Day 17: field surgery
“I can’t believe that Mr. Harrington thinks this can make up for the whole MOMA thing.” Flash whined. “Seriously, guys? Camping?!” He spit out the word with a disdain Peter hadn’t heard from Flash since before The Blip, and that had been when he was talking about Peter.
Huh. Maybe things were finally starting to normalize?
“You didn’t have to come, you know that, right?” MJ replied to his complaint. “Seriously, Flash. It’s been five years. Can you maybe stop being so—“
“Hey! Look, everyone,” Mister Harrington interrupted before they could find out what MJ was going to say. “I know we’ve all had an interesting stretch with everything that’s happened over the last while, but this is an opportunity for us to all get to know each other outside of the chaos and distraction of the world...”
Mr. Harrington continued to drone on, but Peter was distracted by what he’d said. It went without saying that the world was definitely a place of chaos—Homeless rates were up all over the globe, domestic violence was on the increase, and suicide rate were... well. After the fourth stumbled upon attempt, Peter had taken a couple of training sessions with a Sam to better be able to deal with all of the sadness out there. And there was so much sadness.
Yeah, Peter really needed to be back in the city. This was frivolous! He should have put his foot down—
But Ned wanted him to go.
May wanted him to go.
And then Mr. Stark had insisted that he go. “C’mon, Roo,” he’d urged. “You deserve a break. It’s hasn’t been that long and already we can all see you’re over-stressed. With the Junior Avenger training and helping with Morgan and then my physio plus working on my prosthetic for when my arm heals... and then school, homework and decathlon ON TOP of Spider-Manning!? Go on the damned trip Peter.”
Peter had still been hesitant and then Mr. Stark tossed in the whole, “Hey! It’s a Friday morning to Monday night. Only four sleeps, kiddo. If nothing else, this can be a practice trip for when you do Europe in a few months, right?”
’Cuz, yeah. Peter was worried about leaving behind all of the things he’d already left behind for five years...
“Buddy, it’s just a little break. A chance to take a deep breath, enjoy time with your friends... rest. It’ll all be waiting for you when you get back. I promise.”
So he went, against his better judgement, and now, here he was—in a van with his best friend, plus MJ, Flash and a mix of old and new faces, like Brad. Ugh. Mr. Stark was going to owe him big time for this.
He tuned back into the present, “... new members combining with old! Or old combining with old new? Or...” Mr. Harrington sighed and gave up that line of thinking. “Let’s look at it this way. The world is different. Let’s all find our place as team together—here.”
So Peter looked around to see exactly where ‘here’ was, which coincidentally coincided with Mr. Harrington pulling over onto a small patch of gravel and a small sign reading ‘Seneca Lake Survival Camp.’
“Alright, group! Here we are! Right on schedule!” Their teacher called out brightly, “Our guide will be meeting up with us shortly, so let’s unload our gear.“
It took only a few minutes for them to empty the vehicle of their own bags plus the food and gear they’d be bringing in. It took maybe a minute more for the drama to start.
“Um, guys? Did anyone else know there wouldn’t be any cell service out here?!” Flash panicked.
A chorus of ‘What?!” and one ‘We’re DOOMED!’ came from the group.
Mr. Harrington had it all in hand. “Settle down, everyone!” He gestured for them to calm. “First, if you read the permission slips, it mentioned that you were to leave all electronics at home.” Mr. Harrington made his way to his own bag and, with a flourish, pulled out a large zippered plastic bag. “So thanks for reminding me about that, Flash. Alrighty then, into the bag, folks.” The groans were audible as the phones were turned off and collected. “Second,” he called out as he zipped up the bundle of phones, “This is a “wilderness excursion,”” Yes, he’d air quoted. “You’re all smart people here! We cannot have wilderness if we are bringing the noise with us!”
More groans came from the small group, and then Betty gasped. “What happens if someone gets hurt while we’re in there?” She clutched at her chest and gestured to the woods. “We’d be trapped until the guide comes back to find us—unless we’re all dead!”
It was funny to see Ned rolling his eyes at Betty, especially since he’d been mooning over her for the last couple of weeks, but Peter couldn’t blame him as he’d done the same.
Mr. Harrington, however, had a solution to her concern. “Calm down, Ms. Brant, I promise we’re going to be absolutely fine. I have experience with the great outdoors from back when I went to university in Virginia, and the guide will be providing us with a sat phone for emergencies. We’ll be okay. I promise.”
That had the two friends sharing another eye roll—and Peter worrying that their entire weekend had just been jinxed with his declaration.
Flash had another thought and raised his hand, “Sir, I have an emergency.”
Mr. Harrington shut him down right away, “Flash, not having internet or wifi does not count as an emergency.”
Flash lowered his hand and scowled.
Sometimes Mr. Harrington could be just a little bit of a badass.
“Now I’m going to keep the phones with the van so that nothing happens to them at the site... and no, the van is not being parked at the side of the road for the duration of our getaway. The company will be driving the van to a garage for safekeeping, and then will drive it back at time of collection, so they’ll be nice and safe, okay?”
They were all just processing what an actual electronics free weekend would mean, so Mr. Harrington headed over to the van.
A rusty old pick-up truck pulled up behind them just as Mr. Harrington had finished storing the cell phone stash in the glove compartment. A middle aged man wearing red plaid, well worn jeans, and hiking boots jumped out the passenger side of the vehicle, and with an unnatural excitement, he introduced himself. “Greetings, y’all! I’m Cody...”
Peter looked down at his Midtown Aca-Dec hoodie, brand new jeans and the yellow converse Mr. Stark had insisted on buying him. He exhaled slow and tried to listen.
This was going to be a very long weekend...
* * * * * *
Peter would be the first person to admit that he was wrong because, in this case, he was.
The hike out had been ridiculously interesting. They’d examined tracks and foliage and all sorts of cool, outdoorsy stuff. Cody had even explained what to do in the event you needed to, well... #2 in the woods. The jokes afterwards had been hilarious—and they could absolutely joke about it because the campsite proper had an actual outhouse. Yeah, it wasn’t a bathroom with running water, but a seat is a seat when you need to have a private moment.
Setting up camp was even uncomplicated.
Cody had lingered after making a production of handing over the sat phone with instructions on how to use it so they had expert advice, though Mr. Harrington hadn’t been joking when he said he had some experience with camping.
By the time Cody had left to head back to the road, the tents were set up, the food was secured in a safe place, and a water/wash station was ready to go.
The fire took a little coaxing, but that was more the fault of the rain the area had been getting over the last few days—but it eventually caught, so they were good. The ghost stories told around said fire, however, were the best.
“Wait, wait, wait!” Ned interrupted the story Mr. Harrington was sharing. “You’re telling me that the call was coming from inside the house, but how was that even possible back in the 80s? Like- I could see it if VoIP had been a thing back then, but it wasn’t so...”
MJ cuffed Ned in the back of the head. “Why do you overthink things, loser? Honestly. I’m afraid you’ll also believe the metal hook jammed into the trunk of the car was an actual thing!”
Ned looked confused, “It wasn’t?”
Peter took his turn to cuff Ned in the back of the head, and shook his own head in disappointment. “Dude.”
It wasn’t too long after that the group decided to hit the sack.
Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.
* * * * * *
Mr. Stark had been right.
As a boy born of the city, Peter was pleasantly surprised by what a good night’s sleep he’d gotten there in the woods. He’d expected hours of staring up into the darkness, but the wind through the trees and the clean, fresh air worked better than any sleeping pill—if he wasn’t an enhance spider-kid who couldn’t take sleeping pills. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d waken up feeling so rested and refreshed.
The plan they’d made the night before was pretty loose. Mr. Harrington had wanted the weekend to be as unregimented as possible so on Saturday morning, they all woke up when they woke up. Breakfast would be granola bars and apples with a bagged lunch for the road so they could get going once breakfast and clean up were done. Once they were ready, they’d head for a hike to one of the tributaries leading to Seneca Lake and have a little science fun.
It seemed that after the success of yesterday, everyone was pumped and set for an adventure. In fact, the lot of them were ready and on their way out of the camp by nine o’clock—which had shocked and horrified them all. The only hitch was that it looked like the day was calling for rain, and from how the sky looked, this wasn’t going to be a drizzle either. They’d all brought jackets and other essentials in their backpacks though, and Peter was sure that Mr. Stark would get him a new pair of sneakers, so they were up for anything.
Mr. Harrington was in his element, and if it wouldn’t have sounded so weird, Peter would have told him how nice it was to see him so happy. (Everyone had heard about his wife faking her death during The Blip and all, so...) Anyways, it didn’t always work out that a field trip would be such a rousing success, but this one definitely was, so far.
The rain started about half an hour into their hike, not that it had made any sort of difference. Even Flash was being a good sport about it all.
They’d been discussing the effects of deforestation on the stability of river banks when it happened. Mr. Harrington had turned to walk backwards while pointing out a red-tailed hawk that was perched and watching them from the trees He’d stopped to mention the plumage, something about spots, and then he was... gone.
Honestly, in any other scenario, Peter would have laughed at the similarities between this and the old Loony Toons episodes he and May used to watch on Saturday morning when she hadn’t worked an overnight or double. The problem was that this wasn’t Daffy Duck, and Mr. Harrington was not going to magically pop back up and keep talking like nothing had happened.
No one moved for the split second it took to process and then they were all rushing forward.
The word rushed from his mouth before he’d even thought it, “STOP!”
“We can’t all go rushing to the edge! It’s not stable and if we do, we’ll all end up down there!” Peter’s brain was going a mile a minute. “’kay, I’m really light so I’m gonna head to the edge and see what’s up.” Then he’d pulled off his backpack and was on his belly, shimmying to the edge before anyone could argue.
He could hear Flash’s grumbling, “Why does Parker need to be the hero?”
There was more coming from behind him, but now it was time to focus. He’d gotten close enough that things could go wrong in a split second... and then he was looking over the edge.
Ned was the one to call out, “What’s happening, Peter?”
“Hang on!” he called out impatiently, then looked at the fifteen foot drop that Mr. Harrington had just managed thanks to river bank instability. He wondered if Mr. Harrington would ever see the irony of it, but before he could do that, Peter needed to figure this mess out. “Mr. Harrington? Can you hear me?” he called down.
He showed no signs of response.
He looked back at the group. They’d all been taking turns carrying the extra backpack and he hoped... oh, how he hoped that one of them was carrying it.
“He’s unconscious, guys, and I think he’s hurt his leg. Whose turn was it to carry the phone and kit?”
No one answered.
Peter’s thoughts went to his Starkwatch—the one that never came off, like ever. Mr. Stark had made sure of it when he’d gotten back from being dusted. Peter would never be untraceable again. It would be so easy to just press the emergency alert, but doing so would unleash the hellfire of a thousand suns... or the Avengers... and that would give Mr. Stark a heart attack.
“I’m gonna have to climb down there and get the sat phone, guys.”
It shouldn’t have surprised him that both Brad and Flash had stepped forward, like Peter would let them go in his stead.
Ned was on top of it, though. “Nah, man, he’s got this. Just let him do his thing.”
The idea of Ned speaking up at all about something so serious brought them up short, and gave Peter the time he needed to get over the ledge and partway down the steep wall of the riverbank.
The rain that had been barely a bother was starting to come down more heavily. The rocks and roots Peter was using as hand and footholds were slippery and becoming more of a hindrance than a help. He took a look up to see if anyone was watching. Then, seeing no one, made a final leap to the muddy bank and starting assessing.
The first thing Peter did was make sure that his teacher was breathing.
Peter called up to his friends, “He’s breathing!”
They all cheered in relief.
Mr. Harrington had landed on his side, when all was said and done. His head was literal inches from the water’s edge. His head had obviously impacted, made obvious by the furiously bleeding head wound. His neck looked good, but he didn’t have x-ray vision or anything so he would only be guessing. The thing that made Peter’s stomach turn was Mr. Harrington’s leg. It was broken, plain and simple. The thin branch that had pierced through his thigh, most likely on his way down, was gonna be an issue though. Yeah, Peter had to take a few deep breaths for that one.
And then Peter pulled himself together and said a quick prayer of gratitude to whatever deity was in charge of small favours ‘cause he’d only just finished his Avengers level first aid training and if you’d asked him, he was feeling pretty confident that Mr. Harrington would be okay. He just needed to find the sat phone that must have been tucked in the torn backpack hanging loosely off of his arm.
And then Peter heard it.
One of the things Mr. Harrington had mentioned as they’d hiked along was the constant changes in the speed and depth of water levels during weather events. “You never know what’s happening further upstream, kids,” He’d said. Thanks to his enhanced senses, he knew that they were about to see an example.
“Pete?” Ned called down, “What’s going on?”
One of the major points the Avengers kept hammering into Peter during his first aid training was that sometimes, even when everything thing tells you that they shouldn’t be moved, a victim has to be moved.
Mr. Harrington’s hair was suddenly floating in the water.
The victim HAD to be moved.
Ned and the others were now all peeking over the ledge. There was no way he could do this without...
Now he really felt nauseous.
But maybe they wouldn’t figure it out?
With a sigh of resignation and determination, he did a final assessment, and then, “Ned, we’re coming up! Get away from the ledge!” Peter yelled. “Move now!”
Ned immediately ushered his classmates back. “You’re clear, Pete!”
It was barely a moment before Mr. Harrington was slung over his shoulder and Peter was scaling the unstable riverbank. His classmates, already back from the edge, jumped back further as Peter and the body of their teacher moved effortlessly up and onto the grass.
And then the water came.
Betty and MJ were the first to approach the water’s edge, but MJ was the first to speak. “Good save, Pete.”
Peter barely gave her a smile before he was carefully positioning Mr. Harrington on the ground under a tree and out of the worst of the rain. He disentangled the bag from his body.
“Ned, c’mere!” Peter called him over and tossed him the bag after fishing out the first aid kit. “Find the satellite phone and call Cody! Mr. Harrington can’t wait that long.”
Peter opened up the first aid kit with its bandages, tongue depressors, and tensor bandages and froze. Mr. Stark would shit bricks if he saw this set up. He couldn’t use this. He scanned the area and then saw it, “Betty! Pass me my backpack, please!” He had started pulling away the denim of his teacher’s jeans from the wound.
She moved from her spot by the edge and grabbed the bag that she’d been closest to. She was already opening it for him. “What do you need from it,” she asked.
“The blue and red kit at the bottom.” Yes, Mr. Stark had a sense of humour.
She rushed to find it, but they were all distracted from their tasks when Ned uttered a meek, “uh, Pete?”
Peter turned to Ned and paled. Oh, boy. Mr. Stark was gonna buy Seneca Lake Survival Camp and turn it into a paddleboat rental and picnic area. Satellite phones were made to last beyond a tumble down a riverbank—and this one was in pieces.
Peter closed his eyes and took in a centering breath.
He was grateful that Mr. Harrington was his favourite teacher. If he was about to throw his secret identity to the wind, at least it would be for a good and kind-hearted person.
He released the breath, nice and slow, opened his eyes and saw Ned watching him. Yeah, Ned understood and gave an encouraging nod of support. He only hesitated a second, and then pressed the emergency button on his Starkwatch.
Yup. Hellfire was coming. But until then, he pulled himself back together and got back to business. “Betty, the first aid kit, now.”
She pulled it from the bag and handed it to him.
“Ned, come help me. You helped me study for half of this...”
Ned dropped the bag and phone to the ground and rushed over, kneeling beside him as he pulled out scissors to cut away Mr. Harrington’s pant leg.
Now Brad had something to say, “Wait a minute, why are we listening to Parker all of a sudden? I’m the oldest one here, I should be in charge.”
MJ wasn’t having any of it and stepped in front of the boy before he could cause a problem. “Look, Brad, I’m gonna have to ask you to bring your Lord of the Flies shit to another island, okay?”
Peter snorted at her response. Geez, he loved her so... wha? Nope. Not the time, brain. Pack it away...
And then Flash piped up, “He needs a tourniquet, right?”
“Only if you want him to lose his leg,” Peter replied as he rifled through the gloriously stocked kit. He found the supply of gloves and snapped on a pair. Before anyone watching knew it, he was also creating a ring out of a cotton sling. “Ned? Get gloves on. You need to hold this.” Ned was on it like lightning, then placing the fabric ring around the branch protruding from the front of the unconscious man’s leg. Peter made another, brought it to the second side of the man’s leg and guarded the branch there. With a quick, secure wrap, the puncture was dealt with.
The splint was a little more effort, but MJ had found some branches for him to use as a splint when she realized what they’d need. He hadn’t wanted to mess with it too much just because, but he felt confident that it was as stable as they could make it for the situation.
That done, Peter rested on his heels for a second. He’d been most worried about the branch—first because it was just gnarly to look at, but second because...
Mr. Harrington groaned and started to writhe—weakly, and Peter was grateful for prioritizing the leg. But then the man gasped out, “sick,” and Peter was back to work.
“Help me, Ned!” The two boys quickly positioned Mr. Harrington into the recovery position and watched as he vomited into the grass. Once Mr. Harrington was done, the still gloved Peter carefully wiped away the worst of the sick so Mr. Harrington wouldn’t fall into his own mess and discarded his gloves.
If that wasn’t a reminder that the head wound still needed to be dealt with...
Peter looked up at his classmates, feeling torn. Mr. Harrington needed stitches. Leaving the wound open wouldn’t kill him, but leaving it open could put him at risk of all sorts of nasty infection.
But that part of him was hoping that, for all of the panic, they hadn’t noticed him scaling up a crumbling fifteen foot river bank. No one had said anything so maybe? Even the Avengers could be explained, right?—and Flash would finally give the whole intern thing a rest. But how do you explain away a sixteen year old knowing how to do field medic quality stitches?
He gave Mr. Harrington a quick visual assessment, saw the bandages stabilizing the wound, and then laughed. Okay—maybe it was a little too late to worry about that.
Peter grabbed the hand sanitizer from the kit, using it before grabbing a new set of gloves. He dug around and found the rubbing alcohol and stitch kits, then grabbed one and looked over to his classmates. “Um, guys! If you’re squeamish, you may want to look away, okay?”
No of them moved, seemingly captivated by the scene playing out in front of them.
He grimaced. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you!” and proceeded to clean the gaping wound on Mr. Harrington’s forehead before he pulled out the pre-threaded needle and got to work.
Peter smirked as he heard Brad gag and rush off into the trees. There went their mighty leader.
Ned had stayed next to Peter, his trusty ‘Guy in the Chair,’ and held Mr. Harrington’s hair away from the gash. “Peter,” he whispered, “You are a beast.”
“Thanks, man.” He whispered back as he tied the last of the stitches off. “There.” He’d done it. And now he’d wait and see.
Peter put the needle into the little sharps container also found within the kit and cleaned up all of the bloody gauze and gloves he’d tossed aside as he’d gone.
Brad was just stumbling back to the group so Peter called out to him, “You doin’ alright there, Brad?”—not at all intending to sound smug so if it had been misconstrued, that wasn’t his fault at all, was it?
Brad flipped him the bird and chuckled. “Bite me, Parker.”
MJ stepped away from the others, “So what’s next, Peter?” Yeah, she totally knew who he was.
He simply lifted his hand to show the Starkwatch on his wrist. “Now we wait.”
* * * * * *
It was forty-five minutes later that Iron Man came rocketing into their small patch of clearing.
Peter was on his feet before the man could land. “Mr. Stark, what are you doing here? You’re supposed to be at the cabin! Does anyone even know that you’re here?”
Mr. Stark stepped out of the suit, and ignored the gasps from the kids behind them. “My kid set off a distress call. Do you think I’m gonna sit on my ass and wait for someone to fill me in after all the fun is over? Try again, kid.” He looked around and caught sight of Mr. Harrington lying still on the ground. He looked back at his boy, “I’m guessing this is the reason...”
“Yeah, the satellite phone was busted and we had no way to get help so...”
Mr. Stark walked over to the man and crouched down to assess. “Your stitches?” he called over to him.
“Yeah,” Peter replied.
“Good work! Sam’ll be glad to see how even they are...” and then he caught a glimpse of the leg. “Do I want to know?”
Peter shook his head, “Broken, puncture wound. It’s gross so...” he shrugged.
Mr. Stark nodded in understanding. “Got it.”
In that moment, Mr. Barton and Dr. Banner came stumbling through the trees dragging a spinal board and med kit with them.
“Hey, everyone! Did somebody call for an Uber?” Mr. Barton called out like the goof that he was, even as he scanned the area for threats.
“Sorry, Mr. Barton, no uber for you today.” Peter called him over. “Med evac would be great, though.”
Mr. Barton and Dr. Banner immediately got down to business, but not without Dr. Banner giving Mr. Stark a quick lecture on what rest and retirement mean.
And then Mr. Barton explained. “We’ve set down in a clearing about ten minutes north of here. We did a scan of the area and got a read on the situation, so we’re good to go.” He and Dr. Banner were already working in tandem to get Mr. Harrington onto the board.
Dr. Banner was looking confused as he set about to secure the man’s head and neck. “Hey, Pete?” he called out, “What did you say your teacher’s name is?”
“Mr. Harrington, why?”
“Do you know his first name?”
“Sure, it’s Roger.”
“Son of a bitch!” Dr. Banner laughed, even as he worked. “I wondered what you’d gotten up to, Rog!” He looked up at Peter and then the kids all standing around them. “I went to school with Roger! Huh? I thought for sure he’d end up working in tech somewhere.” Dr. Banner shook his head as he chuckled, “Small world, huh?”
Peter just shrugged, “I might be a little freaked out about this, so I’ll just agree.”
“Forget freaked out! This is alternate reality shit!” Ned couldn’t help but blurt out even as he and his classmates watched on.
Peter looked back at his friend, “I know, right?!”
Dr. Banner finished securing the final straps on the board and looked to Mr. Barton to confirm that he was done, too. With a nod, they were good to go.
“Alright, everyone. Grab your gear. We’re all gonna head back to the city and get your teacher some help. Okay? We can contact parents and guardians on the jet.” Mr. Barton called out. “We’re moving nice and steady so don’t worry about keeping up—and we’ll swing back to clean up your site tomorrow. Got it?”
Everyone nodded and rushed to put their backpacks on. Peter had grabbed his own bag and was scrambling to collect the discarded satellite phone and first aid kit when Mr. Stark came up beside him. He looked at the items in Peter’s hand, “I’m guessing I don’t want to know about that either?”
Peter shook his head and laughed. “I’m sure you’re about to hear all about it on the jet, Mr. Stark.”
Mr. Stark looked at the boy fondly. “I’m sure I will, kid.” Then he looked around the clearing. “You did good, kid. I hope you’re not regretting the trip after this.”
Peter thought about for a second. He didn’t know what would happen after this, or when his friends would put all the pieces together, but he couldn’t regret being here to help. Not ever.
He smiled then, and simply said, “Mr. Stark, I have the best bedtime story to tell to Morgan when we get back...”