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Aftermath

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Jessica Jones was not a woman who scared easily. But the sheer murderous intent coming from the suit of armor in front of her had her teeth rattle, while cold sweat collected as her forehead and the nape of her neck, and then ran down her back. And the man inside the Ironman suit had only said one word, “Explain.”

Jessica shifted from one leg to another, wishing both Matt Murdoch and Frank Castle had stuck around after calling on Stark, but the blind lawyer had cited some emergency with the gruesome case, while Frank had vanished with a stealth impressive for someone his size.

“We got a tip tonight about some problems downtown. When we got there, the Punisher had already killed them and was opening the…cages where,” Jessica needed to stop talking, the bile rising up her throat, chocking her. Even with all the horrors she’d witnessed in Hell’s Kitchen, the scene she’d seen that night would fuel many nightmares to come, “…where there were children kept.” she finished tonelessly.

“Are they all dead?” Ironman rumbled as he depowered his hand repulsers, and landed on Jessica’s fire escape stairs.

“All, except one. Calls himself the Zookeeper,” Jessica said, unclenching her fists. She was still tense, but the threat didn’t seem imminent anymore.

“Good. As for the one who escaped, he’ll soon wish for a quick bullet to his head.”

“Mr. Stark?” the feeble call from the teenager on the sofa caught all their attention, and Jessica became invisible, as far Tony Stark was concerned. A soft whirl and he stepped out of his armor, the suit seamlessly recomposing itself behind him. Stark stepped into the room and kneeled next to the injured teen curled on Jessica’s sofa.

“Hey, kiddo. You really scared me this time.” He said, voice soft. He moved as if to grasp the teen by his shoulder, but stopped immediately when the boy flinched. “It’s alright; I’m here. You’re going to be alright.”

“Mr. St…ark, I…I was so scared.” The boy hiccupped while tears started trailing down his pale and dirty cheeks. If Jessica had ever doubted that Tony Stark had a heart beneath his public persona of scumbag billionaire - seeing the quiet devastation on the man’s face as he wanted to comfort the crying boy but knowing he was not allowed to touch - gave her undeniable proof.

“Shh, Peter. Can I please, just touch your hand? Please?” Tony said, fingers inches away from the boy’s left hand, the one that wasn’t bent like an arthritic tree branch, and he waited until he received a tiny nod in confirmation. Even then, he kept his touch light, as if dealing with spoon glass. “Peter, I need to take you to a doctor. Do you think you can manage that?”

The boy whimpered and then tried to curl further into the sofa. Tony let him but didn’t let go of the hand he was holding.

“Peter, hey. It’s me, remember. Tony. I’m never going to hurt you. Do you know that?”

Peter stopped whimpering but didn’t answer. A few moments later he uncurled a little while nobody spoke.

“Good boy,” Tony said, then turned to his suit. “Friday, alert the medical team we have an emergency. How far is the evacuation suit?”

“Seven more minutes, boss. Hey, Peter.” A feminine voice answered from the armor, startling Jessica. She had moved to the kitchen, making coffee only to have something to busy her hands, but she kept a watchful eye on what was happening inside the room. For the moment, she saw Stark having things well in hand.

“Friday?” the boy perked little, as more and more familiar things surrounded him, and that also seemed to soothe something in Stark.

“Yeah, she’s here as well. She’s been right worried, let me tell you,” Tony Stark said while fiddling something out of his pocket. The red pill he offered seemed innocent enough.

“What’s that?” 

“Something to dull the pain while we transport you…” Stark didn’t manage to finish his idea that Peter had already started to tremble, “Peter! It’s alright. I’m not going to hurt you. Do you trust me?”

“I’m sorry…Mr…Stark…It’s just,” but he stopped as if the words were too painful to be said out loud.

“I got you. Alright, Peter? I got you.” Stark murmured, while his grasp on the kid’s hand became firmer, but never restrictive. He waited until the latest bout of tears stopped falling, never retreating, but never pushing further either, “This will help you.”

“If I take the pill, are you going to disappear?” Peter asked, his voice barely audible.

“No kid. I’m never letting you out of my sight. I promise.” And that seemed to be what Peter has been waiting, because he freed his hand from Tony’s grasp and took the pill with shaking fingers. He stared at it for a long moment, breath a bit hitched, then he closed his eyes and threw the drug in his mouth, almost chocking on it while Tony Stark scrambled to give him something to drink. Once swallowed, the effect was almost immediate, the boy slumping down while blinking slowly and unfocused. Once or twice he twitched, as if his brain wasn’t ready to let go, but his body had had enough. Five minutes after the pill, and just as the evacuation suit finally arrived to crowd Jessica’s apartment, the boy was almost comatose. Tony Stark took him in his arms, and arranged him inside the suit with the care usually reserved for delicate works of art.

“Friday, go directly to the medical bay.” He said, just as the capsule closed around the sleeping boy and then flew out of Jessica’s apartment with impressive speed. Tony Starks lingered only for a few more minutes, “Thank you, Miss Jones. I owe you and your associates a great deal. Call, no matter what you need, and I’ll make it happen.” And with that, he stepped into his own armor and prepared to take off.

“Just promise me something, Stark. Keep a better eye on him, next time!” Jessica said, arms akimbo.

Ironman nodded and flew away.

Five weeks later.

Peter Smalls, who in another life had called himself the Zookeeper, woke up with a splintering headache and the feel of something old and hairy having died inside his mouth. He tried to move his arms, only to groan when they didn’t listen to him. Frowning, he barely opened his bleary eyes, only for the sight of the beautiful redhead watching him coldly while seating on a chair next to his bed, to jolt him awake.

“Oh, you are up? We have a lot to talk about,” Natasha Romanoff said, while readying her Widow’s Bite.

The end.