve.

 

"I know, but the kid scared the hell out of me."

 

"He scared all of us," Steve agreed. "But Bruce said he's going to fully recover in a few days. He's already breathing a lot better."

 

"I just wish we knew what had happened." Bucky said. "It's all I can think about. What the hell can cause that much damage?"

 

"I'm guessing FRIDAY is having trouble accessing the camera from Peter's suit?" Steve guessed.

 

"Yeah and Stark still hasn't answered. Apparently he gave FRIDAY strict orders to not disturb his 'family weekend' unless someone was actively dying and since Peter isn't dying..." Bucky trailed off. "I'm so close to punching him the next time I see him. I swear I’ll do it, Steve.”

 

"Bucky," Steve chided him. "Tony's doing his best."

 

"Best for who?" Bucky sounded unconvinced. "His lack of presence isn't helping Peter. You said he cared for Peter like a son. It's hard to believe he risked his entire family and life to go back in time to bring him back. He's got a funny way of showing he cares."

 

"Things aren't as simple as before," Steve replied calmly. "Tony has a life that he built from the ground up. He can't be everywhere at once."

 

"Bullshit, Steve, you can't honestly defend him, he's being a dick, " Bucky fumed.

 

"I'm not disagreeing with you, I'm just asking you to keep an open-mind."

 

"I know he's your friend, but he really pisses me off sometimes."

 

"Yeah, well that asshole is the reason you got pardoned and brought back to Earth."

 

"So? He's a superhero asshole and nothing can change my mind."

 

"Tony cares for Peter, Buck, I'm sure there is some misunderstanding, okay? Tony would never willingly ghost Peter."

 

"Yeah well, the kid is in the infirmary and Tony needs to figure out why the hell we couldn't track him." Buck grumbled. "Instead we had to hope he was conscious enough to swing for help."

 

"And I admit that is concerning but we can't play the blame game."

 

"He was coughing up blood, Steve. That's not something I can easily forget."

 

Steve sighed. "Buck..."

 

"I mean I know he heals fast but if he didn't..."

 

"But he's okay." Steve reassured him. "Now we can figure it out together. Don't go borrowing trouble."

 

"How can you be so calm?" Bucky asked.

 

"I'm not. Guess I've just gotten good at hiding it."

 

"You’re allowed to be worried or mad, Steve."

 

"Oh I am mad, but not fully at Tony. I'm more mad at whoever landed Peter in a hospital bed."

 

"Sometimes I really wish I had your emotional restraint."

 

Okay , Peter thought, time to wake up.

 

Pushing against the waves of unconsciousness, Peter willed himself to cross the final step towards the land of the living. He knew he was successful when he made an involuntary groan of uncomfortable pain. He might not be in excruciating pain anymore but he was still uncomfortably sore.

 

A hand squeezed his wrist, "Peter?"

 

Another hand landed on his ankle, "Hey, Pete, can you open your eyes?"

 

Following orders, Peter blinked against the light of his room. He was grateful that the lights were still dimmed from before. His senses might've been almost back to normal, but Peter was not ready to push his luck just Yet. Glancing around he saw Bucky was standing on his good side with his hand wrapped around his wrist. Steve was sitting on his other side with a hand on Peter's ankle.

 

Steve smiled when he saw Peter's eyes focus on him. "Welcome back."

 

"Yeah, kid, you scared us shitless," Bucky squeezed his wrist once more before letting go to cross his arms.

 

"What happened?" Peter asked tiredly, his voice was hoarse and he winced as his throat protested the action.

 

Steve reached over to grab a glass of water that was on the table next to Peter's bed. "We were hoping you could tell us that."

 

Peter frowned. "What?"

 

Bucky helped prop his head up enough for Peter to take a few sips of water before Steve retracted the cup and placed it back on the table.

 

"You got beat to hell, kid," Bucky said.

 

Peter winced, "Yeah, I can feel that."

 

"So, how did it happen?" Bucky asked patiently.

 

Peter frowned at the question. What had happened? He genuinely didn't know and that terrified him. "I... I don't..." Peter placed a hand on his forehead and closed his eyes, as if he could will his brain to remember.

 

"Hey, hey," Steve's voice caused Peter to open his eyes to look at the super soldier. "It's okay, Pete, you hit your head pretty bad. Bruce said it's normal for things to be a little fuzzy."

 

"Let's rephrase, okay?" Bucky prompted. "What's the last thing you remember?"

 

Peter thought about it and something flashed in his mind. "Did I call you?"

 

Bucky's face morphed into a relieved expression. "Yeah, you were on the phone with Clint, Sam and I. Do you remember anything past that?"

 

Peter closed his eyes once more and tried to force his brain to remember. However, all that accomplished was pushing his luck with his senses, causing a sharp pain to stab his brain and suddenly he was throwing up in a waste basket once more. When he came back to reality, a hand was rubbing soothing circles into his back while another hand held his ankle in an anchoring grip.

 

"Easy, kid," Bucky gently coaxed.

 

"Don't strain yourself," Steve added. "You've gone through hell and back in less than a day."

 

Peter laid back down with a groan, the vomiting having caused his sore ribs to flare up.

 

Guess they aren't fully healed yet , Peter noted.

 

"You okay?" Steve glanced at him, concern etched on his face.

 

"How'd I get here if I was in Queens?" Peter asked instead of answering the question.

 

Bucky looked like he was going to call him out for avoiding the question, but instead he let it go. "You managed to swing here before you passed out on us."

 

Peter felt a wave of guilt wash over him. "I'm sorry."

 

Steve shook his head. "Not your fault, we're just glad you're okay."

 

"How long was I out?" Peter asked.

 

"You were out for about 12 hours, Pete," Steve answered sadly.

 

Peter's eyes widened. "12 hours?" He Started to sit up. "I have to go to School! Alex…"

 

"Who's Alex?" Buck cut in.

 

Steve shot Bucky an unimpressed look and placed a hand on Peter's good shoulder. "We already told your aunt what happened. She called you out of school."

 

Peter shook his head , "No you don't understand, I snuck out last night and Alex must’ve freaked out when he saw that I was gone."

 

"Who the hell is Alex?” Bucky asked again.

 

"He's May's step-son." Peter exclaimed. "He doesn't know about my... well that I'm..."

 

"He doesn't know your Spider-Man," Steve supplied.

 

Peter nodded , "Yeah." He sighed before finally laying back down with a hiss of pain.

 

Steve looked alarmed, "Pete?"

 

Peter waved off the concern," I'm fine."

 

Buck snorted at that, "You're a terrible liar like someone else I know."

 

Steve shot his friend an unimpressed look. "Not now, Buck."

 

Bucky’s face quickly fell back into a neutral expression, “Right.”

 

“No, really, I’m fine,” Peter insisted but the heaviness in his eyes was betraying him. Twelve hours… his body was most definitely still healing if the fatigue was anything to go by.

 

“Says the kid that looks like a sleepy spider baby,” Bucky smirked.

 

Peter shot him a deadpan look, “You call me that again and I swear I’ll kick you.”

 

Bucky held his hands up and laughed at that, “Got it, don’t anger the grumpy kid in a hospital bed.”

 

Steve sighed, and Peter glanced over to see that the super soldier was obviously questioning his sanity. “Leave him be, Bucky.” He stood up, “We’ll let you get some rest.”

 

Peter merely watched as the two heroes walked out of his hospital room, but the lonely pit in his stomach made him want to ask one of them to stay.

 

Don’t be such a baby, Peter chided himself. You got this, Pete, you’ve been through worse.

 

It didn’t matter, anyway, Peter knew he was just kidding himself. He really only wanted one person there and that was the person that Peter begged Steve not to call. Honestly, that was one of the most stupid things he’s ever done, even if Peter knew that it was selfish of him to think so.

 

Closing his eyes, Peter tried his best to clear his head of his raging thoughts. He must’ve been somewhat successful because he drifted off into a restless sleep soon after.

 

***

Peter was back on the rooftop with the evening breeze sending a slight chill down his spine. The weather of summer was finally cooling off to the chillier nights of fall and Peter was thrilled. There was nothing worse than sweating through your spandex despite having a cooling ventilation unit to ensure that his thermoregulation didn’t screw him over. 

 

He remembers the faint voices that echoed through his head from the phone that he had held up to his ear. There was a sharp feeling of him being watched that made him shiver as if it had been snowing despite the weather resting into the mid sixties. He had only a second to try to shake off the feeling before his head split in half from the warning bell of his sixth sense.

 

Turning around, it seemed that everything around him had been put in slow motion. There was a figure flying towards him on some sort of glider, and that in itself should’ve made Peter pause. Who would have that kind of technology other than a genius like Tony Stark? The figure continued to crawl forward and suddenly Peter caught a glimpse of the figure in the faint light that illuminated from the streets below. A gleam of yellow eyes piercingly stared at him and Peter immediately wanted to run, but his feet were glued to the ground. A second later, it was like someone hit play and the figure zoomed straight at him. As soon as Peter’s feet left the ground everything went dark.

 

***

Voices were the first thing that Peter noticed when he stirred back into the land of the living. The second thing that Peter noticed was the significant lack of pain that Peter had felt the last time he was awake. 

 

Starting to turn into a true napper, Parker, it’s pitiful, Peter thought tiredly as he tried to push through the final waves of the realm of unconsciousness.

 

“I don’t damn well care, Rogers,” A loud voice was rapidly approaching him and Peter immediately evened out his breathing in an effort to remain the facade of being asleep. Something about the voice sparked a sense of familiarity in him.

 

“You should care, Tony, keep your voice down,” Steve urged. “He’s asleep like he should be.”

 

Tony, Peter’s heart skipped a beat.

 

“Why the hell wasn’t I notified as soon as this happened?” Tony demanded.

 

“Are you kidding me?” Steve sounded angry. “We tried calling numerous times Tony but we couldn’t reach you. We didn’t keep it from you.”

 

“I’m not talking about that,” Tony sounded annoyed, but Peter wondered if it was aimed towards himself. “KAREN should’ve notified me if he was injured, FRIDAY should’ve told me , I just I don’t understand…”

 

“Who’s KAREN?” Steve sounded confused.

 

“His suit’s AI, why wasn’t he wearing the Iron Spider suit? I just, I don’t understand.”

 

“You tell me, Tony, you’re the genius here,” Steve sighed.

“Don’t remind me,” Tony spat bitterly. “God, I’m so stupid, how could I let this happen? Why was he even out patrolling?”

 

Okay, that’s enough. “What’s stopped me before?”

 

Tony inhaled sharply and suddenly a hand was wrapped around his good wrist. “Peter?”

 

Peter blinked his eyes open to see a worried Tony Stark hovering over him. “Hey, Mr. Stark.”

 

Tony sighed in relief, “Jesus, kid, I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”

 

Peter chuckled half-heartedly at that, “Don’t get old on me, Mr. Stark.”

 

“I’m not old,” Tony had the gall to sound offended. “You just give me gray hairs.”

 

“‘Cause you’re old,” Peter said.

 

“Can you believe this abuse, Rogers?” Tony rolled his eyes and glanced at the super soldier who was watching the exchange with an amused expression.

 

“I don’t know, Tony, you are getting up there in age,” Steve crossed his arms with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

 

“You’re older than me, Cap, I don’t know if you can get away with that comment,” Tony snarked, but there was a soft-tone that rang in his voice.

 

Steve held his hands up in surrender, “Whatever.”

 

Tony turned back towards Peter, “Ready to tell me what the hell happened? And don’t even think about playing it on the down low, kid.”

 

Yeah, about that, I had a weird dream just now where yellow eyes were piercing through my soul before flinging me off a rooftop, Peter thought but before he knew what he was doing Peter said, “I don’t know what happened.”

 

Tony looked unconvinced at that, “Seriously, Pete? I’m not an idiot, there’s a reason I’m the designated genius here.”

 

“He’s telling the truth, Tony,” Steve cut in gently. “Dr. Banner said he had a grade two concussion and missing memory isn’t uncommon.”

 

“But what the hell could do something so damaging?” Tony shook his head. “Kid, why weren’t you wearing your Iron Spider suit?”

 

Peter placed a hand over his face to avoid looking at Tony as he mumbled, “It’s kinda broken.”

 

Tony paused for a moment before asking, “What was that?”

 

“It’s broken, Tony,” Peter repeated louder. “It’s been broken since…”

 

“What?” Tony sounded shocked. “What the hell? Pete, why didn’t you say anything?”

 

Peter removed the hand from his face and shrugged half-heartedly. “The spandex suit still worked and I kinda like it better. Iron may be your thing, Mr. Stark, but it isn’t mine.”

 

“But it’s more protective,” Tony argued. “If you had been wearing it the damage wouldn’t have been half as bad.”

“There’s a difference between protection and fighting efficiently. The iron just doesn't really account for my, uh, flexibility.” Peter shifted uncomfortably.

 

Tony pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation. “What about KAREN, huh? Why didn’t she notify me the moment you were injured? Steve said they couldn’t even track you.”

 

“I didn’t disable the tracker if that’s what you’re asking,” Peter immediately denied. “As for KAREN, well… When we were fighting before we got pulled into space… When that giant space donut beamed me up… I don’t know, I guess the elevation ray short-circuited the mainframe of both suits. KAREN’s been offline ever since, and I’m guessing that my tracker also got fried.”

 

Tony’s annoyance began to bleed through, “And you didn’t think that was important enough to mention?”

 

Peter flinched at the unabashed frustration in his mentor’s voice, “I’m sorry, I didn’t think…”

 

“Yeah and look how that ended up,” Tony chided him. “I mean, you got lucky , kid. If you had passed out no one would’ve found you before your punctured lung killed you.”

 

Peter felt a tear escape as he said, “I really am sorry.”

 

Tony sighed, the anger visibly draining out of him. “Don’t be… Just, you promised no more secrets.”

 

Peter felt ashamed at that, “I know.”

 

Tony waved it off, “Stop beating yourself up, okay? Your only task right now is to just rest up a bit more, alright?”

 

“Not much else I’ve been doing,” Peter pointed out.

“Yeah, well, doctor’s orders,” Tony readjusted his transition lens.

 

“I don’t even know if I can go back to sleep,” Peter admitted.

 

“Is your head still bothering you?” Steve asked kindly.

 

Peter was about to deny the rapidly returning headache, but a warning look from Tony made him come clean. “A bit, yeah.”

 

Tony nodded, “I’ll go get someone to give you another round of painkillers.”

 

“But they make me tired,” Peter protested.

 

“That’s the point, sleeping lets you heal,” Tony chided as he left the room.

 

“You said you wouldn’t call him,” Peter closed his eyes, trying to bury himself deeper into the hospital bed.

 

“Thought you didn’t remember anything,” Steve studied him with a curious look.

 

“I remember that much,” Peter shot back, but there was no heat behind the words.

 

“What did you want us to do Peter?” Steve asked. “Tony deserved to know. He’s also the only one who could figure out why we couldn’t find you when you needed us.”

 

Peter felt like an absolute dick when it was put that way. “Oh.”

 

Steve sighed, leaning back in his chair. “For what it’s worth, he came in a heartbeat.”

 

Peter wanted to believe that, but he remembered what Bucky had said when he woke up the first time. Before he could say anything else, a nurse walked him to give him another dose of painkillers. Within minutes, he drifted back off into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

By the time Monday rolled around, Peter was fully healed and the entire situation felt more like a twisted dream than anything else. He had spent the rest of Friday drifting in and out of sleep as his body fought to heal the injuries that he had suffered. It wasn’t uncommon for him to go into a twilight-zone state when his body had been put through the wringer, his accelerated healing took up a lot of his energy.

The Avengers kept him company and made sure that he was never alone, but Peter didn’t know if that was for their sake or if they were doing it for him. Peter knew he scared them a great deal and he felt guilty for causing such a fuss. Tony had been the only one who didn’t make an appearance until Peter woke up Saturday morning completely healed. Peter tried to give his mentor the benefit of the doubt, but he was pretty pissed at Tony. Once upon a time Peter looked up to Tony as a mentor and then the billionaire grew to become a father figure to him. Except it’s becoming clearer each day that Peter’s feelings were one-sided because the whole situation with Tony was just too confusing for Peter to care about.

So, when Bruce gave him the all clear, he decided it was probably better for him to go back to Queens for the rest of the weekend. Tony had pitched a fit, saying it was better for him to stay here because he had just gotten seriously injured a few days prior.

“Come on, kid, be smart about this,” Tony insisted.

“I’m just going home,” Peter returned, not unkindly but he was getting annoyed. “May’s probably worried sick enough as it is.”

“She’s working, I don’t like the idea of you being there alone.”

“How many times do I have to tell you that I am okay?” Peter crossed his arms. “You heard Dr. Banner, I’m fully healed.”

“Why are you being so stubborn about this?” Tony exclaimed.

“Why are you being so insistent about me staying where I obviously don’t want to be?” Peter shot back.

Looking back at it, Peter admitted that it had been a little too harsh. He knew Tony’s guilt complex, even if his judgement was skewed. However, Peter just wanted to get out of the compound and away from a reminder that what he wanted would never be his to have. Eventually, Tony relented with the condition that Happy was the one to drive him home. Peter readily agreed, relieved that he didn’t have to put up more of a fight. He’d apologize for being a dick one day, but that day wasn’t then.

By the time that Peter walked into the empty apartment on Saturday, it had reached well past noon. Alex and George were gone, just as planned and Peter didn’t fully know if that was a blessing or curse. This past week and a half had been a huge stepping stone for Peter and his extended family, and he had gotten so used to having a constant presence by his side. Alex had been amazing, never once pushing him to talk about something he didn’t want to talk about. In addition, whenever the older teen saw Peter lost in his thoughts, he’d come sit beside him and make up the most ridiculous story that he knew would make Peter genuinely laugh.

In this case, however, the fact that the apartment was empty was a blessing. Alex had called Peter numerous times on Friday morning, leaving voicemails and text messages, asking where he was and if he was alright. Eventually May had told him that he had urgent matters regarding the Stark Internship and Alex had just texted him one last time to say that he hoped everything was alright and he was thinking of him. Peter felt awful for making Alex worry about him, he felt like he didn’t fully deserve the concern that was thrown his way. Of course, he would never admit that aloud because he knew Alex would tell May and May would skin him alive for being so naive.

When May got home that night, she hugged him tight for a good five minutes and Peter clung back, feeling safe in the arms of his aunt. Of course, his aunt had given him a lecture, and when asked what had happened, Peter stuck with his story of not remembering because he had hit his head. May had bought it easily and Peter was shocked at that, he didn’t think he could get away with lying to his aunt. It just reinforced the reality of how bad his injuries had been. May was a nurse, she knew what head injuries could do and the aftermath they could bring. May had given him one last hug and just told him that she was just glad he was okay.

Peter didn’t go out patrolling that night, and it wasn’t until Sunday that he realized he didn’t even have his suit. He had left the Stark suit at the compound and he winced at the thought of what it must’ve looked like if he had gotten off so badly.

Just another thing that’s broken, Peter had mused to himself. Add it to the stack of things that never seem to want to go away.

He tried calling Tony about it once, but when it went straight to voicemail, Peter left it alone and wondered if he truly expected anything else.

***

“You’ve been ghosting me.”

Peter jumped out of his skin at the noise of his friend’s voice behind him. He spun around, and his shoulders relaxed at the raven haired boy behind him.

“Jesus Christ, Ned,” Peter exclaimed, keeping his voice low.

Ned raised an eyebrow at that, “Someone’s extra jumpy today.”

“Someone just snuck up and scared me, I think I’m entitled to be a little jumpy,” Peter turned around and grabbed his Anatomy textbook before closing his locker.

“And grumpy too,” Ned added. “Are you ready for lunch?”

Peter placed his textbook in his backpack before flinging it back over his shoulder. “Yeah, let’s go.”

They started off toward the cafeteria, the silence between them eerie, but Peter was in a bitter mood and he was afraid of coming off abrasive.

“You didn’t answer my accusation,” Ned began nonchalantly.

Peter frowned, “What?”

“Are you ghosting me? Have I been ghosted?” Ned asked.

“Why did you think I was ghosting you?” Peter was confused.

“Well, I tried calling you Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but you kept going to voicemail,” Ned shrugged. “Did something happen?”

Peter winced, guilt once again creeping through his veins. He’s been feeling guilty a lot lately. “I didn’t mean to ghost you, dude. I got a little preoccupied.” The two of them walked into the cafeteria and made their way to their usual table that was secluded in the corner.

Ned’s eyes brightened as he sat down, “Did you go on a mission with the Avengers? Did you get kidnapped? Was it cool?”

Peter felt a small smile tug at his lips. “Did you just ask if I liked being kidnapped?”

“So you did get kidnapped!” Ned asserted.

“Keep your voice down,” Peter reminded him kindly. “I didn’t get kidnapped, Ned, and no there wasn’t a mission.”

“Then what happened that made you miss school? Harry was breathing down my back while you were gone. Never seen a dude so insistent about you skipping school like a rebel.”

Peter glanced both ways out of habit before lowering his voice. “I got a little banged up when I went out patrolling Thursday.”

All the amusement left Ned’s face and he grew serious. “What happened? Are you fully healed?”

“I’m fine now, it just took a few days,” Peter admitted.

“Days? How bad was it?”

Peter didn’t look at him and instead went to pull out his lunch bag. “It was bad. I, uh, broke four ribs, had a bad concussion and punctured a lung.”

Ned paled at that, “Pete…”

“I know, I know, but I’m okay,” Peter hastily reassured him, trying to soothe his friend’s distress.

“What happened?” Ned repeated urgently.

“I don’t know?” Peter even sounded unsure himself. “I mean I was talking to Clint and Bucky on the phone and like my sixth sense just split my head in half. Before I knew what was happening I got flung into a wall and plummeted ten stories.”

“You got thrown off the roof of a building?” Ned’s eyes widened fearfully. “What the hell, Peter?”

“I know,” Peter shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I managed to get to the compound before I passed out, the next thing I knew I woke up in the Medbay.”

“You had to swing to the compound? Where was Tony?” Ned looked confused.

Peter scoffed at that, “Apparently too busy with a ‘family’ weekend to bother picking up the phone.” Peter knew that wasn’t fair, it wasn’t Tony’s fault that he didn’t know about his AI not working to alert FRIDAY. However, it was easier to be mad at Tony for being so oblivious when compared to his pre-snap self.

“And you don’t remember anything?” Ned asked.

“I don’t think so, but like I had this dream while I was at the compound, one that seemed a little too vivid to be just a mere nightmare.”

“You think you did remember something,” Ned clarified.

“Maybe, but I don’t even know what to think about it,” Peter shrugged.

“But…”

Ned was interrupted by Harry coming up to the table with a cupcake and a card, a big smile on his face.

“Look who it is,” Harry greeted cheerfully. “Alex told me you were sick so I got you something, Pete.” He placed the card and cupcake down on the table in front of Peter.

Peter looked at the card that read “GET WELL SOON” in giant bold letters. “What is this?”

Ned snickered at that, “That’s golden.”

“It’s a get well soon card and cupcake!” Harry beamed, sitting down next to Peter. “I thought you got rebellious and just skipped but Ned insisted that it’s out of your character to willingly skip school. So I figured what better way to cheer up my best friend?”

Ned laughed at Peter’s dumbstruck face, and Peter shot him a wounded look.

“Wow, Harry, thanks,” Peter told him genuinely.

“So what was it? I want all the details,” Harry insisted.

“What the hell are you two up to?” Peter looked between his two friends. “Because this drama seeking Harry Osborn is not the real one.”

Harry sighed, “Way to go, Ned, the laughing gave it away.”

Ned sobered up, but he still had an amused tone. “I couldn’t help it! His face was just too much.”

Then it dawned on Peter, “You were going to prank me, weren’t you?”

“Well, seeing how you ghosted the two of us, what kind of friends would we be if we didn’t get you back?” Harry smirked.

“I didn’t mean to ghost anyone,” Peter exclaimed.

“Give it a rest, Pete,” Ned shook his head. “Just accept your face.”

“How on Earth were you even going to prank me with a stupid cupcake?” Peter wondered.

“Like this,” Harry took Peter’s plastic spoon, shoveled off the frosting, put it on his hand and then smeared it across his cheek.

“What the hell?” Peter cringed, trying to back away. “Harry!”

“Aw man, I was hoping you’d go for the nose,” Ned sounded disappointed.

“What?” Peter yelped. “You little son of a…” Peter scooped the frosting off his cheek and smeared it across Harry’s cheek, who was laughing good-naturedly.

“You two are the worst,” Peter was chuckling against his will, feeling a small weight lift off his shoulders.

“But you love us anyway,” Ned handed him a napkin and Peter accepted it.

“Just admit it,” Harry smiled dopily at that.

“Fine,” Peter wiped the frosting off his cheek. “But be warned, I will get you both back for this.”

“Challenge accepted, as long as you two don’t set an oven on fire or something,” Ned had a devious glint in his eyes.

Peter’s mouth dropped open before looking at Harry, “You told him that?”

“I’m surprised you didn’t,” Harry said.

“Why didn’t you?” Ned sounded offended. “That story is way too comedic to be kept in the dark.”

“Because it was embarrassing,” Peter admitted. “That was the first time I saw Ben question his life decisions.”

“Ben tried to lecture Peter, but he was laughing too hard so he waited for May to do it,” Harry supplied.

“And May still roasts me about it to this day,” Peter noted.

Peter was jolted from the conversation when he heard his phone buzz. Looking down, he saw it was a text from Tony.

Come over after school? Want to talk about upgrades for your suit.

Peter felt a small spark of irritation wash over him at the text. Sure, Tony wanted him to come over to talk to him about his spider suit, not because he wanted to actually spend time with him. However, if they were upgrading his suit and Tony was willing to let him help, then maybe it wasn’t a bad idea after all.

Sure! Can Happy drive me?

He’s already planning on it.

How did you know I was going to say yes? That’s awfully intuitive.

You question my pride, kid. I’m not telling any secrets.

***

When the dismissal bell rang to signify the end of the school day, Peter all but bolted out of the door. He might’ve been annoyed at Tony, but Peter couldn’t wait to see Happy. Unlike Tony, Happy Hogan had kept in touch with Peter throughout the past couple of months, making sure that he had been settling in okay. Before the snap, Peter wouldn’t have guessed that Tony Stark’s head of security had a soft side, but Peter had a feeling that Happy didn’t fully realize what he had until he lost it. Peter always knew that Happy Hogan had a grudging respect towards him, even if Peter did find ways to drive him up the wall.

Exiting the building, Peter paused at the bottom of the steps and scanned the parking lot below. As soon as he saw the black limo, his eyes brightened and he made his way towards the vehicle. When Peter approached the car, Happy stepped out, a small smile on his face.

“Happy!” Peter greeted him cheerfully.

“I heard I was to deliver a kid to the compound?” Happy leaned his arm against the open door.

A reluctant kid who really doesn’t want to go, Peter mused to himself, but shook off the negative thoughts. “Guess that would be me, huh?”

Happy just shook his head fondly, “Get in the car, Pete.”

A few minutes later, Happy pulled away from the curve and began the forty five minute drive to the compound.

“You’ll never believe what we did in anatomy today,” Peter began. “So, we had to begin dissecting a brain because we were learning about the nerves and the senses. Well, they preserve the brain in fluid, and some of the fluid gets trapped inside of the brain. Ned went to cut open the brain and fluid just kind of exploded all over his lab coat!”

“They’re having you dissect brains?” Happy wrinkled his nose in disgust. “That seems rather barbaric.”

“They’re not human brains, Happy,” Peter rolled his eyes.

“And that’s supposed to make it better?” Happy raised an eyebrow at that. “Weren’t you going off on a tangent the other day about how animals aren’t represented enough in their individual rights?”

“But they don’t take the brains from animals that are healthy, usually they’re donated to science after they pass,” Peter crossed his arms.

Happy snorted at that, “I hate to tell you, Pete, but whoever told you that is a downright liar.”

Peter paled at that, “What?”

“Come on, kid, I know you’re smarter than that,” Happy jested.

“Well there goes that good mood,” Peter pouted.

“Come on, cheer up, kid,” Happy sounded a little guilty.

“Nope, you ruined my scientific discovery and I don’t appreciate it.”

“But you’re going to have some lab time with Tony,” Happy offered. “I know how much you miss that.”

Peter grew silent for a moment, a pit of dread forming in his stomach. “Did May set you up to this?”

It was Happy’s turn to pause, a sheepish look coming across his face. “Not necessarily.

“And here I thought you were genuinely trying to spend some time with me.”

Happy gave him a leveled stare in the rearview mirror. “That’s not fair and you know it.”

Peter deflated at the hurt in the older man’s voice. A wave of shame washed over him, “You’re right. I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me.”

Happy was quiet for another minute before saying, “We’re worried about you.”

“What’s there to be worried about?” Peter shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

Happy sighed, “Look, kid, I know things have been different since you came back. I know how much changed while you were gone, and I can’t even begin to imagine how overwhelming that must be. Tony’s been busy and he’s also an oblivious idiot, but I promise you that he cares about you all the same.”

“Can we not talk about this?” Peter asked.

Happy studied him for another minute before his expression softened. “Sure, Pete. Just… you’re going to have to talk about it sooner or later.”

“I prefer the later option,” Peter muttered under his breath, but he had a feeling Happy knew exactly what he said.

The rest of the ride passed in silence and when Happy parked outside the entrance of the compound, Peter said a goodbye before bolting out of the confined space, suddenly feeling claustrophobic. Making his way upstairs, Peter leaned against the elevator wall and took a few deep breaths.

He felt like a dick for acting the way he did towards Happy. Peter admitted that he was way too harsh towards someone who genuinely was concerned for his well being. It was just hard to think about the way things used to be and what suddenly wasn’t there anymore. It was easier to pretend than it was to confront the source of his problems.

This past week and a half was a positive step in the right direction. Peter hadn’t had a nightmare since the last time he spent the weekend at the compound, he was getting close to Alex and George, things with Ned were mending and Harry was back in Queens. The only thing that still seemed out of place was Tony, but Peter was slowly coming to terms knowing that there was a major possibility that things would eventually fizzle out between the two of them.

You can lie to yourself all you want, Peter, but you know that hurts more than you’re willing to admit, Peter mused sadly, closing his eyes against the wave of sadness. It’s going to get easier, it already is by a small margin… When will it get easier to be happy without feeling the entire world is waiting for you to crumble to ash?

Peter was jolted out of his thoughts when the elevator opened and he stepped out into the common room. Walking over to the kitchen, Peter set his backpack down on the island countertop. Opening his snack cabinet, a note fell from the top shelf and onto the floor. Frowning, Peter bent over to pick it up.

Hey, Pete, saw you were getting low on your high-protein bars. I had Bruce make you a new batch, let us know when you’re low next time. - Steve.

Peter felt a small bittersweet smile form on his face. It was ironic how Captain America was becoming more of the mother-hen nowadays instead of pre-snap Tony.

“Thanks, Cap,” Peter said quietly before grabbing a bar and closing the cabinet. With his snack in hand, Peter climbed onto Tony’s lab elevator and took it two floors down to the workshop.

When Peter emerged onto the floor, it was to the sight of Tony bent over his workbench, a screwdriver hanging from his mouth as he tinkered with something on the surface in front of him.

“Tony?” Peter greeted, announcing his presence.

“Hey, kid,” Tony replied between the screwdriver, his tone full of concentration.

Peter put his backpack down and walked over to the older man. “What are you working on?”

Tony took the screwdriver out of his mouth and began tightening something on the device in front of him. “It’s your new cover for your freaky new webs.”

Peter’s eyes widened in genuine curiosity. “What?”

“Well, I told you it was a temporary fix, didn’t I?” Tony turned his head for a second to raise an eyebrow in Peter’s direction.

“It’s only been a week,” Peter conceded.

“You doubt my skills?” Tony shook his head. “Come on, Pete, give me a little more credit than that.”

“You’ve just been a little busy,” Peter shrugged. “Besides, the nanites have been working just fine.”

“True, but that only solves the minor issue of its appearance, I figured with these you can switch over from synthetic webbing to organic webbing.”

Peter looked hesitant at that, “One more way to make me a freak of nature.”

Tony paused at that comment, “What?”

Peter jolted at that. Had he really said that out loud? “Nothing, it’s stupid.”

Tony looked like he wanted to argue, but he let it go as he finished one last thing before putting his tools down. “Alright, let's see if this works.”

Peter deactivated the nanites on his wrists, the particles peeling away to form a clear bracelet on both of his arms. Once the bracelets were taken off, Peter accepted the new gadgets from Tony and slipped them on. Immediately the nanites bled into his skin, hiding the white patches on the insides of his wrists.

“How do these feel lighter than the last?” Peter was in awe.

Tony shrugged, “It’s nothing, I just messed with the number of layers. Go ahead and try it out.”

Peter stepped back and aimed his left wrist at the wall. Instinctively he felt himself shoot out a web and it hit true to the center of the wall.

“That’s freaky,” Tony shivered in disgust. “Sorry, kid, but it’s just a factual statement.”

“It’s not entirely pleasant either,” Peter admitted. “I might not understand the mechanics of this, but it’s like a snake is slithering through my body.”

Tony wrinkled his nose in disgust, “Gee, thanks for the visual that I never want to hear or see again.”

Peter rolled his eyes good-naturedly at the jibe. “So you said something about suit upgrades?”

“Yes!” Tony’s tired eyes sparked a little in excitement. “I saw that you left your suit here on Saturday and I went ahead and made some repairs. The only thing I haven't had a chance to do yet is your AI. Figured we could do it together, let you learn the ropes from the best person ever.”

Peter felt genuine excitement wash over him at the prospect of working on KAREN. “Wait, seriously?”

Tony shrugged, “A rambling kid like yourself must get lonely out on patrols.”

Peter paused at that, “Clint mentioned I called Bucky cause I was bored.”

“Clowns? Really?” Tony seemed unimpressed. “That’s the most irrational thing to be afraid of.”

“It’s the most rational fear out there!” Peter disagreed. “Clowns can kill.”

“Highly unlikely,” Tony looked far too amused. “I almost bought you circus tickets just to spite you, but then Pepper glared daggers at me until I promised I wouldn’t.”

“You know, just for that, Pepper is my favorite now,” Peter pulled up a stool to sit beside Tony.

“Speaking of Pepper…” Tony began.

Peter paled at that, “She’s not pregnant again, is she?”

Tony let out a surprised noise, “What? Oh god, no, thank the universe. Morgan’s awesome, but I don’t know if I can deal with the grey hairs of another kid.”

Peter felt a knife pierce his heart at that comment, but let it go. Not now, Pete. “What about her, then? Is she okay?”

Tony waved the question off nonchalantly, “Pepper’s fine. We were just talking and we wanted to invite you over to the lake house for the weekend. She really wants to meet the kid that proved I had a heart."

Peter blushed at the comment, but suddenly wanted to be anywhere else but there. “I don’t know, Mr. Stark, I really don’t want to intrude.”

“That’s why it’s called an invitation, kid,” Tony turned towards him with a questioning glance.

Peter thought he would be ecstatic at such a proposition, but a pit of dread in his stomach made him nauseous to the core. “I can’t next weekend anyway, May’s home and I promised I’d spend the weekend with her.”

“Oh,” Tony’s face went blank. “That’s funny because I cleared it with your aunt, who said she was working back-to-back shifts.”

Shit, Peter cursed mentally. “Oh.”

A hurt look crossed Tony’s face. “Do you not want to come over?”

Peter’s heart broke further at that. “It’s not that… I’m scared of Morgan.”

“You’re scared of a five year old?” Tony was incredulous. “Why?”

She’s a reminder of what I can never have.

“What if she doesn’t like me?” Peter was proud of that excuse.

Tony snorted in amusement. “Trust me kid, the only thing that Morgan hates is anyone messing with her teddy bears.”

“Can I… Can I just think about it?” Peter asked quietly, letting a little bit of vulnerability slip into his tone.

Tony paused and studied him before he caved, “Yeah, kid, you don’t have to decide now.”

Peter was about to express his gratitude when the alarm bell went off, causing Peter to flinch at the sudden onslaught on his senses.

“Shit,” Tony cursed.

“Tony, we need you up here,” Steve’s voice echoed over FRIDAY’s speakers. “We’ve got androids further upstate.”

“Great, just in time for afternoon tea,” Tony was already standing up.

Peter got up and went to follow him, but Tony turned around and stopped him. “You are not coming.”

Peter’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “What?”

“You are staying here, kid,” Tony repeated.

“But I can help,” Peter protested.

“Not this time you can’t,” Tony asserted.

Peter felt his fists clench in frustration. “You’re side lining me, even after everything I’ve done…”

“Don’t start with me, Pete, you just got majorly injured three days ago ,” Tony told him sternly.

“You heard Dr. Banner, I’m fully healed!”

“You got attacked by something, kid. If you can’t remember that or who it was, the last thing I need is to babysit your ass.”

Peter visibly flinched at those hurtful words, but he felt himself dig his feet in deeper. “I can look after myself just fine! I can’t just stay here when I can help do something.”

“And I can’t focus on a battle if I know you’re gonna find some way to be self-sacrificing! You are going to stay here where I know you’ll be safe,” Tony ordered. “I’m not asking here, Peter.”

“I’ll sneak on the jet, I swear I will,” Peter threatened.

“Will you stop being so childish?” Tony exclaimed. “Even if you came with us, you haven’t trained in a team environment. I can’t trust that you’ll be safe if you… Just this once, kid, I’m asking nicely.”

Peter saw something rare in Tony’s eyes that made his resolve reluctantly waver. It was a spark of fear at the thought of Peter getting injured in a battle that he wasn’t prepared for.

“Fine,” Peter relented, “But you’re going to have to stop treating me like a kid.”

“You’re sixteen, Pete, you’re still a kid,” Tony said before he walked out of the lab, leaving Peter to seethe at being left behind and also leaving him feeling embarrassed for being scolded to bluntly.

Chapter Text

The faint tremors of the workshop floor made every bone in Peter’s body vibrate as if it would make him crumple to the floor. He knew that it had to have been the Quinjet, meaning the Avengers were preparing to take off. Walking over to the windows that spanned the entire length of the floor to the ceiling, Peter watched as he saw Steve running into the jet, the door closing behind him. Tony was hovering in the air, his red and gold armor glinting in the sunlight. Seeing his mentor made his blood boil, his palms curling into fists, his nails digging into the skin of his palms.

Peter knew that he shouldn’t be as angry as he was, but being scolded so bluntly like a misbehaving puppy was absolutely humiliating. It was even more humiliating than the time that Tony scolded him on the rooftop after the ferry. At least back then, Peter knew that he had royally screwed up and Tony’s anger was in the right place. He was a rookie back then, but he had grown since then, he didn’t fly blindly into a situation anymore. Well, most of the time, anyway.

Peter had proven himself time and time again, but it never seemed like enough for Tony. He had stopped Vulture from robbing the Avengers Quinjet during moving day all by himself, and had even gotten praised for his victory. Hell, he even went to space and saved Doctor Strange from being tortured by an alien. On top of all that, he had held his ground with Thanos on Titan considering the circumstances and he more than well held his own during the final battle with the mad titan. Peter wasn’t some mere kid anymore, he had more experience than any person his age. Maybe too much experience, if Peter wanted to throw himself a pity party.

It didn’t matter, it was more evident than ever that Tony still saw him as a scrawny kid from Queens who couldn’t do anything right. At one point in time Peter would’ve brushed it off and convinced himself that it was because the billionaire actually gave a damn about him. Hell, he even built Peter suits that were so safety-proof that he felt invincible. He gave Peter his own AI that had kept him company whenever he got lonely on patrols.

Peter didn’t know what to feel anymore, and it was frustrating to say the least. Tony had made it clear about where Peter stood, and even if it broke his heart it was his new reality. Tony had his own family to care about and Peter just wasn’t a part of it. With each passing interaction between his former mentor, Peter was beginning to be glad that he wasn’t a part of it. 

What pissed him off the most was Tony’s superiority complex. He always had to be the person on top who called the shots and looked down at everyone else. Benching Peter was just one small example of that. Whenever Peter seemed to step one foot out of line, Tony was there to reprimand him as if he was the wise adult in that situation. The fact that Tony seemed to only make an appearance to see him nowadays whenever he wanted to yell or scold him, it made Peter’s patience wear then. What gave him the right to berate him when Tony left him in the dust?

You can convince yourself that you hate him, but deep down you really don’t, Peter thought to himself and he felt his shoulders slump in defeat. 

If Peter were to hate Tony for being dick, then Peter would be a selfish hypocrite. Tony had done many things for him, and had taught him valuable lessons about playing the role of a hero. Peter wouldn’t be where he was now if it wasn’t for Tony. According to the stories from the other Avengers, ones that Peter can’t fully make himself believe, Peter and every other dusted person on the planet wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for Peter being Tony’s inspiration.

It all just comes back to Peter struggling to find his place in a world that had spun for 5 years while Peter was gone. He got lucky with May and her new family, but things change when you’re gone for so long. The real enemy when it came to Peter’s diminishing relationship with Tony was time.

5 years of relationships, memories, inside jokes and other events that you just weren’t there to be a part of, Peter watched grimly as the Iron Man armor took off in a blink of an eye, the Quinjet following suit a few moments later. Sometimes I still wonder if it was a cruel joke to bring us back to a world that moved on.

Looking over his shoulder, Peter’s eye landed on the spandex suit that was sprawled across Tony’s workbench. Feeling a sense of determination, Peter walked over to the workbench and examined the fabric in front of him. Tony had repaired the damages from his accident, leaving the red and blue fabric spotless. It looked exactly as it did when Peter was first given the suit in Berlin, eliciting a small smile from him. Memories of meeting Tony for the first time in his apartment flooded his brain, back when he was a stammering mess of a teenager who was still innocent enough to take everything for granted. It had been the first time in six months that Peter felt genuinely excited about something. Six months since…

Peter closed his eyes, another wave of sadness washed over him as his mind glossed over his Uncle Ben.

You need to stop this, Pete, Peter berated himself. You were doing so well these past couple weeks.

Looking back at his suit, Peter decided to do what he always did to clear his mind: he got to work. It took him a solid hour before he got the hang of what he was doing. Two hours later, he was pulling on his mask and hoping for a miracle.

“KAREN?” Peter asked hesitatingly.

Immediately something flashed across his HUD and a calming feminine voice replied, “Good afternoon, Peter.”

A wave of excitement coursed through his veins at his success. “Oh my god, I can’t believe I actually did it. In your face, Mr. Stark.” He smiled at the realization that he had truly brought his AI back online all by himself. “Welcome back, KAREN, I really missed you.”

“I missed you too,” KAREN replied kindly.

“Okay, okay, don’t get too ahead of yourself, Pete,” Peter mumbled to himself before saying, “Can you run a full diagnostic, KAREN?”

“Full diagnostic scan initiated,” KAREN noted. “Estimated completion time is one hour.”

“One hour,” Peter repeated to himself. “Gotta find a way to kill the time, then.”

Over the course of the next hour, Peter fiddled with his suit’s coding, taking great care to modify some codes that he was unhappy with. For instance, he immediately took out the coding that automatically informed Tony whenever he was injured and instead set it to a manual setting. It didn’t make sense for Peter to have to explain anything that was as minor as a small papercut or a bruised rib. By the time that KAREN finished her diagnostic scan and was found to be running at full capacity, Peter was ready to get out of the empty compound. Putting on his Spider-Man suit, Peter slung his backpack over his shoulders and made his way towards the exit. The silence in the building was eerie and suffocating, making the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

Just as he reached the outside of the compound, he froze mid step and his entire frame tensed up. Spinning around, he half expected someone to be staring at him from one of the windows of the compound.

“Your heart rate spiked, Peter, is everything alright?” KAREN’s voice made Peter jump out of his skin

Not used to that anymore, Peter tried to catch his breath. “Is there anyone currently in the compound?”

“My scanners indicate that the compound is currently empty,” KAREN replied.

“Oh,” Peter still couldn’t shake off the sense that someone was watching him. “I just… I could’ve sworn…” He trailed off.

“Shall I call Mr. Stark?” KAREN wondered.

That jolted Peter out of his daze, “What? No, no, it’s fine,” Peter wasn’t sure if he was trying to reassure his AI or himself. “I’ve just been a little jumpy lately, it’s probably nothing.”

“If you say so,” KAREN didn’t sound convinced. “Shall I plot a course for your apartment?”

“Yeah,” Peter readjusted the straps of his backpack. “Let’s go home.” 

As Peter took off, he tried to get his sixth sense to calm down, but there was a lingering pit of nausea that seemed to take a permanent residence in his stomach nowadays. Trying to shake off the paranoia, Peter focused on the road ahead of him. It wasn’t until later that Peter realized he never left a note, and he honestly couldn’t find it in himself to care.

***

Peter didn’t sleep that night and he felt like living hell the next morning. In all fairness, he did try to sleep, but he woke up the first time from dreaming about crumbling to ash. The second time, he was crumbling to ash while a pair of yellow eyes were staring at him, as if they were the reason he was falling apart in the first place. Needless to say, waking up twice while drenched in sweat was enough to cause his senses to go haywire. Suddenly the sheets of his bed were needles against his skin and he had no desire to sleep anymore. He had tried using Bucky’s method of listening to rain or the ocean to soothe his worries, but it seemed like that trick was a one and done deal. It had been close to two weeks since he had a nightmare and he had just gotten used to being back on a normal sleeping schedule, at least normal for him. He should’ve known that his luck was going to run thin eventually, he was just hoping it would’ve been later down the road.

Somehow in the middle of all that was happening, Peter had found himself hanging upside down on his bedroom ceiling. He didn’t exactly know how to explain why he favored the position so much, but it was one of the positions that helped him gather his thoughts. His aunt hated when he hung upside down, she said it wasn’t healthy for his brain, but Peter never had an issue with that. He almost wondered if it was just another thing that his spider DNA had just instilled in his mutation.

Essentially, for the rest of that night, Peter had begun a self-reflection of his newer powers. He had been avoiding it for almost a month now and he knew that he couldn’t avoid reality forever. He began with his organic webs, something that still creeped him out from just merely remembering the sight of it coming out of his arms. It was also hard to explain how right it felt to use it. It was almost more instinctual when compared to his mechanical web shooters, it felt like Peter had his own sixth sense for shooting his web fluid. When Peter had first begun to use his mechanical web shooters, it took some time to get used to remembering how to actually shoot the web and then releasing the web while swinging. However, with his organic webs, he just shot the webs before he had a second to think about how to do it, it was like it truly was a part of him

When Peter had first found out about his organic webs, he had wondered why his webs felt stronger than before. Peter hasn’t had a chance to fully test his theory, but he had a strange feeling that he knew that not only were his organic webs stronger, but they seemed more flexible too.

Besides his organic webs, Peter wondered what else might have changed or evolved when it came to his powers. His ability to stick to stuff hasn’t changed, so that definitely wasn’t it. He had noticed that his senses did seem even clearer and more enhanced than before, but Peter never truly dwelled on the idea, he just thought it was an after effect of being gone for five years. However, considering that his sixth sense seemed to go off twenty-four seven, Peter wondered if maybe his increasingly enhanced senses might be to blame for the enhancement of his sixth sense.

Twiddling with his wrists that contained the thin layer of translucent nanites, Peter bit his lip as he pondered something. Tapping on the nanites of his left wrist, the little bots evolved into a thin bracelet, exposing his web patch.

I wonder… Peter trailed off as he closed his eyes and focused solely on the patch on his wrist, picturing it becoming invisible. Almost immediately, Peter felt his wrist begin to tingle as if something small was crawling on his skin. Opening his eyes, Peter was shocked to see the webby white patch had faded completely into his skin. Holding out the same wrist, Peter found a spot on his wall and fired his web. Immediately, the web hit its target, the end releasing automatically. Looking back at his wrist, Peter was thrilled to see the patch was still nowhere to be found on his skin. He quickly retracted the nanites on right wrist and did the same thing, yielding similar results.

“Just like Uncle Ben used to say,” Peter mused to himself. “Sometimes the craziest ideas turn out to be the right ones.”

A knock on his door jolted him back to reality and Peter let out a small shout of surprise, falling off the ceiling and onto the floor in a heap.

“Peter? Breakfast is on the table,” May opened the door, pausing when she saw her nephew on the floor, rubbing a sore spot on his head. “Ceiling?”

Peter just shot her sheepish look as he sat up into a criss cross position.

May shook her head in exasperation. “Mutant teenagers,” She muttered under her breath before coming over and sitting next to him. “Couldn’t sleep?”

Peter bit his lip at that, not sure what to say. He could be honest and admit the truth, but it was getting to the point where he felt ridiculous for having the same nightmares over and over again since he had come back.

May must’ve been able to read the answer in his silence and she sighed, pulling him into a hug. Peter went willingly, tucking his head into the crook of her neck, soaking in the security of her embrace. “Thought you finally caught a break.”

“Me too,” Peter admitted quietly.

She rubbed soothing circles into his back. “You know I’m always here if you need to talk. I don’t want to push you, you know that, right? I just… I worry sometimes.”

“I know,” Peter reassured her, reluctantly pulling back.

May studied him for a moment before patting his cheek, “Take a shower, food’s on the table when you’re ready.”

Peter smiled at that, “Thanks, May.”

She returned the smile, but Peter could see the lingering sadness in her eyes. Getting up, May made her way out of his room before closing the door, leaving Peter by himself.

Peter closed his eyes and huffed out a sigh. “Time to face the day, Parker. How hard can it be?”

Once he made his way into the bathroom, Peter cringed at his reflection. The bags under his eyes were far too evident to be healthy and his clothes were still wet from sweating so much. After a shower that was hot enough to singe his skin, Peter emerged from the shower looking presentable. The bags under his eyes couldn’t be fixed in time for school, but maybe he could come up with the excuse of pulling an all-nighter.

Walking into the kitchen, Peter noted that May was finishing her cup of coffee while scrolling through her phone and Alex was finishing his homework while eating a bowl of cereal.

Grabbing a stack of pancakes, Peter sat down next to Alex and said, “History or Calculus?”

“Calculus and it’s the bane of my existence,” Alex huffed in frustration. “I can’t figure out this damn problem for the life of me.”

“Here, let me see,” Peter requested.

“Good luck, Pete, I’ve been trying for hours,” Alex slid the paper over to him before pulling the bowl of cereal to his chest. Peter could’ve sworn that the raven-haired boy looked like a pouting chipmunk at that moment.

Taking a bite of his pancakes, Peter turned to study the problem in front of him. It took him a minute but something popped into his mind. “You mixed up your sum and difference identities. Remember when you use your sine identities, its cosine time sine, not sine times sine.”

Alex’s eyes lit up and Peter could essentially see the lightbulb go off in his head. “Oh! Well, in that case I really am an idiot.”

Peter shrugged, “It’s a simple error, you would’ve gotten it eventually. Sometimes it helps to have a fresh pair of eyes.”

“That fresh pair of eyes just helped solve the bane of my existence,” Alex pointed out, taking one final bite of his cereal before going back to finishing the worksheet.

Peter looked up to see May studying the two of them, her eyes bright with happiness. When she noticed Peter staring at her, she smirked and winked at him. Peter rolled his eyes good-naturedly before diving back into his breakfast.

Peter could hear May let out a faint chuckle before getting up from the table. 

“Is George off shift today?” Peter wondered as May went to wash out her coffee mug.

“George is already at the hospital,” May replied. “He got called in early this morning, he should be back by the time you two get home from school.”

“What’s your schedule like today?”

“I won’t be home until late, I’m staying overtime tonight to cover for someone,” May walked over towards the adjoining living area, grabbing her bag. “Oh, Peter, Tony called last night, he wants you to call him sometime this afternoon when you have the chance.”

“Oh, okay,” Peter winced at that.

May must’ve noticed his reaction, because her eyebrows furrowed in evident confusion.

“Come on, you say that like you kicked his puppy,” Alex piped in amusedly.

In a way, he kinda kicked mine and I just pissed him off, Peter thought to himself.

May checked her watch and sighed, “I have to go or else I’ll be late. You two be safe and don’t miss your train!”

“That was only one time,” Alex defended himself.

“I’m not talking about that,” May looked at Peter.

Peter’s eyes widened, “Hey!”

May shot him a playful smirk before she left, the door closing behind her.

“So what’s going on between you and Tony?” Alex asked.

Peter froze at the question, his fork stopped in the air. He set the fork back down, his appetite faded. “It’s nothing.”

Alex’s eyes flickered between Peter and his abandoned food. “Is everything okay?”

Peter ran a hand down his face at that, suddenly wanting to bolt. This was a touchy subject and Peter wasn’t sure he was ready to venture too far into this territory yet. “It’s nothing, just some internship stuff.”

Alex raised an eyebrow at that, “What kind of stuff?”

“We just had a disagreement,” Peter chose his words carefully.

Alex looked like he wanted to push, but he must’ve sensed how uncomfortable Peter was because he backed off. “I’m not trying to push, I promise. It’s just… you look like crap, dude.”

“It’s not because of that,” Peter shook his head. “I just… I don’t really talk about it because it’s embarrassing.”

“Does May know at least?”

Peter looked at the older boy, and was taken aback at the genuine concern he was showing. “Yeah, she knows.”

Alex looked him in the eye, as if trying to read between the lines before he deflated. “Look, whatever is going on I know it’s not my business. I don’t know why you’re not sleeping, and I might have some suspicions but I’m not gonna throw you in a corner to fend for yourself. I don’t know what’s going on between you and Tony Stark, again, it’s not my business. Word of advice though, ghosting people because you don’t want to face them just hurts you in the end.”

Peter stood up at that, feeling the nausea grow at each word Alex spoke. He knew he should eat more, his metabolism is going to wreak havoc on him later for that, but the last thing he needed was to throw up his breakfast. No one should be so tense when talking about their mentor, he didn’t need Alex’s suspicions to go through the roof. His chest felt heavy, though, and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could go without collapsing with the weight of it all. 

Fuck it, Peter decided. “The thing about Tony… it’s complicated,” Peter conceded. “Before… I don’t really remember my parents, I was orphaned when I was really young. The only father figure I really remembered growing up was my Uncle Ben. He tried so hard to be what I had lost, and for the most part he succeeded, you know? I knew the hole would never go away, but Uncle Ben filled a majority of it. It was all that I needed.”

Alex was looking at him, his face showing that he was listening to every word Peter was saying.

“When Uncle Ben died…” Peter’s voice broke at the memory. He looked down at his hands, as if he expected to see them splattered with blood. He shakily closed his hands into fists and looked back up at Alex. “I thought that was it, I had a father and I lost him. Then Tony came along when I won that damn internship and at first he wanted nothing to do with me.”

“What changed?” Alex wondered, curiosity evident in his tone.

“I proved myself,” Peter admitted, except he was the only one who knew the true meaning behind it. “I won his respect, so to speak, and he kind of just took me under his wing. As time passed he essentially became another Ben. I mean no one can top Uncle Ben, but Tony came very damn close. For the longest time I could’ve sworn he saw me like a son. Then T-Thanos happened,” The name tasted like ash in Peter’s mouth. “When I came back, things changed. I got lucky with you and your dad, but Tony had a family of his own now. He has a wife and daughter and I’m just… I’m just me .”

Why am I saying this to the one person that doesn’t even know the real me? Peter wondered. It was just that Alex was so easy to talk to, and for some reason Peter trusted him with his entire being. This was something he hadn’t even worked up to the nerve to tell Ned.

“But Peter Parker is awesome,” Alex amended. “You are you, but that’s not a bad thing.”

Peter smiled bitterly at that, “Hard to think that way when you feel someone slipping through your fingers because you aren’t good enough for them.”

“Peter, stop,” Alex walked over to him, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t do that yourself.”

“What else am I supposed to think?” Peter burst out. “I was so stupid to believe that someone like Tony Stark could care about a nobody like me.”

“If Tony Stark didn’t care, then why did he call May last night freaking out about how you disappeared?”

Peter scoffed at that, “Because May’s my guardian, he’s worried about liability.”

Alex tightened his hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Fine, maybe he is, but if that’s the case then he’s an idiot. Peter Parker isn’t a nobody from Queens, he’s got amazing friends and one hell of a family that cares deeply about him. Is it perfect? No, we’re all a little broken and bruised, but we are strong.”

The genuineness in Alex’s voice made Peter speechless, but the self-deprecating part of him made him wonder what he did to deserve such kindness.

“I don’t know Iron Man personally, I’ve only read the stories of how he’s this so-called asshole billionaire who’s had a rough past,” Alex admitted. “But when May told stories about the two of you these past couple years, it changed my whole perspective. He visited her a few times throughout the years. He would never admit it, but I know he teared up whenever they talked about you. Tony found a picture of the two of you and gave May a copy of it as a Christmas gift one year. It was the two of you holding a Stark Industries certificate, and you both were doing bunny ears to each other. He said that he had one that he kept, but if it could bring her happiness like it did to him, then he wanted her to have a copy too.”

“That sounds a little too sappy to be Tony Stark,” Peter admitted dubiously.

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” Alex shrugged. “I don’t know how to convince you, I’m not sure if I’m trying to or not. I don’t think you’re a nobody, Peter. To me, you’re like the kid brother I’ve never had. These past few months have only confirmed that for me.”

With that being said, Alex patted his shoulder one last time before ducking into his bedroom to finish getting ready for the start of the school day. Peter was left staring at his retreating form, his head reeling with everything that had just happened.

Chapter Text

It turns out that Alex and Peter made the train just as the doors were closing, and Peter saw that as a miracle in itself. Alex had laughed it off and said they had perfect timing, but Peter was just glad that he didn't have to face his aunt who would never let him live it down. His conversation with Alex had left him in a weird mood. Part of him knew that he should've been appreciative and happy to know that he had a family that cared for him. However, there was still a part of him that struggled to believe that he was visible.

The harsh reality that Peter faced was that the world had moved on while he was gone. May found a new family and she was the happiest that Peter's ever seen her since Uncle Ben had passed away. George made May happy and Peter would never hold that against her, all Peter wanted was for May to find someone who loved her like she deserved. George and Alex had never held it against Peter that he had left his aunt to fend for herself, and they had welcomed him with open arms without hesitation. Alex especially was so kind hearted and continued to include him whenever he had the chance to do so.

It's hard to reciprocate the feeling when you're not showing your true colors, Peter reflected. 

He had debated for a long time about whether or not to reveal his alter ego to his new family. They had proven time and time again that they were trustworthy enough, but Peter was genuinely terrified to do so. Spider-Man was his last connection to his life from before the snap, it was the one thing that he still had full control over. So, he just held it close to his chest and hoped that control wouldn't be ripped away from him a moment's notice.

"You're getting lost in your head again," Alex's voice brought him back to reality.

Peter looked up from where he was sitting on one of the benches. Alex was standing in front of him, his hands in the front pockets of his jeans.

"Sorry," Peter automatically apologized.

"You say sorry a lot," Alex noted. "I gotta say, that doesn't seem entirely healthy."

Peter just shrugged, "You're not the only one who thinks so."

"So why do you do it?" Alex wondered.

Peter frowned at that, "What?"

"Why do you apologize when you've done nothing wrong?" Alex elaborated. The question wasn't unkind, and Peter knew that the older boy was just trying to keep him grounded in the present.

"Uncle Ben told me I started when I was at a young age," Peter began. "He said it was just written in my vocabulary, but he also told me it showed the kindness in my heart."

Alex was silent for a moment, "He sounded like a good man."

Peter smiled sadly at that, "He was." He looked at his hands for a moment before saying, "Tony invited me over to his family's cabin for the weekend."

Alex looked intrigued at that, "That sounds amazing, dude! A weekend at a billionaire's cabin?"

"He wants me to meet his daughter," Peter elaborated sadly.

The older boy paused before he spoke, sympathy flowing in his voice. "Oh."

Peter's eyes flickered up to Alex's before he looked away. "Yeah."

"And you don't want to go," Alex guessed.

"Not really," Peter admitted.

"But you told me you wished he'd spend more time with you," Alex knocked his knee against Peter's knee. "He's making an effort."

"I don't want to meet Morgan," Peter shook his head. "I can't."

"How old is she?"

"She's six years old."

"Can I be completely honest without you getting mad at me?"

Peter sent him a curious look.

"I think you've convinced yourself that Morgan's the sole reason that you and Tony's relationship is where it is."

Peter froze at that words, "What? No, not at all, it's not her fault."

"Then what's really going on?" Alex prompted.

"Morgan is just a reminder of what I can never have, okay?" Peter confessed. "I don't blame Morgan, she's just a kid. I don't really blame anyone, I mean how can I? What gives me the right to assume that Tony will put me over his flesh and blood daughter?"

"Peter..." Alex looked torn. "You need to talk to him. Whatever is going on with you and Tony is not doing you any good. You're wearing yourself thin, and I just...  I know how it's so much easier to be angry than it is to be sad. That fight between the two of you? I just don't want you to do something that's gonna hurt you."

Peter wiped at his eyes self-consciously. "I'm not trying to be a jerk or the villain in this situation. And I know you want to fix whatever is going on with me, and I appreciate it, it's really kind. I know everyone expects me to be this rambling kid who never knew when to shut up, but I just can't right now."

Alex was silent for a moment before saying, "You know, I was really planning on cheering you up but that conversation didn't really work did it?"

Peter chuckled sadly at that, "No, I guess it didn't."

"I can make a knock-knock joke if you think that'll make you smile."

Peter laughed fully at that, "You're insane, Alex."

Alex beamed at that, "Hey, being a doofus is my specialty."

The train began to slow down, indicating the train's arrival at the train station. Alex sighed, "Back to reality for the both of us."

Peter bent down to scoop his backpack off the floor. "I thought you liked going to school?"

"I have a calculus exam today," Alex admitted. "That'd make anyone hate school."

Peter grimaced, "Fair point."

As soon as the train came to a complete stop, Alex and Peter walked off and made their way down the subway station's stairs that rested just across from Midtown High. When they made their way inside, Alex wished Peter a goody day and left him with a promise of meeting him by the train station after school. Peter hated to admit it, but as soon as Alex left, the invasive thoughts came back with a vengeance.

Shake it off, Peter, Peter scolded himself.

Peter made a beeline to his locker and he could feel everyone staring at him, aggravating his sixth sense enough to make him want to throw up. Once upon a time, before the snap, stares wouldn't have been enough to bother him. It would tickle his spider sense but it had been more of an itch than anything else. Nowadays with his spider sense always on alert, the stares were enough where Peter was concerned about a sensory overload.

So when Ned came up to him with a loud, "Hey, Peter!" Peter nearly jumped out of his skin.

"Jesus, Ned, you scared the hell out of me," Peter leaned against the wall of his locker, a hand on his racing heart.

Ned studied him, his eyebrows knitted in concern. "Senses?"

"Let's go with that," Peter replied, opening his locker.

"What happened at the Compound, dude?" Ned asked.

"What makes you think something happened?" Peter didn't spare him a glance as he opened his backpack to grab his anatomy textbook and put it back in his locker.

"Because if your senses are screwy without an episode then that means you're either horrible liar or you had a fight with someone."

Peter exchanged his anatomy textbook with his english textbook. "Ned, please don't make me talk about it."

"Too bad, because we tell each other everything," Ned gave him his 'tough luck' look. "Did you get into a fight with him?"

Surprisingly Peter didn't need to make Ned elaborate to know who his friend was referring to. "It was nothing, it was just Tony being a dick."

"Considering those fiery words that go against Peter's moral codes, I highly doubt it was nothing."

Peter sighed and rested his head against the door of his locker. "Okay, fine. Yeah, we had a fight."

Ned placed a hand on Peter's shoulder, "Come on, dude."

Peter deflated, "I'm..."

"Don't say sorry," Ned cut him off. "No offense, dude, but you really gotta stop apologizing for ever single thing. It's not healthy."

Peter cracked a small smile at that before he turned to look at his friend. "Tony stopped me from going on a mission with the team."

"Why did he do that?" Ned asked.

"I haven't even gone on a single mission yet," Peter said, careful to keep his voice low. "It's just... After everything that happened, he still treats me like I'm some irresponsible kid that he can't trust to look after themself."

"Even after going to space and fighting an alien?"

Peter looked around to see if anyone heard their conversation, and when he saw it was clear he turned back to his friend. "He doesn't even have the right anymore," Peter grumbled. "It's not like he's gone out of his way to even spend time with me since I've come back."

Ned's face softened at the true meaning behind Peter's words. "Dude, I highly doubt that."

"No, I'm tired of everyone trying to convince me otherwise," Peter shook his head adamantly. "He has his own family now, and I've just come to accept that I'm not a priority to him anymore. But he does not get to just lecture me whenever he finds it convenient to."

"There's got to be a misunderstanding," Ned protested.

"Whatever, dude, I'm over it," Peter slammed his locker and immediately regretted it when the loud sound made him cringe and he fell to his knees as he covered his ears.

He heard someone shout his name but the pain in his head was unbearable. It felt like every single one of his senses had lit a flame that sparked a wildfire through his entire body.

So much for not having an episode, Peter managed a single thought through the raging fire in his head.

A moment later the piercing sound of the hallway was muffled to a whisper. Then hands were on him and he was moving. Peter almost flailed at the sudden movement, his spider sense on high alert, but through the haziness in his brain he was able to make out the sound of Ned's frantic heartbeat and the smell of Harry's cologne. When he was sat down, Peter heard muffled voices talking to one another.

He slowly felt his senses coming down from its frenzied state he reached up to pull the headphones from his ears and he hesitatingly opened his eyes. Looking around, Peter saw that he was in the darkened auditorium, the only source of light being the single faint light from the windows of the hallway doors.

"What do you mean an episode?" Harry was whispering to Ned.

"Anxiety attacks," Ned lied easily.

"And you want us to call Tony Stark why?" Harry asked dubiously.

"Don't call Tony," Peter ran a shaky hand through his hair. 

Ned came to kneel beside him. "You're not staying today. Not after that."

"Don't call him," Peter repeated.

"He's your only other emergency contact, dude. I called you aunt, she can't skip out of work."

"Why is Tony Stark your emergency contact?" Harry sounded in awe.

"Harry," Peter shook his head, and immediately hissed in pain as his head regretted the movement.

"He's his intern," Ned said anyway.

"He's his what?" Harry demanded.

The noise made Peter whimper. Any other time he'd be embarrassed for making such noise, but at the moment Peter was in too much pain to care.

"Harry, please," Ned sounded on the verge of tears.

"Oh god, Pete, I'm so sorry," Harry immediately apologized.

"I'm calling Happy," Ned finally decided.

"Ned, no," Peter protested.

Harry glanced at the clock on the wall and he paled at what he saw. He hastily pulled his phone from his pocket and he said, "Ned, what time's the drill today?"

Ned paused, the phone to his ear. "After homeroom, why?"

Not a moment later the fire alarm blared to life and Peter let out an agonized scream and he gripped his aching head. He faintly heard Ned yell at Harry to catch him, but Peter was passed out before he could reach him.

***

When Peter came around, the first thing that he noticed was that everything was dead quiet.  The second thing that he noticed was that he was laying on a surface that was far more comfier than anything that he had back in Queens.

Compound, Peter sunk back into the mattress. 

Everything that happened came back like a slap to the face. Peter felt absolutely humiliated at is breakdown in the hallway and then passing out in front of Ned and Harry.

Harry! Peter's eyes flew open and he sat up. Harry had been there when Peter's senses wrecked havoc on his body. How was he supposed to explain something like that to someone who most likely will call him on his bullshit?

Right now you have bigger problems to worry about, Peter reminded himself as he closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths to calm himself.

His senses were still sensitive, but they were tolerable. It made him wonder how long he had been there if he felt back to normal. Or, well... if you consider it normal for him having a constant pit in his stomach from the lingering sense of his spider sense. What wasn't ideal was the fact that he was in the compound and therefore there was little doubt that Ned had told Tony what had happened.

Don't lie to yourself, Peter, you hope he knows, The traitorous voice inside Peter's head said. It's pathetic, you have to grow up.

"But I don't want to," Peter said aloud. He genuinely didn't want to think about the possibility that Tony knew and didn't care.

Glancing over to the nightstand, Peter saw that his Stark Phone was charging with a note resting just underneath the device. Frowning, Peter reached over and plucked up the folded note and opened it, the familiar script making his heart skip a beat.

Hey, Kid, had to bounce to an SI meeting that Pepper essentially dragged me to. I told May that you were spending the night, but if you feel steady enough you don't have to stay if you don't want to. Don't try to sneak out, Natasha's on Spider patrol. I didn't ask her to do it, but I swear you got the entire team wrapped around your finger. Call me when you wake up.

Peter read the note twice before he put it back down on the nightstand and buried his face in his hands. He was torn between feeling like he wanted to break down and jumping for joy. Alex was right, he had tried so hard to be angry at Tony for what was happening between the two of them because it was easier to do that than just break down the wall of everything that he had been holding back.

I just don't want to be angry anymore. I don't want to be sad anymore, Peter thought.

Peter heard the faint buzz of his Stark Phone and he grabbed it. When he turned it on, he saw a message notification from Alex.

It's Family Night at football this Friday. I know Tony invited you upstate, but I just wanted to extend the invite. You're family to.

Peter felt a weight lifted off his chest at the invitation. It made him smile that Alex thought of him. Looking at the time, Peter saw that it was just past seven o'clock and he realized he had been out for close to ten hours. He had to admit that he was glad that he had slept through the brunt of his sensory overload, it was always a nice change when compared to the agonizing hours of throwing up and withering in pain. What he couldn't ignore though, was the familiar pang of hunger that was growing with every passing second.

Setting down his phone, Peter maneuvered himself so that he could throw his legs over the side of the bed. Just as he pushed himself to his feet, a wave of vertigo slapped him in the face and he lowered himself back down on the bed.

"Shouldn't be surprised," Peter grumbled. "One more way to show you're pathetically weak."

Peter knew that wasn't fair, but his metabolism drove him up the wall sometimes. It was true though, ten hours and no food was a red flag.

"Hey, FRIDAY?" Peter called out.

"Good evening, Peter," FRIDAY responded.

"Is there anyone in the compound at the moment?" Peter asked.

"Captain Rogers, Mr. Barnes and Mr. Wilson are the only ones present at the moment. Captain Rogers is in his room and Mr. Barnes and Mr. Wilson are currently in the kitchen."

Peter bit his lip, he didn't want to ask for help, but at least there was one person here who wouldn't tease him for it.

"Can you ask Captain Rogers if he'd able to come to my room?"

"Of course," FRIDAY agreed.

"Thank you," Peter replied appreciatively and closed his eyes as his vision swam. It wasn't the type of vertigo where he was in danger of passing out, but it was the type of vertigo that would land him on his ass if he wasn't careful enough.

A quiet knock sounded at the door and Peter called out, "Come in."

The door opened enough to let minimal light in and Steve ducked into the room before quietly closing the door behind him.

"Hey, Pete, FRIDAY said you asked for me?" Steve came to sit beside him. "Do you need me to get you something?" Steve asked.

"You don't have to treat me like glass," Peter smiled ruefully. "I'm okay."

Steve gave him a sheepish look. "How're you feeling?"

"Better," Peter told him. "Just really hungry, but uh..."

Understanding flashed across Steve's face. "Metabolism?"

Peter just nodded.

"Got it," Steve stood up. "Can you stand or are you woozy?"

"Bit dizzy," Peter admitted.

Steve grimaced in sympathy. "FRIDAY, can you tell Bucky and Sam to heat up the leftovers?"

"Certainly, Captain Rogers," FRIDAY said.

Steve cringed at the name, "I told Tony so many times..." Steve shook off the thought before extending a hand to Peter. "Ready?"

Peter accepted the hand and as soon as his feet hit the ground, his knees buckled. Steve immediately caught him before he legs slammed into the tile floor. Peter didn't realize he was panting from the exertion of being upright until Steve's calming voice echoed in his ears. Steve had thrown one of Peter's arms over his shoulder and had another steady hand around his abdomen.

"This is so embarrassing," Peter croaked out.

"We'll go slow," Steve promised.

"Can you just put me out of my misery?" Peter asked instead.

"I could carry you, but I think we both know that'll just dig a deeper hole," Steve pointed out amusedly.

Peter's face heated up at the thought of being carried like a toddler. "Yeah, let's just walk."

"Are you good with light or do I need to have FRIDAY lower the lights?" Steve asked.

"I'm fine," Peter repeated. "Just really hungry."

Steve looked uncertain, but he just nodded, "Alright, then let's go."

The journey to the kitchen was torturously slow. Steve had been a really trooper with essentially dragging Peter to their destination. The super solider had kept small talk all the way there, but Peter's head was spinning too much for him to follow along. By the time they made it down to the kitchen, Peter was sweating and he felt incredibly faint. It didn't occur to him that he probably should've just asked FRIDAY to have either Bucky or Sam bring food to his room.

Bucky was rummaging in the fridge while Sam was leaning against the counter with a beer can in his hand.

Sam looked over at their approaching footsteps and frowned, "Wow, the kid looks like crap."

"Gee, thanks for the compliment," Peter managed to get out, but his voice was shaky.

"Bucky where's the food?" Steve asked as he sat Peter at the kitchen table.

"We ate all the leftovers," Bucky closed the fridge. "It was leftover night, Steve."

Steve's face crumpled at that, "Oh... I'll just make a batch of spaghetti."

"Steve, you don't have to, if you give me like three of those protein bars I'll be fine," Peter said.

Steve shot him a stern look. "I'm making you real food. I'll give you a few bars to tide you over."

Bucky walked over and threw three bars on the table, "Way ahead of you."

Peter opened the bar and fell into silence as he just sat there and ate. His eyes watched Steve as the blonde started putting together a giant serving of spaghetti. He felt guilty for making Steve wait on him, it shouldn't have to be like that. He knew that if the super solider knew he was thinking about it, the blonde would fondly call him an idiot before reminding him that he's a part of the team and therefore a part of the family. Sometimes Peter still wondered how he deserved everything they were willing to give a kid like him.

The chair beside him scratched backwards and Peter flinched in surprise.

"Whoa," Sam immediately stopped what he was doing. "It's just me. Sorry, kid."

"It's fine," Peter immediately reassured him, his vision already steadying after two protein bars. "Just startled me."

"How's the senses?" Bucky came to sit across from him.

"Better," Peter told them truthfully. "It no longer feels like my skull's gonna split in half so I guess that's something."

Bucky studied him carefully. "Still sensitive though?"

Peter blushed at how easy the winter solider was able to read him.

"Lay off him, Buck," Steve told him kindly. "He's had quite the day."

"We're not going to tease you about it," Sam said quietly. "I know I joke around a lot, but trust me, I wouldn't do that."

Peter felt warmth blossom in his chest. "Thanks."

It was silent for a moment as Pete opened his third protein bar. Even though it was silent, Peter could feel every single gaze on him and it was causing his sensitive sixth sense to reignite the spark of ache in his head.

"I'm not going to break," Peter said before he looked up. "I'm sorry you had to see that."

"That doesn't bother us, Pete," Bucky shook his head. "We were just worried."

That made Peter feel guilty, "But I didn't ask for that."

"You don't have to ask for it," Sam fiddled with his beer can. "Jesus, kid, I mean we care and we can't help it."

"It's just embarrassing when it happens," Peter admitted.

"Is it always this bad?" Sam wondered.

Peter shook his head. "Usually I can tell when it's coming on. This one just kinda came out of nowhere."

Steve set down a bowl of spaghetti in front of him before coming to sit next to him. "Tony got that call from Happy when he was here at the compound."

Peter's ears picked up on that, but he didn't meet Steve's gaze and instead shoved a fork full of spaghetti in his mouth.

"He almost flew out in his armor to come get you, but Happy convinced him not to. I guess he waited until he had you in the car before he called him." Steve continued.

"Why are you telling me this?" Peter looked up to him, his expression pained.

"He carried you to your room," Bucky ignored Peter's question. "Didn't leave your side until Pepper dragged him out of the room by his ear. He had a vital meeting that he couldn't miss, and he tried. Pepper felt awful, she didn't want to take him away."

"When?" Peter croaked out, feeling his throat tighten.

"About an hour before you woke up," Steve said. "He said he left you a note."

Peter cleared his throat in an attempt to get rid of the lump that resided there. He wasn't going to cry, not in front of three superheroes.

They don't need to see how broken you are, Peter chided himself.

"Peter," Sam's voice made him look up to meet his gaze. "I don't know what's going on between you and Tony, but I think I have a good idea. Tony's the guy who tries to hide the heart on his sleeve but he's too kind hearted and it still shows."

"Sam's right," Steve jumped in. "Even before everything, before the Snap, he was awful at communicating. That's one thing that never changed, but it doesn't mean he doesn't care."

"Please stop," Peter pleaded hoarsely.

"I have a younger sibling," Sam jumped in. "Her name's Sarah."

"You do?" Peter asked.

"I remember when I was younger I was angry at my parents because it felt like they were replacing me," Sam told him candidly. "I didn't understand why they did it, and for the longest time I thought they didn't care about me anymore. It was hard to ignore the sparse goodnights and the sparse 'I love you's. I mean we had an eight year gap between the two of us, it was hard not to notice."

Peter's chest felt tight. "What happened?" 

"I was babysitting Sarah one day while my parents were fishing. My mother was attending to clients and my father was out on the boat fishing. I went upstairs to grab something, I don't even remember what anymore, but I left three year old Sarah downstairs by herself for just a second. I didn't even spare a thought about it, it was one of those things where I didn't realize how bad of an idea that was. I left the damn stove on, I was cooking us lunch. One second she was fine, and the next I heard her scream at the top of her lungs. It scared the hell out of me and I just sprinted. Except, I slipped at the top of the steps and I just fell. Woke up in the hospital the next day to my parents cradling Sarah while sitting on my bedside."

"Were they mad?"

Sam shook his head, "They were scared. It was then that I saw that they never stopped caring. Just because someone else comes into the picture, it doesn't mean you're left in the dust."

"But that's different," Peter began playing with his half eaten bowl of spaghetti. "They're your actual parents."

Sam sighed, "Look, kid, I know he's not your biological father. And I know he isn't your uncle that Tony and your aunt have raved about. All things considered though, Tony would do anything to keep you safe and do even more to make you happy."

"As much as he gets on my nerves, Sam's right," Bucky agreed.

"Tony will never be perfect," Steve amends. "But you can't deny he cares for you a great deal. You were his guiding light whenever things got dark. Morgan and Pepper were a small sliver of that, but Tony wouldn't be who he was today without you."

"Why are you telling me this?" Peter repeated, his voice completely wrecked.

"You matter, Pete," Steve told him earnestly. "I can't imagine how hard it's been to come back five years later. I can't put myself in your shoes, but what we all can do is be there when you need someone the most."

Don't cry, Peter fought. Don't do it. 

His hands began to shake and he set down his fork. "I'm sorry," He said before he bolted out of his seat, stumbling a bit as he sprinted up the stairs. 

He managed to make it into his adjoined bathroom before he bent over the sink and threw up. His entire body shook from the force of his heaving and when his stomach calmed down, he sank to the bathroom floor and cried.

Chapter Text

Peter must've stayed on the bathroom floor for at least an hour before the sound of footsteps in the hallway caught his attention. From the uneven gait and the two distinct heartbeats, Peter knew exactly who was walking towards his room. One of the heartbeats was the sound the Peter secretly craved to hear more often than he had the chance to nowadays. No matter how hurt or angry Peter might've been, the sound of Tony's heartbeat always brought him a sense of security. It made him feel like there was nothing that could knock him down whenever it was present.

The heartbeat sounding in his ears wasn't enough to stop him from pulling his knees further into his chest so he could bury his face into them. The tears have long since faded away, but the sticky remains of tear tracks made his senses cringe every time he sniffled. The mini breakdown brought back a resounding headache, but Peter found no energy to care at that point. The dam that had pushed back so many negative emotions and feelings had broken, and every single thing that he had been holding back just broke through.

He had tried so hard to be happy for everyone around him. May had been so thrilled to have a second chance with him that Peter didn't want to steal any joy from her. Peter had put May through five years of living hell all because he had died on a planet in space. Logically Peter knew that it hadn't been his fault, but the fact that May had been left alone to face the grief of losing him... it was hard for Peter not to blame himself. May had felt that way because of him. Also, May had found the perfect happy family with George and Alex, and the last thing that anyone had needed was for Peter's rocky mental state to bring it down.

Ned, the one person who suffered just as much as Peter ever since half of the universe returned from being dusted. Ned's family had survived while he had perished and that five year gap had taken a toll on the other boy. Peter had tried so hard to pull himself together for the sake of comforting his best friend that he had continued to bury himself further and further into a void that he couldn't escape from.

Then there was Tony and that was where everything just fell apart. Peter wasn't sure when he had started to see Tony as a father figure rather than a mentor. At first, when Tony had first recruited him, Peter had been unabashedly starstruck to be working alongside the famous Iron Man. After Berlin, Peter had been so set on impressing the older man, keen to prove to Tony that Peter was more than just a random kid from Queens. After the Vulture incident, Tony had started inviting Peter over for lab days once a week and they just grew closer. Once a week turned into twice a week and then into three times a week. Eventually, Peter got used to spending the weekends over at the Compound.

It wasn't just the lab days that Peter had looked forward to, but it was also spending time with Tony. They would make nerdy science jokes to one another until they got too cringey and Peter bent over laughing. Peter would ramble on and on about what was happening at his school, or the random events that happened whenever he patrolled. What was nice though, was that Tony never seemed to mind him talking his ear off, and the billionaire might've acted like his pop culture references were annoying, but Peter never missed the amused glint in his eyes.

When Peter came back and found out that Tony didn't even live at the compound anymore, it had been a small little rough patch in the road. Then Peter found out about Morgan and it felt like a slap to the face, or better yet, a kick to reality. Suddenly there were no more lab days after school or on the weekends because Tony Stark just wasn't there anymore. He did everything from his cabin, and if things were vital then he'd stop by the compound and that was it. There were no more text messages between the two of them because Tony never had a reason to call him over to the lab anymore. And when he did, it was canceled more often than not because of Morgan or because of Pepper.

Peter had tried so hard to convince himself that he was furious with Tony for kicking him to the curb, but the truth was that Peter missed him more than anything in the world. Tony had been there when shit hit the fan. He had been there when Peter had faded away. He had been the last person that Peter had held before he crumpled to ash.

Peter shuddered at the memory of his body falling apart. It wasn't that it had been painful because it hadn't been. It was so disorienting to feel every atom in his body falling apart with no way to stop it. If Peter had been honest with himself, it had made it even more traumatizing because it had felt like he was being dragged under water to his doom and there was no one to save him from drowning.

Muffled voices were talking to one another in the hallway, but Peter just blocked out the noise and curled further into himself. A knock sounded on his door, and Peter just bit his lip. He knew he could escape if he wanted to, but Peter just didn't have the energy anymore. His bedroom door creeped open and Peter heard the familiar footsteps approach where he was sitting with his back to the wall across from the sink. He didn't dare look up at the person in front of him, and instead just sat there with his knees curled to his chest and his face buried safely from view.

"Oh, kid," Tony's sad voice made Peter curl impossibly tighter into a human pretzel.

A weight came to settle beside him and a hand rested above his shoulder before slowly coming to rest on the back of his neck. Peter remembered he once told Tony that a pressure on the back of his neck was one of his grounding techniques. When he was younger, Uncle Ben used to always tug him close with a firm comforting pressure on his neck whenever he had a nightmare about his parents. It helped ground him in the present because it felt like someone was there and would never let him slip into the grips of the dark abyss.

"I know I'm not the best at these talks, but you gotta tell me what's going on," Tony's quiet voice was a mix between stern and gentle.

Peter bit his lip, his head still buried in the security of his his legs.

Tony sighed, the grip on the back of his neck tightened slightly, but not in a painful manner. Peter couldn't help but push back into the grip, letting it remind him that he was safe.

Finally, Peter just deflated. "I'm sorry," He croaked, his voice hoarse in a way that made his throat ache.

"You don't have to apologize," Tony's soft voice was pulling on the last of Peter's emotional control. "Not for this."

Peter was silent for a moment before saying, "I'm not okay."

"I know, Pete, I know."

"I tried so hard to be okay," Peter's breath hitched. "Why can't I be okay?"

Tony didn't say anything, but instead just pulled Peter towards him so that his upper half was curled against Tony's chest and Peter could tuck his head under the older man's chin. Tony's arms wrapped around him firmly, anchoring Peter to the present as if he was trying to ward off the negative thoughts that raged inside Peter's head.

"You're allowed to not be okay," Tony told him.

Peter just sniffled and let himself be held by the one person who he craved contact with the most ever since he came back. The silence between the two of them wasn't uncomfortable, and Peter didn't know if he was thankful that Tony wasn't pushing his fresh wounds or if he wished Tony would say anything to take the pain away. In the end he settled on the former because he knew that there was nothing anyone could say to bring back his pre-snap self, no way for that happiness to just magically reappear.

When his eyes grew heavy, he was faintly aware of Tony shaking him gently.

"Come on, Pete, let's get you to bed," Tony coaxed him. When Peter didn't respond, Tony sighed in defeat. "I'm getting too old for this."

Trapped between the realm of consciousness and dreams, Peter felt himself become airborne before being carefully laid down on a much comfier surface. A weight settled down to his left and a hand ran through his hair. Just as the person was about to leave, Peter felt himself reach out and grab Tony's arm. In his half asleep daze, the last thing he wanted was for him to be alone.

"Come on, kid, you gotta let go," Tony tried to pry Peter's fingers off of him.

Peter knew he should've let go, but he was too tired to put energy into anything. Plus, the sound of Tony's heartbeat was enough for him to slip under waves of unconsciousness. Just before he drifted off, he was faintly aware of someone laying beside him.

***

The first thing Peter realized when he woke up was that there was sunlight streaming through his bedroom windows, and it was way too bright for it to be early in the morning. The second thing that he realized was that he felt refreshed, and that must've meant he slept straight through the night. The third thing he realized was that he was completely alone.

Over the course of the next few moments the events from last night washed over him like a tidal wave. Almost immediately a wave of embarrassment washed over him. He had broken down in front of Sam, Steve and Bucky, the three people who were doing their best to help him feel better. On top of all that, he had a sensory overload yesterday in front of Ned and Harry, one of which had no idea what had been happening. To put the cherry on top, Peter showed his true colors and revealed how broken he truly was on the inside.

At least it's out in the open, Peter blinked as he stared at the ceiling. I just don't know if that's a good thing or bad thing. 

Reaching out to the side, Peter grabbed his phone off of the nightstand and flicked it on. Right away, he saw missed calls from Ned, Harry, Alex and May, followed by several worried text messages. The next thing that he noticed was that it was well into the afternoon, and Peter was pleasantly surprised that he had slept that long, especially with no hint of a nightmare.

Pressing on his aunt's contact, Peter dialed her number and brought the phone to his ear.

"Peter," She answered gleefully. 

Peter smiled slightly at just hearing his aunt's soothing voice, "Hey, Aunt May."

"How are you feeling? Tony said you had a rough night."

"I slept through the night, so I guess that's something," Peter replied. "Can't remember the last time I slept over twelve hours without some sort of a nightmare."

"What about your senses?"

"They're better," Peter answered truthfully. "Guess I was overdue, huh?" The bitterness in his town made him cringe.

"I wouldn't say overdue," May protested. "They rarely came up unless something was going on."

Peter closed his eyes at May's knowing tone. "May..."

"I know I said I didn't want to push you," May began gently. "I've tried giving you space, I thought maybe you'd feel more comfortable coming to me when you were ready, but this has gone on way too long, Peter."

"I know."

"This isn't a conversation we should be having over the phone, but we really do need to sit down and talk about this. Just me and you, one on one."

"I think I'm ready," Peter admitted, but he still couldn't tell if he was trying to convince her or himself.

"We'll get through this, just like we always do, that I can promise you wholeheartedly."

Peter's heart warmed at that. Oddly enough, he believed her. "I love you, May."

"I love you too, sweetie," May returned fondly. "I have to run, but give me a buzz when you get home? I called you out of school for the day, and we can talk about tomorrow too later tonight."

"What did you say to George and Alex?" Peter wondered.

May paused for a moment before saying, "Alex was worried. He didn't press the issue, but he kept asking about you."

Peter bit his lip, "Do you think he knows something?"

"I don't know, sweetie, it's hard to tell with him," May said kindly. "He said he'd pick up your homework for you and asked if you could call him when school got out."

"What about George?" Peter asked again.

"I just told them that something happened and you were with Tony. I think they understand more than we think."

"Do you think I should tell them?"

"That's for you to decide, Peter. I don't want to push you in any direction you're not comfortable with. If you feel it right when the time does come, then maybe one day yes. Until then, you need to do what's best for you, even if that means holding it close to your chest. Everything else? You have to remember not to shut everyone out again, you did that once before and it didn't go very well for either of us."

Peter's heart ached at the implication of his uncle's death. "His anniversary's next week."

May sighed, "Crappy timing, right?"

"I still miss him so much," Peter's eyes stung at that admission.

"I miss him too, and that's never going to change," May's sympathetic tone was oddly soothing. "I really need to go, but I'll give you a call when my shift ends, alright?"

"Okay," Peter agreed.

"Take it easy today, and hopefully I'll see you tonight?"

"I'll be home," Peter promised. "Bye, May."

May hung up and Peter closed his eyes for a moment before scrolling through some of the missed messages.

N: How are you doing?

N: Happy said you were out of it when he dropped you off. I gave Alex your classwork, I keep forgetting you're technically not an only child anymore.

N: Are you mad? I didn't mean to tell Harry about the Stark Internship.

N: Are you still out of it? It's never been this bad before.

Peter saw that the last text was sent an hour ago and Peter felt guilty for leaving his friend unread for so long.

P: Thanks for the school stuff.

P: I'm fine. Last night was rough.

P: My ego's long gone,  but at least I'm alive.

He read Harry's messages next.

H: Are you okay? 

H: What's going on? Ned mentioned something about anxiety attacks?

H: Also what the hell? You're Tony Stark intern? How could you possibly withhold such epic information?

H: You're not at school today and Ned's as jittery as a jitterbug. He keeps mentioning that it's never been this bad before. Do we need to be worried?

H: I don't wanna be pushy, and I don't want to stick my nose where it isn't welcome. I'm worried, dude, please answer us.

Peter breathed a sigh of relief when he realized that Ned saved his ass with that reason for his freakout at school. Ned wasn't entirely wrong, his sensory overloads are essentially anxiety attacks on steroids.

P: I'm really sorry, it's been a rough twenty four hours. I'm okay, sometimes the episodes just drain all of my energy.

P: I'll explain everything, I didn't mean to worry you.

Then there was Alex.

A: What happened? People keep saying you collapsed in the hallway this morning.

A: Where are you? What's going on?

A: Ned said Tony's driver picked you up from school?

A: May called me and said you're okay. I don't know what's going on, but just know I'm here if you need me.

A: Ned gave me your school stuff. Get some rest and take it easy. Dad also wants to send his well wishes.

Peter felt absolutely awful to make Alex panic over his wellbeing. He hated lying to his face too, especially when Alex had been with him every step of the way since he's been back.

P: I'm okay. Give me a call when school gets out.

Peter didn't know what else to say so he just sent the text and put his phone down. Part of him wanted to suit up and escape the inevitable confrontation that he would find himself in if he were to leave the safety of his room. It was one thing to have everything out in the open, but having to face the aftermath was more intimidating than Peter wanted to admit. He wasn't overly fond of having people see him crumbling under weight of the new world, he was a superhero and superheroes were supposed to be strong.

You know that's a lie, The traitorous part of Peter's brain chimed in. Heroes have their own baggage on their shoulders. No need to add yours just because you're too weak to handle it.

Peter would be lying to himself if he didn't admit that a small weight had been lifted off his chest. It had been so hard trying to keep everything he had been feeling inside. He had tried so hard to be the happy Peter Parker that everyone expected him to be. He had tried so hard to be appreciative of the second chance he had been given.

Just because you try doesn't mean you'll always succeed. Peter sat up and ran a hand through his hair.

The deciding factor of Peter's mental debate of whether to leave or stay was his stomach growling. The sound was a mere reminder of Peter not having a solid meal in over twenty four hours. The breakfast he had before his episode was left half eaten and then the dinner he had tried to eat last night had been brought back up due to unwanted memories and thoughts clouding his mind.

Maybe if I get lucky I can get in and out with no one noticing. Peter sighed at that. That's wishful thinking.

Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, Peter slowly got to his feet, welcoming the cool sensation form the tile floors. Walking over to the dresser of his bedroom, Peter found a pair of  spare charcoal grey sweatpants and a navy blue long sleeve shirt. After pulling on the articles of clothing, Peter left the safe haven of his bedroom and began his journey towards the kitchen. Every step felt like the hallway was getting longer and longer, as if he was destined to walk for the rest of eternity. A pit of dread was resting in his stomach and it made his appetite fade away, but Peter knew he was going to have to force down something if he wanted to avoid a dizzy spell later on.

He knew that he was being dramatic, there really was no reason to be so worked up about anything. His heart was telling him that none of the Avengers would judge him for falling against the weight of trying to cope with his five year gap, but his brain was telling him that he was selfish for being so broken. He was selfish to take his second chance at life for granted. That selfishness was nothing but a burden to everyone else who had to deal with his depressed ass.

Peter decided to take the stairs rather than the elevator in a further attempt to avoid bumping into anyone. If he had taken the elevator he would've had to pass through the living area where he knew at least one of the Avengers were hanging out. By taking the stairs, he would walk straight into the kitchen with no detours.

However, when he emerged at the bottom of the stairs, he saw that Steve was at the kitchen table, drinking from a coffee mug while reading something on a tablet.

Why did it have to be the super solider? Peter mentally cursed as Steve's head snapped up at Peter's approaching footsteps.

Steve looked tired, and Peter wondered if he had played a part in that. He decided not to dive too much into that thought because it made him feel more guilty than he already did.

"I'd say good morning, but I guess it's not really morning," Steve broke the silence. 

Peter could tell the older man was trying to keep his concern off his face, but he failed miserably.  "I guess it's not." He walked over to the kitchen and opened up the cabinet where his special protein bars were.

"There's leftover pancakes and waffles in the fridge if you wanted that instead," Steve chimed in.

Peter's shoulders stiffened at that, but the mention of real food sparked his waning appetite. Closing the cabinet, Peter walked over to the freezer and saw that there was a plate of pancakes and waffles that seemed to have been made for him.

"Did you put a plate together?" Peter was oddly touched.

When Peter glanced over at the super solider, he saw a blush spread across his face. "Figured you needed all the fuel you could get."

Peter was speechless, "Thank you." He walked over and put the plate in the microwave to heat it up.

"How are you feeling?" Steve broke the awkward silence. "I mean your senses. Coming from experience, I know the cliche question doesn't necessarily help with the other stuff."

"The senses are fine," Peter told him. He bit his lip before he said, "Thank you, for looking after me yesterday, you didn't have to do that."

"Peter..." Steve's rueful voice made Peter turn around to look at him. "You have to know that we don't mind, right?"

Peter's gaze dropped to his feet and that must have given the blonde his answer.

"I get them too sometimes," Steve tried a different approach. "I know what it's like for your senses to overwhelm you to the point where it's too painful to even consider living. I also know what it's like to think of it as a weakness, but I can tell you that it's not. Especially if you have a team who's willing to show you otherwise."

The microwave beeped and Peter turned back around, eager for a reason to break visual contact with Steve.

He heart Steve sigh remorsefully. "All of our powers come at a price, there's no way around it. There are days where we can live and smile and feel like we're on top of the world. Then there are days that really kick us to the curb and it's a reality check. You can't stay there for long, Pete, not if you want to get dragged too far where you can't find your way back to the surface."

"Why do I have a feeling we're not just talking about our enhanced senses anymore?" Peter asked quietly.

Steve was silent for a moment before he said, "You're allowed to not be okay."

Peter took the plate from the microwave and placed it down a little too harshly on the counter. This was the exact conversation he wanted to avoid.

"I won't dig too deep, not yet," Steve continued. "I just wanted to let you know I'm here if you ever needed me. No questions asked."

"Why?" Peter asked, feeling his hands start to shake again.

"Because believe it or not, I genuinely do care about you. Not just as Spider-Man, but as Peter Parker too." The chair scratched against the floor as Steve stood up. "Tony's downstairs in his workshop. He wants to speak with you before you leave."

"I don't know if I want to," Peter confessed.

"Trust me, kid, you really should."  Those were the last words he heard before Steve's footsteps faded away, leaving Peter alone with a stray tear falling down his face.

Chapter Text

Peter was ashamed to admit it, but he almost bolted after Steve had left him alone in the kitchen. He felt like a scared animal who had been backed into the corner, anxious for the perfect opening for him to escape. So what exactly had kept him from doing so? Well, that was a mystery even to him. When he tried to move, it felt like his feet were stuck in molasses, keeping him glued to the floor.

No, that's a lie, A small voice echoed in Peter's head. You know exactly why you can't bring yourself to leave.

When Peter had gotten his emotions under control, he managed to scarf down the plate of breakfast in front of him. That in itself had been a chore, the entire platter tasted like ash in his mouth and it took his entire willpower to not upchuck everything he had just eaten. He needed fuel in his system, especially since the last day and a half wrecked havoc on his enhanced metabolism.

Soon enough, Peter found himself carrying a mug of coffee down to the workshop, the numbers on the elevator making the pit of dread in his stomach grow as they descended. He knew he shouldn't be such a baby about it, part of him wondered if he'd still be able to brush it off like nothing was wrong and that he was fine. Even then, Peter knew that was wishful thinking. If Steve told Tony everything that had happened last night, then Peter knew Tony would be very adamant about talking to him.

When the doors opened, the sound of AC/DC washed over him as the music blared through the workshop's surround sound system. Tony was hunched over his workbench, tinkering with Sam's wing suit and Peter wondered if Sam's suit had gotten damaged when they had been called to battle.

"FRIDAY?" Peter called out. "Can you turn the music down?"

Peter didn't hear her respond, but the music's volume reduced to a tolerable level. He could tell the exact moment that Tony returned to reality because he huffed in disapproval.

"Pep, I know I said I'd be home last night..." Tony turned around, but froze when he saw who was standing behind him. His hair was disheveled and there were dark bags that indicated the billionaire's lack of sleep. He was dressed in a black tank top and a pair of loose black joggers, the makeshift arc reactor that housed his nanotech suit was resting in the middle of his chest. "You're not Pepper."

Peter just held out the coffee mug sheepishly, "I brought a peace offering."

Tony reached out and accepted the mug without hesitation. 

See, Pete, if he still takes things from you then that means that hope isn't fully lost, right? 

The older man took a gulp of the hot fluid and Peter winced in sympathy at the billionaire who had just undoubtedly singed his tastebuds. "Now that tastes good." He set the mug down. "Pepper put me on a coffee ban awhile back, said it was setting a bad example for our daughter."

"How far back is awhile back?" Peter wondered curiously.

"Well she placed it about a year ago, but I mean, did anyone really expect me to stop?" Tony shrugged, turning back around and picking up a screw driver. "Wanna give me a hand?"

Peter's heart skipped a beat at that, "Wait, seriously?"

Tony just gave him a leveled stare before taking a step back, "Come here."

Peter walked up to look down at the suit and frowned, "What am I looking at?"

"Falcon took a hit from a EMP during our last battle and now his wings aren't contracting when he needs them," Tony briefed him.

Peter hummed thoughtfully as he glanced down at the interior of Sam's wing pack, eyes skimming over the circuits. "If the wings aren't contracting it either means the wires somehow got crossed or the entire frame got short circuited beyond repair."

"Yet when FRIDAY scanned the damage the entire hardware was in tact with no issue," Tony added.

Peter frowned in confusion at that before he managed to see something. "Wait, hand me those tweezers." Peter outstretched his hand and Tony placed the small tool in his hand. A moment later, Peter pulled out a small little device that had been shaped like a pumpkin. It was small enough to rest on his finger and thin enough to easily miss it, he had a feeling his senses were the reason he was able to find anything at all.

Tony let out an impressed whistle.

"They bugged the suit," Peter voiced aloud. "Somehow the EMP blast must've allowed the attacker to slip something into Sam's suit so he couldn't contract the wings." Peter looked up at Tony, "How did FRIDAY miss that?"

Tony also looked troubled at the thought, "I don't know." He took the device from Peter and studied it. "I've never even seen anything like this before. FRIDAY?"

"I'm sorry, Boss, I can't find anything in my records," FRIDAY announced. "Whatever it is must've been able to bypass my diagnostic scan."

"Maybe whoever did it didn't want you to know," Peter guessed. "That's why everything else seemed fine. Did you find out who you were fighting?"

"It was just a bunch of androids," Tony shook his head, evidently bemused. "When we got there we couldn't find the source of who was controlling them."

The pit in Peter's stomach intensified. "I don't think I like that."

Tony also looked unsettled, still eyeing the tiny device. "Yeah, me neither."

"Were you okay?" Peter glanced over at his mentor.

"Why wouldn't I be okay?" Tony set down the device and grabbed his coffee mug.

"You said that Sam was hit with an EMP blast," Peter said. "He's not the only one with a flying suit."

Tony took a sip of his coffee, "I wasn't hit."

Peter studied the older man for a moment, trying to detect any lie in his words, but when Peter didn't find any, he just let it slide. "When's the last time you slept?"

Tony raised an eyebrow in his direction. "Shouldn't I be the one to ask you how you're doing?" 

Peter felt his lips quirk up into a small brief smile. "Figured it'd be rhetorical if you did."

Tony's face fell at that, "I don't know what to do here, kid."

"I'm not expecting anything," Peter shook his head, pulling out Tony's workbench stool so he could sit down. "I haven't expected anything in awhile."

Tony looked down at his feet, and Peter could've sworn he saw a hint of shame in the older man's features. "Guess my ability for pissing people off never changed in those five years."

Peter flinched at the older man's self-deprecating tone. "Don't do that to yourself, you know I hate it when you do that."

"There's no justification here, you of all people should know that."

Peter's shoulders slumped at that, "I didn't come down here to yell at you."

"Kind of feels like you should," Tony admitted, and Peter was blown away at the genuine tone in the billionaire's voice. "I screwed the pooch this time, Pete."

Peter wanted to reassure Tony that it wasn't his fault that Peter was broken, but he couldn't make himself to do it. "I didn't want anyone to know."

"You really think that makes me feel better? I used to be able to read you like a book, I was able to stop you before you even knew what mess you were getting yourself into."

"No, Tony, not always," Peter amended.

Tony looked offended at that, "Okay, but most of the time right?"

"You're not the first person to tell me I was practically an open book," Peter cringed when the words tasted like ash in his mouth.

Tony observed his behavior and Peter essentially saw the light bulb go off in his head. "You never told us because you wanted to be him. The person you were before the Snap."

Peter felt his stomach twist at that. "What's the point of trying to be a ghost? The old Peter Parker..."

"The old Peter Parker and the this Peter Parker are still one in the same," Tony told him. "It doesn't matter who you become, you're still always going to be you."

"That's not the point..."

"Then what is, kid?" Tony cut him off kindly.

Here we go, Peter gave himself a pep talk, but it was unconvincing even for him. "I feel like I should be happy because everyone expects me to be happy."

"Where the hell did you get that idea?"

"You don't have to sound so confused, I know you expect it too," Peter looked at his hands which were resting in his lap. "I came back five years later and people just keep looking to me like they think I'm still this innocent rambling kid who never knew when to shut up. The kid who always smiled even when the world goes to shit."

"You can't compare these two things," Tony protested. "You've been through hell and back and you're not even of age yet."

"You're still hung up about the fact that you still see me as a kid?" Peter narrowed his eyes.

"I know you hate it when I say it, but you are a kid," Tony emphasized. "Dammit, Peter, there are times where I wish I didn't bring you into all of this, but I can't even think about it because I know you'd have just..." Tony shook his head, furiously blinking as if he was trying to keep the tears at bay.

"I could yell at you for that," Peter admitted. "I could find a million ways to argue that."

"But you don't want to fight about it," Tony closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths.

"I'm just so tired all the time," Peter's eyes finally locked gazes with Tony's. "I miss everything that I used to have."

"What do you mean used to?"

"Nothing's been right since I came back," Peter shrunk in on himself. "And I've tried to deal with the changes, I swear I have, but I feel like I'm drowning and no one is there to help me."

"You never..." Tony began but quickly trailed off and sighed. "'Course you wouldn't."

"I wanted to hate you," Peter revealed, and he didn't miss the way hurt flashed across Tony's face. "I came back to a world that moved on while I crumpled to dust. It's my fault too, I just expected everything to be the same, you know? It started off with the small things, like finding out you didn't live at the compound anymore and then you were married to Pepper. Which, I mean, I'm so happy for you, I know how much you've been through, Tony, I would never hold that against you. It just still hurt, and I hated that it hurt because it shouldn't hurt. Then there was Morgan and I just..."

"You said she scared you," Tony realized. "Why?"

"She's just a reminder of what I can never have." Peter confessed quietly. He expected a weight to be lifted off his chest as soon as the words left his mouth, but his stomach knotted instead. "Which I know is stupid because I shouldn't think like that, I don't have the right to even think that. I knew what I was getting myself into, and I told myself I wouldn't..."

"Peter," Tony came up to place his hands on his shoulders.

Peter bit his lip to stop his rambling, hating himself when he felt more tears form in his eyes. Way to be a baby, Peter, you're so pathetically weak.

"Kid, you gotta look at me," Tony squeezed his shoulders.

Peter didn't realize he was hyperventilating until one of Tony's hands migrated to cup the back of his neck. Closing his eyes, Peter took a few deep breaths in an effort to alleviate the ache in his chest.

"I owe you more than just an apology," Tony told him, his voice quiet and soothing.

"No," Peter shook his head.

"Yes," Tony interjected.

"Since when does Tony Stark apologize?" 

Tony flinched at that and Peter's heart broke. "I'm sorry, that was mean. I don't know why I said that."

"You're not wrong, that's the problem," Tony stepped away and Peter was scared he was going to leave. Instead, Tony grabbed another stool and pulled it so he was sitting in front of him. "I don't do well with change."

"I've noticed."

"It was one thing that always drove Pepper crazy," Tony continued. "It was one of the reasons outside of Iron Man that we took so many breaks. Before her, I had one constant after all the shit I had gone through and that was Iron Man. So I just got caught up in routines and it kind of helped keep everything else at bay."

"Humans are just creatures of habit," Peter interjected.

"That's not what I'm getting at here. When you were gone I didn't get a reprieve. Pepper had been pregnant with Morgan before our fight in space, and I didn't even know how to cope with having a kid when..." Tony's voice broke. "I was always scared of the idea of being... I never had a good relationship with my father. All I knew about being a parent was from him and all I was to him was his greatest creation."

"And you still think you're him?" Peter exclaimed. "You're not your father, Tony."

"It's hard to think that when you grew up to a world comparing the two of you," Tony told him bitterly. "But that's not the point I'm trying to make. I'm not trying to justify anything..."

"You were scared of getting close to me because you didn't want to do to me what he did to you."

"Turns out I did anyway by keeping you at arms length," Tony's eyes grew haunted.

"People do weird things when they think a person they care about is slipping through their fingers," Peter echoed.

Tony hands began to shake and he clenched his fists in an effort to stop them. "I should've seen how much you were hurting."

"I don't blame you for how broken I am," Peter told him truthfully. "I blame the world being cruel enough to bring us back to a place where people moved on."

Tony's eyebrows furrowed at that. "I do have to say that cynicism doesn't suit you at all."

"There's a lot of things that don't suit me nowadays," Peter shrugged.

"I know you don't believe me, but I do care about you, kid." Tony reached over to place his hands on Peter's knees. "I've got a messed up way of showing it, but I promise to try and be better."

"It's not that I don't believe you,"  Peter shook his head. "It's just that I don't really believe in anything right now."

Tony was quiet for a moment before he finally said, "That used to be me, you know."

"Tony..." Peter wasn't sure if he wanted to hear it.

"No, I'm serious, after I came back from space that was me."

"But you had Pepper and the original Avengers," Peter disagreed.

"But none of them were you," Tony corrected him.

"I don't know why you want to put me on some sort of pedestal. I'm not that special."

"How are you not special? It's not every day you see a kid with a bright mind that can crawl up walls or shoot spider webs from their wrist."

"But that's Spider-Man, you know that better than anyone. It's not the same."

"Spider-Man is nobody without Peter Parker, and not just literally," Tony insisted. "You're not expendable."

"That doesn't make me someone to worship."

"You were the person who taught me how to be a better parent."

Peter shook his head in denial, "I drove you up the wall. Figured it'd be a breath of fresh air to get rid of me."

"You are not expendable, kid," Tony repeated. "Look, I can't compare experiences, and I'm not going to because it's just going to demean you of what you're going through. What I'm trying to say is that you got a whole group of people who are willing to prove that you matter if you give them a chance."

Peter stared into Tony's eyes, desperate to find something that would determine if what Tony was saying was either true or a lie to make him feel better. When he didn't find anything to prove it a lie, the knot in his stomach loosened a slight margin.

"The invitation for coming over this weekend is still open," Tony offered. "It really would mean the world if you'd at least consider."

Peter nodded. "Can we just not do this weekend? I guess it's family night at Midtown's home game."

A spark of joy ignited in Tony's eyes. "Alex?"

"I promised I'd go," Peter said.

"As you should," Tony reached over to pat his cheek. "What about next weekend?"

"Yeah," Peter agreed before he could stop himself. "Okay."

Tony patted his cheek once more, a smile on his face. "Okay." When he said it, it sounded like a promise.

***

When Peter approached his apartment complex in Queens, a wave of apprehension washed over him. None of his friends had called him back, and school had been out for a good three hours by then. Tony had seen how anxious Peter was to get home to sort out his mess, and had driven him back to his borough himself. Peter wasn't sure where he stood with the billionaire, but he let himself give into the small spark of hope that maybe it was a first step in the right direction. Right now, he had other things he had to deal with, specifically the questions that would be undoubtedly thrown his way from Alex and George, if the latter was home and not on shift.

Walking into the apartment, it was strangely quiet and he couldn't ignore an uneasy shiver climbing up his spine.

"Hello?" Peter called out.

When no one answered, the hair on the back of his neck stood to a point and it was like someone was ringing a warning bell in his mind.

What the hell is going on? Peter's eyes scanned the entry room of the apartment. He made his way throughout the rest of the apartment, canvasing the open areas as if he expected someone to jump out at him at any moment. When Peter reentered the common area, it was like a flare went off in his mind and he tensed up, ready to fight. Doing a complete circle around him, Peter couldn't see anyone or hear anything out of the ordinary.

Come on, Peter mused. I'm listening. What are you trying to tell me?

Peter closed his eyes and pulled on the feeling in his mind, trying to see if he could find the source of his paranoia. Turning around so he was facing the strongest pull, Peter opened his eyes to see the common room window ajar behind the fluttering curtain.

"No," Peter muttered under his breath and ran over to the open window. His first instinct was to call Tony or Happy, but Peter reeled in the thought. There had to be an explanation for this, right?

"Peter?"

Peter almost let his instincts get the better of him at the new voice that appeared behind him. Instead, he reeled in the action of webbing up the intruder and just spun around with a startled yelp.

Alex was standing there in a hoodie and a pair of gym shorts, a backpack slung over his shoulder as if he was leaving to go somewhere. Alex took in his expression, and his face paled. "What happened?"

Peter placed a hand on his racing heart, "You scared the hell out of me."

"You're looking like you saw a ghost," Alex approached him cautiously, as if trying not to spook him further.

Peter's head flickered between Alex and the window before he asked, "Did you open a window?"

Alex gave him a look of complete bewilderment, "What?"

"Did you open the window?" Peter repeated, his voice still quiet.

"I don't know, maybe?" Alex was still confused. "I'm not really worried about that right now. Peter, what the hell happened?"

I was hoping you could tell me why the one window of our four story apartment without a fire escape is open if you didn't do it, The paranoid part of Peter's brain filled in. Instead he just shook his head, Alex said he didn't know if he did. That still means he could have. "Nothing, sorry."

"It's not nothing if it made you look like you were going to hurl," Alex protested.

"I'm fine," Peter asserted. "I guess I'm just a little jumpy."

Alex, who had moved so he was less than a foot away from Peter, studied him for a moment. "Is this related to what happened at school?"

Okay, maybe a little too close to home. "Maybe? I don't know."

"Peter, it was just a window," Alex tried to reassure him. "Unless someone tossed your teddy bear out of a window when you were a kid, there's nothing to be worried about."

"Where's May?" Peter asked automatically.

Alex held his hands out in a calming manor. "She's working for another hour, I'm sure she'd pick up if you called her."

"What about George?"

"Dad's at work too, he got called in for a double shift," Alex told him patiently.

Safe and safe then, Peter took a deep breath.

"We're all okay, Peter," Alex told him truthfully. "You're okay, right?"

Peter took a few more deep breaths before nodding, suddenly feeling embarrassed. "Yeah."

Alex smiled at that, "Good. That's good."

Peter's fists uncurled, "I'm sorry, I don't... I guess I'm just a little jumpy still." Something still doesn't feel right.

Alex looked conflicted. "Maybe I shouldn't go to practice tonight."

Wednesday night... Football practice, Peter's heart broke. "No, no, it's fine. I'm okay."

"You don't look the part, Pete," Alex shook his head. "One practice won't hurt."

"No," Peter adamantly shook his head. "May'll be home in an hour."

"I don't want to leave you alone when you're obviously still terrified," Alex protested.

That caused Peter's heart to break further. Way to go, Pete. "You don't need to stay, Alex. Please. Not because of this. That doesn't usually happen."

Alex bit his lip, obviously torn. "Maybe call Ned? If someone can come keep you company, I'll go."

That actually may not be such a bad idea. "Okay," Peter nodded.

Alex still looked wrecked, but his shoulders slumped in relief. Peter went to leave the common room, and the raven haired boy almost stopped him, but he let him go. It left him little doubt though, something still wasn't right. Sure enough, when Peter walked into his room, he stopped. Right away he knew something was missing, but he couldn't quite figure out what had been out of place. The nagging feeling, however, was the only thing that was keeping him from believing he had gone completely insane. 

Grabbing his phone, he dialed Ned's number.

"Peter, oh my god," Ned sounded relieved. "Are you okay?"

"I need you to come over," Peter said quietly, his tone was off. It was a mixture between calm and panicked.

Ned was silent for a moment. "What happened?"

"Someone was in the house," Peter told him.

"What?" Ned's voice shook. "Is everyone okay?"

"I don't know what happened, I wasn't here for it. Alex saw me panic, I need you here so he can go somewhere right now." Somewhere safer until I can figure out what the hell happened here.

"I'll be there in ten minutes," Ned promised.

"Keep an eye out," Peter warned him. "I don't know what's happening, but I can feel it... I'm not liking this."

"I'm your guy in the chair dude, I got this," Ned reassured him. "Are you okay?"

Peter's eyes scanned his room once more. "I don't know yet. Just get here safe, please, I really don't like the feeling of this at all."

"Eye in the sky," Ned confirmed. "Hang tight."

Peter hung up the phone and closed his eyes. Honing in on the tingling in his brain, Peter found it all leading back into the common room. Whatever happened, he couldn't get rid of the feeling that something was watching him. He just wished he knew what the hell that something was.

Chapter Text

Peter spent the next five minutes digging through his bedroom, trying to see if he could figure out what was sending his spider sense through the roof. He knew something wasn't right, but he didn't know what was out of place. His racing heartbeat echoed in his ears as he dug through his dresser drawers, pushing aside clothes as if he would find some sort of explosive underneath it all. When the dresser proved to be fine, Peter moved to his nightstand and opened the drawer, but it was empty.

That didn't use to be empty, Peter's stomach dropped. What the hell used to be in there?

"Peter?"

This time Peter did give in to the temptation and jumped onto the ceiling as a result of being shocked.

"Whoa!" Ned exclaimed in surprise.

Peter's shoulders heaved as he glanced down and saw the familiar face of his best friend. "Oh my god."

"Dude, Alex is still in the common room," Ned whispered to him urgently.

Peter cursed under his breath and lowered himself back down to the floor. He still felt tense, the fight or flight instinct intense enough to make his sixth sense want to split his brain in two.

Ned came up to him and grabbed his bicep in a firm grip. His eyes flickered over Peter, concern etched into every inch of his face. "Peter, you gotta tell me what's going on."

Peter's fists clenched, nails digging into his skin. Oddly enough, the slight pain was grounding. "Get Alex out of here."

Ned studied him for one more moment before he backed out of the room. Another minute later and the apartment door clicked open before being closed softly. The sound of two heartbeats became one and Peter knew that he and Ned were alone. Sitting down on his bed, Peter buried his face in his hands and tried to will his overwhelmed senses to calm down. He faintly heard footsteps approach him before someone came to sit down on the floor in front of him.

"Peter," Ned's voice echoed in his ears.

"The window was open when I got home," Peter stuttered out. "Alex said he couldn't remember if he had opened it or not, but I could just feel like something was off.

"Maybe he did just open it and forgot about it. I do that all the time and it drives my mom crazy."

"No, you don't get it, Ned. All of my senses were pointing to that specific window and then I walk into my room and I just get this sense that something's missing."

Ned let out a surprised noise from the confession. "That's never happened before. How can you even..."

"I don't know," Peter cut him off, shaking his head furiously. "My nightstand's empty, but I don't think it always was?"

"You think someone broke in and took something?" Fear flashed across Ned's face. "Peter, you need to tell someone."

"I don't even know if someone did," Peter exclaimed in exasperation. "Who would I call? The police? I can't tell them it's based off a hunch, they would never believe me."

"Then what about Tony?" Ned offered.

"No, not Tony," Peter disagreed. "He'll make us move to a safe house and I just can't handle anymore change right now."

"But if someone broke in, they could do it again," Ned insisted.

"I'll tell him," Peter conceded, "But not until I figure this out."

Ned paused for a moment, clearly digesting what had just happened. Then he said, "Okay, well, count me in."

"I don't even know where to begin," Peter admitted.

"You said you were able to feel something was off, right?"

Peter looked up at Ned, "Yeah."

"Then let's start there," Ned proposed.

Peter took in a deep breath and closed his eyes and honed in on the tingling sensation in his brain. However, now that he had calmed down the sensation had faded back to its lingering annoyance and Peter shook his head. "It's gone now."

"What do you mean it's gone?" Ned was confused.

"The feeling... It's not there." Peter sighed. "Whatever happened, or whoever might've done this, they're gone."

"So we really have no leads then," Ned also looked disheartened.

"I could've been making it up," Peter shrugged. "My senses have been feeding off of my paranoia recently."

Ned frowned, "You say that like it hasn't been like that in the past." Then pure excitement appeared on his face. "Are you saying you got another new ability? What is it? Like super paranoia?"

Peter rolled his eyes fondly at the questions, "No, Ned, I don't have another power."

"Come on, please tell me," Ned pleaded.

Peter gave in easily at the puppy dog eyes his friend was giving him. "It's nothing special, okay? My senses have just been more sensitive ever since I came back."

Ned's eyes widened in awe. "What kind of sensitivity? Do you finally have X-Ray vision? Can you see in the dark? What about hibernation?"

Peter grimaced at the word hibernation. "Why is it that you always want me to have the weirdest powers?"

"Dude you just found out that you can make organic webs from your wrists," Ned pointed out. "I don't think it's that far of a stretch to assume you have some other weird ass powers."

"What kind of superpower is hibernation? That's far from a super power, it's a super weakness."

"Are you saying you do hibernate?" Ned asked.

"No, I don't hibernate," Peter told him. 

"Excuse me for thinking it's possible considering you lost the ability to thermoregulate." 

"Which hasn't been an issue yet and I refuse to let it be one," Peter pointed out.

Ned's eyes sparked mischievously. "Feeling better now?"

Peter paused at that and realized that his sixth sense had faded to a dull thud, the closest he's been back to normal in a long time. It was still present, but it was barely noticeable. In addition, his heart was no longer in danger of jumping out of his chest and his breathing was coming in and out evenly with no issue.

"You did that on purpose," Peter looked at Ned gratefully.

Ned shrugged nonchalantly. "Distracting people is my specialty."

Peter held up his hand, "Thank you, Ned, seriously."

They did their handshake, "Anytime, Pete, you know that."

***

If Peter had to be completely honest with himself, he genuinely did not like watching football. He just didn't see the pleasure of watching two teams battle each other to the death. All of the concussions and other injuries due to fouls or just plain tackling was enough where he cringed every time it happens. Also, Peter didn't want to say anything, but he could see the crunch of people's bones whenever something happened and their agonized screams were like nails on a chalkboard. He began to wonder why he agreed to come to Alex's game on Friday, but now that he was here with George, there was no turning back.

This is for Alex, Peter reminded himself. It made him really happy that you decided to come tonight.

The first half of the game went by smoothly with Midtown taking the lead by ten points, and George had taken a huge interest in the event, cheering with the crowd and complaining against the bad calls. Peter had never seen George so full of energy like he was at that moment and it genuinely made him happy that the older man was having a good time. George had been on double shifts twice this week, and he had been working himself into the ground. If Peter hadn't known how much George loved his job, he would've thought that he would've quit a long time ago.

"It's not about the hours or the hardships," George had told him one night. "Just the fact that I can help people without having any superpowers is enough for me. It shows that you don't have to have super strength or a metal suit in order to make a difference in the world."

May had wanted to come, but she picked up an extra shift that night to fill in for a coworker who apparently had a family emergency. She had been devastated, but Alex had given her the reassurance that it was alright and he had understood. Peter knew Alex was putting on a brave face for his aunt, and as much as he appreciated that, his heart bleed in sympathy for the elder boy.

"I'm taking it that football isn't your thing?" George sat back down on their bench so he could knock his shoulder against Peter's in a friendly manner.

"I never really was, but tonight's different and I didn't want to say no." Peter admitted sheepishly.

"Well, I know it means a lot to Alex that you came for him," George said. "It also means a lot to me too."

"I may not like the game itself, but I wouldn't miss it for the world," Peter stated, shocked by the assertiveness in his voice. Then again, as soon as the words were out Peter knew that he meant every word.

"Gotta say, this week's kept me away from the apartment more than I'd like," George began. "How are you feeling? I heard you've had it rough the last couple of days."

Peter felt his lips quirk up in a small knowing smile. "Alex or May?"

"Little bit of both if I'm being completely honest. But I've seen it too," George added. "You look like you've been sleeping better."

Peter grimaced at the reminder.

"I know you don't like talking about it," George noted. "May always said you wore your heart on your sleeve, but the one thing you hated more than anything was to admit that something was wrong. Now that I get to see that for myself, I can see what she means."

"Seems like all I do nowadays is make people worried."

George sighed. "Well I guess I kinda ruined the fun, huh?"

"We're here for Alex, right?" Peter looked at him. "Sometimes a brave face is all we can do to make sure we're there for others."

George smiled at that, but Peter knew the older man didn't like the heaviness that Peter carried with those words. He was a lot like May that way, they both hated seeing someone so young sound like they had the wisdom of an elder who's been through too much in their lifetime. "I'm so glad you two bonded the way you did."

"He's amazing," Peter agreed, it was hard not to. Alex had been there for him since he came back. He didn't have to do that for a complete stranger, but he did it for Peter with no hesitation. "You have every right to be proud."

"You're something to be proud of too, don't sell yourself short," George added before standing up. "That's it Alex! What a pass!" He cheered as the crowd went wild at the touchdown pass.

Peter couldn't help but chuckle at the enthusiasm that always seemed to George radiate. It was hard to be sad whenever you were around him. It was like he radiated positive energy, warding off any negative thoughts and other abnormalities.

He does have a superpower, Peter decided light-heartedly. He makes you see the light even in the darkest of tunnels.

There was still two minutes of the second quarter, but Peter's stomach was growling in the demand for food.

"Where do we meet Alex at half time?" Peter asked.

"He said he'd meet us by the concessions," George answered. "Oh come on, that was a clean interception!"

Peter stood up, "I'm going to head down to the concessions and beat the food crowd."

"Can you grab me a hot dog?" George asked, fishing for his wallet and handing him a ten dollar bill.

Peter hesitated, "George, you don't have to pay for mine."

George just gave him a gentle look and said, "Don't be the tough guy, Pete, this is on me."

Peter felt his heart warm at that statement and accepted the money. Making his way to the concessions was interesting, it was like fighting against a mob of people jumping up and down in the stands. How he didn't get caught in the stampede was beyond him. When he did finally emerge on solid ground, he welcomed the wave of fresh air.

Alex, you're an awesome dude, but I really hate large crowds, Peter shuddered.

When Peter approached the concession stands, he paused mid-step and all the air left his lungs in a giant rush when someone caught his eye. Just by the curly brown hair, Peter immediately knew who it was. She was standing by the fence, sipping on a drink in a pair of black ripped skinny jeans and a long sleeve white sweater that was a little too thick for the humid September weather. Her hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail and she rocked the black converse that she had always used to wear.

Peter stood in place for a few seconds, trying to decide what to do. Part of him wanted to go over and hug her, let her know how much he missed her, but he had a feeling that wasn't his right to do so anymore. Another part of him wanted to walk away and forget he ever saw her, but Peter knew that forgetting would be impossible. Either way, if he went over to talk to her, what would he even say?

His legs made the decision for him before his brain could catch up to process what he was doing. One moment he was on the other side of the walkway, a safe distance from the person in front of him, and in the next moment he was approaching her and Peter honestly couldn't find it in himself to stop the distance that was disappearing between them.

"MJ?" Peter asked timidly as he walked up behind her.

MJ's shoulders visibly tensed up at his voice and she turned around slowly. Peter saw her face pale when she laid eyes on him. She tried being polite by giving him a small smile, but Peter could see that it was partially forced. "Hey, Peter."

Peter just found himself wildly confused. "What... What are you doing here? I mean you have every right to be here, but like you always said you hated sports and you graduated... I'm sorry that came out completely wrong."

"No, I mean it's a fair question, I guess," MJ shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. This was so different from the confident MJ that he had once known. "Um, I was just meeting up with an old friend."

Peter's heart broke and the implication. "Oh," He knew he must've had his sad puppy eyes on his face, but he tried to push it down.

"How have you been?" MJ tried to change the subject.

"I've been better," Peter admitted. "It's a lot."

Understanding flashed across her face and she said, "Yeah, I get that."

"May remarried," Peter began before he could cut himself off. He wasn't sure why the words came out with no thought to it, but then again MJ had always had that effect on him.

"I, uh, I know," MJ revealed. "I was at the wedding."

Of course you were, Peter felt like he was treading water. He wasn't sure how much longer he could hold on before he slipped below the surface.

"Her husband has a son, right? I'm guessing he's playing tonight because you hate football as much as I do."

"Yeah, he's the quarterback," Peter nodded. "Alex."

"Must be nice not being an only child anymore," MJ tried to cheer him up. "And you have Ned too."

"I used to just have more than Ned," Peter looked down at his feet.

"Peter..." MJ sounded pained.

"I just thought... I'm sorry for leaving you."

"That wasn't your fault, you couldn't control that."

"When I came back a lot changed, and I know it had been five years for everyone else but for me it just didn't, it felt like hours," Peter confessed. "I just thought we were close enough to be friends, but I must've misstepped my boundaries." The wording of that caused him to cringe. Way to hit the nail on the head, Peter. Better be careful or else you might actually turn into a permanent jerk.

"That's not it," MJ cut him off. "It wasn't just about you."

"Then what was it about?" Peter asked desperately.

"I lost everything," MJ said. "My parents got Snapped too. I lost you and I lost Ned... I ended up moving upstate with some distant relatives. You don't know how difficult that was, you don't know how painful that was."

Peter's heart broke at that and he felt ashamed for being so selfish. "I'm sorry." Then his head snapped up, "Wait, so it is about me too?"

A drink dropped behind him and a familiar heartbeat made him spin around and what he saw felt like a slap to the face. Ned was standing there looking like a deer in the headlights, his face tinged with a faint green as if he ventured into something that made him want to hurl. Looking between his best friend's nervous expression and his former friend's pained look, Peter made the connection and it broke his heart.

"So the old friend is Ned," Peter figured out, his mouth feeling like it was full of cotton.

"Peter..." MJ began.

"How long?" Peter asked, his voice hoarse. Don't cry, not in front of them.

"I got back in touch with Ned shortly after he came back... after everyone came back" MJ said slowly, as if she was trying to choose the right words. It felt like she was trying to inflict as little pain as possible, but she failed colossally. 

Peter's eyes flickered over to Ned's, and it felt like a knife was being twisted into his gut. "You said you hadn't heard from her. Even after..."

"I didn't know what to say," Ned confessed, sounding on the verge of tears. "MJ made me swear not to tell you."

"Why?" He looked between the two of them.

"It's complicated," MJ's voice was sad and resigned.

"How was it complicated?" Peter was getting angrier the more the hurt settled into his heart. 

"Dammit, Peter, I'm married now and I have a son... I just... Everything between the two of us..." MJ couldn't find the right words.

"I came back to a world that moved on without me," Peter told her. "May remarried, and now I have two complete strangers in my life that want to get to know me, but they're a painful reminder of what has happened. I needed my past friends, I needed you because you two were my anchors."

MJ's eyes were glassy, and Peter could see the rare trace of tears in them. "I was scared."

"Scared of what? Of some dumb crush I had on you back then?" Peter exclaimed. "Guess what, we all grew up, and I get that. There's a difference between support, neglect and betrayal. I didn't care that you got married, I didn't care that you're a mother now, but what I really just wanted was my damn friend back. What I wanted was someone from my past life to further ground me in this shit show. Instead you ghosted me while you had no trouble reconnecting with your other friends."

"That's not fair," MJ argued.

"How is any of this fair?" Peter demanded. "You tossed me aside like I was yesterday's trash because you couldn't gather the courage to tell me to my face."

"You were already hurting enough..."

"Exactly, I was already hurting in part due to you," Peter pointed at her. He knew he was being a complete dick, but his heart was broken and he didn't know what else to do. He looked to Ned and asked, "Why did you keep it a secret?"

"Don't you dare talk about secrets with him," MJ defended him angrily. "He's not the one who had a bug sized problem about lying to people's faces."

Peter froze at that, the knife digging deeper. "You knew." He looked at Ned, on the verge of crying. "Did you..."

Ned's eyes widened, "What? No! How could you even think that? You know I'd never do that to you."

"He didn't need to tell me," MJ crossed her arms. "I knew since DC."

"That's completely different than what's going on right now," Peter changed gears.

"How is it different? You made the choice to board that spaceship. You made the choice to leave your family behind."

"I did what I had to do," Peter clenched his fists, the lump in his throat getting bigger. "You don't get to be pissed about something that doesn't even involve you."

"Peter, you need to calm down," Ned tried to place a hand on his shoulder but Peter jumped away from him.

"Don't touch me!" Peter burst out, immediately regretting it when Ned flinched at the outburst. 

He looked around to see that people were starting to notice the confrontation going on. The crowd began to thicken and Peter realized that there wasn't any players on the field, indicating half time had started. He made eye contact with a concerned Alex who was running towards him at full speed, but Peter didn't have the energy to want to stick around.

He looked between the two of them and said tearfully, "Enjoy the rest of the game."

Peter turned around and began to walk away, but he didn't miss a voice calling his name. "Peter stop!"

He just continued walking, trying to block out the sound of his friend's pleading voice.

Ned caught him by the elbow, "Come on, man, please."

Peter shrugged him off, "Don't..." He tried to take a deep breath to ease the ache of his heart shattering to a million pieces. "Just don't."

"I shouldn't have kept this from you," Ned hurriedly interjected. "You have every right to be pissed, but you can't leave."

"I'm not mad," Peter shook his head. "Not at you."

"I know I hurt you..." Ned began.

Peter just held up a hand to stop him, "I don't want to talk right now, I don't us want to say something I know we'll just regret later."

"What about Alex and George?" Ned finally asked. "You came for Alex tonight..."

"Don't you dare use that card," Peter glared at him.

"You can't leave, not when you're this hurt," Ned protested. "Please... Don't do something stupid."

"Can't really beat doing anything stupid right now," Peter walked away. "I just need some space."

Ned called his name once more, but Peter just took off at a sprint, leaving the game behind him. He got as far as the parking lot before he bent over and tried to catch his breath, a hand clutching chest as if it would miraculously open his airway.

"Peter?" A voice asked timidly.

Peter felt the tears begin to fall, "Please go away."

Alex came to stand in front of him and coaxed him to look up so that their gazes locked. Alex's sweaty hair was stuck to his forehead and he was decked out in his football gear, his helmet resting at his side. "What happened?" He asked gently.

The concern in the older boy's voice and face made Peter's stomach twist nauseatingly. He just shook his head as he tried to escape.

"Peter, come on," Alex held him steady. "You can't leave like this."

"I can't stay," Peter barely got out past the lump in his throat. "I'm sorry."

"Let me get Dad to drive you home at least," Alex protested. "I really don't think you should be alone when you're this upset."

"I'll be fine," Peter promised, but it felt empty even to him. "I just need some air."

Alex had a stern expression plastered on his face, "Come with me, we'll find Dad and he'll take you home."

Just the thought of going back into the stadium caused him to panic, "I can't go back in there, please."

"Okay, okay, no one's going to make you go back in there," Alex reassured him. "Just sit here, and I can go get him, okay?"

Peter just nodded, wanting more than anything for Alex to go away in that moment. Alex guided Peter to sit on the curb and crouched beside him. He cupped the side of his neck and said, "I'll be right back okay?"

"Okay," Peter croaked and Alex took off at a sprint. 

He waited until he saw Alex enter the gate before he got to his feet and ran. He used some of his enhanced endurance to push him far enough away where he was off school property. From there, once he found a dark alley way he shot up to the safety of the rooftops.

Chapter Text

Peter had miraculously snuck his way back to his apartment without being seen, and looking back Peter couldn't believe how reckless he had been using his spider powers in public without his mask. He had just been so desperate to get out as far away from the school as fast as he could that he got sloppy, and it could've ended a lot worse than it did. All it would've taken was someone taking one picture before he could kiss he secret life goodbye. If anyone should know how quickly something could be taken from you, it should've been him. The problem with Peter is that when he gets lost in his head, he just fails to think about the consequences of his actions.

I knew I should've taken the suit, Peter grumbled to himself. The only thing that had stopped him from taking his suit to the game in the first place was the security at the front gate that prevented any sort of bag into the stadium for safety reasons. He should've tried harder to fix his nanotech suit, it was times like that where he missed its convenience. All it would've taken was one button and then his body would be safely enclosed into his Iron Spider suit.

Throughout the journey back from the school, he could feel his phone vibrating consistently in the back pocket of his jeans, but he had no desire to figure out who was trying to contact him. He had a feeling he knew the answer to that question and he just wasn't in the mood to talk to anyone. He didn't need anyone telling him it would be okay, he didn't need anyone telling him that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. He didn't need anyone to tell him how broken he was or that he could've handled everything better without resorting to yelling at people he cared about.

Climbing into his bedroom window, Peter took in the first breath of fresh air since he had left the school. His entire body was vibrating, but whether it was from the pain or from anger he couldn't fully say. Spotting the picture of him and Ned on his dresser, Peter clenched his fists in frustration. Walking over, Peter placed the frame face down on the surface, more out of guilt than anger. Changing into his spandex suit, Peter pulled the mask over his face before he dove out of his bedroom window, taking care to close it behind him. He swung up onto the rooftop of an apartment complex a few blocks south of his apartment and took another deep breath. His hands were still shaking and he couldn't shake the feeling that he was walking on a wire that was about to snap.

"KAREN?" Peter called out to activate the AI. "Keep an eye on the police radio, I want anything within a 20 mile radius."

"The police scanner is not currently displaying any disturbances," KAREN readily replied, her soothing voice doing nothing to calm Peter down. "I will continue to scan for any changes. Although, considering your current state I highly discourage such course of action."

Peter closed his eyes at the reprimanding tone of his AI. "I'm fine."

"You're heart rate is elevated and you are visibly shaking," KAREN disagreed. "From my observations something has deeply upset you."

"Yeah, well, I guess I haven't had the best day," Peter grumbled. I haven't in a long time.

KAREN was quiet for a moment before she kindly offered, "Would you like to talk about it?"

"Honestly? Not really," Peter's eyes flickered across the streets below, part of him hoping something would happen to end this conversation.

"If you do not want to talk about it, I recommend calling Mr. Stark."

Peter bristled at that. "I don't want to call anyone right now."

"I sense you are getting agitated, it is not my intention to make you feel that way," KAREN actually sounded remorseful.

Peter closed his eyes as a wave of guilt hit him like a brick wall. Is this what I've become too? Getting pissed off at a computer?  "You're not making me mad, I'm not mad at you."

"But you are mad at someone."

"I'm not sure if I'm mad or more hurt," Peter amended.

"From what my observations tell me, people act mad when they're hurt. Those two things have the potential to go hand and hand."

"Gee, thanks for the philosophical pep talk, KAREN."

"You're welcome, Peter," KAREN returned and Peter dropped his head dramatically and sighed in exasperation.

"Did I just get sass talked by an AI?" Peter asked himself.

"Considering this AI can hear every word you are saying, I believe it is probable."

"Now I am getting mad at you," Peter returned, but there is no heat behind it. He was silent for a solid minute before giving in. "I bumped into MJ tonight."

"From what I've gathered, I'm assuming she survived the disaster when you did not?" KAREN asked innocently. Peter noted that his AI didn't gloss over the name and Peter was silently grateful for that.

"Yeah, she survived and I got dusted."

"Was she like Liz?"

The question was innocent enough, but it still made him feel sad at the implication. "I thought so. She was my friend and was also Ned's friend. I just thought I saw something spark between us, but I can't help but wonder if it was just in my head after all."

"It's not wise to make those assumptions," KAREN warned. "It just hurts you more in the end."

"I feel like I got the short end of the stick either way, at least in this situation," Peter admitted.

"What happened tonight?" KAREN asked, an open invitation.

"She said she was meeting up with an old friend, I just didn't think she was talking about Ned. Part of me, at least was hoping she wasn't because that means that Ned would've lied to me and he's never done that before, at least not with something as big as this."

"Are you mad at Ned?"

Peter deflated at the question, "I don't even know what to feel anymore. I mean how could he keep something like that from me? He knew how much... He knew it hurt when she shut me out. I just don't understand why he wouldn't tell me."

"Haven't you thought about the possibility that he was afraid to tell you because he didn't want to hurt you further?"

"That's why I don't know what to feel," Peter threw his hands up in the air. "I mean MJ is his friend too. It's selfish of me to be angry but it just hurt that he lied."

But you're a hypocrite either way, Peter chided himself. You lied to him once upon a time too, don't forget that. You continue to lie to a lot of people every day.

"Peter," KAREN's gentle voice was hesitant. "I strongly think that you should reconsider patrolling tonight. You're not in the right mindset to be out on the streets alone."

"No offense, KAREN, but you're not exactly in the right place to make the decision for me," Peter replied, but there wasn't any fire left in his voice.

"Very well," KAREN ended the conversation, her tone a mixture of concern and resignation.

For the next hour, Peter watched as Alex, George, May and Ned called him repeatedly throughout the night, their names appearing and disappearing on his HUD. Even Steve's number chimed in randomly at one point, but when the super solider didn't try to call him again or leave a text message, Peter figured it was about something else. He wasn't sure if he was secretly wishing for Tony's number to pop up, but there was a small little sting of disappointment when it didn't. Eventually, Peter muted the notifications and began to swing from rooftop to rooftop. He just needed to get moving, the longer he stayed in one place the more time he sat stewing in his negative mindset.

By the time nine o'clock hit, Peter was beginning to wonder if this had been a bad idea after all. The one time he wished for something to clear his head, the streets were clear. Logically Peter knew that was a good thing, because it meant no one was getting hurt and the streets were relatively safe. However, the selfish part of Peter really wanted something to distract him. He hands kept itching to hit something, as if that would solve all of his problems. 

Peter cringed at the thought. He hated feeling that way, and it scared him that he thought like that more often than not. Every time he suited up nowadays it was getting harder and harder to control the underlying rage that rested in his bones. Angry at the world for bringing him back to scramble in the aftermath, furious at everyone around him for expecting him to be this perfect version of Peter Parker that he just wasn't anymore.

"I can tell you're angry, you keep clenching your fists," KAREN chimed in after thirty minutes of radio silence.

"People like me don't get to be angry," Peter grumbled. "Sometimes I just can't help it."

"Getting angry is a part of being human, but it's how you channel that anger that matters the most," KAREN noted. "Hitting someone isn't going to make you feel better in the long run. Especially if the person who loses control is the person who can kill someone easier than they think. Your powers come with great responsibility."

Those last six words washed over him like a tidal wave and almost immediately, the fight left Peter. 

With great power comes great responsibility.

His Uncle's words brought a wave of shame over him. I'm sorry, Uncle Ben. I don't know who I'm becoming anymore. I don't even know if I like who I'm becoming.

"As I said, people like me don't get to be angry," Peter repeated remorsefully. He was about to add more when the smell of smoke invaded his senses. Peter stood up and immediately began scanning his surroundings. "KAREN, what's going on?"

"There's a massive fire that broke out at an apartment complex two block east of your location," KAREN reported, her voice locked into debriefing mode.

Peter spun around and locked eyes with a rapidly growing cloud of billowing black smoke. "I see it."

"There seems to be twelve apartment units that have been unaccounted for and caught in the direct line of fire, two trucks are currently at the scene but are requesting back up as they are struggling to contain the flames."

"Set a route to the fire," Peter requested.

"Peter, that is an unwise..." KAREN began.

"I don't care, just do it!" Peter ordered before diving off the building and beginning his way over to the scene.

It wasn't hard to find the building as Peter approached it. He could basically feel the heat of the fire about block out and the feeling was intensifying the closer he got.

"KAREN, engage Fireproof protocol," Peter said as he landed on the roof of the adjacent building. "Do an entire sweep of the building, I want every fire escape and unit number unaccounted for."

The building itself was seven stories high and Peter could hear faint screams over the roaring flames. There were three fire trucks now on the scene and the firefighters below were scrambling to do what they could to tame the flames so the others could safely go inside.

"There are now ten units that have been unaccounted for on the top three floors," KAREN reported. "They're in the direct fire zone. The building itself was not designed to withstand such heat, and I fear that a structural collapse is imminent."

Peter closed his eyes and shuddered at the words 'structural collapse'. He knew all too well what that fear had been like, and if the building were to collapse the way that it is right now, the people inside would have no hope of survival. The fire and smoke would kill them if the impact didn't kill them first. Peter stood up and clenched his fists, fighting down the waves of anxiety that threatened to consume him.

"Where's the weakest entry point?" Peter asked.

"It seems like the safest spot of entry is one of the top front windows, second from the right," KAREN told him. "However, even with the Fireproof protocol in place I highly discourage this plan."

"Sorry, KAREN, but I have to do this," Peter replied sullenly. Not for just myself, but for the people inside too. "Just be my eyes and ears, alright? If the building threatens to give out, I'll leave. But I have to try."

"Estimated time seems to be holding steady at about ten minutes. I will inform you if the time range decreases."

"Alright, Pete, no going back," Peter mumbled to himself. He took a few steps backwards before he sprinted off the roof of the building across from the fire. Shooting two webs to the specified window, Peter pulled with all of his strength, using the momentum to break right through the window.

Almost immediately, an overwhelming force of heat greeted him, and even with the Fireproof protocol, Peter wasn't sure how long he could last in such conditions. When he got bit by that radioactive spider, one of the side effects was his loss to thermoregulate. In other words, his body had a hard time cooling itself off or heating itself up on its own. Tony and Peter found this out the hard way sometime after Berlin, and Tony put it on himself to ensure that Peter had protocols in place to assist him if his body temperature either shot through the roof or he managed to contract a bout of hypothermia.

With the list of apartment units pulled up on his HUD, Peter made got to work, taking great care to avoid falling into the flames, and working around them if need be. Within the next five minutes, Peter was able to extract families from the five unaccounted units on the seventh floor, even if it meant having them use his web fluid as a makeshift fire pole. Eventually the fire department had caught on to what he was doing and set up a giant air bag to break the fall should anyone have fallen.

"KAREN, how am I doing?" Peter asked as he made his way to the sixth floor.

"Estimated time of structural collapse keeps fluctuating between two minutes and ten minutes, the apartment complex has not been investigated since 2019, it's hard to say what's been up to code and what hasn't been up to code," KAREN sounded frustrated. "Your vitals are not looking good, Peter, your core temperature just reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The Fireproof protocol was not made to withstand such intense continuous usage."

Yeah, I'm starting to get that, Peter kept that to himself, but his body felt like it was on fire. Even behind the mask, sweat was dripping into his eyes and it felt like he was slowly boiling alive. "I'll be fine."

Another three minutes passed and Peter managed to extract four more units on the sixth floor, and by the time that happened his body hit 103 degrees Fahrenheit and his vision was starting to swim. Surprisingly, his lungs felt clear and he knew that had to be because of the oxygen systems still holding strong in his suit.

"The structural support system is starting to fail, evacuation recommended," KAREN urged him.

"Estimated time?" Peter panted, already on his way to the fifth floor.

"Minimum of 60 seconds."

"Maximum ET, KAREN," Peter ordered.

KAREN paused for a moment before saying, "Maximum time of five minutes, but I would not put my faith in that prediction. Your body temperature is reaching critical levels."

"Just one more and then I'm out," Peter promised as he broke down the door of the last apartment unit that had been unaccounted for when the building was evacuating. It felt like Peter was stuck in legitimate hell, with a wall of fire everywhere around him. His head was spinning and his body felt like it was stuck in molasses, but he refused to give up when he had come so far already.

"Hello?" Peter yelled over the roaring flames. "Is there anyone in here?"

"Help!" Peter's enhanced senses picked up the desperate scream.

Peter's eyes tracked the movement, but he couldn't see anything above the flames, "Where are you? KAREN can you see them?"

"Please, help me!" The voice screamed and Peter's eyes locked in on the general direction of the voice.

"It appears the voice is coming from the bedroom," KAREN reported. "My scanners are only picking up on one person."

Peter began making his way over to to the trapped victim, having to switch between crawling on the ceiling to dodging his way across the floor. "I'm gonna get you out of here!" He promised.

Just as he was approaching the bedroom, his sixth sense spiked in his head and before he knew what was happening, something hit him point blank and he flew backwards, smacking through a wall before crashing onto the floor.

"What the hell just hit me?" Peter groaned, the unexpected movement not helping his dizziness.

"It seems to me like you hit a wall," KAREN chimed in unhelpfully.

Yeah, no shit. Peter stumbled he got to his feet.

"Take a guess," A gravely voice sounded in his ears and Peter spun around, trying and failing to match the voice to someone.

"Who are you?" Peter demanded.

"You're pathetically predictable, did you know that?" The voice drawled, it didn't sound natural.

"Show your damn face," Peter clenched his fists, ready for a fight. He hoped he sounded more intimidating that he felt with his vision showing him double of everything.

"Structural collapse imminent in a maximum of three minutes," KAREN reported.

"So desperate to prove himself," The voice continued. "So desperate to be seen."

"Don't act like you know me," Peter gritted his jaw.

"Do I? Open your eyes, I'm right in behind you."

Peter's sixth sense shot off again and Peter ducked just as a fist came flying towards his head. Grabbing the assailant's arm, Peter twisted it and used the momentum to kick off the wall, throwing his attacker into the ground. Peter caught a glimpse of the mask of his attacker and immediately a shiver ran down his spine and he recoiled in shock. The attacker was decked out in a reinforced green suit with a green mask that covered his entire face. The mask had sharpened ears like an elf and had a mouth that was dropped open, enticing its victims with is villainous laugh. The thing that stood out the most, at least to Peter, was the sharp yellow eyes that seemed to be digging right into his soul.

"You... You're from the rooftop," Peter stuttered out, stumbling away from the creature, his vision getting worse. Was it really not a dream?

"Did the poor little spider take a tumble?" The creature cackled manically. "Trust me, it was just as satisfying as it was painful."

"What do you want from me?" Peter demanded, sending out a kick to his attacker who was still on his back on the floor.

The creature effortlessly grabbed Peter's kick with a show of abnormal strength, that or Peter's strength was starting to fail him the weaker he got. "What do I want from you? I don't want anything from you."

If Peter was in the right mindset, he would've been able to see the next move easily, but instead the fuzziness in his mind failed to save him from being tossed aside like a rag doll right into the middle of a pit of flames.

Peter cried out in pain and immediately dove out of there, "KAREN!"

"Extinguishing measures online," KAREN immediately stated and the flames on his suit went out in an instant. "Fireproof protocol at 50% and dropping."

I need to get out of here, Peter's eyes flickered to the broken window behind the green monster.

The person in front of him clicked his tongue in disapproval. "Such a shame, and I thought this would be harder."

"What are you talking about?" Peter was so confused.

"At the end of the day, your heroics will always find a way too drag you six feet under..." Something clicked on behind the assailant's back and suddenly an orange ball was being tossed his way, the middle of the circle glowing an eerie green. Peter reached out and caught it instinctively. Studying the strange ticking object, it almost looked like a pumpkin.

"Peter, that's an explosive!" KAREN's urgent voice echoed in his ear.

"What?" Peter shouted and made to throw the bomb, but it was too late. With a resounding BOOM! Peter was thrown off to the side as a wave of heat washed over him. 

By some miracle the force of the explosion tossed him out of a window and Peter immediately shot a web to the closest building. Pulling himself to the rooftop, Peter laid on his side and tried to catch his breath. His entire body felt like it was boiling from the inside out and his everything felt bruised to hell.

"KAREN," Peter croaked.

"Your core temperature is currently at 110 degree Fahrenheit and the suit's armor has been breached.  I am detecting second degree burns across you chest and back, I'm strongly recommending medical assistance. I need an override to contact help."

"No," Peter shook his head. "I'm fine."

"Peter, you are not fine," KAREN insisted. "I strongly recommend you seek medical assistance."

"Mute," Peter said and welcomed the quiet that followed. He must've laid there for a good ten minutes before he made his shaky way back to his apartment in Queens.

Peter knew he shouldn't have been so stubborn, but he had dealt with worse injuries than this. Also, he really didn't want another lecture from anyone else at the moment. At least, that's what his delusional brain was telling him, 110 degrees was a new record for him. By the time Peter made it to his bedroom window, the suit was telling him his body temperature was still rising and Peter had a feeling it was a mixture between the burns on his body and how hot the suit felt on his skin, it almost felt like it was melting into him.

Opening the window, Peter more so fell into his room rather than climbed into it. He hit the floor in a heap and he let out a pained wheeze when he landed on his back. His entire vision felt like it was swimming and it was causing his stomach to twist nauseatingly.

If you weren't enhanced, you'd be brain dead right now, Peter thought faintly.

"Peter?" A voice echoed in his head, it sounded far enough away where he genuinely thought he hit the hallucinating stage of a fever.

Reaching up, Peter peeled off the mask from his face and winced as the suit scraped against his sensitive skin.

Then there was a surprised shout and hands were on him.

"Can... me?" The voice faded in and out. "Dad!"

Dad, Peter's eyes flew open to see Alex crouched in front of him, fear on his face. Oh...

Peter could make out George running into the room, tripping over his feet when he saw the scene in front of him. Faintly, Peter knew he must've looked like a mess if it sparked such a reaction, or it might've been the fact that Peter had just exposed the one secret he wasn't ready to tell.

Blinking blearily, Peter saw George examining him with a doctor's precision and then hands were on his face before they immediately retracted.

"His skin's on fire," He thought he heard George say.

"Peter, can you hear me?" Alex was waving his hand in front of Peter's eyes, as if he was trying to catch his attention, but the dark spots were overcoming his vision way too quickly. The last thing he heard before he lost grip on reality was Alex's pleading voice to stay awake.

Chapter Text

Alex couldn't remember the last time he felt as genuinely terrified as he was at that moment while running back into the stadium to look for his father. The image of Peter looking so fragile and scared refused to leave his brain, and it kept making him wonder what had caused the younger boy so much pain for him to look like that. There were whispers about a fight floating around the concession stands and considering the way Peter had acted towards Ned in the parking lot, he had a feeling he knew exact who Peter had fought with.

Looking around the concession stands, Alex began scanning his surroundings before locking his gaze onto his father who was leaning against the fence that separated the football field from the stands.

"Dad!" Alex called out over the crowd as he approached George, causing the older man to turn in the direction of his son's voice.

When George found him in the crowd, concern began to bleed through his naturally giddy features. "Alex?"

Once Alex was in front of him he fought to catch his breath as he panted, "You gotta come quick... It's Peter."

"What?" George's face paled. "What happened to Peter?"

Alex shook his head, already walking away in a hurry, his father following with no hesitation. "I don't know, I just saw him..." Alex trailed off as he entered the parking lot and his stomach dropped when he saw who was missing. "No, no, no..." He took off at a run, skidding to a stop at where he had left the brunette, but that space had long been abandoned. "Peter!"

George brought a steadying hand up to Alex's shoulder. "Easy, bud..."

"No, you didn't see him," Alex shook his head furiously. "I told him to wait, why didn't he wait?"

"Alex, you're not making any sense," George tried to stay calm, but Alex could hear the underlying fear in his voice.

"I didn't see what happened," Alex ran a hand through his hair. "People kept saying there was a fight, and I just saw him with Ned and some other person. Dad, he looked really upset, like almost brokenly upset."

George bit his lip, the wheels evidently turning in his brain. He dug in his pockets for his car keys, "He couldn't have gotten far, right?"

"I left him alone for less than a few minutes," Alex hated how tiny his voice sounded. He began to wonder if he did the right thing leaving Peter alone at all in the state that he was in.

"I'm going to go for a drive and see if I can find him, okay?"

Alex nodded. "I'm coming with you."

"No," George shook his head solemnly. "You can't leave in the middle of a game."

"But it's Peter," Alex protested.

George sighed and squeezed Alex's shoulder. "I know, but you're not just a player, you're the quarterback. I'll call May and let her know what happened, but you need to stay here. There's no need to panic just yet, he could've been on his way home."

Alex felt his chest tighten as an overwhelming wave of emotion washed over him, but he knew his father was right. "I'm having Coach Axel hold my phone, if you find him I want you to call me."

"That's an easy deal," George agreed readily. He cupped the side of his son's neck and said, "I'll find him. He's gonna be okay." This isn't like what happened to your mother, the implication was left unsaid.

Alex felt rooted to where he was standing as he watched his father break out into a sprint towards where he had parked the car. As he watched the headlights of his father's car leave the school, Alex finally made his way back towards the stadium, every part of him feeling numb. His mind was racing a million miles a minute and he couldn't shake the feeling that something bad was about to happen. Alex had never assumed that Peter would ever intentionally hurt himself, no matter how much he was suffering. The kid had been through hell and back in more ways than one, and Alex had major respect for him in that sense. However, he's seen that broken look on himself once, and it had ended up with a much too close of a brush with death. Just because Peter wouldn't intentionally inflict harm on himself didn't mean there was the danger of an unintentional event occurring. Alex was all too familiar with how hypnotizing it could be to get lost into the dark depths of your mind when you felt like you had nothing left.

As he approached the stadium gates, the first thing he saw was Ned sitting on a bench with a girl sitting beside him, obviously trying to comfort the hurting boy.

Alex walked up to them, using every fiber in his body to keep the flames at bay. Don't judge until you know more than you do. "What happened?"

Ned's head snapped up at his voice and Alex felt his heart ache at the heartbroken look in the boy's eyes. "I didn't mean..."

"Ned, please," Alex cut him off, not unkindly. "What happened?"

"He found out about MJ," Ned's head bowed in shame.

Alex's eyes flickered over to the stony faced girl who refused to look him in the eye. Suddenly it made a lot more sense than Alex wished it did. "The one who cut him off."

"I didn't mean to hurt him," MJ protested, and Alex saw that her expressionless face was just a facade and that there were faint traces of tears in her eyes.

"And you two have just been sneaking around behind his back?" Alex crossed his arms, feeling his grip on his anger starting to slip.

"I thought if he'd known... I didn't want to hurt him more than he was already hurting," Ned shook his head. "I'm such an idiot. Give this guy the worse friend of the year award."

"I just don't understand... You had to know that wasn't going to work."

"I was trying to find a way to tell him," Ned promised. "He's never going to forgive me."

Alex closed his eyes and took a deep breath to calm himself down. It's not your right to be angry in this situation, He told himself. He opened his eyes and looked back at Ned. "Do you know where he'd run too?"

The question caused the tears to fall from Ned's eyes. "I don't know... I tried to get him to stay. The last time he went out like this..." His voice broke.

The last time Peter lost control, it had been when Ben died, Alex recalled May telling him. It was the first time I was scared he wasn't coming back.

The sound of the half time buzzer broke through the fog in his brain and Alex wanted to just scream. He turned back to Ned before he left and said, "It's not my business to be angry. My dad went out to look for him, maybe you should too."

***

By the time Alex got home from the game, it was close to nine o'clock. George had picked him up and had revealed that he didn't have any luck finding Peter. He had driven up and down several blocks surrounding the school and their apartment and that must've meant that Peter didn't want to be found. In other words, there was nothing that was soothing the worse case scenarios playing out repeatedly in Alex's head.

"You're going to wear a hole in the floor if you keep bouncing your leg like that," George told him, setting down a cup of tea on the table in front of him.

Alex immediately stopped bouncing his leg in response. He hasn't done that in ages, hasn't since they moved to Queens. It had been a result of his anxiety after his mother had passed away and it always drove his father crazy.

"Any word from May?" Alex asked, his voice hoarse from disuse.

George sat down across from him and shook his head. "I've called her three times within the past hour, she must either be sleeping or the hospital's having a rough night."

"Who else can we call?" Alex cupped the hot mug in his hands. "Should we call the police? What about Tony Stark?"

"It's too early to involve the authorities," George also looked sad at the statement. "And I don't have Tony's number, I was hoping May would answer. If we could..."

"May said the last time he broke down, like truly broke down was after his uncle died," Alex looked down into the steaming liquid.

George paused for a moment at that. "She never told me what happened, just that something awful happened."

"It scared her though." Alex's leg started bouncing again.

George noticed right away and he stood back up. "Grab a coat, we can do another drive to see if we can find him."

Alex immediately jumped up at the thought, and nodded. George left the kitchen to make his way into his bedroom while Alex walked towards the hallway that he shared with Peter's bedroom. Just as he was about to open his bedroom door, a thud from Peter's room made him pause. 

The pit in his stomach returned with a vengeance and Alex called out, "Peter?"

He could've sworn he heard a faint groan of pain and that was enough for him to walk up to Peter's room and open the door. When the door swung open, Alex was not prepared for the sight that greeted him. Peter was curled up on his side just under the open window, and it wasn't just the obvious shaking of the younger boy's body that Alex noticed. His eyes traced the evident Spider emblem along his back, the bottom part of the emblem singed away, as if it had been burned. His mask had been discarded off to the side, as if he had just been able to peel the material off his face.

"Peter!" Alex ran up to him, carefully moving him away from the window so he could crouch in front of him. "Peter, can you hear me?"

The younger boy's eyes were closed and Alex could make out the darkened patches of Peter's suit, except it wasn't a part of this suit.

That's his burned flesh... Alex's stomach rolled. He turned his head in the direction of the doorway and yelled "Dad!" He turned back to Peter, placing his hand upon an intact part of his suit, hoping the skin below wasn't injured. "Peter, come on, open your eyes," He coaxed.

Peter's eyes snapped open a moment later, but the glazed look over his eyes did nothing to calm Alex's worries.

"Alex?" George called out, obviously panicked as he ran into Peter's room. At seeing the body on the floor, George tripped over his feet in shock, nearly falling on his face, but recovered all the same. 

He hurried over and dropped to his knees at Peter's back, bending down to study the charred flesh that had been exposed. Alex could tell that his father was doing everything he could not to panic, analyzing Peter with a doctor's precision.

Alex turned back to Peter's glazed over expression and told him, "It's okay, it's gonna be okay." If he had to be honest with himself, Alex wasn't sure if he was trying to comfort Peter or reassure himself that Peter was going to be okay.

George went to touch Peter's face, but immediately retraced them with a hiss of pain. "His skin's on fire... We need to cool him down. Alex I need you to go to the kitchen, fill a bowl with cold water and bring a few dish rags. The thermometer is in the medicine drawer, grab that too."

Alex didn't hear what his father said, and instead was looking at Peter who was evidently losing his battle with staying conscious. "No, no, no, you gotta stay awake," Alex pleaded.

"Alex!" George's stern voice brought him back to reality and he jolted to his feet to do what he had been told.

Realistically it took him a few minutes to gather the supplies, but to him it felt like an eternity. His hands wouldn't stop shaking, so it made everything that much harder.

How could this happen? Alex wondered as he came back into Peter's room. George was obviously having trouble getting off Peter's suit and he was getting more frustrated and panicked.

"I got the stuff," Alex set them down, taking the thermometer and placing it under Peter's tongue.

"I can't get the damn thing off," George shook his head. "Did you know?"

Alex's eyes flickered over the unconscious form in front of him and he shook his head.

The thermometer beeped a minute later and when Alex saw the number, he almost threw up. "Dad?"

George's head snapped up at that. "How high is it?"

Alex felt tears well up in his eyes and he showed the number to him, not able to speak.

"Fuck," George cursed and began dipping the rags in the water before holding one to Peter's forehead and the back of his neck.

"That's too high," Alex said. The number still blinking, ringing alarm bells in Alex's head. 112 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Grab my phone and call May," George told him, his voice still in business mode, but the panic in his eyes gave it away that he wasn't faring much better than Alex.

Scrambling to his feet, Alex ran into the kitchen to grab the first phone he saw, which had been his. Dialing May's number, Alex wanted to cry when it went to voicemail the first time. He tried again with no success and this time he opened up his email page and found May's pager information. He had promised to never use it unless there was a direct emergency, but he didn't know what else to do.

SOS -A

He pressed the send button and kept bouncing on his feet, waiting for a response. A second later, May called him.

"What happened?" May's calm voice washed over him as soon as he answered.

"Peter..." Alex's voice broke.

"Alex, I need you to tell me everything," May told him patiently. "Take deep breaths."

Alex closed his eyes and fought for a few breaths before he said, "Peter's hurt."

"What kind of hurt? Did something happen at the game?"

"He came through his window... May, it's really bad," Alex was close to tears.

May paused for a moment before she asked, "Is George there?"

"Yeah, hold on," Alex came running back into the room, and put the phone on speaker. "May's here."

George's gaze snapped to the phone, "May?"

"George, what happened?"

"You know, you could've told us about his bug side," George began.

"So he's that kind of hurt," May was beginning to get worried.

"He's burned everywhere and his temperature... his temperature's way too high," Alex hated how shaky his voice was.

"Is there a way to get his suit off?" George asked.

"There's an override release on both of his wrists, it's a black button on the inside of his wrist closest to his thumb," May told them, and Alex could hear her voice tremble slightly. "How high was his temperature?"

Alex carefully maneuvered Peter's top arm towards him so he could look for the override release. When May asked the question, Alex paused what he was doing and looked up at George, unsure of what to say.

George looked at him too before he said, "It was 112, May."

May cursed under her breath, genuine panic starting to take over. "That's too high, the highest it's ever hit was 109..."

Alex found the button and pressed it. Immediately, the suit expanded enough where George and Alex were able to shimmy the one piece off of Peter's torso, leaving the rest hanging on Peter's lower half. Alex recoiled at the burns and bruises that covered Peter's chest, ribs, and the expanse of his back. It looked like he had been in some sort of explosion.

"Jesus, Pete," George's professional voice was long gone and replaced with agony. "May, he needs a hospital."

"You can't take him to a normal hospital," May told them urgently. "I tried calling Tony and Happy but they keep going to voicemail. I don't have any of... George, I know I'm asking a lot."

"Never say that, not for yours or Peter's sake," George told her sternly. "Call the shots, we're flying blind."

"I need you to drive him upstate, to the Avenger's Compound, they have doctors on site that are familiar with his... bug problem."

"How far upstate are we talking?" George asked.

"About an hour north, maybe half of that if you really push it."

"Is he stable enough to do that?" Alex sounded unsure.

"I don't like it anymore than you do, but if we take him to a normal hospital they wouldn't even know what to do with him. I'm not risking his life when I know there are people out there that already know how to help him."

George closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths to calm himself before he nodded. "Okay, we'll head out now."

"I'll text you both the address, keep me updated."

"Meet us there?" George requested.

"I'm going to try and bounce as soon as I can," May promised.

"Just drive carefully," George said but May had already ended the call.

***

The drive upstate was complete agony for Alex, and he wasn't trying to be dramatic about it. George was in the driver's seat, the steering wheel clenched in a white-knuckle grip. As soon as his father had hit the interstate, he stepped on the gas pedal without second thought. Alex was in the back seat with Peter's unconscious form half in his lap and half on the seat, the younger boy's suit still covering the lower half of his body. From his bare torso, Alex could feel the heat radiating off the younger boy and he seemed to be getting increasingly hotter no matter how much Alex tried bringing his temperature down. He had bags of ice that were wrapped in a towel plastered against his skin that didn't have any burns, but he felt completely helpless.

He knew something had been going on with Peter from the very beginning, but he had always assumed it was Peter's way of trying to cope with everything that had been happening around him. Now that he knew of Peter's alter ego, everything that had happened in the past few weeks suddenly made perfect sense. The disappearing act and miraculously being at the Compound must've been related to Spider-Man, and on top of all that the whole Stark Internship thing was just the cherry on top.

Why didn't he tell me? Alex asked himself right away before he brushed it off. Peter hadn't told him because he didn't know Alex. Alex was just a person who was forced into his life, and not by choice. Still, I thought we were actually getting pretty close...

"How far out are we?" Alex asked, his voice completely wrecked.

"About ten miles," George glanced at the GPS. They were in the back roads of upstate New York and his father had been increasingly speeding up the more they went down the long straight road. "How's he doing?"

"He's still too hot," Alex shook his head. "I knew he shouldn't have left... He shouldn't have been out tonight. Not after that."

George looked at them from the rear view mirror, and Alex saw the sadness in his eyes. Without another word, George pressed the gas pedal harder.

The rest of the journey passed in complete silence until George sped through the entrance gate and Alex flinched at the reminder of how fast they were going. Cars and Alex have had a complicated relationship ever since his mother died, and he had been doing so well at focusing on Peter that he had completely forgotten he was sitting inside of his worse fear.

George skidded to a stop at the main entrance and turned off the car. He came around and opened Alex's door, reaching his arms out to carefully lift Peter out of the car. Any other time, Alex would've cracked a joke about George cradling someone to their chest like a baby, but seeing a frail Peter curled against George was an oddly touching sight. There was something almost instinctively paternal about it. Alex jumped out of the car and ran in front of George and into the compound.

"We need some help!" Alex called out desperately, his voice feeling like it was ripping his throat apart.

Almost immediately an Irish female voice, replied, "Dr. Banner and Clint Barton are on their way to assist."

Alex jumped at the voice that seemed to be coming out of the walls, but he didn't get to ponder it before two figures came sprinting their way towards them from the elevator.

The archer's eyes locked on Peter immediately and his pace grew quicker, "What happened?"

"We don't know," Alex's quivering voice barely pushed passed the lump in his throat. "He came home like this..."

"He's got burns on his anterior and posterior torso," George readjusted his grip on the teen, his doctor side coming out immediately. "I couldn't assess them all, but a majority appear to be second degree burns. It's his temperature we're worried about, it keeps going up no matter what we do."

Bruce placed a hand on Peter's head and recoiled almost immediately in surprise. "That's really high." Bruce began walking and motioned for them to follow. "How high was it when you found him?"

"It was 112 before we left," George followed without hesitation. "We tried bringing it down, but nothing seemed to work."

"It was like he kept burning up," Alex added.

"It's not uncommon for this to happen to him," Clint tried to reassure him, but failed when Alex was able to detect the worry in the archer's voice. "Kid's got some pretty weird powers."

Bruce led them through the elevator and it took them upstairs two floors before they made their way into a makeshift infirmary. Making their way into a vacant room, George gently set Peter down on the transportable bed. Once Peter had been passed over to Bruce and Clint, Bruce ushered them out of the room so that he could have some space to work. Two minutes later, Alex and George found themselves in a luxurious waiting room that had full velvet couches and a vast selection of coffee, water and other beverages that Alex wasn't old enough to have.

His hands wouldn't stop shaking no matter how hard he tried to calm his nerves. The last time he had been in the hospital, it had been when his mother died. Seeing Peter so beat up with a temperature that was too hot for any person to come out unscathed... it scared Alex. In the past couple of months, Alex had felt this instinctive pull towards the younger boy, almost as if he had always considered Peter to be his little brother. They had been making good progress too in the past couple of weeks with Peter slowly opening up to accept Alex and George into his newfound family.

Please don't make me lose him, Alex pleaded. I don't know if I can handle that.

Alex wasn't the type of person to burst into tears randomly, he's always been a level-headed kind of guy, one that people tended to gravitate towards because he was good at listening without judgement. There were only a handful amount of times where Alex could remember crying, and the main one that stood out was the day his mother died. Right now, though, Alex was scared of losing Peter, the little brother he never had. Before he knew what was happening, George was sitting beside him and pulling him into his arms. Alex clung back desperately, digging his face into the crook of his father's neck as the tears broke free.

***

When Alex blinked awake to find himself resting his head on his father's shoulder, he couldn't even remember drifting off in the first place. George had an arm wrapped around his stomach in a firm grip, and Alex knew that his father was trying as hard as he could to appear strong for his son. There were always little ticks that gave him away, and Alex had learned quite a few of them as the years have gone by.

"How long has it been?" Alex's rough voice broke the silence.

George's arm tightened around him. "They took him back an hour ago."

Alex shut his eyes again, Why couldn't I just wake up when this nightmare was done?

George's phone began to ring and the arm around Alex slid away, "It's May."

Alex sat up from where he was laying against George and said, "You should go fill her in."

George's eyes flickered between the phone and Alex before he gave Alex a hug with a promise to be right back. Alex watched his father's retreating form, hearing his voice fade away as he walked away. Pulling his legs up to his chest, Alex wrapped his arms around himself as if it was the only thing keeping him from falling apart at that moment. 

He wasn't alone long before someone joined him, the smell of chocolate invading his senses. "Care for a cup?"

When Alex looked up he was greeted with the one and only Scarlet Witch, her red hair tied up in a loose pony tail while wearing a loose green hoodie and a pair of gray joggers.

Alex accepted the cup wordlessly and held the mug in his hands. The heat reminded him of Peter's burning hot skin and he wasn't sure if he wanted the hot chocolate anymore. However, he hated to be rude and took a hesitant sip. He half expected to recoil at the heat and the memories it would bring, but there was something soothing about the taste of the drink.

"I sprinkled a little chamomile on top," Wanda told him kindly. "My brother used to do that for me whenever I was scared about something."

"Thanks," Alex told her genuinely, his voice rather small.

"He's a tough kid, he doesn't give up easily."

Alex shook his head, if he hadn't cried all his tears out he had a feeling he would have started bawling again. "I didn't even know he was Spider-Man until two hours ago."

Wanda sighed, "Yeah, that probably wasn't the best way to find out."

"No, it really wasn't."

Wanda studied him thoughtfully for a moment before saying, "You care about him." It wasn't a question.

Alex took another sip of the hot chocolate and he could feel his hands starting to slowly stop shaking. "I never had a brother, but I always wanted one."

"That's a good relationship to have," Wanda noted. "My brother was my best friend, I never wanted to imagine a world without him."

Alex's eyes flickered over to her, "What happened to him?"

Wanda's eyes grew glassy at the question and Alex wondered if he overstepped. "He died in battle a long time ago. It still feels like yesterday."

Alex's heart dropped at that, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked."

Wanda shook her head, "I kind of set it up to make a point. I'm glad you two became friends, he really needed someone like that ever since he came back."

"Someone like who?" Alex frowned in confusion.

"Someone new, someone to prove that there was still hope in the darkest of times," Wanda told him genuinely. "In a sense you've become his beacon."

Part of Alex wanted to believe that, but it felt too good to be true. "How do you know that?"

"Let's just say I'm pretty good at reading people," Wanda smiled kindly. "He's a fighter, don't sell himself short. He'll be okay."

"He's got to be... I don't want to imagine if he wasn't gonna be," Alex's voice broke.

Wanda placed a gentle hand on his forearm and repeated, "He'll be okay." 

As soon as she said that, she got up and left as quick as she came, leaving Alex to sip on his hot chocolate and hoping that what she said was true.

Chapter Text

If it was one thing that Tony hated, it was the undercover part of being an Avenger. There was nothing that he despised more than dressing up in fancy outfits just because he had to play the role of the "billionaire, playboy, philanthropist" that he always seemed to be defined as to the public. Don't get him wrong, he loved giving back to his community, hell he's even helped saved the world in more ways that he could count. He just hated people only seeing the Tony Stark that had been printed in the paper, because he was so much more than the Tony Stark people saw twenty something years ago.

Despite his highest complaints, Tony currently found himself in a scientific expo for a no name company call OSCORP, acting as a representative from Stark Industries. His part of the undercover operation had been the most natural and it was the sole reason that the Avengers were able to go undercover at the event in the first place. One thing's for sure: Tony didn't like the company at all, and it wasn't just because it was a direct competitor for his company. OSCORP had sprung up in the past few months ever since half of the world's population came back from the Snap, five years after a small inventor created a dream that quickly fell through after said inventor lost his son, and therefore lost his passion. Either way, it was impossible for the company to accumulate such a high reputation that it now held in a mere two months, and that's where the red flags rang in Tony's head. Not to mention that after doing some digging, Tony found distinct similarities between the androids that the Avengers had faced recently and the technology that had been displayed by OSCORP. So, that's how he found himself stuck in an expo along with Steve, Sam, Natasha and Bucky.

"Anyone see anything?" Steve asked over the comms.

Tony was leaning against one of the high rise tables, taking a small sip of his cocktail as he surveyed the crowd. "Nothing, and I hate it."

"You hate everything about it because you're biased," Sam muttered.

"Excuse you, I take offense to that," Tony disagreed.

"I still don't know why we all had to come in the first place," Bucky grumbled. "Couldn't this have been just a two person job?"

"We are all here because Tony found a reason to be worried," Steve reminded them. "If we can just find anything that reflects the technology of the androids..."

"I gotta say, I respect the attempt at talking science, but you are utterly failing," Tony took another sip of his drink.

"Yeah, well, maybe he shouldn't be the one talking about it," Natasha interjected. "So what the hell are we looking for exactly?"

Tony sighed in exasperation. "The androids were running on a fusion based energy source, something that is not exactly cheap to run ten hulk-sized androids in upstate New York."

"We've been here for two hours and haven't found anything," Sam pointed out. "I could be back at the compound and actually doing something productive."

"By productive, do you mean challenging Clint to a Mario Kart rematch?" Natasha snarked.

"Even Mario Kart is more productive than this shit," Sam stated proudly.

"Enough talking," Steve chided. "This is supposed to be an undercover operation. The last thing we need is to draw people's attention. If people see the Avengers then they're going to know something is going on."

"Steve's right." Tony cringed at agreeing with the super solider. Then his eyes caught something peculiar, immediately gaining his attention.

On the other side of the tower's entrance hall, a brown-haired boy was walking towards the employee entrance of OSCORP Tower, but he couldn't have been older than Peter's age.

What are you up to? Tony wondered as he snuck his way towards the kid, taking care not to draw attention to himself.

"Tony, do you got something?" Steve's voice echoed in his ear.

Tony frowned at that, "I don't know." He watched as the kid typed in a passcode, and Tony immediately pressed a button on his glasses. "FRIDAY, scan what he's typing."

Once the boy entered the employee entrance, Tony waited a few minutes before following, using FRIDAY's scan to unlock the door before slipping inside. Right away, Tony spotted a moving elevator and watched as the numbers continued to ascend before stopping at the 20th level.

"FRIDAY, how many cameras am I facing here?" Tony muttered under his breath.

"There appears to be no security cameras that I can detect, Boss," The Irish voice of his AI somehow managed to sound unsettled.

Yeah, that's not concerning at all, The alarm bells continuing to ring in his mind. 

"Tony, what's going on?" Natasha's sharp voice crackled through the comms, but it was hard to make out her voice over the static in his earpiece.

"FRIDAY, what's going on?"

"It appears to be some sort of jamming frequency," FRIDAY reported. "It must be something in the infrastructure because I can't pinpoint the exact location."

"So you're saying I'm essentially entering a dead zone?" Tony clarified.

"In simple words, yes."

Tony sighed and dropped his head in exasperation. "Lovely, well let's get on with it then."

When Tony walked out of the elevator on the 20th floor, he almost turned around and immediately called it a day. It was like a scene that had been taken right from a horror movie. The elongated hallway was completely cemented with zero windows, the only lighting available was a tinged lime green glow that lined the middle of the hallway. Taking quiet steps, Tony began stalking down the hallway, a pit of dread gradually curling itself deeper into his stomach with each step he took. There were doors on either side he passed, but they were all blacked out with no signs of light. Finally, when Tony approached the last door to his left, he heard voices that made him pause.

"I don't care how you do it as long as you hold up on your end of the bargain," A young tenor voice echoed, sounding pissed off.

"I'm sorry, sir, but your father's serum was of his own creation," A older baritone voice sounded remorseful. "Even then it wasn't perfected and it killed him in the end."

A glass shattered and Tony flinched at the sound. "My father didn't die from the serum, he died because someone intentionally sabotaged it!"

"You don't know how dangerous this could be if it lands in the wrong hands..."

"Which is why I'm going to do what my father did," The younger voice swore. "Don't forget what you promised me, because if you fail to follow through you know exactly what I'm capable of."

"Yes, sir," the baritone voice sounded chastised. "I'll figure out where it went wrong this time, I truly am sorry."

Tony decided he had heard enough when he took the cue that this so called "sir" did not plan on sticking around. Hurrying back to the elevator, Tony quickly exited the way he came, entering the party as if he had never left. Expertly grabbing a cocktail from a server, Tony began talking to a random representative from some solar research company, keeping a discreet eye on the employee entrance, except the kid never came back out. Instead, two security guards entered the party and Tony immediately knew he had overstayed his welcome. He began dodging the crowd, keeping to the shadows as he made his way towards the exits.

"Time to chew and screw," Tony told them. "My cover's been blown."

"Stark, what the hell?" Sam sounded pissed. "We nearly went on a rescue mission for your sorry ass."

"Get out now," Tony ordered as he slipped out of the exit and into the humid September night air.

A few minutes later when Tony hit the skies, he knew the others got out as soon as Steve spoke up. "What happened in there? Where did you go?"

"So apparently I walked into a dead zone," Tony admitted. "Saw a random ass kid slip into the employee entrance and I just kind of followed."

"A kid?" Bucky sounded confused. "How old?"

"Maybe sixteen?" Tony guessed. "I didn't exactly get a good look at his face."

"What about a name?" Sam asked.

"I didn't get a name, but I got a conversation." Tony bit his lip in thought. "It sounded like they were working on some sort of serum, but I didn't exactly get a chance to figure out what it was. The place had zero detectable cameras so I couldn't really hack into them."

"No cameras? Well that's suspicious," Natasha noted.

"Yeah, no shit," Tony rolled his eyes.

"Rendezvous back at the compound, we'll debrief there," Steve stated.

"Will do, Cap," Tony agreed before he turned off his comm set. 

***

Tony should've known that the night had gone too smoothly and that his luck was going to run out eventually. Oddly enough, it wasn't the sight of a random car parked at the compound's entrance that made him uneasy, but the mere sight of the entire building brought a wave of dread over him that was enough to make him shiver. Once Tony landed at the entrance to the Compound, the nanotech suit retracted into the makeshift arc reactor that rested in the center of his chest. As soon as he walked into the building, an unexplained pit of dread twisted a knot in his stomach and he knew something was wrong.

"FRIDAY?" Tony called out. "What's going on?"

"It appears that Peter is in the infirmary, Boss," Friday revealed.

Tony's heart skipped a beat at the new information and he quickly took off at a run towards the elevator. "Why the hell wasn't I notified?" Tony demanded.

"You turned off all outside communication in your suit for the mission," FRIDAY's voice traveled with him. "You did not turn it back on once you left the mission's location."

Tony skidded to a stop at the elevator door for a split second before the doors opened. "Peter has emergency override access," Tony wracked his brain for possible causes as to how he missed such a notification. "His AI should've been able too..."

"Boss, I got no notice of Peter's AI sending out an SOS beacon," FRIDAY reported.

"But his AI's fully functional, he told me he fixed it..." Tony was still confused before the idea dawned on him. His face fell at that and a spark of irritation coursed through his veins. "Dammit, kid..."

The doors to the third floor opened and Tony hurried into the infirmary wing, looking past the windowed rooms to see which room was occupied. He froze mid-step when he saw three figures sitting at the beside of an occupied cot. Tony took one glance and knew that May was there along with her husband and step kid. Peter looked clammy from what Tony could see from the outside hallway. The younger boy had a nasal cannula resting just below his nose and his entire torso was wrapped in a white bandage, fading into the grey sweatpants that he was wearing.

"It looks worse than it actually is."

Bruce's voice made Tony jump out of his skin, the older man looking over to see the scientist had come to stand beside him, looking into Peter's room through the windows.

"What happened?" Tony's voice was toneless, mostly due to him feeling like he was trapped in limbo.

"May's husband and step son brought him in about two hours ago," Bruce crossed his arms. "His entire torso was scattered with second degree burns and he was running a high fever."

Second degree burns... Tony felt a wave of nausea wash over him at that. "How high?"

"It hit 114 before Clint and I were able to bring it down," Bruce revealed solemnly. "It's been resting steady at 106 for about an hour now, but I have a feeling it'll go down more as his burns heal."

Tony shook his head in bemusement, "How did this even happen?"

Bruce uncrossed his arms and pulled out his Stark Phone from his pocket. "I don't know exactly, but I have a strongly feeling that this could've done it." He handed Tony his phone and Tony looked at the article that displayed the breaking news headline, Spider-Man Saves Trapped Civilians from Raging Fire.

"Dammit, Peter, you're not a firefighter..." Tony gritted his teeth. "What was he even thinking, he can't thermoregulate."

"You know, I almost didn't believe you at first when you said that," Bruce admitted. "It's a groundbreaking scientific phenomena to see humans who lack the ability to thermoregulate. But now I see what you mean when you said it's your greatest fear."

"His suit has protocols in place to keep this from happening," Tony was still trying to process the possibilities of what could have happened.

"His suit was pretty much in ruins when he came in," Bruce revealed. "I brought it down to your lab after he was stabilized."

"I gotta figure out what happened..." Tony went to leave, but Bruce caught him by his arm.

"I really think you should stay here with him, Tony, he was asking for you. He was out of it, he still isn't fully lucid," Bruce protested.

Tony looked over to see the full room and Tony shook his head, "His family's with him, Bruce, he's not alone."

"Tony," Bruce looked at him in disapproval.

"Bruce," Tony looked at him pleadingly. "He almost died tonight, again, because of something that I'm obviously missing. I can't... Just, please."

Bruce studied him for a moment before letting him go, "It's not your fault, Tony."

"Tell that to the person I keep letting down the most," Tony told him sadly before walking away.

***

Tony had spent at least three hours in his lab building Peter a new Spider-Man suit when someone finally came to find him. When Tony had initially gotten down to his lab, he took one look at Peter's ruined uniform and decided to just build a new spandex suit from scratch. Either way, seeing the singed fabric made his stomach roll and he just couldn't bear to look at it any longer.

He started with the general design, keeping the red scheme with the web outline engraved into it, but replacing the blue fabric with jet black fabric under Peter's arms down his sides and across his back. The spider emblem on the back was now replaced with a white color instead of the blue that had shone on the other suit. Finally, to top it all off, two red bands encircled the inside of the suit's elbows.

Tony kicked himself for not doing a complete remodel as soon as Peter had came back, instead he had given it zero thought and Peter had paid the price. To begin, Tony hadn't even known that the Iron Spider suit had been left in ruins and Peter had resorted to using his initial Spider-Man spandex suit. He also hadn't even thought to check KAREN's status, which apparently had been a mistake since the AI was down when Peter got hurt over a week ago. When Tony had upgraded the suit since that accident, he hadn't been able to finish brining the AI back online before the Avengers had been called on that forsaken mission. He should've known that Peter was smart enough to figure out how to get into KAREN's coding.

"How long have you been down here?"

Tony didn't spare the Captain a glance and continued to wrestle with KAREN's coding. As far as Tony knew, he didn't think Peter had a background in coding, but he should've known better than to underestimate Peter's academic talents.

"That a new suit for Peter?" Steve sounded curious, but Tony knew it was a peace offering before he pried Tony away from his work.

"I upgraded his Fireproof protocol and his Frostbite protocol," Tony began absentmindedly. "Not that I expect him to go firefighting again, I'm going to have a serious talk to him about self preservation instincts."

"Bruce said his fever's almost broken," Steve offered. "Maybe you should go up and visit him."

"He's already got a crowded room," Tony brushed it off, but there was a distinct pull in his heart at the mention of visiting his intern. "Besides I need to fix this so I don't miss a notification anymore if he needs me."

Steve sighed at that, "Tony, you got to stop relying so much on technology."

That got Tony to look up at Steve, but only to shoot him an incredulous look. "I don't know if you realize this, Cap, but technology is essentially who I am. Literally."

"I'm not talking about Iron Man," Steve shook his head. "I know you care about him, Tony, more than you will ever admit out loud. You see him as a son, and Peter more than sees you like a father too. You've got to stop relying on technology to tell you that something's wrong with him."

"What are you trying to imply, Rogers, huh?" Tony raised an eyebrow at him. "Are you here to tell me I'm a crappy human being and an even crappier mentor? Yeah, I already got that by a mile."

"Then why aren't you doing anything about it?" Steve challenged.

Tony set down the tool in his hand a little too harshly on the table, "Don't you think I want to fix it? I want more than anything to show him how much he matters, but I don't even know where to start, Steve! You didn't see him when I found him on the bathroom floor a few days ago, you don't know how it felt to hear and feel him completely crumble to the ground and confess that he feels like he's suffocating under the weight of the new world. And what did I do to stop it? I did jack squat because I thought... I thought we were fine, but I just didn't see that we weren't because I was so damn blind. I don't know how to show him how much I regret not being there."

Steve's face softened at the confession and he stepped closer to lean against the table across from Tony. "We all make mistakes, it was an adjustment for all of us. I know you, Tony, I know you don't do well with change. You got used to finding ways to distract you from the painful memory of what you had lost, but now you have it back. You two would do anything for one another, you're essentially family to one another."

Tony clenched his jaw as he fought back the tears at Steve's words.

"What you can do right now? Be there at his bedside and show him you're not going anywhere," Steve said truthfully. "I think that'll mean more to him than you'll ever know."

Tony hated to admit it, but Steve had a point. He nodded tearfully and said, "Okay."

Steve smiled victoriously at that, "May and her husband took one of the guest rooms not too long ago, her step son followed soon after. He's alone right now, don't leave him like that, yeah?"

***

The orange sky above him was a sole reminder of the home that Peter had left behind back on Earth. That and the sand the seemed to swallow his feet every time he took a step. Quill had called the planet Titan, and its name was an eerie reminder that they were up against a mad titan himself, a titan that called himself Thanos. Peter had always dreamed of going to space when he was a kid, it was like the fantasy that every nerdy child had, especially those who would spend their days binge watching Star Wars and Star Trek after they came home from school. There was something so entrancing about venturing into an unknown universe that held so many possibilities just out of reach.

As soon as Peter crash landed on a strange planet with Tony and Dr. Strange, he quickly began to realize that space was not as peaceful at it had appeared to be from the safety of his home planet. Tony had been right, Peter hadn't fully thought about a situation like he had gotten himself into, but at least Tony wasn't alone. As long as the two of them were together, nothing could go wrong. At least, that's what Peter had always convinced himself, and it quickly got thrown out the window as soon as they faced off against Thanos. Tony had been on the verge of dying and Dr. Strange gave up their only leverage. There had been no winning situation in that moment, they lost either way. Selfishly, Peter was glad it meant that his mentor hadn't perished at the hands of Thanos.

Then something happened and people started turning to dust. He had associated the strange feeling he felt from watching Mantis, Drax and Quill crumble to ash, their remains scattering in the faint wind of the orange planet. Then he started feeling as thought his insides were slowly fading away, and Peter couldn't quite describe the feeling but it felt like his sixth sense was ringing bells in his head. 

"Mr. Stark?" Peter croaked out fearfully, his eyes wide as Tony turned to face him, the dread evident on the older man's face. "I don't feel so good..."

Peter had looked down at his hands and he could've sworn he saw them beginning to blow off into the wind in small flecks.

"You're alright," Tony tried to tell him, but Peter couldn't tell if the older man had been trying to reassure himself or Peter.

"I don't... I don't know w-what's happening..." Peter began to stumble forward. "I don't know..." His feet missed a step and he fell forcefully into Tony, who had caught him. It was like his entire body was falling and a wave of fear was quickly overwhelming him. "I don't want to go... I don't want to go, sir. Please..."

The two of them were slipping to the floor, and Peter was scared to look down. He was scared to see his legs that were no doubt slowly crumbling into nothing.

"Please, I don't want to go... I don't want to go," Peter pleaded and Tony finally crumpled under Peter's dead weight and they fell the rest of the way to the floor, Peter landing on his back with Tony leaning above him. He could feel his life slowly slipping away with his body and he looked up to Tony tearfully and said, "I'm sorry," before his vision faded to white.

***

Peter gasped awake as he felt a pair of strong hands forcefully shake his shoulders in an attempt to bring him out of the dream that he wished would just go away. Peter quickly latched on to the person's shirt with his fist and honed in on the sound that he found himself searching for the most after a nightmare like this. When Peter found the strong heartbeat he let out a desperate sob as a wave of security washed over him. A hand gravitated towards the back of his neck and the grounding pressure along with his mentor's heartbeat was enough to ground him back to reality, reminding him that he was whole and wasn't crumbling to ash.

When his overwhelmed senses came back down, he was aware of a faint rumbling that he quickly made out to be Tony speaking to him softly, but it sounded miles away. It was either that Tony's voice was really that far away, or his brain was running through molasses with its sluggish reaction time.

Peter let go of Tony's shirt, his hands evidently shaking but managed to croak out, "I'm sorry."

Tony cringed at the words, but quickly hid his reaction behind the concerned expression on his face. "You back with me, Pete?"

Peter just nodded tiredly, his entire body shivering, but he wasn't sure if it was because of the chill of the room or if he was still shaking with the aftermath of the unpleasant trip down memory lane.

Tony, who was sitting on the edge of the bed leaned over to place a hand on Peter's forehead with a concentrated expression.

Peter watch Tony curiously before he asked, "Is this real?"

Tony frowned at that, "Is this... Why wouldn't this be real?"

Peter just hummed at that, closing his eyes against the faint blue glow of Tony's arc reactor.

"You're still burning up, kid," Tony said sadly. "You do realize you're not a firefighter for a reason, right?"

"Fire?" Peter opened his eyes and frowned. "What fire?"

Tony shook his head, "And that's the fever."

"I'm sick?" Peter wondered.

Tony looked at him with a soft worried expression and moved the hand that had been on his forehead to the side of Peter's neck. "Yeah, kid, your weird ass powers are making you a little under the weather."

"Oh," Peter replied dumbly.

"You should try and get some more shut eye," Tony patted the side of his neck.

Peter whined at that, "Don't wanna. Sleep is scary."

Tony sighed, "I'm not going anywhere, Pete. I'll keep the nightmares away."

"Promise?" Peter asked, blinking his eyes blearily. He was faintly aware of the fact that the fever he was running had to be mudding up his thoughts. He reached out blindly and grabbed Tony by his arm and pulled the older man towards him.

"Peter, not the damn stickiness again," Tony protested.

"Stay," Peter pleaded. "Your heartbeat keeps the bad thoughts away."

Tony was silent for a moment before saying, "What?"

Peter closed his eyes sleepily. "Your heartbeat makes me feel safe."

Tony chuckled under his breath, "Your powers will never fail to surprise me, kid. Okay, move over."

Peter let Tony gently move him into a position where Tony could lay down on the edge of the bed and Peter quickly curled into the his mentor's side, resting his head on the billionaires chest so his ear rested against the strong heartbeat that resided there. It took him a few seconds before he drifted off into a dreamless oblivion.

Chapter Text

It was the steady beeping that brought Peter out of the peaceful waves of sleep and back to reality. His mind felt a little foggy, but pain was surprisingly absent from his body and Peter knew that was a blessing in itself. The one thing that he did hate, however, was the fact that he could smell the sharp scent of disinfectant and that meant he was back in the infirmary.

How many times is that now? Peter thought blearily as he blinked his eyes open against the bright light that shone in from the windows.

Memories came flooding back to him in waves and Peter closed his eyes against the onslaught of the horrific events that had occurred. He swore he could still feel the fire that had burned him, but worst of all he still felt as if he could feel the overwhelming wave of heat from a pumpkin-shaped bomb blowing up in his face. The thing that stuck out the most was the horrific yellow eyes of the monster that had attacked him, and the gravelly voice of the creature sent a shiver down his spine.

At the end of the day, your heroics will always find a way too drag you six feet under... The final words of his attacker echoed in his ear and Peter couldn't get the pit out of his stomach from the chilling words. This had been the second time that Peter had been intentionally attacked by this person, especially now that Peter knew the first incident hadn't been his imagination after all. Peter just wasn't sure why the creature seemed to be after him with a personal vendetta. 

"Peter?" The familiar soothing voice caused Peter to freeze up. Images of someone shouting his name and hands skimming over his injured body flashed across his mind.

Peter turned his head to the side to see Alex sitting at his bedside, leaning forward so that his elbows were resting on his knees. The older boy was looking at him with a hesitant expression on his face, as if he was expecting Peter to tell him to leave.

Oddly enough, it felt like a weight had been lifted off his chest. He shot the raven-haired boy a small smile and a lame, "Hey."

Alex sighed in relief, but there was tension still in his shoulders. "Hey. How are you feeling? Are you in any pain?"

Peter shook his head, "I'm okay."

Alex shot him a look that said he obviously didn't believe him.

"Seriously, Alex, I'm okay," Peter promised. "I heal fast."

"So I've heard," Alex noted. "But you were pretty bad off..."

Peter winced at the reminder, a wave of guilt washing over him. "I'm sorry, I didn't want you to find out that way."

"You didn't want me to find out that my step-brother is Spider-Man," Alex nodded. "Yeah, I got that."

"I didn't mean it like that," Peter protested, glossing over the step-brother comment. "I... I was trying to find the right time."

Alex shook his head, "That sounded more abrasive than I meant it, Pete. Dad and I understand why you didn't want to tell us, we don't hold that against you. Last night was just a little bit of a doozy."

"That doesn't usually happen often."

"Spider-Man was spotted at an apartment fire last night, but he was never seen coming back out," Alex looked down at his lap. "That's where you went last night? After you left?"

Peter sighed, "Alex..."

"I'm not one to judge," Alex cut him off. "I just want to understand."

Peter knew that the other boy meant well, and he was shocked to realize that maybe he wanted to talk to him about it. "He helps me clear my head," He confessed.

"Just not in the best way?" Alex wondered.

"Sometimes not in the best way," Peter agreed. "After... I just needed to do something and Spider-Man is my only constant that I still have."

Peter saw Alex's face fall for a split second before the older boy recovered. "Why did you go into a burning building?"

Peter felt like he wanted to melt into the bed to avoid this conversation. "There were people that needed help."

"I'm not talking about the people," Alex's voice was quiet. "The news reporters said they were in the process of evacuating before you intervened. I know you help people, it's what you stand for, but this felt different, didn't it?"

"Alex..."

"When you took off, it felt a lot like the time that May told us about. The time where you bolted after your uncle," Alex admitted.

Peter's heart broke at the vocalization of his darkest moment that he could ever remember being in. However, nausea began flooding his system at the realization that maybe this hadn't been so different after all.

"Did you want to die?" Alex's voice cracked at the question.

Peter's eyes widened at the question and horror washed over him. "What? No, Alex, I swear!" That's when Peter saw the bags under his eyes and the way that Alex's shoulders were quivering. Suddenly, it felt like things made a lot more sense to him in that moment. "Your mom?"

Alex sniffled, clearly frustrated as he wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his Midtown hoodie. "When she took off upset after our fight..."

"Alex..." Peter shook his head, indicating that he didn't expect the older boy to finish his thought. 

"It's just, I can see how much you've been hurting," Alex barreled forward. "And I get scared sometimes, because I want to find a way to help, you know? I get scared because I just..."

"You can't blame yourself for how broken I am," Peter interjected quietly, not meeting the other boy's eyes. "But I swear, I would never do that. I couldn't do that to May... I couldn't do that to you or George either." He finally looked up at Alex who had also raised his head so their gazes locked on one another. "I get stupid sometimes, it's not the first time it's happened. Spider-Man's famous for rolling with the punches, you know? I act before I think and look where it get's me. I'm sorry."

Alex shook his head, "Stop apologizing, dude."

"I really am, though, I didn't mean to scare anyone."

"Peter," Alex gave him a sad smile. "I know."

They fell into silence for a moment before Alex asked, "Do you want to talk about you and Ned?"

Peter's face fell into an instinctive stony expression at the question. "No."

Alex gave him another look that read, Try again.

Peter quickly caved, "I don't know what to think about it, I knew I was a jerk to him, I just... I didn't think that could happen. I didn't think he'd do something like that."

"Sneaking behind your back with MJ you mean?"

"I mean, I know that she's his friend too," Peter shrugged. "So I can't be mad at him and yet at the same time I'm hurt? It feels selfish when I put it like that."

"You're allowed to be angry and hurt," Alex amended. "What they did was crappy and they could've done it in a much better way. They didn't have to hurt you the way that they did."

"People like me don't get to be angry," Peter echoed his words from his conversation with KAREN.

"People like you do get to be angry," Alex disagreed. "You don't have to feel like some monster for wanting to be angry, Pete. Look where that mentality is landing you. Are you sure this is the type of person you want to become? Being angry is a part of being human, and it's a part of the coping process. Ned betrayed your trust, you're allowed to be angry."

Peter couldn't help but smile at the protective vibe that Alex was radiating. It felt more comforting than Peter wanted to admit.

Alex must've noticed it too because a faint blushed had spread across his face. "Sorry."

"Don't be," Peter shook his head fondly. "Your kindness never fails to amaze me."

"What do you mean?"

"I just mean you keep trying so hard to be there for me, even when I feel like I don't deserve it."

"You gotta stop with the self deprecation, Pete," Alex told him sternly. "You do deserve it. You're hurting, but you're not alone. Tony told me about the conversation you two had, about how he was worried that you confessed to not believing in anything."

Peter flinched at that.

"You don't have to believe it right now," Alex reached over to place a steady hand on Peter's forearm. "But let me help you believe, let us help you see that you're not alone in this new world."

Peter felt a wave of sadness wash over him, but he looked over at Alex's genuine expression and just nodded.

Alex nodded back, "Okay... So, you gonna tell me what actually happened to make you look like a piece of burned toast?"

Peter's heart skipped a beat. "It was a fire, Alex."

"A fire alone wouldn't have done that kind of damage," Alex argued kindly.

"Someone's gas stove exploded," The lie fell easily from Peter's mouth before he could stop it. "I thought I heard someone screaming, but I didn't realize it was just the oven's shrill creaking before it went kaboom."

Alex frowned as he digested the information, but he seemed to accept it because his face softened once more. "You gotta promise me something, okay?"

Peter tilted his head curiously at the request.

"If something ever happens to make you upset enough to risk your life like that, I want you to call me, okay? I'm here for you, and we can work out anything together. You're not alone in this anymore."

If only it were that easy to make me believe it, A small voice chimed in Peter's head, but he kept that to himself.

***

Peter made it until that afternoon before he was starting to go stir crazy from just sitting in the infirmary. As soon as Bruce had deemed him medically clear, Peter bolted from the room, itching to leave the bad memories behind as he left. It had been early morning when Peter woke up to Alex sitting beside him, but he also woke up a lone. A small memory kept replaying in his mind, one that consisted of Tony being there and holding him like a child, as if his mere presence kept the nightmares at bay. However, Peter couldn't figure out if it had been real or just a fever induced nightmare, as he had found out that his fever peaked at 114 before Bruce had been able to bring it down. Peter really hoped it hadn't been a dream, but he also didn't want to put too much faith into it being reality.

May and George had yet to make an appearance before Peter had been discharged, but Alex said all of them had been up until two in the morning before Steve Rogers and Clint Barton had ushered them into the guest rooms for the night. Alex had been reluctant and had slept restlessly for two hours before coming back to Peter's bedside vigil. The thought of the raven haired boy caused him to fall back into his guilt tripping routine he often found himself in nowadays. He hadn't meant to scare Alex as much as he did, hell he didn't even mean to scare anyone in general. Peter had just been so desperate to escape the hurtful thoughts in his head that he did what he was infamously known for: he acted in a way that could've easily gotten him killed.

That's one thing that's never changed, Pete, you're still a selfish self-sacrificing idiot, Peter berated himself as he padded down to the lab, the floor cold under his bare feet. You always do what you want without thinking of what it would do to the other people around you.

He wasn't looking forward to the long conversation he was going to undoubtedly have with his aunt, but he was even looking less forward to the conversation he was about to have with his mentor. Ironically though, he wasn't sure if he wanted to run away from either one of them. Just as Peter got to the elevator, he was about to press the summoning button when the doors opened. Tony, who was looking down at his phone, looked up and paused when he saw who was standing in front of him.

Peter just held up a hesitant hand and sheepishly said, "Hey."

Tony stepped off the elevator with a frown on his face, "Are you supposed to be out of bed?"

Peter nodded, shuffling his feet. "Yeah, Dr. Banner just discharged me."

"Discharge and being in bed are two different things," Tony raised an eyebrow at that.

"I slept for almost twelve hours," Peter gave him an exasperate look. "I'm fully healed."

"Tell that to the remnants of scars on your chest and back, kid," Tony pointed out. "Come on, let's go to the kitchen."

"But I don't need..."

"If you seriously turn down food after healing your body's extensive injuries, I will smack you upside the head," Tony threatened lightly.

Peter chuckled at that, "Fair enough."

Tony studied him for a moment before calling out, "FRIDAY, have Steve meet us in the kitchen before his run. Tell him to bring a sweater, will you?"

"Tony..." Peter protested.

"Captain Rogers will be on his way shortly," FRIDAY replied a moment later.

"You are not walking around this compound in only a pair of joggers, you just went through heat shock and I am not carrying your ass if you develop hypothermia from your whacked out powers."

"Oh come on, this is the first time my thermoregulation has been an issue," Peter argued as he joined Tony in the elevator.

"Which wouldn't have been an issue in the first place if you had a small sense of self preservation," Tony nodded.

"There were people in trouble..."

"And I'm not saying I'm not proud of you for helping them," Tony interjected. "I'm just merely stating a concern about your firefighting skills, especially since said person can't thermoregulate."

Peter cringed at the mention of the fire, "Yeah, I have a brand new respect for firefighters."

"Enough to let them do their job next time? You're not a firefighter for a good reason, kid," Tony said as the doors opened and Peter followed him out onto the main floor.

"I guess I wasn't fully thinking in that moment," Peter admitted sheepishly.

"Alex told me this morning what happened at the game," Tony told him as they entered the kitchen. The billionaire motioned for Peter to sit at the kitchen island while he went to grab three of Peter's protein bars for him. "About Ned and MJ."

The mention of the names brought back Peter's sour mood. "Can we not talk about this right now?"

"I would say yes, but considering how much it hurt you I don't think that it is wise to gloss over it. Especially since you went on a reckless search for trouble and almost got yourself killed in the process."

"It's nothing," Peter shook his head. "Just leave it be."

Tony studied him from across the island with an intent look on his face before saying, "Spill, Parker."

"What do you want me to say?" Peter exclaimed. "That my best friend lied to me about one of the main things that hurt me the most since I've been back? Sure, that's true, and it hurt like hell, but she's his friend too, I can't overshadow that."

"Why are you making it out to be some small ordeal when your eyes say otherwise?" Tony asked kindly.

Since when do you pay that much attention to emotions anyway? "It hurt that he lied, okay? Is that what you want me to say?"

"But you're not just hurt," Tony added.

"Don't say I'm angry," Peter cut him off. "I don't need another person telling me that."

Tony studied him for a moment before his eyes widened. "You're scared to be angry?"

Peter paused mid bit of his second protein bar before lowering the bar back to the surface. He looked down at the counter top as if it was more interesting in that moment, but Peter knew it was because he didn't want to look Tony in the eye. "Whenever I get angry bad things happen."

Peter heard Tony sigh before footsteps approached him. It wasn't until a hand came down on his shoulder did he realize that he hadn't been breathing. "Kid..."

"Don't..." Peter's voice broke. "Don't try and convince me other wise."

Tony was silent, and Peter had a feeling it was because the billionaire didn't know what to say.

"I'm sorry," Peter apologized. "I know you want to find a way to fix me, but I don't know if I can be fixed."

Tony pulled out the stool next to Peter so he could sit beside him, turning his body so they were face to face. "You don't need to be fixed, you're still you. A little battered and bruised, naturally, but that doesn't mean you're broken."

"So why does it still feel like I am?" Peter wondered hollowly.

"I don't know, kid, I wish I had all of the answers," Tony replied sadly. "You're still hurting, and that's okay. You don't have to hold yourself to such high expectations, especially if those ideas are just digging you further into a hole that you can't get out of. Trust me, you're talking to a person who had unhealthy coping mechanisms in the past. It's tempting to let the negative thoughts consume you, but you can't fall into the trap. It's a very dangerous trap."

Peter's eyes flickered over to Tony, "What should I do?"

Tony's face softened at the question, "Depends on what you're asking for. Are you asking about Ned or are you asking about everything else going on?"

"Both?"

"Take this from a person who hates therapy with a passion, but I really think you need to talk to someone about this," Tony stated truthfully.

Peter shook his head, "I don't want therapy."

"I'm not asking you to see a complete stranger," Tony amended. "It could be me, it could be May or Alex or even George. Hell, it could even be any of the Avengers if you preferred. Sam has experience with this sort of thing, he'd be there in a heartbeat if you just give him the word. I don't want to just bluntly say this, but you know this isn't something you can just keep doing to yourself. Don't spiral so far that you can't come back from it."

Peter scoffed emotionally at that, "You're saying I'm depressed."

"It's kind of hard not to put it together," Tony shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "But I'm not just talking about that, kid, I'm also talking about the other elephant in the room."

Peter cringed at the implication. "I guess that wasn't a fever induced dream after all?"

"Are you talking about the part where you essentially trapped me in an unbreakable octopus hold last night? Yeah, kid, that wasn't a dream."

"Tony, I'm so..."

Tony held a hand up at that, "Don't you dare apologize for having nightmares. Not about that."

"Did I say something?" Peter wondered.

Tony recoiled at the question and it told Peter everything he wanted to know. "It's not the first time I heard those words in my dreams, and it certainly won't be the last. You're not the only one who has nightmares about it."

Peter was silent for a few moments before he confessed, "I felt it happening."

Tony froze at that, all color draining from his face. "What?"

"It must've been my sixth sense or rapid healing, I don't know, but it felt weird? Like it started with the feeling that something was tickling me, and my sixth sense was ringing alarm bells in my head. Then it was like I could essentially feel every atom in my body falling apart one by one. It wasn't painful, but it was terrifying. It was like my body was trying to fight it, but it was failing and I knew I was dying." Peter's eyes flickered to the countertop, shuddering at the memory. "It wasn't painful, so I guess that was something."

"Peter, I didn't even..."

"I didn't expect anyone else to think about it," Peter interjected. "But every time I close my eyes I'm back on that planet and I just experience that feeling over and over again. I didn't realize it at first, but there was one thing that always helped me sleep better."

"My heartbeat makes you sleep better?" Tony sounded pained.

"Way to be pathetically creepy, huh?" Peter chuckled bitterly.

Tony didn't say anything to that and the silence was bittersweet to Peter, but part of him itched for his mentor to say something, even if it was just to tell him how messed up that was. Instead Tony reached into the back pocket of the gray jeans he was wearing and pulled out a smart watch. He handed it to Peter, "Here."

Peter looked at the watch with a frown on his face, "What?"

"I know you disable KAREN's protocols," Tony said. "Gotta say, what you did was rather impressive, especially for someone who had little AI coding experience."

"Tony..." Peter began.

"I'm not going to lecture you about it," Tony shook his head. "Just take the damn watch, will you?"

Peter accepted the black smart watch that had a magnetic black band hanging loosely from the device.

"Someone made me realize that I should probably find a better way to respect people's privacy," Tony admitted. "Figured this was a peace offering. This watch will keep track of your vitals and if they fall into critical range, the coordinates of your last location will automatically be sent to FRIDAY. I have it set for all of the Avengers, it just makes sure that you have backup when you need it the most. Of course, you can also initiate an SOS beacon at the press of a button if you need it."

Peter's heart warmed at the gesture, "And KAREN?"

"Is no longer required to report every small little incident to me or to FRIDAY," Tony promised. "She's all yours."

Peter glanced between the watch and to Tony a few times before he bit his lip and threw his arms around his mentor's neck in a hug. The angle was rather awkward with both of them sitting down, but Tony readily returned the embrace with a firm grasp.

"Thank you," Peter told him genuinely.

"Trust me, kid, it's way overdue," Tony replied as he pulled back. "You just gotta promise me you'll reach out when you need us. I gotta be honest, I don't know how much more of these infirmary visits I can take before my heart gives out."

Peter found himself smiling at that, "Did you just call yourself old?"

"I didn't say that I was old," Tony denied in mock offense.

Peter chuckled genuinely at those words and he didn't miss the way that Tony's eyes sparkled with glee.

"Someone ask for a sweatshirt?" Steve's voice echoed as he entered the kitchen, a navy blue hoodie in his hands.

"Mr. Shirtless over here," Tony gestured at Peter. "Kid was walking around as if he was itching to catch a cold."

"I can't catch a cold, I don't get sick," Peter shot Tony an unimpressed look, but accepted the sweatshirt that Steve handed him.

"It's good to see you walking around," Steve told him kindly.

"I'm fine," Peter reassured the super solider. "I'm healed."

"As I said before, say that to the scars on your torso," Tony stood up and walked towards the coffee machine.

Peter rolled his eyes and looked back at Steve who was decked out in a tank top and shorts, "You're going for a run?"

Steve walked over to grab a water bottle from the cabinet, "Fifteen miles every day."

Peter's eyes widened at that, "What? Why would you even put yourself through that kind of torture?"

"Don't ask kid, that's just a headache waiting to happen," Tony, who had acquired a cup of coffee was leaning against the counter and sipping the liquid from his mug.

"Tony," Steve shot him an unimpressed look before looking back at Peter. "It's a super solider thing."

Peter held his hands up in surrender, "I'm not one to judge, Captain Rogers. I swing from buildings for a living."

"And climb them to," Tony shot Peter a pointed look. "I didn't forget that one time you climbed the Avengers Tower to sneak into the penthouse before I sold it."

"That was one time!" Peter protested. "It had been snowing and I was cold."

Tony shook his head, "Whatever you say, kid."

***

Peter ended up finding himself sitting on the roof of the compound a few hours later. The cool September afternoon air brushed across his face with a small breeze. He mainly wanted to get some fresh air, but he was also subtly avoiding everyone else while he waited for May to hunt him down. Another part of him wanted some privacy to clear his head.

When Peter had found a moment to himself, he had checked his phone to see 15 missed calls from Ned, 3 missed calls from an unknown number, and several text messages from both numbers. He had read a few of them, but each message he had read made him feel increasingly numb inside.

N: I'm so sorry, I know that doesn't mean a lot but I really am sorry

N: They keep saying Spider-Man was in a fire, are you okay?

N: Silent treatment... got it.

N: I deserve that, I'm not even going to pretend that I don't.

N: I never wanted to keep it a secret, I guess I was just too much of a coward to come clean.

N: I'm scared you'll never forgive me, but I want to do something to make it up to you.

UK: Don't be mad at Ned, he never wanted to keep this from you. I made him.

UK: I owe you an apology too, I never wanted it to go down like that. I never wanted you to find out like that.

UK: You were right, I didn't have the courage to say it to your face. It was selfish, but I guess that's just what I've always been good at.

UK: Just don't do anything stupid, Webhead, alright?

Peter scoffed at the unfamiliar nickname, but brushed it off. There was no doubt that the unknown number belonged to MJ, but Peter didn't have the energy or the desire to start a confrontation about everything. Ned and MJ both had not only hurt him, but broke his trust with their stunt of sneaking around behind his back. At the same time, though, Peter was selfish if he didn't consider that Ned had done it because he had just as much right to reconcile with the friends that he had lost when he was Snapped. It just didn't take away the sting of the knife that had been twisted in his gut, no matter how dramatic that sounded.

Scrolling through his phone, Peter dialed the number of one of the only friends he felt like he had left to trust.

"Hello?" The tenor voice echoed from the other line.

Peter cracked a small smile at the voice. "Hey, Harry."

"Peter," Harry sounded pleasantly surprised. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"I know it's pretty early on a Saturday," Peter began, glancing at his new Stark Watch that showed it was only ten in the morning.

"I'm an early bird, dude, don't worry about it," Harry brushed it off. "How was the game last night? I heard we kicked ass."

"I, uh, I don't know," Peter admitted.

"You don't know? I know football has never been your favorite sport, but don't tell me you fell asleep, Pete. I mean if you did, that would be impressive, but it would also be sad."

Peter chuckled at that, "No, I didn't fall asleep. I wouldn't do that to Alex anyway."

Harry was silent for a moment before he asked, "What happened?"

Peter sighed. "Why does everyone assume something happened?"

"Because you're an open book?"

"Gee, thanks."

"And someone might've told me to look out for you."

Peter's fist clenched at that. "Ned?"

"He told me what happened."

Peter looked at the sky in exasperation. "Of course he did."

"I don't agree with what he did, I want you to know that."

"If you ask me if I'm angry, I'm going to lose it."

"I don't need to ask if you're angry, because you sound completely pissed off."

"I didn't call you to listen to this, Harry," Peter's voice was quiet. "I already got many lectures."

"I'm not here to give you one," Harry amended. "I'm here to lend you an ear if you need one."

"Not yet," Peter told him. "Just a distraction right now."

"Now a distraction is what I can do," Harry agreed.

Peter spent the next hour on the phone listening to more of Harry's stories about his in time in LA. He went into detail about the part time job he had before he Snapped, working in a bakery as a baker's apprentice and how his father had initially been against it. Listening to his friend's voice allowed him to forget his troubles in the moment, and he felt himself relax as he just watched the passing clouds while the calm voice from the phone echoed in his ears.

Chapter Text

When Monday came back around to signify the start of a new school week, Peter found himself actually dreading the thought of walking the halls of Midtown High. More than that, Peter was not looking forward to inevitably running into Ned. The mere thought of the other boy was still a sore subject, but the anger that Peter had held towards him had long since faded since he woke up in the infirmary at the Avenger's compound. The hurt, however, still remained and it made Peter wonder if the anger perhaps still lurked in the shadows of his mind, waiting for the opportunity to show itself when given the chance.

"Peter, you're shaking the entire train," Alex's voice brought him back to reality. The older boy was leaning against one of the silver standing poles with his arms crossed.

Peter, who realized he had a white knuckled grip on the pole, quickly let go and sighed in relief when he saw it hadn't been damaged.

"I wasn't talking about the pole," Alex's voice failed to hide his sheepish amusement.

Peter frowned in confusion, "What?"

"You're essentially vibrating with anxiety." 

Of course you noticed, Peter thought. "Anyone ever tell you that you're insanely observant?"

"Some people say it's my super power," Alex shot him a goofy grin in an attempt to cheer him up.

Peter rolled his eyes good-naturedly at the jest, and he couldn't suppress the amused scoff that escaped him. He shouldn't have been surprised that Alex had noticed that he was on edge. The raven-haired boy had essentially been watching him like a hawk ever since the fire. Peter knew it was because Alex was scared, but didn't want to say anything. Every time Peter saw the subtle fear in his eyes, he felt guilty for making Alex worry so much. Peter wondered if it would've been better had Peter told him before Alex found him after the fire.

With the way that Alex was acting sometimes, Peter couldn't help but wonder if Alex called his buff about the gas stove explosion. Sometimes the older boy was hard to read, but Alex always had the ability to read people like a book, including Peter. Anyways, Peter didn't know why he was keeping the monster that attacked him close to his chest.

Green Goblin, Peter had dubbed him. Goblins are essentially tiny balls of rage, right? Not that this guy was small by any means, but he's green and looks like a goblin. So, Green Goblin it is.

Until someone called him out on it, Peter didn't have any plans to reveal what had happened. It wasn't that he had some sort of death wish, despite what others might think. It's just...He didn't want to raise any red flags until Peter had some answers of his own about who exactly this Green Goblin fellow was, and why he seemed to be after Peter's head.

Anyways, people are already worried about you as it is, Parker, Peter chided himself. No need to be selfish and give them a reason to be more worried about you than they already are.

"Worried about Ned?" Alex guessed gently, brining Peter out of his head once again.

Peter felt his hands clench by his side at the inquiry. "What gave it away?"

Alex studied him silently for a few seconds before saying, "I know you don't want to hear this, but you're going to have to confront him about it eventually."

"Are you suggesting I hate confrontation?"

Alex shook his head, "You know that I didn't mean it like that... It's just different when they're your friends."

Peter deflated as the words rang true. "I'm just not sure if I'm ready to face him yet. At least not today."

Alex bit his lip in thought before he asked, "Do you want me to walk you to your first class? It might deter him."

"You don't have to do that," Peter protested kindly. "You should meet up with your friends, I'll be okay."

Alex gave him a fond look, "Just take the offer as it stands, Pete. Don't be a tough guy, you don't have to do that, not around me."

Peter felt his heart warm at that and he nodded in agreement, his face showing his appreciation at the gesture.

***

When Peter walked up the front steps of Midtown High, Peter wanted more than anything to turn around and run away. He really missed the days where he was able to walk the halls of the school without feeling as if he had a pit of lead in his stomach. Nowadays, it seemed like his sixth sense was casting a spotlight on him so that the entire school could see every move he made. It didn't help that he was so tense from the events that had transpired last Friday. Part of him was afraid that people overheard what had happened and would just judge him for being a pathetically sad kid whose friends had stabbed him in the back.

To his dismay, that last part proved to be true. As he was walking to his locker with Alex by his side he kept hearing snippets of people's conversation that followed him through the halls.

"I heard he got to into a fight at the game last week..."

"Isn't he the quarterback's step-brother or something?"

"He got a couple of swings in too, such an asshole..."

"I saw him breakdown in the parking lot after, never seen someone cry so much, it was rather sad if you ask me..."

That last comment caused Peter's hand to clench and he felt the metal of his locker handle bend under his grip.

"Peter!" Alex's urgent voice whispered to him.

Peter flinched at the noise and immediately let go of the bent metal.

Alex's wide eyes looked at the metal, he took in Peter's tense shoulders and the crowd around him. He must've been able to connect the dots, because suddenly he scooted Peter over to open his locker and grab Peter's books for him before grabbing Peter by the elbow and moving him away from the crowd. Peter felt his cheeks flush in embarrassment as Alex more or less guided him towards his first class, but he couldn't find it in himself to care at that moment.

The hallway to Peter's first class was rather quiet in the back of the school, and with five minutes before the first bell, Peter took it as a breath of fresh air. When they pulled into a secluded corner, Alex handed Peter his books and Peter accepted them, his face hot.

"You okay?" Alex asked.

"Peachy," Peter returned as he stuffed to books in his bag.

"What were they saying?"

Peter shook his head in frustration, "Some dumb rumors about the game."

Alex's face hardened, "They don't know shit, dude, don't let that bother you."

"Doesn't change the fact that people staring is essentially like the sound of nails on a chalkboard," Peter grumbled.

Alex cringed in sympathy. "Senses, right... Not used to that."

Peter shook his head, "Don't worry about it, I'll be fine." 

A few seconds later the first bell rang, signifying the start of the school day. Alex readjusted the strap of his backpack that was slung across his shoulder, "Will you be alright?"

Peter nodded, "I'll survive. I've been through worse right?"

Alex shot Peter an unamused expression and Peter smiled sheepishly.

"I'll be fine," Peter promised.

Alex still looked uncertain at that and said, "If you need me for anything just call, alright?"

"And have you skip class?" Peter raised an eyebrow at him.

Alex smirked, "Best part about being the teacher's pet."

That got a genuine chuckle out of Peter, "Go before you're late."

Alex clapped him on the shoulder as a farewell and Peter watched as the raven-haired boy disappeared into the crowd that was quickly filling the halls. As soon as Alex's back disappeared behind the corner, Peter walked into to his first class of the day and made his way to the back of the classroom without a second thought. The first class went by relatively fast with the sixty minute block being filled with a lecture on Shakespeare's MacBeth that Peter couldn't care less about. However, he forced himself to pay attention to the lecture, as it kept his senses focused on one thing instead of every other small sound in the room.

However, when Peter got to his second class, he wished the floor would just swallow him whole. This was the first class he shared with Ned for the day and of course they sat next to one another. Instead of going to his usual spot, Peter sat down in the back of the room once more and pulled out his calculus book and a notebook. He could tell the exact moment that Ned walked into the room and Peter made it seem like he was busy looking over today's content in an attempt to avoid any conversation with him.

He should've known Ned wouldn't give up without trying, it was what Peter had always admired about him. It was what made him a good person to have in his corner whenever he was out being Spider-Man.

"Hey, Pete," Ned's quiet voice echoed beside him.

Peter had to bite his lip to stop himself from returning the instinctual greeting.

"How come you're sitting all the way back here? I thought your biggest pet peeve was sitting in the back of classrooms," Ned tried to joke.

Peter just continued writing down some notes on the content for today and didn't spare Ned a glance. Part of him knew he was being a jerk and he hated the guilty feeling that came along with it, he just wasn't sure if he was ready to face the conversation the two of them would inevitably have to have. Also, this was not the place that Peter wanted to have that type of conversation.

"Come on, Peter, I'm really trying here," Ned sounded pained.

"Trying to do what?" Peter finally asked.

"I just wanted to talk," Ned couldn't keep the pleading tone out of his voice.

"And can't you see that I don't want to talk?" Peter kept his voice neutral but he could see Ned flinching out of the corner of his peripheral vision.

"I'm really sorry," Ned apologized.

"Sorry doesn't take away the hurt, Ned," Peter replied. "But who am I to judge, huh? It's not like I just cried my eyes out after I lost one of my closest friends besides you. It's not like I lied to my best friend about something that was unfairly ripped away from him."

"Don't be unfair, dude," Ned's voice was getting harsh. "What can I do to make this right?"

"How about you take the hint and leave me alone?" Peter finally looked up at him.

Peter wanted to kick himself when he saw Ned's face crumble at that, and he knew he'd regret that later, but he just wasn't ready to talk to Ned about this. The tardy bell rang and Ned quickly walked to their usual row a few rows up and sat down, granting Peter's wish of being left alone to his own devices. Despite looking down at his notebook the entire block, he could feel Ned's gaze on him periodically throughout the class. As soon as the dismissal bell rang, Peter bolted out of the room despite Ned calling his name in another attempt to gain his attention.

***

When Peter sat down at the lunch table that afternoon, he dug through his backpack in an attempt to find the noise cancelling headphones that Tony had built him before the Snap. When he couldn't find them, Peter wanted to just let out a cry of frustration. Everywhere he went, he couldn't escape the stares of people watching his every movement, the whispers of the rumors from the game echoing around him. He knew that high school kids were cruel in the rumors they created, and it's not the first that Peter's been dragged into them, but it didn't mean he didn't despise it.

To his surprise, he wished that Alex had shared his lunch period, he was the main person that Peter found himself gravitating towards nowadays. When Peter first met Alex, he thought their polar opposite personalities would've kept them apart, but Alex had strived to prove him wrong and he had succeeded in his goal.

He called you his brother, Peter told himself. Isn't that what I've always wanted for as long as I could remember? So why am I so scared to accept it for what it is? He knew that answer before he finished that thought. Every person that Peter let into his life had either been forcibly ripped away from him, or they had eventually moved on once they tired of him. Peter was afraid of letting Alex get too close because Peter didn't think he could handle it if the older boy got ripped away from him too.

"Alone today?"

Peter glanced up from his packed lunch when he saw Harry come to sit across from him. "Hey, Harry," He greeted gloomily.

"You're quite the hotspot today, did you know that?" Harry wondered as he took a bite from his apple. "They're making up the stupidest stories."

"Trust me, I've noticed," Peter grumbled bitterly.

"Seems to me that someone is also in a cranky mood," Harry observed. He was quiet for a moment before he said, "Spill it, Pete, you're being doom and gloom."

"Just wish that people would mind their own business," Peter returned, but then his eyes widened. "I wasn't talking about you, I just mean every other person in this school. Well, I mean besides Alex too, but..."

Harry chuckled and raised up his free hand. "I got the gist, dude, it's chill."

"I'm sorry, it's just been a pretty bad morning." Peter apologized and his eyes scanned his surroundings. It took a just a second for Peter to find Ned sitting alone in the far corner of the cafeteria, playing with the food on his plate with a dejected look on his face. Part of him wanted to go over and pull Ned into a hug and forgive him, but his feet felt glued to where he sat.

I never wanted to hurt him, but isn't that what he did to me? Peter wondered sadly.

Harry turned around to follow his gaze and he let out a sigh before looking at Peter uncertainly. "Don't you think you're being too hard on him?"

Peter's eyes flickered over to meet Harry's gaze. "I don't know. What he did really sucked, but we've never... It doesn't feel right, but I can't find it in myself to do anything about it right now."

"He made a mistake, Peter," Harry protested. "He's your best friend..."

"So was MJ," Peter's eyes sank back to focus on his half eaten sandwich. "What they did..."

"What they did was wrong, and they could've handled it differently," Harry agreed. "But you have to look at it from his point of view too. MJ wasn't friends with just only you, she was his friend too."

"Don't you think I know that?" Peter shot him a pained look. "It's not about that. Okay, maybe it is a little bit about that, but he intentionally hurt me."

"It's a rough situation all around, Pete," Harry corrected him.

Peter's shoulders slumped, "I just need a few days. I think that'd be best for both of us anyway."

"Look, I'm not fond of being caught in the middle of this, he's become my friend too," Harry admitted. "But I get it. If you don't fix this I will slap you upside the head, though, don't think I wouldn't. You don't just toss aside that kind of friendship over one bump in the road."

No matter what type of relationship, there is always going to be bumps along the uneven path, Uncle Ben's words echoed in his mind. It's the way you handle the bumps that will either shatter what's been built or create a stronger new foundation from the imperfections.

Before Peter could respond, his phone buzzed and the notification from the lock screen showed that it was Tony.

T: You available to stop by the compound after school? Got a surprise for you.

A spark of curiosity ignited in Peter at those words.

P: What kind of a surprise?

T: A surprise that wouldn't be a surprise if I told you what said surprise is.

Peter rolled his eyes at the response.

P: I'll swing by.

T: Do I need to make you virtually promise it?

P: Don't be such a pessimist, I'll be there. Unless you want me to solemnly swear that I'm up to no good.

T: Did you just quote Harry Potter at me?

P: So I guess you finally got over yourself and watched the films?

T: Someone once told me that I was being culturally deprived of the cinematic masterpiece that was Harry Potter.

P: I'll be there, I promise.

"Who you talking to?" Harry wondered.

Peter's head shot up, he had almost forgotten where he was. "Oh, sorry, that was nothing."

Harry raised a disbelieving eyebrow at the reply. "If it was nothing, I'm guessing that's a cover for someone at Stark Industries contacting you."

Right... You know, Peter reminded himself. "Okay, fine, yeah it was Tony."

"You're on first name basis with a billionaire. Gotta say, that's pretty impressive," Harry admitted. "I'm jealous."

"Considering you believe me, I'm taking it as a win," Peter replied. 

Harry looked genuinely shocked at that, "There are people that don't believe you?"

Peter shrugged, "There was a guy that was here before the Snap, he always hounded me about being an attention seeking loser who used the Stark Internship as a way to seem cool."

Harry's eyes darkened, "He's lucky I wasn't there to see it."

Peter couldn't fight the smile at that, "No, I'd pity him if he got on your bad side."

"So, are you going to tell me how you got such an amazing opportunity."

"It was a contest," Peter easily fell into his back up story. "I guess SI needed the publicity so they started this essay contest, of all things. I went ahead and tried it, I had nothing to lose and I figured it'd be a good opportunity. I guess I just happened to be that one in a million."

"And now your Tony Stark's personal intern?" Harry whistled. "Geez, dude, you're leaving little room for competition."

"It's nothing special," Peter brushed it off. "I work the lab with him sometimes, just doing some small little projects."

"Have you ever worked on his suits?"

Peter shook his head, "Oh god no, he doesn't let anyone else touch his suits."

"Have you ever tried?"

Peter frowned at that, "I don't have a death wish."

Harry immediately looked chastised, "That's a fair point. Leave it to Tony to rig his suits for security reasons."

"Anyways, he was just asking me to stop by after school," Peter told him. "We need to finish some project for one of his board meetings next week."

"Well, guess it goes to show you have the best job on the entire planet," Harry grinned.

They fell into easy conversation until the bell rang to finish lunch. As he was leaving the lunch room he saw Ned's gaze wander over to him, but the shorter boy immediately looked away with a sad expression and if Peter looked close enough he could've sworn he saw tears in Ned's eyes.

Way to be a total dick, Parker, Peter felt guilty. Why is it that I feel hurt, but I still feel guilty that the person who hurt me is hurting because of me?

***

The cool air of the September afternoon blew across his face as Peter swung past the skyscrapers, feeling at ease as the ground and buildings flew past him. The new suit that Tony had built him fit snugly around him, and it almost felt as if it had molded itself to his skin to the point where he and the suit were one entire being.

He had hoped that being in the sky would clear his mind of Ned's heartbroken expression that seemed to have embedded itself into Peter's brain. He felt awful to see the shorter boy so hurt at Peter's actions, but at the same time Peter knew it showed Ned how he had felt when he learned of him and MJ sneaking around behind Peter's back. He knew it was selfish, but Peter couldn't help the resentment that resided in a small part of his heart. However, he didn't know what was right, or who was in the wrong. Maybe they both were in the wrong, but thinking about it hurt Peter's brain too much.

He made it halfway through his journey before KAREN's voice announced, "Peter, you have an incoming call from Alex Andrews."

Peter didn't miss the small wave of giddiness he felt at hearing the name. "Answer it, KAREN... Hello?"

"Hey! Where are you? I couldn't find you after school and figured maybe you beat me home, but you're not here." Alex tried to hide the worry from his voice.

Peter winced at his slip up. "I'm so sorry... Tony texted me and asked me to stop by the compound after school. I told May, but I guess I'm just not used to... well..."

He heard Alex sigh in relief. "Thank god. Okay, no it's fine."

"I really am sorry," Peter felt guilty. "I didn't mean to make you worry."

"Worried? I'm not worried."

Peter scoffed in amusement at the obvious lie. "You were totally worried, don't deny it."

"Okay, maybe I was a little worried...  Guess that answered the question as to why you weren't answering any of my texts," Alex jested half-heartedly.

"May's always on me about texting and swinging," Peter returned easily. "Especially after almost being pecked to death by a bird. I never heard the end of it from her."

"Will you be home tonight?" Alex wondered.

"Should be," Peter replied. "It's a school night after all."

"Well, just be safe alright?"

Peter smiled to himself at the evident caring tone in the older boy's voice. "I'll let you know when I get there if it makes you feel better."

"Am I that obvious?"

"Hey, you just found out that someone close to you is a masked vigilante," Peter pointed out. "I'd be more worried if you weren't obvious about it."

"You're such a doofus."

"Takes one to know one."

"Get off the phone now, you lunatic."

Peter chuckled, "Bye, Alex."

The rest of the journey to the compound passed by in a blur to Peter, going more on instinct than anything else. He was genuinely curious as to what Tony meant when he said he had a surprise for Peter. The billionaire rarely had surprises for him in the past, so the fact that Tony actually went out of his way to do something other than build him a suit meant more to him than he wanted to admit.

Don't get ahead of yourself, Peter warned himself.

Peter spotted Tony waiting for him by the entrance of the Avenger's Compound and his interested peaked further. The only way Tony would've know when to meet Peter is if FRIDAY was keeping a direct eye on anyone entering the compound's grounds.

"About time, did you stop for ice cream or something?" Tony asked as Peter landed a few feet in front of him.

"Tempting, but no," Peter replied as he followed Tony inside and took off his mask. "So what's this surprise you have waiting for me?"

"Straight to the point without a hello," Tony was amused. "I see where your priorities lay."

"What can I say? Surprises are exciting," Peter took off his backpack and placed it on the kitchen counter in passing. "I'm just gonna grab a few protein bars, I'm starving."

"Since when are you not hungry?" Tony leaned against the doorway, but he couldn't keep the fond expression that was subtly breaking through his poker face.

Peter didn't indulge an answer for that question and instead grabbed two of his protein bars before he followed Tony back out of the kitchen and across the ground floor.

"Why are we heading towards the gym?" Peter wondered.

"If you be patient, you'll find out," Tony told him.

Peter busied himself with the protein bars as he followed Tony towards the gym. He had been to the compound's gym several times and he couldn't fathom what surprise Tony could have waiting for him there. His questions were quickly answered when they entered the room directly across from the gym and Peter froze in the doorway at what he saw.

I'm in the Avenger's training room, Peter's brain short circuited as he saw several obstacles that lined the floor with makeshift balconies that were evidently used for landing platforms and archery hotspots. 

What caught Peter's eyes, however, was the mannequin wall to the left of the doorway that held all of the Avenger's suits when they weren't in use. Each mannequin held a hologram name tag in the center of the hole in the wall in which the mannequins stood. There was an empty mannequin that lingered at the end of the hall and when Peter approached it, he saw the words "Spider-Man" floating in the center and he felt his heart skipped a beat.

He looked at Tony with a dumbstruck expression on his face. "What is this?"

Tony crossed his arms with a raised eyebrow. "Thought it would be pretty obvious for a smart kid like you."

Oh my god, Peter echoed in astonishment. "Wait, seriously? Please tell me you're serious... Are you serious?"

There was a fond spark in Tony's eyes, "Yeah, kid."

"This is happening?" Peter still couldn't believe it.

"I talked with Steve and Natasha and they helped put together a training regimen for you," Tony revealed. "It's way overdue, but you've more than proven yourself for this, kid. I'm sorry that I was the one that was holding you back."

"But, why now?"

"I know you've been through hell and back, and I know I haven't exactly been there when you needed me," Tony began.

"So you're doing it out of guilt? Not because you think I'm ready for it?" Peter was hurt at that.

"No, I'm not doing out of guilt," Tony shook his head. "And you've more than proved you're ready. Anyways, you mentioned before that you haven't had a chance to really test out those new webs of yours right? What better way to learn what you can do than to do some good old fashioned training?"

Peter felt a wave of genuine happiness wash over him and walked over to Tony and hugged him tightly. "Thank you."

Tony returned the embrace and tucked Peter's head under his chin, as if it was done by pure instinct. "No thanks needed here, Pete. You deserve it."

Peter pulled away and grinned, "So when do I start?"

Chapter Text

If it was one thing that Peter had noticed ever since he came back, aside from the obvious organic webs that now resided on the inside of his wrists, was the increased sensitivity of his enhanced senses. At first Peter hadn't connected the dots about his eyesight seeming to pick up the tiniest particles of dust from over twelve feet away. He didn't even notice that the heartbeats in his apartment complex had been magnified enough to cause his entire body vibrate from the force. Ironically, what had tipped him off was when his sixth sense went crazy seven blocks away from a five car pile up. It was something that he hadn't even been able to see at the time, but the pit in Peter's stomach had never been as intense as it had been in that moment. However, as soon as Peter noticed the increased sensitivity, it almost seemed like his body had gone into compensation overload, leaving the eerie feeling of his sixth sense ringing away in his brain. More than that, it left Peter constantly on edge and it never seemed to have any desire of going away.

Peter had never been able to fully decide if his sixth sense had been a blessing or a curse that came with the spider bite. In retrospect it had saved his ass more times than he could count while fighting crime as Spider-Man, but he hated the feeling that came with his spider sense. He hated feeling like he had jumped into a pool of ice, slowly freezing alive while something forcefully scratched up and down his spine. If he was being honest with himself, he would never give it up, but that didn't mean he had to love the consequences that came with it.

Hiding behind one of the columns in the Avenger's training room, Peter was crouched down into his infamous Spider-Man pose as he closed his eyes and opened his senses to what was going around him. Almost immediately, he heard the soft whoosh of a shield hurtling toward him along with a heartbeat coming from his right that was slowly getting louder. At the last moment, Peter jumped into the air, using the side of the column to propel himself off to the side, dodging Steve's shield and successfully webbing Bucky's metal arm to the wall of where he was making his stealthy approach to where Peter had been hiding.

Training with a super soldier and the winter soldier, Peter thought as he rolled onto the floor and behind another safety wall. What is my life?

The adrenaline running through Peter's veins was a nice change from the constant self-deprecation, and provided a nice distraction from everything that had been happening around him. It gave him something to focus on, and therefore it kept his thoughts away from all of the obstacles that his life was constantly throwing at him nowadays.

Ned would freak out, Peter thought as he dodged his way toward Steve in an attempt to subdue the super solider. The thought of his friend caused a wave of sadness and bitterness to wash over him. Ned... He'd be lying to himself if he didn't miss his conversations with the other boy.

It's been a long five days since the football game, and two days since Peter had essentially told Ned to leave him alone. The two of them had never been angry at each other for more than a day, and seeing Ned's hollowly resigned face broke Peter's heart more than he wanted to admit. Part of him wanted to find a way to move on, but at the same time Peter wasn't sure if he was ready to face him without saying something he'd regret.

It wasn't until Peter heard the soft whoosh of the shield coming his way did he realize that he got distracted. Turning around, Peter caught the shield point blank with both hands, feeling his hands sting at the impact while his body skidded backwards a few feet from the force.

"Jesus," Tony's soft voice echoed from across the room.

Peter panted from exertion, his thoughts clearing as he heard footsteps running over to him. A hand came to land on his shoulder and Peter looked up to see a worried super solider.

"You okay?"

Peter blushed at the question, "Yeah, sorry," He handed Steve his shield back.

"Are you hurt?" Steve elaborated.

Peter shook his head, "Super strength, remember?"

Steve frowned, "I wasn't holding back, Pete."

"You can't let yourself get distracted," Tony's voice got louder as he approached him. "That was dangerous, kid, you can't do that again."

"He was holding his own perfectly fine," Bucky called from across the room from where his arm was still webbed to the wall. "He's learning."

"No, you're right, that was stupid," Peter admitted. "I don't know what happened, it just came out of nowhere."

Steve and Tony shared a glance with one another before Steve asked, "Want to tell us what happened?"

Peter shook his head, "Don't worry about it, it was just my senses being screwy."

"That sense of yours is pretty incredible," Steve admitted. "I heard stories from Tony and Bucky, but it's different seeing it in person."

"You're essentially psychic," Bucky chimed in.

"It doesn't work that way, it's just a feeling," Peter corrected them. "It's like a nasty itch that won't go away."

"I think I have that whenever Pepper tries to slap me upside the head," Tony crossed his arms. "That or I've just gotten better at dodging it over the years."

"Speaking of powers, can you please let me go?" Bucky asked, nodding to the webbing. "I can't break this shit."

Peter's eyes widened, "Oh!" He quickly ran over to the winter soldier, grabbing a handful of the webbing and yanking it free.

Tony, who had been watching Peter's movements, let out a soft startled noise.

Peter, who heard it clearly, turned towards Tony and frowned, "What?"

A curious expression crossed Tony's face before it faded away. "Nothing, kid."

"Are we going for another round?" Peter changed the subject. "That won't happen again."

Steve shook his head, "I think we should call it for the day."

Peter went to protest, but Bucky knocked Peter with his shoulder, "Small steps, Pete, you can't just dive into the unknown."

Peter deflated at that, "Yeah, okay, I have to get going soon anyway. I've got this insane Physics exam I need to study for."

"Natasha said she'd train with you tomorrow if you're up for it?" Steve tried to cheer him up.

Peter smiled at that, "Yeah."

***

Peter had meant to go straight back to the apartment as soon as he came back to Queens, but he found himself straying from the path before he could think twice about it. Harry had been missing the entire school day and Peter hadn't been able to get a hold of him. All of his messages had been left unread and his calls had kept going straight to voicemail. He had vaguely remembered where Harry had lived after their visit home from the Frozen Snowman with Ned and had grabbed Harry's physics homework as an excuse to go check on him. When Peter walked up the steps to the unit that Peter had remembered seeing Harry walk into, he knocked on the door and hoped he wasn't about to find himself in a very embarrassing situation.

The door opened a few seconds after Peter had knocked and he genuinely thought he had been stupid enough to walk up to the wrong place. The man who had answered the door was strawberry blonde and towered over six feet tall. He wore a stony poker face and had a tattoo sleeve that extended from his wrist to his shoulder on full display from the black tank top he was wearing.

He studied Peter with a curious look in his eyes before he asked, "Can I help you?'

"H-hi," Peter stuttered. "I was wondering if Harry Osborn lived here? I'm his friend Peter."

The older man's face softened at the reply, "You're Peter Parker."

Peter sighed in relief, Okay, so maybe I'm right then. "Yeah, that's me."

He stepped aside, "I'm Harry's Uncle Bill, please come in."

"Oh," Peter fidgeted as he took a step inside the small little town home. The place was relatively bare with the beige walls bringing some natural light into the room.

"What can I do for you?" Bill wondered.

"I, uh, I brought Harry his homework," Peter told him lamely. "Also, he wasn't answering any of my calls."

Bill sighed, his voice tinged with sadness, "He's in his room. You can see if he lets you in, he's been holed up in there since yesterday."

Peter's heart skipped a beat at that, "Oh."

"He might listen to a friend," Bill conceded. "He won't listen to me."

Peter nodded, "Thanks."

"It's up the stairs, first door on the right," Bill began walking toward the kitchen.

Peter watched the retreating form with a small spark of curiosity, trying to wrack his brain to see if he remembered whether Harry had ever mentioned an uncle named Bill. When he came up with nothing but a headache, he gave up and made his way up the stairs, trying to shake the pit of dread that felt eerily familiar. 

When he got to the closed door, Peter knocked softly. "Harry?" When there was no reply he knocked again. "It's Peter."

When no one came to answer the door again, Peter waited a minute before he began to think he had made a mistake coming here at all. Just as he was about to leave, he heard footsteps walk toward the door and then the lock clicked. 

When the door opened to reveal Harry, Peter wondered what the hell had happened to make his friend look like he had been put through a grinder. "Did you really just say, 'It's Peter' as if you were some stranger?"

Peter felt his cheeks flush at that, "No? Well, I mean, yes, but..."

Harry let out a strained chuckle, "You're such a dork."

Peter felt a weight lift off his chest at the jest. He held up his backpack and said, "I came bearing gifts."

"Physics is a gift?" Harry raised an eyebrow at him.

Peter frowned at the statement. "How'd you..."

"Physics is the only class we have together," Harry shrugged. "What else would you bring to me?"

Shrug off that paranoia, Peter scolded himself as he dug Harry's book and assignment out of his bag. "I was thinking maybe we could do it together? We have that exam on Friday."

Harry looked uncertain at the question, as if he was about to decline and Peter's heart sank. 

"You don't have to," Peter told him. "I can leave..."

Harry shook his head, "You look like someone kicked your puppy. Just come in, would you?"

Peter walked into Harry's room and noticed the pair of bean bags that surrounded a flat screen TV that was mounted on the wall. It seemed rather out of place in a small room like Harry's.

Harry, who had closed the door behind Peter, saw what Peter was looking at and snorted at his friend's reaction. "Dad thought it would've been funny to leave me his TV of all things."

Peter's attention perked at the mention of Norman Osborn and it was then Peter saw that Harry's eyes were puffy and red as if he had been crying. Suddenly Harry ghosting him made a lot more sense.

"You're missing him, aren't you?" Peter wondered.

Harry walked over and sank down into one of the bean bags, "Not much to miss of a man who thought you were this robot that needed to be controlled."

"Harry..." Peter walked over to crouch in front of him.

Harry, who realized what he had confessed, recoiled sharply. "That wasn't... I didn't mean... His death day was yesterday and I just..."

"You miss him," Peter repeated. "That's perfectly normal..."

"It's not that I miss him," Harry shook his head. "I mean I do, and I feel like I should, but at the same time I don't really know what to feel. Ever since Mom... Our relationship just got really complicated."

Peter got quiet for a moment before he offered, "Someone once told me that it's better to get something off of your chest when you go through the dark times."

"What's there to talk about?"

Peter shot him a knowing look. "Take it from someone who knows more than you might think."

Harry gritted his jaw and Peter could've sworn he saw the tears forming in his friend's eyes. "He left me a letter saying he hated me."

"What?" Peter was shocked.

"Dad had been on the verge of developing his own research company, but I guess you lose all inspiration when your blood relative gets dusted off the face of the Earth," Harry told him bitterly. "He never even told me he loved me, not since Mom died. All he did was drag me away from the only place I ever called home and find the smallest things to belittle me and shatter my self-confidence."

"I bet that's not true," Peter began, before he flinched at the reply. "That... that was inconsiderate, I'm sorry."

"You're not the only one to tell me that," Harry admitted. "Uncle Bill tried to tell me that too, and he was only his brother in law, you know? Dad... he wanted me to succeed, I know he did. He just didn't want me to succeed in things that I wanted to do, he only wanted me to pursue something that was better for his interests. He was always on me about being this breakthrough scientist but I never wanted that. I always dreamed of being an engineer, I love building things, physical inventions. I was never one for all the scientific method bullshit."

"But you still loved him," Peter's heart broke for his friend.

"Despite everything, he was still my Dad, you know? I wanted to find a way to hate him, I searched for it for years."

"And you couldn't," Peter smiled sadly.

"I miss him," Harry confessed. "I never thought I would, but dammit Pete... I still hear his voice in my head, but I'd do anything to hear it in person. What if I forget what he sounds like? What if I grow to forget him?"

Peter reached out to grab Harry shoulders. "That will never happen."

"You don't know that," Harry denied.

Peter's eyes softened. "I know more than you think. No matter where you go or what you do, he'll always be with you in some way. The physical memories might fade, but as cheesy as it sounds, he will always live in you."

Harry scoffed, "I know, he always called me his greatest damn creation."

Peter's brow furrowed at that and he fell silent for a minute before he said, "Ben was shot in front of me."

Harry's head snapped up at that, his face wrecked, "What?"

Peter sank down so that he was sitting on the floor with his knees to his chest. "The night that he was killed... We had this fight and I had ran off. I stopped by this small corner store to pick up some Tylenol for Aunt May, because apparently I had forgotten to do that on my way home from Ned's." More or less. "All of this over a damn bottle of over the counter painkillers."

Peter found his throat tightening at the memory. "He told me that I was being irresponsible, and that I had only been thinking of myself, and the thing is that he wasn't even wrong... I had been being selfish recently and it had been getting worse. May had said it came with being a teenager, but Uncle Ben always found a way to remind me that he had taught me to be better."

"Peter, you really don't have to..."

"I told him he wasn't my father before I stormed out of the apartment," Peter's voice broke but pushed forward. "And the thing is? I didn't even mean it. I was just trying to find a way to make him leave me alone, but I regretted the words as soon as they had came out of my mouth. I saw his entire face fall and I could see how much I had hurt him, but I just... I ran. His face that night is forever engraved in my brain and it will never leave me alone." Peter sniffled. "He was out that night looking for me and it was my fault. There was this guy who was robbing the counter and I hid behind a damn shelf like a fucking coward. The guy got away, but as I exited the store I saw him and Uncle Ben wrestling with a gun and then..." The lump in Peter's throat choked him and he cupped his face in his hands.

He had to take a few deep breaths before he was able to speak again. "I was a mess after that, so much so that I almost did the unforgivable. But May found me at his grave on that day and had brought me back home. I was scared too, like you are right now, but they never leave you. They live in everything that you do. The physical memories might fade, but everything that your father ever taught you will always be there when you need it the most. Uncle Ben... he's still in my head even after all of these years. Your dad will never truly leave you. He's in here," Peter pointed at Harry's heart. "That's where he lives now, and that's where he'll stay."

Tears were falling from Harry's eyes uncontrollably at that point and Peter's heart ached in sympathy. "You can't let yourself bottle it in," Peter said.

It'll just find a way to destroy you in the end, Alex's words echoed in his mind and Peter felt his emotional resolve begin to break for an entirely different reason.

Harry used the sleeve of his sweater to wipe away the tears before he asked, "Can we just study?"

Peter nodded, "Yeah. Distractions, right?"

Harry's lips tipped upwards in a faint smile. "What would we do without them?"

***

When Peter found himself walking back to his apartment that night, he felt hollow inside. The talk that he had with Harry had dug deeper than Peter wanted to admit to himself. Seeing his friend so vulnerable had unlocked the instinct of Peter's past self to find a way to support those he cared about no matter the cost. The cost in this case was showing Harry how vulnerable he was by sharing his darkest moment in the face of what had happened with his uncle. Seeing how those words made an impact with Harry made Peter realize that everything that people around him had said wasn't so different than when he was mourning his uncle's death.

In a way, Peter was still mourning a death, but that death had been his innocent self, the Peter that had never been to space. The Peter that still hadn't grasped the horrors that superheroes like the Avengers faced on a daily basis. The Peter that had tried so hard to be happy because he had felt like that was the only way to make his Uncle Ben proud. The Peter that had been too naive to realize that everything comes with consequences, and that every little thing you do will always require some sort of sacrifice.

I don't mean to lecture and I don't mean to preach. And I know I'm not your father... Uncle Ben's words rang in his ears.

Then stop pretending to be! 

Peter recoiled at the memory and it made his stomach twist nauseatingly. Those were the final words that his uncle had ever heard from his nephew before he died. Those were the words that Peter would regret for the rest of his life.

When Peter walked into the apartment, he saw May sitting on the couch, her legs tucked off to the side with a book in her lap. She looked up at the sound of the door opening and her face softened when she saw the familiar haunted look in her nephew's face.

"Peter..." She raised her arms from where she sat on the couch, turning her body so she was sitting criss cross and facing him

Peter immediately came towards her, sitting in front of her so that he could fall into the comforting embrace of the only true mother figure he had in his life. He shamelessly buried his face in the crook of May's shoulder as his shoulders trembled with the small sobs that he couldn't suppress. The next several minutes passed by in a blur and when Peter felt emotionally drained enough to return to reality, he realized that May had repositioned him so that his legs were bent over his aunt's lap and he had curled himself into her so that his head was tucked under her chin. It was a position that he hadn't found himself in since he was younger and had nightmares of his parent's deaths. May was slightly rocking him back in forth and softly humming the Beatle's "Yesterday" in his ear.

"I miss him," Peter confessed quietly, his voice hoarse.

May paused in her humming, her hands tightening around him. "I know, Peter, I know."

"I hate this time of year..."

"October 1st... The worst time of the year," May agreed.

Peter flinched at the vocalization of the date and May just continued rubbing a hand up and down his back in a comforting manner.

They were silent for a few minutes before May said, "He's still proud of you."

Peter felt the tears return, "Why?"

"Because you've been through so much," May told him. "And you've shown how strong you are. You continue to show your strength, and more than that you give back to your family, friends and your community. You're a good man, and that's all he's ever wanted of you."

"But I'm not strong, May, I haven't been since..." Peter began sadly.

"You're wrong, Pete," May cut him off. "You're the sole definition of someone who is doing their best to do the right thing despite everything they've been through... despite how much they've been hurt, and despite how much they're still hurting."

"What if I'm not the same person I was from before?"

May paused for a moment in thought, before she asked, "Do you know why Ben loved that Beatles song so much?"

"Other than he loved crying to it?" Peter felt himself smile at the memory.

"It showed how vulnerability shapes who we are, and the choices we make," May said. "Just because Yesterday is gone, doesn't mean the shadows will linger forever. It doesn't matter if you cry or if you feel helpless or if you want to hide from everything crumbling down. In the end, those events will just show your strength in how you overcome those obstacles. It teaches you that even through those dark tunnels, there will always be some sort of light to guide you back to where you're always meant to be."

"He always used to sing it to me whenever I couldn't sleep," Peter reminisced. "I always found it funny and asked why he didn't just sing a happier song. He always told me I'd understand when I was older... I think I get what he means now."

May laughed quietly at the memory, "He was a strange one, wasn't he?"

"Sometimes being strange is what makes you special," Peter smiled at the familiar words.

"Quite wise, too, if I may add."

"The wisest," Peter agreed. They fell into silence once more before Peter timidly askeed, "Will I be okay?"

"No one can decide that for you," May told him genuinely. "We can show you multiple ways on how to find the right path, but you have to realize the destination for yourself. But you can be damn well sure I'll do my best to nudge you in the right direction. You're allowed to not be okay, and you're allowed to mourn all you want. You just need to know that eventually you have to face it, it doesn't have to be today or tomorrow, but you can't stay there forever. Do you remember Ben's analogy of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly?"

Caterpillars bid their time, gaining the strength they need in order to evolve into what they're destined to be, Peter recalled by heart. He found himself smiling in amusement, "Yeah, I do. He was famous for his analogies and metaphors, wasn't he?"

"Despite them being dramatic or annoying sometimes," May chuckled. "He's always a beacon of where we started, but he will always be the strongest supporter we have in finding our way into who we will become in the future."

"I'm tired of being sad," Peter confessed.

"Just another part of the entire process," May promised him. "It won't last. It may linger and it may try to bruise you up, but I know you. You're the strongest kid out there, and even if you don't believe it, I'll believe it for the both of us."

Chapter Text

The next morning, Peter found himself staring up at his bedroom ceiling, wanting more than anything to be lost in the peaceful grasp of sleep. However, he knew that was nothing more than wishful thinking. Peter hasn't had peaceful dreams in several years, and the world had never been kind enough to give him back that luxury. Part of him wanted to blame it on the life of being a superhero, but Peter wondered if that was being too close-minded. He just had the worst luck, and it was nothing more than that.

You've got that Parker luck, Pete, Ben told him one time. Some people see it as a curse, but in my eyes it shows us that the world knows how strong we are. We don't cave under pressure.

Peter wouldn't call it anything other than a curse, and nothing could change his mind. Especially after everything that had happened to him over the years.

Also, if he was being completely honest with himself, he desperately missed the days where normal human medicine had been able to alleviate the smallest of aches, or soothed the nightmares away with the swallow of one sleeping pill. Peter tried to avoid that route as much as he could for the sole reason that he hated taking medicine with a passion. Instead, on the nights where sleep seemed too far away, Peter sought out his uncle who always came at his beck and call without fail. On those nights, Ben would take Peter back to his bedroom and the two of them would squeeze onto Peter's twin-sized bed. His uncle always sat on the bed with his back resting against the headboard and Peter would sit beside him, resting his head against Ben's shoulder. Sometimes he would just talk to Peter, telling stories of how his parents had met, and about how happy they were to find out they were having a son.

I've never seen my brother, your dad, smile so wide when they found out they were having the one and only Peter Parker, Ben had knocked his shoulder against Peter's. He called me the next day and said I was always going to be jealous of him. He had the perfect son and no one could tell him otherwise.

When the stories faded away and Peter still wasn't able to fall back into the realm of sleep, Ben would begin to sing softly. His uncle loved the Beatles, and he'd shamelessly sing their songs whenever he got the chance to. He'd sing under his breath while cooking breakfast on the stove, he'd hum 'a day in the life' while going to grab the morning paper... He'd sing "I want to hold your hand" on him and May's anniversary. The song he always reserved for hard times was "Yesterday". He would always hum the tune or sing the words whenever Peter couldn't sleep, and the sad tune was oddly comforting whenever it glossed over Peter's ears.

When Ben had died, Peter vividly remembered waking up in the middle of the night with the memory of his uncle bleeding out in front of him and Peter being helpless to stop his worst waking nightmare. Except this time, he was alone. Suddenly there were no more late night stories to chase away the remnants of whatever had woken him up in cold sweat, no more being sung back to sleep... No more cheesy Beatles song to lighten up the mood of a situation. Ben had always been the kind of guy to give someone a reason to smile, even if they were sad or in a bad mood. When he died, it was almost like Peter lost any reason to smile. He knew that he could've gone to May with any problem that he had, but he always felt awful bothering her about anything involving Ben. May had taken her husband's death hard, and struggled to mourn, be there for Peter, and taking up extra shifts to compensate for the hardships that got thrown on them overnight. She had been a hero through it all, and Peter had been the one with the spider powers. May had always been there through it all, and he just hoped he conveyed the same back to her. They were a team, and Peter liked to think they were a pretty damn strong one too.

Every year when October 1st came around, Peter always found it difficult to get out of bed. It was too tempting to stay under the covers and dream of all the what ifs and what could've been. May knew that too and had never pressured Peter to do anything that would make the day any worse than it was already destined to be. In the past, she had tried to take the day off from work to be there if Peter would need her, but being an ER nurse left little vacation time or personal time off. Peter knew May would never admit it, but she was relieved to be working on Ben's death day, it kept her busy enough where she didn't have time to dwell on the horrors of the day. Anyways, Peter preferred being alone on this day, it was easier to pass the day in silence than to fill it with hollow conversations.

When the clock on his nightstand hit six in the morning, Peter turned his head to see the faint light streaming in from the curtains of his window, signifying the dawn of the new day. Sitting up in his bed, Peter cupped his face in his hands and took a few deep breaths in a feeble attempt to calm himself down and shake off the lingering melancholy feeling that always came with this day.

Off to a great start, Pete, A small voice chimed in his head sadly. Maybe the real reason you like to be alone on this day is so that people don't get to see you at your lowest.

If he was being honest, Peter never had the intention of sticking around to face the conversations that Alex and George would undoubtedly try to engage. It was no offense to them, but Peter didn't really like talking on this day, he just didn't have the energy for it. Anyways, May wasn't the only one who benefited from being busy. Peter's definition of busy, however, just included a spandex suit and spider powers. Digging into his nightstand, Peter pulled out three of his special protein bars and quickly forced them down, ignoring how his mouth felt like it was stuffed full of cotton. He was glad he remembered to bring them with him into his room last night, it provided him with the perfect escape opportunity without the risk of running into anyone on his way to the kitchen.

Once Peter pulled on his Spider-Man suit and his mask was securely on his face, he made his way over to his bedroom window. Pulling his curtains off to the side, he unlatched the window and slid it open. Just as he went to climb out of his bedroom, he found himself pausing mid-step. Looking over to the notebook on his desk, Peter bit his lip and looked between the paper and his escape route.

It was the thought of George and Alex's reaction to him running off during the football game that made him decide. May knew him well enough to understand why he felt inclined to spend the day as his alter ego on Ben's death day, but the last thing he wanted was to spark up any negative memories that George and Alex had gone through.

Walking over to his desk, Peter flipped the notebook to an empty page and grabbed the pen that was resting off to the side.

I'm fine, just need some air. Will be home tonight. -Peter

With the note written, Peter took off at a run and dove out of his window, shooting a web to swing away from his apartment. When he was three blocks away, Peter perched himself on the corner of a six-story apartment building. A shiver ran down his spine and it was then that Peter realized that it was relatively cold out that morning.

"KAREN?" Peter called out softly, rubbing the sides of his arms in an attempt to spark some heart into his chilled bones.

"Good morning, Peter," KAREN greeted him cheerily.

"Can you turn on the Frostproof protocol?" Peter's request was immediately answered when he felt the heated system in his suit take away some of the chill. He sighed in relief at the distinct change.

"Frostproof protocol initiated," KAREN told him. "Your core temperature is resting steadily at 96 degrees Fahrenheit."

He smiled at his AI's infectiously happy tone. "Thank you."

"You are out quite early this morning, especially on a school day," KAREN noted.

Peter's smile fell off his face as quickly as it came. "No school for me, not today."

KAREN was quiet for a moment before her soft voice asked, "Shall I initiate your October Protocol?"

"Initiate it," Peter agreed sadly.

The next few hours passed by more slowly than Peter would've liked. The October protocol was in charge of monitoring the calls that KAREN picked up through the police scanner, allowing his AI to pick and choose which calls Peter was mentally okay to take on. Tony had helped design it after the billionaire saved Peter from almost getting himself killed on his first October as Spider-Man. He understood the younger boy's need to do something in an effort to right the wrongs he experienced that day, but Tony was not going to sit off to the side after Peter decided to take on too much. After a serious talk with the billionaire, the two of them sat down and designed the October protocol. Peter had never had a chance to use it before Thanos, so this was his first time where he was restricted on what he was able to do.

It wasn't that KAREN was restricting him from taking on any calls, but the crime on the streets was very minimal that morning. It got to the point where Peter resorted himself to do non lethal mundane tasks such as giving people directions when they were lost or helping people across the streets that required such assistance. The biggest thing that had happened all morning was Peter swinging someone to the hospital after they had broken their leg at a skatepark.

When twelve o'clock hit, signifying the start of the afternoon, Peter found himself on top of the building that he thought he'd never come back to. It was the building where Tony took Peter's suit back after the Ferry incident. The top of the building was surrounded with solid concrete rails that came up to Peter's mid torso and he was sitting on top of the concrete, his legs dangling over the edge as he watched the streets below him.

That's a lie, and you know it, Peter thought. You know exactly why you came back here. It's not the first time you sought out memories of the past.

When Peter first came back from the Snap, he spent hours in several places that just let him psych himself into thinking that everything else happening around him was some sick nightmare. One of the first spots that he came back to was the building that he was at right now, and it had been right after Peter found out about Morgan. It was the first time where Tony actually showed that he had listened to Peter, and it made Peter realize just how reckless he had been. He knew Tony could've handled everything in a better way, but he had taught Peter that he wasn't just Spider-Man, but he was still Peter Parker too. He really had been some kid who was desperate to prove himself, but once his suit had been taken away from him, it made him realize there was a difference between doing the right thing to prove yourself to someone and doing the right thing for the sake of it benefiting everyone else, even if it meant hurting you in the end. They both had screwed up, but Tony taught him something on that rooftop that stuck with him even till this day.

He picked up on the sound of repulsors three blocks away from him before he saw anything approaching him. He knew he could've ran if he wanted to, but knowing Tony, the billionaire wouldn't have given up that easily. Also, part of Peter wanted Tony to find him. Part of him was glad that Tony thought of him.

Scooting back on the ledge, Peter pulled his knees to his chest and rested his head against his legs. He might've not been in the mood to talk, but he made his choice. He wasn't going to run.

When he heard the Iron Man armor land on the rooftop, he heard the nanotech begin to retract, and Peter lifted his head enough so he could look at the clouds in the sky.

"Never thought we'd be back in this place," Tony's voice brought an unexpected wave of security over Peter.

Peter couldn't find it in himself to reply, and instead he just buried his head back into his knees.

"I know you said that you didn't like company," Tony's voice slowly came closer. "But I brought food."

Peter's traitorous stomach growled at the mention of food and it was loud enough where he knew Tony had also heard it. He heard Tony come to sit down beside him and the sound of crinkling.

Out of everything else, that caught Peter's attention and he looked up to see Tony digging through a brown paper bag. "Seriously?"

Tony raised an eyebrow at him, "Seriously what?"

"A paper bag?"

"What? Did you prefer it to be plastic?" Tony's eyes failed to hide his amusement. "That was a joke, if you couldn't tell."

"You know how much I hate plastic," Peter agreed.

Tony handed him two sandwiches, "Courtesy of Pepper."

Peter accepted the sandwiches wordlessly, unwrapping the plastic wrap so that he could take a bite of it. The flavor of the the bacon, lettuce and tomato washed over him immediately, but what got him to tear up a little was the avocado that replaced the mayonnaise that Peter had always hated. He had mentioned it once to Tony in passing, mentioning how he had always hated the taste of mayo and it had taken him forever to find a suitable replacement for it when making a BLT. Eventually MJ had been the one to tell him about avocado adding a nice flavor to the sandwich and once Peter had tried it once, he never looked back.

He looked at Tony in shock, "You remembered?"

"That you liked avocado on your BLTs? It's hard to forget something that sounds like an abomination." Tony shrugged as he took a bite of his own BLT.

"Says the person who likes mayonnaise," Peter returned before he comprehended what he was saying.

Tony chuckled, "You wound me, kid."

They fell into a comfortable silence as they ate their sandwiches. Peter was secretly glad that Tony wasn't trying to get him to talk, and the billionaire seemed to be perfectly content with sitting by Peter as the two of them watched as the clouds passed in the sky.

They must've remained silent for close to ten minutes before Tony broke it. "I was looking at your training schedule when you left last night. Natasha agreed to reschedule your session for next week if you're up for it. I didn't tell her why, I figured it wasn't my place to say."

Peter would never admit how much that gesture warmed his heart. "Thank you."

"For rescheduling your training session? I mean, you could've done it too, but considering the circumstances it really wasn't that big of a deal."

"Not about that," Peter shook his head, finishing the last of his second sandwich. "I mean about the training, but not about scheduling sessions. Just... thank you."

Peter could've sworn he saw Tony's cheeks slightly flush at that, but the billionaire held a strong poker face. "Don't mention it, kid. If you really wanted to make it up to me, you'd come over to the lake house this weekend."

There it is, Peter's shoulders tensed.

Tony, who saw Peter's change in posture immediately backtracked. "You really don't have to if it makes you that uncomfortable. You know I'd never do that to you."

Peter, who wanted to make the hurt disappear from his mentor's face, shook his head. "No, no, it's fine. I don't know why... I'll be there."

A small spark of hope flashed in Tony's eyes. "You really don't have to kid, not if you feel forced to do so."

Peter looked at Tony in the eyes, "I'll be there." The promise rang true in his voice. Surprisingly, Peter could tell that he meant every word.

***

Later that afternoon, Peter found himself back in his civilian clothes as he sat in front of Ben's grave. He could've easily stayed in his Spider-Man persona the entire day, but after little action success Peter had decided it wasn't beneficial for him to just push aside all of the emotions that would just come back to bite him in the future. He had been doing that too often in the past few months, and he was trying to figure out the best way to start to move on. His talk with Harry had opened his eyes that he had been acting in a similar way back when Ben died, he didn't like who he became in those first few months after losing the closest thing he had to a father back then. He didn't want to do that again.

Doesn't mean I don't miss him every single day, Peter thought sadly as he stared at the gravestone in front of him.

The weather had warmed up considerably throughout the day with the sun raising the temperature to a comfortable high 60s. He was comfortable in his loose midtown sweater and navy denim jeans.

"I didn't think I'd come by today," Peter confessed quietly to the headstone. "It's been awhile since I've been here alone."

The last time that Peter had visited Ben's grave was a month after he returned, but he hadn't been alone. Ever since Ben had died, Peter hated walking through the cemetery by himself because he felt genuinely haunted every time he was there. He never told anyone about it, but Ned had confronted him when he noticed Peter wallowing about it. After that, Ned had gone out of the way to always be there whenever Peter had wanted to visit his uncle. The shorter boy had never judged him for it, and that was something that Peter had always been grateful for.

In a split second, a shiver ran down Peter's spine and his head spun around as his sixth sense caused a wave of unease to wash over him.

Harry, who had two styrofoam cups in his hand, jumped at Peter's sudden movement.

"Jesus, Harry," Peter placed a hand over his racing heart.

Harry shot him a sheepish look, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."

"No, it's fine, I just... How'd you even find me?" Peter wondered, his eyebrows furrowed.

Harry held up the cups, "I brought frappes. Ned told me where you might be, he asked me to bring a peace offering."

The mention of his friend made a small pit of regret form in his stomach. He didn't say anything as Harry came to sit beside him and handed him one of the cups. Peter accepted the offering, taking a sip and relaxed as the sweetness of chocolate washed over him.

"I gotta say, I've never seen him so adamant about making sure you got ice cream," Harry chuckled. "He made me swear to make sure you got it okay."

Peter took another sip before he sighed. "Consider it a bittersweet tradition. He always said that it was the best coping method."

Harry hummed in agreement before taking a sip of his own frappe. "Did you know he got them from the Frozen Snowman?"

Peter froze at that, "What?"

"I know you mentioned that you used to go to that ice cream place with your uncle a lot. You said you hadn't been since... He said he wasn't trying to overstep, but he just wanted to show you that he was still there with you on that day, at least in a subtle way."

Peter's heart warmed at that... I had no idea... "I didn't know."

"He wanted to be here," Harry admitted. "But he didn't want to make your day any worse than it was already going."

Even though he hurt me, part of me wants him here...

"Are you really still mad at him?" Harry wondered.

Peter shook his head, "I haven't been mad for awhile. I just didn't know how to face him, maybe part of me was scared."

"Why? Ned's the least scariest person on the planet."

"Because... He really hurt me, Harry," Peter held the cup in between the palm of his hands, feeling like a little kid again. "I always heard people say that it hurts when someone close to you stabs you in the back, in a way he did. It wasn't the back, though, it went through my gut."

"He didn't mean it," Harry told him. "He shouldn't have let himself get put into that position, but you two have been friends for how many years now?"

"Seven years," Peter replied.

"Are you really going to throw away those seven years of friendship over one bump in the road?"

"I don't know what to even say to him," Peter confessed. "I know I hurt him too."

"Isn't it you who told me that bottling things up doesn't do anyone any good?" Harry asked kindly.

Peter's eyes tears up at that and he blinked furiously in an effort to make them go away.

"If it's any consolation, I had the pleasure of knowing Ben too," Harry told him kindly. "I don't know if it's my place to say this, but I don't think he'd want you to throw away someone as loyal as Ned."

I hate to admit, but you're right, Peter admitted to himself. I have to come to my senses, but you're right. I just hope it's not too late...

***

When Peter walked into his apartment that evening, he felt emotionally drained enough to want to go straight to his room and just sleep away the remnants of what had been a shitty day. Opening the door, Peter had half expected the apartment to be empty, but Alex was sitting in the common room playing a video game on the Playstation that rested just below the TV. At the sound of the door opening, the raven haired boy looked up from the TV and he paused at the sight of a disheveled Peter. Not even bothering to pause his game, Alex got to his feet and strode over to Peter, pulling him into a solid embrace. The older boy's chin rested on top of his head and his arms acted as anchors from where they were wrapped around his shoulders.

Peter, who didn't even realize what he was doing, wrapped his arms around Alex's back and just soaked in the comfort that Alex was clearly willing to give to him. They stayed like that for a few minutes in silence and Peter felt himself relaxing for the first time all day. He was not alone, he had someone there, someone who understood more than he gave him credit for.

When Alex pulled away, his hands never left his shoulders, "How you doing?"

Not the standard 'are you okay?' It's 'How are you doing?' Peter reflected. "I'm okay," He told Alex truthfully. "Just really glad it's almost over."

"May said she wanted to be here..." Alex began.

"Trust me, Alex, I know," Peter replied truthfully. "She needs it though, I know she does. I'll be fine, nothing some sleep won't fix."

"You do look a little rough around the edges."

Peter chuckled at that, "Yeah, I feel it too. I'm just gonna turn in early tonight. I really need a shower and then there's a bed that just has my name written all over it."

Alex studied him for a moment longer before he let go with a sympathetic expression on his face. "Okay."

Peter, biting his lip in thought, pulled Alex into another quick hug before he could think twice about it. "Thank you."

Alex reciprocated the gesture immediately, his grip was firm as if he wanted to show Peter that he wasn't planning on going anywhere.

After Peter bid him a goodnight, he walked into his room and closed the door behind him. Fifteen minutes later and after a long shower, Peter made his way towards his bed. As he went to plug his phone in, he saw that he had a singular text message from Ned, and out of pure curiosity he unlocked his phone and read it.

Hey, Pete, I know you hate people asking if you're okay on this day, so I'm not going to do it. I hope you're not mad that I wasn't there today like I promised I would, but I didn't know how my presence would've settled with you. I miss you, dude, and I have so many regrets, a lot of which I have to live with and can never take back. I'm still there for you and I'm not going anywhere. I'll find a way to show you how sorry I am, even if it takes a decade. Me and you against the world. I made that promise and I swear to you, I'll keep it until the day I die.

A tear fell on his phone after Peter finished reading the message and he felt himself caving in easier than he thought he would've. He just was so tired of being sad and angry, and he missed his friend so much. He knew Ned had a kind heart, and he just couldn't find it in himself to throw away what they had over a mistake. A colossal mistake, but still a mistake all the same.

It's the way you handle the bumps that will either shatter what's been built or create a stronger new foundation from the imperfections, Uncle Ben's words washed over him once more.

Before he knew what he was doing, he was dialing Ned's number with a spark of determination.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Peter found himself walking into the halls of Midtown High all by himself. Alex had gone in early to meet with the football coach before school began, so Peter was left to face the journey to school alone. It was not something that was entirely new to him, but Peter had just gotten used to the constant company over the past few months. He'd be lying to himself if he said that he didn't miss the ramblings of the older boy. Alex had this talent of keeping Peter out of his negative thoughts, and soothing Peter's anxiety when the older boy sensed that Peter's mind had begun to wander down a rocky path.

This morning, however, Peter was on a mission of his own, and that said mission involved confronting Ned once and for all. That being said, Peter was nervous as hell, the mere thought of the tension between the two of them enough to make his stomach twist itself into a knot.

Peter wasn't entirely sure as to why he was so nervous because Ned was essentially the prime definition of a teddy bear. However, it wasn't the thought of Ned himself that made Peter uneasy, it was the entire situation that they had found themselves in. Peter wasn't one to forgive and forget, he's been betrayed enough in the past to realize that he couldn't emotionally afford to trust people that have broken his trust in the past. Ned was different, though, and Peter couldn't just ignore that. He might've not been at the stage to fully forgive the younger boy for what had occurred, but he wasn't angry at Ned. He wasn't angry that Ned reconciled with MJ because Ned was her friend too and Peter couldn't ignore that without being a colossal jerk. However, Ned had blatantly lied about something that he knew would hurt Peter, digging that knife deeper into his stomach. Ned might've not wanted to keep it from him, but he shouldn't have put himself directly into a situation that resulted in him keeping it a secret.

But Peter didn't want to just throw away a friendship that could easily come once in a lifetime. Ned had proved time and time again that he had Peter's back, not just as Peter Parker, but as Spider-Man too. Peter might not want to forgive Net just yet, but he'd be damned if he wasn't going to try to mend what's been broken.

When Peter spotted Ned, the boy was at his own locker, swapping his post-lunch books out with his books for the classes he had before lunch. The sight of his friend brought a strange ache to Peter's heart, and their conversation from last night flashed in Peter's mind.

"Hello?" Ned's timid voice answered the phone.

Peter's stomach knotted at the hesitant voice. "Hey, Ned."

"Hey, Peter," Ned replied awkwardly.

There was an awkward silence between the two of them before Ned began, "I know I've been saying this a lot, but I'm really..."

Peter closed his eyes as he cut Ned off, "Don't say that you're sorry. I know you are."

"I never wanted to keep it from you," Ned insisted. "I just..."

"Ned, can we just not, right now?" Peter requested, his voice strained.

"Yeah..." He heard Ned audibly gulp. "Yeah."

Another extended silence. "Meet up tomorrow?" Peter offered.

"Wait seriously?" An excited spark ignited in Ned's voice.

A small smile tugged at Peter's lip. Ned sounded like a kid who realized an ice cream truck was coming around the corner. "Yeah."

Ned paused for a moment before he said, "It's really good to hear from you, dude."

Oddly enough, Peter felt the same. "Same here."

Walking over to Ned, Peter leaned against the locker beside him. "Hey."

Ned, who had his head in his locker, jumped and smacked his head against the top shelf. He let out a surprised yelp before he retracted his head and rubbed the sore spot.

Peter blinked in surprise at the reaction before he laughed sheepishly. "Oh my god, Ned, I'm so sorry..."

"I feel like I deserved that one," Ned admitted, still rubbing his head.

"I mean maybe, but I would never wish for that to happen," Peter looked at him in amusement, but a spark of concern was still present in his tone of voice. "You okay?"

Ned looked at him and took his hand away from his head. "I feel like I should be the one asking you that."

Peter felt his shoulders tense at the question.

Ned, who noticed the difference right away, just shook his head. "Right."

Peter sighed, "Ned..."

"No, I get it," Ned closed his locker. "Not like I don't deserve it anyway."

Peter wanted to say something to dissolve the awkward tension between the two of them, but before he could do anything about it, the bell rang to signal the start of the school day.

Ned closed his eyes and took in a deep breath before saying, "See you in 2nd?"

Peter just nodded, "Yeah."

Ned's lips curled up into a small bittersweet smile, "See you, Pete."

Peter watched as Ned walked away, and it made him realize that he couldn't remember the last time his friend seemed so far out of reach.

***

Peter's first-period class was going by a snail's pace, and if he had to listen to one more minute of Shakespeare's Macbeth, he was going to lose his mind. Usually, that kind of stuff didn't bother him, but he just wanted his next class to start. He wanted a do-over from this morning, and Ned shared Peter's second class of the day. He knew that things were bound to be awkward between them, but their interaction this morning was like stepping through a shower of ice-cold water. He hated it, and he craved for a second chance to knock the healing process back on the right path. Peter knew it wasn't going to be perfect at first, but he hoped it would improve given the time.

When the bell dismissed the first-period class, Peter immediately bolted out of the room without a second thought and made his way towards his calculus class. He'd be lying to himself if he said he wasn't nervous because there were evident butterflies fluttering around in his stomach. Peter really wanted to try to make things work between him and Ned, but he was terrified that everything they had would slip through his fingers, even if he tried everything he could to stop it.

Don't think like that, Peter, He chided himself. You know Ned. There's a good chance you'll be able to work it out. Just try and be yourself.

Once upon a time, it wasn't hard to be himself around Ned, they got into too many stupid shenanigans over the years and therefore couldn't judge one another on their craziness. The day that Ned had got him into Star Wars had been the best day of his life. He had been able to travel to a galaxy far far away... far away from the troubles that he found in his life... far away from the bullying and the feelings of loss and hopelessness. Peter liked to think that was the first time that Ned saw who the true Peter Parker was, and they had been close ever since.

Walking into the classroom, Peter saw that he beat the younger boy there and Peter sat down in his usual seat next to Ned in the middle of the classroom. Far enough away to not get scrutinized for talking, but close enough to see the whiteboard without squinting. Not that Peter had trouble with squinting since the spider bite, but it had definitely been an issue in the past. Deciding to pass time in the best way he knew how, Peter pulled out his textbook and notebook and began to look at that day's lesson. He was so absorbed in his work that he didn't notice Ned had sat down in his seat until a lego Luke Skywalker magically appeared on the corner of Peter's desk.

Peter glanced at the action figure before he looked over at Ned curiously.

All the hesitancy from this morning was gone and Ned had a large smile on his face. "You'll never believe what came in the mail this morning!"

Peter felt a spark of curiosity wash over him. "What?"

"You know that giant R2-D2 lego set that's been on my wishlist for years?" Ned asked.

Peter's eyes widened, "Wait, do you mean..."

"The 5000 piece life-size R2-D2? Yes!" Ned exclaimed giddily. "My mom found it on this online thrift store and she helped me pay for it!"

"No way!" Peter beamed at that. "Dude, that's amazing!"

"We've only been planning this for three years!" Ned looked like a little kid who just got the best Christmas present. "You gotta come over this weekend dude, we can start it!"

Peter's face fell at that, "Can we do next weekend? I already promised Tony I'd..."

Ned's brushed it off nonchalantly, his excitement enough to overpower the disappointment. "Consider it planned. I'm holding you to that promise you made me years ago, Pete."

Peter nodded, "Wouldn't miss it for the world."

A moment later, the bell rang to begin class and the conversation between the two of them fell into a more comfortable pace, and for that Peter was grateful. The first half of class consisted of their teacher lecturing the material and the last half of the class gave them time to work on that day's homework. Ned and Peter worked efficiently together and finished their homework with ten minutes to spare. They fell into comfortable small talk with Peter telling Ned about him going to the lake house that weekend for the first time since he came back. Overall, Peter was relatively surprised with how easy it was to fall back into their usual bantering, but the tension still lingered between the two of them. Peter still hasn't forgotten what Ned had done, and Ned seemed to be walking on eggshells as he monitored what he said to Peter. Peter knew they were inevitably going to have to sit down and have a conversation about everything, but for now, Peter was perfectly content to soak in the normalcy that he desperately craved.

***

By the time lunch had rolled around, Peter thought the day was going by relatively more positive than it had been in the past few weeks. Harry had been strangely absent that day, but Peter knew how much his friend was hurting with the memory of his father, and Peter couldn't blame him for taking a few days to get his head straight around everything. He had been there himself more than he should have to be at his age, after all.

After their second-period class, Peter had been working up the courage to tell Ned about the Goblin attacks. He wasn't sure why he kept it a secret from everyone else, but he felt this strange urge to tell Ned. The younger boy was his 'guy in the chair' after all, but Peter had a feeling it was because Ned was the only person who knew about his sixth sense acting up. He knew Ned would make the connection sooner or later, his friend was quite perceptive when he wanted to be.

Spotting Ned at his new corner table, Peter walked over to him before he could second guess what he was doing.

"Can I sit with you?" Peter wondered quietly when he got to the table.

Ned looked up from his phone, his eyes failing to hide his surprise. He quickly nodded, "Yeah, of course! You don't have to ask, dude."

Peter sat down across from the shorter boy, "I have a confession to make."

Ned, who was biting into an apple, paused for a moment before biting into it. "Should I be worried as to what said confession is?"

"I might have done something stupid last Friday," Peter admitted.

Ned sighed as he put his apple down. "If it has to do with you playing firefighter, yeah I got that."

"In my defense, it didn't seem like that big of a deal at first," Peter quickly interjected.

Ned shot him a look that said he didn't believe Peter.

"Besides, it wasn't exactly the fire that messed me up," Peter fiddled with the food on his lunch tray.

Ned frowned at the implication. "What do you mean?"

"Do you remember what I said to you after the rooftop incident?" Peter wondered.

"How you mentioned that you thought it might've been foul play?" Ned still looked confused, but as soon as he said those words aloud his face paled. "Wait, are you saying..."

"I wasn't alone in that fire," Peter confessed.

Ned's face grew alarmed. "Was it the same guy?"

"It definitely wasn't a dream," Peter's stomach rolled at the thought of the monster.

"What did he look like?" Ned inquired. "What happened?"

"He looked like a goblin, Ned, pointy ears, sharp teeth, piercing yellow eyes," Peter told him truthfully.

Ned shuddered at the image, "That's like something out of a nightmare."

"This Green Goblin... Ned, he was speaking to me as if he knew who I was," Peter shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

Ned frowned, "What do you mean by that? You think he knows your identity?"

Peter shook his head, "It's not that, but he's after me. He made that abundantly clear when he threw a pumpkin-shaped bomb that blew up in my face."

"Wait you got blown up?" Ned demanded urgently. "Peter, what the hell?"

"I know, I know," Peter held his hands up in a calming manner. "I mean I was fine, but..."

"But he tried to kill you," Ned finished for him. "That's twice now, dude. He threw you off a rooftop!"

"Yeah, it doesn't exactly fill me with confidence either."

"Have you told anyone else about this? Preferably an Avenger?"

Peter shook his head.

Ned looked at him in complete bewilderment. "What? Why not?"

"Because I'm not even sure what the hell is going on. Besides, everyone already worries about me too much, I don't need them to worry about this too."

"Peter, there is someone out there trying to deliberately kill you," Ned told him seriously. "This is not something you can just deal with alone."

"I'll tell them, Ned, eventually," Peter conceded. "If I can just find out who this person is first... I don't even know what I did to get his wrath thrown at me like this."

"Dude, considering what I'm hearing, this so-called 'Green Goblin' is clearly a psychopath. Those kinds of people don't usually have a reason behind what they do, except that they just do whatever the hell they want when they want," Ned said. "Do you think this is why your sense has you so on edge?"

Peter shrugged, "I can't say the thought hasn't crossed my mind."

Ned shook his head in exasperation. "At least let me help you? If we can do some digging and find out who this Goblin guy is... You have to promise me you won't do this alone."

Peter looked at the genuine worry in Ned's eyes and he nodded readily, "Yeah, Ned, I promise."

Ned sighed in relief, but his shoulders were still tensed. "I have a confession of my own if we're trading tales."

Peter frowned at that, "What did you do?"

"I did some digging on Harry's past," Ned admitted quietly enough where Peter only heard it because of his enhanced senses.

Peter felt his blood run cold, "You did what?"

"Before you get mad, I had a perfectly good reason..." Ned began but Peter cut him off.

"And what reason was that?" Peter demanded, feeling a mix of offensiveness and protectiveness.

"You don't understand, Pete, he's gotten really weird ever since he's been here," Ned's voice was strained. "Haven't you noticed that he's not in school today?"

"What's that got to do with anything?" Peter crossed his arms.

"He's barely in school at all, and he's been absent a majority of the days that you've been gone due to your alter ego," Ned's voice was a whisper.

"You have no idea what you're talking about," Peter's blood was beginning to boil. Weren't we doing good?

"I know that sounds crazy, and I'm not trying to say he's guilty of anything, but I swear Pete, I get so uneasy around him."

"Are you sure it's because you aren't jealous?" Peter accused.

"He keeps pestering me about questions about your Stark Internship ever since I let it slip, but they're not normal questions..."

Peter held up his hand, not wanting to hear this. "You had no right to do that, Ned, that was a huge violation of his privacy."

"Peter, come on, please, he was the one who..." Ned tried to interject.

"That's enough, Ned," Peter told him sternly. "Harry hasn't done anything to hurt me, which is a saying a lot considering the person I'm talking to right now."

Ned sharply recoiled at the revelation and Peter almost found himself apologizing right after, but he was so angry at the other boy, more on Harry's account than Peter's own.

"You are talking about a person who came back to a world where his father is dead. He came back an orphan." Peter told him coldly. "You're talking about someone was has been nothing but friendly to you, and this is what you do to him? Gotta say, dude, your loyalty complex has really been slacking recently."

"Peter..." Ned protested.

Peter stood up, his food left uneaten on his tray. "Look, Ned, I want to move past this, I really do."

"I do, too!" Ned insisted.

"If that is true, then you need to drop the jealousy act. Harry didn't do anything to deserve how you're treating him," Peter stated. "You owe him one hell of an apology. Maybe while you're at it, you can find one for me too."

"Peter, wait..." Ned pleaded but Peter was already walking away before Ned could finish that sentence.

***

As soon as the dismissal bell rang to signify the start of the weekend, Peter had bolted out of the school without looking back. He had lasted three blocks before he ducked into the shadows of an alleyway to change into his Spider-Man suit before he hit the skies. Part of him was actually looking forward to the hour-long journey that he had in front of him in order to get to the lakehouse, the fresh air was something that he desperately needed at that moment. Happy had offered to drive him, but Peter had politely declined the offer, even if he felt guilty for doing so. He told Happy it was because he wanted to test out his new suit more, but the truth was that Peter didn't want to feel caged. He still felt completely on edge from everything that had happened with Ned and the revelation that someone in a green costume was essentially out there trying to kill him. He was afraid that if he went with Happy it would increase the feeling of being caged like an animal on display. Either way, just because Peter welcomed the fresh air, that didn't mean that he wasn't dreading what he would find at his expected destination.

When Peter promised Tony that he would come to the lakehouse that weekend, he did it more out of guilt than anything else. He was never the kind of person to openly avoid a person that he never met because Ben had always told him to never judge a person until you get to meet them for yourself. It wasn't that he was scared of meeting Morgan for the first time, he was more scared at the possibility of feeling out of place in the family environment that Pepper, Tony, and Morgan had created. He wasn't sure if he could emotionally handle the awkwardness of the inside jokes he wouldn't understand or the open affection that Peter had always wished to have with someone who he grew to see as a father figure. But he saw the hurt in Tony's eyes whenever it seemed like Peter didn't want to go to the lakehouse, or when he tried making excuses to get out of such a situation. He had put Tony through too much in the past couple of weeks, and Peter felt like this was the least that he could do.

All in all, Peter felt nauseous just thinking about the entire ordeal and he hated it.

It didn't help that he was still in a sour mood from his conversation with Ned two days prior. Peter just couldn't understand why Ned was being so harsh on someone who had proven time and time again that he wasn't a threat in the slightest. Harry and him had more things in common than Ned would ever know, and for that reason, Ned would never understand what Harry was going through. For the longest time, Peter had thought that Ned had gotten over his jealousy, but looking back at it, he wasn't sure if that had just been another act that Ned had put on. It seemed like the younger boy had been pretty good at that nowadays.

"That doesn't sound like Ned," Peter recalled Alex's words from the conversation they had on the subway ride home from school Wednesday afternoon.

"I should've seen it coming," Peter shook his head. "He's been off about Harry from the moment he met him."

"I still don't think it's jealousy," Alex tried to interject.

"What else am I supposed to think?" Peter exclaimed and held his arms out to the sides for emphasis. "He dug into his background, Alex, that's not only illegal but it's a huge violation of privacy."

"Ned cares about you, Pete," Alex told him genuinely. "Also this is Ned, he could never hurt a fly. He must've had some good reason as to why he did what he did. Maybe he knows something you don't?"

The way Alex said that made Peter freeze. "What do you mean by that?"

"Did you give him a chance to explain himself?"

"Why are you acting like you know something?" Peter crossed his arms.

"I'm not trying to, because I don't," Alex said honestly. "Just don't let that anger cloud your judgment. Take it from someone who knows that from experience."

Peter didn't want to admit it, but Alex had been right. He hadn't let Ned explain himself, but Peter just didn't have the energy to listen to it. He also just didn't know what to think of the younger boy anymore. Ned had tried to soothe the pain, but he did it in a majorly wrong way and it just pushed the knife in deeper.

When the roads became surrounded by trees, Peter welcomed the challenge of dodging the obstacles in his path because it kept his mind grounded in the present rather than letting his thoughts wander into the constant spiral that his brain was in nowadays. He knew he was getting close, and if he slowed down by a small fraction, well... He'd never admit it.

By the time the trees slowly faded away to reveal the lakehouse, Peter's stomach was essentially in his throat. The temptation to run was overwhelming, but Peter forced the feeling down and instead just pushed forward. Just as he landed at the bottom of the stairs, a strawberry blonde figure emerged from the front door.

Pepper jumped slightly when she looked back from closing the door. "Oh! You must be Peter!"

Peter just waved lamely, "Hey. I mean, yes!" He pulled off his mask to reveal his face. "That's me... Peter."

Pepper chuckled at him stuttering. "It's good to finally meet you in person."

"It's good to meet you too," Peter returned kindly. "I've heard a lot about you."

"I could say the same."

Peter smiled sheepishly, "Good things?"

Pepper had a mischievous glint in her amused eyes, "For the most part. Tony's just inside in his office if you wanted to join him. I'm off to pick Morgan up from school."

Peter just nodded eagerly, awkwardly adjusting the strap of his backpack. When Pepper walked down the stairs, she paused to place a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Take a deep breath, Peter. This is your home too."

Pepper's kind words made his shoulders relax. Her nurturing and genuine nature was enough to chase away some of the butterflies that were fluttering in his stomach. "Thank you, Mrs. Potts... er I mean Mrs. Stark?"

Pepper laughed at that, "Just call me Pepper."

Peter nodded appreciatively, "Thank you, Pepper."

"Go make sure he doesn't blow something up?" Pepper requested, stepping away to head towards her car.

That got a genuine smile out of him. "You got it."

Pepper, who opened the car door, gave him one last wave before she got into the car and drove off. Peter watched as the car disappeared into the heart of the forest before he turned back towards the stairs. He knew he was being childish and he shouldn't feel so nervous about stepping into a beautiful lakeside cabin. One of which belonged to a billionaire who had invited him over from the kindness of their heart.

Come on, Pete, better to just rip off the bandage, Peter gave himself a pep talk, taking in a few deep breaths to chase away the lingering sense of dread. You got this.

Walking into the cabin, Peter paused at the decorative interior and the beauty of the house took his breath away. In front of him was a set of wooden stairs that ascended to the second floor of the cabin. To his right was the living area of the cabin that branched off to the kitchen. In the middle of the wall rested a fireplace that was surrounded by a brick border. To his left was a hallway that led to an open office and Peter could hear Tony talking to FRIDAY, his heartbeat rushing over him like a security blanket.

Making his way down the hallway, he saw that Tony was standing over a hologram workbench with his back to him, files scattered haphazardly in front of him. He knocked on the open doorframe to alert Tony of his presence.

Tony's head snapped around and his eyes brightened when they landed on him. "About time, kid, I was wondering if I was going to have to send Happy on a rescue mission."

Peter rolled his eyes at the jest. "Good to see you too."

"How was school?" Tony wondered.

Peter just raised an eyebrow at him at the question. "That's awfully domestic."

Tony gave him a look that said 'Try me'.

"I had a Physics test today," Peter caved. "Aced it, no question."

Tony chuckled fondly at that, "Should I be surprised?"

Peter returned the smile, "No, I guess not. What are you looking at?" He walked over to see the files that Tony had been looking at. When he saw the contents within the files, Peter completely froze as a wave of unease washed over him. "Tony, what is this?"

Tony sighed as he crossed his arms. "Remember that android attack a few weeks ago?"

"The one where Sam's suit got bugged?"

"That's the one," Tony nodded. "Something wasn't right, and it just wasn't sitting well with all of us. There were dozens of the same android, but they were far too sophisticated to be just a spur of the moment thing."

"You said you didn't know who was behind it," Peter recalled.

"They were running on some form of a fusion-based energy system, which isn't something that's exactly readily available," Tony told him truthfully.

That caught Peter off guard, "But that's still widely unknown."

"That's where this comes into play," Tony pointed at the files. "Oscorp Industries, the ghost company."

Peter's eyes flickered over the files once more, the words 'Norman Osborn' showing up several times. There were early news articles about an emerging research industry that was operated by Mr. Osborn, and then there were articles about its controversy until the company unexpectedly became abandoned shortly after the Snap.

"What does Oscorp have to do with the androids? It says the company's been abandoned for years," Peter wondered curiously. Also, why didn't Harry tell me?

"That's the part that's a mystery, kid," Tony revealed. "Norman Osborn abandoned his project after he reported to have lost his son to..." He trailed off before clearing his throat. "Then out of nowhere, five years later, his 'brother' Bill Osborn picked up the company once more, but there's been zero publicity with it."

The way that Tony said the word "brother" caused a spark of confusion in Peter. "Why are you saying 'brother' as if you don't believe it?"

"Because according to every database I have looked through, Bill Osborn doesn't exist."

"So you're saying it's an alias?"

"Could be, or he did something that put a lot of targets on his back and had to drop under the radar," Tony shrugged.

Peter shook his head, "But that makes no sense. I mean, if Oscorp is developing some sort of fusion-based energy system, then why not go public? That's a groundbreaking scientific discovery."

"None of this makes sense. But don't worry about it, kid, we're on it alright?"

"Is there anything that I can do to help?" Peter asked.

"Right now? No," Tony admitted. "We've hit a dead end on this case a while ago."

A spark of understanding washed over Peter. "But you still can't let it go."

"Consider it a hunch or consider it paranoia," Tony ran a tired hand down his face. "FRIDAY, collapse the files, will you?"

"Tony," Peter studied him cautiously. "What's going on?"

Tony frowned, "I told you, didn't I?"

"And you're lying to someone who can sense your bullshit from a mile away."

"Look, let's just not worry about it for now, okay?" Tony requested a small hint of desperation in his voice. "This is supposed to be a fun weekend away from work."

"Tony..." Peter protested.

"Peter," Tony cut him off. "I'm not saying to forget about it, but we just don't need to worry about it right now, okay?"

Peter looked at Tony in the eyes, and the pleading spark in the billionaire's eyes made him cave. "Okay."

 

Chapter Text

For the next hour, Peter watched Tony as he dove into some of the upgrades that he had proposed for Peter's new suit. Some of these upgrades included a fireproof parachute, further enhanced eyepieces to aid in making Peter's increased senses easier to hone to his advantage, and other adjustments to make Peter's organic webs more accessible without being limited due to the suit.

"I actually wanted to talk to you about that," Peter had told Tony when he brought it up. "I was thinking that maybe I can have web shooters still, but have them feed off the organic webs? It was just useful to have the different web combinations, and it would be a shame to throw all of that away because the webs aren't synthetic anymore."

Needless to say, the two of them got lost in the challenge of developing a model for Peter's new organic web-shooters. It had been a challenge, but Peter welcomed the distraction. One thing that he had always loved about his lab time with Tony before the Snap was the mutual content silence that rested among them when they worked side by side on the same project. There would be the occasional request for a tool that Peter would hand over or the discussion of altering the model as they worked on it. It felt strangely like a form of a lifeline for him, and it took him too long to realize how much he had missed this when the two of them became distant.

It's ironic, isn't it? Peter wondered. You get close to Tony but now you're distant from Ned. It sort of feels like I traded one in for the other in some cruel way.

The mere thought of the other boy still made Peter feel as if his stomach had twisted itself into a knot. There was a time when the two of them could read each other like a book, and it had been impossible to keep a secret from one another. Spider-Man had been an anomaly with everything, but Peter was certain he got away with that particular secret because Spider-Man and Peter Parker had essentially been two different people back then. Peter Parker had been the poor kid whose uncle had been murdered in cold blood the summer before the beginning of his freshman year of high school. Spider-Man, on the other hand, was a symbol of hope, a wanna-be hero that had just wanted to find some sort of way to stop people from feeling the pain that he had felt when someone that he loved had been taken away from him with in a blink of an eye...

Ned just felt like a stranger to him nowadays, and Peter hated everything about it. Ned, the type of person who hated to lie to people he cared about, had done exactly that. Ned, the most open-minded person on the entire planet, had dug immorally into the past of someone who was struggling to pick up the pieces of their life because he had been worried about that person taking away his best friend away from him. Peter would give anything for everything happening between them to be a whacked-out nightmare, but he had never been that lucky. This was reality, and Peter just had to find some way to accept that.

"Peter?"

Tony's voice caused him to jump as he was startled back to reality.

"Easy, kid," Tony's calm voice washed over him.

Peter looked over to see the worried eyes of his mentor.

"What's going on?" Tony asked.

Peter shook his head, turning back to the blueprints in front of him. "Nothing, I'm fine."

"You want to try and say that more convincingly?" Tony didn't sound impressed.

Peter sighed, "It's fine, my thoughts just wandered."

Tony was quiet for a moment as Peter swiped his hand across the hologram blueprint of his web shooters.

"You can come to me for anything, you know that, right?" Tony told him quietly.

Peter's shoulders tensed as they stayed on this topic. "Tony, drop it."

"When you say it like that, it really doesn't make me want to drop it," Tony crossed his arms stubbornly.

Peter gritted his teeth in frustration. "I'm not some broken glass you need to look after. I'm not going to shatter."

"I never said that," Tony denied.

"No, but your eyes do," Peter looked over to meet Tony's gaze.

"Considering you're acting extremely pissed off, I'm taking it that you had a crappy day. Who'd you fight with?"

"What are you? My therapist?"

"That's not fair and you know it, kid," Tony actually sounded hurt.

Peter's eyes closed as a wave of guilt washed over him. Tony didn't deserve that, he wasn't the source of Peter's problems for once. "You're right. I'm sorry."

"Do you really not want to talk about it?" Tony asked. "I'll drop it if you're really that adamant about it."

"It's nothing bad," Peter promised. "Not that way at least. It's just Ned."

"You and Ned are still fighting?" Tony inquired curiously.

"He lied to me Tony," Peter ran a hand down his face as he leaned against the workbench. "And I mean, sure, people lie all the time, but this is different. This one hurt."

"Have you tried to talk to him?"

"I tried, but it didn't work out." Peter revealed, a mixture of sadness and frustration washed over him. The sadness of Ned and MJ's existing friendship while Peter struggled to get over MJ. The sadness of what's become of him and Ned. Frustration in that they felt entitled to sneak around behind his back like he didn't matter to them. Frustration in that all of those years of friendship with Ned seemed to be slipping through his fingers with no way for Peter to stop it. "And all of it is because MJ decided Ned was worth her time, and threw to the side like yesterday's garbage. My best friend of 8 years, lying to my face about the one thing he knew would feel like a stab to my back."

Tony's face crumbled. "Kid..."

"I should've seen it coming," Peter clenched his fists to stop them from shaking. "She just has no idea... She ripped my heart out of my chest because she didn't have the guts to face me after everything... And Ned just let himself be put in that situation..."

"Peter," Tony's eyes were sad.

"And the thing is? I feel so many mixed emotions about it," Peter exclaimed in frustration. "I feel like I should be happy for Ned because he didn't lose a friend like I did. I feel like I should feel sympathy for MJ because she went through hell and back, something that I didn't even have to face in the same way. But I'm so damn hurt about how they went about it. I feel like my blood is just simmering and I can't let it out because the last time I got angry..." Peter's voice cracked.

"You keep saying that, but that's no motto to live by. You can't keep that anger in, kid," Tony told him. "It does ugly things when it gets bottled up."

"Don't you understand? People like me don't get to be angry. I can't afford to be angry," Peter hysterically croaked.

"That's not true..." Tony protested once more.

Haven't we already had this conversation before? Why can't he just see it and understand it for the way it is? "I can't be angry, Tony," Peter repeated. "The last time I got angry I got my Uncle Ben killed!"

Tony froze at the outburst, his face in complete shock. "Kid..."

"And don't tell me it isn't true," Peter's voice was wrecked. "Do you know the last words that I ever said to him?" Tony opened his mouth to speak, but Peter cut him off. "I told him to stop pretending he was my father. I had my powers for one month and I got selfish and he was giving me a lecture that I didn't want to face because I knew it was true... I ran, Tony, and I was so damn angry. And he came looking for me. He was out that night looking for my angry and selfish ass and he got shot because of me. So, no, I can't afford to be angry. When I get angry, people around me, people I care about, they get hurt, or worse... they get killed. And I can't lose anyone else right now, because if I do I don't know if I can survive that pain..." Peter's voice broke and the single tear that ran down his face caused his sensitive skin to crawl. He lifted his hand to wipe the offending liquid away from his face out of frustration.

"Peter, what happened to your uncle... that wasn't your fault," Tony repeated, his quiet voice was sad. "It was a messed up situation, but it wasn't your fault."

"You keep saying that, but how am I supposed to believe that?" Peter wondered bitterly. "He told that with great power comes great responsibility. People like me don't get to be angry because I can't let that monster out, Tony."

"There's a difference between emotional anger and physical anger," Tony said, but Peter refused to look Tony in the eyes. "You're allowed to feel hurt, and you're allowed to stand up for yourself when someone does something wrong. I know how scary it is to feel like you have enough pent anger that could destroy everything you've built. It is so tempting to let it consume you, but you're terrified to give in to it fully. You need to find a way to channel it because if you don't it's just going to destroy you."

"You say that as if it's easy."

"Fine, then let me ask you this. The anger you're feeling... Is it really towards Ned and MJ, or is it towards something else?"

"I don't even know anymore," Peter confessed. "I feel like I've been trying to fool myself into thinking so many different things for so long. I still don't know what to believe and what is just wishful thinking."

"You want to know what I believe?" Tony offered.

"Do I have a choice?"

Tony just shot him a knowing look. "I believe that you got dealt a bad hand, kid, and I wish I could find a way to mend all of that pain, but I can't. I believe it's easy to fall into the trap of treading water when you think the water is calm enough to keep your head above water, but in reality, it's just a matter of time until you're going to drown. Most of all, though, I believe in you and what I know of you. You're the strongest person I know, kid, and you've got one hell of a support system that will help you if you let us."

"How can I find the strength to believe in something that just feels like a dream I can readily lose?" Peter wondered hollowly.

"Sometimes you just have to take the leap, even when it seems scary to do so," Tony placed a hand on the side of Peter's neck to guide his face upwards so their gazes met.

Why is it that every time I feel like I'm doing better, things just keep coming back to this? Peter felt resigned as the tears broke free.

Tony saw the hurt in Peter's eyes and his face crumpled. "Come here, Pete," he said as he pulled Peter into a comforting embrace. 

Peter let himself be guided into the arms of his mentor, the billionaire's head coming to rest on top of Peter's head and Peter just closed his eyes to reign in his emotions, his shoulders shaking slightly from the suppressed sobs that wanted to consume him.

You're stronger than you'll ever know, Peter, Uncle Ben's voice flashed in his mind. Even when you don't feel it, that strength lives within you. It never truly goes away, even if it wants to hide. So when things get hard...

"Take a sad song and make it better," Peter finished the thought aloud and smiled sadly at the bittersweet memory.

Tony made a confused noise. "What?"

Peter, who realized that he spoke aloud just hid his face in the crook of Tony's neck in embarrassment. "Just a memory. Uncle Ben was very famous for his Beatles references."

Tony chuckled at that, "Well, I can't say that's my usual style, but wise. I respect that."

Peter returned that comment with a silent laugh, but before he could say anything else, a weight rammed into his legs and he stumbled back from Tony in surprise. He suppressed the overwhelming urge to give into his fight or flight mode when he saw the bundle of brown hair that had molded itself against his legs.

"Morgan," Tony chided her gently with a mix of amusement and disapproval in his voice.

"Petey!" She exclaimed happily.

Peter looked up at Tony in bewilderment. "Petey?" He mouthed at him.

Tony just shook his head in amusement. "Don't ask." The billionaire mouthed back quietly. "Give Peter his legs back, little miss."

"But he's finally here!" She looked up at Peter and the teen was blown away at the innocent chocolate brown eyes that were a mirror image of her father's. Her face showed her excitement and a genuine spark of curiosity lingered in her expression.

"It's okay," Peter told Tony and gently maneuvered Morgan away from him so he could crouch down in front of her. "You must be the famous Morgan I've heard so much about."

"Daddy calls me his little princess," She grinned goofily.

Peter chuckled at the child's antics. "So he does. Well then, your highness, it is a dream come true."

"Are you really staying?" She asked. "I have so many things I have to show you!"

"Really?" Peter morphed his face into a convincing curious expression, but his stomach was knotting the more he took in how much Morgan resembled the perfect combination of Pepper and Tony. He felt guilty at feeling slightly nauseous from this minor interaction. Morgan didn't deserve that, not because of him. "What kind of things?"

"My teddy bear collection!" Morgan was essentially vibrating with energy.

"Maybe after dinner," Tony told her. "Dinner should be ready soon."

"It won't take long, I promise!" She pleaded with her father.

Tony sent Peter a pleading look and Peter felt himself smile at the "Please help me" expression on his mentor's face. "How about this?" Peter offered. "After dinner, you can show me all of the teddy bears, and we don't have to worry about having to stop?"

Morgan's eyes sparked mischievously, "Pinky promise?" She held out her hand.

Peter returned the gesture, "I promise."

***

Dinner was a chore if Peter had to be completely honest with himself. The food that Pepper had cooked was absolutely fantastic, but all of the questions that were thrown his away about his life made everything taste like ash. He knew Pepper and Morgan meant well and that they were genuinely curious about his past, but the past and Peter had a complicated relationship nowadays. Tony had pitched in when he could, taking pity on him whenever he saw Peter getting overwhelmed with Morgan's constant questions. In a way, he had to admit that he was flattered that Morgan thought so highly of him despite having never met him in person until that evening.

After dinner, as promised, Morgan took him up to her room so that Peter could sit in front of the wooden bench against the far wall of the bedroom that housed at least a dozen teddy bears stacked up neatly in a row. It was rather fascinating to hear the stories behind all of the bears' names. Morgan was definitely quite intellectually advanced for a six-year-old, and it made him sad that the younger girl didn't hold as much of that child-like innocence as he had initially thought.

Dewdrop was a blue-gray teddy bear that was wearing an eye patch. It had been Morgan's first teddy bear that she had got when she was four. She had gotten a hold of some of Tony's gadgets from the off-limits shed and it resulted in a scratched eye and a rather fancy eyepatch. Tony had felt so guilty afterward that he had bought her the teddy bear as a gift and Morgan's only request had been for the bear to have a matching eyepatch and Tony made it happen.

Then there had been Chocolate Chip, Teddy, Apple, and Cinnamon. The names got slowly more meaningful to reality as Morgan went down the line, and in a way, it showed how much she had matured in the span of just two years. The most recent one, however, was a cherry red teddy bear with a spotted white and black snout with beady brown eyes that seemed to  know exactly what you were thinking.

"This is Peter," Morgan told him sadly, the little girl using Peter's full name and the teen felt his heart skip a beat. "I heard Daddy talking to Mommy one day and he was really sad. For the first time, I learned that I had a brother, at least that's what Daddy told me. He always said that you loved me, and you would protect me whenever I felt hurt or sad. He talked about you a lot, but I wanted to meet you one day. I dreamed about it often. When I saw him I knew, and he's been the last one I got. Once I found you, I didn't need anymore."

Peter felt tears return to his eyes at the revelation, and he didn't know what to think. He said you were my brother... "Morgan..."

"I was always confused why you never came home," Morgan hugged the bear to her chest. "I asked Daddy if we could visit you, but he said you were asleep and he didn't know when you would wake up. He tries to hide things, but I knew he meant that you were dead."

Peter looked up at her from where he was sitting on the floor, the tears close to falling from his eyes. "I never wanted to hurt you."

"It's not your fault," Morgan sniffled. "Daddy said a bad guy hurt a lot of people and that he and his friends fixed it. I'm just happy you're here now. I've never seen Daddy so happy so often."

A strange surge of protectiveness washed over him. "I'm never going anywhere ever again."

She looked up shyly at that, "Do you mean that?"

Peter gave her a sad smile and held out his pinky. "I promise."

Morgan gave him a watery smile in return and walked over to curl her small finger around Peter's. A moment later, Morgan threw her tiny arms around his shoulders and Peter held her close. All of the nausea from earlier had completely vanished and had been replaced with an unspoken vow.

***

It took another twenty minutes and one bedtime story later until Morgan fell asleep and Peter was walking back into the hallway of the second floor of the lake house. As soon as he closed Morgan's bedroom door, he sank to the floor, resting his back against the wall beside the wooden doorframe. Leaning his head against the wall, Peter closed his eyes at the overwhelming emotions washing over him. He felt so selfishly stupid for avoiding the lake house now. Morgan had been hurting just as much as Peter, and the teen had just been so wrapped up in his own self-pity that he didn't spare a thought about how Morgan was handling everything.

Life lives within you or without you, Ben's words echoed within his mind. 

Life had lived without Peter, but Morgan had to deal with the aftermath of his so-called death. She had to deal with the mysterious tears of Tony grieving him. She had to find out that someone who had been close to her father had died without her getting a chance to meet him. Peter might've gotten the short end of the stick, but he shouldn't have disregarded Morgan's feelings just because of the hurricane that was blowing around inside of his mind.

You can't do that again, Peter, Peter told himself. Morgan doesn't deserve that and neither do you.

When he had composed himself, Peter got shakily to his feet and made his way towards the staircase. Just as he approached the top of the stairs, the voices from below caught his attention.

"You doing okay?" That was Pepper, her voice sounding sympathetic.

"Some days are better than others," Tony replied sadly.

"Tony..."

"It just hurts to see him so sad," Tony admitted. "If you had asked me if it would've been this rough having him back..."

Those words broke Peter's heart along with the way Tony's voice held the rare trace of a sad resignation.

"But you wouldn't change it for the world," Pepper finished for him.

"I wouldn't change it for the world," Tony agreed. "I just wish I could take his pain away. I feel like I'm flying blind and I don't know what I'm doing half of the time."

"Knowing you, you're doing the best you can."

"Why do I feel like it's not enough?"

"Because it hurts to not see them at their happiest," Pepper told him. "He'll get there, Tony. You both will."

Peter closed his eyes against the new wave of frustration and sadness. Frustration at the world for throwing him into this unfair situation. Frustration at himself for not being okay, and for not finding the right words to ease everyone else's injuries. Frustration at feeling like an animal who was trapped in a zoo with his depression on full display. Sadness for losing the life that he had once had. Sadness for missing his uncle ben. Sadness for losing MJ.

At the end of the day, you can't change what's been done, but what you can find is the positives that were given to you in the end, Peter recalled May's words when she found him on that fateful day at Ben's grave.

Those words still applied to him in the present day and he never wanted to forget them, because he did gain a few positive things out of everything that had happened. He reunited with Harry, a face from the past that he thought he would never get a chance to see again. He befriended the Avengers and found a family with them, and that was more than Peter could've ever dreamed to have. Most of all, he discovered his newfound family with George and Alex. George, the orthopedic surgeon who moved to Queens for a new life and found his second chance with May. George, the kind of guy that found every little positive thing to hold onto in life, and the guy who welcomed Peter into his family with open arms and no hesitation. Alex... Alex showed him that there was light in the darkest of tunnels. The older teen who shamelessly showed Peter his devotion towards him, being there every step of the way and being able to bring Peter out of his spiraling thoughts when he wandered too deep... Alex giving Peter the brother he never thought he would ever have the chance to have. Peter's life might be imperfect, and it might not be what he thought it should've been like, but he'd be lying if he told himself that he wanted his own life back. He didn't want to lose what he gained, because at the end of the day it wouldn't give him any peace of mind.

The faint buzz of his phone brought Peter back to reality and he fished his phone out of his pocket. There were 2 messages from MJ.

MJ: Don't be mad at Ned. He's just trying to protect you. If you want to be mad at anyone, be mad at me.

MJ: Here's the file that you really need to see. Don't be blinded by appearances.

MJ: 1 pdf attachment

MJ: There's a reason why I call you Webhead. Don't prove me right. Don't do something stupid.

A new pit formed in his stomach at the pdf attachment and he found his finger hovering over the file more out of curiosity than anything else. A small part of him knew that it would go against Ned's nature to lash out at someone unless he had a reason to do so, but Peter was scared. In a way, he couldn't deny that he was taking the coward's way out. Before he could click on the file, his phone began to consistently buzz as Alex's contact photo appeared on the screen.

Peter frowned in bewilderment as he answered the phone, "Alex?"

"Hey," Alex answered the phone, but the uncertain tone made Peter freeze as a wave of dread washed over him. "Did I catch you at a bad time?"

"No, no, it's fine," Peter quickly reassured him. "What's going on?"

"I didn't want to call you, I know you're spending the weekend with Tony..." Alex began.

That didn't tread well with Peter. "Alex, what's going on?" Peter repeated.

"Harry's at the apartment," Alex said.

Peter glanced at the Stark Watch he was wearing and frowned when it read ten o'clock at night. "This late?"

"I know," Alex's voice was quiet as if he didn't want Harry to overhear him. "He came over totally wrecked, Pete. It looks like he's been crying or something... He keeps mumbling things about his uncle or something, I don't know. He keeps asking for you, and I really don't think it's a good idea to leave him alone."

Peter's stomach flipped at Alex's tone of uncertainty. "I'm coming home, I'll be there in less than an hour."

"Peter..."

"I'll be there soon," Peter promised. "Just tell him I'm on my way, okay?"

"Be safe," Alex requested.

"I promise," Peter said before he hung up the phone.

Without another word, Peter ran down the stairs, "Tony?" He walked into Tony's office where his backpack was resting on the office desk and pulled out his suit.

Tony came walking into the room, "Yeah, kid?" His eyes flickered over Peter's face and the sight of Peter pulling on his suit. When the billionaire's eyes met Peter's, there was a determined glint in them. "What happened?"

"Alex called me, I guess... He really needs me home and I just..." Peter stumbled over his words.

"Is everyone okay?" Tony was worried. "May?"

"No one's hurt, but Alex... George and May are working," Peter said. "I'm really sorry, I want to stay, but..."

Tony waved it off, "Don't worry about that right now. Come on, I'll take you home."

Peter shook his head, "Tony, this is something I need to do alone."

"Kid..." Tony protested.

"Tony, please," Peter gave him an imploring look. "This isn't a Spider-Man problem, okay? This is a Peter Parker problem."

Tony's eyes studied him for another second before he sighed in resignation. "Let me know when you get back?"

Peter nodded in agreement, "I promise."

Tony walked forward and placed a gentle hand on the side of his neck. "Be safe, Pete, if you need anything at all..."

"Tony," Peter's eyes flickered over Tony's concerned face. "I know."

Without another glance back at the billionaire, Peter pulled on his mask, slung his backpack over his shoulders, and ran out the door of the lake house, waiting until he got to the trees of the surrounding forest before he hit the skies.

Chapter Text

The journey back to Queens felt like an eternity to Peter, and he hated every single second of it. Ever since he got that call from Alex, it felt like his sixth sense was trying to claw out his intestines and he couldn't remember the last time he felt so on edge. Not since Uncle Ben and sure as hell not since Titan. Something about this entire situation made him super uneasy and for some odd reason, he felt like he was waiting for some sort of bomb to drop. He wondered if it was Ned's haunting words playing on replay in his mind, or Tony admitting he was looking into the background of Harry's father based on a company that Peter had never even heard of before. Why hadn't Harry mentioned that his father was the founder of a groundbreaking research facility? The fact that MJ herself got involved, though, even if it was about something concerning Peter, made him the most uneasy about the entire thing. Why would someone who seemed like they didn't want anything to do with Peter warn him about something that didn't even concern her?

The closer he got to his apartment, the more uneasy he got and his skin was essentially becoming more pins and needles than just flesh on his body. Part of him was glad that May and George were both working nightshifts that night, it meant that both of them were safely away from whatever was going on, and safe away from Peter's paranoid sixth sense making him wonder what the hell was happening. There was one person that Peter was the most concerned about right now and that was Alex. Alex was in the heart of a storm that felt way too eerily familiar and Peter couldn't quite connect the feeling as to what was going on.

When Peter returned to his borough, he quickly ducked into a dark alleyway to change out of his Spider-Man suit. However, the fact that the pit in his stomach continued to grow made him think twice about it. Instead, Peter kept his suit on and shimmied into his gray sweats and his baggy navy blue MIT hoodie before deeming that was enough to disguise the suit underneath him. Taking off his mask and gloves, Peter tucked the garments safely into his bag and slipped on his sneakers. In the end, it probably was riskier hiding the suit underneath his mundane clothes, but considering it just looked like Peter was wearing a red shirt underneath his hoodie along with red socks, it was enough to hide his alter ego.

Something's not right, A small voice chimed in Peter's head. If your sense is saying to keep the suit on, maybe you should listen to it for a change. Even if it doesn't make sense.

Running up to the fifth floor of the complex, the pressure inside of Peter's head increased to the point where it made him want to throw up. Needless to say, his spider-sense seemed to have no intention of dying down and he felt like a rabbit who was waiting for a fox to lunge at him and break his neck.

Before opening the door to the apartment, paused to send a text message to Alex.

P: I'm outside. I don't like the feeling of this. Something isn't right.

Digging into his backpack once more, Peter pulled out the Stark Watch that Tony had made him and slipped it onto his wrist for safe measure. Zipping up the bag, his phone buzzed quietly indicating that Alex had replied.

A: Something's off. I feel it too.

Harry, who the hell is after you? Peter frowned, but he had a small thought that maybe Harry was hiding from someone. At least that's what you're hoping for. Harry's your friend, you can trust him... right?

Opening the door to his apartment, Peter didn't get a chance to set down his bag before Harry got up from where he was sitting on the couch. The older boy's eyes were red and puffy as if he had been crying, and his entire body was shaking to the point where it was a wonder that Harry hadn't collapsed yet. What caught Peter's immediate attention was the black eye that was deep purple, as if it had been at least a few hours fresh.

"Peter, thank god, you gotta help me!" Harry told him hysterically.

Pushing down the pit in his stomach, Peter felt a wave of concern wash over him. He closed the door behind him and placed a hand on Harry's shoulder. "What happened? Are you okay?"

"It's Uncle Bill... He's gone insane," Harry's voice was raspy as if he had been screaming.

"What are you talking about? What happened?" Peter repeated.

"I came home from school today and he was just talking to himself like there was someone there with him," Harry stumbled over his words and began to pace. "I thought maybe he was talking on the phone with a colleague or something, but when I walked up to him he was muttering things to himself."

"Did he do this to you?" Peter's eyes studied Harry's movements, at a loss for words.

"He got mad because I was eavesdropping on his conversation. I didn't mean to, but I was worried because he was just acting so insanely rageful..."

The face of the kind face of Harry's Uncle Bill flashed in his mind, and Tony's words echoed his warning. According to every database I have looked through, Bill Osborn doesn't exist.

So if Bill Osborn doesn't exist... Peter's train of thought started.

"I knew something was off about him since I moved in with him. The late nights, the mysterious disappearances..." Harry shook his head hysterically. "He attacked me, Peter, I didn't know where else to go. I don't know what to do."

Peter's eyes flickered over to the form of Alex who was leaning against the kitchen doorway, the raven-haired boy's shoulders visibly tense and Peter could hear the way Alex's heart was racing. He walked over and placed two steady hands on Harry's shoulders. "You don't have to go anywhere, Harry, okay? I'm glad you came here, you know I have your back."

"I just don't know what to do," Harry repeated tearfully.

"Take a seat on the couch, alright?" Peter told him kindly. "I'll go get you some coffee or tea or something."

Harry just nodded, running a shaky hand down his face. "Yeah, okay..."

As Harry walked back into the living area, Peter walked over to Alex and the two of them ducked into the kitchen. Peter, wanting to make it look like he was doing what he had offered, placed a tea kettle on the stove and turned around to see Alex leaning with his hands on the dining table.

"Something still doesn't feel right about this," Alex told him quietly.

"I don't know what's happening," Peter admitted. "I don't know what to do."

"How can someone do that to their family?" Alex shook his head and Peter realized that the older boy thought that Harry's Uncle was indeed the culprit.

"Have you called George and May?" Peter wondered.

Alex shook his head. "No, I called you, he just kept asking for you. I figured he needed a friend more right now than another adult just telling him what to do and throwing him a pity party."

"Yeah," Peter leaned against the counter and hung his head low, not ignoring the way his sixth sense was making every single hair on his body stand to a point. Closing his eyes, Peter completely froze when a dreadful thought crossed his mind.

I know this feeling, Peter realized, a fresh wave of nausea washed over him. Holy shit.

Standing up straight, Peter's head began pounding in sync with his racing heartbeat. It was like every sound around him was becoming increasingly further away until all Peter could focus on was the instinctive pull of where his sense was leading him to.

"Peter?" Alex's muffled voice washed over him, sounding like he was miles away. "What is it?"

"I don't know," Peter confessed, his feet taking him back into the living room against his will. He was aware of Harry standing by the window of the living room, turning to look at him as if he had been able to hear Peter's footsteps coming towards him.

"Peter?" Harry's eyebrows furrowed. His voice was the clearest of all. "What's wrong? Why are you looking at me like that?"

Feeling like a child trapped in the middle of a game of tug of war, Peter glanced between Alex and Harry a few times before he closed his eyes against the onslaught of his senses.

Come on, focus, He told himself. Fight the panic, you need to focus. What the hell are you trying to tell me?

Taking a few forced deep breaths, the haziness in Peter's brain cleared enough until suddenly, he realized what his sense was trying to tell him. Opening his eyes, Peter quickly shot a web, watching as it struck true to its target.

Harry's shocked and hurt face quickly merged into a devious grin from where his hand had been webbed to the window behind him. "That's some neat trick, that sense of yours."

Peter’s heart sank, and it felt like he couldn't breathe. “Harry?”

“Oh my god,” Alex breathed out in shock from where he was standing behind Peter.

“I… I don’t…” Peter didn’t want to believe what was happening. What... No... Not Harry.

“You don’t understand?” Harry mocked him, all the kindness was gone from his posture. A familiar sinister glint gleamed in his eyes. “You’re so pathetically gullible, Peter, but then again I didn’t expect anything less from you.”

Peter felt like a gaping fish as he struggled to find the right words to say. Eventually, he managed to ask, “Why?”

“Are you seriously asking why?” Harry raised an unimpressed eyebrow. “Quite frankly, I’m offended you don’t know the answer to that question.”

“But… You…” Peter couldn’t find the right words. Please let this be a dream.

“What? You really thought I was your friend? Come on, Peter, I know you’re smarter than that.”

Suddenly everything felt like a smack to the face. The constant paranoia, feeling like someone was watching him... Peter felt his stomach drop. “It was you.”

“Now he gets it! Give the spider boy a golden star!”

“I just don’t… I can’t see why?” Peter exclaimed brokenly.

Harry groaned in annoyance. “If you’re looking for some stereotypical villain's speech about why I did what I did, you aren’t going to get it. Ask your so-called ‘guy in the chair’. Gotta say, that was pretty amusing to watch.”

Peter’s fists clenched, “What did you do?”

“What other way could I get your pathetic ass to trust me?”

“That’s right, I trusted you,” Peter emphasized. “This isn’t you!”

Something snapped in Harry’s eyes. “Don’t tell me who I am! You have no idea what I’ve been through!”

“That doesn’t mean you have to go around killing people!”

“Oh, don’t be such a baby, can’t you see all I really want is you?”

“What did I ever do to you?” Peter was close to tears.

“Don’t act like you didn’t ruin my life!”

“What are you talking about?” Peter essentially shouted in frustration

“I LOST EVERYTHING BECAUSE OF YOU!” Harry exploded, a wicked rage emerging in his twisted features. “I lost everything when my mother died. I lost my home, I lost my identity, I lost my father…

“Your mother got sick…” Peter interjected.

“It’s not about my mother! Dear ol’ Dad couldn’t look me in the eye after that. It was all ‘why couldn’t you be more like Peter?’ or my personal favorite, ‘you’ll never be good enough, you should’ve been smart like Peter.’”

“Harry…”

“And you wanna know something? You had a family still, and I had nothing. You took my father away from me, even when you stabbed him in the damn back!”

“What are you talking about?” Peter repeated in exasperation.

“That spider that gave you your powers?” Harry pointed at him with his free hand. “That was my father’s life’s work and you squashed it like a damn bug!”

“What? I got bit at…”

“An emerging science research industry,” Harry gritted out bitterly. “They didn’t have a name back then, but my father was there. And you destroyed him, and he took it out on me. He got obsessed, said that if he could recreate what happened to you, it’d be revolutionary. So he made a serum, except it got him killed!”

“Harry you got dealt a bad hand but I had nothing to do with this!”

“It’s rather interesting,” Harry glared at him. “I almost felt sorry for you. Poor Peter Parker, struggling to have everything he wants, while the world tries to make him choose. Struggling to be happy, but had the pressure of the world holding him up at that standard to the point where it was killing him on the inside." 

Peter's fists clenched, as he repeated the same question. "What did you do?"

"Do I really still need to answer that question?" Harry raised an eyebrow, a bored expression on his face. 

"Says the guy who's speaking in riddles!"

"You don't deserve your powers," Harry snarled. "You destroyed my father and now I'm going to destroy you and everyone you love!"

Peter went to cross his arms but used it as a cover as he pressed the SOS beacon on his watch. "That's never gonna happen."

"You really don't understand, do you?" Harry tutted mockingly. "Gods don't need to choose, Pete... We take."

“Alex, run!” Peter ordered.

Everything that happened after that happened in the blink of an eye. Peter didn't wait to hear Alex run out of the apartment before he sprinted towards Harry with a blinding and desperate rage. Harry, who had ripped his arm free of Peter's webs reached out with blinding speed to grab Peter by his arm, twisting it around Peter's back with inhumane strength before throwing him up into the air. Peter felt all of the air leave his lungs as he was thrown forcefully into the ceiling above him, debris raining down on him as he fell back into the floor. He had a split second to gulp in some oxygen before the alarm bells rang in his head and Peter rolled out of the way as Harry's foot stomped down against the floor where Peter had been laying a moment before.

Jumping to his feet, Peter felt like his heart was going to jump out of his chest and everything around him felt like it was a part of one big nightmare. He half expected to find himself gasping awake into an inevitable panic attack, but the pit in his stomach and the intensity of his spider-sense grounded him back to this dreadful reality. Throwing a punch at Harry, Peter realized something that made him want to throw up. He wasn't holding back. This was real. Someone he trusted was trying to kill him. Someone who knew he was Spider-Man.

Harry easily dodged the punch that Peter threw his way and swung back just as fast. Peter blamed himself for being so lost in thought that he was too slow to dodge, and the blow was strong enough to send him into one of the windows, the glass shattering as his body bent haphazardly over the window sill. Shooting a web at Harry, it landed on his stomach and Peter used that to stop the momentum of the blow from sending him completely out of the window.

I don't have my mask on... Peter panicked.

Before Peter knew what was happening, Harry grabbed the web that was attached to his stomach and Peter processed two things. One was that Peter's momentum wasn't enough to cause Harry to stumble. The second thing was that Harry had been strong enough to break free of his web fluid...

He's not human, Peter panicked as he saw Harry pull at the web, lifting Peter off the ground. Turning around, Harry tossed him against another window that led to one of the fire escapes of the apartment, and Peter hit the glass full force and before he could process what had happened, he was lying face down on the fire escape, a sharp stab of pain emanating from his ribs. 

Before he could recover, Harry was suddenly standing over him and he grabbed Peter's shoulders. Looking at the fire escape of the rooftop ten feet above him, an idea sparked in his mind and Peter shot two webs at the surface, pulling with all of his might. He succeeded in taking Harry by surprise as the two of them became airborne, using the momentum to flip them around so Peter was on top. As soon as he had Harry where he wanted him, Peter shot a web at the floor below them and yanked them down, the force enough for Harry to break through the first fire escape before he was slammed against the surface below. Sending what should've been a knockout blow to Harry's face, Peter turned around to send a web so he could put some distance between the two of them. However, when his sixth sense flared a second too late, Harry grabbed Peter's ankle and pulled him back down before forcefully swinging him into the window of the apartment below his own.

This is a fight that I'm not going to win, A voice in Peter's head chimed.

Peter's ribs were on fire at this point and he laid on the floor, struggling to catch his breath. That, however, only ended up with Harry grabbing Peter by the shoulders once more before tossing him into the apartment's front door, the door splintering against the force as Peter's back hit the wall of the open hallway. A split second later, the wall of the apartment was kicked in and Peter covered his head in an instinctive manner, only to see Harry walk into the hallway with a murderous expression on his face.

"Strong enough to have it all..." Harry drawled as Peter scrambled to his feet. Webbing a bench that was behind him, Peter threw it at Harry with brute force, but Harry just punched it, splitting the bench in half without it fazing him. Peter threw another punch, but Harry caught his arm in an iron grip that Peter couldn't break. "Too weak to take it!" Turning them around, Harry gut-punched Peter, sending him stumbling backward before he did a backward roll to his feet.

That's enough... Peter's eyes locked on Harry's with a furious expression and ran at him, using the wall to boost him up so that his legs came to lock around Harry's neck in a vice grip, trapping the older boy against the wall. Raining down four punches, Harry just took them as he cackled manically and Peter continued rolling with the punches, feeling himself get more desperate the more it didn't work. Eventually, Harry began walking forward enough to throw Peter's weight into the ground, causing the floor to give way leaving Peter to plummet another floor below.

Rolling onto his side, Peter cried out in pain as his ribs felt like they were slowly shattering inside of him, struggling to find the oxygen he needed to breathe. Eyeing the window at the end of the hallway, Peter stumbled to his feet and began limping desperately over to the exit he saw. He couldn't breathe, he needed to get out of here. Where was Alex? Was Alex out of the building? Where was the Avengers? Where was Tony?

Shooting a web at the window in front of him, Peter yanked at the glass, causing it to shatter. Climbing onto the outside of the building, Peter paused as he desperately gulped in the fresh night air, his entire body shaking as if it were about to collapse. Closing his eyes, he rested his forehead against the cool brick and took a moment to try and force down his racing heart that seemed to be echoing inside of his head. When bright light washed over him, he foolishly thought it was the Quinjet coming to his rescue. But the consistently high-tempo buzzing did not belong to a jet engine. Opening his eyes, Peter glanced behind him and saw that he was facing the front of the building and there was a crowd of people running outside of the complex, looking up at the scene as they collected outside. The light shining on him belonged to a helicopter and Peter's heart plummeted into his chest.

No, not like this... Peter felt like he was standing on thin ice that had just given way and he was slowly freezing to death in the dark water below.

Desperate to get out of the public eye, Peter crawled into an open window on the other side of the building. Any other time, he would've realize that was too convenient and he probably shouldn't have done that. For Harry was cackling at him as he sucker-punched Peter, who fell onto his hands in knees from the force. "As I said... Pathetically predictable." 

Grabbing Peter by the back of his hoodie, he threw Peter up into the air and he had a deja-vu moment of being slammed into the ceiling before Harry caught him in a firefighter's hold. Before Peter had a chance to react, Harry dove downwards and suddenly Peter was free-falling, barely feeling the floor give way as he fell further and further downward. When Peter eventually did hit solid ground he blacked out for a second before he came to with the sudden urgency of not being able to breathe. Blinking against the black dots that were slowly entering his line of sight, Peter saw Harry above him and he couldn't see his attacker's hands. When Peter registered the pressure against his throat, he had a small part of his mind realize that Harry's hands had a death grip against his throat.

"You're weakness Peter is morality," Harry rasped manically, and Peter could see the evil humor in his face. This wasn't Harry. This was pure Goblin. "It's choking you!"

Peter lifted his hands to try and push Harry's hands away, but it was getting harder and harder to fight the longer he went without oxygen.

"Poor little Ned... Tossed to the side just because you were too blind to see what was right in front of you," Harry's voice seemed like it was miles away. "Can you feel it, Peter?"

Just when Peter thought he was going to lose the battle to remain conscious, suddenly an overwhelming wave of oxygen rushed over him and he began coughing as his brain slowly came back online.

"You insolent son of a bitch!" Harry snarled and Peter heard a thud somewhere off in the distance.

Turning onto his stomach to try and get on his hands and knees, he heard Harry continue, "You just don't know when to stop interfering in things that don't concern you. It's pathetic!" A foot came down on his back and Peter collapsed under the weight of it. Then there was a hand against his throat and a hand yanking at his hair, causing Peter's head to rise and survey the scene in front of him.

There in front of him was Alex, holding what looked to be a jagged piece of a broken pipe. Peter's heart sank. No, no, no, no... "Alex, please..."

"This is what happens when someone dabbles in things that don't pertain to them," Harry's raspy voice echoed in his ears.

Peter's sixth sense sent another shiver down his spine and he saw the gleam of a familiar silver object a split second before it came crashing through the front door of the apartment complex, slamming into Alex, causing him to fly off to the side a good six feet before colliding with the cement wall with a sickening crunching noise.

"Alex!" Peter cried out desperately as Harry suddenly released his hold on him in favor of jumping onto the hovering glider.

Peter struggled into a crouch, desperate to run to Alex, but knowing he still had to try and protect him. A newfound wave of adrenaline washed over him as he heard Harry's voice ring in his ears like nails on a chalkboard.

"Peter, Peter, Peter... You disappoint me. All of that weakness inside of you... It makes killing you so much less meaningful. But you can thank me later, you'll see him again." Harry reached into the glider and pulled out a familiar orange-shaped object that made Peter's heart skip a beat. He glanced over at Alex for a moment and Peter's gaze followed him and his stomach twisted nauseatingly. "After all, no good deed goes unpunished." A sickening smile appeared on Harry's face as he pressed down on the pumpkin bomb in his hand, and the object began to glow with lines of green, the constant ticking noise causing Peter's heart to race even faster. Harry tossed it over at Alex before turning around on his glider to leave.

"No!" Peter yelled as he dove towards the bomb, feeling the object bounce off his fingers before his world was consumed in a raging ball of fire.

***

It was the ringing in his ears that brought him back to reality, along with the overwhelming pounding in his head and the smoke that filled his nostrils. For a moment, Peter couldn’t remember what had happened or if he had passed out, but as soon as Harry’s face flashed in his mind, Peter’s eyes flew open. Sitting up from where he was laying on the hard ground, Peter’s eyes surveyed the fiery remains of his apartment building, debris scattered around him from Peter plummeting three stories below.

What have I done? Horror washed over Peter. All those people… God, I hope no one died.

One thing that Peter couldn’t ignore was that his face felt extremely itchy and the skin was pulled tightly into a knot. Reaching up blearily to touch his face, he half expected to feel his mask firmly in place, however, when his fingers came into contact with the tender skin of his face, his stomach plummeted.

Tony's new Fireproof protocol... It must've force-activated... Peter thought blearily before another wave of memories washed over him. There was a helicopter outside, they saw my face… Peter began to panic. No, no, no… This can’t be happening. This isn’t happening… Wait… ALEX!

Memories of the older boy being flung into a wall by Harry’s glider flashed in his mind, and Peter remembered the bomb that had been thrown his way. The bomb that Peter tried and failed to catch, causing both of them to be in the line of fire. Getting painfully to his feet, Peter wrapped a protective arm around his broken ribs as he desperately surveyed the remains, feeling raw panic begin to rise in him. He let out a cry of relief when he saw Alex in the same place as he was before the bomb had gone off. Running over to the raven-haired boy, Peter fell to his knees by Alex’s side.

The sight before him was rather gruesome and it made his stomach roll when he saw that half of Alex’s face and neck were exhibiting deep burns and his left leg was bent at an awkward angle.

“No…” Peter’s hand came to rest on the good side of Alex’s face as tears formed in his eyes. “I’m so sorry…”

It wasn’t more than a second later that Peter realized his worst fear was playing out in front of him.

I can’t hear his heartbeat… Why can’t I hear his heart beating? Peter’s hands scrambled over to Alex’s neck and pressed down on the pulse point with his index and middle finger. When nothing came to life under his fingers, a spark of adrenaline coursed through his veins.

“No, no, no, no,” Peter panicked as he rested his hands against Alex’s chest and began compressions. “Don’t do this, please don’t do this. Not like this…” The crunching of Alex’s sternum made Peter want to just break down in tears at that moment, but he pushed the feeling away. “Come on! Fight!”

He kept it up for a couple of minutes with no progress before an idea sparked in his brain. An idea that was impossible when Peter realized he had organic webs now and no synthetic web-shooters. He and Tony had been in the process of making them, but they hadn't been ready when Peter left to go back to Queens. He didn't have his electric webs to use as defibrillators, and he didn't have KAREN's voice telling him what to do. Minutes ticked by and Peter was feeling a wave of grief slowly creeping over him.

Please don't do this, Peter pleaded. I can't deal with losing you too... Please...

Just when Peter thought all hope was lost, he suddenly heard a weak heartbeat that echoed in his ears and a shallow gasp coming from the boy below him. Peter let out a relieved cry and collapsed against Alex’s torso for a moment before he realized that probably wasn’t a good idea.

Just as he was about to sit up, hands came to grab him around his chest in a gentle manner and someone began to pull him away. At first, he thought it was Harry coming back to finish what he had started, and he struggled against the strong arms shouting bloody murder, not wanting to leave Alex to the mercy of the Goblin’s hands.

“Hey, hey, hey… Peter!”

The familiar echo of Captain America’s voice rang in his ears and Peter quickly realized it was Steve who was holding him.

“No! Alex!” Peter continued to try and break free. He might’ve not been in mortal danger, but he didn’t want to leave the boy he grew to see as a brother. He didn’t want to leave Alex when it was Peter’s fault that he got hurt in the first place.

“Tony’s with him right now, Peter,” Steve tried calming him down. “He’s in good hands, you gotta let us help him.”

“Alex…” Peter’s voice broke.

“Is going to the compound where Dr. Cho is going to help him,” Steve repeated softly.

The adrenaline was quickly wearing off and his mind was coming back to reality. Steve was sitting behind him with Peter pulled into his chest in a paralyzing hold. Despite the iron grip, the super soldier's arms were still gentle, as if he didn’t want to hurt Peter further, the arms loosening a little as Peter's struggles weakened.

Breaking free of Steve's loosened hold, Peter rolled off to the side, landing on his hands and knees as the nausea finally won its battle and Peter violently heaved as his stomach rolled. When he calmed down, Steve pulled him back into a steady grounding hold, something that Peter had to admit was doing its job of bringing him back to reality.

“You back with me?” Steve asked him when he sensed Peter’s breathing returning to normal.

“This is all my fault…” Peter began.

“Don’t do that,” Steve cut him off sternly. “Are you good to swing out of here or do you need Vision or Sam to give you a lift?”

“But I have to help… I did this…” Peter protested.

“Pete, you need to get out of here, okay? Let us handle this,” Steve let Peter go so that he could stand up and help the shell shocked Peter to his feet. “Are you good on your own? Open and honest here, don’t even think about lying to me.”

Peter closed his eyes and clenched his fists in an effort to stop them from shaking. Finally, he decided he should go by himself because he wasn’t exactly in the social mood and didn’t want to have a pity party thrown his way. With a nod to Steve, Peter ran out of the building and hit the skies, not missing the flashes of the reporters and bystanders that had accumulated outside.

Chapter Text

Peter felt numb as he swung his way towards the compound in the shadows of the city that he considered his home. Everything that had just happened felt like a twisted nightmare, and Peter would give anything for it to have been all in his head. Ned wasn't right about Harry. Harry didn't just admit to gaining Peter's trust only to stab him in the back in the worst way possible. Alex wasn't on the brink of death because of him. His identity didn't just get exposed to the entire world. He was dreaming, that had to be it, right? Anytime now he would scream himself awake at the lake house and things were fine... Except that didn't happen and Peter was still alone with his raging thoughts, his ribs protesting with every swinging motion he made.

It was like there were several waves that were roaring in his ears and he just couldn't fully anchor himself back into the choking grasp of reality. Peter wondered if it was just his mind possibly trying to protect itself from his entire life crumbling in the blink of an eye.

If Alex dies because of you, how can you even live with yourself? An intrusive thought broke through Peter's mental barrier. This is your fault, Peter. You're the one who kept everything a secret. You're the one who failed to notice what was in front of your face the whole time. Alex almost died, and could still die, because of you.

Peter was jolted out of his self-pity when his sixth sense flared and he barely dodged his way around a tree that he had been barreling towards. Pushing down the rest of the negative thoughts with great effort, Peter focused on the road in front of him. No matter how hard he tried, however, he couldn't ignore the hollow feeling inside of his heart and he wondered if maybe this would been the thing that destroyed him for good.

By the time the Compound's lights came into view, Peter felt like he was wheezing, and speaking from experience that was most definitely not a good sign. He knew it was his ribs that were screwing him over, and his throat was sore to all hell from where Harry had been choking the life out of him. His face was getting increasingly itchier, and Peter had the half of mind to realize that his burns were already slowly starting to heal. He felt a little warm, but overall it wasn't nearly as bad as it had been from the fire a few days prior.

Landing onto the solid ground wasn't a good idea if Peter had to be honest with himself. As soon as his feet hit the ground, his knees buckled from the pain it caused in his upper torso. His ankle was tender and it almost made him wonder if he had managed to sprain it at some point. Wrapping a protective arm around his ribs, Peter slowly got to his feet and stood up as straight as he could, his back slightly arching from to take the pressure on his ribs. Limping inside, it was eerily quiet, and Peter closed his eyes and used his exhausted senses in a desperate search for the one sound he needed to hear most at the moment.

Peter sighed in relief when he found the noise he had been looking for, but it didn't fill him with much confidence with how weak it sounded. It was such a stark contrast to the strong sound that Peter had grown accustomed to, and had even served as a source of comfort. It was yet another reminder of what Peter still had left to lose.

His mind was cloudy as he made his way up to the infirmary on the 3rd floor of the Compound, not even realizing that he couldn't even hear Tony in the Compound anymore. Walking past all the rooms, Peter's heart began to race when each room showed up empty. Alex's heartbeat was still echoing painfully slow, which meant that he had to be somewhere in the building. When Peter finally came to a stop at the door that said "Doctor's Only: Operating Wing", he wanted to cry. He knew Dr. Cho and Dr. Banner hated to have people in the area because they got in the way, but Peter wasn't just going to sit in the waiting room while Alex was there all alone because of him. Slipping past the doors, Peter walked down the hallway until there was an evident commotion coming from inside one of the windowless rooms. Sinking down against one of the walls next to the closed doors, Peter pulled his legs into a criss-cross position and leaned his head back against the wall.

The adrenaline was quickly leaving him and the pain was starting to fully set in. His throat felt torn to shreds and his ribs were aching something fierce. He could feel the dried blood on his face and it was making his skin crawl, but he couldn't find it in himself to care. In fact, Peter couldn't give a damn about anything that wasn't Alex right now.

Thoughts of the raven-haired boy flashed through his mind, and it brought a new wave of sadness over him. Alex's wide smile that was so infectious that Peter had to join in just because it felt like treason if he didn't. The warm brown eyes that seemed to be able to read every thought in your brain, eyes that never judged you and always supported you unconditionally. The cheesy knock-knock jokes that Alex always told, but never failed to make him laugh when he needed to find a way to relax. Alex who had been there for him when Peter needed someone the most, someone to look up to go in the face of a world that had left Peter behind.

Hearing Alex's heartbeat stop was something that was going to haunt him for the rest of his life. Ben's had been bad too, but Alex's... They were too separate situations and in a way, Alex's was worse. Alex's was avoidable in the sense that Peter could've told someone about Goblin trying to kill him. It could've been avoided if Peter hadn't been so foolishly ignorant to Ned's pleading case against Harry. If Alex died... what would May and George think? Would they ever forgive him or would they toss him to the curb as he deserved?

God... If he... I don't think I could face them... How am I supposed to face George? His son... A lump formed in Peter's throat and he let out a restrained cry.

Then there was the matter of his identity, and that was something Peter selfishly dreaded. He had prided himself on keeping his alter ego from those around him, and that was for the sole reason because he wanted to protect everyone he cared about. If they had found out about Spider-Man it put them in danger.

It's not like you're wrong either, Peter thought sadly. Look what had just happened to Alex...

Part of him wanted to hide away for the rest of eternity, but the world was never nice enough for it to be that simple.

Peter was jolted out of his thoughts when the machines in the operating room started screeching at an urgent pace and over all of the noise, Peter noticed the lack of Alex's heartbeat and a female voice yelling "CLEAR!" and Peter's face fell into the palm of his hands as a sob escaped him.

Please don't make me lose him, Peter pleaded against the cruel world. Don't punish May and George for something that was all my fault.

It felt like an eternity before Alex's weak heartbeat washed back over Peter and the machines returned to normal once more. Pulling his hands away from his face, Peter went to use the sleeve of his hoodie to wipe away the tears when he noticed for the first time that the actual hoodie and sweats that had hid his suit were in ruins, singed away from the fire. It almost made him wonder if he looked any worse than he felt. Leaning back against the wall, Peter closed his eyes once more and prepared himself for the long wait ahead of him.

He mustn't have been alone for more than an hour before someone inevitably came to look for him. He had bets on Tony finding him first, and Peter couldn't tell if he craved the support from his mentor or if he dreaded the questions and disappointment that would come with the revelation of everything that had just happened. He wasn't even sure if he was even ready to relive the memories so soon afterward, and most of all, he wasn't ready to leave Alex. Just like everything else, though, Peter had no control of the events outside of his hopeful fantasies.

He heard their heartbeat before he sensed them coming around the corner. Peter opened his eyes and just stared blankly at the wall in front of him, the pain in his ribs had subsided enough for him to pull his legs to his chest so he could wrap his arms around them. They didn't say anything until Peter saw them crouch down in front of him.

Clint's eyes were sad as he studied the scene before him. "Oh, kid..."

Peter didn't have the energy to say anything, so he just kept staring off into space.

Clint sighed as he gently reached over to survey the burns on Peter's face. "Has someone checked you out yet?"

Peter knew he meant well, but he still wasn't in the mood to talk.

Clint's hands fell away from his face, the archer obviously assessing how he should approach this situation. Eventually, Clint just asked, "When was the last time you had something to eat?"

When Peter just continued staring into space and remained quiet, Clint seemed to get more concerned. Was this what shock felt like?

Just before he stood up, Clint's hand came to rest on his right knee. "You can stay here, I'll be right back, okay?" He must've known he wasn't going to get a reply from the teen because he stood up and hurried out of the operating wing, his footsteps echoed clearly in Peter's brain as he retreated.

He knew he should feel bad for making the others worried about him when it was Alex who was far worse off than himself, but he just felt like he was miles away from his body. A few minutes after Clint had left, a familiar heartbeat washed over him, and he should've known Clint would find the one person Peter knew would find a way to make him move.

Tony came to sit beside him, careful not to touch Peter as if he was scared it would overwhelm him, and for that Peter was grateful.

"Everyone got out of your apartment complex fine, a few are banged up and bruised, but there were no casualties," Tony broke the silence quietly.

Peter knew that should've made him relieved, but he still felt hollow inside.

"We couldn't find the guy, kid," Tony told him sadly. "He went off the radar as soon as he bailed. Sam and Vision are out there trying to scout him from the skies."

Peter just closed his eyes at the mention of Goblin getting away. That was just another failure to add to his growing checklist.

Tony must've been hoping for a response from him, but when the billionaire didn't get any he sighed in resignation. "I'm sorry I wasn't fast enough, kid."

The apology made a wave of tears form in his eyes. "Don't..." Peter croaked, his voice raggedy and it felt like he had shards of glass in his throat. "Not your fault."

"It all happened so fast," Tony shook his head. "I was there in at most ten minutes, but..."

Had it only been ten minutes? The revelation made Peter shudder. It had felt so much longer than that.

"You didn't know," Peter's voice broke.

Tony flinched at the sound of Peter's wrecked voice. "You gotta let Bruce check you out, kid. I can either bring him to you, or you can come to one of the beds willingly."

Peter didn't want to admit it, but he knew Tony was right. He was hurting, and he hated the fact that he hurt when Alex was the one whose life was on the line. He just didn't want to leave Alex. "I don't wanna leave..."

"You'll just be outside," Tony told him gently. "Alex is going to come out of there when Cho's finished. He'll be your room buddy, yeah?"

Peter almost refused, but sitting on the floor wasn't doing him any favors in the pain department. Plus, a part of him just wanted to get this conversation over with. "Okay," He eventually agreed.

A surprised expression appeared on Tony's face as if he hadn't been expecting Peter to agree so easily. However, the billionaire didn't seem to skip a beat before he got to his feet and held a hand out for Peter in an invitation.

Looking at Tony's hand for a moment, Peter finally reached out and took his mentor's hand and Tony reached down to help Peter to his feet. Almost immediately, Peter curled an arm around his abused ribs and the two of them made their way out of the operating wing. Tony walked beside him, a hand resting gently on the nape of his neck in a guiding gesture as he led him into an examination room that had Bruce, Steve, and Clint lingering in the vicinity. Peter didn't pay them any attention as Tony helped Peter out of the ruined hoodie and sweats before he was able to peel the upper part of his suit away from his bruised body.

He didn't miss the way that Tony and Clint cursed, Bruce inhaling sharply, and the blood that had drained from Steve's face.

"Holy shit, Peter," Tony's hands came to hover above his throat, but Peter flinched away and Tony retracted his hands as if he had been burned.

For the next twenty minutes, Bruce examined Peter's ribs, burns, and throat and the teen didn't miss the green tint that was evident in the doctor's features. In any other situation, Peter would've been flattered that the Hulk himself thought of Peter so fondly, but just like everything else, Peter didn't have the energy for it. Bruce told Peter that he had broken four of his ribs, but they were already on the mend and should be healed within the next couple of days. His burns were quickly fading as well and Bruce was happy to see that his temperature was only slightly elevated, but still in a normal range for him. The worst of all of his injuries was the extensive bruising of Peter's throat and every time Bruce's hands brushed against the tender flesh, flashes of Harry's hands around his neck washed over him and he flinched sharply. Tony didn't leave his side at any point during the examination, listening to every word that Bruce was saying. Steve and Clint were watching from the corners of the room, giving Bruce the space he needed to examine him. Peter felt all of their eyes on him and it made his skin crawl. He felt like some animal on display at a zoo, and it wasn't the most comfortable feeling in the world.

When Bruce had finished with his examination, he took his glasses off his face and wiped a hand over his sweaty forehead as an uncomfortable tension rested among all of them in the room. Peter knew he had run out of time before the inevitable was going to happen.

"Are you really gonna make us ask?" Tony broke the silence first.

"I don't know what to say," Peter admitted, his voice hollow.

"How about you start with what happened?" Steve offered kindly.

"Especially considering the fact that you explicitly said that this was a 'Peter Parker' problem and not a 'Spider-Man' problem?" Tony added in bluntly.

"I thought it was, that wasn't a lie," His eyes flickered over to Tony's. "This... It came out of nowhere. I didn't see it coming until it was too late." Was that true or were you too desperate for it not to be true? A small voice chimed in Peter's head.

"Who was that guy?" Clint asked.

"Someone who's attacked me three times now," Peter confessed.

The synchronous surprised inhale from everyone else in the room would've been comical in better circumstances, but it just grated on Peter's nerves like nails on a chalkboard.

"What do you mean?" Clint was shocked.

"I think we all know what that means," Bruce finally spoke up sadly. "The rooftop was the first time wasn't it?"

Tony's gaze flickered over to Peter, "The fire?"

"Both were him," Peter confirmed, not meeting anyone's gazes.

"So, let me get this straight," Tony pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation. "This..."

"Green Goblin," Peter supplied, still looking at the floor to avoid everyone's gaze.

"Fine, Green Goblin. He's after you," Tony stated, it wasn't a question.

"Considering he attacked me as Peter Parker and told me his sob story, yeah, he's after me." Peter replied.

"And you have no idea who's behind the mask?"

Peter paused for a moment before he looked up at Tony, "His name's Harry Osborn." The name tasted like ash in his mouth.

"Harry Osborn... The son of Norman Osborn?" Tony demanded.

"He used to live in Queens when I was younger," Peter told him honestly. "He was my friend, and then his mother died and his father took him and jumped ship. When he came back... He was my friend, Tony, I never thought he'd do something like this."

"And you didn't think this was important enough to tell me?" Tony was angry, but Peter saw the worried glint in his mentor's eyes. "Even after you found out I was investigating..."

"Tony," Steve silently warned him.

"No, he doesn't get the easy treatment," Tony pointed at the soldier before turning back to Peter. "Why the hell didn't you say anything after the first time he attacked you, huh? He threw you off a rooftop!"

"I thought it was a one-time thing," Peter shrugged sheepishly.

"You really want me to believe that? A creepy green guy tosses you off a rooftop and you think 'oh, that was an accident'?"

"He's got a point," Steve chimed in. "We could've helped you, Peter."

"I didn't even know what to make of it," Peter exclaimed. "The first time it happened I wasn't even sure if it was real or if my brain was just making it worse than it actually was."

"You said you didn't remember anything from that night," Bruce sounded confused.

"I had a dream, okay? Except it turned out that it wasn't really a dream." Peter began to fidget nervously from where he was sitting on the hospital bed.

"And the fire?" Tony asked.

Peter shrunk in on himself at the question. "He might've thrown a pumpkin bomb at me and it might've blown up in my face?"

"I'm sorry, did you say he blew you up?" Tony was livid. "Dammit, Peter you almost died. Twice... No, three times, I might add. And you still didn't say anything?"

"I still didn't know what the hell was going on, Tony," Peter was getting frustrated.

"I don't care about any of that, but what the hell were you thinking, kid? Tonight was bad, and it could've ended a whole lot worse!"

"Don't you think I know that?" Peter shouted hysterically, close to tears. "Alex is in an operating room because of me! His heart stopped because of me! Harry was in the fucking apartment building because of me! Everything is my own damn fault and I'm more than aware of that!"

"Peter," Steve cut in gently.

"I wanna kill him," Peter's fists clenched.

Clint sighed in resignation at that, "Peter..."

"He's not going to stop until either he kills me or I kill him," Peter said.

"Exactly, he wants to actively kill you. I don't think it's wise to go hunting for someone who is out for your head." Tony cut in.

"What? So you want to put me on lockdown?" Peter challenged.

"Until we find this son of a bitch, yes!"

"No, Tony," Peter shook his head. "This is my fight!"

"It stopped being your fight the moment this guy tracked you down in your own home and tried to kill you!"

"Tony..." Peter tried to argue.

"This is where you zip it, kid! Can't you see what keeping this a secret did?" Tony demanded. "Alex almost died tonight. For someone with great power, you're really lacking that responsibility right now."

Those words felt like a slap to his face and Peter's body went rigid.

"Tony!" Steve's warning tone broke through the fog in Peter's brain.

He saw Tony's face pale when the billionaire realized what he said and he took a step back in horror. "Peter..."

Peter, who was angrier than anything else, just stood up and walked out of the room, wanting more than anything to be anywhere else but there at that moment.

***

After he had left the infirmary, Peter had just pulled his spandex suit back into place, the only difference being he was still maskless and was missing his gloves. He had no idea what had happened to them after their apartment got blown to bits, and the thought made him sad. Tony had been so kind to make him a new suit and it lasted less than a week. Despite the extreme temptation, Peter didn't leave the Compound's grounds, and instead he perched himself on top of the rooftop's makeshift courtyard. Essentially the roof was fenced in with thick clear glass that came up to his waist, and was thick enough to sit on without fear of falling off. It was far enough away from everyone else where he didn't have to face the possibility of someone coming to look for him any time soon, and it was far enough away from the people who just rubbed salt into his wounds. However, it was still close enough where Peter could still faintly hear Alex's heartbeat in the rooms below, still weak and frail.

For the most part, the shock and self-pity had worn itself thin, and his conversation with Tony, Steve, Clint and Bruce had been enough to reignite the spark of rage that was quickly over compassing everything he had ever tried to suppress. Angry that Tony had been right... Peter kept vital information about a potential threat a secret from the people who could've helped him the most, he put himself first and it got Alex hurt and now a rage induced Harry Osborn was on the loose. Angry at Harry for playing him like a damn fiddle, feeding off of Peter's desperation to find something from his past life to hold on to like an anchor to this new reality. Angry at himself for being so desperate to find something from his old life that he felt like he had control over.

For the longest time, Peter had suppressed his anger because he had that responsibility that came with the super strength and his other abilities. If his anger caused him to loses control it could've easily resulted in Peter losing control of his strength and bashing someone's head in from a single blow. Also, he had the responsibility of doing the right thing, to be the better man in a situation, because that was the right thing to do and that was what Ben had always taught him.

When you can do the things that I can, but you don't, and then the bad things happen? They happen because of you. Peter recalled his words when he met Tony for the first time.

However, the anger inside him was reaching its boiling point and Peter genuinely couldn't find it in himself to hold it back anymore. All of the anger that had been building up ever since he had came back from the Snap, it was all being redirected at one specific target, and that specific target was Harry Osborn, also known as the Green Goblin. When Peter confessed to Tony that he wanted to kill Harry, he hadn't been bluffing and it scared the crap out of him. At the same time, he knew it was true... Harry wasn't going to stop until he killed Peter, and he made that clear as day with no room for misinterpretation.

Does it really count as killing someone if they wanted to kill you first? Peter wondered, but he knew that wasn't even close to why he wanted to kill his ex-friend. Don't lie to yourself, Peter. You don't want to kill him out of self-defense. You want revenge.

Biting his lip, Peter pulled out his cell phone, the screen shattered from the battle.

There goes yet another phone, Peter thought sadly. Two in the span of one month. But at least it still works.

Thumbing through his notifications with a dejected and half-hearted swipe of his hand, Peter saw the missed calls from Ned, May, George, and even MJ. He didn't have the heart to call any of them back in that moment, more out of fear that the small amount of emotional restraint that he had left would finally break. Then there were the social media accounts, most of the notifications being random people tagging him and Peter just saw the word "Spider-Man" and he quickly exited the notification screen. Just as he was going to turn his phone off, a thought crossed his mind and he opened up his text message thread with MJ. When he saw the pdf attachment, a wave of frustration and guilt washed over him. If only he hadn't been so stubborn...

Peter tapped on the pdf file and it immediately opened an encrypted tab with the results inside. It wasn't a huge file, there were 4 pages of notes, sketches, and newspaper articles that were scattered throughout different bolded headlines with bullet points extending on each main idea.

There were two things that stuck out to him the most. One of which was the detailed explanation of Norman Osborn's motivations for creating his failed company and how he had been famous for his genetic mutation experiments. One day that DOD had approached Norman about creating the so-called 'next generation super solider serum', and Norman had readily agreed.

A lot of files were corrupted and missing, Peter read the margins of the file, and it was written in MJ's hand writing.

The other thing that stood out was a newspaper article written about Norman Osborn's death with a note beside the title written in Ned's handwriting that read: Article was wiped off the entire internet database. Found a corrupted file on Harry's laptop.

The Fall of an American Hero:

Norman Osborn, the founding of an emerging science research industry known as Oscorp Industries, passed away after a fatal accident involving an experimental serum. Inside sources tell us that Norman had been working in close proximity with the DOD and United State's Government to create the next generation super soldier serum. However, when Norman had tried the serum on himself, something went tragically wrong and it ended in his death...

The news article ended abruptly there, and Ned wrote: Couldn't restore the rest of the corrupted file, but what Serum are they referring to?

"Thought I'd find you up here."

Peter's heart jumped out of his chest as soon as he heard the soothing voice of the one person Peter found himself craving the most in the current mess he found himself in. "Ned..." He breathed out in relief and hopped back onto solid ground.

Ned walked over to him and pulled him into a strong and comforting embrace, one of which Peter returned immediately, holding on for dear life as a new wave of sadness washed over him.

"I'm so glad you're okay, Pete... They were showing the entire thing on the news and I just..." Ned's voice shook as his arms tightened around him. "God, dude..."

Peter pulled away a moment later, his hands never straying from Ned's shoulders. "How did you even..."

"Get here?" Ned finished for him. "May and George picked me up. I just had to see for myself that you were okay." Ned's eyes flickered around his face. "Peter, your face..."

Peter's face fell, "I really am happy to see you, I mean I... Even after..."

Ned shook his head, "We don't have to worry about any of that right now, okay? For what it's worth, I'm really sorry about a lot of things. And I know I don't have any right to just expect your forgiveness or anything..."

Peter just pulled him into another hug and buried his face in Ned's shoulder. "I don't care about that anymore, dude."

"I don't want to, like, spoil the mood, but I gotta ask," Ned told him remorsefully. "Is Alex..."

A lump began to form in Peter's throat at the question. "He's alive... at least for now, but... Oh, god..." Peter's hands began to shake and he let go of Ned like he had been burned. The rage was boiling in his veins, not at Ned, but from the entire situation and the last thing he wanted was to accidentally hold on to his friend too tight. "He died, but I was able to..." Peter ran his hands through his hair. "His heart's beating, but it's not strong, Ned. And I don't even know how long he was down before I was able to get him back. I mean, what if there's brain damage or he just isn't able to come back from this?"

Ned's face softened. "Don't think like that, Peter, you've been down that road once before. You know it doesn't end well. Stick with what you do know, okay? You said for yourself that his heart is still beating, and that in itself is good enough until you know more."

"This is all my fault," Peter stumbled backwards until he found a bench he could sit on before his knees collapsed from the weight of his emotions. "If I had just told someone, or just listened to what my senses have been trying to tell me from the very start, or just listened to you... I mean, I know you. You wouldn't have done what you did if you didn't have a good reason."

"Peter," Ned cut him off sternly, but his eyes were gentle as he came to crouch in front of him. "Don't do that right now, you can't spiral like this anymore. None of this is your fault. Something was going to happen either way, you didn't ask to be targeted like this."

"Harry said that the spider that bit me was created by his father." Peter took a shaky breath before continuing, "He said he was after me because that had been Norman's breaking point. So his father had created a serum, and it had gotten him killed."

Ned's gaze fell to the floor for a moment before they flickered back up to Peter's. "I overheard Harry arguing with someone over the phone one day after school. He seemed pissed off at them. He kept saying something about how he needed the serum to work sooner rather than later."

Peter's heart skipped a beat at the revelation and his head snapped up to meet Ned's gaze. "Wait... You think... You think he was trying to recreate his father's serum?"

"I don't know," Ned admitted. "But he kept muttering things along the line of 'If this doesn't work, I'll kill you myself.'"

"And that's when you got suspicious," Peter realized.

"It happened after the game," Ned said and Peter didn't have to have his friend elaborate to get what Ned had meant. "I told MJ, and she never liked Harry from the start when I mentioned him, and I guess that was just the icing on the cake, you know? So she helped me do some digging and we put together this dumb pdf file for you, and it fell on me to try and convince you that you needed to read it."

"But I didn't listen," Peter ran a shaky hand down his face, but talking about Harry was reigniting the flame inside of him. "He wasn't human, Ned. He was strong enough to hold his own and there were times where I could've sworn he was as strong as me, maybe even stronger."

That got Ned's attention, "So you think he did recreate the serum?"

"No other explanation makes sense," Peter shrugged. "It doesn't change the fact that he basically screwed over my entire life. He took everything away from me... He was willing to murder Alex to get to me, and because of him Alex is fighting for his life just by association. May and George are never gonna forgive me, the Avengers are pissed because I didn't tell them anything... and my identity..."

"He didn't take everything away," Ned vowed, grabbing Peter by his forearm. "Me and you against the world, remember?"

"I wanna kill him," Peter confessed once more.

Ned's sad eyes flickered over his face, but he didn't say anything for a long while. "You can't bottle up your anger anymore, Peter. I know you've been scared to let it go, but you're starting to tread in deep waters that you can't come back from."

Peter shook his head in frustration. "Harry's not going to stop until he kills me, and he's shown that he's more than willing to hurt those close to me in order to get what he wants. It's either I die or he dies."

Ned shot him a knowing look. "That's not why you want to kill him. You want revenge."

Peter just looked at him, and he could essentially feel the fire in his veins. "It's time to end this once and for all. I let it go on way too long."

"Right now?" Ned looked conflicted. "I mean, come on, Peter, you don't even know where he is. You just got beat to hell and Alex needs you. May and George need you."

"I need to do this," Peter told him insistently. "I need to do this for me."

Ned hesitated for a moment before his face morphed into an expression of resignation. "Where do you think he'd go? It's not like he's gonna go on a rampage if he's just set on killing you."

"He left me to die, but he's gotta know by now that I'm alive," Peter thought aloud. "He's not gonna attack random people, it seemed too personal for that."

"Do you think he'd come here?"

Peter shook his head, "He wouldn't risk the Avengers."

"So what do you think he's going to do?"

Peter bit his lip, "I don't know..." Wait a minute...

Poor Peter Parker, struggling to have everything he wants, while the world tries to make him choose... Harry's words washed over Peter, and oddly enough it sparked a wave of unease that washed over him. Gods don't need to choose, Pete... We take.

"Holy shit," Peter realized, his eyes widening.

Ned frowned, "What?"

"Oh my god," Peter stood up in a panic.

"Peter? What's wrong? Can you hear something with Alex?" Ned was also scared.

"How else do you lure a fish from the sea?" Peter asked him urgently.

The words dawned on Ned and he paled. "You wouldn't think..."

"He went through you and Alex to get to me, Ned," Peter paced back and forth. "What else am I supposed to think? Everyone I care about is here, except for one person."

"MJ," Ned breathed out  in horror.

"He's going after MJ," Peter's blood boiled.

"Peter you can't go alone!" Ned pleaded. "Look what happened..."

"I wasn't prepared then, but I am now," Peter told him confidently.

"You're going to get yourself killed," Ned tried to suppress his panic.

"Ned... I need to do this for me." Peter told him imploringly. "I'll be okay. Anyways, I won't be alone, right? You'll be my guy in the chair?"

Ned looked like he wanted to fight Peter's decision, but his head fell in resignation. Pulling off the backpack that he had been wearing on his back, he opened it up and handed it to Peter. Peter, who just stared at the bag in confusion, took it. His eyes widened when he saw his mask and gloves inside.

"What the hell... How'd you even..." Peter asked as he took out the garments. Taking off the Stark Watch he had on his wrist, Peter pulled the gloves on with no hesitation.

"May was able to go in and salvage a few things. Your school bag was in ruins, but everything inside was..." Ned's voice was rough with emotion and he had to clear his throat. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. "What do you need from me?"

Peter tossed the watch his way and Ned caught it in one fluid motion. "Buy me some time?"

Ned was quiet, and Peter could see the traces of tears building up in his eyes. Then he nodded before saying, "Make sure you come back, okay? We still have that R2-D2 that we have to build."

Peter pulled on his Spider-Man mask before looking back at Ned. "I'll be okay," He repeated, but Peter wasn't sure if he was trying to convince Ned or himself, the fear of MJ being in danger still lingered in his mind. 

With one more glance at Ned, Peter took off at a run before diving off of the Compound's building, latching onto a tree in the distance with a web and zooming out of sight.

Chapter Text

When Peter emerged from the forest that led to the hidden grounds of the Avenger's Compound, he welcomed the cool October air that slightly broke through the skin-tight barrier of his Spider-Man suit. He felt like he was beginning to suffocate under the nerves of the possibility of MJ being in danger along with the rage that Peter was quickly losing the battle to suppress. The last time that Peter had felt like he had reached his boiling point had been when he apprehended Ben's killer in the shadows of an alleyway. It was the first time that Peter had almost lost control and he had been so close to taking a life that night, but in the end, it was Ben's voice in his head that had stopped him from doing the unforgivable. Ever since then, Peter had sworn to be the better man and that there was always an alternative in stopping someone from hurting people. Right now, however, Peter couldn't ignore the fire that was simmering through his veins at the mere thought of Harry touching a hair on MJ's head.

"KAREN, where was MJ's last known location?" Peter asked stiffly as he swung forward with a sense of urgency.

"I can do you one better," KAREN told him cheerfully. "MJ's current location seems to be at the Queensboro Bridge. She doesn't appear to be moving."

Why the hell is she not moving at a bridge? A pit of dread began to form in Peter's stomach.

"You appear to be injured and in distress, Peter," KAREN's kind voice washed over him, but it did nothing to calm his nerves.

"I'm fine," Peter replied dismissively. "It's just been a long night."

"Considering you have burns on your face and broken ribs, I disagree."

Peter gritted his jaw, "KAREN, not now."

KAREN was quiet for a moment before she said, "You're angry."

"Considering all that I've been through tonight, I feel like it's well deserved."

"What's going on, Peter?" KAREN managed to sound uncertain.

Peter didn't answer her for a few minutes before he said, "I think MJ is in danger and it's all my fault."

"And you're looking to apprehend this danger alone when you're angry and injured?"

Peter was starting to get annoyed. "I really don't need this lecture."

"I'm just merely stating a concern," KAREN told him calmly.

"I appreciate the concern, KAREN, I really do, but it's completely unwarranted."

"Then why are you acting like you want to kill someone?"

"Look, if you really want to help me, then you can just be my eyes, okay?" Peter told her flippantly.

KAREN silenced herself for several minutes and Peter felt a wave of remorse wash over him, but couldn't find it in himself to apologize. Finally, she said, "Very well."

"And KAREN?"

"Yes, Peter?"

"This is just between the two of us," Peter told her quietly. "I don't want anyone else getting hurt because of me. Not again."

"As you wish," She agreed reluctantly before going quiet once more.

The rest of the journey back to the city passed in silence and it felt like an eternity to Peter. There were more than a few times where Peter found himself questioning what he was doing. His head knew that there was a fair possibility that Peter just set himself up for a suicide mission, but his heart was telling him that this had to stop before Peter had lost someone he cared about for good. Alex was still fighting for his life, and Peter didn't even know the damage that the older boy had endured outside of what Peter saw and experienced for himself. When he had left the compound, Alex had still been in surgery and Peter didn't get a chance to find out what kind of surgery or if he had even been stabilized. However, outside of Alex, there were only two other things that were playing in Peter's mind on replay. One being that MJ could very well be the next victim if he didn't stop Harry. The second being that Peter might have to make the difficult choice of doing something that he had sworn to Ben and himself that he'd never do.

Why are you making me do this? Peter thought to himself, picturing Harry's kind face in his mind, the face of a person that Peter had thought he knew. A person that had played Peter into thinking that he was someone that truly cared for him.

Don't think of the past,  He scolded himself. You know how that ends. It doesn't end well. You need your head clear. MJ needs you to have a clear head.

When Peter re-ented the city, the sight of the skyscrapers passing by him in a blur made Peter feel like he was walking on a tightrope. There was a lump forming in his throat and he didn't seem to be able to shake it no matter how hard he tried. When he was three blocks away from the bridge, a squad of six police cruisers zoomed past him, sirens blaring.

Oh god, A pit formed in Peter's stomach as his sense flared in a warning. "KAREN, what's going on?"

"There seems to have been some sort of explosion at the entrance of the Roosevelt Island tramway," KAREN reported, and Peter didn't miss the urgency in his AI's voice. "The explosion caused a massive car pile-up on the bridge."

Peter, who perched himself on top of a roof as he approached the scene, stopped and looked at the sight in front of him. His stomach plummeted at the evident damage. "Harry... What have you done?" 

In the distance, he was able to make out a form that seemed to be hovering up to the top of the bridge. The gondola wire of the Roosevelt Island tramway was missing and from the way one of the air trams seemed to be floating haphazardly, Peter had a good guess as to what was going on.

"Uh, KAREN?" Peter sounded uncertain.

"It seems like one of the air trams is being suspended by some masked villain, there must be at least a dozen people on board," KAREN said. "They appear to have a human hostage too, and Peter..."

"MJ," Peter's heart skipped a beat before he catapulted himself off of the roof and urgently made his way over to the bridge. Once on the bridge, Peter latched onto one of the ascending support beams, swinging in a loop to gain momentum before slingshotting himself up to the top where he came face to face with his worst nightmare.

There on top of the bridge, Harry was decked out in his Green Goblin costume, his helmet missing so that Peter could see his twisted features. In his left hand, he had MJ by the throat and was dangling her over the side of the bridge, in the other hand was the gondola wire that was holding up the suspended tram, the only thing keeping the people inside from plummeting into the dark water below.

"MJ!" Peter called out urgently. MJ's eyes were wide with fear and she looked like she wanted to speak, but the hand on her throat was preventing her voice from projecting. She was decked out in her black skinny jeans and a loose navy blue Midtown Graduate hoodie, her black converse glinting in the bridge's orange glow.

"Peter, Peter, Peter," Harry clicked his tongue disapprovingly. "You really don't know when to die, do you?"

"Harry, you don't have to do this," Peter held his hands out in a placating gesture. "They have nothing to do with any of this."

"You know, I realized something about you at that apartment," His ex-friend's eyes glinted dangerously. "I thought killing you the old-fashioned way would be the most satisfying thing, but then I saw the look on your face when you threw yourself in front of the line of fire to protect him. And I realized, you really are the most pathetic human being on the entire planet. So desperate... So weak..."

"Let them go," Peter narrowed his eyes at him.

"Nah ah ah," Harry cut him off. "It's never that easy."

"If you really wanted to kill me, then why all the small talk?" Peter demanded.

"Because seeing that desperation on your face makes the task just so much more thrilling," Harry replied as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "You see, Peter, this is why only fools are heroes - because you never know when some lunatic will come along with a sadistic choice." He chuckled as he lifted MJ higher into the air. "Let die the woman you love... or suffer the little children? Make your choice, Spider-Man, and see how a hero is rewarded!"

"Harry, stop this!" Peter ordered, and he hated the pleading tone that was evident in his eyes. "This isn't you!"

"Oh, Pete, don't you get it? We are who we choose to be," Harry told him in mock sadness. "Now, that choice is up to you. Choose!" He let go of both of them and in an instant, the tram and MJ began to plummet.

"NO!" Peter shouted as everything seemed to begin to play out in slow motion. "KAREN!"

"Go for MJ, you can catch them both!" KAREN told him immediately and Peter dove off towards MJ's gut-wrenching screams. 

As soon as he managed to tackle her into a hold, Peter shot a web at the bridge, using the momentum to swing himself over enough to dive after the falling skyway tram, the children's screams echoing in his ear. When Peter's hands wrapped around the falling gondola wire, he instinctively stuck himself to the material as he shot another web with his other hand, forcefully stopping the momentum so Peter was stuck in the middle.

"MJ," Peter panted as the trembling form of MJ was wrapped around him in an octopus hold. She was panting heavily and the hitch in her breath made Peter's heart break.

I did this, Peter wanted to cry, but the adrenaline was preventing him from breaking down.

"I'm okay," She responded immediately, her voice shaking. "I'm okay."

"Okay," Peter nodded as he looked up to see Harry's rageful features glaring at him as if Peter had just killed his puppy. Then a bright light washed over him and Peter looked over to see a spotlight coming from a cargo ship coming his way.

"Ahoy up there!" The captain called out with a megaphone. "We're going to bring the barge right under you!"

He didn't get a moment's reprieve to feel relief, because the sound of Harry's glider coming his way made him and MJ look up in horror.

"Oh my god," MJ croaked out in horror. "Peter..."

"I know," Peter gritted his jaw. "MJ, you gotta climb down, the barge..."

"I don't know if I..." MJ looked conflicted, her form still shaking, but Peter could see that she was trying her best to hide it.

"Yes, you can!" Peter insisted as his web began to give way, causing all of them to plummet a good five feet. "Shit! KAREN!"

"The weight seems to be too much," KAREN sounded slightly panicked.

What the hell? But isn't the organic webs supposed to be stronger? Peter managed to think for a split second before he shrugged it off. Not the time, Pete.

"MJ, you can do it," Peter encouraged her genuinely. "You have to."

MJ nodded against his shoulder, "Okay, okay," She gave herself a small pep talk.

"Trust me, okay?" Peter tried to calm her down. "I got you. I won't let anything happen to you."

She nodded once more and forced out a few deep breaths, "Okay." She opened her eyes and reached out for the gondola wire before wrapping herself around it in a firefighter stance.

"Hold on tight, and go quickly!" Peter told her urgently as MJ began to make her way down the wire.

A flare ignited in Peter's head as Harry's maniacal laughter echoed closer towards him.

"Peter on your left!" KAREN warned as Peter began to lower the tram slightly.

Looking up and to the left, he saw Harry flying toward him a split second too late. Before Peter could do anything to dodge Harry's attack, the Goblin's punch felt like a brick had struck his face from miles away, causing his weight to forcefully jerk the tram in his hand. He heard MJ let out a panicked scream as she clung to the wire with an iron grip, her weight swinging with the force of Peter's hit. He could hear the screams in the airway tram below and his heart felt like it wanted to tear itself to shreds at the sound.

"Peter!" KAREN tried to warn him as Peter took his gaze off the sight below him in time to see Harry's fist coming back his way, the momentum of the glider causing the next blow to send him in a backward spiral. His grip on the wire failed and the skyway tram began to plummet.

No, no, no, no! Peter's voice yelled in his head and he desperately reached out, catching the wire by its end, causing the tram to jerk to a stop. MJ, who had been halfway down to the tram, lost her grip and began free-falling with a gut-wrenching scream. Just when Peter was about to lose his shit, MJ caught herself on the outside railing and Peter let out a sigh of relief. The barge was so close to being where it needed to be, but it was still too far away for Peter's liking.

Glancing back up at the noise of Harry's glider, Peter felt like a deer that was caught in the headlights, unsure of what he was supposed to do. He knew he was in a sticky situation, the barge was still too far away, but Peter was stuck in the middle of something that could very well get him killed with the way Harry was coming towards him.

Lowering the tram a little bit more out of desperation, Peter tried to will the barge to move faster, but he knew it was a lost cause.

"It's time to die!" Harry's sharp voice echoed in his ears and Peter looked up to see blades extend out of Harry's glider.

"Oh, god!" Peter panicked.

"Peter, there's no way to avoid that!" KAREN also sounded nervous.

Just when Peter thought he was about to die, something hit Harry forcefully on the back of his head, causing him to spin out of control, allowing Peter to lift his legs to avoid being impaled. Harry seemed to be just as confused as Peter because he began to look around for what had hit him. Another object smacked him in the back of his head, and this time Peter saw it was a brick of some sort.

"Come up here, tough guy!" A voice echoed from above and Peter felt his mouth drop open in shock as he saw citizens from the bridge chucking heavy objects at his assailant. "I got a little something for ya! Leave Spider-Man alone. You gonna pick on a guy trying to save a bunch of kids?"

"KAREN?" Peter stared at the scene in front of him. "Am I dead?"

"No, Peter, it seems like they came to help," KAREN also managed to sound awed.

"Yeah, I got something for your ass! You mess with Spidey, you mess with New York!" Another person shouted.

"You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!"

Fighting down the overwhelming sensation to cry happy tears at such support, Peter looked down and saw that barge approaching and he began to lower the Roosevelt Island Tram to safety. As soon as it touched down on the boat, Peter let out a sigh of relief.

Not today, Peter told himself. Not again, not because of me.

Cheers broke out on the bridge at Peter's victory and he let go of the gondola wire before his sense sent another spark of pain to his head.

"Spider-Man watch out!" MJ's voice rang in his ears, but before he could register what was happening, a wire wrapped around his waist and he was yanked away from the sanctuary of the bridge.

There was a few moments of stomach-turning weightlessness before Peter grabbed a fistful of the wire and yanked with all of his might, the material breaking in one fluid motion. Kicking up, Peter used his momentum to land in front of Harry on his glider, landing a punch to the Goblin's face. Harry's weight became unsteady and the glider began to wobble from the lack of control, the city buildings coming into view. Peter sent a few more punches Harry's way before the other boy caught Peter's fists and punched him in the gut before head butting him. Stars broke out in Peter's line of sight for a moment as he struggled to gain his bearing, but it wasn't fast enough. Harry's hand clasped over his throat once more and his other hand came up to yank Peter's mask off his face.

"You just don't know when to quit!" Harry growled as he let the mask go, the red material falling back to the streets below. "I tried making it painless! I tried getting you to understand! But you've become quite the thorn in my side!"

Gaining a surge of strength, Peter kneed Harry in one place he knew would be the most vulnerable, causing Goblin to let out a pained curse. It succeeded in the sense that Peter was able to break free of Harry's grasp for a moment. However, that had also succeeded in pissing Harry off and his hand clamped down in an iron grip on Peter's jaw, lifting him with inhumane strength.

He's still too strong, Peter struggled, rage boiling in his veins.

Peter kicked and flailed, trying to break loose, but blades contracted on Harry's arms from the suit and he sliced Peter's abdomen just as Peter managed to bite down on Harry's hand. They both let out an exclamation of pain, Harry's arm dropping enough so Peter could push himself off of the glider and into the night. Shooting his web at a building to keep himself from falling, Peter shot multiple webs at Harry's glider in an attempt to block the device's engine, but Harry easily dodged all of them with inhuman precision. Instead, he made his way over to Peter until the blades on his arms sliced through Peter's webs with ease and Peter plummeted once more in a spiraling fashion. Before he could reorient himself enough to shoot out another web, a weight slammed into his side, sending him flying back first into a brick wall. He hit the surface hard enough to dent it, allowing him to sit haphazardly in the space created so he could catch his breath.

His sixth sense saved him before he fully came back to reality, and before he knew what was happening he flipped himself out of the dented wall until he was upside down, seeing Harry's fist make contact at where he had just been a moment before.

"You're such a fucking liar!" Harry growled as Peter dodged another blow, still stuck to the wall. "You ruined everything!"

"I didn't do anything to you!" Peter gritted his teeth. "You're fucking insane, Harry! What the hell happened to you?"

"Shut up!" Harry exploded, ripping a portion of the wall away so it began to fall with Peter on it.

The wall began to flip and Peter found himself crawling against the force as it fell until he was able to shoot a web and swing away before the wall shattered against the streets below. The next time that Peter got rammed with the glider, he clung to it like a lifeline. He had seen where the pumpkin bombs came from, and he knew exactly where they were. Punching forcefully into the glider's floor, Peter ripped away the metal that housed the pumpkin bombs below. Grabbing one of the orange balls in his hand, Peter pressed the activation button before stuffing the explosive into the glider's engine, feeling satisfied when it blew.

Falling into an uncontrolled landing from at least a hundred feet in the air, Harry and Peter found themselves crashing through the windows of a warehouse before bouncing off the cement floor with bruising force. Peter could feel shards of glass trying to pierce through the back of his suit from where he had landed after he finished his rolling momentum. Ignoring every painful ache in his body, Peter stood up and crouched in his infamous pose as a dangerous wave of rage washed over him.

He watched as Harry got to his feet ten feet away with a dark chuckle coming from his wheezing chest. "Impressive... I gotta say, I didn't think you had it in you."

"Don't underestimate what I can do," Peter warned him, his eyes narrowed.

"What? Do you really think I'm scared of you? You're too fucking weak to even finish it! I've seen the way you hold yourself to this moral standard? What are you going to do, huh? Send me to jail? Take me to trial?"

"No," Peter felt red enter his vision. "I just want to kill you myself."

That got Harry to cackle dangerously, "Atta boy..."

Those two words broke Peter's resolve and he charged at Harry with blinding ferocity, shooting two separate webs that Harry had easily dodged before being close enough to swing his fist. Once again, Harry dodged it with ease and Peter felt himself begin to get irritated at the fast reflexes that the Goblin seemed to have. He hated that Harry seemed to predict his every move and it just resulted in the continuing accumulation of raw anger in Peter. Shooting another web, Peter succeeded in webbing one of Harry's feet to the floor, temporarily trapping him in place. A flash of surprise entered Harry's features as it seemed to have caught him off guard and Peter used that to his advantage, clocking Harry with such intensity that it sent the Goblin slamming into the cold stone floor with a pained grunt. It was a show of strength that Peter had never let him feel, it was a sign that Peter wasn't there to tame the threat or stun Harry, no... this was a sign that Peter was out for blood. Jumping into the air, Peter swung his fist with all of his might in a straight down trajectory. Harry managed to roll out of the way, and when Peter's hand connected with the floor, it easily gave way with a teeth-chattering boom, the surrounding floor splintering for a good six feet.

As Peter straightened up, he saw that Harry had gotten to his feet and contracted both of the blades on his suit's arms. Harry let out a mocking whistle. "Well, consider me surprised. Look at the itsy bitsy spider showing his true colors. And they call you a hero, but what would they say if they could see you now?" 

"You don't know anything about me!" Peter growled as he charged once more.

Harry sliced at Peter's legs, but he had seen the move coming from a mile away and just cartwheeled off to the side, dodging once more as Harry sliced towards his abdomen. Rolling off to the side, Peter sent a strong blow to Harry's hip, feeling a spark of dark satisfaction gloss over him when Harry let out an annoyed cry of pain. He could feel Harry's desperation increase as he swung blindly towards Peter, who had been dodging the blades with ease and Peter began webbing Harry's feet to the floor once more to limit his mobility. When Harry managed to slice Peter's arm from the wrist to his elbow, Peter let out a frustrated growl before sending a blinding punch to Harry's face. With the Goblin dazed, Peter webbed Harry's neck, yanking his head down so Peter could knee him in the face. With one more blow to Harry's face, Peter jumped over Harry, grabbing him by the back and Peter used his momentum to flip Harry onto his back. From there. Peter just towered over him and began landing blow after blow, each punch increasing in its brutality.

Suddenly it seemed like he had no control over his anger and he took every ounce of it out on the villain in front of him. Anger for the unjust way Ben had been taken from him. Anger at the world for bringing him back five years later after being dusted. Anger at MJ for building a life of her own and moving on without him. Anger at Harry for convincing Peter he was his friend only to stab him in the back. Anger at Tony for the irrational fear of losing another father figure after the billionaire was able to establish a family of his own. Anger at Harry for potentially taking Alex away from Peter. Anger at himself for being so blindsided because he had been so desperate to cling onto something from the past. 

It felt like everything that was happening was going by in a blur and before Peter knew what was happening, he had Harry in a chokehold and he was watching his ex-friend's face growing purple with the lack of oxygen.

You're not a monster for wanting to be angry, Pete, but look at where it's landing you. Are you sure this is the type of person you want to become?

Alex's voice rang in his head and the red haze in Peter's mind began to clear.

What am I doing? Peter's eyes widened and he let go of Harry's throat and staggered backward in horror, looking at his hands as if they had burned him.

Harry began coughing and gasping as he fought to get air back in his lungs, and when he came back to reality, he began to laugh. "Look at you, Mr. Spider-Man!" Harry's gravelly voice made Peter want to throw up. "What would New York think of you if they saw you choking the life out of a man?"

"I don't want this," Peter shook his head. "I'll take you in, but I'm not going to kill you."

"Oh, Peter..." Harry shook his head with a sadistic smirk. "That morality really is gonna be the thing that kills you in the end." The boy in front of him staggered to his feet. 

Just when Peter thought Harry was going to charge him, alarm bells began to ring in Peter's head and he jumped straight up in the air, processing for just a moment that Harry's glider had been zooming towards him, the blades out. He spared a thought that Peter could've sworn he had blown the damn thing up, but he heard Harry let out a small "Oh..." before the blades impaled his friend, sending him flying into the wall where he became pinned.

Peter almost wondered if that had been Harry's lack of oxygen because there was no way it would've been that easy. But another part of him got filled with dread when Harry cried out in pain.

"Harry!" Peter ran over to him. His hands began to hover over the glider, fighting the nauseous feeling that was quickly overwhelming him.

"Leave me alone!" Harry growled, reaching out to hit him, and Peter staggered backwards.

Peter felt tears form in his eyes, "I didn't want this..."

"It doesn't matter what you wanted," He coughed and let out a spine-chilling chuckle. "What's done is done."

"Why did you..." Peter began.

"You know what they say about heroes, Pete?" Harry asked. "They might've found you amusing for a while, the people of this city. But the one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fall... fail... die trying."

"Harry..." Peter's voice broke.

"What do you think the people of this city will think when they hear you killed someone? That poor Peter Parker, the man behind the mask, is a murder?"

"I didn't do this," Peter shook his head. "You did this to yourself."

"Who's to know? You started all of this," Harry smirked. "And you know what they say about a liar, Pete? Hang his tongue from a telephone wire. We all fall in the end, there's no stopping it. I'll see you in hell."

Peter watched as Harry's form slumped against the glider, blood pooling on the floor and from where it was falling out of Harry's mouth. Peter could see the glazed-off and empty look in the Goblin's eyes and he fell to his knees, feeling as if an anchor had landed on his chest.

I can't stay here, Peter couldn't breathe. I can't...

Ignoring the screaming pain in his body, Peter aimed a web for the broken windows in the roof, slingshotting him out into the night, the cool air doing nothing to ease the ache in his broken heart.

Chapter Text

Peter knew he should've gone back to the compound as soon as he left the warehouse, his abdomen was on fire from where he had been sliced by Harry's glider and his arm was burning and blood was still oozing down his hand every time he alternated swinging. Not to mention that he didn't even have his mask anymore, and it took Peter a moment to slowly realize that it didn't matter because his identity's been out ever since the apartment fight. He could faintly hear the echoes of people calling his name as he blindly made his way through the city in a desperate attempt to get as far away as he could from the haunting nightmare that he had left behind. Without his mask, he didn't have KAREN and he had given his Stark Watch to Ned before he had left. He half wondered if the Avengers had even noticed he had left, and if they had, were they out looking for him? Either way, Peter didn't have any form of contact, and if he was honest with himself, he wasn't sure if he wanted it anyway.

The last minutes of Harry's life fading in front of him kept playing on repeat in his mind, the cackling laughter of his betrayer, the intrusive thoughts of blaming Peter for killing him.

You know what they say about liars, Pete? Hang his tongue from a telephone wire...

They might've found you amusing for a while, the people of this city. But the one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fall... fail... die trying.

In a way, Harry was right, and it terrified him. Peter had let his anger get loose and it had created this monster. A monster that blinded Peter with rage to the point where he almost killed Harry out of cold blood. What would the world think if they had found out that Peter almost gave in to his dark side? What would Ned think? Or Tony? The Avengers? May, Alex, and George? Would they see him as a broken kid who treaded in too deep waters, or would they see him for the screw-up he truly was?

What would Ben have thought? Peter's heart broke at that and the tightrope he was walking on was beginning to snap. He was going to break, and there was no way he was going to be able to stop it. He was going to break, and this time no one would be there to catch him.

Liar, liar, liar, The word kept playing in Peter's head, the tone getting nastier each time it echoed in his mind.

Peter swung aimlessly through the city, unsure of where he was going or if he even had a destination in mind. Eventually, he blinked and suddenly found himself sitting at the edge of Ben's grave, staring at the stone that provided the only physical evidence that someone resided there. He should've known he'd find himself here, he always had the tendency to go there when things got too much. In a messed up way, it became his quiet place and it was because he craved the comfort of the one person who had always found some way to make the pain go away. The one person who was no longer there to hold him when things got rough.

"Uncle Ben..." Peter croaked past the lump in his throat. "What have I done?" Who have I become?

Pulling his legs into his chest, Peter ignored the burning in his abdomen and buried his head into his knees as the tears blurred his vision.

Flashes of the past washed over him, the memories of him and Harry playing tag in the park while May and Harry's mother, Emily, sat on a bench, talking amongst themselves. Harry and him going to their first Broadway show of the Lion King and Harry kind-heartedly teasing Peter when he cried when Mufasa died and Simba was left all alone. Him and Harry growing old enough for Harry to teach him about the joys of basketball and catching a football. Peter holding Harry in a strong embrace when the other boy found out his mother was slowly dying of cancer...

When did things go so wrong? Peter let out a restrained sob at the thought. What did I do to deserve any of this? When did the person I know become a monster blinded by rage?

Peter felt like he was trapped between emotional states, his entire physical body feeling numb and hollow, but it felt like his insides were being torn apart piece by piece. Part of him wanted to cry, but another part of him was scared that if he had let go he wouldn't be able to stop even if he tried. Eventually, Peter found himself resting his chin on his knees as he looked blankly at his uncle's gravestone as if it had all of the answers that he needed.

He knew the exact moment when he wasn't alone anymore, but Peter didn't have the energy to react, and instead just stared forward and tried to fight off the raging emotions that were inside of him. He didn't want to drown, but he felt like his head was slowly sinking below the surface no matter how much he tried to stay afloat. He didn't stir when a blanket was wrapped around his shoulders, fighting off the chill of the October night's air. His eyes flickered off to the side and saw his mentor coming to sit next to him, turning his body so he was facing Peter.

"Kid..." Tony sounded just as wrecked as Peter did.

That one word was enough to break Peter's resolve. Sobs began to break through, past his weakened emotional restraint, and before Peter knew what was happening he became submerged in the riptide of the waves in his mind. Arms wrapped around his shoulders and pulled him in. Tony tucked Peter's head under his chin so Peter could cry into his father figure's chest, his sobs hysterical as everything came flowing out of him at once. Peter was half aware of his hand scrabbling against Tony's nanotech armor, desperate for some sort of anchor and one of Tony's hands moved so that he grasped onto Peter's searching hand with a steadying grip. They stayed like that for a while, Peter sobbing and breaking against all of the injustices that had been thrown his way, grieving for someone who had been dead a long time ago, grieving against a betrayal that Peter never dreamed was possible. Tony just held onto him, anchoring him to reality and providing a support beam to remind Peter that he wasn't drowning. Someone had been there to save him from the hands that were dragging him down into the dark abyss. Someone had been there to catch him when he had finally fell.

By the time the tears receded, the adrenaline from everything that had just happened had left him in one quick wave, leaving Peter feeling completely drained. It was like he was trapped in the twilight zone, halfway between being unconscious and halfway between being awake. He was still faintly aware of everything going on around him, could feel the burn in his abdomen and arm from where the blood had crusted on his flesh, but he didn't have any energy to do anything but just rest his head against Tony's chest with his eyes half-lidded.

He became aware of Tony trying to talk to him, of the billionaire pulling Peter away to look at his face. Peter could see Tony's mouth moving, but any noise coming his way had just bounced off the waves that were roaring in Peter's ears. Eventually, arms came to rest under Peter's knees and on his back, and then Peter was airborne. The ground became further away and Peter could feel wind bouncing off the blanket that was cocooned tightly around him, almost as if it was being used as a shield to protect him. He knew that he should probably be freaking out about Tony Stark carrying him like a child as he flew past the city, the clouds beginning to hide the lights below, but Tony's strong grip made him feel protected more than anything else.

He must've faded in and out throughout the trip back upstate, because when Tony gently landed onto the floor of the Compound, Peter realized his eyes had been closed and he felt comfortingly warm. There were footsteps that were running up to them and he tried to make out what the voices were saying, but Peter was quickly losing the battle to remain conscious. He opened his eyes half-heartedly to make out the faint image of Bruce leaning over him as Tony carried him inside, Sam and Bucky getting up from the couch to run over to them.

"Peter?" Tony's quiet voice broke through the haze in his mind. "I got you."

I'm not going anywhere, Peter could make out the meaning behind his mentor's words before he lost the battle and fell into the tempting grasps of unconsciousness.

***

When Peter came back to the land of the living, it was to that annoying beeping sound that seemed to echo off of his enhanced senses, Peter's head pounding from the sensitivity of it all. It was almost too overwhelming and it made Peter's sore body crawl. He knew he was back in the infirmary, and he shouldn't have been surprised, but everything was too much. The sterile smell of the room piercing through Peter's skull and the beeping making Peter wonder if his ears were bleeding from the constant tempo. He let out a pained groan as his hands came to cradle his head.

"Peter?" A familiar female voice made Peter's heart skip a beat.

He went to open his eyes but hissed out in discomfort when the intensity was too much.

"Dammit," May cursed quietly. "FRIDAY, initiate Spider-Overload protocol."

Almost immediately, the lights in the room dimmed considerably and the beeping of the machines lowered to a bearable level. Opening his eyes once more, Peter's eyes flickered across the room and took in his surroundings. He was no longer in his Spider-Man suit and instead was wearing a pair of black joggers and a baggy rustic red MIT sweater that emanated the familiar scent of coffee and cologne that Peter associated with Tony. He could feel the gauze on his abdomen and his arm was wrapped in a white bandage from where he hand been sliced. Finally, his gazed flickered over to a tired-looking May who was sitting next to Peter's bed, still in her navy blue scrubs.

"May?" Peter croaked before he winced at the scratching sensation in the back of his throat.

She smiled sadly at him, "Hey, sweetie." Reaching beside her, May picked up a glass of water from the bedside table before helping Peter sit up enough to take a few sips. As soon as May pulled away, Peter laid back down, still feeling drained of energy.

May didn't stray too far, she curled closer to Peter's bedside, and grabbed his hand, her grip gentle, but comforting.

Memories flickered in Peter's mind and he closed his eyes against the onslaught of the mental images of Harry's sickened fervor and his dying words. Part of him wanted to cry again, but he just didn't have the energy in him to do so. Instead he looked over at May, "I'm so sorry."

May shook her head adamantly. "You don't have to apologize for anything."

"But Alex..." Peter began. "It was my fault."

May cut him off with a firm squeeze of his hand. "Alex is going to be okay. And what happened to him was not your fault, Peter."

"But Harry..."

"Did something unforgivable, and I am so sorry that you had to go through that," May's eyes were glossy. "George and I... We don't blame you for anything."

"Alex is okay?" Peter asked tearfully.

May nodded, "He'll some scars, but Dr. Cho... She was able to help him, but you, Peter... You saved him."

"He was there because of me. I hurt him..."

"Stop," May said sharply. "Harry hurt him, but you saved him."

Peter closed his eyes and took in a few shaky breaths. Then he opened them once more, dreading the question he was going to ask. "MJ?"

"Ned got a call from her, she's okay, and so is everyone you saved at the bridge," May had a prideful glint in her eyes. "She was asking about you."

Peter scoffed, choked up. "'Course she was... May, my identity..."

"Don't worry about that right now, okay?" May interjected kindly. "One step at a time, yeah?"

"But..."

"Peter, seriously, another thought for another day. Focus on what's in the present right now, okay?"

Peter, who didn't realize he was beginning to hyperventilate until his head began to pound, tried to even out his breathing. When he was able to rein in his emotions, even if they were still trying their hardest to spill out, he asked, "What happened after..."

"The Avengers... They went on a rescue mission when FRIDAY told them about the news at the bridge," May told him truthfully. "They were able to trace the fight, but by the time they got there, they couldn't find you. Um... Natasha and Clint, they found Harry."

Peter flinched at the mention of Harry's demise.

May, who sensed Peter's reaction, reached out with her other hand and ran it through Peter's hair. "You weren't there so they just kept searching. Tony was the one who found you, he brought you back here."

"Was he mad?" Peter looked up at the ceiling, his eyes stinging.

"They weren't happy at first, and I wasn't either." May admitted. "But they were just worried, we all were. You've got them wrapped around your finger, you know that right?"

"I never wanted any of this to happen," Peter said sadly.

"Sometimes bad things happen to people who try their best to do the right thing. It wasn't fair... But you can't blame yourself for this, you couldn't have known."

"I should've," Peter disagreed. "My sixth sense and Ned... They both seemed to be suspicious of the one person I was just so desperate to trust... May, I got scared, I lost control..."

"You got betrayed by someone you've known since you were five, Peter, anger like that is completely warranted," May cut in.

"But you don't understand... I almost..." Peter's voice broke.

"But you didn't," May told him sternly.

"He tried to kill me," Peter confessed. "He called his glider and I just dodged it. I didn't know that it would..."

"He killed himself, Peter," May was sad. "You were just defending yourself."

"But I wanted to do it and I almost did," Peter repeated. "And I hate myself for it."

"You snapped out of it. That's what matter's, Pete, and that just shows that your heart is still in the right place."

Peter fell quiet for a moment, trying to fight through the fatigue and the emotional burn that the events had left behind. "I thought Ben would've been the voice telling me to stop."

May looked curious at that. "Who was it?"

Peter's eyes flickered over to May's face when he said, "It was Alex."

May's eyes filled with tears at that and she gave him a watery smile. "You two would die for each other, wouldn't you?"

Peter returned the grin, also on the verge of tears. "We make quite the duo, don't we?"

May shook her head in amusement, "I'm so glad that you two..." She trailed off, but Peter knew what she meant.

"Me too," Peter told her honestly, the fatigue catching up to him once more as his senses continued to make his head pound.

May must've been able to read the discomfort on Peter's face because her eyes softened. "I'm gonna have Dr. Banner give you some sedatives for the senses, okay? You need to rest."

Peter felt like he should've fought harder against it, part of him scared of the dreams that he was sure to encounter, but the pain in his head had won that fight in the end. By the time, Bruce came by to administer to pain medication, Peter was already drifting off back into the waves of unconsciousness.

***

Harry's cackling laughter echoed in his ears and the scene before Peter manifested into the warehouse with the Goblin impaled against the brick wall, his glaze and empty eyes holding a sinister glint.

"Murderous Peter Parker... Look at that, the Spider-Man has come out to play," Harry's zombified face was enough to make Peter take a step back in horror.

"Has anyone found out yet? Liar, liar... Pants on fire... Hang his tongue from a telephone wire," Harry sang before branching off into a wicked chuckle. "It doesn't take much to make it rain, Pete. The itsy bitsy spider will fall down the water spout one way or another..."

"Shut up!" Peter  pleaded, falling to his knees as he clasped his hands desperately against his ears, trying to block out the Goblin's haunting laughter.

"Peter!"

***

"Peter!"

Peter gasped awake, shooting into a sitting position as he struggled to catch his breath against the sobs that were escaping him. Harry's infamous laugh was still echoing in his head and he couldn't breathe. He couldn't...

"Peter, come on," A familiar baritone voice sounded panicked and hands descended on his shoulders. The sudden gesture made Peter flinch, his skin too sensitive to the pressure and the hands immediately retracted with a curse.

"Kid, it's just me, okay? I won't let anything happen to you, it's just me," The voice pleaded and Peter latched onto the noise like a life line. First it was the voice and then the familiar heartbeat that had Peter had unhealthily let himself get attached to as a source of comfort. The waves in his head receded as Peter came down from the highs of the nightmare and a calloused hand came to rest at the base of his neck, further anchoring him back down to reality.

Reaching out blindly, Peter grabbed a fistful of their shirt and pulled them close, burying his face in their chest so that his ear rested directly above their heartbeat.

"That's right, Pete, I've got you," Tony's quiet voice reassured him and Peter just closed his eyes as he breathed in the scent of his father figure, smelling the strong scent of coffee and Tony's subtle cologne, the latter seeming as if it was days old. But it was still there.

You're safe, you're in the compound, Peter repeated to himself. You're safe. Harry can't get to you anymore...

When Peter's breathing returned to normal, there were a few more things he became aware of. One of which was that the sterile smell of the infirmary was gone along with the consistent beeping of the heart monitor. The bed that he was also laying on was far too comfortable to be the hospital bed he had been laying on before. The second thing that he noticed was that there were other heartbeats echoing around the room. Four to be exact. Four that weren't his and Tony's.

Nuzzling further into Tony, Peter wanted to hide from what was happening around him. Hiding from the fact that there were four other people that Peter hated to have broken down in front of even though he rationally knew they would never judge him for it.

"Did he fall back asleep?" A quiet tenor voice wondered sadly.

"No," Peter answered quietly.

"Oh," They replied lamely.

Peter sighed and opened his eyes, pulling away from Tony so he could wipe at his face with the sleeves of the hoodie that he was wearing. Tony didn't stray far and instead allowed his hand to remain resting at the nape of Peter's neck, acting as an anchor to remind Peter of where he was and to stop him from slipping back into the grips of another attack. Looking around the room, Peter took in the sight of Clint perched on the couch near the window in the far corner of Peter's guest bedroom. Steve and Bucky were sitting tiredly in makeshift chairs at the foot of Peter's bed and Natasha was watching him from the corner of the room. Any other time, Peter would've been flattered at such an open display of affection, but it was rather overwhelming to have 5 Avengers staring him down.

Don't be selfish, you scared them, Peter chided himself.

"You back with us?" Tony broke the silence, his voice raspy as if he had been crying too.

Peter looked at Tony and just nodded, pulling his legs into a criss-cross position as his gaze fell to his lap.

"Do you want us to go?" Steve's timid voice asked.

Do I? Peter couldn't help but wonder. It was overwhelming, yes, but Peter would be lying to himself if he said it wasn't oddly comforting too.

"No," Peter admitted, looking up to glance between the five of them. They were all silent for awhile, as if they were waiting for Peter to make the first move. Finally he worked up the nerve to say, "I'm sorry."

Tony sighed, "Peter..."

"I really am, but I'm also not," Peter shrugged. "I didn't want to scare any of you."

"We might not be happy with the way things got handled..." Tony began.

"I know, but I guess...I just needed to do it. I needed to do it for me," Peter met Tony's eyes, his face completely resigned.

Tony's face broke at that, "I know."

"There weren't any casualties at the bridge," Natasha walked over to sit on the corner of the king sized bed. "Even in the car pile up."

"Those kids though..." Peter closed his eyes sadly.

"Were saved because of you," Clint cut him off. "It could've been a lot worse if you weren't there when you were."

"Back up might've been a good idea," Tony remarked, but flinched when Natasha leaned over to smack his leg. "Okay, geez, too soon?"

That caused a watery chuckle to escape Peter, "Maybe..."

"We're sorry we weren't there when you needed us," Steve looked heartbroken.

Peter shook his head, "I'm not sure how I would've reacted if you were."

"The first thing I'm teaching you?" Natasha cut in. "How to throw a punch."

Peter frowned, "What?"

"When you came in, your hand was shattered, Pete," Bucky crossed his arms.

"I know how to throw a punch," Peter protested.

It wasn't until he saw Clint laughing did he realize Bucky and Natasha were just teasing him. He blushed, "Gee, thanks for the confidence boost."

Peter knew he should've been grateful at the attempt to lighten the mood, but it still felt like there was a giant weight on his chest that was slowly suffocating him. It didn't help that his senses were still worn thin and his headache was rapidly returning.

They might've found you amusing for a while...  But the one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fall... fail... die trying.

Harry's voiced echoed in his mind once more, a sharp pain sending a spike through Peter's head and his stomach rolled.

"Tony?" Peter dropped his head in his head with a pained groan.

"Shit," Tony's calm voice quickly morphed into one of concern. "FRIDAY, SO protocol, now."

As soon as Tony said it, the lights in the room dimmed and everything went quiet. If it weren't for the other heartbeats in the room, Peter could've sworn he had been left alone.

Poor Peter Parker... Struggling to have everything he wants...

Liar, liar... Pants on fire... Hang his tongue from a telephone wire...

Peter let out a stomach turning gag and before he knew what was happening, he was in the bathroom and bent over the sink as he lots his battle with the nausea once more. The force of the heaves made Peter's head vibrate like a drum and he was half aware of the death grip he had on the granite because it cracked under his strength. Two pairs of strong hands were the only thing holding him up as he body rebelled against the intrusive thoughts in his mind. The blood of Harry's body forever tainting his memory, the cackle of Harry's laughter... the words that Harry knew would stab him in the gut so that Peter would never forget.  By the time that Peter calmed down, there were hand on his fists, soothing away the tension in them, coaxing them to let the broken counter top go. He could hear people calling his name, but his senses were in overdrive, and all he could hear was the disturbingly familiar waves that echoed in his ears. To his dismay, everything happened in a blink of an eye and when he came back to reality, he was alone in his bed.

Part of him was surprised at being left to his own devices, and the memory of what had just happened was playing on repeat in his mind. Where did everyone go?

"FRIDAY?" Peter asked timidly.

"Hello, Peter, are you feeling better?" The innocence in FRIDAY's voice made Peter envious.

Peter didn't even bother lying and instead avoided the question. "What happened?"

"Your Spider-Overload protocol was initiated last night at 3:00 in the morning, you weren't responding well to human presence. Boss... He wanted to stay, but you kept getting worse. He's currently awake in his room, would you like me to alert him that you're awake?"

Peter blinked in confusion as a thought crossed his mind. "FRIDAY, what day is it?"

"It is currently 12:30 in the morning on Monday. You've been in and out of consciousness for almost two days."

Must've been the shock, Peter closed his eyes sadly. "Has Alex woken up at all?"

"Alex Andrews has yet to regain consciousness, but Dr. Cho and Dr. Banner are heavily optimistic that it won't be much longer. Mr. Andrews and your aunt are currently sleeping and he's alone."

I should go see him, Peter told himself, but he felt a pit of dread form in his stomach at the thought. He was scared, and he hated to admit that to himself. What would Alex look like because of the explosion? Would he blame Peter for what had happened to him? How much will this affect him? Can Alex come back from such trauma?

You owe it to him, Peter scolded himself. Look how much he's done for you. Were you really that different?

Closing his eyes and sighing in resignation, Peter sat up in his bed, running a tired hand down his face. How is it he felt so drained even though he's been out of it?

Because it hadn't been a peaceful rest, Peter's mind told him. You've been stuck in limbo, Pete, and you know that feeling all too well. Except this time... will the feeling ever go away?

A few minutes later, Peter made his way out of his bedroom, still wearing the black joggers and new MIT hoodie that Tony had undoubtedly gave to him. He hugged his hands across his torso, letting the hoodie feel like it was a warm hug from his mentor. He initially had the resolve to go to the infirmary and just sit with Alex to prove to himself that the other boy was indeed okay. To reassure himself that Alex would wake up again, and that Peter would be able to see the life in his eyes and the joy in his voice again. However, when he got to the third floor, he made it as far as the entrance to the infirmary before he found himself frozen in place.

Alex's strong heartbeat washed over him in an overwhelming wave, and Peter hated how much that made him want to run.

What do you think the people of this city will think when they hear you killed someone? That poor Peter Parker, the man behind the mask, is a murderer?

Suddenly feeling like he couldn't breathe, Peter bolted to the third floor balcony, leaning against the railing as he forced himself to take measured breaths. The sharp chill of the October night's air was enough to help shock him back to reality. Overall, Peter knew that he hadn't been the one to deal the final blow that had killed Harry... No, Harry had been the one to kill himself in the end. However, that didn't excuse the fact that Peter had almost killed the Goblin with his bare hands out of blind rage and hate. That was the part that scared him the most. That wasn't the Spider-Man or Peter Parker that people knew. What would they think if they truly found out how close Peter had been to actually treading past the point of no return?

Would they like what they saw? Would they love seeing a young hero's failure? Or would they hate it too? Peter wondered, his hands tightening against the railing to stop them from shaking.

"Couldn't sleep?"

Peter jumped out of his skin at the unexpected voice and turned his head around to see Steve leaning against the balcony door.

"What gave it away?" Peter asked tiredly, turning back to watch the stars, not ready to look someone else in the eyes.

"Stargazing at one in the morning seems a little unusual," Steve pointed out, coming to stand beside him. The two of them were quiet for a moment before Steve asked, "What's going on in that mind of yours?"

"What isn't going on in my mind?" Peter remarked tiredly.

"Kid..." Steve sighed.

An abrupt thought crossed Peter's mind. "How did it feel when you found out that Bucky was the Winter Soldier?" Peter wondered sadly.

Something flickered across Steve's face and Peter winced.

Way to go, Pete, that no brain to mouth filter has really done it this time...

"Sorry, I didn't mean to..."

Steve cut him off with a shake of his head. "It's okay. To be honest? It felt like my world was crumbling."

"How'd you get through it? When you had to fight him?"

"It wasn't easy, that's for sure," Steve replied. "I felt guilty. This man that had been beside me through childhood and through a war was suddenly my enemy. It was strange too, I mean, I know they brainwashed him and trained him into being an assassin, but fighting him always felt difficult in the sense where I felt like he could guess my every move."

"That does sound weird," Peter agreed.

Understanding flashed across Steve's face. "Goblin?"

"May always said we were inseparable growing up," Peter said. "That we were two sides of the same coin. That was way before I met Ned."

"What changed?"

"His mom died and his dad took him and jumped ship. Changed their numbers, cut off all contact and never looked back." Peter shook his head. "I was so confused when I was younger. I mean I was a ten year old kid and my best friend was yanked away from me. I never heard from him until he moved back to Queens a few months ago, transferred back to Midtown and that was that."

"I'm so sorry," Steve told him genuinely.

"Looking back at it, there were so many signs that he was the Goblin," Peter tightened his grip on the railing. "I was just so blind... I didn't want to believe that someone I had trusted with my life would go and stab me in the back like I was a fish on display."

"You're not blind," Steve reassured him. "He was your friend."

"Exactly. He was my friend, I used to be able to read him like a book!" The metal groaned under Peter's grip and he jumped away, looking at the dented metal of the railing in shock.

"Peter," Steve moved closer so he could rest a steadying hand on Peter's upper back.

"I lost control," Peter confessed brokenly. "When we were in that warehouse, I almost..." His voice broke and Peter just looked up at the sky, clearly looking for a reason as to why this had to happen to him. "I wanted to kill him and I almost did. I had him under my hands and I just..."

"But you stopped." Steve finished for him.

"I almost didn't. In the end he killed himself, but I just... What would people think if they knew how broken I really am?"

Steve was quiet for a moment before he spoke up. "You know, when I thought that Bucky died, I went on a murder spree."

"You were fighting HYDRA, that's different," Peter disagreed.

"And Harry wasn't a bad guy too?" Steve rubbed circled into his back. "You were defending yourself. You might've been angry, and you might've lost control, but it was because you were also scared of what would happen to others if you didn't stop him then and there."

Peter bit his lip and closed his eyes as Steve's sensible words washed over him. "I still hear him in my head and I can't get it to go away."

"I don't think it'll ever will," Steve told him honestly. "But with the people around you supporting you and loving you for who you are... It'll fade. It won't go away, but it'll get weak enough to the point where you can fight it and subdue it. You're not a bad guy, Peter. You're just someone who's been through a lot and is trying their best to pick up the broken pieces that have been left behind."

"He took everything from me," Peter's head dropped to his chest. "Everyone knows now, and I can't make that go away."

"It might not be as bad as you think it'll be," Steve offered. "It'll be a lot at first, but you're still Peter Parker. You were Peter Parker before you became Spider-Man and that's who the people closest to you will always treat you as. Peter Parker will never be overshadowed by the masked hero. Spider-Man wouldn't exist without the person that you are outside of the mask."

"I'm just so tired," Peter confessed dejectedly. "I just want to sleep and wake up feeling like I can breathe." 

"Maybe don't do it alone at first?"

Peter frowned at that and looked over to Steve who was raising an eyebrow at him.

"I think we both know that there's people here that are more than willing to help if you let them. I can list one of them off the top of my head."

"I don't want to bother him, Steve, he's done more than enough," Peter shook his head.

Steve sighed, "You're more like him than you'll ever know with that selfless complex."

"Besides, I swore to myself I'd go see Alex..."

"Which you can do, and I won't try to stop you," Steve replied gently. "But Alex will still be there once you get some rest. I can't make the choice for you, and I don't want to. Just do whatever you feel is best, and we'll all support you."

Peter fell silent for a moment, closing his eyes and taking a few deep breaths. When he felt steadier on his feet he looked over to Steve, "Can you come with me? I don't want to go there alone."

Steve's face softened at that and he nodded, "Yeah, Pete, you don't even have to ask."

***

Steve had been kind enough to walk Peter into Alex's infirmary room and Peter lasted a few minutes before he was too dead on his feet to stay. But seeing Alex laying on the bed, breathing on his own with half of his face covered in bandages was enough to comfort him to an extent. The strong heartbeat was a welcome change from the weak sound that Peter had been left with since the apartment fight and it felt like the weight on his chest loosened a slight fraction. Eventually, he turned around and gave Steve a resigned look, and the super soldier just nodded wordlessly before the two of them left the infirmary and boarded the elevator. They didn't say anything as the two of them approached the massive master bedroom at the end of the second floor hallway. It wasn't until they were at the door did Peter almost bolt from the hallway out of shame for what he was about to ask of his mentor, but a hand on his shoulder made Peter stop.

"You got this," Steve promised him.

Taking a deep breath, Peter knocked on the door and waited. He could tell from the breathing and the shuffling behind the door that Tony hadn't been asleep, and Peter felt guilty at the thought that maybe it was because of him. The door opened a moment later, revealing a tired-looking Tony who was wearing loose gray sweatpants and a black tank top. The arc reactor that housed his nanotech suit was not currently resting in the nook of his chest. The absence of the faint blue glow was something that Peter wasn't used to anymore. Tony had seemed to carry it everywhere ever since the Vulture incident.

His eyes grew worried when he saw who was standing at the doorway. His eyes flickered over to Steve in a questioning glance before he turned his attention to the teen. "Peter?"

Peter began shuffling from foot to foot, his anxiety growing. "Hey..."

"Pete," Steve gently knocked his shoulder against Peter's.

Peter closed his eyes and nodded, before looking back up at Tony. "I couldn't... I mean I don't want to bother..."

Tony's eyes softened and a look of understanding washed over his features. He leaned against the open door, "You could never be a bother, Peter." He stepped aside and gestured with his head. "Come on."

Peter looked between Steve and Tony for a moment before reaching out and throwing his arms around the super soldier's shoulders. At first he thought he made a mistake when Steve let out a surprised noise, but the blonde's strong arms wrapped around him a moment later in a firm and comforting grasp.

"Thank you," Peter croaked.

"No thanks needed, Pete," Steve promised, giving him one last squeeze before they pulled away. By the way that the blonde's voice was rough, Peter could've sworn Captain America was on the verge of tears. "We're family, yeah?"

Peter also nodded as he took a step backwards towards Tony, and when he was close enough the billionaire's hand came to rest on the back of Peter's neck. "Yeah. I guess we are."

Steve looked between Tony and Peter one last time before he said, "Get some rest, Peter, you've earned it."

"Thanks, Steve," Peter told him one last time before Steve retreated back down the hallway.

When Peter saw him disappear back into his own room, Tony squeezed the back of his neck gently. "Come on, Underoos."

Peter didn't say anything as Tony guided him to the king sized bed, and he had to fight the blush creeping onto his face when he crawled underneath the blankets and settled down into the soft satin sheets. He knew he should feel embarrassed for seeking out company because he wasn't some child who could easily get away with not sleeping alone after a nightmare, but Tony didn't berate him or complain about Peter taking away his beauty sleep. If Peter was being honest with himself, he had a feeling Tony needed the contact as much as Peter did.

Peter laid facing Tony, but stared off at the space past Tony's shoulder when Tony also turned to face him.

"You don't have to say anything," Tony told him quietly. "But I'm proud of you for reaching out."

Peter closed his eyes, still feeling like he was treading water in a frozen lake whose ice had given away under Peter's feet.

"I didn't want to be alone," Peter confessed. I just needed someone.

"You'll never be alone," Tony promised.

A lump began to form in Peter's throat and he wanted to cry again, and he hated it. He hadn't cried this much in the span of two months since Ben died. It made him feel pathetic.

"I'm scared, Tony," Peter's voice broke. "I still hear his voice in my head. I almost..."

"Don't do that to yourself," Tony cut him off kindly. "One step at a time. Let's just focus on tonight, okay?"

Peter let out a shaky breath and nodded, but the tears began to fall.

Tony's face crumbled, "Come here, kid." He reached forward and pulled Peter into another hug, holding him close and tucking Peter's head under his chin once more.

Peter would never admit it, but that gesture was always the most comforting thing in the world. It was how Ben used to hold him when things got rough. It was how Ben held him after the constant nightmares and the breakdowns he had after his parents died. It let Peter believe that just for a moment, he really was Tony's kid and Tony was just a father who was trying to shield him from the horrors of the world. Maybe it was the feeling of security that washed over him that did it in the end, or maybe it was the steady heartbeat of his mentor, but Peter finally found himself slipping underneath the waves. This time it wasn't ice cold. Instead it was comfortingly warm. So, as Peter drifted into a peaceful slumber, he found himself ready to face the dreams that awaited him.

 

Chapter Text

When Peter drifted back into reality, he felt more rested than he had been in a very long time. The ache in his abdomen and his arm were fully gone, leaving no evidence of the injuries that he had sustained. His senses were once again tamed, and it was then that Peter realized the constant pit in his stomach was pleasantly absent, and his sixth sense no longer felt like he was dangling by a string that was waiting to snap under his weight. Even if it wasn't necessarily perfect, Peter felt oddly at ease.

The first thing that Peter realized when he became aware of his surroundings was that he was alone in the room, and at first, he couldn't remember where he was. In the end, it was the familiar scent that washed over him that made him realize that he was still in Tony's bedroom. Opening his eyes, Peter blinked against the pulled-up blinds, the sunlight streaming in through the windows, illuminating the room in a natural glow. Turning around to face the nightstand, Peter saw the folded piece of paper on the table. Sitting up, Peter reached for the paper and unfolded it, taking in the familiar handwriting that had written the note.

Hey, Pete, had to run back to the lake house and didn't want to wake you. Figured you needed the rest. Maybe you'd like to come back next weekend? We can make it up for the shitty weekend you had. I promise I'm not a bad luck magnet. Anyways, Morgan won't stop asking about you, she made me promise to drag you back kicking or screaming. Although, I'd much rather it be on your own terms. Call me if you need me, you know I'll be there in a heartbeat. Take care, Underoos.

P.S. Keep the hoodie. Consider it a replacement for the one that was lost. But take good care of it this time, yeah? It's the only one I got left.

Peter felt a small smile form on his face as the words washed over him as his mentor's words caused his heart to warm at the caring gesture. Setting the note back onto the nightstand, Peter pulled the hoodie closer around him, wrapping his arms around his stomach in a makeshift hug. Peter didn't have any plans to give the hoodie back anyway, so the fact that Tony essentially knew that caused him to chuckle.

"FRIDAY?"

"Good afternoon, Peter," FRIDAY sounded cheerful. "Boss wondered how long you'd be asleep."

"What time is it?" Peter frowned at that.

"It's almost two o'clock in the afternoon," She told him and Peter felt genuinely shocked that he managed to sleep for over twelve hours completely uninterrupted without any nightmares.

No wonder I feel so rested, Peter thought in awe, not that he was complaining or anything. The mere fact that he had been able to sleep like the dead was more than a miracle in itself.

"Captain Rogers and Mr. Wilson are down in the kitchen preparing lunch," FRIDAY continued. "Shall I notify them that you are to join them?"

Once upon a time, Peter would've hesitated at such a question, too worried about being a burden and just another mouth to feed. However, after all of the shit that he's been through, especially in the past couple of weeks, he just began to realize that all of his worries among the Avengers had been unfounded. There were still times when Peter wondered what he did to deserve such kindness from a band of superheroes, but it wasn't as hard to accept as it once had been.

They might've found you amusing for a while...  But the one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fall... fail... die trying.

Peter cringed at the echo of Harry's voice, his subconscious not letting him forget the haunting words.

Go away, Peter forced down the dreadful feeling.

"Peter?" FRIDAY's voice brought him back to reality.

Peter's stomach let out a growl at the mere thought of food and it made him realize how hungry he actually was. "Yeah, FRIDAY, tell them I'm coming down and I'm starving."

"Considering you've had intravenous nutrients for the past forty-eight hours, that is highly understandable," FRIDAY remarked. "Captain Rogers said to head on down, the food will be ready by the time you arrive."

"Thanks, FRIDAY, for the invitation but also for the reminder," Peter muttered the second half under his breath before he got out of bed.

The cold tile floor sent a shock through Peter's bare feet and he let out an involuntary shiver against the abrupt temperature change. Walking into the bathroom, Peter had a chance to look at his reflection in the mirror and he couldn't help but realized how young he looked in the baggy hoodie and sweatpants that he was wearing. There were still bags under his eyes, but they were much improved compared to the dark circles that had resided there before. Peter knew it wasn't going to be a one-and-done fix, but the fact that there were visible improvements after one good night's sleep sent a small spark of hope through him. Peeling back the fabric of his arm, what Peter saw made him let out a startled noise. Reaching out to frantically pull the fabric over his head to get a better look, Peter stared down at his arm as if he had lost the limb. There was a relatively thin ropey scar that trailed from his outer wrist to elbow.

How in the actual hell? Peter's heart skipped a beat. I don't scar...

Peter hadn't been wearing a shirt underneath the hoodie and when he looked down at his abdomen, his stomach plummeted even more. These scars were worse. There were three parallel ropey scars that spanned diagonally from his belly button down to his left hip. It was so gruesome that Peter's heart wanted to break and suddenly it felt like all of the breath had left his lungs.

No, no, no... Peter's voice chanted in his head. This can't be happening... Harry's dead, he couldn't have... Did he really leave his mark? How is that even possible? I don't scar... I don't...

"Peter?"

Peter's head whipped around to see a concerned Dr. Banner standing in the open doorway of the adjoined bathroom. When Peter turned to face him, Bruce's face morphed into an understanding expression when he saw the scars on Peter's body.

"Oh," Bruce sounded sad.

"I don't understand... I don't scar," Peter stuttered.

"We all were shocked too," Bruce admitted sadly, crossing his arms sheepishly. "Whatever cut you, it was coated with some sort of venom. We were able to drain most of it, but the damage had already been done... I'm so sorry, Peter, I tried everything that I knew..."

Tears formed in Peter's eyes but he fought off the feeling of panic that was threatening to overwhelm him. Even though he's dead... He still found a way to haunt me. He just shook his head, taking pity on the doctor. "It's not your fault, Bruce, I was just surprised. I just... Thank you for trying."

Bruce wasn't able to fully remove the guilty expression from his face, "Steve sent me to get you. He got worried..."

That caused a hysterical chuckle to escape Peter. "I sometimes wonder if he has a sixth sense of his own."

"He does seem to have that quality, doesn't he?" Bruce smiled slightly, but his face was still heavy with emotion.

Peter closed his eyes as he took in a few steadying breaths, fighting off the last remnants of his mini panic moment.

Liar, liar... Pants on fire... Hang his tongue from a telephone wire...

Go away,  Peter repeated sternly.

"Do you need a minute? I can buy you some time," Bruce offered.

Peter looked back at Bruce and shook his head, "No... No, it's okay. I'm okay."

Bruce still looked uncertain. "Are you sure?"

Peter nodded once more as he pulled the hoodie back over his head, letting the warmth thaw the cold that was freezing over his heart. "I'm okay."

Bruce studied him for a moment longer before he returned the nod, "Okay."

Once Peter recollected himself, he followed Bruce out of the bedroom and down to the elevators at the other end of the hallway. The silence between them was comfortable, and Peter was silently grateful that Bruce had been the one to come and get him instead of someone else that was bound to dig a little deeper. Peter would say something eventually, but not until he was ready on his own time.

Weak and pathetic... Harry's voice chuckled in his head.

Can you just shut up? Peter pleaded.

"Alex's bandages were removed this morning," Bruce broke the silence as they approached the elevator.

Peter's head shot over to meet Bruce's gaze at the news, "Wait, really? But it's only been..."

"Three days, I know," Bruce had a genuine smile on his face. "Dr. Cho managed to do a lot of facial reconstruction to minimize the damage. He's still got a long recovery ahead of him, but he's one hell of a fighter."

"Has he woken up at all?"

Bruce shook his head. "Not yet, but it could be any time. It could be minutes, hours, or even a few more days, but Cho and I think that it'll be sooner than that. Maybe hours at most."

"Will he make a full recovery? His heart..."

"He was down for quite some time," Bruce said slowly, picking his words carefully. "The scans we were able to get came back normal, but considering how long he might've been down, we just... We just won't know until he wakes."

Peter's hope diminished heavily at that. "Oh..."

"For what it's worth, we think he'll make a full recovery," Bruce offered optimistically.

Peter didn't dignify a response to Bruce's statement, not for the sake of being rude, but just because Peter didn't want to cling to something that felt too good to be true. The rest of the journey to the kitchen passed by in silence and by the time the two of them emerged into the room, the scent of burgers made Peter's stomach grumble hungrily.

"Oh my god, please tell me that's what I think it is?" Peter asked eagerly, walking over to see Steve cooking the burger patties on a grilling pan.

"Burgers are the celebratory meal, aren't they?" Sam smirked, walking over to lean across the kitchen island where Peter had sit at on the bar stools.

Peter turned his head in a questioning manner, "Celebratory?"

Sam's smile fell slightly at the question. "Yeah, celebrating? You know? The fact that you essentially kicked ass?"

Peter snorted at the lack of subtlety, "You're saying that as if you had doubts about my ass-kicking skills."

"Well, no, not entirely," Sam crossed his arms. "I mean, of course, you can't compare your skills to my expert skills, but it was a close comparison."

"Anyways, burgers aren't celebratory," Peter disagreed. "They're just a creation of absolute genius."

"Give it a rest, Peter, I've been trying to tell him that since I've met him," Bucky walked into the room, coming to sit next to him. He gave Peter a friendly knock against his shoulders. "Good to see you walking around and cracking half-ass jokes, kid."

"Who says my jokes are half-assed?" Peter was slightly offended.

"Considering all of the pop culture references, it just puts everything in question," Sam had an amused glint in his eyes.

"Leave him alone," Steve laughed, sliding a plate with three burgers to Peter who reached out for it eagerly.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Bucky sent Steve an appalled look. "Why're you giving all of them away like that?"

"Because he has a metabolism that is double both of yours," Steve shot Sam and Bucky an exasperated look.

"That's just his way of saying I'm the favorite," Peter elaborated taking a bite of the burger, his stomach growling in appreciation as the flavor exploded in his mouth.

"Damn kid has you wrapped his finger, Steve," Sam shook his head disapprovingly.

"And this kid hasn't had real food in two days," Peter replied with a full mouth.

"Well, I mean, you had food just not physical food," Bruce cut in, coming to sit on Peter's other side.

"What difference does it make?" Peter took another bite of his first burger.

Bruce laughed, "Fair point."

As Peter finished off his first burger and moved on to the second, he felt himself fully relax in the company of his found family. It was rather disorienting if he had to be honest with himself. For the past couple of months, Peter had felt like he was walking on a thin line while everyone around him expected him to just act exactly as he had been in the past. Had felt like his sixth sense was constantly twisting his stomach, trying to make him uneasy enough where he would jump out of his skin at the smallest disturbances. It also felt wrong to be at such ease after everything that had just happened to him in the span of just three days, especially since Peter spent a majority of that time passed out.

How can you even be happy when Harry betrayed you so cruelly? How can you be happy when Alex is still unconscious in a hospital bed because of you? How can you be happy...

"Peter?" Steve's voice caused him to jump as his body got snapped back to reality.

Peter blinked as he came down from the spiraling thoughts in his head. Looking around he saw that everyone currently in the room was staring at him as if they had asked him something and were waiting for an answer.

"What?" He asked lamely.

He saw Steve and Bucky share a concerned look and Peter's appetite immediately diminished. He went to push his plate away, but Bruce placed a hand on his arm to stop him.

Peter's eyes glanced up to meet Bruce's gentle expression and Bucky's non-metal hand came to rest on the back of Peter's neck.

Liar, liar... Pants on fire... Hang his tongue from a telephone wire...

Peter swallowed against the lump in his throat. "I'm okay." His voice croaked and Peter cleared his throat forcefully before he repeated with more conviction, "I'm okay."

"It's okay if you're not. No one is expecting you to be," Sam told him genuinely. "You went through some heavy shit, kid..."

"Sam, please," Peter pleaded. "I'm okay." Please believe me because I don't want to talk about it.

An uneasy silence fell among them before Bucky broke it. "We were just asking about your opinions on a movie night..."

Peter frowned, "Movie night?"

"Yeah," Bucky shrugged. "You know, sitting on the couch in front of a TV and stuffing our faces full of popcorn?"

Peter mulled the idea over in his brain for a moment before a small smile appeared on his face, "I'm in as long as Star Wars is on that list."

Sam shook his head, a reluctant fondness crossing his face. "You and your Star Wars movies."

"Best movie franchise," Peter stated. "And if anyone disagrees, then they have lost an experience of a lifetime.

"Star Wars can be the first on the list," Steve chuckled.

"What? Steve!" Bucky protested.

Peter just elbowed him half-heartedly in the stomach and Bucky jumped in surprise.

"Okay, okay, geez, I get it," Bucky surrendered with a grumbling voice.

"Peter," FRIDAY's voice cut them off and Peter jumped back from the island in surprise. Bucky's quick reflexes stopped him from losing his footing, a hand gripping his forearm in a strong grip from where he was sitting.

"Jesus," Peter placed his free hand over his racing heart.

"Easy," Bucky's voice was steady.

Steve's eyes flickered over his shaking physique before he asked, "What can we do for you, FRIDAY?"

"Sorry, Peter, I did not mean to frighten you," FRIDAY sounded apologetic. "George Andrews heard that you were awake and he was wondering if you were willing to come and see him. He seemed rather worried."

Peter's heart skipped a beat at the mention of George, but he couldn't tell if it was because he was touched that George was concerned or if Peter was scared that George blamed him for what happened to Alex. He was torn because Peter felt like he owed it to George and Alex to be there with them through this rough time, but he still found himself hesitating because he wasn't sure if he was ready for the tears that would inevitably follow.

What do I do? Peter wondered, feeling like a deer in the headlights. You care about them, and FRIDAY said George was worried... Do I have to be worried about losing George for this if he was the one who took the initiative? Was that George's way of getting Peter to come up to the room just to yell at him... Oh, come on, Peter, you know that George isn't like that. He'd never do that to you.

A hand came to rest on Peter's neck and he looked up to see that Steve had come to stand beside him. "He'll be up in a minute, FRIDAY."

Peter closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths, feeling grateful that Steve knew him too well. Peter wouldn't have been able to get out of his own head if he didn't do this. By making the choice for him, Steve knew that Peter would see it through. Besides, if Steve thought that there was no danger, then maybe there really was nothing to be worried about.

The hand on the back of his neck tightened in a grounding hold. "You okay?"

Peter looked up at Steve's concerned face and waited for a moment before he nodded. "Yeah... Thank you."

Steve just smiled knowingly. "Need someone to come up there with you?"

Are you on steady ground? The meaning of the soldier's words rang in Peter's ears.

"I got it," Peter answered, taking a few more deep breaths. "I got this, right?"

Steve just shot him an encouraging look, "Yeah, Pete, you got this."

***

Peter ended up taking the stairs to the third floor instead of using the elevator, using the journey as a way to clear his mind of the irrational fears that lingered inside his train of thought. He knew he shouldn't be nervous about going to visit Alex's room, that he shouldn't be nervous about facing George for the first time since his fight with Harry at the apartment. George was the kind of guy who waited until he knew all the facts before making a judgment call. He was the kind of guy who would go out of his way to make sure you were okay, even if you had brought something awful onto yourself. It's just... Peter couldn't shake the feeling that this was different. Alex was in a hospital bed because he had been associated with Peter's Spider-Man alter ego. He had been a target because of Peter's blindness to Harry's manipulation.

It doesn't take much to make it rain, Pete. The itsy bitsy spider will fall down the water spout one way or another...

This is why only fools are heroes - because you never know when some lunatic will come along with a sadistic choice.

Peter shuddered at the words that seemed to float in front of his line of sight. How do I make the voice go away?

Before he knew it, Peter's feet brought him to the outside of Alex's hospital room, the completely translucent windows allowing Peter to see what was going on in the room in front of him. From the looks of it, Alex was still unconscious, but the stark white bandages were gone from the right side of his face, but Peter couldn't see the extent of the damage from where he was standing. George was sitting at Alex's bedside, his back facing towards the door and his feet resting on the foot of Alex's bed. There were files that were placed on his lap and Peter wondered if they were patient files that George had brought with him to the Compound, allowing him to work while keeping Alex within arm's length.

Peter walked to the open door and knocked on it.

George's legs fell to the floor as he spun around to look at the doorway. His face morphed into an overwhelming relieved expression. "Peter, geez..." He stood up and walked over to him, pulling him into a strong embrace. "You have no idea how good it is to see you on your feet..."

Peter was left speechless at the reaction, not sure how to react.

George pulled back a moment later, his hands remaining on Peter's shoulders. His eyes flickered over Peter's form with heavy concern, "You are okay, right? I divided my time between the two of you, but each time you woke..."

Peter's mind returned to reality and he shook his head, "No, George, it's okay, really..."

"May told me everything," George's face crumpled. "How are you doing?"

The genuine question made a lump form in Peter's throat. What did I do to deserve such kindness? His son's in the hospital because of me... "It doesn't matter. Better than him."

George sighed, "Peter, you matter too..."

"Why are you being nice to me?" Peter asked brokenly. "I did this... Alex was there because of me... He got hurt because of me."

"Peter, look at me," George's hands squeezed his shoulders, his voice gentle.

Peter's eyes flickered up hesitantly to George's face, expecting pity and maybe a little trace of rage, but all he saw was concern and fondness. It brought tears to his eyes.

"What happened to Alex... I don't blame you, I want you to know that."

"Did May tell you to say that?" Peter asked before he could stop himself. It was a fear that lingered in the back of Peter's mind.

George shook his head adamantly. "No, Peter, May didn't have to say anything, but I know you. More than you might think. I've gotten to know how your mind works. What happened to Alex was not your fault. It was Harry's..."

"Who was there because of me in the first place," Peter repeated.

"He was your childhood friend," George tried to reassure him. "You got put into an unfair position."

"Alex almost died..."

Tears began to form in George's eyes as he nodded. "I know. But you saved him. You saved my boy, Peter, and I can never thank you enough for that."

"He's your son... I... I feel like I don't deserve your kindness..."

George just looked at him sadly, "You really don't understand, do you?"

Peter just looked at George with a helpless expression, not sure where this was going.

"I know I just met you a few months ago," George stepped back to give Peter some space. He held out the chair that he had been sitting in when Peter arrived, a clear invitation.

Peter accepted the gesture and sat down, not realizing how shaky his legs were until they gave out easily as he lowered himself down into the chair.

"And I know we didn't start off the closest, it was more of a peaceful coexistence," George continued, coming to kneel in front of him. "But I always did care, Peter, even when you might've not realized it. Getting the chance to know you and see how much you continue to grow after everything you've been through..." He trailed off, his voice getting hoarse enough where he had to clear his throat. "Alex always said that I had attachment issues. I always found a way to latch onto people that I cared about, even if they didn't feel the same way. The first time I met you, Peter, I knew how much I cared about you. You ask me why I do what I do, but it's because I can't help but see you as my kid too."

That brought genuine tears to Peter's eyes and he scanned George's face, seeing the older man not faring much better than him.

"And I know I have no right," George continued. "I'm not your uncle and I'm not Tony... But I can't help it. To me, you are like a second son to me, and it's okay if you don't feel the same. I never want to make you uncomfortable or overstep, but I just want to let you know that you matter to me, and you will always matter to me."

"But..." Peter began.

"Peter," George cut him off gently. "I'm just glad you're alright, okay? And Alex is going to be alright, too. Let's just take all of that as a win."

Peter bit his lip and fought back the tears in his eyes before he nodded. He couldn't stop the single tear that fell down his face.

George smiled, "Okay." That one word sounded like a promise as George pulled him forward once more so Peter could bury his face in the doctor's firm shoulder, his arms snaking around the man in front of him.

They stayed like that for a few moments before Peter pulled back, using the sleeves of his hoodie to wipe at the dried tears on his face. He blinked a few times as his mind came back to reality and a thought occurred to him. "Where's May?"

"She went for a shower," George told him steadily. "She mentioned that if you weren't here when she got back, she would go on a scavenger hunt."

Peter couldn't help the amused scoff that escaped him at that. "Of course she said that."

George's stomach growled and the doctor sighed as he placed a hand over his abdomen. "And I should probably go find something to eat."

Peter saw the conflicted look on George's face and Peter found himself wanting to make that expression disappear. "I'll stay with him."

"Peter, you don't have to," George began to protest.

Peter just shook his head to silence the interjections. "Trust me, George, there's no place I'd rather be right now."

George looked comforted at that and stood up with a wince from the uncomfortable position of kneeling on the cold tile. He placed a gentle hand on the side of Peter's neck. "I'll be back soon. May might beat me to it."

"I'll keep him safe," Peter promised.

George smiled, "I know you will, Pete, I know."

George patted the side of his neck once more before he ventured out of the room, leaving Peter alone with Alex's steady heartbeat and the constant beeping of the machines around Alex's bedside. Peter got up and brought the chair around to the other side of Alex's bed so Peter could see the extent of the damage that Alex had been left with. Without the bandages, the blistered skin was visible enough that it made Peter's stomach twist. Overall, his face looked to be in better shape than the side of his neck. The burns on his face were spotted around the side of his right eye and forehead, his cheek red but not burned. The burn on his neck, on the other hand, was embedded deeper into his skin, and ironically enough it formed a giant arrowhead on the span of the right side of Alex's neck.

"Alex, I'm so sorry," Peter told him sadly, his hand reaching out to grab Alex's wrist, his index, and middle finger coming to rest instinctively over the pulse point on the inside of the older boy's wrist. "I never wanted this to happen..."

Peter's head drooped as his eyes closed, letting the comforting sound of Alex's heartbeat along with the pulse under his fingertips lull him back into a sense of security. Alex was alive, and for now, that was all that mattered. He wasn't sure how long he was sitting there, all alone before he heard the change in Alex's heartbeat. It was a sound that caused hope to flutter in his chest. Peter's eyes snapped up to Alex's face, the older boy's eyes flickering under his closed eyelids.

"Alex?" Peter breathed out in surprise.

At the sound of his name, Alex's eyes began to flutter. Peter let go of Alex's wrist before walking over so that he was facing the good side of Alex's face, a hand coming to rest on the unscathed part of his neck.

"Alex, can you hear me?" Peter asked quietly.

An answering groan sounded from the other boy as his eyes began to blink open, the bright blue of his eyes causing a wave of relief to wash over Peter.

"Alex..."

Alex's eyes began to flicker across the room at the sound of Peter's voice before they rested on him. He looked confused.

"Hey, hey, it's okay," Peter reassured him quickly. "You're okay. You're at the Avenger's compound."

Alex blinked sluggishly as the words slowly registered in his mind. "I am?"

Peter smiled slightly at the question. "Yeah, Alex, you're the star patient this time."

Alex returned a small grin as he closed his eyes for a few moments. "What happened?"

Peter sighed and closed his eyes. Fight the emotions. It's a lot, but you gotta stay strong for him. "What's the last thing you remember?"

Alex paused to think about that for a moment before a small spark of panic flickered in his eyes. "Harry..."

"It's okay," Peter cut him off on that train of thought. "It's been taken care of."

Alex's eyebrows furrowed at the implication. "But you're okay?"

Tears sprung to Peter's eyes once more. I feel like I've cried enough to label myself as a damsel in distress. "I'm not the one in a hospital bed."

"You heal fast, that doesn't mean you weren't hurt," Alex's sentences were become more coherent the longer that he was awake. His hands raised up to Peter's neck. "He almost..."

Peter's eyes closed at the memories of the hands that had a death grip on his neck. "I know. You're an idiot for doing what you did, it was brave, but it was stupid."

"Wasn't stupid if it meant saving you," Alex replied, his eyes locked onto Peter's gaze.

Peter felt a tear escape at the admission. He was quiet for a moment before he said, "I'm really glad you're okay."

"Is Harry..."

"He's gone," Peter told him. "He can't hurt us anymore."

Alex's eyes searched Peter's face. "Did you..."

Peter shook his head. "You stopped me."

Alex smiled, "Good."

"It's really good to see you awake," Peter told him genuinely.

Alex scoffed, "Just shut up and hug me, will you?"

Peter let out a watery laugh and carefully curled himself closer to the raven-haired boy, his head coming to rest against Alex's heart, letting Alex wrap his arms around Peter's torso.

"I never got a chance to say this," Peter began. "But you're like a brother to me too, you know that right?"

Alex just tightened his arms around him, and that was answer enough. "Stop being such a sap, Pete."

Peter felt a smile tug at his lips. "Learned it from you, didn't I?"

They stayed like that for a while, and well Peter knew he was resting in the calm before the storm, he was more than content enough to stay grounded in the present moment. Alex was alive, and he was awake, and he was talking. There was still a ton of shit they all had to go through and talk about, but for now, Peter took the advice that everyone had been telling him.

One step at a time, Uncle Ben's voice echoed in his ears. There's no sense in worrying about things that don't need to be worried about in the direct moment.

 

Chapter Text

Six Months Later

A wave of familiar relaxation washed over Peter as he swung through the streets of his neighborhood in Queens, and Peter couldn't help the excitement that coursed through his veins with the contagious weightless feeling. He let himself be loose in his journey, doing a few flips and slingshotting himself through the sky when it seemed appropriate. He hadn't felt so at ease in a long time, but each day that had passed after the whole Harry debacle seemed to relieve the weight on his chest an inch at a time. For the time being, Peter was back to being the Friendly-Neighborhood Spider-Man, and at that moment, that was perfect for him and it was also a huge breath of fresh air.

Another thing that was a positive change was that Peter no longer felt like his sixth sense was on high alert twenty-four-seven, and the pit in his stomach had been pleasantly absent for close to six months now. He had been able to fall asleep easier without feeling like he was waiting for someone to jump out at him when he closed his eyes. There were still the nightmares that haunted his dreams, both of Titan and Harry's haunting words, but it was slowly becoming more bearable. With each day that passed, Peter was able to wake up more often feeling like he could finally breathe and he felt well-rested.

It also helped that Peter, May, George, and Alex were no longer in an apartment setting. It took a while to get used to the quiet of the new atmosphere, but it was a definite upgrade from having people living above and below them in the apartment complex. The four of them still resided peacefully in Queens, but they were now set up in a two-story house that had three bedrooms. Once upon a time, Peter knew that they wouldn't have been able to afford such a luxurious place, and that had been completely fine and Peter never took the roof over his head for granted. However, considering that George was a doctor and May had become the chief nurse of her emergency team, things have changed and they were able to take the next step in establishing their own permanent residence, and for that Peter was happy for them.

If Peter had to be honest with himself, he was relatively shocked with how easy it was to establish a feeling of comfort and security in their new living arrangements. George and Alex had increasingly become more like a family to Peter, and it had been easier to open up to them even more as each day passed. Things changed for the better when things finally settled down after the Goblin situation, and Peter found small little parts of himself remerge from the shadows, pieces of his past life that he wasn't sure he would ever get back. It was easier to talk about random things, easier to laugh and smile... It was easier to crack his corny jokes and make cringey pop culture references. He knew that May noticed the difference immediately, and he didn't miss the way a joyful glint that would appear in her eyes when Peter cracked himself up with his own jokes.

All in all, it had been a step in the right direction, but it didn't mean that there weren't bad days. However, when those days did hit, he knew he had people to catch him when he found himself treading in too deep waters. Alex made sure to be available whenever Peter needed him, waiting for Peter to come to him, but stepping in when it seemed like Peter was too far gone to ask for help. Then there was Tony, and Peter had found it easier to call his mentor without feeling guilty about it, the billionaire either inviting him over for some quality lab time or just willing to talk to Peter over the phone about some random invention in an effort to distract the teen from his raging thoughts.

"Peter, you have an incoming message from Ned," KAREN's voice brought him back to reality. "Shall I read it for you?"

Peter smiled at hearing his friend's name. "Yeah, KAREN, go for it."

"Ned sent an image and said 'six months later and it's finally done!'" KAREN brought up the photo and Peter saw that it was the life-size R2-D2 lego set that they had started shortly after Harry's betrayal. 

It had been rocky between the two of them, mainly due to Peter not being willing to forget what Ned had done to him, but there was no denying that the caring and the love between the two of them was too strong for one mistake to shatter the foundations that the two of them had built. Ned had always been like a second brother to Peter, and he didn't want to just give that up without trying to pick up the pieces first. Ned had gone out of his way to do things for Peter, showing that he was also willing to do whatever it took to win back what had been broken. Ned was always there for him and continued to still be there for him, and for that Peter was grateful. His friend's loyalty remained unwavering and that was something that Peter couldn't simply ignore. There were still ways to go, but Peter had a strong feeling that the bond between them would grow and become stronger in the end.

"KAREN, call him," Peter requested cheerfully. 

"Calling Ned Leeds," KAREN replied, bringing up Ned's contact photo on Peter's HUD behind his Spider-Man mask.

The phone only rang once before Ned answered it with an excited, "Dude!"

"Dude!" Peter returned with the same enthusiasm. "Are you serious? It's finally done?"

"I finished it literally five minutes ago! It comes up to my waist, Peter! I'm waist-deep in a lego R2-D2 set!"

Peter couldn't help but laugh at the way Ned phrased that. "That's literally the weirdest thing I've ever heard to come out of your mouth, Ned."

"I can't help it! I mean come on, dude, we've been planning this for years and the fact that it's finally done... it feels unreal!"

"Lots of blood and sweat, that's for sure! I can't wait to see it!"

"Depending on how late Alex's graduation party ends, maybe you can convince May to let you spend the night?"

"She'll have no problem with it," Peter said. "It's not a school night, so consider it planned! You're still coming this afternoon to the party right?"

"Wouldn't miss it for the world, Pete, you know that," Ned reassured him kindly. "I'm assuming you're on your way to the ceremony? I saw that robbery on the news."

Peter cringed at the reminder of why he had been running late in the first place. He had been on his way to Alex's ceremony when he saw a bakery getting robbed. Peter couldn't leave without doing anything about it, so he made quick work of the robbers, leaving them webbed to the wall for the authorities before he had taken off, now considerably late to Alex's graduation.

"Let's just say I'm not overly fond about the possibility of being, uh... fashionably late."

"At least you don't have to lie about any of it anymore," Ned tried to cheer him up.

Peter smiled bitterly at that, but before he could say anything Alex's contact photo popped up on the other side of his HUD, indicating another incoming call.

"Dammit..." Peter breathed out. "Hey, Ned, that's Alex calling, I gotta..."

"Yeah, dude, I got it," Ned chuckled. "I'll see you in a few hours."

Peter sighed in relief at his friend's understanding tone, "See you later, dude." As soon as he hung up on Ned, he had KAREN accept Alex's call.

"I can explain," Peter began immediately.

"Are you almost here?" Alex sounded nervous. "It's starting soon."

"I'm so sorry, there was this robbery at a bakery and I'm almost there," Peter promised. "1st in Broadway, 2nd in Broadway..."

Alex sighed in exasperation, and Peter could hear the underlying amusement in his voice. "Of all the days for there to be crime on the streets, huh?"

"I really am sorry," Peter apologized once more.

"No apologies needed," Alex was becoming calmer. "I just got worried, and May and George hadn't heard anything from you. They thought maybe you were just running late, but I..."

Warmth blossomed in Peter's heart at the words. "I'm okay, no injuries... Just a little fashionably late. I'll be there soon. I wouldn't miss this for the world, you know that."

"Yeah, I do," Alex's fond voice brought a wave of content over Peter. "Get off the phone, and swing safe, alright?"

"You're the one who called me first, " Peter teased.

"Just don't run into any birds and we'll call it even."

Peter groaned at the reminder, "Gee, thanks for the mental image of something that only happened one time."

"Seriously, Pete, just get here when you can," Alex chuckled. "May and George found a seat in the Home Side seats."

"You say that as if I know where that is," Peter jested.

"Your smart, you'll be able to figure it out with that big brain of yours," Alex returned the banter easily.

"Just take a deep breath, okay? You got this Mr. Valedictorian. You earned it," Peter encouraged him.

Alex was quiet for a moment before saying, "Thank you, Peter, that... That truly means a lot."

"And you know I mean every word of it," Peter stated firmly.

"Yeah," The fondness returned to the older boy's voice. "I know... Now get off the phone and don't run into any buildings."

"First it was birds, and now it's buildings?" Peter asked in mock offense. "It's like you have no faith in my swinging skills."

Alex laughed fully at that, "Just get here, okay?"

Peter smiled, "I'll be there," He vowed.

"See you after the ceremony?"

Peter shook his head even though Alex couldn't see him do so, "Do you even have to ask that?"

"No, I guess I didn't, did I?"

"I'll be there, Alex, and you know I'm not going anywhere," Peter vowed once more, conviction strong in his voice. "I'm like two minutes out."

"Okay," Alex cleared his throat as if he was trying to get rid of the emotions that was causing a lump to form in his throat. "I guess I'll see you then."

"Indeed you will," Peter smiled once more. "Later, Alex."

"Bye, Pete," Alex returned before he hung up the phone and Peter began to swing faster.

***

It was only two minutes later when Peter approached Midtown High at full speed, a wave of relief washing over him as he landed in the parking lot of the football stadium. Pulling off his Spider-Man mask, Peter took off the backpack that had been on his back, digging into his bag and pulling out the red MIT hoodie. Peter threw the fabric over his shoulders, taking off his Spider-Man gloves and zipping up the bag once more. Swinging the bag over his shoulders, Peter began to run towards the football stadium's entrance, feeling a wave of relaxation fall over him when he saw that the ceremony had yet to start.

There was a time when Peter wouldn't have been so reckless in leaving the bottom half of his suit in plain sight, but ever since his identity had gotten out, Peter had learned to embrace the idea of Peter Parker and Spider-Man being one and the same. At first, Peter had been worried that his entire mundane life would change for good, and while that had been true to an extent, it wasn't as bad as Peter had thought it would've been. Sure he was still fearful for the safety of the people he cared about, but it wasn't currently dire at that moment, and considering that it was now out of Peter's hands, he just had to face the reality for what it was. There were some people at school who treated him differently as if they had a newfound respect for who he was now that they knew who hid behind the Spider-Man mask, and that was the only part that he hated about the entire thing. He was now on everyone's radar, and there was no way for that to go away. It just made him more appreciative that his true friends still treated him like Peter Parker and not at Spider-Man's impossible standards. Peter Parker was still human, and Spider-Man was nowhere near an immortal being and he certainly was not faultless.

Looking up into the stand, Peter caught sight of May and George near the top of the stadium seats, sitting down and talking to one another. Running up the stairs, Peter ignored the stares he got from the other people in the stands, his focus merely on his found family. He knew he must've been a spectacle, but he genuinely didn't care anymore. May spotted him first, and a bright smile appeared on her face, George turning around and his eyes crinkled as his own grin appeared.

"There you are!" May greeted him as Peter came to sit next to her.

"Almost late though," Peter shook his head, taking the backpack off his shoulder.

"But you made it," George reassured him.

"For a moment I didn't think I'd get here on time," Peter admitted.

"But you did," George repeated. "Don't sell yourself short, Pete."

"Besides, you saved a bakery, didn't you?" May had a prideful glint in her eyes.

"Did they really already report on it?" Peter raised an eyebrow at her.

"Breaking newsworthy, apparently," George chimed in.

"Good lord," Peter shook his head. "Sometimes I wonder when Spider-Man gained such media popularity."

"It'll die down," May placed a gentle hand on his upper back.

"It's been six months and I feel like there's still a giant spotlight on me."

"You're a hero, Peter," George looked at him with a fond expression on his face. "People love seeing the good in helping others."

"Just because I'm wearing a mask doesn't mean there aren't other heroes on the streets. There are other people who go out of their way to do the right thing, even if they don't have powers."

"And people know that too," May rubbed soothing circles into his back. "On the bright side, they always get your good side."

Peter snorted at that comment. "I'm wearing a mask, May, it's not like they can find a bad angle."

George and May chuckled at that, but before they could comment on what he said, loud music flowed through the speakers in the stadium, playing Midtown High's Alma Mater. Looking at the stage, he saw Alex walking up the stage and to the podium, his azure graduation cloak shining in the mid-morning sun, a yellow graduation stole hanging around his shoulders.

Once he arrived at the podium, he tapped his finger against the microphone before he asked, "Can everyone hear me?"

There was a rumble of confirmation and Alex chuckled, "Cool, just wanted to make sure I wasn't talking to the wind."

Peter couldn't help the grin that appeared on his face from the witty remark.

"You know, I planned this gigantic speech, thinking I'd look insanely cool for being so professional, but I got to say, being Valevictorian is one giant emotional rollercoaster," Alex laughed. "Someone once told me a speech isn't just words written down on a piece of paper, but instead it was something that came directly from the heart. After everything we all have been through in the past school year, I think I get that more now than I did back then. We all had different experiences and difficulties after the world returned what had been lost. Some people came back to a world that continued to spin for five years while they had been gone. Some people got back those who they thought had been lost forever. Some had to fight through the darkness to find their place in the world, while others clung tight to someone to try and prevent them from sinking underneath the waves of pressure that the world put unfairly upon them.

"I got lucky, all things considered, but I can't speak for everyone, so I'm not going to. But I just want to let all of you know how proud I am of all of you for getting here, for pushing through the darkness even when it seemed too overwhelming to do so. And the journey isn't over yet, and it won't be for a long time, but you all opened up a new chapter in your life. A chapter that opens up a whole new list of opportunities, some that will be bad, but a majority that will be good. No one can tell you which path to choose or where you will find yourself years down the road, that choice resides with you and only you. You'll have those who will support you, but they can't give you all the answers that you will undoubtedly seek.

Alex paused for a moment, and Peter could hear the boy's heart skip a beat as he took in a steadying breath. "We got here today, and we are here to celebrate all that we have overcome this far. Today we are graduating, and for now, that should be enough. Don't worry about what tomorrow will bring, and don't worry about anything that is currently out of your control. We're here today to celebrate. Don't let anyone or anything steal the joy from the present moment. Everything else can wait, but for now, we're going to hold our heads up high and know that we found our way through the darkness. There might still be ways to go, but it's a step in the right direction. To the future, whatever it may bring. Here and now, we are warriors, and we always will be... Thank you," Alex nodded his thanks before making his way back down to the seats below, applause exploding from both the students and the observers.

Peter clapped along, feeling a sharp jolt of pride in his heart for Alex.

For the next hour, Peter watched as the two hundred students of Midtown's graduating class of 2025 walked across the stage, accepting their diplomas. When it came to Alex's name, Peter stood up with May and George, clapping loudly and cheering "Go, Alex!"

Alex had been right, today was a celebration of everything that everyone had overcome. Alex just graduated in the top five percent of his class with the amazing honor of being the Valedictorian. Alex graduated with a football scholarship that gave him a full ride to MIT. Despite all of the shit that he had gone through in the past several months, he never wavered in what he wanted, and his resilience was so inspirational to Peter. There were still nights where Alex would gasp awake from the grips of a nightmare, and Alex couldn't look at any form of fire the same way, and he was much more skittish around loud sounds, but it was a work in progress. One of which he was working on with Peter, both of them finding their fears and slowly conquering them together.

When the families were released onto the field, Peter found himself impatient in waiting for the crowd to disperse from the stadium seats and instead launched himself off of the back of his seat, flipping through the air before he landed with a roll on the football field below. He knew it was excessive, and he genuinely wasn't trying to show off or draw attention to himself, and there were a few surprised sounds that rang in his ears, but he just didn't care. He had one goal in mind, making his way through the crowd, looking for the raven-haired boy.

Alex found him first, tackling him into a hug from the side and Peter let out a surprised yelp.

"You absolute idiot," Alex laughed, pulling back to gently punch his shoulder. "Did you really have to give me a heart attack with that jump?"

Peter rubbed his shoulder, even though the hit was weak enough not to hurt. "I got impatient."

Alex rolled his eyes, but a giant grin formed on his face. "I guess no one can say that their brother is Spider-Man."

Peter shrugged, his heart skipping a beat at the word brother. "Not much use hiding something that the world already knows."

Alex chuckled, a fond look on his face. "No, I guess not, huh?" He was silent for a moment before he said, "Really glad you were able to make it, Peter. It meant a lot."

"I told you I wouldn't miss this for the world," Peter reached out to squeeze his bicep. "What kind of person would I be to break a promise like that?"

Alex shook his head, "You know I didn't mean it like that."

Peter smiled, "Yeah, I know what you meant. But look at you, Mr. Graduate."

"Oh, so I upgraded from Mr. Valedvictorian to Mr. Graduate now?" Alex raised an eyebrow at him.

"What can I say? I love nicknames."

"So I finally get to call you Webhead then?" Alex shot back playfully.

"Oh come on," Peter protested. "You know I hate that."

"No you don't," Alex smirked.

Peter didn't have the resolve in him to disagree. "Fine, you can call me Webhead if your ego truly needs it. But if it catches on, I'm blaming you."

"As if I was the first one to use it," Alex shot him a knowing look.

Before Peter could make a sarcastic remark to that, May and George had approached them, and George pulled Alex into a firm embrace, whispering praises in his son's ear. May came up to sling an arm around Peter's shoulders and Peter leaned back into the touch, feeling content to soak up the joy of the moment in front of him.

***

If it was one thing that Peter had always known, it was that he and parties didn't necessarily mix well together. Peter had never been a party-goer even before he got his powers, mainly due to the fact that he had never been comfortable in a social setting if he didn't know anyone. Then when Peter got his powers, the blaring music had just been too much for his enhanced senses. So when Peter heard that May and George were throwing Alex a graduation party, he got slightly overwhelmed. However, he had just bit his lip and decided to push through it for the sake of Alex. This was Alex's celebration, and there wasn't anything Peter wanted to do to risk the joy that came from such an occasion, especially after he had put Alex through everything that occurred with Harry. Peter might have permanent scars of his own, but Alex's was something he couldn't hide.

From where he was leaning against the archway to the common room of their spacious house, Peter watched as Alex took pictures with various family members and friends, the joy on the raven-haired boy's face enough to fill an entire room with a spotlight. Peter couldn't help but smile at the sound of the older boy's carefree laugh, it was a welcome sound that Peter didn't seem to hear as often nowadays. It was becoming better each day, but it was a process. Overall, Alex's recovery had been smooth with Dr. Cho going back in and helping to alleviate the scarring from the burns on the right half of Alex's face and neck. For the most part, it had been a success with Alex having a smooth and faint red line inching from his eyebrow to his ear. His neck hadn't been as lucky, it had held the deepest of the burns, and Alex was left with a two-inch-wide scar that spanned from his collar bone to the back of his shoulder on his neck in the shape of an arrowhead. In the end, Alex had just been grateful that it looked like a cool souvenir more than anything else, but to Peter, it was a reminder of what he had almost lost.

"Surprise," A voice behind him made Peter jump.

Spinning around, he saw a grinning and sheepish Ned staring back at him from where he was standing in the entranceway.

"Geez, Ned, are you trying to give me a heart attack?" Peter let out a breathy laugh.

"I called your name, but you seemed to be too deep in your head to have heard me," Ned shot him a knowing and jestful look. "No hug? I gotta say, I'm quite offended."

Peter rolled his eyes at the mock offended tone and he pulled Ned in for a quick back slap before they did their signature handshake.

"Satisfied?" Peter raised an eyebrow at him in amusement.

"For the moment," Ned returned the grin. Then he looked behind Peter and his eyes widened. "Oh my god... I don't believe it!"

Peter frowned, "What?" He turned around to look at what Ned had been so surprised about, and he froze in shock at what he saw.

Flash Thompson, five years older and dressed in a loose tan polo with sharp white khaki shorts was walking up to him, his face one of shame and apprehension.

"What is he doing here?" Ned asked in confusion.

"I don't know..." Peter was also confused but didn't get a chance to say anything before Flash had reached them.

"Hey, uh, Peter..." His actual name coming out of Flash's mouth was just too weird and Peter wondered if he was stuck in a dream and this wasn't actually happening.

"Flash?" Peter was at a loss for words. "What..."

"I'm not trying to crash the party," Flash immediately interjected. "I just... I guess I had to see it for myself."

"What do you mean?" Peter frowned.

"Spider-Man, huh?"

Peter's heart plummeted into his stomach. "Oh..."

"I, uh..."

Peter closed his eyes and shook his head, "Don't apologize if you're doing it just because of who I am behind a mask."

"I wasn't going to justify my actions," Flash sounded remorseful. "A lot can change in five years, and I'm not who I used to be... Not anymore at least."

Peter just looked at him skeptically, but then the flash of a ring on Flash's left hand caught his attention. His eyes widened, "Oh..."

Flash chuckled awkwardly as he fiddled with the ring. "I finally found someone who was able to set me straight. She made me realize I didn't need my parent's approval to make a difference, you know? You look good, Parker, I guess I just wanted to face my past while I had the courage to do so."

Peter saw the genuine expression in his former bully's face and his shoulders slumped in resignation. "I'm really happy for you, Flash. I don't forgive you or anything, but I'm glad you found out who you wanted to be."

"Of course you are," Flash smiled bitterly. "You were always too kind, I wish I gave you more respect and credit than I did."

"We all have some regrets," Peter told him. "What you did was brave, and I do have a small ounce of respect for that."

Flash just looked at him a moment later before he gave him a sad nod before walking out of the door.

"Did that really just happen?" Ned asked in a small voice.

"I don't even know, dude," Peter was also in awe.

"You have on hell of a weird life, Pete," Ned blinked a few times as if he was just processing the fact that Flash Thompson had actually apologized for a change.

Peter scoffed in disbelief, "Tell me about it."

"I need a soda," Ned finally decided. "Do you want one?"

"Dr. Pepper?" Peter requested.

"You got it," Ned was already making his way towards the kitchen that adjoined the common room, leaving Peter alone to ponder what had just happened.

He must've only been alone for less than a minute before another voice made his heart skip a beat. "Excuse me? I'm looking for a Peter Parker?"

Peter spun towards the entrance hall once more, stopping short when he saw the gentle chocolate brown eyes that belonged to a girl who was a few inches taller than him. One that Peter wasn't sure how he should feel about. A girl that Peter hadn't seen or heard from since he saved her on that bridge.

"What?" Peter was at a loss for words once more. What the hell is happening?

"My name's Michelle Jones, but most people call me MJ," She leaned against the stairway that resided a few feet away from where he was standing.

Oh, Peter realized. "Peter... Parker, I mean."

"So you're the infamous Peter Parker," She smiled. "The one that saved me from the bridge?"

Peter felt himself smile through the emotions washing over him. "That was Spider-Man."

"But haven't you heard? Peter Parker and the famous Webhead are one and the same," MJ has a mischievous glint in her eyes.

Finally, Peter gave up the act and gave in to the curiosity. "What are you doing here?"

"May invited me," She told him sheepishly. "I, uh, I almost didn't come, because I wasn't sure if my presence was welcome. I just, I never got a chance to apologize to you..."

"So you just came to apologize then?" Peter frowned.

"No," She shook her head. "Not just to apologize."

"What you did was crappy," Peter crossed his arms and leaned against the open archway of the common room.

MJ looked away, clearly ashamed. "I know."

"I want to be mad and I was," Peter admitted. "But I just got tired of it, you know? Besides, I feel like I understand more than I'm willing to admit."

"I should've just told you the truth," MJ had a regretful look on her face. "I tried so hard to forget you, Peter, but you were one of my best friends and I just... I hate myself for letting that go. I can't stand the thought of losing it forever."

"MJ, I can't forget it," Peter's broke. "What I..."

MJ nodded, "I know, but I guess I just had to try. I don't blame you, Peter, I'd do the same thing in your shoes." She wiped at her face with the sleeves of her Midtown High Alumni hoodie. "Um... I should go, I just... I just had to see you, even if I don't deserve it."

Peter almost let her leave when MJ began walking towards the front door, but a selfish part of him realized he wasn't ready to let go of the past just yet.

"Wait," Peter finally said and caught her by the wrist.

MJ froze, her eyes flickering between her wrist and Peter, bewilderment on her face.

"I know it can't go back to the way things used to be, and trust me, I am over that," Peter told her earnestly. "But I do miss my friend, and that's never going to change."

A spark of hope appeared in her eyes.

"But I can't forget it... Maybe down the road, I'll be able to find a way to forgive."

A smile appeared on MJ's face. "Yeah, I get it. I'll hope for it, but I really do have to go."

Peter nodded, tears forming in his eyes, "Keep in touch this time?"

MJ chuckled lightly, "Consider it a promise, Webhead." Her face fell. "Take care of yourself, okay?"

"Bye, MJ," Peter returned sadly, letting her go.

Peter watched MJ leave, the glass door closing behind her with a gentle click. Peter stood rooted in the same spot for a few minutes before he heard Ned's footsteps approach him once more.

"Everything okay?" He sounded hesitant.

Peter turned to look at him with a gentle smile on his face, accepting the Dr. Pepper from Ned's outstretched hand. "Yeah, she just wanted to chat."

"Peter, I..."

"Ned, it's behind us," Peter cut him off gently. "After everything that happened, something like that isn't exactly on the top list of my worries. Both of are you are trying, and that means more than some spat at a football game."

Ned looked like he wanted to say something else about the matter, but he just nodded in the end, a smile of his own forming on his face. "You and me against the world?"

"For above and beyond," Peter vowed, knocking his soda can against Ned's sprite can,

"Hey, Peter!" Alex called from across the room and Peter turned to look at him. "Photos!"

Ned chuckled, "You should go."

"I have indeed been summoned," Peter was amused as he began walking towards where Alex was standing against the glass sliding door to the fenced backyard. Peter set his drink down on the coffee table before he continued his trek.

Peter let himself get pulled into a side hug from Alex, the raven-haired boy decked out in a pair of navy blue jeans, his football jersey, and the blue graduation cap firmly sat on his head.

"Don't be camera shy, just own it," Alex knocked his body against Peter's in a jestful manner.

Peter let himself get caught up in the flashes, taking photos with the one person that Peter was most proud to have grown close to in the span of the past several months. It then occurred to Peter that he genuinely was happy with absolutely no worries in the present moment. He was content to be that little brother who was celebrating the major event of graduation with his big brother.

Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away... Now it looks as though they're here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday... Ben's voice sang gently in his head. 

Except this time... This time it wasn't melancholy. It was a reminder of where Peter had started and where he was now. It was a promise more than anything, that everything that was to come was nothing that Peter couldn't overcome. Proof that he could overcome any challenge thrown his way with the support of his friends and extended newfound family. And that... well, that was enough.

The End