An empty Stark Tower was weird, Peter concluded.
It was like an airport at three in the morning, or an empty and poorly lit hallway in a hospital, or a dark and quiet school. A place that everyone expected to be full of activity and people, which was now strangely void of everything. You could feel that a key element of the location was missing.
Maybe that was why his Spider sense was acting up.
Peter continued his way down the hall. It was Thanksgiving, one of very few days a year where Stark Tower essentially shut down. Back in the day, at the very least Tony would’ve been in his lab, but now he was planning on spending Thanksgiving at his lake house with Pepper and Morgan – and with May, Happy, Rhodey, and Peter. He was looking forward to it. The company, of course, but also – the food.
With his mind on turkey and gravy, he scanned his key card at the lab to be let it. A sad beep echoed through the hallway and Peter stepped into his lab. He had a few hours until dinner and working in solitude was still better than sitting at home alone, listening to the storm outside, while May was covering her holiday shift.
The door closed behind him, but the lab stayed dark.
“Friday?” Peter threw his backpack in the corner (Tony wasn’t here to scold him) and let himself fall on the nearest chair. “Can you turn on the lights?”
Peter frowned and turned to his watch. “Karen? What’s up with Friday?”
“Good afternoon, Peter. Friday seems to be offline, though I cannot detect a reason why. The tower is not under threat.”
Peter could feel his Spider sense becoming more urgent. But if there wasn’t a threat, what was the problem?
“Is she under maintenance?” He couldn’t imagine Tony being so naïve as to switch Friday off when there was no security around, but on the other hand – there was also no one to protect right now, so maybe it would be the best time to run some updates.
“My communication attempts are failing. Maintenance would leave at least basic exchange possible.”
That did not sound like everything was as it should be. Without thinking any further, Peter pressed the button on his watch that made his nanosuit form around him.
“Karen, scan the tower. Who else is here?” The lab was still dark. Peter listened out for any unfamiliar voices – his enhanced hearing combined with the eerily silent tower gave him a good range – but couldn’t make out anything suspicious.
“All personal and laboratory floors are empty. I cannot access Friday’s information as to when the last person left. Security systems, apart from Friday, are in place and functional as tested by yourself six minutes ago, when you had to scan your card at the main entrance and the laboratory door.”
“No one is here? Then who disabled Friday?” Peter was growing increasingly worried. The more Karen told him that everything was as it should be, the more jarring it seemed that Friday, as such an integral part of this tower, was missing. He jumped onto the ceiling, his eyes already having adapted to the darkness in the lab.
“I cannot access that information, but only five people have the ability to disable her without force. Mr Stark, Mrs Stark, Mr Hogan, Colonel Rhodes, and you.”
Perfect – all the people who should already be in the same place. “Karen, call the lake house. I’ll check out the hallway.” He wasn’t sure what he was looking for. Maybe this was some kind of elaborate prank and he’d find a banner saying “Thanksgiving Fools!”.
“Peter?” Pepper’s voice came through his mask.
“Hey, Pepper!” Peter tried his best to sound nonchalant. No need to worry someone who decided to cook an entire Thanksgiving meal on her own. “I’m at the tower and was just wondering if I could speak to Tony for a minute?” He could hear the sound of kitchenware clanking together in the background and Happy’s voice shouting at the oven.
“He’s not with you?”
Peter’s stomach dropped. This was not good. “Did he tell you he’d be here at the tower?”
“He said he’d come here later, I figured he’d meet up with you in the workshop, even though it’s Thanksgiving and he really could take the day off.” Peter winced, very aware of the fact that he’d also chosen to spend time in the workshop today. Maybe he and Tony really were as alike as people said.
“Okay, um, I guess he’ll be here any second then. On an unrelated note, could I speak to Happy for a moment?”
“Is something wrong?” Pepper sounded slightly worried.
“No, nothing’s wrong. Not at all. This is about May’s Christmas gift,” Peter invented, jumping down from the ceiling and entering an empty conference hall.
“Ah, of course. I’m sure he’ll be grateful to be relieved of his turkey duties. Hang on a minute –“ Peter was grateful that Pepper knew to cover her phone before she yelled for Happy to come over, otherwise his hearing might have been permanently damaged.
“What’s up, kid? The turkey won’t baste itself.”
“Happy, did you disable Friday?” Peter cut to the chase. If worse came to worst, these seconds might matter.
“What are you saying, kid?”
“I’m saying that I’m at a completely dark and empty tower, Karen says Friday is completely turned off, and no one seems to know where Tony is.” Listing these facts hit him with the reality of what they might be dealing with, and it seemed like Happy drew the same conclusions. Peter heard a door shut, presumably so Happy was out of earshot from the others.
“Pete, listen.” Happy sounded more serious than usual and Peter tried his best to stay calm. “Friday isn’t easy to shut off. If Karen says she is, Tony must have done it himself since he’s the only one who can do it remotely. He last called Rhodey two hours ago and said he’d be a bit later than he’d thought, and not to worry.”
Peter said nothing, but saw Karen taking notes for him in his HUD. Last established contact 11am, Colonel Rhodes. The words made panic rise in his stomach, but he had to stay collected.
“What do we do now?”
“You’re the only one with a working AI. Use Karen to trace Tony’s steps, with facial recognition, biometrics, whatever she can do. I’ll tell Rhodey to meet you, he’s faster in his suit. I’ll stay here with Pepper and wait for possible ransom calls.”
Peter swallowed. “Alright then.” He tried to sound more confident than he felt, but Happy could probably tell anyway.
“Hang in there, kid. This isn’t the first time, though switching off Friday is a new touch. And remember, he’s not exactly defenseless, alright? Call me if anything happens.”
Karen disconnected the call and began tracing Tony’s steps. Peter decided he could think better in a cold conference room with a whiteboard than a lab where everything reminded him of Tony and the fact that he was missing, so he picked up a pen and started thinking aloud, not feeling too silly about it since technically he had a dialogue partner in Karen.
“What business could he have had on Thanksgiving? Hardly anything is open.”
“Mr Stark was picked up by a security camera in front of his favourite breakfast café at 9am in the morning. His credit card shows a withdrawal of 30 dollars, not including tips. He left at 10.45am, shortly before calling Colonel Rhodes.”
Peter stared at the whiteboard, unfocused on the object itself. His mind, however, was working at full capacity. “There’s no way he spent that much money on breakfast and then took almost two hours to eat it. He must have met someone there. Check security footage for guests that came and left within ten minutes of Tony.”
“There’s a match. Facial recognition fits Professor James Daron of MIT.”
Peter’s eyebrows rose. Tony had spoken very fondly of Professor Daron and even mentioned that he wanted to introduce them. He couldn’t imagine the almost frail looking gentleman in the picture Karen was showing him as a kidnapper.
“Okay, maybe he was in town for Thanksgiving and they took the chance to meet up. But why didn’t he tell anyone about this?” Absentmindedly, Peter began writing down the known facts on his Whiteboard.
“He leaves, he calls Rhodey to say he’ll be late. But he would have made it in time if he’d have gone straight back home. He must have had another appointment, one that came up on short notice. Are any cars missing?”
“Audi 32A, currently being driven by Happy Hogan. No other cars are missing.”
So he either walks or uses the suit, Peter thought, if we exclude the possibility that Tony Stark discovered his love for the subway. He wouldn’t let anyone else drive him. At least not voluntarily. He shook his head and forced that thought away.
“Can you find out when exactly Friday shut down? Are there any external backups so we can see when they stop?”
A few excruciating seconds later, Karen answered. “The last backups are from 11.30am, but I cannot access them without Friday’s consent. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment of shutdown more accurately than within 20 minutes after that time.”
“Give me a map with a perimeter of the café and of how far Tony could walk within under one hour. Scan facial recognition in that area. Check Twitter to see if anyone met Iron Man today.” If Tony had used the suit, it would have made the news by now, so he was probably out there in civilian clothes. “I’m going to leave and head in that direction. Tell Rhodey to meet me there or to keep watch at the tower, whatever he thinks is best.”
“I’m certain he would say it is best for you to stay here.”
Peter knew that was true, but he couldn’t just sit around doing nothing. “Not an option, sorry, Karen. Can you access any windows?”
Karen wordlessly showed him the path to one of the designated Spidey windows she could open without Friday’s assistance. Peter immediately felt better when he breathed in the cold air and was once again grateful that his suit was waterproof when he saw the raindrops pearling off its surface.
“ETA two minutes. Twitter user notamerryberry posted a selfie with Tony Stark at 11.16am.”
A photo of a grinning teenager next to Tony Stark doing finger guns appeared in Peter’s HUD. Peter would’ve rolled his eyes at the finger guns, but the situation was too dire.
“Check the background for anything suspicious.”
“A van labelled NY Quality Cleaning Services appears to be parked on the other side of the street. The same van appears in the café security footage.”
“Positive. Do you want to enable tracking?”
“Lead the way. And send an update to Rhodey and Happy.” Peter webbed a sharp turn to the left while Karen was searching for the number plate. If they really kidnapped a superhero in broad daylight, they must have organized this well. And a well-organized kidnapping meant leaving the city full of security cameras and witnesses as quickly as possible.
“Incoming call from Happy Hogan. You must answer this call.” After the Homecoming fiasco, Happy and Peter had established a mutual protocol to force their calls through either Karen or Friday. It was a fair deal and they rarely ever had to use it – even now, Peter would have picked up regardless. He wasn’t about to let one of Tony’s best friends sit in the dark; he was worried, too.
“Kid, I’m hearing wind. What are you doing?”
Peter skilfully webbed himself over a bridge. “Tracking Tony down. I’m having some success with it, actually.”
Happy sighed. “Rhodey’s coming your way, have Karen send him your location. Just don’t do anything stupid, alright?”
“You know me.” Peter grinned inadvertently, knowing what Happy would say next.
“That’s why I’m saying it.” Peter silently mouthed the words along. “Good luck, kid.”
The call disconnected.
“I cannot track the van further than half a mile from here.”
Peter came to a halt on the nearest tree, trusting his Spider sense to warn him in time before a possible lightning bolt hit it in this storm. The streets seemed deserted; it was an industrial area on a public holiday, after all. The adrenaline made him think clearer.
“Any suitable kidnapping hideouts? Or workplaces connected to Stark Industries?”
“Two abandoned warehouses are located within a one-mile radius.”
Peter sighed. “Why is it always warehouses? – Show me the way to the first one, we’ve got a 50:50 chance. Send Rhodey our location.” He took off towards the destination Karen showed him, bracing himself against the wind that was a lot more prominent here on the outskirts of the city, with considerably fewer buildings to protect him from its fierceness.
“Colonel Rhodes is 30 seconds out. I suggest you wait for him.” Maybe Peter projected too much into Karen’s voice, but it sounded more like an order than a suggestion.
“Fine,” Peter gave in. Thirty seconds really wasn’t too much to ask, and he didn’t exactly have the best history with warehouses. He landed near some bushes and crouched down to peer at the building. It seemed to have been a parcel delivery center at some point, but looked very run-down. “Can you at least scan for heat signatures?”
“Four heat signatures detected. No unknown weaponry.” Peter’s heart skipped a beat - he and Rhodey could definitely take three people down. He immediately felt better now that there was a clear plan of action. He couldn’t hear any voices – he was too far away, and the rain made it even harder. What he did hear was the sound of Rhodey’s suit approaching and finally landing almost exactly next to him.
“You waited. I’m proud of you.”
Peter rolled his eyes. “Karen says four people without any special weapons are in there. What I don’t understand is why Tony can’t defend himself. Three people should be nothing for Iron Man.”
Rhodey shrugged. “Maybe something’s wrong with his suit. Or he wanted to give us the opportunity to enter the Thanksgiving Superhero Olympics. – Can you connect Karen to my HUD?”
Peter nodded and Karen automatically complied. Rhodey patted Peter’s shoulder. “Let’s go, youngling. Set phasers to stun.”
“You said that just to annoy me.”
Rhodey laughed and set off towards the warehouse, Peter quickly following behind.
In the end, the affair was underwhelming. Rhodey took out two of the kidnappers, Peter webbed the third one to a wall, and the threat was eliminated. They found Tony conscious and disgruntled, tied to a chair.
“Your rescue is here!” Peter landed in front of his mentor. “Are you alright?” Karen lit up his HUD with the words “no injuries detected”, but he wanted to make sure.
“Yeah, kid, I’m alright – wait, you brought Rhodey? I will never hear the end of this,” Tony mumbled, seeing Rhodey’s grinning face.
“Is it even a holiday if you don’t get kidnapped, Tones? I’m here to save my damsel in distress. It’s what superheroes do.” Rhodey untied the roped around Tony’s wrists. “I heard you were one once?”
Peter took the chance and wrapped Tony in a hug as soon as his hands were freed. As the adrenaline was wearing off, the weight of the situation got to him again – this could have ended much worse than it did. Tony squeezed Peter’s shoulders, and Peter slowly relaxed. Tony was fine. Everything was good.
Still with one arm around Peter, Tony started making his way to the exit. “Yeah, yeah, make fun of me. I wanted to do some upgrades on my nanosuit and disabled it in the lab, but then an old friend of mine called and wanted to meet me while he was in town –”
“Professor Daron,” Peter added, nodding and looking up at his mentor. Tony stared at him. “How on earth do you know that?”
“I possess Sherlock Holmes levels of deduction. – I also have an AI,” he added, grinning. Tony poked his stomach and Peter ducked away, laughing.
“Anyway, I told him a bit about you - they'll want to see you at MIT next year, you know?" Peter whipped his head around so quickly that he could hear it crack. "You talked to an MIT professor about me?" Tony just laughed and chose to ignore the baffled expression on Peter's face. "Kid, if I have a brilliant intern who definitely should go to MIT, that's what I'll tell people. Anyway, he told me about a Thanksgiving charity event in the city, so I wanted to make a quick detour – even stopped for some selfies –“ Peter imitated his finger guns and skilfully stepped out of the way when Tony threatened to poke him again.
“One second later I suddenly had chloroform shoved in my face. I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I didn’t have my suit – the only emergency signal I could think of was temporarily disabling Friday and hoping one of you would notice. As it turns out, my kidnappers didn't think further ahead than to the actual kidnapping, though.” He gestured towards the unconscious forms of the criminals.
“What did they want, then? Happy says there were no ransom calls.” Peter frowned.
“They were still arguing about it when I woke up here. One wanted some kind of technology, one wanted ransom money, the third couldn’t really decide. Prime kidnapping entertainment, you could say.”
Peter rolled his eyes. “Karen, tell Happy everything’s good.” – “He says he is glad to hear that. He also says you should be back before the turkey is done to admire his basting work.”
“You did really well, kid. Thank you for being Sherlock Holmes for the day.” Tony slung his arm around Peter’s shoulder and even though he was still wearing his mask, Peter’s wide smile was easily detectable.
“It was my honour. The tower without Friday is horrible.”
“Ah, you did this for Friday? I see how it is.” Tony shoved him playfully and Peter laughed.
“Ready for a turkey basted by Happy Hogan himself?” Rhodey asked. “Ideally suited for damsels and spiders of all kinds.”
“You’re uninvited.” They stepped out of the warehouse into the afternoon; the storm had subsided, and what was left was cold air that still smelled like rain and the sun timidly shining through the dark clouds.
Peter jumped on the nearest fence and turned towards Tony. “Can you enable Friday again? I feel like I need to hear her voice.”
Tony shrugged and typed a sequence on his watch. “Friday?”
“Good afternoon, boss. My systems will be back online in 32 seconds.”
Peter smiled. “It’s good to hear you again, Friday.”
“Likewise, young sir. Good afternoon, Colonel Rhodes. And if I may, a happy Thanksgiving.”