Peter was fairly new to the Avengers, new enough that he still worked as a sole unit in fights. He wasn’t used to having teammates, and often, he couldn’t bring himself to ask them for assistance.
Each opportunity for Peter to prove himself, he seized eagerly. He continued to fight mostly individually in the field, without regret, without asking for assistance. Peter could do this.
Until he couldn’t.
Flat on his stomach, inside a space barely small enough for a child, Peter took in a deep, grounding breath, then froze when his rising chest pushed into the mostly destroyed rubble above him. The mass shifted, cracking audibly, threatening to fall and crush Peter. Okay. Okay, moving was bad.
Peter focussed on taking smaller breaths and ignoring the pain in his left thigh. Something had lodged in his leg when the building collapsed with him still inside; he’d been too far in to get out in time, preoccupied with clearing the space of civilians.
He couldn’t see anything. The sun was unable to reach him here; there was nothing but a wall of solid darkness.
Now what. Think, Parker. Comm still on? It was hard to hear anything, his ears still ringing from the sheer sound a building made when it collapsed around you.
Wetting his lips, Peter tried, “Hello?”
His voice was hoarse and cracked at the end, but Peter received an immediate reply; “Spider-Man, status report.”
“I messed up, Cap,” Peter said. He felt like he was back in school, admitting to the science teacher he’d tripped and destroyed another row of beakers.
“I got all the civilians out in time, but the building—it collapsed, I couldn’t stop it—”
“It’s one building,” Cap said easily. “Just try and keep the rest of collateral to a minimum.”
“Don’t need to worry about that,” Peter said, feeling the cage of rubble and broken, rusty steel pressing around him. His laughter was breathy and too high. “I certainly will not be contributing to any more collateral damage anytime soon.”
The rubble above him shifted again, something giving way further, and sharp metal pressed against Peter’s back, digging into it, breaking skin. He yelped, and fought down the urge to flinch away.
“You okay there, kid?” Sam asked, his voice half hurried away by the wind he was fighting through, flying high somewhere in the sky. Peter would give anything to be at Falcon’s side, swinging through the city instead of here, crammed inside a dark space.
“Um, kind of?”
“Spider-Man, report.” Steve was curt, all business.
“I got a little hurt when the building collapsed, and I can’t get back to the fight in my, er, position."
“Rookies,” Tony said, laughing a little. He didn’t sound mean, but still, Peter’s cheeks burned. He felt humiliated. He was supposed to be an Avenger, now.
“Define ‘a little,’” Steve said, ignoring Tony. Peter made a noncommittal, unhelpful sound in response. “Are you safe, at least?”
“Well, define safe,” Peter said, “because in our profession, are we ever really—”
“How serious is your situation?” Cap interrupted. Through the comm, Peter could hear the sounds of gunfire, the slap of flesh against pavement, and Cap groaning. Peter swallowed. That didn’t sound good.
“Are you in immediate danger?” Cap corrected. “Going to bleed out or die in the next half hour?”
Peter should’ve spoken up then, because honestly? Yeah, maybe. His situation didn’t seem immediately drop-everything-and-run dire, but it wasn’t good.
Peter should’ve told them about the growing sticky wetness in his back and thigh, where Peter is fairly sure he’s been stabbed, or at least skewed; told them all about the growing numbness in his body from the pressure of the heavy rubble above him, about the fear choking him, how there wasn’t any room in the pocket of air the collapsed building had created.
But Peter still felt clumsy and stupid in the wake of superheroes more experienced. He didn’t want to wimp out, demand someone come and hold his hand. This wasn’t that bad. Peter could shut up and deal. This was a part of being an Avenger, after all.
When Peter had failed to answer, Steve said, “Spidey, they’ve got reinforcements. We’ve hit a bit of a snag here, and I don’t think anyone will be able to help you for a while. Think you can sit tight while we deal with this?”
The pressure on his lower back and legs was becoming too much. Peter swallowed thickly, fighting down panic. He could handle this.
“Yeah,” Peter said. “I can do that.”
Peter stopped talking after that.
Usually, he fell back on terrible, violence inducing jokes when he was badly injured or frightened. This, however, trapped in the darkness, a heavy blanket of rubble against his back, took all of Peter’s concentration to handle.
He wanted to take his comm out of his ear and use his palm to smoother it, stop the other Avengers from hearing in case Peter did fall into a panic attack, or started shouting, or screaming—or worse, crying—but he couldn’t reach his comm. There was no room to move. Not even an inch.
“I don’t want to rush you guys,” Peter said, after what felt like an hour had passed, but was more likely closer to fifteen minutes, “but, er. How’s the mission going along?”
“Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it,” Tony said. “Just lay back, take a breather and—crap, Falcon, check your five o’clock.”
The wetness Peter had been feeling had pooled beneath him at this point, making the ground beneath him, already littered with shards of glass from destroyed windows, slippery.
Peter gagged, fighting down bile. God, he hated blood. He was pretty sure his healing factor was replacing his blood fast enough to stop him from dying of blood loss, though.
“I get it,” Peter said, trying for a light tone, “fighting is happening, bad guys with big guns and stuff, yadda yadda, but could someone please collect the rogue spider sometime soon? Please?”
Clint snorted. “We’ll get to you when we get to you, kid.”
“Could you hurry—”
“Keep your spandex pants on.”
“Another platoon entering from the south,” Steve said. “Thor, you’re with me. And Spidey? We’ll get there when we can, okay?”
Peter took a deep breath, then another, and struggled to find his voice. “Okay,” he said quietly. His voice sounded loud in the tiny, dark space.
“People my age get jobs flipping burgers,” Peter muttered to himself, “but me? Noooooo, I have to decide on world saving. Good job, Parker. Look how well this has worked out.”
Peter estimated around half an hour had passed since he’d asked someone to come get him. He’d staved off half a dozen oncoming panic attacks in that time, and by now he was exhausted both physically and emotionally, fighting to remain conscious. It was a combination of pressing fatigue and blood loss that had him feeling cold all over, light headed and nauseous. By now, Peter felt oddly detached, enough so that his once-crushing fear could float away, and his sense of humour could return.
“Hey, you can still flip burgers. You have that power,” Clint said in his ear. Peter would’ve startled if he was able to move. Comm. Right. He keeps forgetting things—where he is, how long he’s been here, his teammates, how he hasn’t been abandoned. Hasn’t been, hasn’t been. They’re still coming. Peter just forgets.
“And hey,” Clint continued, “you can make me a sandwich anytime. I like my burgers with double the cheese. Remember that, kid.”
“I burn toast,” Peter said.
“Long as you don’t burn the cheese, I don’t care—ah, motherfucker!”
“Hawkeye?” Steve’s voice came through the line, as strong and assured as always. “Hawkeye, report.”
Clint’s wheezy reply could barely be heard around his rough, uneven breathing; “I’m—I’m okay. Ah. ”
“You don’t sound okay,” Natasha said. “I’m on route to your location now.”
“This is why you don’t talk on the line,” Tony said. “One minute you’re discussing correct quantities of cheese in sandwiches, the next you’re bleeding out.”
“Like you’re one to talk,” Clint shot back, still sounding like he was gasping for breath, maybe bent over, likely clutching at his ribs. Peter felt a spike of concern for the older Avenger, and swallowed around the uncomfortable feeling. He hated being useless. It scared him; good things never happened when Peter was helpless.
“I’m in a suit of armour,” Tony sniped. “A badass, metal suit of armour, with explosives and thick protective layers. I can talk as much as I want in here.”
Natasha interrupted them, obviously having arrived to assist Clint, “Hawkeye—Clint, stay still. Cap, he’s down.”
“It’s not that bad,” Clint tried.
Apparently, Cap didn’t trust Clint’s own assessment, because he said, “Black Widow?”
“Broken ribs, contusion to the head, likely a concussion, suspected punctured lung.” Clint could be heard coughing wetly in the background. “Definite punctured lung.”
“You heard her, guys,” Cap said, addressing the whole team now. “Let’s wrap this up.”
Sam made a ’n’aw’ sound. “The party’s just started getting good!”
“Yeah, you’re a wet blanket, Barton,” Tony said.
“Someone collect Spider-Man,” Steve instructed.
“Finally,” Peter murmured, quietly, like a prayer of thanks.
“Where are you, Spidey?” Tony asked. “Whoever’s closest can grab you. If you’re too far off, I’ll fly through and scoop you up.”
Peter smiled against the ground. Finally, finally. He was getting out. “You remember where that building that collapsed was?” Tony made a noise of confirmation. “I’m under that.”
Tony laughed, though it sounded mostly confused, a little awkward. “You mean next to, right?”
“No,” Peter said, “under. I don’t know how far under… pretty far? I was deep in the building when it collapsed. Um, there’s a lot of broken concrete and metal, and barely any space, if that helps?”
Peter felt sleepy. The blood loss was making everything seem so much lighter, so when there was nothing but silence on his comm for a long moment, Peter thought nothing of it.
Then, lowly, Clint said, “What the fuck?”
“What?” Peter asked. It was okay to talk now, right? No more being told to be patient, no more waiting in the dark, fighting back gasps of pain. Right?
“Did you just say,” Tony said, “that you’re at the bottom of a mountain of metal and concrete? Because it sounded an awful lot like you did, and that, that right there can’t be right—”
“I am.” There were choked off sounds on the comm, groans of anger, vehement swearing. Peter frowned. “What, what’s wrong?”
“Is he serious?” Sam asked, voice higher than usual. “Please, someone tell me he’s joking.”
“I don’t think he’s joking,” Natasha said grimly.
“I’m going to kill him,” Clint decided. He growled a little, which was weird, and then addressed Peter, an annoyed biting undertone to his tone, “Why didn’t you fucking speak up, Parker?”
Peter closed his eyes. They were too heavy to keep open. “You guys were busy,” he said. His words were slurring.
“Natasha, get Clint to medical,” Steve said. “Falcon, Iron Man, get to Peter as soon as you can. Scope the area, see what you can move. Tony, can you—”
“Tracking his comm now.”
“Hmm?” Enunciated words were too hard. What Peter managed in response was closer to a jumble of slurred sounds, “W’at’s happenin’ now?”
The weight above Peter was shifting, moving. A cold metal gauntlet burst noisily through the rubble and reached down, brushing against his bloody back. A choked, terrified sound leapt from Peter’s throat.
“We’re here, okay?” Tony reassured. “Stay awake, kid—”
Peter was barely conscious, and would not be able to remain aware for much longer. He was so tired. Exhausted.
More noise, the sound of metal scraping against metal and the cracking of concrete. The pressure against Peter’s limbs alleviated and then sunlight flooded in, the brightness hurting his eyes even behind their closed lids. He was vaguely away of being moved, lifted, people talking to him; he was too far out of it to understand what was happening.
Peter doesn’t remember anything immediately after he was pulled out of the dark hole. He woke sometime later when they were aboard the Quinjet, long enough to pry his eyes open and look around.
The first thing he saw were the feathers of a mechanical wing, draped lightly over him like a blanket. Peter looked up, seeing Sam sitting on his right side, Steve on his left. Sam was looking away, talking to someone else, but Steve was staring right at him.
Steve smiled at him, small and sad. “Hey, Pete’,” he said lowly, not loud enough to catch any of the other Avengers’ attention.
Peter blinked up at him. Steve swallowed, and managed a somber, “I’m so sorry.”
Peter’s mouth was too dry to make a sound, but he raised a shaking arm, brushing his fingers along the back of Steve’s hand. Steve stared at him, and Peter carefully shook his head, no.
“No, I should’ve done something,” Steve continued. He looked physically weighed down by guilt. All other conversation in the Quinjet had died down as the others heard Steve, caught sight of Peter’s conscious figure. “I’m the leader. You’re my responsibility, I should’ve known you were hurt.”
Peter shook his head again, harder this time. The movement hurt, but Peter ignored it, glaring stubbornly at his team leader. No way would Steve take this on himself. This was all Peter.
“I am sorry, though,” Steve said. “We all are. If we’d known…” Peter breathed out, letting his eyes shutter closed. He was too tired. “We wouldn’t have left you there, if we’d known, Peter.”
Peter let himself fall back asleep. This time, there was no encompassing concrete along his sides, only the presence of two familiar Avengers.
Peter blinked awake, and groaned, choking on his first breath since gaining consciousness. He hurt all over, a headache beating a steady tempo against his skull, and his eyes were dry and sticky with grit. The world around him was dark, so dark, too dark.
“No,” Peter murmured, eyes darting around frantically, trying to find something, some semblance of light. There was nothing, no one else, just the darkness, pushing in on all sides, surrounding, trapping—
“Peter!” Light flooded the room as Bruce burst in, flipping on the light switch and rushing to his side. “Hey, it’s okay. You’re okay, now.”
Tony followed Bruce in. He took one look at Peter, gasping desperately like a land stricken fish, and nudged Bruce out of the way. “You’re having a panic attack,” Tony told him plainly. “You need to take deep breaths.”
Peter shook his head; he couldn’t, he couldn’t.
“No, you need to.” He grabbed one of Peter’s hands and pressed it against Tony’s own sternum, taking deep, exaggerating inhales and exhales. “Breath with me. In. Out. Like that. In. Out. In. Everything’s fine, bud, you hear me? Out. You’re okay.”
Peter followed Tony’s breathing for another dozen inhales, then smiled shakily and took his hand away from the other man’s torso. He felt off-kilter and embarrassed, but he could breathe now, and there was people and light.
Tony moved away to sit at the end of the bed, and was replaced by Bruce. The Hulk hadn’t come with them on the mission, so the Bruce Banner that greeted Peter didn’t look raggedy in old jeans, but clean and put together in a pristine lab coat.
“You’re injured,” he explained. “Pretty badly, but you’re healing factor is doing you a lot of good right now.” Bruce and Tony exchanged a glance. “But… we need to talk.”
Oh, no. Oh, no, no.
“You’re okay,” Bruce said quickly. “We just wanted to clarify some things, okay?”
Peter shrugged and nodded a little. Tony took that as confirmation, and asked, “Pete’, earlier, when that building collapsed around you… Did you realistically think we would’ve told you to wait for almost an hour before helping you? In the situation you were in?”
Peter wet his lips. Was this a trick question? “…Yes?” Bruce and Tony both wore bleak expressions, and Peter hurried to correct himself, “I mean, no?”
“You really think we’d leave you there for so long?” Tony asked, quietly. Peter shrugged again.
Bruce shook his head. He took off his wire rimmed glasses, cleaning them on his button down so to have something distracting to do with his hands. “You didn’t seem confused when they immediately helped Clint,” he said.
“Well, yeah. He’s an Avenger—an older one, I mean. He’s more valuable then I am, and you know him. You care about him. I’m glad you got him out of there when he was hurt.”
“And you?” Bruce pressed. “You’re an Avenger. You were hurt badly, too. Arguably, worse than Clint.”
Peter played with the white blanket, staring down at his long fingers, half covered in bandages smeared with red. His hands had been cut up badly, several fingers broken and, Peter would found out later, healed wrong before the Avengers had gotten to him. They’d had to re-break and set his fingers, allow them to heal properly.
“I don’t know,” Peter mumbled. What did they want from him, exactly? The weight of their stern gazes was too much, too heavy. He’d spent so long in the dark, an unrelenting pile of rubble sprawled along his legs. He didn’t need more pressure, more weight, put on his battered body.
Tony stood, huffing out a breath, crossing his arms.
“Look, Peter,” Tony said, “we’d come for you. We would. You’re an Avenger. You’re in the team, no matter how short of a time you’ve been in it. We care whether or not you’re hurt.” He pointed a finger at Peter, annoyed. “And if you’re ever in a shitty situation like that again, you call us, alright? No matter what. Don’t go pulling unwarranted self-sacrificing shit when lives aren’t at risk.”
“Lives could’ve been at risk,” Peter said. Bruce and Tony remained unimpressed. “Okay. Sorry, I won’t—um. Yeah. Sorry, for all of this.”
Tony rubbed at his temple. “Don’t—don’t apologise.”
“Right.” Peter cleared his throat awkwardly.
“Get some sleep,” Bruce told him, climbing to his feet and adjusting Peter’s IV, filling it with pain killers, or sedatives, or both.
Tony stared at him at the foot of the bed, something unreadable and sad in his gaze, before sighing, and saying, “Jarvis? Alert the others. Let them know Peter’s awake.”
Peter closed his eyes, body already going numb, pain chased away by sleep.
When Peter next awoke, his body ached less. The room’s strong lights were on, chasing away any shadows that might’ve lingered in the medical room, and clustered around the room were various Avengers.
Sam was slumped against Steve in a small armchair, both of them asleep. Stretched out on a futon next to Peter’s bed was a comatose Bruce, glasses askew, snoring lightly. There was evidence of Tony on the chest against the far wall, an Iron Man gauntlet only half together sitting upon the lid.
Moments later, Natasha walked in on Peter staring, wide-eyed. She placed a plate on his bedside table, glancing at the three sleeping Avengers around them.
“You worried them,” Natasha said. She didn’t look at him sadly, with anything like pity, or anything like regret. Despite this—or maybe, because of it—Peter felt reassured by her presence.
“Oh,” Peter said dumbly. He caught sight of the plate Natasha had delivered, and blinked at it. “Is that a cheese sandwich?”
“Curtesy of Clint,” Natasha explained. She shrugged. “You freaked him out too, y’know. He was near out of his mind with worry.”
That wasn’t right. Peter remembered Bruce explaining how injured Clint had been, how the man was bedridden, barely able to sit up. He didn’t have the advantage of Peter’s healing factor, and recovery would be longer for him. The older Avenger certainly wouldn’t be up for making sandwiches heaped with cheese in his state.
Peter stared at Natasha, smiling. “Just Clint, huh?”
Natasha mirrored his smirk, pushing back the errant curls that had fallen on her cheek. “Just Clint,” she said. She looked him up and down, surveying his injuries carefully. “He doesn’t want anything bad to happen to you.”
“I understand that now,” Peter said.
Natasha nodded. “Good,” she said, and left the room, leaving Peter with three sleeping Avengers, a homemade sandwich, and a soft, secretive smile.